Liberty Hangout supports closed borders?

Yesterday morning I read a tweet from Liberty Hangout that said, “Libertarians can never provide an argument in favor of open borders other than ‘because closed borders is wrong.’”

Well, I accept this challenge.  I do have to say, though, I’m a bit surprised that Liberty Hangout would make such a statement.  They do argue for statelessness, but the opposite of open borders is closed borders, and closed borders imply the existence of a state.  The existence of what we refer to borders in general implies the existence of a state.  There are a few points that need to be made about this.

First, it is possible for a state to exist with open borders, meaning that they do not track or control who crosses their borders.  The second point is this: it is important to make the distinction between borders and private property lines (and yes, the best way to argue this is to advocate for “private borders“).  Since nearly everyone refers to borders as lines that mark which state has jurisdiction over which territory, it is unfair to say you’re in favor of closed borders when you define a border as boundaries between private properties.

So from here forward, I will be referring to borders as state borders, i.e. controlled by a government.

To start, I think that it is important to say that having closed borders is wrong.  Let us not lose this in the way Liberty Hangout framed their assertion.  What does it mean to be an illegal immigrant?  It means that your crime is simply being in the wrong geographical location regardless if the rightful property owner (which is never the state) has given you permission.  This is a clear violation of the Non-Aggression Principle.  If private property is held as sacred in the eyes of libertarians, how can Liberty Hangout suggest that an uninvited third party would have the authority to determine how a property owner can use his property?

I do not believe that this means Liberty Hangout believes there should be a state.  I tend to think that their rationalization goes something like this:

Since the state isn’t going away any time soon, how do we deal with the borders now?  The best way to ensure that private property rights are retained is to restrict the movement of people across the borders to some degree.  This does not mean total control, but there is a sweet spot somewhere.

The fundamental flaws to this line of reasoning for a libertarian, especially one that advocates for statelessness, are that it contradicts the ideas that problems are best solved through the respect for private property and that the free market is superior to central planning through the state at solving problems.  The answer to our problems is never more government.  While we may not achieve what we want to right away, it is good to accept steps in the right direction even if it does not eliminate the role that the government takes.  This does not mean, however, that we should never stop advocating for the end goal, which is a society that is free from institutionalized forms of coercion.  For example, while the libertarian argues that no taxes are acceptable, it would be silly not to accept the lowering of tax rates from 20% to 10%.  But arguing in favor of closed borders would be like saying, “Well, since we can’t get rid of government right now, we still do need taxes.”

It is true that the immigrants do represent a potential burden to the existing citizens of a given state.  In the United States, for example, many illegal immigrants will find themselves on some sort of welfare or use some product or service (like hospitals or schools) required to be supplied by the business owner or the taxpayer.  These requirements, however, are set by governments and imposed by them on their citizens.  Preventing immigration on the grounds that they might engage in what amounts to theft in the eyes of libertarians is charging them with a pre-crime.  Furthermore, since libertarians do not believe in the absurdity of determining rights based on citizenship status, this would also be similar to using the state to prevent people who are on some form of welfare from having children since the children will also put an additional burden on the taxpayer.  I think only the most radical of the neoreactionaries would support that.

There are also benefits to the free movement of people across borders.  Free trade is the most productive form of trade, so why would the trading of labor be any different?  The way the price of labor is determined is no different than how the price of any other good is set.  The only way the price of a good can be properly established so as to most efficiently allocate resources is through voluntary exchange.  Therefore the only way to find the correct market price for labor is to allow the free movement of labor.  Restricting cheap labor will likely artificially keep prices high, which means the extra money needed for the labor cannot be used in other sectors of the economy and/or less money is available for capital improvements.

There is also a cultural enrichment that occurs when ethnic groups move across borders.  Migrants bring restaurants, shops, etc. to their new homes, which become points of interest (i.e. points of wealth generation) to the people native to the area.  Yes, cultural clashes do sometimes occur between the native people and the newcomers, but this is often the result of the local and/or national governments attempting to plan the placement and movement of these immigrants.  When left on their own, the settling and assimilation tend to take place much more smoothly.  Migrants to the Metropolis offers a number of examples of cities where both situations have occur.

There is no good reason why national borders cannot be enforced more like borders between the States in the United States (although these are far from perfect—e.g. I risk penalties for buying alcohol in Delaware and transporting it back to my residence in Pennsylvania).  It would be crazy to restrict the movement of people between Massachusetts and Connecticut to protect either of their economies or property owners.  People living in Georgia don’t fear a tidal wave of people moving in from Florida.  People can move about the States relatively freely and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a single person ask for more restrictions.

The call for closed borders is very shortsighted, especially for libertarians.  We should focus on minimizing the use of harmful coercion on people instead of rationalizing the violation of rights.  All it really takes to answer the question of how to arrange borders is to ask this question: How can respecting private property rights solve this problem?




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