As the debate among libertarians over how to handle the borders wears on, new arguments from the closed borders advocates pop up as the current arguments are debunked. One of the more fashionable and recent claims is that the borders ought to be closed since the taxpayers are the rightful owners of the public borderlands. Taxation is theft, so the state is not the legitimate owner of any property. If citizens of a country are going to have their money taken from them in the form of taxes, they say, then ownership of whatever is purchased with the tax money is transferred to those citizens.
It seems like a tidy argument. But is it correct to conclude only from this that the borders should be closed?
Here are five reasons why this idea should be rejected.
1. Why is closing the borders the answer and who gets to decide?
Taxpayers are not a monolithic group. To say that the borders should be closed begs the question that everyone would agree to that. There are many landowners who are happy to allow anyone on their property (except on rare occasions). Setting aside the issue of whether the taxpayers are the owners of the land (that is discussed later), why would some people be able to completely railroad the wishes of others?
It is not the case that property cannot be jointly owned. To make decisions on how the property is used, it is necessary to have some sort of agreement when the property claims are initially distributed among the owners. No such agreement exists when the state is the source of any given action. Defenders of the state may invoke Social Contract Theory, but libertarians reject that idea.
So why should the borders—apparently owned by the taxpayers—be closed? That’s a question that remains unanswered.
2. This is not how proper property claims are made.
Imagine I steal $1000 from you, put it in my bank account, and then spend $1000 to purchase a car. What is your claim against me (excluding legal fees, pain and suffering, etc.)? It is $1000. Because the same amount of money that was stolen from you was used to pay for the car does not grant you ownership of the car. If I did not have $1000 to pay you back, however, then you could claim the car or some other property of mine as restitution.
Let’s say that the car I purchased was stolen from someone else. In this case, you certainly cannot make a claim on the car since someone else, i.e. the rightful owner, has a greater claim to it than you. This would be true even if I took all my property and lit it and myself on fire so that all that remained were ashes that blew away in the wind.
Unfortunately for you, unless you had purchased an insurance policy to protect against this, you are out $1000.
If the state steals $1000 from you via taxation, then your claim against the state is $1000. You are not entitled to property that the state does not actually own. To claim that you own the taxpayer-funded borders ignores the more rightful claims that exist on the property. The land currently under federal control was either owned or unowned before the seizure by the state. If it was owned, then the land was stolen or stolen funds were used to purchase it. If it was unowned, then people were prevented from homesteading it through coercion. Yet even if no one had desired to homestead the unowned land, the state can make no legitimate property claims. Property cannot be transferred from someone who doesn’t own it.
3. It legitimizes taxation.
The involvement of stolen goods nullifies transactions. The victim of the theft would have the authority to recover what was stolen from him. If I stole a car from Donald and you unwittingly bought it from me, Donald retains his rightful claim to the car. To say that the ownership is transferred to you means that each step in transferring the ownership was legitimate. That includes the theft of the car from Donald. It would have to be concluded that the theft was legitimate.
Let’s change the scenario a bit and say that I stole $1000 from Donald to buy a car from you. If Donald could take back the $1000 from you, then it would mean that my theft of Donald’s money was legitimate. Again, this would obviously be incorrect.
To claim that taxpayers are the rightful owners of federal borderland must mean that the taxation and all the other transactions must have been legitimate.
It also means that I’m the partial owner of a lot of land in Afghanistan.
There may not be a perfectly clean or obvious answer to the question of how to equitably distribute the property if the state no longer enforced any claims on the land, but the basic libertarian ideas of property claims should not be abandoned. It makes more sense to consider public land that was previously unowned to be unused and therefore able to be homesteaded.
4. It means the state can nullify private property and that eminent domain is legitimate.
The real elephant in the room in the claim that the taxpayers are the rightful owners of the borderlands is that some of the land along the borders of the United States is in private hands. To close the borders and dictate to a property owner who and what he can bring onto his property is to claim ownership of his property. If someone is not the ultimate judge of how his property can be used (outside of using it aggressively against another person), can he be considered the true owner?
This would also excuse the use of eminent domain by the state. Despite the “payment” for the land, the landowners ultimately only have the illusion of the choice of whether they want to sell. They can sue the state, but it will be held in a court of an organization that has already decided that it is permissible to take land from people whether they agree or not.
5. Why does this idea only apply federally?
Federal taxes are not the only taxes levied on citizens. There are a number of state and local taxes that also exist and there is no reason to overlook these. If it is legitimate for taxpayers to restrict access to their country, then it is also legitimate for taxpayers to restrict access to their State or municipality.
Since I live and pay taxes in Pennsylvania, why should I allow someone from Wyoming into Pennsylvania? Why should I allow someone from Wyoming to use state and local roads in Pennsylvania since he never paid for them? If a person from Wyoming moves to Pennsylvania, why should he have equal access to schools, police, or any other government service that he never paid into before? Remember, the claim is that taxpayers, not future taxpayers, have ownership rights, so that should be enforced across the board.
If the argument were changed and immigrants were allowed entry into the country based on a promise to pay taxes, then that would legitimize taxation and Social Contract Theory. Rights would be contingent upon the payment of taxes.
Someone might object to applying this to States and municipalities because federal money is given to states and local governments, so any given person in the country has technically paid for virtually everything. He would have a point, but the consequences of pointing this out would make matters worse. Again, this ownership through taxation claim should be applied at all levels, so it would entitle massive numbers of people around the world to property claims in the United States since trillions of dollars of debt are held by foreign entities.
To try to sort all of this out would be nothing short of an absolute nightmare.
The idea that taxpayers own the borderlands and can therefore close the borders is full of fallacies. It is not even a coherent argument since the conclusion is without justification. Most importantly, it contradicts several basic libertarian concepts, but instead justifies the state, so it cannot be considered a libertarian idea.