Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Immigration Question From a Libertarian Perspective

By Robert Wenzel

My posting of a Robert Higgs claim at 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.

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?"
The great libertarian Tom Woods, who hosts the most important libertarian podcast, weighed in on the Higgs post with this comment:
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.

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.

The commenter  Chad Thrustington rose to Tom's defense with this comment:
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 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.


  1. What libertarians won't acknowledge is that culture matters. Even the founders, primarily Englishmen, were concerned about German and other immigration. There was no concept of this melting pot BS spouted today by leftist and cuckservatives and misguided libertarians. American would be so much better off if it were primarily European stock.

    There is a reason why Mexico, Liberia, and other places are the way they are. Those cultures sucks and are failures. Even India with an inheritance of British institutions which are similar to here in the US is on the verge of becoming a failed state.

    Maybe libertarians could address that issue. And RW needs to come to South Texas and visit some colonias sometime. Kind of like crackers in trailer parks across the country and we have enough of our worthless population to support.

  2. "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?"

    You are making a utilitarian argument and do not even have the facts right. Employers of illegal immigrants do not pay taxes exceeding the cost of the immigrants. In fact, other people shoulder the costs of the immigrants while the private property owner gains the benefit.

    It's nothing but banditry with a very thin ideological veneer.

  3. I think what you on the alt right won't accept is that culture matters a lot less than you think. You're actually borderline obsessed with culture, as if western european culture is a static, monolithic thing.

    I'll use your own example. Prussians (Germans), Scandanavians, Italians, Englishman, they were all at their throats for centuries in Europe, killing and maiming eachother regularly. This was their culture. They came to the US, which had a much better system of private property and suddenly, they weren't killing each other, they were trading, they were invested, and the culture of this country exploded and produced huge contributions to philosophical, legal, and technological thought.

    Now, your claim is that this is somehow a failure. That the market doesn't bring people together, because they always think culturally. And yet, these cultures, that had ancient rivalries and hatreds and different religious and legal ideas, came here and peacefully began to trade. In the case of the Irish, they didn't even believe the Irish to be human beings. Eventually these differences melted away, where and when they were exacerbated by the government. But for you, somehow Mexican culture is radically different and can't be absorbed.

    And btw, Mexican culture is rich and awesome, their failures are government failures. But you must not believe that, because must think fundamentally the government is a force for good and advances the culture of a group of people, and in that you're very wrong. As with your own immigration example, it proves the exact opposite. They protect you and your culture from the evils of other cultures, seeping in and ruining that which you undoubtedly worked so hard to build. In other words, you love your prison guards, because they keep both other inmates and their bad music out of your cell.

    1. Some of what you say would be true if these people were taken in small doses. However, thanks to the internet, most of them don't make the effort to assimiliate and this includes other countries as well.

      There are plenty of American Hispanics who only can speak English but let us be frank about the fact that these mostly non-white cultures vote left. That's why the Democrats want them.

    2. > And btw, Mexican culture is rich and awesome, their failures are government failures.

      Part one is true, part two is false.

      They vote for the very same style government here that they put in place across the Hispanic world.

    3. Hispanics are just as likely as whites to identify themselves as libertarian, 11% to 12%.

      Hispanics are more libertarian than most on US foreign policy. In particular, more than any other group they oppose to “US drone strikes against extremists”:

  4. Bob. A large portion of the imagrants come from Central America, not Mexico. Guatemala is a big one and Honduras. These people are fleeing impossible conditions created by and large by the US government. All the interventions & the war on drugs have created these conditions.

    As far as I am concerned these public road defenders can blow it out Thier ass. Thier government and Thier tax dollars destroyed these countries in central America. The least they could do is shut the Fuck up if a poor person wants to use "Thier roads"

    1. I would agree a century of misguided US policy has made these places awful but does not mean we have to take them.

    2. How about the misguided policy stops before the wall goes up?

    3. Well my mom always told me if you pull your pants down you have to support it. You can't knock her up and not support the child.

      Likewise you can't screw up countries and ignore the side effects. I am with Bob. Put up a welfare wall. We should also quit over throwing governments and end the war on drugs. Wouldn't need a real border wall then.

  5. Also by and large roads are funded through gas taxes. So...Those dirty imagrants are paying for the roads

    1. Assuming the roads wouldn't be paid for either way...

  6. "First, do anti-immigration libertarians recognize that there are different kinds of immigrants?"
    Yes. As libertarians we all favor the abolition of the welfare state. But that alone will not stop the immigration.

    2. "Do they believe government anti-immigration policies should be used to protect a language or a culture?" Yes. But I would phrase it differently. Do you want to continue the current immigration laws which for 40 years have imported tens of millions from non-English speaking 3rd world countries or do you want to stop that immigration?

    3. "If an apartment owner wants to hire Mexicans, shouldn't that be the end of the discussion?" No. Under the current voting laws I and the apartment owner each have one vote. BTW I am ok with moving over to a voting system where the votes on tax related expenditures are in proportion to the taxes paid.

  7. @incognost & others,
    if we abolish the welfare state and have open borders how many will come? World population is 7 billion. I am guessing about a billion or 2 will come within 10 years. What is your estimate? And will it bring us closer to a libertarian society?

  8. Wenzel, do you treat your wife, children, siblings and cousins the same as a stranger?

  9. Thanks for responding to my comment. I do think that we will continue to see less interest in non-political libertarian theory and more interest in the broad alt-right (which draws heavily from paleoconservative / paleolibertarian ideas) in the coming years, because NPLT doesn't seem to have an answer for the situation where 51% of people want nothing to do with a PPS (in reality the number seems to be closer to 99%). Rockwell, Woods, Molyneux, and many other prominent thinkers all seem to be moving in that direction in various ways. In my humble opinion you are the best writer on non-political libertarian theory for a non-academic audience so please keep up the good work.

  10. Socialism creates irreconcilable conflicts. As long as the US maintains welfare, health, and road socialism, there is no "moral" solution to the immigration conflict. All the libertarian solutions work best by first eliminating the socialism. But because this will never happen, under current conditions, immigration policy will be one of immoral and irreconcilable conflicts.

  11. I find it odd that libertarians who purportedly believe the NAP is the cornerstone of our philosophy argue for an exception to the NAP if the state happens to be using force to try to create an outcome with which they agree. In my view the NAP renders the state and all of its actions wholly illegitimate. It has no legitimate role as a gatekeeper, physical or cultural. The fact that it has also set up an illegitimate welfare system doesn't make its gatekeeper role legitimate. Otherwise it could justify each action on the basis of mitigating the impact of another illegitimate action. Come on guys, the enemy is the state, not each other or those who wish to move here. If they move here and then commit acts of violence, they too would be in the wrong.

  12. I never thought I'd see so many American's clamoring for a government built wall. Mencken was correct when he observed that people get the government they deserve, and they will get it good and hard (I paraphrase).

  13. If you want to buy a house in a development or buy a share in a cooperative there are rules you have to agree to abide by. In a private property society would rules control immigration? Look at how people spend their spare time. In general each ethnic group spends their weekend with their own tribe and there is little mixing. In a PPS, it is likely that most communities would control immigration.

    1. "In general each ethnic group spends their weekend with their own tribe and there is little mixing."

      You don't live in the real world

    2. Marmite:

      Each current PPS -- the household -- controls who come into and moves into the house. When the PPS is extended to communities, the same rule would apply. But the constituents of those communities would have voluntarily agreed to these rules. The mistake is to take this principle and apply it to statist communities, where not everyone has voluntarily opted in to the "rule" and each person's preference is entitled to equal respect, rather than majoritarian domination.

    3. @Jack,
      By mixing I meant who do people spend their holidays with, who do they marry, who do they attend religious services with, who do they have dinner with. People are tribal because they have in common standards of behavior and knowledge. What mixing do you see?

  14. Made me think of...
    "With the land area of the globe now parcelled out among particular States, one of the basic doctrines and tactics of the rulers of each State has been to identify itself with the territory it governs. Since most men tend to love their homeland, the identification of that land and its population with the State is a means of making natural patriotism work to the State's advantage. If, then, Ruritania is attacked by Walldavia, the first task of the Ruritanian State and its intellectuals is to convince the people of Ruritania that the attack was really upon them, and not simply upon thier ruling class. In this way, a war between rulers is converted into a war between peoples, with each people rushing to defense of their rulers in the mistaken belief that the rulers are busily defending them. This device of nationalism has been particularly successful in recent centuries; it was not very long ago, at least in Western Europe, when the mass of subjects regarded wars as irrelevent battles between various sets of nobles and their retinues" - Murray N. Rothbard

  15. Robert --

    How do you distinguish migrations in general from the particular instance of a conquering army, whether armed by guns or ideology? As an example, how would you have reacted to the Bolsheviks adopting Gramscian tactics and sending 10 million folks to the US in the 1930's to conquer the US via the democratic process.

    You could claim that you do not support the democratic process and its use of the gun to control. But would you let you ideals override reality?

    Just wondering. I am still coming to terms over this issue and know that Mises was not a supporter of open borders under all instances.

    From the introduction to Omnipotent Government:

    "Take, for instance, the case of migration barriers. Unrestrictedly opening the doors of the Americas, of Australia, and of Western Europe to immigrants would today be equivalent to opening the doors to the vanguards of the armies of Germany, Italy, and Japan."