Rothbardians Cannot Consistently Support Increased Enforcement of Immigration Restrictions

The libertarian argument against open immigration, and in favor of increased efforts in keeping illegal immigrants from getting into the country, goes something like this: These illegal immigrants are mostly just unproductive leeches seeking to live the good life of an American welfare dependent. Since we native-born Americans, as taxpayers, are forced to pay for a whole host of social services, we can think of this set of social services (which includes, but is not limited to: public schools, hospitals, retirement funds, public roads, public parks, and so forth) as collective property owned by taxpayers. In other words, we taxpayers who have paid into the system have a greater claim to this property than do citizens of other countries who did not pay into this system. We can therefore treat this collective property as if it were private property, owned by the taxpaying aggregate, and we can therefore legitimately exclude those outside our group from entering the country and stealing our collective stuff.

Of course, these libertarians argue, in a perfect world, there wouldn't be any public (i.e. state-controlled) property, so there wouldn't be any need to exclude non-natives from crossing the border. But we don't live in a perfect world, so we have to make do with the options available to us. As long as public property exists, we must treat it as if it were private property collectively owned by taxpayers, and we do this by protecting the border.

Note that libertarians who oppose immigration use this argument not only to justify the status quo (i.e. keep the current level of immigration fixed), but go even further and argue for an additional crackdown to reduce the current level of illegal immigration.

So you can imagine how pleased I was to read the following on the blog:

Unfortunately, large chunks of the libertarian movement continue to ignore Rothbard's strategic insights, particularly the importance of never advocating increases in state power. For whatever short-term gains one may think one is making by watering down the libertarian message or accepting increase in state power A in exchange for reduction in state power B, is more than outweighed by long-term losses from, among other things, confusing the public as to whether or not libertarians really are consistent advocates of liberty.

The implication should be obvious. Regardless of whether you think the tradeoff is worth it, limiting immigration necessarily entails increasing state power, period. Whatever short-term gains one may think one is making, these gains are more than outweighed by long-term losses from, among other things, confusing the public as to whether or not libertarians really are consistent advocates of liberty.

Consistency, please?

Update: A few hours after writing this post, while researching a different subject, I came across an interesting tidbit in Bryan Caplan's intellectual autobiography. Apparently, great minds think alike.

I lost a lot of respect for Rothbard around 1990 when he reversed his lifelong support for free immigration. If anything ever deserved Rothbard's classic "monstrous!" denunciation, it is our "kinder, gentler" Berlin Wall built to keep people from living and working in the U.S. because they happened to be born elsewhere. Rothbard had always refused to justify one injustice with another, but overnight the welfare system became his rationale for cutting immigration below its already heavily restricted level. When Libertarian Party presidential candidate Ed Clark made the same argument in 1980, Rothbard was outraged, citing it as "probably the greatest (or perhaps the second greatest) single scandal of the Clark campaign":

Note, also, how Clark has been brought to this shameful point of having locked himself into a measured, prepared order of destatization. He has already asserted that we can't slash the welfare state until we have achieved "full employment"; he now adds that we can't have free and open immigration until we eliminate the welfare state. And so it goes; the "gradualists" lock us permanently into the status quo of statism.

Rothbard also noted the empirical weakness of Clark's position: "Undocumented aliens, including Mexicans, have not gone on welfare for the simple reason that they would have exposed themselves to arrest and deportation. These 'illegal' aliens, as in the case of most immigrants in the past, have proved themselves to be among the most productive, hard-working members of society. Clark kicks them in the teeth, and unjustly."

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Scott, Well, yes, in some


Well, yes, in some sense. The man who gets elected is certainly not going to believe the world is flat, though I suppose he might be a creationist.

In the sense that "truth" means "smaller lies instead of bigger lies"? Because that's the best result you can hope for out of the 2008 election. And I wouldn't be placing any money on it.

But even so, modern liberal

But even so, modern liberal democracies that allow for mixed-economies to exist in a system of pluralist government and separation of powers are wider conduits of rationality than any other type of government that has existed in the past.

The US is pretty good. How much of that is because we're a democracy and how much because the government was designed by some very smart guys and has been going on inertia and slowly deteriorating ever since? Seems to me the latter explanation is better.

Hong Kong got a great government, and it was imposed from without.

My view of democracy is this: that at best it defuses tensions which otherwise would lead to bloody revolution. That's about it.

It may not even do that.

Brian Macker, If I thought

Brian Macker,

If I thought that you were a racist, I would have said so. Actually, I couldn't immediately tell exactly which collectivist position you were espousing. All collectivisms, whether based on race, nationality, economic class, religion, culture, sex, or whatever else all seem about the same to me. But ok, your advocacy for violence against those who would cross a border is based on your dislike for their culture, not their race. Noted.

"I’m familiar enough with Libertarianism to know the standard arguments against government power. They are all depend on consequences."

Apparently you aren't very familar with libertarianism, or you have a perverse definition for the word "all." One of the biggest disputes within libertarianism is whether the basis for libertarian philosophy should be consequences (Friedman) or natural rights (Nozick) or deontological ethics (Hoppe) or virtue ethics (Long & Rand) or natural law (Rothbard) or total pacifism (Molyneax) etc.

Further, not all consequential arguments are based on personal likes and dislikes. Rothbard's argument against the expansion of state power is a fine example. He opposed the expansion of state power because states use their expanded powers in ways that violate rights. However, his opposition to the violation of rights was based on natural law ethics, not on personal fancy.

"Obviously, you can’t put your money where your mouth is. You can’t prove that my summation of your position was equally valid as yours of mine."

Nonsense. I oppose the use of violence against potential border crossers because such violence constitutes the initiation of force, whatever my personal likes or dislikes happen to be.

One of the biggest disputes

One of the biggest disputes within libertarianism is whether the basis for libertarian philosophy should be consequences (Friedman) or natural rights (Nozick) or deontological ethics (Hoppe) or virtue ethics (Long & Rand) or natural law (Rothbard) or total pacifism (Molyneax) etc.

The fact that this sort of dispute even exists does not speak well for libertarianism. Total pacifism?? As Constant said, "When the Allies won WWII, it was not by persuading Hitler with their superior wisdom." Natural law and rights exist only in the sense that certain sets of laws and rights can be enforced by stable (in the sense of being in a framework capable of militarily defending itself) structures and other sets cannot be. There is only one proven way to increase liberty in the world, and that is to construct a superior system which has military potential at least on par with its contemporaries.

This demands an engineering mentality, with its focus on feedback and consequences. There is room for debate about precisely what it is that we should try to engineer; but nobody who hasn't done their best to ensure that their vision is stable in the real world belongs in this debate.

Returning to the original post topic,

(i) Rothbard's political strategy is a reasonable rule of thumb, but it should be blatantly obvious that it is imperfect. He would have lost to Hitler. State power should be minimized, but if you try to eliminate it entirely you just get subjugated by those who have a more rational understanding of power.

(ii) I mostly agree with Brian Macker's comments. I've found that supporters of open borders almost always have an idealist, rather than an engineering, perspective on the subject. The reality is that an enormous amount of liberty in today's world is at least implicitly defended by the military power of the US. Now, I don't think this needs to remain the case for the indefinite future; East Asia is developing the technological and manufacturing base to shoulder part or all of that burden, and they have adopted Western capitalistic values. Alarmists who think the decline of the US would mean the end of Western civilization clearly do not understand how much East Asia has Westernized.

That said, the picture is more mixed when it comes to adoption of our political values. A choice quote from this year's Hong Kong Index of Economic Freedom entry: "Tsang was formally installed in June 2005, and polls showed that 74 percent of Hong Kong citizens would have voted for him — if they could vote." I think it's important that we keep putting pressure on China to clean up its act here... and we can't really do that if we lose our technological and economic edge. I also think there is strong evidence that, in today's world, completely open borders would go a very long way toward dulling that edge.

Both of the last two claims are open for debate, and I will seriously consider arguments against them. What I will not consider is the notion that caring about US power is crass "blood and soil" thinking.

Constant, I'm not certain

I'm not certain what it is you're arguing against or what position you're espousing; it doesn't seem to have to do with anything I'm saying. Thus, I'll step out now.

James, If you didn't think I


If you didn't think I was a racist then what was the point of calling my partial attempt at explaining my position a "'blood and soil' rant". Don't tell me seriously that you don't know the implications.

I thought it was more Hayekian or Popperian in nature than Hitlerian. Perhaps I am miscommunicating in some way. Yes, surprisingly that was a parital attempt to explain my position. Also, I can defend it on individualist and not collectivist principles. That is, without assuming there are rights at the group level that do not exist at the individual level.


James, It is not just an


It is not just an arbitrary dislike for their culture, as you seem to think, but a principled one. Certain cultural aspects trespass against me. Now, I believe that people can change and if they were "deprogrammed" from these particular cultural aspects I wouldn't mind them coming here. I have no racial objections to them coming here. Nor when I am talking about culture am I talking about keeping people out because they like enchiladas.

Specifically, because of my cultural upbringing, it is about as impossible for me to believe in Islam as to grow wings and fly. I can't really help that, can I? Because I wasn’t blinkered from childhood (and perhaps even if I wasn’t), I know that Islam is false. Now certain principles of Islam call for my death because of this. These are not threats of imaginary retributions from invisible beings either. These are real world calls to exterminate me and mine merely on the issue of my cultural beliefs. Those people are a danger to me and so are their beliefs. I don't think they have earned the same treatment as other belief systems that are more tolerant.

I have similar issues with political Communists on a similar basis. They don’t call for my death but they do call for stealing all my property.

Be aware that not everyone who disagrees with you is a collectivist. You're sounding very Rothbardian. I like some of his stuff but he goes overboard in many cases. For instance, I think it’s possible to have a fractional reserve banking system without it being fraudulent. You merely have to explain it and it’s consequences properly to your customers. I also think a 100% reserve banking is not competitive with fractional reserve banking in a free market. With those and perhaps a few more exceptions I think Rothbard is swell.

This is not about imposing my personal tastes. This is why your summary of my position is inaccurate given such an interpretation.

Of course, on other interpretations, ones that would apply to anyone including yourself. I will agree that under other interpretations that it is an accurate if incomplete and misleading summary of my position. It's misleading because I would be smearing me an equivocation between that acceptable meaning and the unacceptable idea that it is about my whims.

I’ll tackle the philosophical issue of why all those libertarian positions are concerned with what is to their likings a little later. I think all philosophies are concerned with consequences despite the time honored term consequentialists. I think philosophers may be a little mixed up on that issue.

Dog of Justice, Thanks. I

Dog of Justice,

Thanks. I am glad someone saw my points through all that. I'm afraid I don't always communicate well. I have notions in my own mind that maybe I pick the wrong words to voice them. I tend to a visual and not verbal way of thinking. I do think more like and engineer, and I am one. I also think like a evolutionary biologist.

I have written what are essentially two more replies but I don't know if they are clear yet. I'll post them later. One is on why James's beliefs are about likes and dislikes, as are the rest of the libertarian positions. The other is on why I think people who promote Islam and other intolerant philosophies are commiting a trespass against me and thus "initiating force". Which give me justification to make them keep their distance from me, and other restraints on their behavior.

Dog, I only mentioned the


I only mentioned the dispute about foundations to help Brian see that not all of the reasons for libertarianism are based on consequences. Mention of pacifism is not advocacy.


I referred to your post as a blood and soil rant because I wanted a term that would be appropriate to whatever form of collectivism you were espousing, whether nationalism, culturalism, racism, etc. It was the best I could come up with. Perhaps there is a better term for a person who believes that violence against peaceful immigrants is justified to prevent the possibility of cultural mixing.

I'm not sure why you feel the need to argue that my beliefs and the rest of the libertarian positions are about likes and dislikes. The rebuttal is too simple: I am the most reliable authority on the content of my own thoughts and I have told you that my reasons for being a libertarian are not contingent on my personal likes and dislikes. Worse, if you are right, then there is no rational way to resolve any political dispute; You like closed borders, I like open borders and my neighbor down the street likes socialized medicine for immigrants. Without something more objective than personal fancy to appeal to, there is no way to decide who is right.

On the other hand, I do hope that you post about why you think the promotion of Islam constitutes the initiation of force.

James, I'm not against


I'm not against "cultural mixing". I'm sorry you got that out of my comment. That was not my intention. I get your point and I could see where you might get that idea.

Despite the length of my post, or maybe because of it, I didn't get my entire position across. I got tired somewhere and the middle and tried to wrap it up. I've been sick and am on drugs that are making me drowsy. I tore my calf muscle last Saturday and in addition caught respiratory infection. Perhaps I shouldn't be writing anything on these drugs, but I'm bored and laying on the couch with a laptop. I know, “Excuses, excuses”. I tend to bloviate anyway so I’m not making an excuse for that.

I'm sorry but I don't agree that illegal immigrants are peaceful. I think using that term paints them in too innocent a light. Maybe they are peaceful in the way a pickpocket is. I know you probably think they are breaking an unjust law but I think they go beyond that. I do see them as freeloaders, and potentially culturally destabilizing. Maybe I mean politically and not culturally, I'm not sure. It is specific principles that I am concerned about. Really most any culture with few exceptions could adopt them. Do I have a complete list in my mind? No. I am going to skip that topic however as it would be long. It would be titled something like "What principles make america work".

I don't think societies function purely on the basis of institutional framework. I think individual beliefs play a large part. An example of this might be that despite the fact that we have a constitution that is suppose to provide certain protections, and because we have many citizens who have not absorbed the principles behind the Declaration of Independence, we therefore get institutions that operate differently than what on straight reading one would expect.

I don't think if you took our society and replaced all the individuals with people who had the beliefs of, say, the members of the Taliban or of Al-Queda that our society would function the same way it does now. In fact, I think it would devolve into a nasty place. That's an extreme example but I think it holds in less extreme examples. People need to be acculturated to a society for it to function properly and how it functions depends on the beliefs of it’s people.

I do think there is some slack and play in this. A societies can function to different degrees with less than perfect agreement on principles. Also there are certain principles that are more important than others.

Perhaps requiring immigrants to obtain sponsors (who are willing to vouch for and take responsibility for the actions, ultimate welfare of the immigrant, and aculturation training) could solve my concerns over immigration. I don't care if the sponsor was an individual or group. I’ll think about it. That still doesn’t mean just anybody could get immigrate, some people are too dangerous.

My argument about Islam may or may not apply to all Moslems. I'm not familiar enough with all the sects. It may be broader in that it may apply to certain Evangelical Christians, and potentially Political Communists. It certainly applies to KKK members burning crosses. My remedy does not require them not to hate others. They are still free to do that. It also doesn't involve thought crimes.

I am saying those things up front because I am not sure I will communicate it properly on the first go. I may unintentionally communicate something that seems equivalent to “thought crimes” but I hope you will see the difference.

Check out my discussion with Constant on the issue of smoking ban to see what I mean. We were talking past each other during part of the conversation. I don't know if he finally agreed with me or gave up but he certainly made it clear where I was miscommunicating. I was not advocating a ban but it was similar and could be misconstrued as one.

This will be a delicate subject since it involves religion. I think I may have covered it in part on some comment some where on Catallarchy. I'm not sure. But I have been encouraged by a conversation I had with a NYC police officer, who is involved in terrorist training.

He had read a book called "The End of Faith" by Sam Harris which I hadn't. He was religious and was actually trying to convince me, an atheist, to read the book by an atheist. He thought I was religious because of the arguments I was making which were defensive of Christianity. It was at a confirmation party, believe it or not, and there was another Catholic fellow there who was urging me to read the same book.

I expressed my ideas to them and some other people at the party, which I will express to you. They did not look at me like I had a third eye and I hope you will not. Of course, they could ask me questions on the spot. There were eight people in all, 4 men, 4 women, and a teenage girl. The ideas about how certain religious beliefs and their application are tantamount to trespass against people who are not members of their faith. This is why I am willing to express them now. Religious freedom is sort of a taboo subject here in the US. BTW, I did pick up that book and am about 1/3 through and he has similar points to the ones I need to make.

I do think it will be a little bit off topic, so I am going to write a post to my blog and link to it from here. I think it may end up too big for a comments section. I may finish that book first so I can work it into the article.

Brian, Since we've (both)


Since we've (both) taken this quite aways from the original post, I'll only respond to one remark that you've made: "I’m sorry but I don’t agree that illegal immigrants are peaceful. I think using that term paints them in too innocent a light."

I'm not claiming that all immigrants are peaceful. Some are violent; most aren't. If you are only concerned about the violent ones, ok. We already have laws against violence for people who are already here. And if someone wants to hang out at the border and deter only those immigrants who are violent *and* they don't plan to initiate force against peaceful individuals, I have no objection to that. I just don't believe that to be descriptive of what the government is likely to do.

Brian Macker, I’m sorry

Brian Macker,

I’m sorry but I don’t agree that illegal immigrants are peaceful. I think using that term paints them in too innocent a light. Maybe they are peaceful in the way a pickpocket is. I know you probably think they are breaking an unjust law but I think they go beyond that. I do see them as freeloaders, and potentially culturally destabilizing.

I’m sorry but I don’t agree that Jews are peaceful. I think using that term paints them in too innocent a light. Maybe they are peaceful in the way a pickpocket is. I know you probably think they are breaking an unjust law but I think they go beyond that. I do see them as freeloaders, and potentially culturally destabilizing.

Collectivism? Bigotry?

For the record, though, your empirical claims are just plain wrong.

From this month's issue of Reason, cover story focussing on immigration (excerpts are from multiple articles by multiple authors):

The 1996 welfare reform bill disqualified illegal immigrants from nearly all means-tested government programs, including food stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid, and Medicare-fundede hospitalization. The only services that illegals can still get are emergency medical care and K-12 education.

The nonpartisan National Research Council found that when the taxes paid by the children of low-skilled immigrant families (most of whom are illegal) are factored in, parents and children combined contribute an average of $80,000 more to federal coffers than they consume over their lifetimes.

Princeton University sociologist Douglas S. Massey reports that 62 percent of illegal immigrants pay income taxes (via withholding) and 66 percent contribute to Social Security. Forbes magazine notes that Mexican illegals aren't clogging up the social-services system: Only 5 percent receive food stamps or unemployment assistance; 10 percent send kids to public schools.

Hispanic unemployment has tumbled to 5.5 percent, only slightly above the national average of 4.7 percent and considerably lower than the black unemployment rate of 9.3 percent.

According to 2002 Census Bureau data, Hispanics are opening businesses at a rate three times faster than the national average. In addition, there were almost 1.6 million Hispanic-owned businesses generating $222 billion in revenue in 2002.

The most comprehensive survey to date of national crime data concludes, "In the small number of studies providing empirical evidence, immigrants are generally less involved in crime than similarly situated groups, despite the wealth of prominent criminological theories that provide good reasons why this should not be the case.

Crime rates in the highest-immigration states have been trending significantly downward. Total crime and property crime in California are half what they were in 1980; violent crime has fallen more than a third. The state's Hispanic population during that time increased 120 percent. Similar trends apply in other high-traffic states, with the exception of Colorado. While Arizona's population grew 41.8 percent between 1993 and 2003, for instance, the rates for every major category of crime fell.

Spanish-speaking households pick up English at the same rate their European counterparts did back in the early 20th century. 80 percent of Latino households are Spanish-free by the third generation.

And yes, I do believe the vast majority of anti-immigrant views are motivated by bigotry, including Macker's. We've had similar discussions before here at Catallarchy, and for the record, I'm using Charles Johnson's definition: "A bigot is one who is irrationally (unreasonably, unjustifiably) and strongly partial to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ."

Lopez, But if your goal is


But if your goal is political change via persuasion, you’re no better off politically by offering good arguments as opposed to bad ones.

Why are you assuming anyone's goal here is political change via persuasion? There are countless other reasons why I might want to convince someone to change their erroneous views other than getting them to vote for some political candidate.