Libertarian Open Borders: Oxymoron in Theory and Practice

Angela Merkel’s open borders policy continues to pay dividends in the destruction of open borders as a libertarian concept.  But before I come to “practice,” I will revisit “theory.”


There is no “state” in libertarian theory.  The only “borders” are the borders that divide private property, one privately-owned parcel from another.

Libertarian theory does not recognize open borders when it comes to property.  The property is private and exclusionary.  Is your property open to anyone who wants to come on it? Now, this doesn’t mean “closed” is the only other possibility.  Is your property closed to everyone?

Access to the property is managed.  Not only is this perfectly compatible with libertarian theory, it is the only acceptable application of libertarian theory.  (If a property owner chooses his border to be “open,” he is still managing his border.)

What of property that isn’t owned by anyone?  Certainly, this property is available for anyone to claim, according to the customs (call them laws, regulations, whatever – but not limited solely to homesteading) of the region and if the property owners between the individual and the unowned property allow him to travel to the unowned property.

So, that’s it for theory: borders are managed, not open.  By definition, the unowned land is a land without a border – something without a border by definition cannot have an open border.  It is just open.


Now on to the German gift that keeps on giving.  You will recall that Merkel said all are welcome, no stopping them, no questions asked (she has since backtracked a little, mostly by hiding behind Austrians and others, but the object lesson remains).  You cannot get more open than this.  How is it going so far?

Germany’s government expects to spend around 93.6 billion euros by the end of 2020 on costs related to the refugee crisis…

That doesn’t sound very libertarian.

The report said that 25.7 billion euros ($29.07 billion) would be needed for jobless payments, rent subsidies and other benefits for recognized asylum applicants by the end of 2020.

“Now bionic, you are complaining about government subsidies – these should be dealt with on their own, and not on the back of the refugees.  After all, local Germans get similar subsidies.”

Do you realize how non-libertarian that sounds?  But, OK, I will play along.

Another 5.7 billion euros would be needed for language courses and 4.6 billion euros would be required for measures to help migrants get jobs, it added.

Language courses?  These aren’t necessary for Germans – as they already speak German.  Aid to get a job – isn’t this what German schools and their well-developed apprentice programs already do?

No, there is nothing libertarian about open borders in practice.

I Can Hear Walter Block Now

“bionic, the government doesn’t own any land.  What if the immigrants go to the deserts or the top of the mountains?”

Sounds good in theory.  What about practice?  There are some problems with this.  First, while it is true that the government doesn’t own land, it does not follow that nobody owns the land. Even government controlled land has labor applied to it – labor paid for by the taxpayers of the country.  It is to the taxpayers that the land belongs – ask Ragnar Danneskjöld.

You don’t like that?  Then try this: immigrants aren’t moving to the top of the Alps; they aren’t roughing it north of the Arctic Circle.  They are moving to the cities, the developed parts of the country, using resources that you will pay for whether you want to or not.

An immigrant moving to the deserts or the mountaintops carving out an independent life in the new world can be OK in libertarian theory; it doesn’t happen in practice.  The €100MM that Germany is going to spend is €100MM that was not going to be spent otherwise.


Open borders is bad libertarian theory and can only be implemented by initiating force in practice.  Once advocates of open borders recognize and accept this, perhaps the dialogue on this topic can finally move along toward some meaningful ends.

In this world, that will require including in the discussion some concepts that libertarian theory does not directly address.  As if this is the only topic where this is true.

Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.