David R. Henderson  

Thoughts on Krikorian

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In his recent debate on immigration with my co-blogger Bryan Caplan with my friend Alex Nowrasteh, Mark Krikorian makes two interesting points.

The first is that the term "open borders" is not an accurate description of what many of us advocates of open immigration believe in. He does this well at approximately the 12:00 to 13:00 point. His proposed term, which he gives at about the 13:15 point, is "open borders light."

The second, which goes from about 19:00 to 20:30, is that immigrants aren't just hands, that is, not just workers, but are also people. He quoted Henry Ford complaining that when he hires a worker, he's stuck hiring a person. Of course, it's true that workers are people, but Krikorian seems to be making this as a criticism of immigration and I don't get it. I find the fact that they're people a positive on net, not a negative.



COMMENTS (25 to date)
Fake Herzog writes:

Professor Henderson,

You say,

Of course, it's true that workers are people, but Krikorian seems to be making this as a criticism of immigration and I don't get it. I find the fact that they're people a positive on net, not a negative.

This is an important point that "open borders" folks get tripped up on a lot. See any of the posts by this brilliant blogger dealing with this question for elaboration:

http://rwcg.wordpress.com/2014/05/03/immigration-is-not-employment-and-it-is-not-renting-an-apartment-professor/

To summarize, the fact that immigrants are "people" and not just workers (or renters) means that they have families, may have children (or will want children), grow old and will need care, etc. In other words, we as a nation don't just get a worker -- we get a person with a web of human connection some of which may be beneficial to society and some of which may not be:

http://www.city-journal.org/2013/eon0422hm.html

So what you think about which immigrants are coming over to get those jobs you are excited about and how well they do assimilating into American society will impact your thoughts on whether you think high levels of low-skilled Central American immigration are a "net positive".

johnleemk writes:

Re "open borders light," I think Michael Clemens made a similar point in an Econtalk interview last year. Clemens said he avoids using the term "open borders" because he feels it runs the risk of giving the impression you favour abolishing all restrictions on movement, up to abolishing the concept of private property. I don't necessarily agree with Clemens here but I understand where he's coming from: any time you propose abolishing government controls on immigration, people often seem to be reacting to a strawman argument you didn't make, rather than what you actually said. I find it's not rare to find myself accused of wanting to abolish the nation-state or wanting no borders.

Matt writes:

The problem here is that you can't only substitute economic arguments of what would be predicted to happen or be observed for the philosophical or moral principles you think justify certain positions.

Can a person walk up and take your television if you're not using it? Everything this side of this immigration argument posits always assumes that one agent that "owns" some amount of land can build fences around it to keep other people out. Why are a group of people suddenly not allowed to "build fences" to keep others out by these same inherent property rights?

Is the only logical and moral barrier you have to keeping out immigrants that the right rich people haven't individually bought up the right land to build fences around?

The reason why the extreme immigration positions advocated here get no traction is that they fundamentally conflict with your axioms of capitalist property rights. It's not just that people disagree because of their only entirely different prior assumptions - religion and nationalism and so forth - you aren't self-consistent. If people claim all sorts of property rights you are so big on by dubious first principles then the general policies of keeping immigrants out, even if it is harmful economically in the sense of productivity and so forth, is still morally justified by those same principles.

I can expect someone on this blog to somehow pipe up about how you were an angry nihilist as a teenager. One step away from becoming a Trotskyist instead of whatever you are now. That's not necessary to the conclusion of course, even bog-standard progressive-utilitarianism provides justification for supporting relatively open immigration policies, but that's entirely at odds with other concepts and rights you deem essential.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

Fake Herzog, my brother-in-law was a low-skilled Central American immigrant. I consider him a net positive, as does his two children and his wife.

MikeP writes:

In my experience only people who are intentionally standing up a straw man claim that "open borders" means the national border will behave like a state border. It is a really really weak argument based not even on semantics, but on made up vocabulary. When was the last time you heard someone say that there are open borders between Virginia and the District? Oh, right. Never.

"Open borders" means borders that are open to immigration. "Closed borders" mean borders that aren't. There isn't even much of a gray area here. Open borders in the time of Ellis Island meant 98% of steerage passengers (and 100% of first and second class passengers) were allowed to immigrate. Closed borders means 99% of people (5000 nonspecific immigration visas per year with 500,000 illegal entries per year at the height of the last decade) are not allowed to immigrate.

MikeP writes:

If people claim all sorts of property rights you are so big on by dubious first principles then the general policies of keeping immigrants out, even if it is harmful economically in the sense of productivity and so forth, is still morally justified by those same principles.

No it's not.

The territory of the nation is not anyone's property, and the national border is not a property line.

Indeed, it is a violation of those fundamental property rights to prohibit, for any reason short of compelling public interest, the passage of anyone the property owner invites onto his property -- whether they were born in the same country or not. Immigration barriers and quotas do exactly that.

Bedarz Iliaci writes:

MikeP,
You are absolutely correct that "The territory of the nation is not anyone's property". It is rare to find someone that makes this statement.

But when you say it is a violation of those fundamental property rights to prohibit, for any reason short of compelling public interest, the passage of anyone the property owner invites onto his property , I do not follow you.

The property owner is not a sovereign. The State is and private properties lie within a national territories. Far from just the passage, the State is fully justified to prohibit a property owner from harboring an alien on the property.

For, a private properties is secured by the laws that prevail in a given state. The State ultimately secures the national territory and all the properties that are embedded in the territory by brute force.. And this securing of private property by the State makes the assertions of the Sovereign State unanswerable.

MikeP writes:

Bedarz Iliaci,

Ah, might makes right. While in some positive sense that is true, it really doesn't help with the normative question: What should the state do with its sovereign power?

Your argument that the assertions of the Sovereign State are unanswerable justifies an awful lot of heinous activities by an awful lot of sovereign states.

Pajser writes:

Territories are collective property. The property of the nation.

Territory of the modern state was previously owned by the king. His private property was justified as good or as bad as any other property over land. In case of few remaining absolute monarchies, the territory is still private property.

In monarchy, small private owners of the land still exist - but they do not have all property rights, only some of them - those given by king. The king always keep some property rights, enough to make him sovereign.

Then remaining king's property rights are nationalized in some revolution (like in France or USA) or almost nationalized with pressure that forced king to sign contracts that de facto transfer his remaining property rights on nation (like in UK).

Small owners and their rights are typically not touched in revolution, but these rights are not extended either. The king is replaced with the nation.

And here you are - the member of the nation that owns the territory and rule it according to constitution with organization whose name is the state. If you have enough money, you can buy the territory from the nation, just like you can buy the land from anyone else. If you buy from "normal owners" you do not buy all property rights. If you buy from nation, you buy all property rights.

Of course, one can challenge property rights. I always do. However, he should be careful to be consistent and apply same criteria everywhere.


johnleemk writes:

Pajser (and also anyone else using the "divine right of kings" argument to defend arbitrary exclusion of people from a state's territory), it's really quite simple. I reject the notion that sovereigns (whether monarchs or states) should be allowed to infringe human rights. Among these rights are the right to peacefully move, using the common right of way, from one place to another.

If the best argument you have is "Well kings as sovereigns used to do it, so now nation-states as sovereigns may do it," then your argument is also an argument for permitting modern governments to pursue genocide, imperialism, kidnapping, rape, and arbitrary confiscation of personal property -- after all, we used to let kings do all of those. "Well, we used to let monarchs do it" is one of the most honest and plain-faced justifications I have seen for closed borders, because it so clearly illuminates the senseless morality at work here.

Brian writes:

"Indeed, it is a violation of those fundamental property rights to prohibit, for any reason short of compelling public interest, the passage of anyone the property owner invites onto his property"

"Among these rights are the right to peacefully move, using the common right of way, from one place to another."


Mike P and johnleemk,

Would you agree that a private landowner has the right to exclude anyone he doesn't want from his property? (Let's exclude from the question privately held public accommodations.) Wouldn't it be a fundamental violation of property rights to force owners to let others use their property?

If you do agree, then let's imagine a group of contiguous landowners who all voluntarily agree to protect and defend each other from unwanted encroachments. Part of the agreement involves excluding from their property anyone who is unwanted by at least one other owner. Again, this is a strictly voluntary arrangement. Is such an agreement allowed, or does it violate someone's right to move peacefully?

I ask this because the control of borders appears to be no different than what would happen in the case of such a collective. In exchange for the benefits obtained by being located within the borders, private landowners agree to exclude anyone who is excluded by common agreement, namely any legitimate laws passed by majority vote, etc. To state it more explicitly, the right to control one's private property combined with the right to form voluntary agreements and associations implies that border control, whether tight or loose, is a legitimate act of the collective.

MikeP writes:

Certainly a private property owner can exclude visitors. And a community of private property owners can mutually agree to exclude visitors as well.

But the logic of a home owners association does not extend to the entirety of the territory of a nation. In particular, your second step here presumes unanimous agreement among all property owners to be bound by all collective decisions. That's completely unlikely. Unanimity starts breaking down at a dozen or so property owners, and is virtually guaranteed to be absent at a few dozen.

It goes without saying that no such unanimity exists at the scale of a nation. Indeed, that is why the founders of the US recognized that securing unalienable individual rights, not empowering unanimous collective agreement, is the purpose of government.

Pajser writes:

Johnlmeek: "If the best argument you have is "Well kings as sovereigns used to do it, so now nation-states as sovereigns may do it," then your argument is also an argument for permitting modern governments to pursue genocide, imperialism, kidnapping, rape, and arbitrary confiscation of personal property -- after all, we used to let kings do all of those. "

It is not that king simply used to control territory, but he did it on the base of his property rights. If you read to the end of my post, you'll see that I wrote that I always challenge property rights, both private property rights and collective property rights. But one should be consistent. If you claim that king has no right to exclude people from his territory, you should also claim that owner of the ranch has not the right to do the same.

Brian: "If you do agree, then let's imagine a group of contiguous landowners who all voluntarily agree to protect and defend each other from unwanted encroachments. Part of the agreement involves excluding from their property anyone who is unwanted by at least one other owner. Again, this is a strictly voluntary arrangement. Is such an agreement allowed, or does it violate someone's right to move peacefully?"

Libertarains who deny the state rights on territory will say that state is not such voluntary agreement. Really, it is not, but it is still voluntary agreement of different kind. Originally owned king's land is nationalized - and the nation votes what to do with that land. As far as it is, the nation wants modern state. One is free to reject the nation. Probably everyone agree about that.

Only problem that is left is whether the nation (organized in state) should have the right to own the territory. Maybe it shouldn't but all arguments against state property rights can be applied against individual property rights as well.

That's why libertarian argument against state is inconsistent. One can still have consistent argument against state control over territory, but from some other position.

Lee Waaks writes:

I think Krikorian's "best" point was when he pointed out that open borders is different now that transportation costs are not prohibitive. However, I assume Caplan et. al. will bite the bullet on this one, as having the ability to emigrate does not mean everyone who can will -- or that it is affordable to everyone who wants to; nor are there affordable jobs/housing available to everyone at this time.

Brian writes:

"But the logic of a home owners association does not extend to the entirety of the territory of a nation. In particular, your second step here presumes unanimous agreement among all property owners to be bound by all collective decisions."

Mike P.,

No, the landowners cooperative example is an exact analogue to what happens in a free country. Note that the unanimous agreement does not apply to all issues (that would be impossible indeed) but to the acceptance of a social contract that is binding on all under some well delineated criteria. In the example I allowed a single landowner veto power over all other visitor choices; in a democracy the criterion is majority vote, etc.

Everyone who voluntarily buys land in a particular locale accepts the laws the bind the inhabitants of that locale. They accept that their fellow citizens have a form of veto power over their choices. They know that if they refuse to honor the agreement, they may suffer consequences, including the loss of their land or other property.

The acceptance of the social contract is purely voluntary. If someone doesn't like the laws of the town or state, they are free to move to another town or state. If they don't like the laws of the country, they are free to go to another country. But if they choose to stay, they are implicitly accepting restrictions they may not like in exchange for something else they value more, whether it be the climate or the neighborhood or the employment opportunities or whatever.

No one who has accepted the social contract by purchasing property in a given country can complain that his rights are being trampled by not being able to invite anyone to their property. The landowner is well within his rights, of course, to try to change the conditions of the social contract, but there is no logical basis for claiming that legal conditions applied to the border violate the landowner's rights.

Julien Couvreur writes:

Brian, a nation state is not a homeowners association.

Associations are explicitly voluntary. They are started from unanimous consent of owners. Nations are not (see how many folks signed the Constitution).

Your argument that "staying is consenting" can be reduced to the absurd by considering people who don't leave mafia-ruled neighborhoods. The only thing you demonstrate by staying is that you prefer staying over leaving (most likely because your community ties, the partial property rights you have left there, the costs of moving, etc). It does not show that the mafia is legitimate or rights-compliant. The same reduction applies to a rape victim who stops struggling. Staying is no demonstrated consent.

Pajser writes:

Julien Couvreur: "The only thing you demonstrate by staying is that you prefer staying over leaving (most likely because your community ties, the partial property rights you have left there, the costs of moving, etc)."

Staying really doesn't mean consenting. But again - it is criticism of property rights generally, not particularly of state property rights over territory. If I'm born as tenant in your apartment, and I continue to rent it - id doesn't mean that I consent. It means exactly what you wrote here - that I prefer staying over leaving.

If you are not willing to challenge landlord's property rights, I see no base for challenging state property rights.

So, yes, the state is not voluntary association of the homeowners. Its property over land is not justified from property of individual owners. But is is justified on the same way as property of individual owners.

Brian writes:

Julien Couvreur,

No, a nation state is not a homeowners association. But the logic behind it is the same. Citizenship is based on consent just as much as a homeowners association is. Need I quote the Declaration of Independence?

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,"

Your mafia example misses the mark. Those who are already in the neighborhood are not giving their consent because they are not free to do so, either because of fear of violence or because of some emotional attachment they can't overcome. The case is different for someone who chooses to buy property in that neighborhood with the full knowledge that mafia shakedowns are standard. I would say that such a person has indeed consented to that treatment, presumably because they consider the harm to be outweighed by the advantages. That consent doesn't prevent them, of course, from trying to break the mafia's hold at some later time.

Moreover, if one is free (and I did stipulate a free country) and has the right of exit, then staying IS consent. If I prefer to stay rather than go because the benefits of staying outweigh the costs and I act on that preference, I am consenting. It's no different than consenting to wear a tie to work, not because I like ties but because the job requires it and I prefer the benefits of the job to the pleasure of being tieless.

MikeP writes:

But if they choose to stay, they are implicitly accepting restrictions they may not like in exchange for something else they value more, whether it be the climate or the neighborhood or the employment opportunities or whatever.

Should I admire or should I fear the complete obeisance to state authority represented in this statement?

Jim Crow? You consented by staying. Japanese internment? You consented by staying. Up to 95% cumulative tax rate on investments? That's okay. You consented to that too. And that's just in the US in the last century! This logic holds for every government in all of history that allows exit, and all the far more heinous things they did.

"The consent of the governed" does not mean unanimity and does not imply any social contract. It is simply the reasoning behind declaring independence or revolution. You failed to highlight the actually important parts of that passage -- those that set forth the purpose and limits of government:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."

Rights precede and supersede government powers, and all legitimate government authority over private property derives from unalienable individual rights, not from some notion of collective decision making.

Julien Couvreur writes:

Brian, thanks for the response.

Constitution (assertions vs. evidence):
I fail to see how the institution of a government (via Constitution, Bill of Rights, etc) is different than a mafia moving into your neighborhood.
The fact that a document states that the ruled have consented does not make it so, any more than the Don stating the the people of the neighborhood actually want him ruling there. My claim that I am just and wise and loved does not make it so.
By that token, I hereby declare a local government on my neighborhood (as Huemer suggests in his book). We will vote on one of two cars, everyone will pay and get a new car. If you don't move out, then you consented. Bam ;-)

What you really need is positive evidence that each participant joined willingly when the "club" was formed.

When people patron a restaurant, there is a clear action of walking in. When people join a club or firm, there is a process of joining (often with a signature).

Moving in:
I agree with you that if people move into a mafia-ruled neighborhood, you *might* interpret it as consent. But there are two problems that make this weak evidence.
First, what if all other worthwhile neighborhoods have already been taken over by different mafias?
Second, would you similarly state that moving into a neighborhood is consent to whatever criminal activity happens there (if you get robbed, you consented by moving there)?

Staying:
Staying in a mafia-ruled neighborhood is even less clear. Staying does mean the benefits outweigh the costs, but that does not mean some of the costs aren't criminal. It does not legitimate or make criminal actions of the mafia right. The mafia is violating your rights, but you feel that leaving or fighting are more costly. Staying also doesn't mean that you consent to burglaries.

Ties:
I didn't quite get your analogy with wearing ties at work. Clothing requirements are usually known when you take a job. If you fail to abide, your employer may terminate the exchange. But if you fail to pay taxes you are forcefully fined or thrown in jail. You are not expelled from the supposed "club".

LD Bottorff writes:

I thought that Krikorian made many good points. I thought that Bryan Caplan made better points.

Pajser writes:

Julian Couvreur : "What you really need is positive evidence that each participant joined willingly when the "club" was formed."

No, he doesn't need it. What he needs is to show that legitimacy of the state property over territory is not different than legitimacy of the private property over land. Then, if you accept private property you must accept state property as well, that is, if you want to be consistent.

Ask yourself why do you believe that existing private property over land is justified? List the reasons and then see whether these reasons are applicable on state property over territory. Almost certainly they are.

MikeP writes:

I could give you justifications for private property over land based on non-aggression, objectivist, and utilitarian grounds, among others. But to save time I'll give only the rule consequentialist justification.

Private property allows individual actors the maximum control of the product of their capital and labor, and property over land is no exception. Critically, economic efficiency is maximized the more costs and benefits can be internalized. So the extent that rights over property, including land, internalizes costs and benefits is the extent of societal wealth and individual freedom. Empirically, there is very solid historical evidence that the more private property rights are recognized, the more wealthy and free a society is. And the more government abrogates private property rights, the less wealthy and free a society is. In those cases where governments grant themselves all authority over property, the results have been truly hellish.

There is absolutely no analogy for "state property over territory". The rule consequentialist argument for property is based on decentralized individual decision making. This is not merely orthogonal to any argument for government control: it is directly opposed to it.

Pajser writes:

OK, consequential counter-argument.

Unrestricted private property over land means that every individual has a right to ban the pollution of his land with chemical pollutants or electromagnetic waves as trespassing. Most people would negotiate, at least theoretically, some reasonable price with polluters. However, it is enough to find single anarcho-primitivist, religious fanatic, psychopath, someone who want to be in the center of attention and who owns small part of the land (or anything else) who wouldn't allow any pollution of his property, and whole area, hundreds of miles around his property, maybe even whole world should respect his will. As it is practically impossible to produce without pollution, whole area, maybe whole world would be left without industry.

You need state to limit the private property to allow reasonable pollution to be able to develop industry. One can argue that states can be as aggressively against pollution as individuals, but for that, one needs very large number of people who think that way, so in practice, pollution exists, limited on arguably reasonable level.

MikeP writes:

Pajser,

Your line of counter-argument is why I lean towards rule consequentialism and not hardline rights definition.

The bundle of rights that goes with a piece of land absolutely should not include the right to control harmless radio waves that cross it. The benefit of the radio waves is utterly ignorant of land boundaries, and the cost of radio waves to those who don't want them is nil.

Pollution could at least have a negative effect on a property or owner and usually observes locality. Nonetheless, if a factory that causes pollution will produce greater benefit to the world than cost to its neighbors, it is a market failure if the factory is not built and operated. If the factory is built, its neighbors must of course be compensated from the benefit. But government rules on pollution and property cannot be so strict that such Coasian bargains are impossible -- i.e., so strict that market failure is guaranteed.

So, yes, as you note under a strict rights regime the single psychotic can induce market failure all by himself by overstating his perceived cost. The consequentialist approach would have a place for courts to adjudicate the disagreement in order to maximize wealth and freedom.

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