A few thoughts on Donald Boudreaux’s recent column Libertarians & immigration. Boudreaux starts off:
One of the most bizarre developments in the past decade or so is the insistence by a small handful of people who parade under the banner “libertarian” or “advocate of free markets” that the state has both the right and the duty to limit immigration.
The most popular version of the so-called libertarian case against immigration runs like this:
A couple of comments. First, he is clearly talking about Hans-Hermann Hoppe, though he never mentions him. Why not name names and provide a link, so people can read it on their own and see what he’s critiquing? (It’s pretty clear, though, that he is talking about Hoppe here.)Second, Boudreaux implies that the only libertarian position is completely open borders, no restrictions at all on immigration. He implies that only a “small group” of libertarians believe otherwise; and that this view is only a “so-called” libertarian opinion; that the tiny number of people who oppose completely unrestricted immigration in present-day America merely “parade under the banner” of libertarianism. In other words, he implies that there is no real debate about this in libertarian circles. There is; and more than that, it is more than a “small group” of libertarians who oppose unrestricted immigration–probably at least half, if not more, of libertarians would oppose unrestricted immigration.
In fact, an entire Journal of Libertarian Studies symposium issue a few years ago (Volume 13) about immigration had only one open-borders advocate (as I recall)–Walter Block. The rest–Hoppe, Machan, Raico, Simon, Hospers, et al.–if I remember right, were all against completely open borders/unrestricted immigration.
How can anyone argue that being in favor of some restrictions on immigration is clearly unlibertarian, and held by only a tiny minority of libertarians? I myself am extremely skeptical of any state involvement in immigration policy; and I do not claim that any of these libertarian opponents of unrestricted immigration are right–I am not appealing to an argument from authority or from numbers. But I do believe it is dishonest for Boudreaux to imply that this is a settled issue among libertarians; that only a few kooks hold the “outlier” idea that we should not have open borders; that only a “handfull” of libertarians disagree with the unrestricted immigration advocates. Boudreaux may be correct in his policy views; but he should not try to bolster his argument by falsely implying that most libertarians agree with him and that most do not agree with his opponents, or that there is no real dispute here.
Each private property owner has the moral right (and should have the legal right) to ban from his property, or to admit onto his property, anyone he chooses. In a free society, no one is coerced into unwanted associations with others.
Therefore, because in a fully free society all land would be privately owned and government would be limited (at most) to keeping the peace, immigration policy in this society would be highly decentralized, in the hands of each of the many property owners. Each property owner would choose his own “immigration policy.”
But we do not live in a fully free society. We’re stuck with a large and intrusive government, one that owns enormous tracts of land and public facilities. Given that excessive government is a reality that will not soon disappear, the best that citizens of a democratic society can hope for on the immigration front is that their overly powerful government mimics the immigration policies that a fully free society would adopt.
Because there would be no free admission in a fully free society–again, each private owner could chose to admit or not to admit anyone seeking to enter his property–there should be no free admission in today’s less-than-free society. Indeed, say these “libertarian” skeptics of immigration, open immigration today is tantamount to forced integration. Citizens who do not wish to associate with foreigners are forced to do so by a government that too freely admits foreign immigrants.
They are also forced by virtue of anti-discrimination and affirmative action laws. Why does he ignore this? As Hoppe points out here:
If a domestic resident-owner invites a person and arranges for his access onto the resident-owner’s property but the government excludes this person from the state territory, it is a case of forced exclusion (a phenomenon that does not exist in a natural order). On the other hand, if the government admits a person while there is no domestic resident-owner who has invited this person onto his property, it is a case of forced integration (also nonexistent in a natural order, where all movement is invited). … By admitting someone onto its territory, the state also permits this person to proceed on public roads and lands to every domestic resident’s doorsteps, to make use of all public facilities and services (such as hospitals and schools), and to access every commercial establishment, employment, and residential housing, protected by a multitude of non-discrimination laws.
Anyway, to continue with Boudreaux:
From a pro-individual-liberty perspective, this argument for limiting immigration is deeply confused.
First, to ask government to mimic the outcomes of a pure private property rights system is to come dangerously close to asking government to treat the entire country as if that country is the private property of the state. What an irony!
I agree with this: to the extent the immigration laws prevent people from entering onto private property, he has a point. The state is indeed assuming partial ownership of the property of private owners when it prevents them from allowing a given invitee there–just as it assumes partial ownership of their property and bodies when it taxes it or prohibits the use of narcotics.
But what is his disagreement with Hoppe here? First, as noted above, Hoppe acknowledges that “If a domestic resident-owner invites a person and arranges for his access onto the resident-owner’s property but the government excludes this person from the state territory, it is a case of forced exclusion“–and he opposes this. It is why Hoppe believes the state should not prohibit people with invitations from entering, as noted here (231-32). Of course, since Boudreaux does not even name Hoppe in his piece, the reader cannot be expected to know this.
Our author continues:
Anyone who advocates such a policy overlooks the single most important reason for strictly limiting government’s power: Unlike true owners of private property, government can resort to force to increase the size of its property holdings and the value of its portfolio. Government is not an owner of private property. Restrictions on government discretion are appropriate precisely because government possesses a legitimized monopoly on coercion.
This is true. But it does not mean a foreign immigrant has some right to enter public property in the US; it does not mean his rights are violated solely by virtue of not being permitted to use the roads, say–he has no right to the roads at all. As I argued in A Simple Libertarian Argument Against Unrestricted Immigration and Open Borders, if the state simply refused to allow some immigrants onto its property–roads, basically–then this would still restrict immigration, and it would not mean the state is treating the whole country as “its” own–any more than it already is. It is already setting rules on its property. The question is: what rules should be set? Yes, we all want the state to disband and return public property to the real owners. But in the meantime, it has some rules governing that property’s use. What should those rules be? Hoppe recognizes both the problem of forced exclusion and forced integration caused by state interference in our lives, and for this reason he prefers for the state to dissolve; and one method he advocates to achieve this is secession:
the solution to the immigration problem is at the same time the solution to the general problem inherent in the institution of a State and of public property. It involves the return to a natural order by means of secession. To regain security from domestic and foreign intrusion and invasion, the central nation States will have to be broken up into their constituent parts. The Austrian and the Italian central States do not own Austrian and Italian public property; they are its citizens’ trustees. Yet they do not protect them and their property. Hence, just as the Austrians and the Italians (and not foreigners) are the owners of Austria and Italy, so by extension of the same principle do the Carinthians and the Lombards (in accordance with individual tax payments) own Carinthia and Lombardy, and the Bergamese Bergamo (and not the Viennese and the Roman governments).
In a decisive first step, individual provinces, regions, cities, towns and villages must declare their independence from Rome, Vienna, Berlin, Paris, and proclaim their status as “free territories.” Extensive efforts by the central States to the contrary notwithstanding, strong provincial affiliations and attachments still exist in many regions, cities and villages all across Europe. It is vital to tap into these provincial and local sentiments in taking this first step. With every successive act of regional secession the power of the central State will be diminished. It will be stripped of more of its public property, its agents’ range of access will increasingly be restricted, and its laws will apply in smaller and smaller territories, until it ultimately withers away.
However, it is essential to go beyond “political secession” to the privatization of property. …
In Nations by Consent: Decomposing the Nation-State, Rothbard himself makes a similar argument:
However, on rethinking immigration on the basis of the anarcho-capitalist model, it became clear to me that a totally privatized country would not have “open borders” at all. If every piece of land in a country were owned by some person, group or corporation, this would mean that no immigrant could enter unless invited to enter and allowed to rent or purchase property. A totally privatized country would be as closed as the particular inhabitants and property owners desire. It seems clear, then, that the regime of open borders that exists de facto in the U.S. really amounts to a compulsory opening by the central state, the state in charge of all streets and public land areas, and does not genuinely reflect the wishes of the proprietors .
Is Rothbard now just a “so-called” libertarian? Boudreaux’s attempt to show opponents of unrestricted immigration as being analogous to (or logically compelled to support) opponents of free speech backfires badly:
Consider, for example, the right of free speech. Would it be sensible to argue that, because each private-property owner has the right to regulate what is said on his property, government in our less-than-libertarian world should have the power to regulate speech uttered in public places or over public airwaves?
Of course not. But such an argument is analogous to the “libertarian” argument for government restrictions on immigration.
Secondly, labeling open immigration as “forced integration” is disingenuous. Such a practice is identical to labeling freedom of speech as “forced listening.”
Well, I have news for Mr. Boudreaux: in today’s society, “Freedom of speech” does amount to “forced listening.” For example, the state tells private malls that they must allow “free speech rights” there on their own property, forcing property owners and their customers to listen. The state, via the FCC, controls the airwaves and regulates what is said on TV. Under the “fairness doctrine” (which might be revived again) the state controls what is said on radio and tv shows. The state advertises all the time, it pays people to spread its message (including all the state employees who naturally promote their own agency’s existence), and worst of all it monopolizes schooling and forces people into it, forces us to pay for it, and force-feeds students with all manner of pro-state propaganda! Of course “free speech” has been distorted by the state into a type of “forced listening”! What a terrible counterexample.
In fact, of course, keeping government from regulating speech is not at all identical to forcing people to listen. Likewise, allowing people to immigrate into a country is not the same thing as forcing citizens of that country to associate with immigrants.
This comment is confusing, because Boudreaux has to be familiar with affirmative action or anti-discrimination laws. To repeat the comments of Hoppe quoted above:
if the government admits a person while there is no domestic resident-owner who has invited this person onto his property, it is a case of forced integration (also nonexistent in a natural order, where all movement is invited). … By admitting someone onto its territory, the state also permits this person to proceed on public roads and lands to every domestic resident’s doorsteps, to make use of all public facilities and services (such as hospitals and schools), and to access every commercial establishment, employment, and residential housing, protected by a multitude of non-discrimination laws.
Under a regime of open immigration, I need not hire or befriend anyone whom I don’t wish to hire or befriend.
What? So if a recent Mexican immigrant comes here, I can refuse to hire him on the grounds that I don’t want any more hispanics in my workplace? Interesting. I guess the anti-discrimination laws have been silently repealed. Alert the media.
Indeed, whenever the U.S. government restricts immigration it coercively prevents me, an American, from hiring or befriending on my own property whomever I choose to hire or befriend.
Yes, as Hoppe–Boudreaux’s bête noire–agrees, as noted above: this is forced exclusion; Hoppe opposes it; this is one reason why he opposes the state; this is why he believes the state should not exclude those with an invitation. And, as noted above, if the state simply refused to allow certain non-approved immigrants to use the public property that the state is already controlling, this complaint would largely evaporate. As Rothbard himself implied.
To continue with Boudreaux’s column:
An immigrant who receives no welfare payments engages only in consensual capitalist acts with those (and only those) domestic citizens who choose to deal with the immigrant.
Well, yes–as noted, Hoppe would, I think, largely agree with this. But does this mean that Boudreaux is not adopting the standard libertarian line that so long as the welfare state exists, we “cannot have” unrestricted immigration?–that that immigrants who are entitled to welfare should not be allowed in–that his open-borders advocacy is conditioned on certain policy changes here? Just like that of many opponents of unrestricted immigration that Boudreaux apparently relegates to kook status?
Just as trade restraints are, at bottom, unjustified restrictions on the freedoms of domestic citizens, so, too, are immigration restraints unjustified restrictions on the freedoms of domestic citizens.
Yes, Hoppe also opposes forced exclusion by the state. Hoppe readily acknowledges that it violates a property owner’s rights to prevent him from inviting someone: this is the problem of the state: its immigration policies will harm some citizens by excluding them from inviting someone; and it will harm others by forcing them to associate with immigrants (by allowing them free transportation over its roads; by forcing employers to hire them via anti-discrimination and affirmative action laws; by preventing neighborhoods or clubs from refusing to deal with them, by means of anti-discrimination laws).
Boudreaux wants to acknowledge only the first type of problem; Hoppe acknowledges both, and advocates the real solution: get rid of the state; he also discusses a second-best approach, which is the type of policies the state ought to have, so long as it is controlling the legal system, setting rules on public property, etc.
Thirdly, even if some coherent justification could be given in the abstract for restricting immigration, it is curious in the extreme that any proponent of liberty is willing in practice to trust government with the power to pick and choose which foreigners we domestic citizens are permitted to deal with on our home shores.
There is no reason to believe that government will exercise this power more prudently and intelligently than it exercises other powers.
Yes, I agree. But why does Boudreaux assume Hoppe trusts government? Hoppe in his immigration pieces rails against the state and shows why it’s likely to have terrible immigration policies–especially a democratic state. That’s why he advocates secession and decentralization and ultimately, anarchy. In fact, as I noted in Palmer On Hoppe, in Hoppe’s LRC piece On Free Immigration and Forced Integration, he writes:
What should one hope for and advocate as the relatively correct immigration policy, however, as long as the democratic central state is still in place and successfully arrogates the power to determine a uniform national immigration policy? The best one may hope for, even if it goes against the “nature” of a democracy and thus is not very likely to happen, is that the democratic rulers act as if they were the personal owners of the country and as if they had to decide who to include and who to exclude from their own personal property (into their very own houses). This means following a policy of utmost discrimination: of strict discrimination in favor of the human qualities of skill, character, and cultural compatibility.
Notice here Hoppe does not endorse the state or “socialism”; but recognizing current reality, says the democratic state–if it does not disband–should in the meantime act “as if they were the personal owners of the country”. Clearly Hoppe here simply means the state, since it has taken the citizens’ private property, ought at least to use it as the private property owners would, i.e., try to act as their trustee, and use their own property for the owners’ benefit. This at least reduces the damage done to them. Hoppe, however, realizes this is unlikely, since we have democracy. This is why he points out elsewhere that monarchy is better (in some respects) than democracy (though still inferior to anarcho-capitalism), since the monarch has more incentives to have a better immigration policy, to increase the value of “his” private property, unlike democratic lawmakers who have an incentive to select on the basis of bad qualities which correlate with voting more pro-state, pro-redistribution, etc. Since he views monarchy–under which the individual monarch “owns” the whole country, in a sense, and thus has better incentives to have better immigration selection criteria so as to increase the wealth of “his” holdings–as superior to democracy in this respect, he is advocating that the democracy act more like the monarch would, which is to act “as if they were the personal owners of the country,” since this is more in the interest of the confiscated property owners/citizens. He advocates such a policy even though democracy’s perverse incentives make this unlikely (which is why Hoppe opposes democracy).
In other words, Hoppe does not trust the state; he wants to abolish it for this very reason. He in fact thinks it’s unlikely the democratic state will adopt better policies–“it goes against the ‘nature’ of a democracy and thus is not very likely to happen”. So what is Boudreaux talking about? If he’s an anarchist (can’t tell for sure from this), he and Hoppe both want the state to be abolished to eliminate the problems it causes–although apparently Hoppe wants to avoid the problems of both forced exclusion and forced integration, whereas Boudreaux is concerned with only one of these problems. And if Boudreaux is not an anarchist, what does he have to complain about–the state will do what the state will do–or, as Mises noted:
1:35 pm on September 14, 2007 Email Stephan Kinsella
“No socialist author ever gave a thought to the possibility that the abstract entity which he wants to vest with unlimited power—whether it is called humanity, society, nation, state, or government—could act in a way of which he himself disapproves.”