Bryan Caplan  

Open Borders is a Moderate Position

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After Fabio Rojas, Vipul Naik, and I created the Open Borders Logo Contest Facebook page, many opponents of immigration joined the page and behaved uncivilly.  When our troika decided to moderate the page, immigration opponents cried foul: "If you believe in open borders, you should let anyone join your Facebook group!"  This is a slight variation on an anti-immigration argument I've heard many times before: "If you believe in open borders, you should allow strangers to move into your house, rent-free."

To see what's wrong with this argument, consider the following three positions.

1. Foreigners shouldn't be allowed to move into a house even if the owner consents.

2. Foreigners should be allowed to move into a house as long as the owner consents.

3. Foreigners should be allowed to move into a house even if the owner doesn't consent.

#1 is the standard, status quo view: The government can and often should forbid native property owners from hosting foreigners.

#2 is the open borders views: Individual property owners, not the government, have the right to decide whether or not to host foreigners.

#3 is Utopian socialism: We should just get rid of property and literally let foreigners go wherever they please.

It's easy to see why people who support #1 would want to equate #2 and #3.  But they're radically different positions.  Position #2 takes property rights very seriously.  Position #3 views property rights as a joke.  Equating the two views - as immigration restrictionists often do - is unfair to both positions.

Of course, immigration restrictionists are not the first to make this mistake.  If "X is forbidden" is the status quo, defenders of the status quo often paint "X is required" as the only alternative.  You're against the prohibition of Protestantism?  You must want to forcibly convert everyone to Protestantism.  Rhetorically speaking, this is much easier than attacking the intermediate view that each individual should be free to choose his own religion.

In most historical cases, however, this false dichotomy is at least excusable.  During the Wars of Religion, many Protestants really did want to replace mandatory Catholicism with mandatory Protestantism.  In the case of immigration, in contrast, the mistake is silly.  Position #3 has almost no adherents.  Indeed, the most intellectually prominent proponents of immigration are economists, long-known for their appreciation of private property and scorn for Utopian socialism.

As a practical matter, open borders is a radical position: If implemented, our economy and society would swiftly and dramatically change.  As a philosophical matter, though, open borders is a moderate position.  "Free to choose" stands between the extremes of "Mandatory" and "Forbidden."  Open borders stands between the extremes of nationalist restriction and socialist mandate.  Facebook clearly grasps the distinction: The individual who creates a group decides who's in and who's out.  The critics of immigration really should stop talking as if this familiar option doesn't even exist.



COMMENTS (47 to date)
MikeP writes:

"Libertarianism is not extremist. It is the moderate, tolerant position between the extremes of prohibition and compulsion." -- Richard Boddie

nl7 writes:

Conservatives and conservative-libertarians often argue to libertarians that border restrictions are not anti-freedom any more than keeping intruders out of your house is anti-freedom.

Which of course implicitly relies on the notion that the country is collectively owned like a house. Sounds like the 'socialism' they claim to abhor.

bobby writes:

Why do my purist libertarian friends so often leave out the obvious. If my neighbor fills up his house with foreigners and reduces my property value, then I have been harmed.

Or we have traffic laws because somewhere around 5% of people are sociopaths and will run over you at an intersection.

The trick is to not tie yourself up in a pretzel hanging to a black or white view point, but to advance the idea of a limited government just big enough to maintain a civil and just society.

For instance, if you are not going to have a generational jubilee, then you got to have a law to keep the biggest or best kid from collecting all the marbles so the game doesn't end. So how do you do that with a limited not wishful size government.

MikeP writes:

If my neighbor fills up his house with foreigners and reduces my property value, then I have been harmed.

If your neighbor fills up his house with citizens and reduces your property value, then you have been harmed. Perhaps one should address the actual problem rather than use it as an excuse to abrogate people's rights thousands of miles away.

Or we have traffic laws because somewhere around 5% of people are sociopaths and will run over you at an intersection.

It may surprise you to learn that sociopaths aren't swayed by traffic laws. We have traffic laws so everyone understands the common conventions in using roads. People generally obey those traffic laws because people are generally sociable and cooperative.

johnleemk writes:
Or we have traffic laws because somewhere around 5% of people are sociopaths and will run over you at an intersection.

Any comparison between immigration laws and motoring laws is going to wind up favouring open borders, or at the very least a much more liberal immigration regime than anything in existence today.

For instance, rather than prohibiting people from driving so as to protect us all from those 5% of sociopaths, the law just asks you to take a test to get your licence, and follow the rules of the road. The rules of the road don't prevent you from getting on the road whenever you like, except in the case of emergencies. The test for getting a licence is extremely lenient (when you consider that you're being licensed to control a machine capable of killing multiple people and causing millions of dollars in damage). The rules of the road, such as speed limits, siting of traffic signals, etc. are generally determined by engineering studies.

Immigration laws on the other hand first make you wait years, if not decades, for a chance to even have your application heard. If you've ever complained about wasting a day waiting at the DMV, multiply that by several years. Then, immigration laws apply arbitrary restrictions that are hardly ever rooted in studies of what the appropriate quantities or qualities of immigrants ought to be. Most modern immigration laws in fact started off in their original incarnations as policies that we would today have no trouble labeling as racist. Most people who want to "take the test" to get their immigration licence never get a chance to do so on a reasonable timeframe. And if they do, there's every chance they'll be shot down by an arbitrary requirement that they can't meet, a requirement that has no empirical or theoretical backing other than paranoia about immigrants rooted in conjecture that any change from the status quo could somehow cause a catastrophe.

To put it in concrete terms, we let pretty reckless drivers get on the road today all the time. Habitually reckless driving will eventually get your licence taken away from you, but otherwise as long as you meet some pretty low bars, you can be licensed and get on the road, putting people's lives in danger all the time. We wait for people to demonstrate repeated reckless driving before we take their licence away from them.

On the other hand, we don't even give most people who want to immigrate a chance to even "take the test", let alone get on the road. We just ban them from immigrating all together, because we'd rather punish the 95% of people who are utterly innocent in the name of defending ourselves from those 5% who are sociopaths. This, even though our chances of being murdered by an immigrant are far lower than our chances of dying in a car crash. This isn't even paranoid conjecture like the kind behind most immigration restrictions; it's empirical fact as anyone familiar with the statistics can tell you.

If you ask me, there's a far better case for tightening restrictions on driving than there is a case for tightening or maintaining existing restrictions on immigration. Comparing existing immigration restrictions to existing traffic laws is utterly laughable. Existing traffic laws are far more permissive than any immigration regime in existence. And despite this, existing traffic laws are actually backed by more studies than immigration laws. Anyone who wants to make immigration law more like motoring law should be for opening the borders.

Matt H writes:

Is you Facebook group more like your house or country?

1. If its like your house you own it...and can give your consent at will.

2. Since it is a group, one might expect to have other members. Those members should have some collective say over who joins.

Your position on immigration is that the collective has no rights its allowed to enforce and members have no obligations to the collective will. Is this a sustainable entity.

1. Would you kick people out if they pretended to for open boarders but then posted something you disagreed with? Should your group have the right to do this? under what theory of property can you kick out an existing member(owner)?

Just trying to understand you points.

Bryan I don't think you're a libertarian, I think you are an anarchist. If democratic will can't curtail some of your rights then why have any majoriterian decision making at all?

Brian writes:

"#2 is the open borders views: Individual property owners, not the government, have the right to decide whether or not to host foreigners."

This is not really equivalent to the Open Borders view.

First of all, the right to host a foreigner is not infringed in any significant way by immigration policy, which is about the right of permanent residency and citizenship. You do yourself no favors by confusing the two.

Second, to host said foreigner, various public goods like air space, roads, or water must be used by the foreigner. Since these public goods can only be controlled by all citizens together (by agreement or by government), the citizens as a group (not as individuals) have the right to grant or withhold access. So host all the foreigners you want, but how do you expect them to arrive without using publically held resources? The position is not so moderate in this context, being the equivalent of demanding that your party guests be allowed to walk through your neighbor's yard without his permission.

This is reminiscent of the Merchant of Venice--Shylock was entitled to his pound of flesh, but not to even a drop of blood.

James writes:

bobby,

Activity that affects your property values may make you worse off but that doesn't justify government action in itself. But put that aside.

If your neighbor fills his house with members of a disliked group, some people may lower their bids or withdraw entirely from the market to buy your house. When the government restricts immigration, this also reduces the number of potential bidders for your house. Until you know which effect is larger, you can't even say whether open borders would harm you or benefit you relative to the status quo.

Jeff writes:

A nation is not a house, so I think making pro or anti open borders arguments that invoke this analogy are bound to be unconvincing no matter what your priors are. By that same token, Bryan, a nation is not simply a series of privately owned houses, either, so arguments that invoke willing seller and willing buyers who just happen to have been born in Cozumel or wherever fall pretty flat, as well. There are too many issues of public goods like schools and crime, public policies like taxes and labor laws, etc, which are affected by the ethnic composition of a nation that muddy the waters.

You wrote a book decrying the cognitive limitations of the median voter. How big do the gains in efficiency attained by exploiting the comparative advantages of low skilled immigrants need to be, given that an open borders regime is virtually certain to make the median voter substantially dumber than he already is? That's the question you and Vipul should be answering instead of pushing back against what are already clearly lousy arguments.

David C writes:

bryan, traffic laws actually make it easier to run somebody over. If traffic laws weren't in place, the only way to run somebody over without being convicted of homicide or manslaughter would be to demonstrate self defense, which would be nearly impossible. Under traffic laws, one can also say that the pedestrian had negligently entered the driver's lane when the driver had the right of way, and the driver would've had extreme difficulty avoiding the pedestrian. Without traffic laws, a person who has extreme difficulty not killing somebody is considered to be recklessly endangering others and therefore would be convicted of manslaughter for running the pedestrian over who ran out into the middle of a highway.

Matt H, joining the group seems most comparable to granting citizenship, which is a separate issue from open borders. And people who aren't members of the group should still be able to use services not provided by the group, right? You'll probably say dividing things up in that way would be much too difficult, but 60% of federal spending consists of the military (mostly useless to everybody including immigrants), social security (easily kept from immigrants), and medicare (also easily kept from immigrants). Then after that are mainly welfare services for the poor such as food stamps and medicaid which can also be easily controlled. The biggest item in state spending is education by far (also easily kept from immigrants). Unless of course, the group collectively owns your house. But that seems like a stretch.

Bedarz Iliaci writes:

Position #2 may take property rights very seriously but ignores political rights.

But man is a political animal. This means that mankind is naturally organized into particular, self-ruling, morally authoritative communities.

The libertarian view of property rights is itself lacking. Property rights, though not granted by State, exist within a particular state of laws.

The argument, against open borders, based upon property rights is fallacious too. The only argument is based upon political rights. If there are no political rights, i.e. man is not a political animal, then open border position is right. But it has never been shown. In fact, libertarianism is just the denial of the political nature of man and thus an inadequate theory.

johnleemk writes:

David C, to elaborate on your point regarding Social Security/Medicare, not only is it easy to prevent people from acquiring benefits without paying into the system, it is already being done today. You need to pay into the Social Security system for 40 quarters (i.e. 10 years) to be eligible for retirement benefits. Disability and survivor benefits qualify on a sliding scale, based on age. This is all true whether you are a native or a foreigner.

In all cases, to be eligible for any Medicare benefits, you either need to be a US citizen or be a legal permanent resident who has continuously resided in the US for at least 5 years. And some parts of Medicare impose the 40 quarter payroll tax requirement on top of this qualification, so you can't get all Medicare benefits unless you meet both sets of criteria.

The welfare state catastrophe argument is one that is routinely trotted out against open borders, but this is something that we already have a good deal of empirical knowledge about. There is no evidence at all that immigration poses an existential fiscal threat to any state. There's plenty of literature out there studying the fiscal impacts of immigration, across a variety of welfare systems, visa systems, and economies. The consensus of economists who've studied this is that immigration is somewhere between a fiscal neutral and a small fiscal positive.

Cimon Alexander writes:

"Eliminate the borders, and the only property rights remaining are those that the global population, as a whole, are willing to grant. Does it really need to be spelt out that this is not the recipe for a libertarian society?"

link

Ghost of Christmas Past writes:

Face it, the critics' logos were way more witty and memorable than your team's pious logos from Dullsville.

Instead of running all the clever people out of your contest you should have simply selected two winners: one, however stodgy*, that best matched your stated criteria; and one that best represented your opponents. You needn't have paid any prize to the dark-side winner. Then a good time would have been had by all!

You might even have wished to adopt one of the critics' double-entendre logos. If you had studied the science of propaganda you would know that the important thing is to get something memorable, and if a visual pun helps in that respect it is better than something uninteresting even if it seems impious.

*Or however much a crypto-swastika.

Hugh writes:
#1. Foreigners shouldn't be allowed to move into a house even if the owner consents. ..... #1 is the standard, status quo view: The government can and often should forbid native property owners from hosting foreigners.

This is a strawman argument. As someone in favour of immigration restrictions, I believe that immigration should be numerically and qualitatively controlled such that society can assimilate immigrants relatively easily.

Thus it might be OK for the US to welcome, say, 200,000 immigrants in a year, but 1,000,000 would be too many.

Likewise, if those immigrants are all Canadians, assimilation will be easy. If they are all from Papua New Guinea it may be more difficult.

I believe that this is a common sense approach to what is,in the end, a practical problem.

This is very far from the position you impute: that of a complete ban on immigration.

Taeyoung writes:
#2 is the open borders views: Individual property owners, not the government, have the right to decide whether or not to host foreigners.

I don't think people would have the same objections to "open borders" if immigrants each had to be invited by individual citizens who then assumed full responsibility and joint liability for all their actions. There are people who object to work visas and other types of invited immigration, but I think they're a minority of the public, and a minority of the anti-open-borders group.

Mostly what is objectionable -- to me, at least -- is the uninvited illegal immigrant. Sure, once he's flouted our laws and shown up on a street corner somewhere, he can probably cadge a job off of someone because Americans are basically nice. But no one invited him in. He just showed up and camped in the lawn, and none of the residents could bring themselves to shoo him away. We had someone like that at my condo. But we had him removed eventually. 尊王攘夷.

Handle writes:

Trigger Warning: Try not to caught up in nitpicking the details of devices and analogies used merely to stimulate reasoning through a thought experiment.

Let's say a group of 10 people agree to form a partnership into which they make equal investments which are used to purchase 10 acres of land to form a private community, around which they build a fence. The partnership will own and govern the land - providing security, legislating rules, and enforcing them coercively.

The partnership will sell off plots of land, not quite fee-simple but close and charge a rent/tax based ad-valorem on the market value of the land but not the improvements. The partnership says existing community residents may exchange with each other at will, but reserves the right to regulate commerce or transactions with those not in the community as well as the the entry of new community members. They've got their reasons why they think being selective in forming their own beautiful bubble will produce better results than a free for all.

You all see where I'm going with this. Is this a tolerable state of affairs? Is this something human creatures should be allowed to do - take exclusive possession of a piece of land and make and enforce rules for any who wish to enter?

If it's not, why not? If it is, why can't a nation be like that too if the decision mechanism prefers it? Is there a special scale or scope where the analogy breaks down?

RPLong writes:

I generally dislike comparisons between homes and borders. There are important differences between a household and a country. The most important of which is the fact that my home and everything in it is my personal property, whereas my country is a vast landmass almost none of which I own or claim any right to control.

If the immigration restrictionist position is that they do, in fact, wish to control those resources, then that is obviously an anti-liberty position and the problem is much deeper than merely immigration in isolation. How much of a country's resources do people feel entitled to control in absence of actually owning it?

VXXC writes:

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Daublin writes:

A house is not a country, but it is certainly a house.

As it stands, immigration law doesn't just control membership in the nation. It also controls what citizens can do with their actual houses and actual offices.

Brian writes:

"my country is a vast landmass almost none of which I own or claim any right to control."

RPLong,

But of course you DO control it, not as an individual, but collectively as a citizen and voter. The analogy between homes and countries is possibly meaningful when the collective will of the citizenry is taken as analogous to the will of the homeowner.

After all, commonly held resources, the control of which you say is "anti-liberty," do end up BEING controlled, and the structure that makes that control possible leads to well-defined property rights for individuals. It's hard to see how this could be intrinsically anti-liberty.

MikeP writes:

...the structure that makes that control possible leads to well-defined property rights for individuals.

The structure that makes that control possible leads to the securing of well-defined property rights for individuals. The control does not lead to the rights. Indeed, North Korea does a great job of controlling the commonly held resources, but it neither recognizes, secures, nor leads to well-defined property rights for individuals.

It's hard to see how this could be intrinsically anti-liberty.

It's anti-liberty to use this control to violate property rights -- which is exactly what the government does when it prevents you from housing or employing people on your property solely due to where they happened to have been born.

MikeP writes:

Is this something human creatures should be allowed to do - take exclusive possession of a piece of land and make and enforce rules for any who wish to enter?

The distinctions you are trying to muddy are the differences between property and territory, between ownership and dominion, between acquisition and conquest.

If it is, why can't a nation be like that too if the decision mechanism prefers it? Is there a special scale or scope where the analogy breaks down?

The analogy breaks down when unanimity breaks down -- which happens rapidly as the community gets beyond the small homogenous housing subdivision, village, or company town. As the number of residents increases, along with all their different values and ends, the restrictions become more and more binding on more and more people. The community will simply not compare favorably alongside more open communities that allow more individual decision making and cooperation -- including, notably, with outsiders.

RPLong writes:

Brian,

With whom I choose to sign a contract is not typically the purview of the commons. Because the legal questions surrounding immigration only really address this one point, it is quite obviously not a matter for collective input. At least, not if you believe that contracts are a private matter, as I do.

I mean, think about it. What if I could vote you out of the country? Would I have a right to do it, even if a majority of Americans supported that idea?

Eric Falkenstein writes:

Aren't moderate ideas necessarily popular?

MikeP writes:

Aren't moderate ideas necessarily popular?

So open borders were moderate in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries? But they are extremist in the 20th and 21st?

Maybe it's the people, not the idea, that have become extremist.

Brian writes:

"With whom I choose to sign a contract is not typically the purview of the commons."

RPLong,

This statement may be true if you are talking about formal legal contracts (i.e. that one would "sign"), but it doesn't hold for a wide variety social contracts, some with legal ramifications and others not. For example, society and the law have decided that you can't choose not to form contracts with certain people on the basis of race alone. They also prevent you from forming certain contracts with people below a certain age, or at least refuse to acknowledge those contracts. The use of virtually everything in the commons is controlled by the citizenry, collectively speaking. The existence of laws and regulations of any kind is evidence of this control.

As far as voting someone out of the country goes, it would be possible if the law were written to permit it. Suppose citizenship were defined for a term and not for a lifetime. Then the body politic could vote not to renew your citzenship. I don't see how this is any fundamental restriction on one's freedom if the conditions for citzenship are laid out clearly before you become a citizen. It's really no different than any other term contract in which the parties are free to renew or not.

In any case, contracts are only private matters if they involve private goods. Contracts involving public goods are public matters, by definition.

guthrie writes:

Here's hoping the 'nation is a house' fallacy is finally beginning to be disabused.

@Brian,

Can you cite an example of a 'contract involving public goods'?

RPLong writes:

Brian,

We agree that immigration restrictions are a lot like restrictions on private business contracts. We also agree that the only practical thing stopping people from voting you out of the country is the fact that this particular law has not yet been ratified.

We only differ in that I see this as being anti-liberty and you don't. Perhaps you could help me understand why not?

Brian writes:

MikeP,

You say "The structure that makes that control possible leads to the securing of well-defined property rights for individuals. The control does not lead to the rights."

I agree. What I said was meant to be shorthand for your more detailed wording. Thanks for the clarification.

You also say "It's anti-liberty to use this control to violate property rights."

I agree that it can be anti-liberty to use this control, but it's not intrinsically anti-liberty, which is what I said.

All contracts to buy or use property come with conditions, which are often meant to ensure the fullest use of the property. For example, when you purchase a ticket at an amusement park for the use of their equipment for a day, they can still require you to stand in line a wait your turn. This is doen to ensure that all those with similar contracts (tickets) are able to use the equipment.

Since no private property can be used or accessed without some use of the commons, restrictions on the use of the commons will indirectly restrict the use of your own property, but these restrictions are far from being anti-liberty if they ensure, as with amusement park lines, that access to private property is maxmized.

Finally, you say "which is exactly what the government does when it prevents you from housing or employing people on your property solely due to where they happened to have been born."

Immigration law puts no significant restriction on your ability to house a foreigner. They can come over as tourists and stay with you if you like. You are also free to employ them whenever you like--you just have to set up your business in THEIR country. If you insist on housing or emplying them in THIS country, you are already proposing that they get to use the commons. Since you do not own the commons as an individual, you cannot give them use of it without the consent of those who do control the commons--your fellow citizens. Consequently, your fellow citizens have the right to place restrictions on your (and your guest's) freedom to use the commons to ensure the use by all.

Matt H writes:

Mike P,

This clearly wrong

The analogy breaks down when unanimity breaks down -- which happens rapidly as the community gets beyond the small homogenous housing subdivision", village, or company town. As the number of residents increases, along with all their different values and ends, the restrictions become more and more binding on more and more people. The community will simply not compare favorably alongside more open communities that allow more individual decision making and cooperation -- including, notably, with outsiders.

1. You prove too much, your argument works against any constraint proposed by the majority. Are you an anarchist? Or is this an oversight?

2. Whether or not a community compares favorably depends on more than its immigration policies. In fact strong anti-immigration policies might be a big pull. Maybe Jews would rather live in a country that only lets in other Jews. It might compare very favorably to one that has lets in lots of Arabs.

Douglass Holmes writes:

Open Borders sounds like a radical idea. I wouldn't use that term. However, when I take the time to listen carefully to Bryan Caplan's positions on this issue, I find myself in agreement.
Of course, some people might find these words radical: We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. No mention of borders there. It is noteworthy that immigration restrictions were not imposed by the Unites States until 99 years after Thomas Jefferson penned our Declaration of Independence.

MingoV writes:

Libertarians are not united on the issue of open borders. I'm in the camp that believes that open borders will be bad for libertarianism. We already are a tiny minority of the population and have little impact on governance. Unlimited immigration will worsen our situation because almost none of the immigrants will be libertarians. Our impact on governance will be less than it is today. Inviting in people who do not support your political viewpoints is as illogical as the Pope welcoming pagans into the Catholic church.

MikeP writes:

You prove too much...

You confuse proving too much with refuting an argument that claims too much.

When someone equates a 10-person landowning partnership with a nation and asks where it breaks down, you answer.

your argument works against any constraint proposed by the majority.

My argument works against any constraint proposed by the majority as the owner of all property being considered. That was the proposition I responded to. My argument in no way denies the authority of the government to propose constraints based on something other than property rights in the entirety of the nation.

MikeP writes:

Since no private property can be used or accessed without some use of the commons, restrictions on the use of the commons will indirectly restrict the use of your own property, but these restrictions are far from being anti-liberty if they ensure, as with amusement park lines, that access to private property is maxmized.

"We had to destroy access to private property in order to maximize it?"

The specific commons you are so bent on restricting is better called "rights of way", and they are an integral part of the bundle of rights of the property they access. Restrictions on the use of those rights of way are restrictions on the fundamental property rights themselves.

Indeed, government may improve the rights of way and charge a reasonable amount for using the improvement. But government does not own the rights of way and cannot legitimately forbid travel along it except to protect a compelling public interest.

Jack Crassus writes:

Managing a public resource according to the rule of "maximum liberty" is seldom in the interest of the people that use that resource. A public manager placed in charge of a swimming pool would never consider the rule of maximum liberty over the pool to best serve the interest of the public.

We can argue that public resources shouldn't be public. That doesn't mean that leaving them as if they were unowned is a good idea.

Presumably, if we believe these resources should not be public, then we believe that for a reason. Namely, we believe that the private administration of resources such as roads would lead to an order that better serves the welfare of sympathetic human groups (I do not care about all humans equally, nor do I think one should. I hold some regard for every human, but more for those that share my chosen values and are able to strengthen and enrich their presence in the world. I'm not too sympathetic towards cannibals, for example. Although they are human, we don't see eye to eye).

If resources are not in our preferred private configuration, that does not mean they should return to the law of "maximum liberty". Rather, they should be placed in the care of an intelligent manager, someone who governs the resources in the best interests of those same groups.

Just because your local swimming hole is owned by the city government doesn't mean that teenagers should be allowed to host drunken orgies in the kiddie pool after dark.

MikeP writes:

We can argue that public resources shouldn't be public. That doesn't mean that leaving them as if they were unowned is a good idea.

A swimming pool, like the amusement park example above, is "public" only in the sense that it may be owned by the government for general "public" use. It is not "public" in the economic sense of a public good. As private goods that are excludable and rivalrous, pools and parks when operated by governments behave very much as though they were operated by private concerns.

Actual commons and rights of way, however, should be left exactly as if they were unowned. They are not rivalrous. They are part of the "maximum liberty" afforded to owners of private property reached by crossing commons and rights of way and, as such, are excludable only by limiting the rights of the properties they access.

If resources are not in our preferred private configuration, that does not mean they should return to the law of "maximum liberty". Rather, they should be placed in the care of an intelligent manager, someone who governs the resources in the best interests of those same groups.

Let us ignore the maximum liberty of property rights and rights of way as well as a thousand years of common law and, rather, hypothesize that all roads were privately owned. Which is more likely?

1. Some owners of some roads would allow immigrants to pay a fee to use their roads to get to properties where immigrants are invited.

2. No owners of any roads would accept any fee to allow immigrants to use their roads to get to properties where immigrants are invited.

Is not the second wildly unlikely? Does not even the qualifications of the first offer opportunities for new roads that make greater profit by serving underserved interests?

If the "intelligent manager" chooses the second, it is certainly not to mirror "our preferred private configuration."

Brian writes:

MikeP,

You say "We had to destroy access to private property in order to maximize it?"

Who said anything about destroying access? If you think this addresses any point I made, you're not paying attention.

You also say "Restrictions on the use of those rights of way are restrictions on the fundamental property rights themselves."

Nonsense. Requiring people to drive only on the right side of the road is a restriction on fundamental property rights? Most restrictions on roads (to use only one narrow example) have no impact on property rights whatsoever. You keep making very broad statements that are clearly wrong.

Finally you say "But government does not own the rights of way and cannot legitimately forbid travel along it except to protect a compelling public interest."

Good, we finally agree. Thanks for saying what I've already been arguing. Likewise, the government does not own ANY of the commons and should not restrict its use without a compelling public interest.

This is therefore true of immigration as well. But it also implies that, GIVEN A COMPELLING PUBLIC INTEREST, government CAN restrict immigration. It therefore also follows that border restrictions cannot be considered fundamentally immoral or unjust, as Caplan wants to argue. Restrictions of this kind are permissable and even morally required as long as there exists a compelling public interest.

Please understand that I am not arguing for immigration restrictions--merely pointing out that the authority to restrict borders is as legitimate as the authority to restrict ANY part of the commons, and that this authority is accepted by all except anarchists.


LD Bottorff writes:

A compelling public interest would be to reduce the number of terrorists or would-be terrorists that come into the country. Our current immigration policy has created a human smuggling industry. That industry has very little incentive to deny their services to would-be terrorists. I believe our current immigration policy has made us less secure.

guthrie writes:

@Brian

Firstly, my problem is that most of the arguments against relaxed immigration do not actually defend a 'compelling public interest'. There's a lot of noise about 'use of services', and 'eroding culture', but I've not seen many of the issues presented take into account the adaptability of either the immigrant or the native population. There does not appear to be much threat, frankly, to the native population, therefore it is not compelling (to me, at least). Whatever 'threats' there might be, they do not appear to me to be nearly as threatening to life and limb as the threats which tend to face immigrants in their home countries.

(+1 to LD Bottorff who provides an example of one of the few honestly compelling positions, and why the State restricting immigration can ultimately fail at solving the potential problem).

And secondly, that last sentence is what makes this a moral issue. The State may claim the power to authorize entry, but such a claim is morally wrong, just as it was morally wrong for States to enforce Slavery. In both cases the freedom of a human being is arbitrarily limited. In 1840's American South, I would guess that owning humans was a keen public interest (if you asked white landholders). Therefore, in the South, one would likely find a huge amount of public support for the States enforcement of laws regarding slavery. But was that authority moral, right or good in an ultimate sense? I do not believe so.

There is no danger to our 'culture' or 'institutions'. There is no threat to native's liberty, private property rights, or freedom of association. There are some marginal and minor inconveniences to native populations in the wake of relaxed immigration. None of us will face ignominious demise. None of our lives will be dramatically stripped of prosperity, property or liberty. Nor will such things erode, for even a minority, over time. There is no comparison to the negatives that we *might* face, and the dangers and depravity many immigrants actually face, without the ability - due to our border restrictions - to choose a better life.

MikeP writes:

Most restrictions on roads (to use only one narrow example) have no impact on property rights whatsoever. You keep making very broad statements that are clearly wrong.

My apologies. I thought the context was clear enough that I was talking only about the access rights of roads, not which side of the road one is supposed to drive on.

Please understand that I am not arguing for immigration restrictions--merely pointing out that the authority to restrict borders is as legitimate as the authority to restrict ANY part of the commons, and that this authority is accepted by all except anarchists.

In that we appear to agree. Where we likely disagree is that I would draw very narrow boundaries around compelling public interest. In particular, the legitimate reasons for inhibiting an immigrant's entrance into the country are very close to the legitimate reasons for inhibiting the travel of a citizen on the interior roads of the country -- namely because he is a terrorist, a soldier or agent of a foreign power, a carrier of contagion, or an anti-social felon.

And, going directly to the immorality of immigration law, happening to exceed a quota of people like you is most definitely not in the compelling public interest.

Governments are instituted to secure unalienable individual rights. They may not abrogate them wholesale, as immigration law does today. They may not violate them except on an individual basis for a specific cause that is truly in the compelling public interest.

Jack Crassus writes:

I would not dismiss the importance of culture too easily, and nor would I dismiss the danger to it posed by large amounts of immigration. The work of Robert Putnam shows that multicultural societies have reduced social trust, even within social groups. Charles Murray's "Coming Apart" shows the effects - a decline of the non-governmental social organizations that libertarians count on to provide order and safety in absence of government programs. These include reduced participation in fraternal and political organizations, reduced volunteering and serving on the PTA, and even a decline in the family itself. As the country becomes more multicultural, the elites who can afford to do so retreat into their bubbles, and the healthy social values of society retreat with them.

Culture is a public good, maybe the most important of them all. A country that follows libertarian immigration policy will not be libertarian because liberty is harmed by atomization. People demand food, shelter, safety, and a future for their children. People with strong culture - including many layers of social institutions outside of government, have a low demand for government. Atomized (individualized) people live on the edge of great risk, and turn to the government in fear.

If you want to roll back government in America, reverse the trend of single parenting. The children of two parents do better in school, commit less crime, and are less likely to be poor. The voting demand for "freedom" and "small government" comes mostly from two parent families. Yet today, the two-parent family is approaching the minority, at only 60%. A single parent family is vulnerable, not self-sufficient, and demands government goods.

Libertarianism is individualistic, which is necessarily atomistic, breaking apart social trust. Libertarianism begins with the proposition that there are no differences between human populations, if it considers humans in groups at all! Population is just a single variable in an equation, call it N. N can raise or lower, and that is it. We might summarize this model with a bastardization of Wheeler's quote about black holes - "humans have no hair".

A cure for this viewpoint is to read more history than economics. History teaches us that wealth accumulation and technology accelerated in some cultures and not others. Peoples living close to each other can have vastly different cultures, and we owe a lot of the modern world specifically to the merchant cultures of the Dutch and the English. The accumulation of wealth depends on social trust, on people meeting each other and swapping ideas, forming friendships, partnerships, and clubs. When those that can afford to retreat into suburban bubbles, I feel that is bad for the future.

guthrie writes:

@Jack Crassus,

There are too many problems with your post to pick at all of them. I'm going to choose this one and leave the rest to others.

You said:

The accumulation of wealth depends on social trust, on people meeting each other and swapping ideas, forming friendships, partnerships, and clubs.

I agree. This is an argument for open borders.

Jack Crassus writes:

@guthrie

No. The problem is that the formation of social structures intermediate between the state and the individual is correlated with cultural homogeneity. Multiculturalism leads to a retreat from the public sphere and even a reduction in trust among one's own cultural group. Again, this is from Putnam and Murray.

Whether anarchy is paradise or horror largely depends on the level of structure of the preexisting culture, whether it is a sandbox or an oak tree. I am certain that Mormons and Jews would easily survive and thrive in event of a catastrophic collapse in government. I am equally certain that secular liberal individualists, the most electronically connected and physically isolated generation in the history of the world, would wither away like a plant with shallow roots in a Summer drought.

The post-libertarian awakening is triggered by the realization that good governance cannot be boiled down to a set of simple rules that abstract away human variation. Some groups may well mix, and even complement each other nicely, while others may not. It is a sad awakening, a dark enlightenment, because humans want to believe that all of the world is as knowable as the basic laws of Physics. But if that is not the world we have been given, then it is a dangerous delusion. Libertarians have forgotten that the study of social reality is a *dismal science*, seduced by the appeal of easy answers.

Jack Crassus writes:

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Bedarz Iliaci writes:

@Jack Crassus,
I agree with your critique of libertarianism that it disregards the culture. Actually, it disregards the political nature of man, and culture is only one component of the equation.

The political nature of man divides mankind into different nations and thus relative to me, other men are either neighbors (i.e. sharing same culture or moral premises) or strangers (not sharing moral premises).

I can talk with my neighbor, can argue with him since we share moral premises. But with one that does not share moral premises, how can I talk?

Libertarianism entails or demands that we have no neighbors, that it is wrong to envision a moral consensus around us. That is, it's a philosophy suited to a frontier but not to a city.

guthrie writes:

@Jack Crassus,

It would seem you've either forgotten or ignored or never been introduced to the principals behind 'comparative advantage'. It's a fascinating study that I would recommend.

Even the most homogeneous group can tear itself apart. Man's 'political nature' is found in each person. No one is denying this. My suggestion here: one of the most powerful tools to temper this drive is comparative advantage.

For conversely, if two people have nothing in common, and don't even particularly like each other... they can still transact peacefully. And typically it's to each individuals' advantage to handle such transactions in at least a minimally socially acceptable (ie, peaceful) manner.

The issues between peoples more typically arise when the arbiters of a State imbued with too much power issue directives, one group against another.

Libertarians seem more likely to fully understand these dynamics, and suggest that allowing human beings to move and associate and *transact* (meaning 'interaction and exchange with other human beings') as they see fit will produce greater results for all. Freedom of thought, word, and deed combined with scarce resources actually enhance social virtue, not the other way around.

There will be conflict and most Libertarians will accept the idea that a State is necessary to ensure rights to life, liberty, and property are enforced (as MikeP has mentioned above and elsewhere), and to provide for conflict resolution. Both yours and Bedarz Iliaci's characterization of 'Libertarians' is a false one for most. It certainly is for me.

However, this in no way suggests that the State ought to be in the business of limiting of human movement and transaction. This is what we have with the US's current immigration restrictions (among other things).

The true 'dangerous delusion' is to assume that the State knows better than individuals what (and whom) is right and good. It is an even greater delusion to give the State such power. History is littered with the corpses of these experiments... both the failed states and the bodies of multitudes of human beings, sacrificed to prove these ideas false. Libertarians seem willing, by in large, to learn these lessons. Are you?

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