Pat Buchanan is mostly right about the typical “libertarian devotion to limitless immigration further enlarging and empowering the state.” The emphasis is on typical, because some libertarians are implacably opposed to free immigration, on the grounds cogently posed by libertarian extraordinaire, Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe.
Most libertarians mouth the mantra that free trade is commensurate with the free flow of people across borders. Hoppe rejects this tie-in. Free trade is not only perfectly congruent with restricted immigration, but restricted immigration and free trade are “mutually reinforcing policies.” What the hippie libertarians recommend amounts to invasion and forced integration against which government must legitimately protect its citizens.
On free trade, Mr. Buchanan’s admixture of leftist economic ideas and national and cultural conservatism guarantees he’s always wrong. Any competitive product at home or from abroad will ruffle less efficient industries. If protectionism is justified based on national borders, then the argument against trade has to be valid with regard to trade between regions, cities, neighborhoods and individuals. All jobs would be safer if we ceased trading and cultivated complete self-sufficiency. The reality, of course, is that were we to relinquish the division of labor and the voluntary exchange of goods based on every person and nation’s comparative advantage – no one would lose his job, but we would probably all perish.
The garden-variety libertarian support for unfettered movement of people across borders has “open-border enthusiast” Steve Kubby dilettantishly declaring that “libertarians don’t care if immigrants use a disproportionate amount of social services, because we believe all social programs should be junked.” Talk about a petulant non sequitur. Indeed, forced distribution of wealth from those who create it to those who don’t is wrong for nationals and newcomers alike. But from the fact that welfare is categorically wrong, why does it follow that extending the plunder to newcomers is morally negligible? This is like saying that because a bank has been robbed by one set of robbers, there is no need to arrest the next band of bank bandits.
The existence of taxpayer-funded services like roads, education and health services makes immigrants de facto free riders. Anti-discrimination and affirmative action laws further give immigrants legal rights to the property of nationals. As libertarian economist Murray Rothbard put it, this is the quintessential “swamping by the central state of an existing population for political ends.”
If we apply the principles undergirding free trade to immigration, then restricting immigration becomes essential. Right now, explains Hoppe, “someone can migrate from one place to another without anyone else wanting him to do so, goods and services cannot be shipped from place to place unless both sender and receiver agree.”
This distinction seems almost mischievous in its triviality, but it penetrates the core. Trade is always invited, consensual and, hence, mutually beneficial to the private property holders that are party to the transactions. When government restricts trade, it violates – not protects – the rights of private property owners to exchange goods and to enjoy the right of free association.
Free immigration, however, “does not mean immigration by invitation of individual households and firms, but unwanted invasion or forced integration.” When government restricts immigration, it is actually protecting private households and firms from unwanted invasion and forced integration.
Of the 646,568 INS-cited persons that legally immigrated to the United States in 1999, only 56,817 had been invited by employers onto U.S. soil. It’s a magnanimous stretch, but of the total, 259,562 entered as immediate relatives of citizens, and were thus semi-invited. The remainder, approximately 316,000 entrants, consisted of refugees, of people with unspecified family ties in the U.S., as well as beneficiaries of diversity programs. They join more than 1.3 million illegals who, uninvited, swarm the U.S. annually. If libertarians can agree on one thing, it’s that a constitutional government has an obligation to repel foreign invaders.
How, then, do we make real-life immigration imitate the art of free trade? “By advocating free trade and restricted immigration, one follows the same principle: requiring an invitation for people as for goods and services,” says Hoppe, or else it’s Return to Sender.
So long as the U.S. remains a high-wage area, with a tax-funded welfare system, it will experience migratory pressure from low-wage countries. Protectionist policies immeasurably worsen this pressure, because, when people are prevented from selling their wares into foreign markets, they are more inclined to relocate in search of better economic conditions. Unhampered trade can diminish this pressure.
Lastly, to the leftist-libertarian love-in at the borders, the Hoppean retort would be: “It’s about absolute private-property rights, stupid.” The border along Mexico is porous because so much of it is not privately owned. The less public property there is, and the greater the protection government affords property rights – the less invasion and coerced integration can be accomplished. Minimizing public property to where uninvited immigrants can flock, and upholding private-property rights so that nationals can exert absolute ownership over property, will go a long way to keep at bay the freedom-choking kudzu of immigration policy.