Restricted Immigration is not a Libertarian Position

Restricted Immigration is not a Libertarian Position

Note: this essay was originally posted at FreedomDemocrats.org.

To me, libertarianism has always been associated with “open borders” as a matter of principal. A belief in freedom of movement is an essential part of being a Libertarian. Freedom of movement is a basic right, essential to any free society; it’s not a “privilege” granted by the State, particularly a privilege tied to cumbersome duties. Any government that bids out artificial rents to restrict this basic freedom violates the terms that bind it to being an institutional instrument of a liberal order.

While “open borders” is still a majority opinion among libertarians, it is no longer a universally held one. I attribute this development primarily to three libertarian figures, Murray Rothbard, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, and Milton Friedman. Rothbard, who originally held an “open borders” position, switched his thinking during the “paleo phase” of his later years. Rothbard’s opposition was more or less rooted in a cultural argument. Hoppe’s position is rooted in a private property rights argument for restricted immigration. Friedman’s position was rooted in open immigration as an ideal not compatible with the welfare State.


Let’s look at Friedman’s position first. Friedman’s argument is a purely utilitarian one: the influx of foreign labor imposes welfare costs in terms of consumption of public services. However, I think Friedman’s position suffers from both a conceptual and an empirical problem. The conceptual problem is rooted in the analysis of enforcing restricted freedom of movement in a political economy. This is a problem that can be studied scientifically in terms of public choice economics, fairly easily establishing that the welfare costs of enforcement are likely to exceed, and exceed greatly, any welfare costs associated with immigrant consumption of public goods. The empirical problem is that there is has never been any major US economical study that has established any immigrant welfare drain on public services. Indeed, the opposite conclusions have been empirically established, that immigration, documented or not, has a positive welfare benefit, public services or not. Recently, Ron Unz empirically established the myth of any Hispanic crime wave Simply, the welfare argument against open immigration doesn’t hold up.

In terms of Rothbard, we should note that Rothbard’s shift to the paleo right in his later years was influenced by his disillusionment with the left and it’s descent into communitarian politics. Rothbard’s point was that the State would use immigration to serve partisan political ends. With politics becoming communitarian, on both the left and right, Rothbard saw the communitarian right–conservative, Christian middle America– as the more fertile ground for libertarianism. However, the notion of a need for a conservative cultural uniformity is always belied by the fact of embedded counter-cultures. Today, the idea of a middle Christian America serving as any receptive laboratory for libertarianism has turned out to be a gross miscalculation. Frankly, Rothbard’s “Paleo phase” is a source of embarrassment; this is not a serious argument.

Well, I should Rothbard’s cultural argument is generally not taken seriously anymore, except by the likes of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, who has extended the argument. Hoppe’s basic position is that freedom of movement is a cultural threat to western civilization. Therefore, in a theoretical propetarian world, he goes about establishing an “invited-contractual” property rights basis for movement. In other words, the default condition is “trespass” with everyone stuck on their own little piece of private property, if you own property, and you can’t move anywhere without being invited. Even worse, any invitor is held liable to the full extent of his property for any crimes an invitee may commit against any third party.

Hoppe extends this argument to how the State should control “public property,” that access to any such property is controlled by invitation. Thus Hoppe arrives at how the State can supposedly restrict freedom of movement from a so-called libertarian property rights basis.

Let me just say, from a social theory standpoint, Hoppe’s immigration argument is truly a stupid argument. I can make a simple observation, for example, that if the packet-switched internet network operated according to Hoppe’s “invited-contractual” property rights framework, it would cease to function. So in Hoppe’s world, no freedom of movement, no internet. In Hoppe’s world, the entire communication and information infrastructure of most modern business would be wiped out. The internet is largely a collection of private TCP/IP networks(and anyone can setup their own little internet) that nonetheless functions as an efficient public network, In other words, I don’t have to have a “invited-contract” with every freaking Telco along the chain that routes my invading data packets to this web server in making this post. Internet routing works off a principle of peering meaning settlement-free or “sender keeps all,” that is to say, neither party(ISP, Telco networks) in exchanging traffic pays the other for the exchanged traffic; instead, each derives revenue from its own customers. In other words, in terms of the public routing of traffic, the default condition is “pass,” not “trespass.”

From the above example, it’s not difficult to see why any sophisticated, coordinated “libertarian order” would have to have some concept of public or common property. In the case of some “theoretical propetarian model,” there would evolve some layer of contractual agreements outside the “invited-contractual-trespass” model that would effectively simulate some layer of public property.

It should be noted that Hoppe’s Statist Model of “invited-contractual-trespass” applied to State public property is just flat out collectivism.

In summary, there is no coherent libertarian argument for restricted freedom of movement. Attempts by some to try to try to make a case for restricted immigration in light of current affairs don’t hold water. The Justin Raimondo-Ron Paul argument for restricted immigration and “securing the borders” is just a combination of the Hoppe-Friedman positions. As such, it is just a welfare costly form of collectivism. I was pleased to see the staff at Antiwar.com rebuke Raimondo’s position. However, I doubt we will see the likes of Anthony Gregory similarly rebuke Ron Paul(noting Gregory also works for the Campaign for Liberty).

In reality, the problems in Arizona, to the extent there are actually any problems, with regard to this topic, are the result of Arizona having to bear the brunt of the externalized costs of the ongoing increased violence that has been the result of the United States ratcheting up the Drug War in Mexico.

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