My posting of a Robert Higgs claim at EconomicPolicyJournal.com has spurred quite a bit of commentary. Higgs states that Trump's Wall is an attempt to humiliate and insult Mexicans.
The comments from readers of the post turn more to the immigration question itself rather than the views on race of those supporting the wall. It's a discussion that fits in better here at Target Liberty than EPJ so I am moving it over here.
I believe there are a number of questions that libertarian supporters of immigration barriers have not sufficiently answered. And so using the comments at the Higgs' post as a starting point I will attempt to delineate those questions.
First, I believe that libertarian supporters of immigration barriers fail to recognize that there are different types of immigration.
There is immigration where an individual crosses a government border to find work or to visit as say a tourist.
Then there is immigration where an individual is crossing a border to take support payouts from governments.
These are two fundamentally different types of immigration.
It appears to me that the individual crossing a border who is doing so to work or tour is doing so in a manner that is fundamentally in sync with respect for private property.
This is not the case for an individual who is crossing a border for the primary purpose of taking a stream of payouts from the government.
The first type of person crossing a border appears to be in general alignment with libertarian principles. The second type of person is doing nothing of the kind--as he is simply being supported by the long coercive arm of the state.
Thus, in my view, the question is not open borders versus closed borders but a more nuanced question. Are individuals coming here to generally operate based on free exchange or are they coming here at the behest of a government that is forcing immigrants into a country where the immigrants are uninvited and are required to be supported via taxation by the pre-immigrant population?
Thus, the Mexican immigration into the U.S., mostly free exchange immigration, is entirely different from the type of government planned Syrian immigration that is occurring in Germany at present.
I have highlighted before the major objection to this line of differentiation between types of immigration, which is the "public spaces" objection.
A commenter, Perry Mason, at another post wrote:
The answer to your last question is that "these people" have no right to enter anyone's property, without an invitation, in a private property society. So why do they get to enter "public spaces" and use public resources (welfare, roads, whatever)? I don't mean that as a rhetorical question, but a genuine one.I personally view "public spaces," i.e. government land, as No Man's Land but I responded to the commenter as though some type of ownership rights can be attributed to the public land and this is the first question that libertarian pro-barrier to immigration must resolve that I do not believe they have satisfactorily done.
I wrote in response to Perry:
Perry Mason's confusion here lies relative to the nature of the current world we live in. From roads to sidewalks and public transportation, we live in a world where government is a monopolist in many areas. This monopoly situation results in no free market exchange/calculation between use and payment.The great libertarian Tom Woods, who hosts the most important libertarian podcast, weighed in on the Higgs post with this comment:
We all recognize this fact, even libertarians. There is no libertarian that I am aware of that claims that no one should use roads and sidewalks because they are public property.
It would be quite frankly absurd to take such a position.
But what if I am a plant owner and pay taxes, from real estate taxes to income taxes, on my business to support the building and maintenance of roads and sidewalks, what libertarian is bold enough to tell me how many undocumented I can hire, because they use roads and sidewalks, given I am paying taxes far greater than any lone individual for construction and maintenance of roads and sidewalks?
Let us also imagine that I own an apartment complex where I pay real estates taxes and income taxes far exceeding the cost of my personal use for roads and sidewalks. What libertarian is bold enough to claim that I can't rent to whomever I want and grant that person permission "to use my part of taxes paid" on roads and sidewalks for my tenants?
Of course, as I have pointed out, with government in the mix, it is bizarre to attempt to make exact cost/revenue-paid calculations but it is equally bizarre that a libertarian should claim that, as a landlord or business owner, that people I rent to or hire, when I have paid taxes on a property and income, should not be allowed to enter into exchanges with me...
The libertarian solution is a Private Property Society. The problem is that we live in a world of government and just because there is government doesn't mean individuals should be barred from hiring people because of where they were born or renting to people because of where they were born.
The solution should be less government and fewer government regulations or does a libertarian seriously want me to ask, "Papers please?"
If 20% of the U.S. moved to French-speaking Canada, and many spoke Spanish in public and as a matter of course, and it got to the point that the Canadians could no longer count on even the most fundamental feature of any community -- the ability to communicate with one another -- and if from there the Canadians were being lectured that they really ought to learn English and celebrate Fourth of July and all, and if on top of this the Americans started using Canadian emergency rooms as primary-care treatment, to the detriment of Canadians themselves, and on top of this they voted themselves special privileges and discriminatory favor against Canadians, I for one would stand up and cheer if Canadians said: you know, we have something worth preserving here, and enough is enough.I have a number of problems with Tom's post here. First, where does it say in libertarianism that the NAP calls for government protection of " something worth preserving," be it language or culture?
To be sure, if a group of private property owners wants to get together to protect a language or a culture in an area that is fine, but this is fundamentally different from preventing immigration where free exchange takes place and immigrants move into an area and change the language and culture. This kind of thing happens all the time.
To highlight this, I asked Tom this question in response to his comment:
What is your view on gentrification, where neighborhoods entirely change culture?
Would you cheer those people being displaced if they use government to stop the change and when they say "We have something worth preserving here, and enough is enough"?I have previously written on this:
Life is about change. One day a man has a successful buggy whip business, the next day Henry Ford comes along and puts and end to that.The commenter Chad Thrustington rose to Tom's defense with this comment:
One day rent is cheap, in a given location, the next day it skyrockets. One day, an area is filled with ancestors from the Mayflower, the next day it's full of Mexicans who snuck over the border.
None of this can be objected to from a libertarian perspective. Change happens. Life in a very important sense is about adjusting.
If someone doesn't want to live around Mexicans. and Mexicans are moving into a neighborhood that person will, from a libertarian perspective, just have to move to an area that has no Mexican demographic or is more accommodating, say, via a white only private property community.
I personally don't have any problems with Mexicans. I don't know many very well, but they clean my office building, and seem to be honest and hardworking. If I see any on the weekends, they seem to be very family oriented. I have no idea where they all live. There may be millions who have come into California, but they don't live in my neighborhood. My neighborhood, in this sanctuary city of San Francisco, is mostly white, with a good smattering of Asians and a few blacks. I see a few Mexicans on the streets who appear to be coming and going from cleaning jobs, but they don't live in the neighborhood. I really don't think much about them, or where they live. Like I say, they seem to be hardworking, God fearing, decent people. I don't cross the street when I see them, thinking that trouble may await if I don't
This, as I say, does not mean that people who don't want to live around certain ethnic groups, shouldn't be free to do so. They should just find their own land, their own groups and do so. I prefer the energy of a big city with an ethic mix.
Of course, there is a limitation from the libertarian perspective to this flow of illegal immigrants and, even gentrification, and that limitation comes in when the government enters the equation to coerce change (or stop change).
A libertarian must object to any gentrification that goes on as the result of property being taken by eminent domain. Or gentrification that is subsidized by government,
On the other hand, a libertarian must object to any immigration that is subsidized, say in the form of healthcare payments, welfare payments or, unemployment payments. It should also be objected to when government forces businesses and property owners to not discriminate against any group.
For the libertarian, there is no objection to the movement of people, whether it is immigration (by any group) or gentrification. Change happens. There is only objection to government involvement, in any way, in this movement, since government involvement always involves coercion against individuals or property.
Dr. Woods is raising five daughters on a self-employed income - one of whom has special healthcare needs, and so the on-the-ground reality of the tax and immigration situation in the US is perhaps more important to him than anarcho-capitalist theories about a borderless society. His views are consistent with reality (while still staying true to Rothbardian thought) and so they will gain prominence while interest in non-political anarcho-capitalism continues to fade.But what is this "on-the-ground reality"? It appears Thrustington is calling for what I call ass-backward-libertarianism, that is, government is infringing on individuals so let's increase the infringements: Tom is being taxed large amounts by government coercion so let's call for government coercion of immigrants.
On a side note, if Tom has a child with special needs, it is possible that he may be more dependent on immigrant labor to help with menial tasks. Putting up a wall will possibly directly, and most certainly indirectly, make the cost-of-living for Tom even higher. That is an additional burden on top of Tom's high tax situation.
The shrinking of government is only going to come about by the shrinking of government, not by expanding government is going to shrink it.
The commenter Marmite added this comment in support of the wall:
My neighbor's kids keep coming into my yard. I want to put up a fence to prevent them but my neighbor insists I shouldn't. What do you advise?But this is just confusion about the difference between government action and action on private property. I responded:
You can put up a 100 foot cement wall on your own damn property and no libertarian will bother you.Which brings up another point. Trump's Wall apparently will require the taking of some private land by eminent domain. Are libertarians really in favor of such taking of private property?
If I want to buy property on the border with Mexico and allow Mexicans on to my property, are libertarians really in favor of demanding the use of government force to prevent this by taking my land and building a wall on my land?
In summary, anti-private property immigration advocates need to answer a number of questions.
First, do anti-immigration libertarians recognize that there are different kinds of immigrants, those entering a country to operate in a generally free market and those entering on the expectation that the government will coerce taxpayers of the country to support them on the dole?
Do they believe government anti-immigration policies should be used to protect a language or a culture if the immigration is a free exchange immigration?
How do anti-immigration policy advocates square the "public places" anti-immigration argument and the paying of taxes with the fact that apartment owners and business owners who want to rent and hire immigrants in most cases pay taxes far in excess of the cost of their "public places" personal consumption?
Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of EconomicPolicyJournal.com and Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn.