Reply to Matthew Strebe on Hoppe and Immigration

In response to my recent post on immigration, fellow Notewriter Matthew Strebe asserts two main objections to my defense of open borders: freedom of movement is not a right in the first place so immigration restrictions are not violating anyone’s rights, and that citizenship is relevant to the debate over the impact of policies. In order to make the case for the first, Strebe relies on Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s anarcho-capitalist counterfactual, which has been debated at length over the past twenty or so years by libertarians. I think the second argument is inconsistent with the first and winds up begging the question. Before I delve into the argument, I should mention that I neglected to bring it up in my first post because I hadn’t really seen many people bring it up in recent years and was addressing arguments which I considered most pertinent to the current discussion on this topic among libertarians. That said, it is worth addressing again since Mr. Strebe has brought it up.

The Anarcho-Capitalist Counterfactual

Mr. Strebe presents the argument that the right to freedom of movement is not really a right at all because, in the absence of a state, people would not have the right to traverse across owned property, and ultimately free movement would become a privilege to be handed out at the whims of private property owners, an argument originally made by Hans-Hermann Hoppe.

This argument gets off to a bad start when Mr. Strebe, quoting Hoppe, claims the argument for free movement to work “it is – implicitly – assumed that the territory in question is unowned, and that the immigrants enter virgin territory (open frontier).” This assumption need not be made. Typically, when an immigrant seeks to come to another country they want to buy or rent some previously owned property which is being voluntarily sold or rented out to them. This would be perfectly acceptable under anarchism as, without a state to control who can contract with whom, there is little reason why person A can’t contract with person B just because a third party forces A away. Even from Hoppe’s perspective, borders are arbitrary; and this is hinted at when Hoppe himself calls them “unnatural” and “coercive.”

Even ignoring this, Mr. Strebe continues:

In Hoppe’s example of an anarcho-capitalist society, all land is privately owned, and so freedom of movement becomes absurd. How could one individual have the untrammeled ability to traverse another person’s property? The only proper relation is one of mutual freedom of association – one property owner may decide to hang out with, say, Mexicans, while another would not. Freedom of movement becomes dependent on individual consent, which in turn (using the historical example of the monarchy) is based on calculated self-interest. This leads to another possibility: all property owners could willingly confederate and decide they will not associate with Mexicans or some other group, and freedom of movement to that group, such as it was, ceases to exist. Thus, freedom of movement as a human right is absurd in an anarcho-capitalist society because there is no freedom to traverse the unowned land.

Even though this federation could hypothetically happen under anarchism, this does not mean freedom of movement is a farce. Freedom of movement does not simply mean freedom to traverse land, it also means freedom to buy land regardless of location, or contract with other consenting individuals regardless of location. Immigration restrictions not only forbid movement across land, they also forbid freedom of contract. When I said “freedom of movement,” I was referring to a bundle of rights. Even if you do not accept that freedom to traverse land is a human right other rights would exist under anarcho-capitalism are still trampled upon by immigration restrictions.

Further, what government does by restricting immigration is not at all analogous to what happens when a private owner of land puts up no trespassing signs. Government not only restricts immigrants from entering publicly owned land (such as the area near the border, or national parks), they also restrict the immigrants from entering privately owned land, most of which they would be welcome to buy up for themselves or work on by its rightful owners, simply because that land is on the other side of a line in the sand called the border. It would be as if two people agreed to contract together on a piece of privately owned land in anarcho-capitalism, yet a third person who owned another piece of land unaffected by the contract used force to stop the contract from happening. Government is not only restricting movement to land that it properly owns, but it also restricts movement to lands privately held by its citizens.

Hoppe himself acknowledges this in his discussion of “forced exclusion:”

Now, if the government excludes a person while even one domestic resident wants to admit this very person onto his property, the result is forced exclusion (a phenomenon that does not exist under private property anarchism). Furthermore, if the government admits a person while there is not even one domestic resident who wants to have this person on his property, the result is forced integration (also non-existent under private property anarchism).

Of course, Hoppe still favors immigration restrictions because he believes it will result in more “forced integration,” a point Mr. Strebe brings up which will be addressed at length in a moment. My point: even under Hoppe’s own argument, it is incorrect to say “in a monarchy, the king owns all the land, and in a democracy, an association of elected bureaucrats holds sovereignty over all land[.]” The government doesn’t own all the land, private citizens do. Restricting citizens from voluntarily contracting with non-citizens is, in fact, restricting those citizens’ own freedom of association as well.

But even if we concede that government owns some public land, this would still not be analogous to anarcho-capitalism as Hoppe argues for it. For Hoppe, the state is illegitimate in the first place because it acquires its existence (including the ownership of public land) through an immoral monopoly on force. To bring back the example of anarchism, suppose that I claimed ownership over all the land in a region which I gained by killing the previous owners and forcing everyone else on the territory into submission with guns. Does this grant me the moral right to stop people from moving onto land I stole and do not rightfully own? If so, then we have an extremely perverse notion of property rights. Government doesn’t really “own” any property, it steals it through force.[1] Private citizens own most of the land within a geopolitical border to begin with, and the land the government does own it does not rightfully own as it only acquires land through coercion.

Even if we grant that anarcho-capitalism would end all immigration and freedom of movement, how does this carry any normative force for what policies an existing state should have? As Don Boudreaux points out, under anarcho-capitalism, one is not allowed to speak freely on private property, and hypothetically a group of property owners could form a federation and ban the expression of certain opinions. Does this mean the government is justified in restricting free speech in publicly owned areas, or in the nation at large? Of course not. Further, no one would argue that this makes “freedom of speech” a farce as a human right because there is a scenario in which it hypothetically wouldn’t exist in its pure form under anarcho-capitalism.[2]

This brings us to the point about “forced integration.” To call allowing individuals to contract with other members of a nation-state or own land in a nation state “forced integration” is really bizarre. As Don Boudreaux argues:

[L]abeling open immigration as “forced integration” is disingenuous. Such a practice is identical to labeling the First Amendment’s protection of free speech as “forced listening.” But keeping government from regulating speech is not at all the same thing as forcing people to listen. Likewise, allowing people to immigrate to America is not the same thing as forcing Americans to associate against their wills with immigrants. Under a regime of open immigration, I need not hire or dine with anyone whom I don’t wish to hire or dine with. Indeed, whenever government restricts immigration it coercively prevents me, as an American, from hiring or dining with whoever I choose to hire or dine with. 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. Just as trade restraints are, at bottom, restrictions on the freedoms of domestic citizens, so, too, are immigration restraints restrictions on the freedoms of domestic citizens.

As Walter Block and Anthony Gregory point out, this type of argument could justify many other statist interventions:

Hoppe’s position that keeping illegals off public property because of their supposed “invasiveness” could easily be extended to other matters, aside from free trade. Gun laws, drug laws, prostitution laws, drinking laws, smoking laws, laws against prayer—all of these things could be defended on the basis that many tax-paying property owners would not want such behavior on their own private property. Such examples are hardly without a real-world basis. Large numbers of Americans would not allow guests in their homes if those guests had machineguns or crack cocaine in their possession. The principle of the freedom to exclude and set conditions for entry onto private property simply cannot be extended to the socialized public sphere, or else all sorts of unlibertarian, illiberal policies could be as easily justified as border controls. In other words, just because an individual—or many individuals—would not want act X to occur on their property does not mean that, according to libertarian law, it can be prohibited as a general principle, even on so-called “public property.”

To me, forced integration as a concept is incoherent. Allowing someone to exist within geopolitical borders is not the same as forcing others to associate with that person. It confuses the public-private distinction, which has been fundamental to classical liberal thought throughout the entire tradition.

But even if we accept it as a legitimate argument, Mr. Strebe and Hoppe need to prove why “forced integration” is more of a problem than “forced exclusion.” They believe they have shown this under democracies because democratic politicians will be a more predominant problem in democracies because democratic leaders are more likely to admit stupid riff-raff who will vote for them rather than people who the landowners would not want to associate with. Empirically, this argument seems implausible. If this were the case, then why does the US government need to forcibly stop private citizens from engaging in labor contracts with illegal immigrants?

But even if this were the case, wouldn’t that be an argument in favor of open borders? Open borders as a policy mean that democratic politicians can make no judgments on who can and cannot enter the country, including the “bums” and “parasites” Hoppe doesn’t like get in as well as the immigrants “superior” people would want to associate with. If the citizenry truly do not want to associate with these “bad” immigrants then the immigrants will have problems finding others to contract with (meaning they won’t find a job and will be destitute), face severe social exclusion by the citizens, and will be less likely to immigrate in the first place or will go back to their country due to their misery here. Freedom of association would win out under open borders. Why would closed borders—when democratic politicians really are the only ones making decisions about who can come into the country and who cannot—result in more forced integration than open borders?

Hoppe does have somewhat of a response to this when he points out how government owned roads and non-discrimination laws will increase “forced integration.” But as Alexander Funcke argues, these arguments are based on some pretty faulty assumptions:

As he notes that migrants may “proceed on public roads and lands to every domestic resident’s doorsteps […] and to access, protected by a multitude of non-discrimination laws, […]”, etc., he need to explain why they would be a greater nuance than the current population. To argue this, he claim a strong human ethno-cultural homophilia, e.g.: “[In a residential area, the] desire for undisturbed possession—peace and quite—is best accomplished by a high degree of ethno-cultural homogenity.” This claim, hinges on two questionable assumptions. First, that the ethno-cultural distances within countries dwarfs the between-state distances. This is far from obvious, New York City and London seem ethno-culturally closer than the two U.S. cities, New York City, NY, and Albuquerque, NM. El Paso, TX, seem closer to El Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, than to Boston, MA. Secondly, as Thomas Schelling and many after him has shown, what on the surface look like strong homophily often is a product of path-dependency and at most weak preference for at least someone similar.

Even if “forced integration” were a coherent concept and more of a prevalent problem, that in itself wouldn’t refute a policy of open borders. Many immigrants choose to relocate because of conditions of poverty or oppression, to find for themselves a better life. Is it just that the state should forcibly keep non-citizens impoverished simply because some citizens feel uncomfortable existing in the same geopolitical borders as someone they do not like? It’s a pretty counter-intuitive and morally questionable argument to make.

In sum, border restrictions are not consistent with anarcho-capitalism because they restrict freedom of contract and freedom of association as well as freedom of movement, even if you deny that freedom of movement is a fundamental human right. And even if anarcho-capitalism would abolish immigration, that carries no normative force for why existing states should do so.

Ingroup vs. Outgrouping on Citizenship is Inconsistent with Anarcho-Capitalism

Mr. Strebe thinks that he can show why my reduction ad absurdum doesn’t work because it is enforced on non-citizens and not citizens:

[I]t assumes there is an equivalency between immigration and any other government policy, such as Medicare or eugenics. Without such an equivalency, Mr. Woodman’s appeal to the faulty logic of his interlocutors’ argument falls apart, as his own argument no longer possesses the balance between its two examples it relies upon for its logical and persuasive force. Here’s the problem: Medicare or eugenics are internal policies that affect the ingroup, the citizenry, only. Immigration is an external policy that affects both an outgroup, the immigrants, and the ingroup, the citizenry.

This is simply begging the question: why would such an ingroup-outgroup dynamic in regards to citizenship be morally relevant in the first place? Mr. Strebe tries to address this in his conclusion:

It should be clear that this is a non-sequitur: non-citizens do not have rights to the sovereign territory of a country, which is held either by private citizens or the public. The government does not restrict their rights when it refuses to grant them the privilege of traversing land that is publicly held for the ingroup because they had no rights to that land to begin with. Because the government is nominally beholden to the ingroup, and not to any outgroup, rights discourse concerning the outgroup is fundamentally absurd when considered in terms of Hoppe’s arguments.

I’m not sure why asking for a major premise to be justified is a non-sequitur, but Hoppe’s arguments are contradictory with what Mr. Strebe says here. Hoppe’s argument hinges on the idea that the government and its citizens are the only ones who have the right to exist within a nation. Here’s how Mr. Strebe’s argument above works, correct me if I’m wrong:

  1. If an individual or group has rightful ownership over a property, they may rightfully exclude others from trespassing on the property.
  2. The government and its citizens rightfully own the territory within a nation-state.
  3. Therefore, the government is justified in prohibiting non-citizens from entering a nation-state but not citizens.

How does 2 at all follow from Hoppe’s argument?[3] Hoppe claims that government is an illegitimate monopoly on force. If this is the case, how can the state have rightful sovereign ownership over any property in the first place? If it is the case that the state is illegitimate, and the ingroup-outgroup of citizenship and borders distinction is itself only a result of the state’s “unnatural” existence (which Hoppe himself admits), then how can you claim that only citizens as defined by an illegitimate government “have sovereign rights over the territory of a country?” It’s an argument that is inconsistent with the whole premise of anarcho-capitalism in the first place, and again confuses the private nature of property ownership with the coercive, public nature of government. If it is the case that the distinction between non-citizens and citizens is simply the result of the illegitimate, arbitrary use of government force, then the analogies to Medicare and eugenics are still valid.

Conclusion

I think this whole discussion is misleading because I do not believe in deontological natural rights and think Hoppe’s conception of property is untenable in the first place. Despite this, Mr. Strebe and Hoppe’s anarcho-capitalist counterfactual fails on its own terms. A state which stops its citizens from contracting with non-citizens is a fairytale in the absence of the state because the concept of “citizen” and “noncitizen” is dependent on the existence of the state in the first place. Of course, property owners could prohibit certain individuals from trespassing on their property, but that is not at all analogous with what the state does when it restricts immigration. And even if we accept everything about the anarcho-capitalist counterfactual argument, there still is no moral reason to treat non-citizens differently than citizens.

But Mr. Strebe is right about one thing: my original post did not address the problem of tribalism, which I agree is the root cause of most opposition to immigration, but that seems to be a separate issue from Hoppe’s argument and I don’t see very many libertarians making purely tribalist arguments. There are two ways to coherently argue that my reductio ad absurdum is invalid: 1) by claiming that there is some moral reason for treating citizen’s rights differently than non-citizens (tribalism) or 2) by claiming that immigration restrictions are not really violating anyone’s rights in the first place. Hoppe’s argument doesn’t make a libertarian case for tribalism: at most, it can make the case that freedom of movement isn’t really a right and so immigration restrictions are not rights-violations. I believe it fails to make this case, but that’s a separate argument from tribalism. Even if I agree that freedom of movement understood simply as the ability to traverse land isn’t a right, I can easily reply: “Sure, freedom of movement per se isn’t a right, but immigration restrictions also violate freedom of contract, so the reductio still stands.” If Mr. Strebe wants to show why the reductio ad absurdum is invalid, he will need to 1) provide an argument for why treating citizens differently than non-citizens, or tribalism, is justified or 2) show that freedom of contract isn’t really a right or that immigration restrictions do not really violate this right.

I thank Mr. Strebe for this opportunity to discuss these topics with him, and look forward to his response.


[1] It is worth noting at this point that I think that discussion over who has the “natural right” over property based on past ownership is not the best way to approach property rights, which are themselves an ever-changing result of tacit knowledge and spontaneous order, see Hayek’s discussion of property in chapter two of the Fatal Conceit. Also, I think Hoppe’s vision of anarcho-capitalism is likely not what would happen and tends too far in the direction of a perverse crytpo-feudalism. However, the point is that to say government owns property and therefore is justified in forcibly controlling who can or cannot enter a country is inconsistent with Hoppe’s own deontological arguments against government in the first place.

[2] At this point, it is worth mentioning that David Gordon argues this is not self-evidently absurd because we do not talk about “rights” when discussing the use of public land, but prudential consequences. So it is fine to restrict the “riff raff” in, for example, an airport just as it is fine to restrict movement across public roads. Even if we accept this premise, then Hoppe’s argument that we should not consider consequences and only the morality of immigration, which is how he starts his argument, is thrown out the window and we are going into the realm of consequentialist arguments, which Hoppe admits are in favor of pro-immigration even with the added caveat that economic growth isn’t the end-all-be-all of welfare because value is subjective. Hoppe’s argument against immigration will then have to hinge entirely on consequentialist cultural-based argument, such as his rhetoric about “forced integration.”

[3] I would also heavily qualify 1 with a more nuanced notion of “possession” versus “property” inspired by mutualism, but that is a discussion for another day.

The Libertarian Case for Immigration Restriction

I read Mr. Woodman’s recent post with some interest since it is generally considered a truism that libertarians are not in favor of government interference, and immigration restrictions being a prime example of said interference, are, ergo, not in favor of that as well.

What I found strange was that the most prominent libertarian advocate for immigration restrictions, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, was not mentioned. This is a particularly grave omission. Hoppe is the foremost critic of the libertarian dogma of freedom of movement, and his arguments possess the most influence. He also pivots many of his arguments around a concern that Mr. Woodman has omitted: tribalism.

In his article on Lew Rockwell, On Free Immigration and Forced Integration, Hoppe writes:

To libertarians of the Austrian school, it should be clear that what constitutes “wealth” and “well-being” is subjective. Material wealth is not the only thing that counts. Thus, even if real incomes rise due to immigration, it does not follow that immigration must be considered “good,” for one might prefer lower living standards and a greater distance to other people over higher living standards and a smaller distance to others.

The argument against immigration is fundamentally one of tribalism, though it is cloaked in economic rationalizations. Thus it is tribalism that must be reckoned with if Mr. Woodman desires to dismiss the arguments against immigration restrictions root and branch. That Mr. Woodman has not done so is regrettable, and it is an error I will attempt to address here.

Despite what I consider an omission, Mr. Woodman extensively, and mostly admirably, interrogates several consequentialist arguments “many libertarians” – presumably, he writes of those interlocutors he himself has sparred with – have made in favor of immigration restrictions. I will summarize them below.

I. Immigration Has Bad Consequences

Mr. Woodward summarizes the consequentialist argument against immigration thusly:

  1. Bad effect x will happen if we allow open borders.
  2. Therefore, the government is justified in restricting immigration.

However, if this logic is sound, then it gives the government carte blanche to use whatever force it wants to restrict anyone from doing anything, assuming it can prove that it causes a harm. Mr. Woodward writes:

For an example, as long as we have government-provided Medicare programs, allowing people to eat unhealthy foods or smoke will increase the cost of those welfare programs; following the logic of the argument above, the government would be justified in implementing paternalist policies that restrict people’s right to consume what they want to reduce the burden of the welfare state. People with lower incomes are more likely to use welfare programs as well, so the government is justified in reducing their population size by restricting their right to reproduce through forced sterilization.

Via reductio, this leads to a situation where force can be used arbitrarily and nefariously, which libertarians and likely most people of any political persuasion would find unsavory. Therefore, the argument in favor of government restricting immigration to avoid bad effect X is both morally untenable and inconsistent with libertarian doctrine.

II. Things Fall Apart

There are several weaknesses in this argument, the first being the contention that immigration restrictions are a restriction of an individual’s fundamental rights. As Mr. Woodman writes:

To be clear: immigration restrictions are a form of government intrusion into an individual’s freedom of movement. It is the government using its monopoly on force to restrict someone from doing something they’d otherwise be able to do, that is move across an arbitrary line we call a “border.”

Hoppe would argue that borders are anything but arbitrary lines demarcating abstract entities on a map. Rather, they reflect the outermost holdings of a nation, which claims ownership of the land, and has sole use and rights to it. In the aforementioned article, Hoppe writes:

in order to render the… argument applicable, it is – implicitly – assumed that the territory in question is unowned, and that the immigrants enter virgin territory (open frontier).

Yet, very little territory these days is virginal, and the examples can be counted on one hand. In Hoppe’s example of an anarcho-capitalist society, all land is privately owned, and so freedom of movement becomes absurd. How could one individual have the untrammeled ability to traverse another person’s property? The only proper relation is one of mutual freedom of association – one property owner may decide to hang out with, say, Mexicans, while another would not. Freedom of movement becomes dependent on individual consent, which in turn (using the historical example of the monarchy) is based on calculated self-interest. This leads to another possibility: all property owners could willingly confederate and decide they will not associate with Mexicans or some other group, and freedom of movement to that group, such as it was, ceases to exist. Thus, freedom of movement as a human right is absurd in an anarcho-capitalist society because there is no freedom to traverse the unowned land.

More importantly, it is absurd in any other society as well, all of which are predicated on some form of ownership. In a monarchy, the king owns all the land, and in a democracy, an association of elected bureaucrats holds sovereignty over all land in the name of an abstract entity, the public, to whom it is avowedly beholden. In a monarchy, the sovereign wishes to enrich his own holdings and so will adopt an immigration policy that, according to Hoppe, would resemble most individual approaches to free association – acquire high-quality immigrants and offload low-quality citizens. In a democracy, the sovereign association of bureaucrats would seek to enrich itself (because it has temporary custodianship of the monopoly on taxation, rather than outright ownership), often at the expense of the existing citizenry, by allowing the immigration of any individual likely to enrich him – quality notwithstanding (Quote: “In fact, such negative externalities – unproductive parasites, bums, and criminals – are likely to be his most reliable supporters.”). Immigration thus becomes, in a democracy such as our own, a system of forced integration – the negation of the rights of some for the prerogative of others. This is Hoppe’s crucial point and the source of his opposition to opening immigration to all comers without prejudice. Here is the relevant passage:

Like a king, a democratic ruler will promote spatial over-integration by over-producing the “public good” of roads. However, for a democratic ruler, unlike a king, it will not be sufficient that everyone can move next door to anyone else on government roads. Concerned about his current income and power rather than capital values and constrained by egalitarian sentiments, a democratic ruler will tend to go even further. Through non-discrimination laws – one cannot discriminate against Germans, Jews, Blacks, Catholics, Hindus, homosexuals, etc. – the government will want to open even the physical access and entrance to everyone’s property to everyone else. Thus, it is hardly surprising that the so-called “Civil Rights” legislation in the United States, which outlawed domestic discrimination on the basis of color, race, national origin, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, etc., and which thereby actually mandated forced integration, coincided with the adoption of a non-discriminatory immigration policy; i.e., mandated inter-national desegregagtion (forced integration).

Even if Mr. Woodman rejects the validity of this argument, there is another weakness to his own: it assumes there is an equivalency between immigration and any other government policy, such as Medicare or eugenics. Without such an equivalency, Mr. Woodman’s appeal to the faulty logic of his interlocutors’ argument falls apart, as his own argument no longer possesses the balance between its two examples it relies upon for its logical and persuasive force. Here’s the problem: Medicare or eugenics are internal policies that affect the ingroup, the citizenry, only. Immigration is an external policy that affects both an outgroup, the immigrants, and the ingroup, the citizenry. Because immigration arguments look both inwards towards domestic concerns and outwards towards foreign ones, Mr. Woodman’s reductio is no longer applicable. (An important caveat: This comes with the assumption that any second-order effects spilling outside the country, such as, say, a global market distortion due to government programs for public healthcare in the United States, are not to be counted.)

 

Let’s examine that a minute.

When the members of an ingroup debate the merits of eugenics or Medicare, they debate how these policies will affect themselves – alone – well or poorly. They are also, implicitly, debating whether the imposition of government coercion via taxation or force on themselves will lead to the salutary result they desire.

When they debate over whether to admit immigrants from an outgroup, their debate hinges on whether the assumed future behavior of the members of that outgroup will affect them well or poorly. They are also, implicitly, debating whether the imposition of government coercion via force on others will lead to the salutary result they desire.

In both cases, the policy that wins does so based on the opinion of the ingroup as to its efficacy for whatever definition of welfare they have set for themselves. As welfare is a subjective term and does not only include economic goods, this ultimately reduces to this: welfare is whatever the people want it to be.

The ingroup can then argue, with complete logical consistency, that it both supports freedom (for itself, within the borders of its territory) and does not support it (for the outgroup, which is outside its territory and wants to come in). The reductio-into-slippery-slope that Mr. Woodman would like us to believe force inherently leads into is, in this case, fallacious. Force can certainly be directed outwards without being directed inwards. One could make an argument that acceding to a government imposition of force in one area is itself a slippery slope to force everywhere, but that is a different argument, and not the one being made.

III. Conclusions

To summarize the lines of argument thus far:

  1. Freedom of movement is a fallacy predicated on incorrect notions of land ownership. Movement from one sovereign territory to another is instead privilege of movement.
  2. Within a publicly held system such as our own, privilege of movement is dependent on the consent of the government which holds lands in the name of its citizens, its own ingroup.
  3. However, because the government seeks to enrich itself – often at the expense of its avowed ingroup – it will often pursue immigration policies that are detrimental to the ingroup, who are in turned forced to bear the burdens of the policy that enriches their overlords.
  4. The end result of democratic “free” immigration is forced integration, a betrayal of libertarian principles.
  5. Various logical points.

Mr. Woodman challenges libertarians to “justify some argument for why it [government] can restrict the rights of non-citizens but not citizens.” It should be clear that this is a non-sequitur: non-citizens do not have rights to the sovereign territory of a country, which is held either by private citizens or the public. The government does not restrict their rights when it refuses to grant them the privilege of traversing land that is publicly held for the ingroup because they had no rights to that land to begin with. Because the government is nominally beholden to the ingroup, and not to any outgroup, rights discourse concerning the outgroup is fundamentally absurd when considered in terms of Hoppe’s arguments.

While Mr. Woodman has provided examples of policies restrictive of immigration being or becoming harmful economically, that does not negate the truth that a harmful economic policy may also come bundled with a salutary domestic policy. The citizenry, who do not want to associate with X group, have had their biases enshrined in law according to their desires.

Despite the centrality of tribalism in immigration, it is understandable why Mr. Woodman failed to attack the root of anti-immigration arguments. As we can observe in the current American election cycle, arguments against immigration generally take a utilitarian strain. Indeed, Donald Trump has based his opposition to immigration on the following issues:

  1. Immigrants are increasing the level of crime because many of them are criminals
  2. Immigrants are not adequately screened, leading to point one
  3. Immigrants are harming the economy

As stated by Mr. Woodman, there are clear arguments to be made against these points. However, he has failed to address why these arguments are convincing: tribalism, the doctrine of sticking with one’s kith and kin at the expense of others, is the root ideology. And there are clear – and libertarian! – arguments in favor of it.

I expect, and welcome, a hearty critique of Hoppes’s position, my articulation of it, and my response to Mr. Woodman’s article.

Most Arguments Against Open Borders Lead to Extremely Un-Libertarian Positions

One thing that strikes me about libertarians who oppose open borders is that they approach the issue of immigration completely different from how libertarians approach nearly every other issue. Arguments against immigration typically go as follows:

  1. Bad effect x will happen if we allow open borders.
  2. Therefore, the government is justified in restricting immigration.

For example, many libertarians claim that because immigrants will increase deficits by using the welfare state, the government is justified in restricting immigration. Of course, this isn’t actually true, but even if it were true this in no way justifies immigration restrictions.

To be clear: immigration restrictions are a form of government intrusion into an individual’s freedom of movement. It is the government using its monopoly on force to restrict someone from doing something they’d otherwise be able to do, that is move across an arbitrary line we call a “border.” As Jason Brennan says:

At first glance, immigration restrictions look like rights violations. When we impose immigration restrictions, we do not simply fail to help would-be immigrants, but rather use violence and threats of violence to prevent them from making life-saving or life-changing trades with willing trading partners. We also harm our own citizens, who would benefit from interacting with those immigrants. We impose ourselves and cut off relationships that otherwise would have formed. We use violence and threats of violence to interfere with people who, if left alone, would work or live or trade together.

So libertarians who make this argument are substantially saying that if it can be shown to reduce deficits, using government force to restrict someone’s freedoms is justified.

If anti-open borders libertarians treated any other issue like they do immigration, it would lead to some pretty absurd, anti-libertarian policy positions. For an example, as long as we have government-provided Medicare programs, allowing people to eat unhealthy foods or smoke will increase the cost of those welfare programs; following the logic of the argument above, the government would be justified in implementing paternalist policies that restrict people’s right to consume what they want to reduce the burden of the welfare state. People with lower incomes are more likely to use welfare programs as well, so the government is justified in reducing their population size by restricting their right to reproduce through forced sterilization.

Obviously, both these positions are absurd from a libertarian perspective. Someone’s freedom from government force in areas of reproduction and what food they consume is more important than the fiscal costs. What makes the freedom of movement any different? Replace “people with lower incomes” with “immigrants” and “sterilization programs” with “immigration restrictions” in the sentence above, and the argument is the same. If the government cannot restrict freedoms in other areas in the name of deficit reduction, what makes freedom of movement in immigration restrictions any different?

Or take another example, many libertarians justify restricting immigration because immigrants are likely to vote for statist policies that will restrict liberty. Of course, this once again isn’t true, but even if it were it by itself is no reason for libertarians to support immigration restrictions. The operating principle here is that government is justified in restricting individual liberty if it increases the likelihood that pro-liberty politicians will be elected.

Again, that principle is not applied to any other issue by libertarians. Let’s say a particular demographic of citizens is more likely to vote for statist policies; by this argument, the government would be justified in reducing their population through sterilization programs in order to increase the likelihood that libertarians would win elections. Citizens who vocally advocate for statist policies through their speech also increase the likelihood that people will vote for those statist policies, so the government would be justified in restricting their freedom of speech. Obviously, both conclusions are absurd.

Further, as Bryan Caplan argues, it must be shown that there are policies that can reduce these ill-effects while violating fewer liberties than an all-out closed border policy. For example, we can eliminate the welfare cost of immigration by allowing for an open borders policy but make it illegal for any immigrant to receive welfare benefits. This allows for freedom of movement but eliminates the alleged ill-effect of open borders. Additionally, there are undisputable benefits from immigration, both in terms of increased liberty of movement and economic growth, and it must be shown that the negative effects outweigh the positive effects. Therefore, premise 2 is also incomplete as stated above.

So, in reality, these types of arguments against immigration are as follows:

1a. The government is justified in restricting someone’s liberties if it can be shown to stop bad effect x.

2a. X will happen if we allow for freedom of movement through immigration and there is no other way to stop x without restricting freedom of movement.

3a. Therefore, the government is justified in restricting immigration.

In reality, very few libertarians accept 1a, particularly if they believe in deontological natural rights. For consequentialists, it would depend on how bad x is. But for most arguments against open borders, they would not say that x is bad enough to allow for restrictions on nearly any other liberty. Further, as pointed out earlier, premise 2a is usually false because the empirical evidence suggests that x will not be a result of open borders, there is some other way to stop x while allowing for free migration, or both.

Another argument is that there is something distinctive about immigrants that justifies the state violating their rights but not citizens. If this is the case then we can replace 1a above with the following argument:

1b. The government is justified in restricting the rights of non-citizens if it can be shown to stop bad effect x, but would not be justified in violating the rights of citizens even if it would stop x.

This isn’t really a premise, but a conclusion; libertarians must justify some argument for why it can restrict the rights of non-citizens but not citizens. On its face, it seems like this principle is pretty absurd. For example, suppose that Greek citizens who use welfare eat unhealthily, and this is harming Germany fiscally because Germany helped bail out the Greek welfare state. The German government, therefore, passes a law restricting what Greek citizens can eat and tried to enforce it on Greek soil. Clearly, nobody, libertarian or otherwise, would call that justified. It is the burden of proof for open borders opponents, then, to prove why citizenship is in any way morally relevant to restricting liberties.

Perhaps there is an argument for why someone’s rights are all of a sudden less valuable because they were born on the wrong side of an arbitrary line that only exists because of state force. However, I doubt that there is such an argument that is in any way consistent with libertarian philosophy.

The death knell of Open Borders?

The world of the 1990s and aughts is now gone. A borderless, wall-less world will be relegated to the musty, threadbare realm of academia and on the white papers of a few brave think tanks. The flood of war refugees from Syria has been overwhelming Europe’s political and cultural sensibilities (Europe’s political sensibilities are quite innovative, but it is stagnating culturally; not a good combination for societies trying to manage large influxes of mostly unwelcome refugees). In the US, demagogues on the Right and the Left have been trashing immigrants and the freedom of movement in the name of the Worker.

The freedom of movement of individuals is a fundamental right that I will advocate on behalf of for the rest of my life, and yet I have been cautious in embracing the trendy calls for Open Borders by technocrats and non-paleo libertarians. My caution had less to do with my disdain for the cultures of those respective factions than it did with my inability to imagine a world of Open Borders as the prominent factions presented it. The Open Borders trend brought too many questions to my mind. For example, what if only a few countries recognize Open Borders? Why should people be free to move to one area but not to another? What is fair about any of that?

Open Borders was, in my mind, a short-sighted cultural campaign aimed at furthering freedom. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, as some such campaigns end up furthering freedom in the long run (though these campaigns can also damage the push for more freedoms, too). In this respect, Open Borders was a big success. It brought technocratic Leftists around to the idea of loosening restrictions not only on labor but capital as well. It brought lots of non-Europeans into the libertarian fold. The Open Borders campaign made the unspoken nationalisms of trade protectionism and immigration restriction taboo for smart people.

Yet, as current events so blatantly illustrate, freedom of movement is not in the same camp as, say, freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is culturally sacred to Westerners. Every individual in the West believes that her freedom of speech is inalienable. This, even though free speech is always under political and legal attacks from factions vying for power over others. (These political and legal attacks, of course, are a necessary evil for a free and open society. If this doesn’t make sense, recall that “freedom of speech” is a right protected so well by states like North Korea and Cuba that the rulers of those countries consider it a crime to claim otherwise.) For those who want a world where freedom of movement is in the same camp as freedom of speech, more hard work and more critical thinking is required. My small contribution is below.

If there had been political bonds – a la (con)federation of some kind – between Syria and EU states (or other Arab states), then the horrific violence that has been tearing Syria apart could have been avoided. The opposing parties would have had to spell out their differences in a parliamentary setting, and if they could not come to any kind of agreement then the opposing parties could have hashed out their differences in a legal setting, either by suing each other in the courts or by pursuing secession options (which would have likely led all parties back into parliamentary negotiations). In fact, the legal and political jostling could have been done simultaneously.

Look at the EU. Just look! Open Borders is possible because the states involved in the confederation are bonded together politically. They had come to an agreement about Open Borders (amongst other policies) and how to recognize, respond, and respect such a policy.

Look at the US. Open Borders is possible because the states involved in the federation are bonded together politically. They had come to an agreement about Open Borders (amongst other policies) and how to recognize, respond, and respect such a policy.

Now look at Syria and the EU. Open Borders is not possible because these states have no political bonds. Instead, people are being murdered and driven from their homes. People are being harassed by policemen and bused from one country to another. People are being barred from riding trains. People are dying at sea.

Open Borders is a watered down policy prescription that is too Western-centric (ask me how). It’s better than nothing, mind you (like free trade agreements), but it’s worth reminding ourselves that it’s not a comprehensive answer to the question of freedom of movement. As such, it’s easier to attack or dismiss when things go wrong. Here is yours truly blabbing at the mouth back in May of 2014:

I think that there is a way to incorporate open borders into a One Big Change-style reform while also leaving room for other improvements such as financial competition in the markets (rather than between governments) and competing tax regimes. I’d dig deeper and go a little more structural. I’d federate the entire world, and I wouldn’t make the federation out of the current agglomeration of nation-states, either. I would destroy the states currently in place and federate the administrative units that currently operate underneath the nation-state.

This, I think, would do a great job of incorporating open borders (everyone is part of the same federal union now), financial competition (no more national banks), tax regimes (you can more easily vote with your feet), and a common legal system that protects individual rights such as private property and freedom of religion.

Now, you wouldn’t want to do this in a ‘top-down’ manner. The best way to get the ball rolling on such a proposal would be to tack on a constitutional clause of some sort that merely opens the door to dialogue on closer political ties between peoples. So, in the case of the US, a clause could be adopted that makes it possible for states or disgruntled sub-states to approach the US about collaborating more intimately. An even better option would be to find an already existing clause in the constitution that allows for such a thing. Maybe nothing comes of it. Maybe people balk at American pomposity. At least, at least that is until their strong man starts bombing their neighborhoods or their social democracy starts adding a few extra zeros to its currency…

Holla back!

UPDATE: Re-reading through this made me realize that I’m addressing a different aspect of freedom of movement than the Open Borders crowd. They’re focused on the ‘why’ whereas I’m focused on the ‘how’.

The blatant fascism of Bernie Sanders

Ezra Klein, a Bruin and also a journalist, recently interviewed Bernie Sanders, an American Senator currently challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democrat Party’s 2016 presidential nomination. Sanders is an old, extremely rich white man who describes himself as a “democratic socialist.” Check this out:

Ezra Klein: You said being a democratic socialist means a more international view. I think if you take global poverty that seriously, it leads you to conclusions that in the US are considered out of political bounds. Things like sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders. About sharply increasing …

Bernie Sanders: Open borders? No, that’s a Koch brothers proposal.

Ezra Klein: Really?

Bernie Sanders: Of course. That’s a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States. …

Ezra Klein: But it would make …

Bernie Sanders: Excuse me …

Ezra Klein: It would make a lot of global poor richer, wouldn’t it?

Bernie Sanders: It would make everybody in America poorer —you’re doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don’t think there’s any country in the world that believes in that. If you believe in a nation state or in a country called the United States or UK or Denmark or any other country, you have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help poor people. What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don’t believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.

You know what youth unemployment is in the United States of America today? If you’re a white high school graduate, it’s 33 percent, Hispanic 36 percent, African American 51 percent. You think we should open the borders and bring in a lot of low-wage workers, or do you think maybe we should try to get jobs for those kids?

I think from a moral responsibility we’ve got to work with the rest of the industrialized world to address the problems of international poverty, but you don’t do that by making people in this country even poorer.

There is much, much more stupidity here. The choice between Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders – who is supposedly the representative of a new Left – illustrates well why the American Right is currently the faction of Ideas. This is so stupid that I’m flabbergasted. I am literally flabbergasted.

There is no way this guy represents the future of the American Left. No. Way.

What would I ask the president in an interview?

My favorite podcast really hit the Big Time this week. Marc Maron interviewed President Obama last week and released the episode today. Marc Maron does a great job interviewing his guests but this episode is (naturally) pretty different. Obama mostly gives a lot of fluff, but he did make some interesting points on the role of political institutions in polarizing politics, as well as the role of [implicit] property rights in shaping political outcomes.

While I was waiting for this episode to be released I wondered what I would have done in Maron’s position. It’s tempting to say “just scream non-stop for an hour until the president agrees to be better.” But of course, that wouldn’t do anyone any good (although I think it would sell advertising on cable news). The question is then “how do I avoid throwing softballs, maintain a good conversation, and still nudge in the direction of change I’d like to see?”

One thing I think would be important were I in that position is to restrict the number of issues I bring up. The limits of human attention mean that we simply can’t handle more than a handful of things at once. Piling on all the issues and complexities of the world would only serve to reduce anyone’s ability to do anything positive. Another thing I think would be important is focusing on areas where we already mostly agree. Nobody over the age of 25 is likely to change their opinion on just about anything, so why waste your energy. That’s sunk ideology. And besides, even if you’re talking to a real piece of work, you have some obligation to do a good job of being a conversationalist, and focusing on differences is less likely to lead to a good conversation.

So what would I ask Obama in an interview?

  • What do you see as the path forward to immigration liberalization?
  • Will you please push for a bill that allows any law-abiding person to work in the United States without giving them access to the Welfare state? (I would word that differently if I were actually interviewing the president, but you get my drift…)
  • Would you please let Nassim Taleb explain his risk-management argument for climate change interventions? And can he please also be required to comment on his argument’s relationship to the Law of Unintended Consequences?
  • What is your favorite episode of South Park?

That third point should be at least a little bit controversial. I’m agnostic on whether there’s anything to be done about climate change (although I’m all for using it as an excuse to liberalize immigration for the world’s poor). I’m seriously skeptical of governments’ ability to do any good in that arena. I’d really rather not add fuel to the fire, but I think it’s important to raise the standards of debate, and I think Taleb’s argument* is the most sensible one. Not only that, it has wide applications that should push (benevolent/benign) politicians to support simpler rules and fewer interventions.

Oh yeah, and I’d ask him if he’s a secret gay muslim. (“Does your mom know you’re a secret gay muslim?” Anyone else remember playing that game?)


* Taleb’s argument goes roughly as follows: We face uncertainty, but there is a non-zero probability of a catastrophically bad outcome. Maximizing expected utility is not the appropriate risk-management strategy in this case. Our most urgent need (our highest marginal benefit course of action) is to eliminate the possibility of the catastrophic outcomes–and perhaps after that start thinking about maximizing expected utility. Essentially the argument is “don’t play Russian Roulette!” But an essential underpinning is that a probability distribution describing outcomes in complex systems often exhibits “wild randomness”. In contrast to the “mild randomness” of the normal distribution, in wildly random situations it’s difficult or impossible to even have an expected utility. The conclusion I would hope they would draw is that intervening in complex systems (and particularly creating new complexity through increased regulation and more tax loopholes) is best avoided, and particularly at the national level.

Around the Web

  1. Olivier Roy on Laicite as Ideology, the Myth of ‘National Identity’ and Racism in the French Republic
  2. Prague ’68 and the End of Time
  3. How To Spot And Critique Censorship Tropes In The Media’s Coverage Of Free Speech Controversies
  4. The Swamping that Wasn’t: The Diaspora Dynamics of the Puerto Rican Open Borders Experiment
  5. A Voice Still Heard: Irving Howe
  6. Borders and Bobbing Heads: Postcoloniality and Algeria’s Fiftieth Anniversary of Independence (so close, and yet so far…)
  7. The New Yorker on the recent scientific fraud, with its epicenter at my alma mater. (Delacroix remains startlingly relevant because of it.)