Open Borders Are Bad News

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Stalin resettled Russians in Estonia for the purpose of destroying Baltic culture. Libertarians need to wake up to the perils of open borders.

Murray Rothbard, near the end of his life, experienced a crucial moment of reflection. In his article ‘Nations by Consent: Decomposing the Nation-State,” Mr. Rothbard re-examined the notion that restricted immigration or controlled borders are inconsistent with the ethics of private property.

Specifically, he reflected on Stalin resettling Russians in Estonia for the purpose of destroying Baltic culture and making it difficult for the native ethnic group to continue to reproduce itself.

Moreover, Mr. Rothbard wondered how the libertarian position could be to just sit back and let the state end the legacy of any native population through mass immigration. Similarly, many libertarians question the influx of economic migrants in Europe, most of whom are purely shopping for the most inclusive social security programs. Realizing that the state is expanding the welfare state to migrants through open border policies makes one question whether this is something libertarians should welcome.

It was these concerns that led Mr. Rothbard to think that any consistent model of private property rights is antithetical to open borders.

To quote Murray Rothbard: “If every piece of land in a country were owned by some person, group, or corporation, this would mean that no person could enter unless invited to enter and allowed to rent or purchase the property. A totally privatized country would be as closed as the particular property owners desire. It seems clear, then, that the regime of open borders that exists de facto in the U.S. and Western Europe really amounts to a compulsory opening by the central state, the state in charge of all streets and public land areas, and does not genuinely reflect the wishes of the proprietors.”

Just as I need your consent to enter your home and use your bathroom, under a system of private ownership, I would also need the consent of property owners to use the roads and means of travel required to migrate between countries.

Consequently, the open border libertarian must acknowledge that freedom of movement is incompatible with a system of private property. The open border libertarian faces the challenge of having to demonstrate how the state can legitimately grant such freedoms when private property owners cannot.

The first argument one might put forward in response is that government property is unowned, as it is created and maintained illegitimately through the predation of taxpayer property. Thus, people should be free to use it for migration. However, such an argument is riddled with contradictions and absurdities.

If a land is unowned, then it follows that anyone can appropriate it and exclude others from it. To illustrate: although every square mile on the planet has some ownership claim over it, imagine there was a continent of unowned land where no man had been before. Here it would be perfectly legitimate for me to fence off the unowned land for the purpose of exclusion.

The moment I appropriate the land, it becomes mine. Therefore, if public property is unowned, then the state is perfectly able to exclude people from it and restrict migration from outsiders. This is in stark contrast to what the open border libertarian is trying to argue.

We wouldn’t say public elementary schools have no right to exclude strange adults from entering the premises or that the police shouldn’t stop people from destroying public property.

On the contrary, we recognize these acts of government exclusion because public property is not unowned, but owned by taxpayers. To deny this is to deny the labor theory of property, one of the most crucial doctrines of libertarian thought.

Therefore, as long as we are going to have public property, it should aim to replicate private property norms through excluding criminals and vagrants. This avoids diminishing the value of taxpayer property.

This isn’t to say this is ideal. It is obvious to any libertarian that public property is one of the worst ways of organizing resources. It is a means of taking valuable goods and services, privatizing the benefits of consuming them to the individual while collectivizing the costs to taxpayers. To illustrate: if I light a camp fire at a national park, overfish in government owned waters, or even walk my dog on public property, I receive the value of these public commodities. But the costs are financed by taxpayers.

So, it follows that if anyone thinks public costs need to be minimized, they must recognize the need for restrictions on public property. This includes preventing free-riders from imposing excessive costs on taxpayers.

It may be true that workers migrating to a country bring also an increase in GDP, but it is not true that a future of mass immigration will bring about a freer world. A country hindered by a hyper-inclusive welfare state incentivizes the immigration of free-riding and not voluntary exchanges.

It is undeniable that flooding the country with economic migrants that travel purely for social security programs would greatly increase the costs of the welfare state. Increasing deficit spending and the need for the government to tax would lead to large increases in state power. Moreover, as the influx of migrants disintegrates the capital stock accumulated by the native population, society suffers.

We would be following in the footsteps of Greece and Rome, two of the strongest empires in history that collapsed due to mass migration. Hence, there is no question why the open border libertarian celebrates the destruction of borders and exclusion in the company of Marxists and Anarcho-communists, it is because unrestricted immigration paves the pathway to collectivism.

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