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For reasons not exactly clear, the immigration issue gives some libertarians trouble. In their efforts to grapple with the issue, it’s made needlessly complicated and some highly odd “solutions” are promulgated. We’ll look at one such solution in this article.

Preliminarily, we would expect that when a libertarian examines any public-policy issue his concern is to roll back and contain government power so that the way is cleared for the exercise of individual rights in a free-market and property regime. This ought to be true especially in the case of an anarcho-libertarian, for while the limited-government libertarian would stop his roll-back of government power at the traditional police, military, and court functions, the anarcho-libertarian would keep going until government power disappears altogether.

The anti-immigration argument we are about to examine comes from an anarcho-libertarian, yet the conclusion of the argument should surprise anyone familiar with the individualist anarchist position. A surprising conclusion is not necessarily fallacious, but in this case it is.

The argument is presented in Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s “On Free Immigration and Forced Integration,” an article posted at www.lewrockwell.com. Hoppe begins on a note of truth: so-called public property complicates the analysis of immigration from a libertarian perspective. One of Ayn Rand’s definitions of capitalism is: a social system in which all property is privately owned. By that definition, we surely do not live in a fully capitalist society. Hoppe apparently would agree.

The task he sets in his article is to examine an alleged shortcoming in the libertarian pro-immigration argument. “With regard to a given territory into which people immigrate, it is left unanalyzed who, if anyone, owns (controls) this territory,” he writes. “In fact … it is implicitly assumed that the territory in question is unowned, and that the immigrants enter virgin territory (open frontier). Obviously, this can no longer be assumed. If this assumption is dropped, however, the problem of immigration takes on an entirely new meaning and requires fundamental rethinking.”

Let’s stop here. It is unclear from this which libertarians implicitly assume that the territory into which people immigrate is virgin territory. As an advocate of free immigration, I make no such assumption, explicitly or implicitly. That assumption is not necessary to a case for free immigration. Moreover, the issue of who controls the territory is not ignored or “left unanalyzed.” The libertarians I know have this issue on their minds continually. I’ll have more to say on this later.

Hoppe proceeds with his argument by assuming away “public property” for the sake of illustration. This is a useful and welcome exercise, a “conceptual benchmark,” as he calls it. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t get him where he wants to go.

As Hoppe notes, in a territory where all property is privately owned, the owners set the rules. Many owners could contractually bind themselves with respect to how they use their property, as people do when they join residential communities. We might expect to see a wide variety of voluntary restrictions: communities could exclude smokers or nonsmokers, people with or without children, or members of particular racial, religious, or ethnic groups. This follows from the right to freedom of association, which must include the right not to associate according to any standards one chooses, as long as all property rights are respected.

As Hoppe accurately points out, the issue we call “immigration” disappears in this scenario. There would be no citizen-foreigner distinction, which arises only in the presence of governments and the various political accouterments that make such distinctions seem necessary. The government, or “country,” would have nothing to say about who enters the territory because all parcels would be owned and the owners would have the sole right to determine who enters their land. “Admission to some territories might be easy, while to others it might be nearly impossible,” Hoppe writes. “In any case, however, admission to the property of the admitting person does not imply a ‘freedom to move around,’ unless other property owners consent to such movements. There will be as much immigration or non-immigration, inclusivity or exclusivity, desegregation or segregation, non-discrimination or discrimination based on racial, ethnic, linguistic, religious, cultural or whatever other grounds as individual owners or associations of individual owners allow.” No argument there.

Hoppe then moves back, alas, to the real world, where private ownership is not strictly observed. In a world of coercive states, property violations are routine. Government taxes property owners and reserves the right to enter private property to carry out its functions. It declares some property “public,” such as roads, so that it may more efficiently execute those functions. It also has an interest in expanding the sphere of “public property.” Indeed, there is an implicit assertion of ownership of all property by government, since it claims the power to dispossess owners for nonpayment of taxes and other offenses against the state. In truth, sovereignty means that government is the ultimate landlord and all private ownership is conditional.

“[With] the establishment of a government and state borders,” Hoppe continues, “immigration takes on an entirely new meaning. Immigration becomes immigration by foreigners across state borders, and the decision as to whether or not a person should be admitted no longer rests with private property owners or associations of such owners, but with the government as the ultimate sovereign of all domestic residents and the ultimate super-owner of all their properties.” The implications are clear. As Hoppe correctly writes, government immigration policy could forcibly exclude “foreigners” whom a property owner wishes to invite on his land-something that could not happen in a world of private property.

Again and to this point, Hoppe’s argument is impeccable. But then he sadly goes astray. He writes: “[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).” But no immigration policy I’ve encountered permits immigrants to enter the property of domestic residents against their will. Presumably, he means “public property,” streets and sidewalks, when he refers to “forced integration.” This may be a lack of care on his part or an attempt to beg the material question. But it makes a difference. We don’t know who would own a given street or sidewalk in the absence of government, and therefore we don’t know what the “immigration” policy would be under full private ownership. Thus, the term “forced integration” is off target. Indeed, Hoppe implicitly employs a theory of collective ownership: if government lets foreigners on “our” public property without unanimous approval, it has forced those foreigners on us. That is an odd theory for a libertarian, anarcho or otherwise.

Hoppe’s article next veers off into a discussion of the old monarchies on the grounds that they are the closest examples of what he calls “government [that] is privately owned.” Oddly, he does this in order to “enrich the analysis through the introduction of a few ‘realistic’ [!] empirical assumptions.” Here’s what he means by a private government:

“The ruler literally owns the entire country within state borders. He owns part of the territory outright (his property title is unrestricted), and he is partial owner of the rest (as landlord or residual claimant of all of his citizen-tenants’ real-estate holdings, albeit restricted by some kind of pre-existing rental contract). He can sell and bequeath his property, and he can calculate and “realize” the monetary value of his capital (his country).”

For Hoppe, this somehow bears on the immigration issue. As an owner of all the territory, the monarch also owns its capital value and will want to enhance that value. Thus, Hoppe contends, a self-interested ruler will choose immigration policies consistent with his economic interest. That is, he will admit productive foreigners and exclude unproductive ones.

“[A] king would want to keep the mob, as well as all people of inferior productive capabilities, out. People of the latter category would only be admitted temporarily, if at all, as seasonal workers without citizenship, and they would be barred from permanent property ownership.… A king would only permit the permanent immigration of superior or at least above-average people; i.e., those whose residence in his kingdom would increase his own property value.”

Hoppe points to historical examples to support his argument and adds:

“In brief, while through his immigration policies a king might not entirely avoid all cases of forced exclusion or forced integration, such policies would by and large do the same as what private property owners would do, if they could decide whom to admit and whom to exclude. That is, the king would be highly selective and very much concerned about improving the quality of the resident human capital so as to drive property values up, not down.”

Hoppe is a professional economist, but he seems to have forgotten an important principle of economics: People of “inferior productive capabilities,” according to the law of comparative advantage, render useful services. Why would they be excluded or permitted only temporary residence or stopped from owning property?

When government is “publicly owned,” Professor Hoppe continues, the incentives are different from those faced by the monarch. The ruler in a democracy might be anyone, and whoever he is, he won’t be the owner of the capital value of the country. Thus he has no interest in augmenting that value.

But it’s worse than that. A democratic ruler may prefer unproductive people, and even producers of negative externalities, to productive people because the former will create social problems that give the ruler a pretext for expanding his power; unproductive immigrants will also be likely to form a constituency for the welfare state. Hoppe writes, “The result of this policy of non-discrimination is forced integration: the forcing of masses of inferior immigrants on domestic property owners who, if they could have decided for themselves, would have sharply discriminated and chosen very different neighbors for themselves.”

A quick aside before we proceed: note again the equivocation in the last clause. Forced immigration doesn’t mean that immigrants are permitted onto private property. They might, writes Professor Hoppe, just become neighbors of domestic residents against their will. Yet in a free society, people may not always be able to control who lives near them, and open immigration does not necessarily prevent people from choosing their neighbors through homeowner associations and the like. If laws impede that today, it has nothing to do with immigration policy, but rather with bogus civil rights law. Hoppe might argue here that civil rights law and the welfare state in general are more likely under open immigration. But if he does argue that, he contradicts himself. Earlier in this article he wrote that “the problems of immigration and welfare are analytically distinct problems, and they must be treated accordingly.” On this, we agree.

Thus, for Hoppe, in a democracy, there is no free immigration, only forced integration. We are in a bind, then. How can we stop forced integration in a democracy when the incentives run the other way? Professor Hoppe’s short-term solution (pending full privatization of property) is one he himself concedes is unlikely to be adopted. Obviously so: if the incentives of a democracy run in one direction, what good is a solution that requires incentives that run the other way? Not much good at all.

But let’s judge its merits anyway. Here’s his punch line:

“The best one may hope for, even if it goes against the “nature” of a democracy and thus is not very likely to happen, is that the democratic rulers act as if they were the personal owners of the country and as if they had to decide whom to include and whom to exclude from their own personal property (into their very own houses).” [Emphasis added.]

Let that sink in. According to Hoppe, the rulers of a democracy, at the state or local level, should act as though they were the legitimate owners of all the property under their jurisdiction. Indeed, they should regard the cities and towns as their own homes. In so doing, he says, the rulers’ immigration policy would “discriminate in favor of the human qualities of skill, character, and cultural compatibility.” Contemplate the political discretion and arbitrary power being called for! Moreover, the Hoppe solution would mean

“… requiring as necessary, for resident alien status as well as for citizenship, the personal sponsorship by a resident citizen and his assumption of liability for all property damage caused by the immigrant. It implies requiring an existing employment contract with a resident citizen; moreover, for both categories but especially that of citizenship, it implies that all immigrants must demonstrate through tests not only (English) language proficiency, but all-around superior (above-average) intellectual performance and character structure as well as a compatible system of values-with the predictable result of a systematic pro-European immigration bias.”

This, I submit, is a monstrous non sequitur. To simplify (but not oversimplify), Hoppe argues that because the existence of government entails an intrinsic violation of property rights, which has bad implications for immigration policy, we should hope that those who wield government power will pretend that they legitimately own the whole country and run it as they would run their own households. Does the word “nightmare” come to mind?

Why stop there? Why should the rulers act like owners only when it comes to immigration policy? Logically, they should do so with respect to emigration policy also. Indeed, Hoppe writes when discussing “private government”:

“As far as emigration is concerned, a king will want to prevent the emigration of productive subjects, in particular of his best and most productive subjects, because losing them would lower the value of the kingdom. Thus, for example, from 1782 until 1824 a law prohibited the emigration of skilled workmen from Britain. On the other hand, a king will want to expel his non-productive and destructive subjects (criminals, bums, beggars, gypsies, vagabonds, etc.), for their removal from his territory would increase the value of his realm. For this reason Britain expelled tens of thousands of common criminals to North America and Australia.” [Emphasis added.]

Apparently, democrat rulers, too, should be able to prevent, à la the old Soviet Union, productive people from leaving the country and kick out the unproductive-all the better to enhance the capital value of the nation.

Forgive the understatement, but this is rather strange coming from an anarchist. Here we have the spectacle of opposition to all government leading to endorsement of total government. And total government it would be. Democratic rulers who follow the Hoppe prescription might permit free enterprise-but only because they believe it would increase the country’s capital value, not because people have the natural right to engage in enterprise.

The irony is greater still. Hoppe is a protégé of the late Murray Rothbard, the great anarcho-libertarian theorist. Since he is not on the scene, one cannot say how he would judge Hoppe’s article. However, Rothbard wrote a good deal about justice in property. In his article “Justice and Property Rights” (1973) he expressed concern about theoretical work being done on property rights that lacked an ethical base. That is, economists lauding the efficiency of property rights had no interest whatsoever in the justice of property titles. He distrusted analyses that said in effect: the present arrangement of titles is unimportant so long as there is free exchange from here on out. Here’s what he wrote:

“Suppose that somehow government becomes persuaded of the necessity to yield to a clamor for a free-market, laissez-faire society. Before dissolving itself, however, it redistributes property titles, granting the ownership of the entire territory of New York to the Rockefeller family, of Massachusetts to the Kennedy family, etc. It then dissolves, ending taxation and all other forms of government intervention in the economy. However, while taxation has been abolished, the Rockefeller, Kennedy, etc., families proceed to dictate to all the residents in what is now “their” territory, exacting what are now called “rents” over all the inhabitants.”

Rothbard did not regard that as a true laissez-faire society or one that anywhere near approached it. Yet it sounds eerily like what Hoppe calls for. He’d have to concede that such a society would have, in his view, a proper immigration policy.

Professor Hoppe is correct that government entails property-rights violations. But (as he acknowledges and then quickly forgets) these are distinct from the immigration issue. Under his short-run solution, rights violations would continue. I, a citizen, might wish to have a “foreigner” without skills, with below-average intelligence, who is not proficient in English, and who is not “culturally compatible” (whatever that means) visit my property because I like that person’s company. I may not wish to employ that person or assume legal responsibility for his possible future crimes or torts. My decision violates no one’s rights, nor does it entail any future violation of rights. Yet Hoppe would forbid my inviting this person under the terms I choose.

I’d say that’s passing strange coming from an anarcho-libertarian.

I do not argue that free immigration in the context of a welfare state and public property is without problems. I’m saying that the solution does not lie in giving the government more power. Libertarians should use those problems to illustrate the defects not of free immigration, but of the welfare state itself! We must never say that the freedom to move must await the repeal of the welfare state, for if we save the creaking welfare state from every strain, how are we to ever get rid of it?

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.