Jonathan Goodwin, who writes under the pseudonym Bionic Mosquito, has an article at LewRockwell.com entitled “Open Borders and the Real World,” which is critical of the article I posted on FFF’s website last week entitled “Open Borders Is the Only Libertarian Position.”
In my article, I threw down the gauntlet to libertarians who advocate government-controlled borders and who claim that their position is consistent with libertarian principles. I explained that there cannot be two contradictory positions on immigration within libertarianism. Libertarianism is a consistent philosophy, one that does not embrace positions that contradict each other. Since open borders and government-controlled borders are opposites — that is, since they contradict each other — either one or the other is the libertarian position, but not both.
I showed that open borders is the libertarian position on immigration because it is consistent with the libertarian non-aggression principle, the principle that holds that people are free to engage in any action they wish, so long as their conduct is peaceful. Since people have the fundamental right to engage in such peaceful activities as associating with others, entering into mutually beneficial transactions with others, visiting, touring, and opening businesses, open borders are consistent with the libertarian non-aggression principle.
Since government-controlled borders, on the other hand, involve the initiation of government force against people who are engaged in purely peaceful, consensual, and voluntary activities, the system of government-controlled borders cannot possibly be reconciled with the libertarian non-aggression principle.
Interestingly enough, Bionic does not disagree with the major point of my article — that there is only one position on immigration within libertarianism and that’s open borders. He writes:
The principles (including the principles that are implied) can’t be refuted because the principles are a pure libertarian theory (absent the coincident state border between their properties, as there is no way to derive state borders from libertarian theory). If all we need to do is agree on the theory, we can stop here.
That obviously presents a challenge to those libertarians who have long maintained that government-controlled borders are consistent with libertarian principles. (As an aside, Bionic’s claim that state borders are inconsistent with libertarian theory is incorrect. I think what he meant to say was that state borders are inconsistent with libertarian anarchist theory. Borders are entirely consistent with libertarian minarchist theory — i.e., libertarian limited-government theory, and open borders are an essential aspect of liberty under limited government).
Open borders and the welfare state
So, what is Bionic’s beef with my article? It amounts to a variation of an argument that Milton Friedman made many years ago about the welfare state. Like Bionic, Friedman pointed out that the libertarian position on immigration is open borders. But, Friedman asserted, we can’t have open borders with a welfare state.
But as I pointed out in an article I wrote last week, entitled “Open Borders and the Welfare State,” Friedman was wrong. You can have open borders with a welfare state. Since that article addresses some of the objections that Bionic is making to the libertarian position favoring open borders, I invite readers to read it.
Bionic essentially says: Look, open borders are fine in theory but not in the real world. In the real world, we have welfare states, which provide government welfare to immigrants. Since libertarians hold that government welfare violates libertarian principles, libertarians should abandon their support for open borders because more welfare means bigger government and, therefore, bigger violations of libertarian principles.
To make his case, Bionic points to the refugee crisis in Germany and the rest of Europe, and essentially says: See, with open borders comes massive flows of refugees, which induces the German government to provide government welfare to the refugees, which increases the size of the welfare state, which means higher taxes for German citizens.
Therefore, Bionic suggests, given the reality of the welfare state, libertarians are just going to have to abandon their principles, at least with respect to immigration, until the welfare state is ended, which, of course, might never happen, at least not in Europe.
Interestingly, however, Bionic also wants to make it clear that he is not a libertarian proponent of government-controlled borders.
Then what is he? It’s either one or the other. You’re either a proponent of open borders or you’re not. If you oppose open borders, then you automatically favor government-controlled borders. If you favor government-controlled borders, then you oppose open borders. Bionic seems to be saying that he’s both libertarian on immigration and anti-libertarian on immigration at the same time.
Or is he saying, “I remain a pro-open borders libertarian despite the welfare costs associated with open borders, but I just wanted to point out that there are welfare-state costs associated with open borders (which I continue to favor).”?
Or is Bionic saying that he favors government-controlled borders until the entire state is abolished? If that’s the case, since when does the anarchy paradigm entail support of a state program that destroys liberty or prevent a proponent of anarchy from condemning a state program that destroys liberty?
Or is Bionic simply choosing to remain neutral on the immigration issue? If so, does he also remain neutral on the drug war, public (i.e., government) schooling, Social Security, the welfare state, trade restrictions, Iraq, the NSA, empire, foreign interventionism, and the national-security state? If not, then why exempt immigration tyranny from condemnation?
I just raise the questions. I’ll leave it to him to clarify his position.
As I pointed out in my article, “Open Borders and the Welfare State,” Friedman was wrong, and so is Bionic. It is possible to have open borders and a welfare state. Oh sure, it might well result in higher taxes as a result of expanded welfare. But that doesn’t negate the libertarian principle of open borders; it simply places a higher cost on adhering to libertarian principles.
Let’s assume that Bionic and Friedman are right — that open borders will, without a doubt, result in higher taxes as a result of the welfare state. The question then becomes: Should that fact cause libertarians to abandon their libertarian principles with respect to immigration and endorse the statist principle favoring government-controlled borders?
Europe’s refugee crisis
Why are those thousands of people fleeing the Middle East and going to Europe? The answer: They are trying to save their lives. If they stay where they are, they die. So, they’re willing to risk their lives to escape, even though they know that they are violating immigration laws that prohibit illegal entry into Germany and other European countries.
Should it matter why they’re going to die if they stay where they are? In a theoretical sense, probably not, but it does seem to me to be a bit unsavory for American libertarians (as well as American statists) to ignore the fact that it is the U.S. national-security state’s death machine and its 25 years of foreign interventionism in the Middle East that is a direct cause of why all those people are going to die if they stay where they are rather than flee to some foreign country.
That is, it just seems bit disconcerting to me to see American libertarians (and others) saying to those refugees: You need to stay where you are, which is where our government’s bombs and missiles are killing you, or you need to be forcibly returned to the place where our government’s bombs and missiles are going to kill you because otherwise you are placing a higher tax burden on Germans and other Europeans who believe in the socialist concept of a welfare state, misguidedly thinking that that’s the way to help people.
But let’s hypothetically leave the U.S. government out of the equation. Let’s assume that it is not a direct cause of the chaos, crisis, suffering, misery, war, and violence that are causing people to flee their homelands in the attempt to save their lives.
Should the United States have a policy of open borders that would enable those hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children from the Middle East to freely come to the United States without fear of being forcibly repatriated to the lands where they are doomed to die?
The answer is: Yes, absolutely, without any doubt whatsoever! And libertarians should never abandon their principles when the stakes involve life and death of innocent people and where the cost of adhering to principle involves something as picayunish as the payment of higher taxes.
Okay, I can understand if adhering to principle means facing certain death at the hands of some tyrannical regime. I can understand if adhering to principle means being subjected to brutal torture.
But abandoning one’s principle because one might have to pay higher taxes? Perish the thought! That, in my opinion, is simply is too high a price to pay for a libertarian to abandon his principles.
Suppose that if the drug war were ended today, thousands of drug addicts would flood public hospitals and Medicaid for help with their drug addiction. Suppose that that was certain to result in an increase in the level of taxes that people are paying.
What would Bionic say? Would he really say, “Fellow libertarians, we need to renounce our position favoring the legalization of drugs. Sure, ending the drug war is the correct libertarian position to take but we have to deal with the real world, not theory. In the real world, we know that drug legalization will result in an enormous burden on the welfare state, which is going to mean bigger government and higher taxes. We now need to support the war on drugs, and all the violence, death, destruction, corruption, and incarceration that come with it, at least until the welfare state is abolished.”?
Heaven forbid! Should libertarians also support gun control until the war on drugs is over?
America’s heritage of open borders
Let’s remind ourselves of what the founding principles of America were with respect to immigration: Our American ancestors sent the following message to the entire world: “If you are suffering tyranny, oppression, or starvation, our government will not send military forces to save you or help you, but if you are willing and able to escape and come to America, we promise that you will never be forcibly repatriated to your homeland to face death, suffering, or tyranny.”
And people came by the millions, saving their own lives and the lives of their spouses and children. That’s because unlike today and unlike all of history, there was but one single country where people had decided to make their country a sanctuary for people anywhere in the world.
The types of immigrants they were willing to admit into the United States are reflected in the poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, which ironically is still posted at the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.”
It seems to me that it would be difficult to come up with a better description of those hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East who have flooded into Europe.
Say what you will about our 18th-and 19th-century American ancestors, the system of open immigration that they established and maintained for more than 100 years ranks as one of the most unusual, remarkable, and exceptional systems in the history of man. It not only enabled multitudes of people to save themselves from almost certain death, it also enabled them and their progeny to live lives that they never could have lived had they been consigned to their countries of origin and somehow been able to survive.
What would happen if America were living under libertarian principles today? Well, for one, you wouldn’t have had a U.S. national-security state death machine wreaking death and destruction all over the Middle East for the past 25 years, which would likely have meant no massive refugee crisis (and ISIS “crisis”) today.
But let’s assume that war in the Middle East generated the same refugee crisis even without U.S. governmental involvement. What then?
Then you wouldn’t have a refugee crisis in Europe. Those tens of thousands of refugees wouldn’t be risking their lives (and sometimes dying) in tiny little boats and rafts crossing the Mediterranean. Instead, they would be making their way into the United States like normal human beings. They would be marshaling their assets and buying passage in the lowest sections of ships, just like they did in the 19th century. Charitable organizations and concerned citizens would be traveling to pick them up in private ships, planes, or yachts. Or they’d be buying passage for them on planes and ships.
How do I know that this is what would happen? Because that’s the way a free people always act. No, not everyone, but most people. That’s how the churches got built in America. And the museums. And the opera houses. And the soup kitchens. In fact, it’s how the welfare state got constructed — out of a misguided and unnecessary attempt to help the poor, needy, and disadvantaged through government force.
Might a massive refugee crisis cause confusion, chaos, and crisis for a period of time? Of course. But adjustments would be made. Some Americans would take refugees into their homes. Some would pay for cheap motel rooms. Some would set up tents on privately owned property by consent. Some would sleep in church halls. Once the adjustments were made, the refugees would begin to assimilate, just as immigrants have throughout American history. And the likelihood is that most of them would become the most grateful people in the country because they would all know that if it hadn’t been for America’s open borders and the generosity and good will of the American people, they’d likely all be dead.
Isn’t that what happened after Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans? Sure, there was a sudden surge of homeless people who escaped the city, crossing county and state borders in the process, which caused massive chaos and crisis. But over time, people adjusted and managed.
Open borders in the EU
Consider the system of open borders that the EU adopted many years ago under the Schengen treaties. Opponents predicted all sorts of dire consequences. Borders would disappear, they said. There would be chaos. Everyone would move to France (or some other country). People from one country would steal jobs from people in other countries. The culture of each country would be polluted or disappear.
None of those dire predictions came true. Instead, it has been a fantastic system entailing the exercise of the fundamental rights of freedom of travel and freedom of movement. Italians travel to France freely, without passports, visas, or other controls, and vice versa. They’re free to work in other EU countries without special permits. People retain their citizenship. The system has worked beautifully.
It’s the same here in the United States. Our American ancestors created the biggest free-trade and freedom-of-movement zone in history. Every day, people cross back and forth across state borders and everyone just takes it for granted. It doesn’t have to be that way. The Constitution could be amended to provide state governments with the authority to control state borders. Since people are free to travel from states with low welfare to states with high welfare, should libertarians support such an amendment, at least until welfare levels are equalized among all the states or the welfare state is completely dismantled? Perish that thought too!
German Jews and government-controlled borders
Imagine if 20th-century America had the system of open borders that 19th-century Americans had. That would have meant that in the 1930s all Jews living in Germany would have been free to come to America. Remember: that was the period of time when Hitler and the Nazis were willing to let them go, if any country was willing to take them.
But by then, America was like every other country. No more unusual, remarkable, or exceptional system of open immigration. Twentieth-century Americans had joined the rest of the world with their embrace of immigration controls. And those controls were used as the excuse to tell German Jews: You need to stay right where you are because we have already filled our immigration quota for Germany.
Would the sudden influx of millions of German Jews have created an immigration crisis in America? Undoubtedly so, especially since it would have occurred during the Great Depression. But America would have adjusted. And millions of innocent people would have lived who instead were ultimately consigned to death. (See the two books cited in a FFF article I wrote in June 1991 entitled “Locking Out the Immigrant” — While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of Apathy by Arthur D. Morse and The Holocaust Conspiracy: An International Policy of Genocide by William R. Perl.)
What should the libertarian position have been when the Roosevelt administration said no to German Jews and when the Roosevelt administration rejected the German Jews traveling on the “voyage of the damned”? Should libertarians have said, “We now have a welfare state in America, thanks to FDR’s New Deal, and therefore, we just can’t let you into our country because you might go on welfare and increase the size of our government and the level of our taxes. You’ll just have to stay where you are, at least until we get our welfare state dismantled.”?
Welfare state or police state tyranny?
Do the refugees in Germany really mean a net negative effect because of the welfare costs, as Bionic asserts? Not according to Phillipe Legrain, a European economist who several years ago authored an excellent book favoring open borders entitled Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them. Legrain recently issued a study showing that while immigrants cost Germany and other European countries in the short term with higher taxes, the short term costs are far outweighed by the long-term economic benefits that immigrants bring to a society.
But since Bionic is so concerned about big government, what about the enforcement measures that come with immigration controls, which libertarian proponents of government-controlled borders never mention or talk about? That’s because they know that there is no conceivable way to reconcile immigration enforcement measures with libertarian principles and the principles of a free society.
Think about those trespasses onto private ranches and farms along the U.S.-Mexico border, where government agents go onto people’s privately owned property to look for immigrants who are llegally entering the country. That’s not theory. That’s reality. And so are those eminent domain actions where the government steals people’s property to build fences and walls on the U.S. side of the border, much like those fences and walls that separated East and West Germany and East and West Berlin. Think about those domestic highway checkpoints in the Southwest, where everyone is stopped and subjected to examinations and searches, without judicially issue warrants, just like they have in Cuba, North Korea, and other totalitarian countries. If they refuse to answer questions, U.S. agents bash in their car windows, drag them from their vehicles, and beat them up. Think about those roving Border Patrol checkpoints, which stop cars at random and subject them to warrantless searches. Indeed, think about the massive police state, headed by ICE, that has been called into existence to enforce immigration laws.
Bionic is obviously concerned about an increase in taxes to provide temporary government relief to immigrants who are trying to save their lives. But where is he when it comes to the massive immigration police state, the massive violations of civil liberties, the massive infringements on economic liberty and freedom of association, and the massive level of taxes to fund all this immigration-control tyranny? I’ll tell you where he is: he is in the land of silence.
Open borders and culture
At the end of his article, Bionic makes a slight reference to cultural changes that immigrants bring to a country, which implies that his objection to open borders is rooted in more than just his welfare-state argument. He forgets that America’s heritage is one of freedom and diversity of cultures. Consider Little Italy in New York, or Chinatown in San Francisco, or the French Quarter in New Orleans, or the Jalapeno Festival in Laredo. It’s all part of what makes America the country it is.
Bionic and I obviously agree that there is only one libertarian position with respect to immigration, and that that position is open borders. Those libertarians who advocate government-controlled borders are, of course, free to do so, but everyone (including them) should realize that it’s simply a case of libertarians (or conservatives or progressives) advocating non-libertarian positions. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, the fact that some libertarian advocates a particular position doesn’t automatically make it a libertarian position. What makes it a libertarian position is whether it is consistent with the libertarian non-aggression principle. And it is only open borders that are consistent with the libertarian non-aggression principle and the principles of a free society.
Should libertarians abandon their principles when adhering to them means the payment of higher welfare-state taxes? I say no. I say that we libertarians should continue focusing on ending and dismantling the wrongdoing (i.e., the welfare-warfare state) rather than permit the statists to manipulate and maneuver us into abandoning our principles and joining up with them.