Open Borders: Case Study

Open borders to Europe.  Some comments from a representative story from Germany:

Some 500,000 refugees have entered the country since the beginning of September, and there is no end in sight. “Prepare for the eventuality that in the coming weeks, 10,000 to 12,000 refugees will arrive at the border each day,” a member of the Coordinating Committee inside of Germany’s Interior Ministry said last Wednesday, quoting from a communiqué from the Austrian Interior Ministry.

Sounds like The Camp of the Saints.  Hopefully not with a similar ending.

The government, in short, has lost control. The Camp of the Saints Jean Raspail Best Price: $19.95 Buy New $78.00 (as of 07:40 UTC - Details)

That would describe the ultimate open border.  Good news for many libertarians, it would seem – no government involvement in who does and does not cross the border.

One exhausted aid worker spoke of a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

The “humanitarian catastrophe,” of course, is in the policies pursued by US and European governments in the home countries from where these refugees fled.  The influx of refugees can be labelled “blowback.”

In late October, 215 mayors in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia wrote a letter to Chancellor Merkel and to the state’s governor, Hannelore Kraft, saying that their ability to cope with the situation had been exhausted.

Some individuals would choose to not allow more refugees onto their property, it seems.

Essentially, [Merkel] views the crisis through the prism of two questions: Can Germany reduce the number of arriving refugees by way of national legislation? And: Should the government say that there is a limit to Germany’s capacity? She has clearly and explicitly answered both questions in the negative.

No national legislation; an “open-borders” libertarian’s dream.

Merkel believes it is impossible for Germany to seal off its borders. …she has stubbornly avoided establishing a maximum number of refugees that Germany can accept

Like I said: the ultimate in “open borders.”

This isn’t a post about libertarian theory.  It is a post about applying libertarian theory in today’s world.

Well, a small diversion into libertarian theory.  I will leave the “open borders is libertarian” position to others.  I counter: As I have every right to close the borders to my property, I have the right, with my neighbors, to come together on this point (think homeowners association).  I have the right to grant agency to another to perform this function for me.

Unfortunately, I am precluded from choosing any agent – I am forced to look to government to perform this otherwise perfectly NAP-respecting function.

The question of presumably undeveloped government owned land presents an issue – famously the Rockies or the vast deserts are offered.  Libertarian theory cannot answer, however, how much labor mixing with the land is necessary to establish “ownership”; only custom can answer this.  in any case, government employees have mixed labor with government owned (and I use that term loosely) land.

Yes, by definition government is illegitimate – government cannot “own” anything; what it holds, it holds via theft.  It “possesses” land – land mixed with labor that I paid for via wealth stolen from me.  That makes it my land – it is owned.

For those for whom my comments on government possessed land do not resonate, let me suggest: this is not a post about libertarian theory, it is about applying libertarian theory in today’s non-libertarian world.  These refugees are not settling on the 3000-meter-plus peaks of the Swiss Alps, far removed from any otherwise improved land; they are not going north of the Arctic Circle.  They are coming to the developed – and even most developed – parts of Europe.  Even if I accept your theory, you cannot avoid thispracticetoday.

That’s enough on my view of theory.  I do not suggest that my view of theory is stronger or more consistent than the “open borders” theory.  I do suggest that my view is at least equally as valid.

Yet the question remains (and current circumstances in Europe offer a real-time case study) – how to apply the “open borders is libertarian” theory to today’s world?  Can it even be applied?

In today’s Germany, some residents want to accept the burden of taking in refugees in unlimited quantities, and some do not.  Either position is fully supportable in libertarian theory.

We are seeing the attempt at application of open borders in action, today in Europe. From the aforementioned story: by the thousands – hundreds of thousands – the borders are opened.  Merkel cannot close the borders of Germany; she cannot see clear to limiting the influx.  The government has lost control of the border.  That’s about as open a border as it gets.

Yet – in today’s world – her decisions coerce on some (not necessarily small) portion of the German population; they do not want to support this influx.  There is a cost to them for her decisions.

I am sure there are also Germans who welcome this position – hence the impossibility of applying “open borders is libertarian” to today’s world.  The issue is not only regarding the immigrant; the issue is also one for the resident.

Open borders can be easily applied in world of respected property rights – I own land or a business, I am free to choose who to allow in my property.  No one is free to come on my property – I am free to decide if I will let someone on it.  I live in a community that feels the same.  I owe no one who feels otherwise any compensation.

In today’s world?  Impossible to apply libertarian “open border” theory – Germany’s border is about as open as can be, and NAP violations are the result.

Finally, returning to the subject article:

Merkel’s historic decision to open Germany’s borders to refugees stuck in Hungary was morally unassailable.

I am sure there are many who believe this – even many within the libertarian community. However, if property is to be respected – and this is a very moral question and the basis for the entirety of libertarian theory – her decision is not “morally unassailable.”

We are stuck in this world where it is via the very un-libertarian force of government that border decisions are made.  Yet, it is very libertarian for individuals to make decisions about borders.  That there is no choice but to attempt to do so via government is not a reason to give up this otherwise consistent-with-libertarian-theory act.  (If you think so, stop driving on the streets.)

Open borders and property rights must be reconciled in practice – today.  If the two cannot be reconciled, which one wins?  There is, in the end, only one libertarian answer.

Else there is no libertarian theory.

Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.