Bryan Caplan  

Is Immigration a Basic Human Right? My Opening Statement

Is a falling population contra... Thoughts on the Republican Hea...
Here's my opening statement from Thursday's debate.  Enjoy.

There are many complaints about governments, but the harshest is, "This government grossly violates human rights."  The background assumption is that human beings have rights that everyone - including governments - is morally obliged to respect.  When looking at the grossest violators - Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Maoist China - almost no one denies the validity of the idea of human rights.  But then you have to wonder: Do the governments we know, accept, and even love have clean hands?  Or do they violate human rights, too?

To answer, we normally apply a simple test: If an individual treated other people the same way the government does, would he clearly be a horrible criminal?  If an individual deliberately kills innocent people, he's a murderer; if an individual imprisons innocent people, he's a kidnapper.  A government that does the same violates basic human rights - and it can't justify its actions by calling innocent people "criminals."  If someone is peacefully living his life, he's innocent - whatever the government says.

What does this have to do with immigration?  Lots.  Since we're in San Diego, we've seen illegal immigrants.  What are the vast majority of them doing?  Working for willing employers.  Renting apartments from willing landlords.  Buying stuff from willing merchants.  Sending money home to their families.  Maybe even sitting next to you in class.  They sure look innocent - even admirable.  But the U.S. government can and does forcibly arrest and exile them to the Third World.  Why can't they all just come legally?  Because exile is the default; they're all exiled unless the U.S. government makes a rare exception.  This is far less bad than killing or imprisoning them, but it sure looks like a severe human rights violation.  If the U.S. government forbade you to live and work here, wouldn't that be a severe violation of your human rights?

You could reasonably object that human rights are not absolute.  While there's a strong moral presumption against killing, imprisoning, or exiling innocent people, it's okay to do so if the overall consequences of respecting human rights are clearly awful.  The main problem with this objection is that when social scientists measure the overall consequences of immigration, they're not clearly awful.  In fact, the overall consequences look totally awesome.  Most notably, standard economic estimates say that letting all the world's talent flow to wherever it's most productive would roughly DOUBLE global prosperity.  That's an extra $75 TRILLION of extra wealth per year.  How is this possible?  Because even the world's lowest-skill workers produce far more in the First World than they do at home.  Even if all other fears about immigration were bulletproof - which they aren't - they're dwarfed by this gargantuan economic gain.  This isn't trickle-down economics; it's Niagara Falls economics.

To effectively defend immigration restrictions, then, saying "Human rights are not absolute" is insufficient.  You need to flatly deny that immigration is a human right - to say that while the illegal immigrants you meet on the street may look innocent, they're actually guilty as hell.  The most popular argument analogizes illegal immigrants to trespassers.  No one has any right to be here without government permission; it's our country, so we set the rules. 

The obvious problem with this position is that it justifies a vast range of blatant human rights abuses.  If it's our country and we set the rules, why can't we exile citizens, too?  Why can't we imprison people for saying the wrong thing, practicing the wrong religion, or having kids without government permission?  Saying, "That won't happen," dodges the question: If the U.S. government did this to you, would it be violating your human rights or not?

Prof. Wellman offers a more sophisticated version of this story.  He defends immigration restrictions for "legitimate states" only, on the grounds that immigration restrictions are vital for "freedom of association."  Unfortunately, we have two conflicting freedoms of association.  I want to be free to associate with foreigners; lots of foreigners want to associate with me.  Immigration restrictions deny us this freedom in the name of all the Americans who don't want my associates breathing American air. 

Who should prevail?  In his work, Wellman concedes a crucial premise, freely admitting that the popular notion that we all consent to government is a "fiction," and that "the coercion states invariably employ is nonconsensual and, as such, is extremely difficult to justify."  We don't really face a choice between two freedoms of association, but between freedom for real associations we choose to join and freedom for fictional "associations" we're forced to join.  Unless the overall consequences are clearly awful, the fictional ones should lose.  Freedom of association is only for free associations.

My critics often tease me, "Should everyone on Earth be free to immigrate into Bryan's house?"  Their point: Treating immigration as a human right is utopian nonsense.  My reply: There are three competing moral positions on immigration.

  1. Foreigners should be free to live in my house even if I don't consent - a view held by almost no one.
  2. Foreigners should be free to live in my house if I consent - my view.
  3. Foreigners shouldn't be free to live in my house even if I do consent - the standard view I'm criticizing. 

Far from being utopian, saying "Immigration is a human right" is just the moderate, common-sense position that when natives and foreigners voluntarily interact, strangers are morally obliged to leave them alone unless the overall consequences are clearly awful.  Even if the stranger happens to be the government - and the government happens to be popular.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (51 to date)
EB writes:

"Unless the overall consequences are clearly awful". History has shown us how awful those consequences may be and why we should prevent atrocities to happen.

As long as Bryan prefers to ignore history, there is nothing to talk about.

Joseph writes:

The weakest part of this kind of argument is the cost to native residents. It's a banal observation that the vast majority countries (perhaps all?), restrict immigration. They do this because there's a significant political constituency for immigration restrictions. So I don't think your beef is with governments per we as your fellow citizens.

So why are so many citizens opposed to immigration and how could they be persuaded otherwise? I don't think calling them racist or nativist would do the trick. I think it's related to a cost benefit analysis that economic studies you point to completely omit.

Here's one modest proposal to test my hypothesis: offer all the immigration restrictions money to change their mind l. If they are not willing to change their position, then we'll know it's not about money and thus all economic studies about how much richer we'll become aren't responding to their concerns. If they are then you have a feasible public policy for increasing immigration.

Nick Rowe writes:

Bryan: "Foreigners should be free to live in my house if I consent - my view."

OK. Now suppose that your house is jointly owned. That becomes: "Foreigners should be free to live in our house if we consent - my view."

Now suppose it's a country, and not a house, that is jointly owned. That becomes: "Foreigners should be free to live in our country if we consent - my view."

Which is the fairly standard view, but very different from "Open Borders".

Better yet, think of countries as clubs of people, that provide club goods. Should they become public goods instead? What happens to the incentive for clubs to invest in the capital goods that produce club goods, if anyone can subsequently join the club and pay the same annual dues as the existing members who financed that investment?

Marc Delsart writes:

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James writes:

Nick Rowe,

I like your analogy to a club. For countries where everything is collectively owned (North Korea?) that is exactly the right way to think about immigration.

Which capital goods are you speaking of? Do you mean the fixed assets owned by the goverment? Then in that case the incentive to fund those capital goods comes from the penalties in the tax code.

Larry Sanger writes:

Bryan, I don't actually detect an argument here that there is a right to immigration, i.e., that all human beings have an equal right to live wherever they want in the world. You simply seem to assume it. But this is precisely the matter under dispute. It seems to me you have a burden to support this view, if for no other reason than that many disagree with you.

James writes:


What you propose is incomplete. Better to also ask people how much more they would be willing to pay in taxes to have the government actually eliminate illegal immigration.

Jeremy writes:


Many of the "club goods" provided by governments are excludable (i.e., a government can respect the human right to immigrate and still restrict many benefits to citizens without offering them to immigrants)

Matt Skene writes:

Huemer addressed the club idea in his paper on this. A country isn't a club (what club has automatic, mandatory membership and absurdly expensive opt out clauses?) and clubs don't have the right to dictate things that you do on your own outside the club (especially in light of the first parenthetical).

For example, suppose your boss was to suddenly declare that all employees are members of his new club no matter what, and demand that club members only hire children of other club members to mow your lawn or shovel your driveway, at a cost of $50 a day. The kid down the street who does it for you for $10 is out of luck. In addition, all visitors to the homes of club owners must be approved by the boss, and no selling or renting of homes is permissible to any non-approved persons. You can also only opt out of club membership by quitting your job and paying a $10,000 opt-out fee. Is this really okay? Would it suddenly be okay if 51% of the employees wanted it this way?

Don Boudreaux writes:


You assert that history warns us of immigration's potentially "awful" consequences. Can you share with us the historical examples that you have in mind?

Nick Rowe writes:

James: in democracies (understood broadly) the country/club is owned by the members of that club (and their children normally inherit membership of the same club).

Some club capital goods are normal tangible things like roads etc. But there are also non-tangible capital goods, that get loosely called social or institutional capital, that require investment and maintenance, and are probably even more important.

If all investment in club capital were 100% debt-financed, then annual taxes (regular club dues) would cover the full cost of past investments, so new and existing members would pay the same cost. But a club that were 100% debt-financed would have zero net worth, and nobody would want to join. And 100% debt-finance does not work if the returns to investment are uncertain (not to mention the problem of enforcing payment of that debt, if the club itself is the one that enforces the rules). And defence of the members (against both members and non-members) is a risky investment (think wars), and countries are firstly clubs for mutual defence.

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

If you will accept that there are concomitant obligations of some (sometimes all) required for the existence of rights of some (or all);

Right to freedom of worship requires that others are obligated not to interfere in that worship;

The same with freedom of speech; then:

Obligations (and their performance) are what "support" or "create" Rights.

So, what would be the obligations of occupants of lands and cities to others that would make "immigration" (joining in occupation) a "Right?"

Are people obligated to allow others to join in occupation? If so, whence does that obligation arise?

Nick Rowe writes:

Matt: I don't know the Huemer paper.

It makes sense for clubs to offer free membership to the children of club members, since people care about their children, and this gives members an incentive to invest in club capital that will outlive them but not their children or grandchildren.

And if people show a revealed preference to join clubs that restrict entry to club grounds (Groucho Marx?) that seems to tell us something important.

The two clubs I belong to (Canada and UK) don't have unreasonable restrictions on exit (and probably couldn't enforce them if they did). I don't pay UK taxes on my labour as a Canadian resident. Other countries may have Berlin Walls to prevent exit (unless you pay an exit fee). Free exit may be good, and free entry may be bad.

Hazel Meade writes:

@Nick Rowe,

Bryan has already answered your analogy by pointing out that the idea that people consent to government is a fiction. The club you speak of is one in which our membership is involuntary. We never agreed that the club should restrict who we may associate with. We never voluntarily joined the club, and our membership dues are extracted by force.

Hazel Meade writes:

@Nick Rowe,
Ifs any part of my life or property my own to do with as I wish, or does everything belong ot the club?

Why can I not, with my own money, with my own house, engage in voluntary exchange with foreigners outside the purview of the clubs rules?
Does the club own those things too? In what sort of society does the group assert absolute ownership over all of the property, money and time of it's members? How many country clubs do you know of in which the members are not free to leave and have no outside property or life not subject to the rules of the club?

Maniel writes:

@Don Boudreaux
Immigration from Europe into "The New World," beginning in the 17th Century, did not go well for the indigenous people.

Nick Rowe writes:

Hazel: when somebody tries to take your house from you, by force, who you gonna call? Maybe you will join with your neighbours in a mutual defence club. And maybe you and your neighbours will find it more efficient to defend a fence around the perimeter of the neighbourhood than just defend a fence around each individual house.

If there were still "Free Land" this problem would be solvable; libertarians could exit and form their own club with its own rules that would accept all members without an entrance fee. But even then, how would you (the seasteaders?) protect your club from entry by new members who wanted to change the rules (perhaps by force) to make it like all the other clubs?

Hazel Meade writes:

@nick Rowe,
Are there any limits on the conditions this mutual aid society may impose on it's willingness to defend my house? What if I don't like those conditions? If my eight neighbors on either sides of me form a mutual defense club without my participation, and decide that everyone within it's perimeter must donate their home to common-pool community ownership and rent it to whomever the club membership thinks should get a free house, why should I have to sell my home and move to escape from their demands? Does the mutual defense club trump all of my basic rights to private property and freedom of association?

EB writes:

Don Boudreaux, you should read Bryan's last paragraph for context and you can read about the history of colonial America --from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego-- to understand how often voluntary encounters ended in massacres. Even if we agree with Sorens that today humanity is more peaceful (see reference in your blog today), it doesn't mean that we can ignore how easy some people still resort to violence (please read again the last paragraph of Gordon Tullock's The Edge of the Jungle and tell me if you disagree with him because Bryan's position implies its rejection).

Benjamin R Kennedy writes:
If an individual treated other people the same way the government does, would he clearly be a horrible criminal?

This is the Rothbardian "proof" that taxation is theft. So given that the government is a gang of thieves extorting the native population with taxes, isn't not letting outsiders into the country to be subject to these vicious depredations actually the moral thing to do?

Thomas B writes:

A large part of opposition to immigration relies on fears that the immigrant will "take an American's job". This is also why there is an instinct to tax imports.

So, let's tie the two together. If the foreign worker is willing to have their income taxed as if they were still producing offshore, why not let them come and work here?

But, wait - if they work here they'll spend their earnings here, and that will create jobs here, so we should be willing to let them come and work here for an incremental tax rate lower than we would apply to imports.

For the sake of decency, we should at some point (after, say, 5 years?) allow them to become citizens and stop paying the surtax.

Does that work?

BTW, I share the reaction to Bryan's idea that they can come to my house if I agree - it doesn't work if I'm not the sole owner. But I have watched way too many very talented, entrepreneurial, freedom-loving, thoughtful people shut out of the US because of policies that practically prohibit middle-class immigration. We have taken it much too far.

Charles H writes:

I can't take the $75 trillion figure seriously. Do a simple thought experiment.

Move everyone from Africa, South Asia, the Middle East, and South America to the United States. That's billions of people from countries with bad social norms and institutions. Is it reasonable to think that the institutional thread in the United States could bare the imported norms and beliefs of billions of people? No, it would be swamped and I think there is little doubt that the country would take on the economic character of these other regions, in which case GDP would not only plummet for the natives but for everyone.

Jon Murphy writes:

@Charles H-

That's not so much a thought experiment as it is an assertion. On what grounds do you claim "Is it reasonable to think that the institutional thread in the United States could bare the imported norms and beliefs of billions of people? No..."

Jon Murphy writes:

@EB (and Maniel):

Are those historical examples the exceptions or the rules? I mean, we can assert, reasonably, that immigration is a net good even if there are some extreme outliers that say otherwise (I'd also assert some of those outliers are not applicable here. For example, the European immigration to the New World was problematic not so much because they sought to overthrow the natives, but because they brought germs with them that decimated the population. That is significantly less of an issue today).

The short version of my question: what probability do you attach that immigration is, on net, harmful?

Nick Rowe writes:

Hazel: you and I might agree that there should be limits on what clubs can do to their members. But requiring that every club decision have unanimous consent of everyone who might be affected doesn't seem to be workable. That's the reason we have clubs -- so we don't face the hold-up problem in providing non-rival goods. Like when we paved the road in my neighbourhood, all sharing the cost, and the vote was not unanimous.

phil writes:

Are Human rights expansive?

Can something that wasn't a human right, become a human right?

What makes something a human right? declaring it so, and then getting a government to recognize it?

maybe you're ahead of the curve here, and a few years your definition of human rights, will be accepted

maybe human rights have always been a construct, and the more we try to shove under that umbrella, the more that makes the construct apparent and degrades all of them

Jon Murphy writes:

Another thought on the "immigration is a threat to American institutions" argument.

There are lots of rights we do not curtail because they may threaten American institutions. For example, Nazis and socialists are still granted the right to speech and due process even though allowing them to speak and defend themselves in court is a potential threat to American institutions. Why should immigration (more specifically, the right to peaceful movement) be any different?

Nick Rowe writes:

By the way, Bryan's "Exile" argument cuts both ways, when you remember that countries are groups of people as much as areas of land, and think in terms of the Coase Theorem. Immigration means that the natives are exiled, without their consent, to live in some foreign country, chosen by other people, even without moving a kilometre. Sure, it's a matter of degree, and depends on how many immigrants, and how quickly they come, and on how much the immigrants adjust to the natives or vice versa.

Consider the simplest case, with two identical islands, with one person originally on each island. An allocation where each agent has the right to move to either island is identical to the allocation where each agent has the right to exile the other agent to either island.

jj writes:

Jon Murphy writes:

@Charles H-

That's not so much a thought experiment as it is an assertion. On what grounds do you claim "Is it reasonable to think that the institutional thread in the United States could bare the imported norms and beliefs of billions of people? No..."

How about NYC in the 1870's. It took on the characteristics of the Irish immigrant population. Would Tammany Hall have existed without immigration?

Hazel Meade writes:

@Nick Rowe,

Immigration means that the natives are exiled, without their consent, to live in some foreign country, chosen by other people, even without moving a kilometre.

Are people entitled to stop their neighbors from selling houses to foreigners? And if so why only foreigners and not racial minorities or different demographic age groups?

Is my life more affected by immigrants moving in next door than by an elderly retirement home, or by gentrification, or a half-way house?
Isn't this just basically NIMBYism?

There's lots of ways neighborhoods can evolve, not just due to immigration. Does the mere fact of neighborhood socioeconomic evolution cause people to be "exiled". And if so aren't we all exiles in a foreign land by the time we hit 80?

Jon Murphy writes:


"Would Tammany Hall have existed without immigration?"

Yeah, probably, considering it predated that influx by about 100 years.

Nick Rowe writes:

Hazel: yep. It's (as always) a matter of degree, because there are always trade-offs. The optimal size of countries (like optimal currency areas) is presumably somewhere between the extremes of every family being its own country and One World Government with everyone having Global Citizenship papers issued by the UN and the right to move anywhere.

Thaomas writes:

As a neo-Liberal, I distrust "rights" arguments. I prefer to look at immigration like an economist. What are the costs and benefits and to whom of greater immigration? Particularly if have a robust safety net that protects individuals from some of the worst consequences of immigration, trade or technological change, we can afford to be much more liberal about immigration. As we liberalize, perhaps we will discover that no ristrictions at all are optimal.

Charles H writes:

@Jon Murphy

It was an assertion, but what is the counter-argument?

Are you arguing that transporting 2 billion people from the Middle East, Africa, and South America would not produce profound and negative consequences for the institutional and political structures in the U.S.? This is not even including the civil unrest that would ensue. At the very least, you must admit that there would be major changes..

To your second point...

The reason we should not curtail the rights of existing citizens to avoid a breakdown in the structure is because that, in and of itself, would constitute a breakdown in our institutions. I think we can agree on that. But where we differ is that you think that logic should extend to immigration. I do not. The reason is that, on average, the rate of breakdown will be much faster via immigration of highly discordant beliefs versus a breakdown from internal changes in beliefs by existing citizens. This gap has closed to some degree because of technology but it is still wide in my view.

Spatial game theory gets at the heart of the issue very succinctly. In a world where there are cooperators and defectors, cooperators cannot survive long without forming pockets or subgroups that keep out the defectors. But then this creates a philosophical order to maintain pockets or subgroups of cooperators, those subgroups must not permit or always cooperate with the outside.

Jon Murphy writes:

@Charles H-

"It was an assertion, but what is the counter-argument?"

Whether or not I have a counter-argument is irrelevant. Rather, I'm asking you what you have to go on beyond a simple assertion. In other words, what do you use to reject the null hypothesis that letting people in would not radically alter institutions.

"The reason is that, on average, the rate of breakdown will be much faster via immigration..."

This may or may not be true. I don't know. But I don't think it is a reason to alter our institutions to prevent the altering of our institutions.

John Donnelly writes:

We have the right to move freely between states, cities and counties, etc.

If this works, how can one argue for restrictions between countries? Is it reasonable to conclude then that arguments to infringe my free movement can only be based on cultural identity.

Kurt Schuler writes:

The assumption of open-borders advocates here and elsewhere seems to be that deep down, everybody wants the same things, so getting along is fairly easy. I don't think that is correct. Read about what is happening to European Jews now that Moslems substantially outnumber them. Recall what became of Yugoslavia. Notice that even the differences between England and Scotland, small compared to the differences between most countries, are strong enough to have generated an independence movement in Scotland. And that is just in the European Union, a rich and generally peaceful part of the world.

If you want to argue that the United States could absorb a lot more immigrants, because of its size, the global influence of its culture, and its governing philosophy, make the particular argument. An abstract argument asserting that, say, 10 million Somalis immigrating to Switzerland is no different from 10 million Canadians immigrating to the United States, is absurd on its face.

Mike Hardy writes:


It's just the non-aggression principle. You relocated from Alaska to Ohio. If politicians had drawn international boundaries differently, so that those were in two different countries, would that have the effect that your relocation would harm Ohio in some way in which it doesn't under the present circumstances?

HispanicPundit writes:

The final point is especially good. Hits it home that the open-border argument is actually the moderate one. Great opening!

MP writes:

Just curious, has this line of argument ever persuaded anyone who wasn't already convinced?

John Donnelly writes:


For me, I am reading these excellent comments to see if there is a good argument for open borders. In addition, I would like to understand what might need to be in place before open borders could work.

@Mike Hardy

That is a good point. Perhaps international law and it's enforcement isn't developed to the point that it can be counted on to deter aggression.

That may be why open borders between states work and open borders between countries doesn't.

Dylan writes:


I think there are two types of arguments that get used that both sides conflate. One is a more pragmatic argument that is open to empirical evidence along the lines of argument in your second paragraph. I think that line of thinking is probably correct, but it's a different type than the purely moral/idealistic argument that isn't really open to evidence (or at least not the same type of evidence)

I say there are some things that are so bad, that we shouldn't do them even if not doing so meant the destruction of civilization. Let's say we lived in a world that was much like this one, except we were required to ritualistically sacrifice a couple hundred innocent teenagers every year or else the world would be destroyed by monsters. On a purely utilitarian basis, the sacrifice makes sense. You're saving literally billions of lives (plus the lives of all of their children and children's children) vs. a couple hundred. Nevertheless, I think the moral choice is clear in that we'd have to accept destruction rather than sacrificing innocent lives.

I put open immigration into this type of basket, meaning even if I was sure that it would utterly destroy our way of life, I'd still have to support it. Luckily I think it will do nothing of the sort, and that it would actually over time raise billions of people out of absolute poverty, and make the world a better place for most people.

Benjamin R Kennedy writes:
In other words, what do you use to reject the null hypothesis that letting people in would not radically alter institutions.

Ha, this is the null hypothesis? Because humanity has a long track of different people-groups living in perfect harmony, right?

Hazel Meade writes:

@Kurt Schuler

An abstract argument asserting that, say, 10 million Somalis immigrating to Switzerland is no different from 10 million Canadians immigrating to the United States, is absurd on its face.

That's a good point to bring up because so many Americans keep citing Islam as a basis for their cultural assimilation objection to immigration.

But America doesn't get very much Islamic immigration. Arab-Muslims are a tiny percentage of our immigrant population, smaller even than Asians and Indians. We get immigrants from Hispanic countries, which are Roman Catholic and Spanish speaking. They have a cultural heritage that is not too different from ours. So the cultural assimilation argument doesn't hold water. Hispanics aren't going to change America any more than Irish and Italians did. And our tiny percentage of Muslim immigrants isn't going to change anything either.

IF we had a large number of Muslim immigrants as in Europe, I would be more receptive to arguments that we're inviting trouble, but we don't. We don't have the same problems as Europe.

Benjamin R Kennedy writes:
IF we had a large number of Muslim immigrants as in Europe, I would be more receptive to arguments that we're inviting trouble, but we don't. We don't have the same problems as Europe.

Isn't this kind of the point of being a skeptic of Muslim immigration?

Michael writes:

I'm for open borders, but I wouldn't use the concept of human rights as lightly

1. Human rights originally were expressly protective rights of the individual against the state. As such, they clearly always have an aspirational quality, as the state is de facto able to violate them. This is a huge danger -- I think it's worth keeping the concept of protection against the state as sharp as possible.

2. Immigration as a human right would be a protection of non-citizens and not-(yet)-residents against a state. I wouldn't conflate this with the right not to be murdered by my sovereign. Of course, I still want states to behave in a defensible way towards everybody, not commit crimes against humanity -- I just see human rights as a last line of defense if that last claim is not fulfilled.

3. A state can respect human rights and still be terribly coercive in many things, including the economy. I don't like it -- and it's mostly inefficient -- but it's much less bad than real despotism.

4. In particular, living in a collective will likely mean accepting collectivel held beliefs. I'm afraid we do live in collectives. Our individual freedom is aspirational, and is created by artifacts like the concept of human rights.

5. One collectively held strong belief seems to be nationalism. I don't like it, but I feel grossly outnumbered here.

6. The state may be illegitimately coercive in many ways, but enforcing nationalism isn't one of them; it's probably not against the will of the majority of the citizens

7. I don't believe immigration can be enforced against the will of a nation; it will stop being a problem if that will changes. But this will not happen by legalistic arguments

Rube writes:


That does exist.
There are monsters in the land.
Even before humanity arose, there were monsters here.
Humans have learned to appease them for thousands of years.
It is a fragile truce that involves hosts, holy ghosts, and hostages.

In order to keep these monsters at bay, we have created our own monstrous beasts of commerce, entertainment, religion, and government. These systems make it so you never notice when the next nubile young virgin priestess is hurled face first into a living volcano.
Or made a popstar.

MP writes:

@ John Donnelly,

That's a fair point, and I didn't mean to suggest the discussion wasn't useful, only that Bryan's case is founded on a premise that he doesn't really argue. I think my comment was less clear and more snarky than I intended, so let me try again.

Bryan starts from simple premise that it is not legitimate for a government to do anything that would not be allowed for an individual. This premise does all the heavy lifting; everything else follows. But this isn't an argument for immigration; it is an argument for anarchy (not in the sense of chaos, but just in the sense of no government). Do we allow individuals to lock up people who violate the rights of other individuals? Do we allow them to demand payment to fund such protection arrangements? Some people agree with this position. Others counter that there is a legitimate role for government, making analogies to clubs or shared ownership of houses. I see people articulating their positions well, but I don't see much persuasion (though I'm open to the possibility I'm just missing it).

I think there is a more interesting discussion to be had among those who accept in principle a legitimate role for the state to control territory and do this with some degree of preference for its citizens, then get into the details. How does immigration impact citizens, both benefits and costs? How should the benefits to immigrants and some citizens be weighed against the costs to other citizens? How can immigration be managed to improve the outcome (e.g. preferences for skilled migrants or selling immigration authorization)? Can other policy changes be wrapped in to build a better overall package (e.g. restricting birthright citizenship)?

don writes:

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N. Joseph Potts writes:

Open borders would go a long way to demonstrating - irrefutably - the utter untenability of government as it is practiced in these United (and many other) states. That moves many to fear and oppose it, even people who aren't normally apologists for the government.

antodav writes:

"Foreigners should be free to live in my house if I consent."

What about the other 300 million people living in your house? If the majority of them don't consent, then what? Also should the people who come to live in your house be allowed to do so even if they might potentially rape your kids or steal from you? What if they intend to put forward no contributions whatsoever towards upkeep of the house and are only interested in raiding your fridge?

Clearly, this analogy doesn't apply to all immigrants, even illegal ones. But it applies to enough people that immigration restrictions are warranted to some extent. We should make legal immigration easier, granted. But to argue that immigration is a human right is essentially to argue that national sovereignty is a crime against humanity. Perhaps libertarians are globalist enough to make that argument, but it's not going to get them very far, particularly not with the working class. This position reflects a detached, elitist, cosmopolitan worldview held by someone who doesn't really work for a living and isn't adversely impacted by the negative effects of uncontrolled immigration.

Also, as to why the government can't abuse citizens in the same way that it can punish illegal immigrants, the answer is quite simple: citizens have constitutional, civil rights guaranteed to them by that government. Illegal immigrants do not.

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