Immigration has been the most hotly contested issue of 2016, and as the year comes to a close, the debate is still far from settled. Donald Trump’s victory in this year’s presidential election shows a shifting tide in political thought, and has even brought about the return to the paleo strategy in libertarian circles.
Though paleolibertarians have long been in favor of restricted immigration, the default libertarian position on immigration has turned into an unquestioning support of open borders. While we’re all familiar with every single criticism in the book against closed borders, very few libertarians have done any soul searching over the open borders stance, since they presume it to be the default libertarian stance. Let us then dive a little deeper into the issue to determine whether or not this should be the default position, and whether or not it is even libertarian at all.
The “principled” libertarian will say he supports open borders because closed borders are wrong. Since it is wrong to restrict free movement and prevent voluntary interactions, open borders must be good. And since restricting immigration requires action, open borders must mean government inaction, which infers a smaller government.
It would be nice if the open borders stance were this black and white, but it is not. And there are a number of important factors that its proponents fail to consider.
Both open and closed government borders implies the prohibition of private property. Whether the borders are open or closed, the land will ultimately be managed and “owned” by the state, with homesteading and privatization of the land prohibited by law. And whether the borders are open or closed, taxpayers must be expropriated from to fund the maintenance of this public infrastructure. So if we want to talk about which is more conducive to privatization, there are a few things we have to take into consideration.
The first is the tragedy of the commons. When immigrants arrive into this country, they are using scarce resources that they haven’t paid for, which in turn diminishes the utility of said resources. This is why open government borders are communist in nature, because number 1, its proponents argue it is a human right for everyone to use these communal resources, and number 2, communal land leads to this tragedy of the commons situation, because the more people you let have access to scarce resources, the more maintenance costs will go up and utility will go down.
To help paint a clearer picture of why open borders are communist, let’s analogize the situation to our public education system. The government seized control of the industry and made a public education “free” for all to receive at the expense of the taxpayers. As a result, public schools have become oversaturated with students, are continually forced to lower their standards, and pass students which should be held back, thereby lowering the utility of a public education. This is why having a high school degree is now almost completely useless.
Likewise, when there are open borders, taxpayers are made to subsidize public infrastructure which immigrants and citizens alike will then travel through. The same tragedy of the commons situation present in our education system will arise with open borders as well. Open borders will then have the same effect on our economy as the public school system. The country will become oversaturated with unskilled laborers who would have otherwise never made their way here under free market circumstances, in the same way that students who would have otherwise failed in private schools are allowed to receive a degree anyway, which lowers the utility for everyone else.
On top of the problems which arise from the tragedy of the commons, having open borders presents us with an even greater dilemma when you realize that people coming into this country can vote. The people coming here aren’t exactly libertarians, and they’re not coming here because America is ripe with job opportunities. The country is already suffering from an ailing economy, and millions are either unemployed or underemployed. What is instead attracting these migrants is America’s burgeoning welfare state, and though the market indicators are telling them not to come, the welfare is telling them to come anyway.
So what we are left with as a result of open borders are a tragedy of the commons, millions of new Democratic voters who will vote to increase taxes and take away the rest of our rights, and an even larger welfare state than before. There is nothing libertarian about this.
Libertarians will argue that if we just get rid of the welfare state, then open borders will work. But this will not make the tragedy of the commons disappear, and people coming here will still be able to vote.
When it comes to public education, libertarians will often argue that public schools should act as private schools would. Decision making should be decentralized to local communities, and schools should compete with one another in order to lower the tax burden and increase the quality of the education. No libertarian would ever dare argue that since the state controls public schools, that no student should be denied an education. No libertarian would ever argue that an education is a human right, since absent the state, no said right exists.
Why then, when the state controls the borders, do libertarians argue that no one should be denied free movement, when absent the state, no said right exists? If everything were completely privatized, you would have no right to an education, and no right to travel freely on another man’s land without his permission.
If libertarians aren’t going to argue that education is a human right that should be protected by the state in the absence of the complete privatization of everything, then they shouldn’t argue that free movement is a human right that should be protected by the state either. This isn’t to delegitimize the concerns that libertarians have with closed borders, but to instead show the many problems that exist with open borders. Hopefully libertarians open minded enough on the issue will begin to reconsider their position on immigration, and understand that open borders are not libertarian. Open borders are communist.