Arnold Kling  

Immigration Metaphors

Theory of the Hooligan Firm... Long Tail Podcast...

Anthony de Jasay takes an "on the one hand, on the other hand" approach to immigration.

One strand of libertarian doctrine holds that it is precisely private property that should serve as the sole control mechanism of immigration. Immigrants should be entirely free to cross the frontier—indeed, there should be no frontier.

...A very different stand can, however, be defended on no less pure liberal grounds. For it is quite consistent with the dictates of liberty and the concept of property they imply, that the country is not a no man's land at all, but the extension of a home. Privacy and the right to exclude strangers from it is only a little less obviously an attribute of it than it is of one's house. Its infrastructure, its amenities, its public order have been built up by generations of its inhabitants. These things have value that belongs to their builders and the builders' heirs, and the latter are arguably at liberty to share or not to share them with immigrants...

The other hand uses metaphors with which I would quibble.

First, it uses the family metaphor for the state. Attributing family-like qualities to the state is inherently statist and illiberal. Better to think of the state as an impersonal arrangement among consenting adults.

Second, the other hand appears to equate trade with sharing. In order to share with the poor, I must sacrifice. But I always gain from voluntary exchange with the poor. If the native-born intend to profit when they rent space to immigrants and buy labor services from them, then these are economic transactions as opposed to sharing.

I am not saying that there are no arguments against immigration that I would accept. However, these particular arguments seem unpersuasive.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (19 to date)
Robert writes:

There are states in the world for which the state-as-extended-family metaphor might be apt. States like Armenia, or Japan.

But the U.S. is not, nor has it ever been, a nation-state, despite the best efforts of many throughout all ages of its history to turn it into such. Its political ideology is based on the idea that human beings are simply generic human beings, and even if that idea is false, the political structures we have built on top of that assumption don't work well when we start treating that idea as false.

superdestroyer writes:

But the vast majority of illegals from Mexico are not immigrants but colonist. They want to establish Norte Mexico. Look at the front page of the Washington Post on Monday August 8 and see the article about the Latino Soccer league. Do those individuals mentioned in the article sound like they want to exchange in mutually beneficial economic trade or do they sound like people who will ruin the schools, ruin property values, lower the quality of life, and increase the crime rate?

Mr. Econotarian writes:

From the Washington Post article:

Juan Navarrete, the owner of El Salvador de Manassas, El Destroyer's main rival, said he sank $40,000 into his [soccer] team last year. Navarrete owns a home remodeling company, and this year he's imported five professional players from El Salvador for the season, paying them to play and stabling them rent-free in a house he owns. Working for him is not an obligation.

Oh no, we are being invaded by home remodelers, what will we do!

John writes:

Anthony de Jasay is certainly not attributing family like qualities to the state, I mean his entire work developed in his books would indicate that such a thing would be as far away from his line of thinking as is logically possible. He is I think specifically talking about "public" property, most notably roads which just because they are provided by the State does not mean we should consider them "no man's land". He is also not confusing sharing and trading, he is talking about a point Hans Hermann Hoppe has also made about having to enter other people's private property in order to get to yours to "rent space". It is diametrically in opposition with classical liberalism/libertarianism to believe in the right to trespass and trample on other people's property.

Essentially the immigration problem boils down to like he said, the consideration of these tax financed goods as being "No Man's Land" or as a "Family Home" as without the state these goods could still be provided voluntarily.

Kent Gatewood writes:

Would you recommend an open door immigration policy for Israel? I think it would solve Hezbollah's problems. Would five billion people of the world's population be better off in America. Would it solve the Democrats' problems and spell the end of the Republican party. Most of the rest of the world seems to have a deep socialist base, I don't see it going away by coming here.

Rick Strange writes:

"First, it uses the family metaphor for the state"

Actually it equates the country with a condominium, which means that people who crawl through the windows and take up residence in the closets without the approval and consent of the neighborhood committee are trespassers.

Mark Seecof writes:

Yeah, like a condominium. But the problem isn't interlopers in the hall closets (although that's a good analogy for illegal-alien agricultural workers in Southern California living under bushes beneath freeway bridges so their raw sewage runs down onto the streets below).

No, the problem is the owner of condo unit who rents it out to a scratch group of 17 illegal-alien "low-wage workers" who leave trash in the entrance hall, refuse to clean their unit so it attracts roaches, play loud music all night and weekend, overload the drains intended for a family of 4 or 5 causing them to back up for the whole building, use up all the hot water similarly, smoke dope on the balcony, deal dope in the garage, get into drunken fistfights and finally a shooting with low-wage workers from a different source village...

Then the unit owner who rented to the illegals refuses to pay any more to the condo association than other unit owners, despite the fact his tenants are destroying the building.

(I am not making any of this up. I have personally observed all of those things, except the shooting--that happened down the street. On the other hand, I was present for a screwdriver stabbing once--I gave first aid and called the paramedics. A few days later I personally admitted the police to the building to arrest the stabber. I moved out that week!)

You see, most immigration-advocate talk about voluntary exchange leaves out externalities. It just flabbergasts me that libertarian economists will simply assume away all the externalities of illegal immigration. I favor free trade--in goods and services--as much as anyone, but immigration is different. Immigrants don't just work for low wages then spend their income on food, rent, and remittances. They live in the neighborhood and their behaviour (not to mention their kids') affects everyone, not just their employers and landlords.

It's no good saying "well, we should legalize them so they can earn more and behave better." Should one group of immigrants rise, employers will import a new, less sophisticated group to work for less (since that's the whole point). This process would presumably end when there is no difference in wages or living conditions between here and a Mexican slum. But who here now wants to live in a Mexican slum? Or it could go farther... a Namibian slum, anyone?

Any time you mention condominiums or gated-community-developments to libertarian economists, they are happy to see each as a beneficial private ordering. Their little oligarchies (condo boards) and taxes (assessments) apply only to voluntary participants (unit owners). Cool. But when you analogize that to the country as a whole, libertarian economists are quite ready to throw out the baby with the bathwater. It's easy to criticize government. Most of what government does is wrong and counterproductive. But controlling immigration on behalf of the citizenry is really the sort of "night watchman state" activity that even libertarian economists should laud. The proper view of immigration control isn't "interfering in voluntary exchange," it is "interfering in robbery." The people who want "voluntary exchange" with illegal aliens fully expect various non-parties to the transaction to pick up many of the costs. That's theft in the same sense that dumping industrial wastes in a river is theft from those downstream.

Condo boards frequently have the power to evict unit owners who offend their neighbors (a power often abused, I agree). If a condo board can act to "keep up property values" without outraging libertarians, why not a civil government?

(And I do know about the Coase theorem. In the questions we're addressing here, transaction costs appear to make allocation of costs and benefits by trade very difficult. I don't mind if you propose a scheme to fix this, but I won't agree to the immigration you want until after we put some wonderful cost-trading scheme in place.)

ben tillman writes:

"First, it uses the family metaphor for the state."

Where does Jasay say anything about the state? And where is the family metaphor?

Some good comments precede mine, but the condo analogy understates the problem. It ignores an important externality: the dilution of our shares, the dilution of our ownership interest, the dilution of our political power. Most condominium associations split political power per stirpes (one unit, one vote), but if they did things the way American government entities do (per capita), Mark Seecof's 17 immigrants in one unit would all get to vote and impose their will on the rest of the condo owners.

Martin Kelly writes:

Citizenship is a property right whose value is diminished by masss immigration.

And if you don't agree with me, just ask someone who's had a relative murdered by an illegal, or any other class of migrant.

Randy writes:


Re; "Citizenship is a property right..."

That's an interesting idea, but I'd like to break it down a bit. What does it matter to me who lives next door? - or who owns the store I shop at? - or who produces the goods I buy at the store? In short, what is the meaning of "citizenship" in a free society? If we assume that it means responsibility to our neighbors, then what does it matter who the neighbors are? Then again, if citizenship means a responsibility to band together to protect a common way of life, you may have a point. But what then is the common way of life we are protecting? Should we assume that immigrants come here for a reason other than to join into that common way of life? Is their being "foreign" enough to exclude them?

Martin Kelly writes:


If you live next to a property with eight burnt out cars on the lawn, with 'narcocorridos' blaring from its windows day and night, then I would imagine its occupiers' identities would matter to you.

The ownership of the store I shop at is irrelevant, provided it is able to sell me the items I want at a reasonable price - which the surly Pakistani shopkeeper at the bottom of my street was unable to do less than two hours ago.

In a free society, citizenship is the ticket required to participate in collective affairs. It demands the public recognition that those who live within particular spaces are entitled to order their affairs along particular legal and cultural lines and is bestowed either on the descendants of those who held the same right or on those who have sworn to uphold and defend the space's laws.

Anchor babies are legal oddities, exceptions which prove the rule.

Now, if those charged with upholding the space's laws decide that they will not do so for reasons of their own, or decide that the rights bestowed on citizens should also be bestowed on non-citizens at citizens' expense, then the neighbour's identities don't matter - it's their presence there at all that's the problem.

The bums in office can be thrown out at the next election - but bums like Pepe and Manolo next door are rather more difficult to remove.

And you've never even been asked if you think their presence is a good thing or not.

My view, as you might imagine, is that citizenship involves the protection of a common way of life. If you don't know what way of life we should be protecting (civic responsibility, the rule of law, the right to hold private property unmolested, freedom of contract, the presumption of innocence, the right of habeas corpus and the indivisible right of nations of citizens to determine who lives amongst them), then I can't help you.

I'm not an American; but you might want to add 'The Constitution' to the list.

Being foreign is never enough to exclude immigrants. However my view is that it is the immigrant's responsibility to prove that they are a fit and proper person to receive the right of admission.

And if they want to talk to their families, they can buy phonecards.

Randy writes:


Re; "Being foreign is never enough to exclude immigrants. However my view is that it is the immigrant's responsibility to prove that they are a fit and proper person to receive the right of admission."

I agree. And well said.

Randy writes:

Just a thought Martin, do you think that those born in the US should also have to prove they are "fit"? Heinlen, for example, proposed that only veterans should have the privileges and responsibilities of citizens. I kind of like that idea, but perhaps anyone who completes high school, does not have a criminal record, and is not receiving any form of public assistance, could also be considered.

Ben Tillman writes:
Just a thought Martin, do you think that those born in the US should also have to prove they are "fit"?

Property rights aren't dependent on fitness.

Randy writes:

Ben - good point.

Martin Kelly writes:


If you mean anchor babies, then of course if that person shows allegiance to the USA by conforming to its laws and not doing stuff like waving Mexican flags on the streets then of course they should be considered for citizenship.

For such people not to be considered eligible subject to criteria would be almost as unjust and oppressive as Koreans engaging in citizenship shopping by having their nippers in the USA and going back to Seoul with an American.

Re Heinlein - Ah, the global immigration debate! It made me the man I am today!

Citizenship is an hereditary property right. Just as nobody whose Grandpa lost the farm after the Crash has any real complaint about the fate of 'their' four acres, then the descendants of those who have willingly given up citizenship have no real claim for special consideration.

Re the use of the word 'fit'. The full phrase was 'fit and proper', a reflexive reference to the test used by my former professional regulators, the Law Society of Scotland, to determine whether or not a practitioner is worthy of remaining in practice.

With all due respect, Ben, the successful exercise of property rights are most certainly dependent on the holders' fitness. If a prospective property holder does not possess the means to obtain it they cannot do so. They are not fit to buy it. If the property is not properly husbanded, whether through incapacity or imprudence, then it is likely to be lost. They are not fit to keep it. Their title to the property may be subject to challenge. They are not fit to sell it.

It's the same with citizenship. Merely complying with the oppressive duty to pay taxes and the civic duty not to commit crimes is not enough to justify its grant. Similarly, although the nature of the right is such that its hereditary holders cannot be stripped of it they can give it away perfectly freely. The same end, the actual loss of citizenship, is likely to be reached if native holders within the native land cease to recognise its worth and start handing it out like candy.

John S Bolton writes:

Citizenship is a military relation implying that one will not take up anti-national hostilities against one's fellows in that relation, nor fail to take their side against the foreign hostile.
An immigrant whose residency here increases the aggression on those to whom one owes loyalty through the nation, is a foreign hostile.
This is why it is incorrect and treacherous to treat foreigners as being interchangeable with citizens. they are in different moral categories, and it cannot be otherwise.

Martin Kelly writes:


Absolutely correct - although I would argue that the military relation derives from the property right.

Randy writes:


I think you're right on that. I'm thinking of the Roman citizens of the Republic, who were the landowners and therefore expected to fight. Though later, the reverse was also true, those who fought were give the land they had conquered. And still later, the conquered were often granted citizenship as a form of appeasement. Which did, perhaps, cheapen the value of Roman citizenship.

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