Tuesday, January 14, 2014

On Open Borders

Here's an exchange with the late, great Milton Friedman about the idea of "open borders" - i.e. free immigration.

Q: Dr. Friedman should the U.S.A. open its borders to all immigrants? What is your opinion on that?

A: Unfortunately no. You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.

Q: Do you oppose a unilateral reduction of tariffs and if not how can you oppose open immigration until the welfare state is eliminated?

A: I am in favor of the unilateral reduction of tariffs, but the movement of goods is a substitute for the movement of people. As long as you have a welfare state, I do not believe you can have a unilateral open immigration. I would like to see a world in which you could have open immigration, but stop kidding yourselves. On the other hand, the welfare state does not prevent unilateral free trade. I believe that they are in different categories.

Maybe so, maybe so. 

Here's Robert Rector of the Heritage Institute, slamming the idea of open borders.

In a recent debate with Dan Griswold of the Cato Institute, I pointed out this paradox. Griswold replied that the key was to grant amnesty and open borders now and work on “building a wall around welfare” at some point in the future. The weakness of this response should concern all those interested in limiting the size of government.

While most open-border libertarians proclaim a desire to dismantle both borders and the welfare state, in practice what they offer is open borders today and a vague (and almost certainly illusory) promise to end the welfare state in the indefinite future. As Milton Friedman understood, open-border enthusiasts have the sequence wrong: Opening borders with the redistributionist state still intact will result in a larger and more confiscatory government. In response to libertarians who propose to open borders and dismantle the welfare state, practical conservatives should answer: “Go ahead. Dismantle the welfare state. As soon as you’ve got that finished, let us know, and then we’ll talk about open borders.”

Here's my take on it. 

As long as people are deprived of freedom of movement and freedom of association, as long as armed guards ask for your paperwork when you approach the borders of your cage, politicians and their ilk will own you. 

They can draft you, imprison you, tax you, and burden you with debt.  No one with the ability to move freely from place to place can be forced to serve a politician. 

Slaves in the southern U.S. were taught to respect the boundaries of their plantations.  We have all been taught to respect the lines of latitude and longitude near the place where our mothers went into labor. 

Politicians, like old-time slavemasters, love borders and boundaries. 

Screw them and the lines on their little maps. 


CenTexTim said...

Just curious - do you think there is a need for any boundaries? Like, for example, around your home? Do you lock your doors, or do you let anyone who wants to just waltz right in the front door and help themselves to the food in your fridge?

I'm with the practical conservatives on this one. Get our house in order first, then let people in.

MingoV said...

Numerous libertarians favor open borders. They favor economic and cultural suicide. Let's start with the latter. You want to live in a libertarian society. Less than 5% in the USA agree. Now you open the borders and 100,000,000 immigrants arrive, mostly from the south. The vast majority of them support socialism. There you are Mr. or Ms. libertarian, a society worse than before.

The economics are 'interesting'. Every advocate of open borders claims nearly zero up-front costs and great benefits down the road from an expanded economy. Hogwash. Most immigrants will arrive with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Until they get jobs and get paid, they need food, housing, clothing, and probably transportation. They will need healthcare benefits because it is unlikely that employers will provide them. They'll need English courses for the adults and public schooling for the children. The first generation immigrants will have mostly minimum wage jobs. They won't pay income taxes. The USA will have a large net loss on most of the immigrants. The pre-open border residents will have higher taxes.

Welcome to open immigration.

I believe in selective immigration. Let in those most likely to move society in the direction you wish. For us, let in libertarians.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

I own my home. I own my yard and my truck.
I'm of the opinion that I should be able to invite anyone I choose to live in it with me. It's mine.
Politicians try to tell us that the area between the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Canadian "border" and the Rio Grande is "ours".
It isn't "ours". It's yours and his and hers and theirs. It's how the deceive us into believing that society is what they choose, not what we choose.
You make some excellent points. But....
Let's say that enough liberty-lovers get elected to the point where my open borders wet dream could become a reality....
Do you think that Uncle Sam would still be handing out healthcare, education, welfare, and political favors?
I think not.
Anyway, I believe that if someone in, say, Russia, Germany, Mexico or The Vatican wants to have me in their home as a guest, it isn't Putin, Merkel, Nieto, or the Pope's business if I go there. (Well, maybe the Pope is a bad example. His house, his rules.)
Ditto for employers. Do you really believe that it's some charismatic, photogenic election - winner's business who people hire and who they don't hire?

CenTexTim said...

WS -

Q: Who says you own your home and yard and truck?

A: The same government and big banks that you fuss about.

Just kidding ... sort of...

I pay for the area between the Atlantic, the Pacific etc. with my taxes (taken from me at the point of a gun, but still...). To extend the example, that includes the food in the welfare refrigerator. Opening that refrigerator to anyone who wants to help themselves means that I have to spend more (pay more taxes) to keep it stocked. I have a problem with that.

Please don't misunderstand me. I agree with what you say most of the time. But IMO you've got the cart before the horse. We could not survive open borders AND the current welfare state. Your reply to Mingo says as much:

"Let's say that enough liberty-lovers get elected to the point where my open borders wet dream could become a reality....
Do you think that Uncle Sam would still be handing out healthcare, education, welfare, and political favors?
I think not."

Stop the handouts first. Then open the borders.

I also have a follow-up question: do we have the right to exclude 'undesirables' (a loaded term, to be sure) such as pedophiles or serial murderers?

As an aside, this could be one reason why the Libertarian Party struggles to gain traction. Many people such as myself agree with you in theory, but founder when it comes to application. If you really want to get Libertarians elected, consider shifting the focus from ideological purity to pragmatism. Make common cause with practical conservatives, Tea Partiers, and the like.

Tocano said...

A conservative and a libertarian (me) discussed immigration for several hours and came up with a list of items that satisfied both of us.

http://tocano.blogspot.com/2013/06/conversation-with-conservative.html (disclaimer: my own [rarely used] blog)

Not just trying to plug my blog, but I'm genuinely curious about other's thoughts on that proposal.

CenTexTim said...

Tocano -

If there are going to be borders, your proposal makes as much sense as anything I've seen.

Lycurgus said...


That was a very interesting post. Thank you!