“Is There a Right to Immigration? A Libertarian Perspective”

Walter Block and Gene Callahan beat up on Hoppe in this paper. Now Hoppe may seem an easy target; for example, Gene and Robert Murphy eviscerate his “argumentation ethics” with such savage precision that no stone is left on stone.

For example, Hoppe seems concerned with admitting “below-average civilized and productive people into the country.” But surely, under laissez faire, all people, including unskilled workers and workers who temporarily have no access to complementary capital goods, can find jobs. Walter writes that Hoppe “contends that kings would like to keep ‘people of inferior productive capabilities’ out of their kingdoms. This implies that, if the whole world were privatized, such people would have to leave the planet!” But of course, cooperation is possible between all people, because everyone will enjoy comparative advantage in some line of work. Perhaps Hoppe would simply say that a king is more likely than a democratic ruler to seek to attract capital into his country, be it real or human.

Another argument, however, seems to miss the mark. Recall the “paleo-libertarian” position that any given public property should be privatized; however, if that is at the moment unfeasible, it should be run by the government as efficiently as possible. Walter would have none of that. For him, the government and the people are in a state of perpetual low-level warfare. Thus, a bum in a public library, far from being a nuisance to the patrons, is in fact equivalent to a heroic partisan fighting a Soviet invasion. A truck belonging to the Communists and being used by them in an aggressive war can legitimately be destroyed quite despite the fact that it belongs de jure to the Soviet taxpayers, because it belongs de facto to the hostile army being resisted. “But right now, we are faced with a stark choice between two and only two alternatives: either the bum gets to ruin the library (and the partisan blows up the Soviet truck) or the status quo ante prevails. When put in these terms, it is not too difficult to discern the proper libertarian answer.”

Now I fully agree that a private business property like a bakery should be treated exactly like personal property like one’s toothbrush rather than some “commercial public accommodation” tied up in bureaucratic red tape, i.e., rules and regulations that supposedly protect the customers and workers from the businessman’s rapacity. But private property ultimately is not a fetish. It is a tool of social cooperation that serves the consumers better than any alternative. It causes economic progress to proceed at the fastest possible pace. As a result, it is grotesque to call the bum in the public library who “gets to ruin” it a revolutionary who privatizes government property. Privatization should be such as to put the library in the hands of that entrepreneur who will most efficiently use it to the benefit of the buying public. Apparently, for Walter, the second-best outcome, if a public property is not privatized, is to destroy it. Just like the Soviet truck. Similarly, barring complete privatization of federal lands in the United States, Walter would be committed, it seems, to getting them salted and poisoned, so as to weaken and disarm our enemy the state. But that looks more like astounding nihilism, not libertarianism.

It may be true that it does not matter who will initially get to own the newly privatized library; eventually, the library will, by being sold and re-sold, end up in the hands of a competent entrepreneur. But the bum does not get a formal title to the library and with it, the market responsibility to profit from it or sell it at a bargain rate to someone who thinks he can profit from it. The bum turns a regulated public property not into private property but instead into a common resource, rivalrous and non-excludable. Tragedy of the commons, in the form of massive looting / destruction of books, follows posthaste.

(Perhaps to that Walter will reply that this is indeed his aim; the “looting” is an effective way of liberating property from the grasp of crooks and of its privatization. Well, there are better and worse ways of de-socializing. “Loot the looters” is not one of the former!)

Then there is the idea that children born of native parents seem remarkably like immigration from “the country of Storkovia, from Mars, from heaven, whatever.” The children arrive with no capital, no job offers, no decent ideology, and will probably create a popular culture, as they grow up, incompatible with that of their parents. If immigration is to be limited, then why not human reproduction?

Again, we are dealing not with immigration per se but with mass migrations. The births of children are not a mass migration; they simply replace those who die in the long run. If the population grows over years and decades, then it is in harmony with improving economic conditions, as individuals and couples feel that they can “afford” more children, considering them on whole to be a blessing, i.e., an asset rather than general pain in the neck. Now why prefer more children to more immigrants? Why permit free procreation but restrict immigration and not vice versa, if replacement of population can come about in either way? If both immigrants and children impose external costs on society, and restrictions on immigration are justified as an attempt to lower these costs, then why isn’t the restriction of family size also thus justified? First, it is true that both policies abridge individual liberties. However, a “live and let live” arrangement in which people allow others to have kids freely in exchange for the same freedom for themselves has been chosen as the solution to this problem. Immigration can work likewise: certainly migrations between the states of the US union or between cities of the same state operate according to live-and-let-live. Second, whether to prefer more babies or more immigrants is in the last analysis a value judgment on the part of the natives. Most communities choose children and limit immigration, but there is no a priori reason why it cannot be otherwise.

Let me now consider the “paleo” argument that second-best solutions should have the state run its enterprises “as if” they were free-market firms by using Walter’s own examples of government-run schools and public libraries.

Walter’s argument that the second-best solution to public schools is to transition from government ownership of schools to mere government subsidies to them such as via vouchers. But many paleos reject vouchers; what’s up with that? As I see it, there are two reasons, one specific and one general, why vouchers are not the way to run schools more efficiently. The specific reason is blacks. When given school vouchers, they’ll assuredly pour from every hood and project to infiltrate decent public and private schools run by non-blacks, in the process capably destroying them. The general reason is that subsidizing schools via vouchers entails that schooling as it works today has positive externalities and produces some “social benefits.” In fact, if left entirely private and unsubsidized, the education system that would emerge would not resemble anything at all like the present thing. “Teaching at the elementary level necessarily turns into indoctrination,” says Mises. Perhaps present-day “schooling” produces negative and not positive externalities! We want less of it, not more than would be privately produced.

As for public libraries, their situation is especially telling: in the present age of mature Internet, physical libraries, public or private, are obsolete. The only thing standing between us and instant access to any book or article ever written is the institution of copyright. The second-best solution with respect to libraries is not to privatize-and-subsidize them but, as it now turns out, to let them disappear and become part of ancient human history of no contemporary relevance by reforming or abolishing the copyright laws.

So then, a public “essential service” should, if justice is to prevail and human welfare is to be advanced, be privatized; if that is technically impractical or politically unfeasible, it should be managed as efficiently as the bureaucrats in charge are at all able. But what is efficient depends on many things, to be considered each on its own merit. It so turns out that efficient border control in the absence of global capitalism is somewhat discriminating (say, toward Europeans) and should not result in mass migrations.

“On Immigration: Reply to Hoppe”

Walter Block makes a wonderful point in this paper: Can “the state determine what and to whom to allow and forbid on public land, based on what the taxpayers would decide as it concerns their own private property? This becomes impossible, for states cannot make such economic calculations.” It is “unrealistic” to expect the state to keep out “immigrants in any way that emulates the market decisions and choices of the taxpayers.”

But what if, per impossibile, it could?

Let’s consider some public properties like parks and libraries. Why are they government-owned and free in the first place? Presumably, libraries are such, because “we” want everyone, regardless of how poor, to be able to enjoy the knowledge contained in the books for free. Similarly, we want healthy recreations to be available to everyone at no charge. If government were to run these enterprises “in the interest of the taxpayers” or “as if they were private,” then it would defeat the purpose of having them public in the first place. Why not just privatize them and be done with this charade?

Roads are a special case; I believe they uniquely fulfill the natural right of men to “walk the earth“; they are not private properties but connect private properties with each other.

Let’s assume that forced integration / exclusion applies to public properties only. The taxpayers pay for them and hire an entity called “government” to manage them. Presumably, the government should seek, in managing them, the greatest good for the greatest number, or to maximize total utility, or some such lofty end. But if the number of people in the area increases due to an influx of immigrants, then so perhaps is the greater good. Surely, the more people use the public libraries, the smarter the population becomes which is good for the economy in a variety of ways.

Stephan Kinsella argues that if 99% of natives prefer to limit the use by new immigrants of public properties, the government should satisfy their desires as a form of restitution. Walter points out a number of problems with this position, but the clincher, I think, is, can there really be a class of people with the following unique status: they live in a town, possibly even own property there, but are not authorized to use roads, parks, libraries, firefighters, the police, etc.? Even my political incorrectness has its limits.

The only problem is that public properties are designed to serve a limited population. If the population triples over a month, then severe strain would be put on them and hence on the natives. But the reasonableness of prevention of mass migrations does not entail that normal immigration, as would occur under global laissez faire, should be limited.