My moderate immigration reform proposal:

(1) let everyone here stay,

(2) abolish the borders and let whoever wants to come in.

My comprehensive immigration reform proposal (to be implemented all at once, along with the moderate steps):

(1) cut off services for illegal immigrants,

(2) stop taxing illegal immigrants,

(3) identify all human beings as illegal immigrants for the purposes of (1) and (2).


Yes, borders. If there is one topic among libertarians besides IP, the role of the State, abortion, and voting that seems to get them all flustered, borders would be near the very top. Borders, it can be said, was not as big of an issue if you go back a hundred years or so. True, 100 years ago we had a wave of immigrants entering in the country from other countries with more oppression,  subsistence, government (but I repeat myself), and so on, to our land of opportunity. Individuals looking for ample chances to pursue their self interest contrary to what occurred in their countries of origin. Many succeeded. And many libertarians tip their hat to this era, rightfully so.



Fast forward 100 years to today, ehhh, not so much. When this era is discussed between libertarians, it is argued that we currently have a welfare state whereas we didn’t back then. Therefore, since there is one, immigration control is necessary. Or in other words, if there was no welfare state, immigration control would be unnecessary; the welfare state should be drawn back before controls are relaxed or eliminated. Those who advocate this position would ask libertarians and anarchists for economic reasoning to justify no immigration control, or moral reasons since anarchists are for property and therefore boundaries, so having open borders contradicts that.



Morally it’s pretty simple. The only sort of claim you could make to a “country” to prohibit entry with any moral legitimacy is a property claim. And as it happens politicians don’t own countries (haven’t established any legitimate claim to ownership).  As Robert Murphy  has written:


“There would be no such thing as “immigration policy” or “border control,” except for what each landowner decided for his or her property boundary. If the current border between the U.S. and Mexico ended up being divided among 2,870 different people, owning contiguous plots of land that collectively reached from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, then those individuals would have the legal right to decide whether to build a fence to keep out Mexicans or whether to have a giant neon sign saying, “Hola Amigos!”


In other words, I have a rightful claim to my property (by definition). Politicians can’t possibly produce a better claim that gives them a right to say somebody from Mexico or any other country may not enter my property. The borders of the state’s jurisdiction and the boundaries of my residential property are manifestly not the same. Indeed, the former has no legitimacy whatsoever, and the state’s enforcement of its (not my) borders has the result of denying me the liberty to associate with everyone of my choosing.



Economically, it mostly comes down to the idiocy of all protectionist policies, but it depends on the specific argument being made for restricting immigration. The argument that “immigrants will take our jobs” is very similar to the Luddite fallacy and wrong for the same reasons, among others. Skipping past all the points about how many of them start their own businesses and create jobs, by this logic one would also want to prohibit reproduction, since the introduction of new humans from within would have the same effect on jobs (and welfare as well). But here we are at 300 million people, 100x what we had a couple of hundred years ago, and yet we don’t have 99% unemployment — why is that? I could go on, but I think the point should be clear.


Another point is that they (“illegals”) will all attach themselves to the government “teat.” Empirically this doesn’t seem to be the case  for the most part (According to the Urban Institute, immigrant labor force participation is consistently higher than native-born, and immigrant workers make up a larger share of the labor force (12.4%) than they do the U.S. population (11.5%)), but assuming it is I’d like to make two points. First, that’s an argument against the welfare state, not against immigration. Immigrants getting more of my stuff through forcible redistribution is an argument against forcible redistribution. When people — including individuals who describe themselves libertarians — suggest that borders cannot be open prior to ending welfare state, they are saying, actually: let’s forgo from doing what is just in one area until we get rid of a mass injustice elsewhere.


And second, if it’s true, why would it be true? We’ve had people coming here in droves since the beginning, since long before the beginning, certainly since long before the welfare state — why was that? And if it’s different now, why? It can’t be irrelevant that it’s illegal for them to get jobs, illegal to hire them, illegal for them to drive and so on. So to the extent they are on the dole, they’re largely being driven there by the exact policies being justified by this fact.


On a bigger scale, and this is the answer to a question I asked above, most adults produce far more than they consume. This has been the general state of human affairs since the agricultural revolution ages ago, and it’s what permitted the state to emerge in the first place. As soon as people could produce more than they could consume, people showed up with justifications for appropriating that surplus, which for the first time could be done without starving the producers. A lot of Austrians have written  that the key to an expanding economy (an expanding supply of real wealth) is capital accumulation. And while that’s certainly the most effective way to do it, population increases have the same effect, provided the people are working, producing. More labor means more productivity means more real wealth means higher real wages (as opposed to nominal wages, which may fall) for everybody as prices fall in the face of increasing abundance. Plus, this will tend to drive down nominal wages (dollar figures) but an influx of cheap, productive (by definition this time – we’re not talking about idle “teat-suckers”, but job-seekers) labor will drive retail prices down, putting upward pressure on real wages (the purchasing power of the wage).

That’s what economics says. What ethics says is (re: “greedy capitalists”), “What, just because you’re an American you’re entitled to a higher-paying job than Jose? He should be forcibly kept far away from you just because he’s willing to do your job for less than you are? What kind of disgusting, racist labor cartel are you trying to protect here?”



For those who are for closed borders, at least with the current welfare state, this may raise an objection or two, particularly regarding population increase. For instance, one could argue that this doesn’t seem to be accounting for consumption. To play devils advocate, why would a population increase necessarily increase wealth any more than it would increase consumption of resources? Why wouldn’t it be rational to say that an increase in population, particularly a less productive addition, would primarily disperse existing wealth?



Keep in mind that it only assumes a growing economy, which by definition is producing more than it’s consuming. If it’s not growing, a) it could probably use some more producers b) it wouldn’t be very tempting to would-be immigrants anyway, and c) there would be no means for immigrants to consume without first producing (Say’s law) unless they were bringing all their wealth with them, in which case so much the better.



Plus, existing wealth might get “dispersed” by being stolen from producers and handed over to idle immigrants, but again, that’s an argument against welfare programs, not open borders, and how else would dispersal happen? If you came here with no money and no interest in producing, how are you going to get any of the wealth?


Some libertarians in favor of closed borders may not disagree with this entirely, being an argument against welfare programs and not for further unjustifiable intervention, I mean. Where they usually part ways is that they view the issue of an existence of a welfare state as making the open borders concept problematic. The economic “rules” don’t hold in the presence of the welfare state because the fundamentals of supply and demand don’t exist when the State is providing by stealing from the current populace. So, speaking as a closed border advocate, why is it not equally rational to first remove the welfare state, making the apparent and actual immigration benefit independent of the teat, before opening the border, right?



My response for this is problematic for whom? If they’re coming here and starving the state, hey cool.  Or, to put it frankly, I don’t have to reconcile it. I don’t want any of those things (a state or welfare programs). If we opened the borders, the welfare state may very likely collapse. Hurray. The government may go bankrupt. Hurray. But to whatever degree that’s actually happening, it seems to me likely because of immigration law. You come here without permission and it’s illegal to give you a job. You can’t legally drive, have basically no legal prospects for becoming a “productive member of society,” the opportunity for which is the reason they come here in the first place.



And finally, having open borders implies not just a free flow of people across the border, but also of goods. Prices tend to equalize across geographies, but that tendency is impeded by borders, so you can still travel to Mexico or South or Central America and go on a mad shopping spree for insanely cheap goods which aren’t insanely cheap here mostly because borders make it unnecessarily difficult and/or expensive to get them here.



We currently live in a world with a large amount of land, which includes many roads, streets, and other areas, that are not privately owned. With the circumstances of our present immigration policy, then, it is safe to assume that immigrants, similar to anyone else, can come and go easily without trespassing on private property that has been rightfully acquired — plus many owners of private land will welcome them onto their land. As of this moment, it is not necessary for us to solve every problem foreseen about how a world could function when every inch of land is owned privately (Hint, however: it makes sense to expect a world where everything was privately owned that social norms would evolve allowing peoples safe and peaceful journeys back and forth. Hobbesian dystopias do not  follow from private ownership; on the contrary.)







Further suggested reading:




Appreciation for contribution and insight goes to Robert Murphy, Robert Higgs, Rocco Stanzione, Jeffrey Tucker.