15A044 Open Immigration by Jim Davies, 7/16/2015    


Most libertarians oppose immigration controls, but there's a notable exception: Professor Hans-Herman Hoppe, whose distinguished CV is shown here. It's great to have a top-rank scholar as an economics professor at UNLV who studied under Rothbard, is an Austrian and an anarcho-capitalist. I've read some of his articles on occasion and don't mind admitting to a degree of resultant brain strain.

He wrote recently here to support his view that open immigration is not a libertarian virtue, and the argument is lucid and interesting. He scorns advocates of free immigration as "Left Libertarians" and that is quite a comfort, for I was getting a bit concerned lest I was veering too far to the Right; he says we fail to recognize property rights; that "if all places are already occupied, all migration is migration by invitation only." Okay, no argument. You knock on my door, you can enter only if I say so. Provided, of course, that my "occupation" is rightful, that I'm not a mere squatter.

Further, Hoppe recognizes that a great deal of the land area called the "USA" is so-called "public land", not owned by real people at all, but is just occupied by government. Quite right; but after that is where he and I part company.

As he says, immigrants would have a right to move into public land only if it were "akin to open frontier, with free and unrestricted access" but he asserts that there is no such area. "Public land", he says, may have been acquired illegitimately by prior expropriations, but for all that "It has been funded through local, regional, national or federal tax payments, and it is the payers of these taxes, then, and no one else, who are the legitimate owners of all public property." [Emphasis added.]

As I see it that is not true, for it firstly requires "public property" to be rescued from its proper status as an oxymoron. As I showed in Owning Land, ownership means valid control. Existing parcels can be properly transferred between owners, while wilderness land can be acquired by claiming and working it; but government never did either. Therefore "public land" is not a valid use of the English language. Such land is occupied by government, but owned by nobody.

Further, I'm aware of no rights whatever that are conferred by the payment of taxes. They are a "forced exaction" to maintain government and its clients in the comfort they desire, and there is no link between their payment and the expectation of any benefit at all - except perhaps a reduced probability of being imprisoned for tax evasion. Benefits come by the grace and favor of the legislatures du jour, and do not relate to the amount of tax paid.

Accordingly, those who cross to it from foreign parts have as valid a right to walk on "public land" as anyone else, for it is land without a valid owner; it is indeed "akin to open frontier." To exercise that right may get you shot, as may the exercise of numerous other natural rights in this government-infested society, but it's a right nonetheless.

It is, therefore a wholly valid application of libertarian rights theory to hold that those wishing to offer their labor in the area claimed by "the United States" have a right to do so; immigration should, in the present era, be free and unrestricted except by actual, valid titles to private property. Donald Trump and his many fellow excluders are wrong. ICE, or whatever they now call the INS, should vanish; and Professor Hoppe is mistaken.

However, that does not at all invalidate the power of his reasoning when applied to a society in which all property is validly owned, by real owners; that is what we call here a free one, or a zero government society. Then, every square inch of the Former USA will be titled to someone; individuals or groups of them, often called companies. When a Canadian or Mexican comes up to the fence delimiting his government's claim of domain, he will face a parcel of land owned by a real person. Can he enter, at will?

Of course not, and here is where Prof. Hoppe and I reunite. There is no right of trespass, hence no non-owner has any right to tread on someone else's property, no matter where he was born nor what is printed on any government papers in his pocket. I wish the Hoppe article had said more about whether landowners in the FUSA are likely to welcome anyone from outside it, but no matter; my Vision of Liberty has chapters on ownership and travel and the nub of them is that many in the FUSA will actively encourage those outside it to bring their skills and their money on to that owned property.

Some parcels of land abutting Mexico for example will be roads. Road owners will make their livings from tolls paid, so will welcome everyone to their property. Nearby may be an agent for customers wishing to hire labor, who will welcome those arriving so as to match them up with work in some place to which the road leads. So while some will erect signs forbidding trespass, there will be no shortage of such invitations and the same will hold good for airports, taxis, hotels and offices. FUSA residents will be open for all kinds of trade.

The area of disagreement therefore extends only to what is a proper libertarian view of open immigration now, while government persists. He says we should oppose it, I say his basis for saying that is false - that it's just not true that all or even most land in the USA is validly owned, by people entitled to exclude trespassers. One other aspect of this ought to be addressed, though: is it useful and politic to offer any libertarian opinion on present-day immigration?

Our aim after all is not to improve the present régime but to abolish it. Does it help that aim to oppose immigration or to encourage more? - or is it best to ignore the issue and focus just on teaching the key principles of freedom?

There are arguments each way on that one. For my part, I think it useful to express the view that human beings have a natural right to engage in trade anywhere - with goods or labor - and that restrictions on where anyone can do so are fundamentally wrong. Further, it's often said that unrestricted immigration would exhaust and destroy the welfare state, as if that were worth preserving; I say, bring it on! The sooner it's destroyed, the better, for while that alone won't bring about a free society, it is likely to help the process along.

Donald Trump may be doing useful work by exposing the hypocrisy of the electoral process, but he is bidding for votes in the coming election by appealing to xenophobia, a nasty side of anyone's character; and it's a pity to find one of Hoppe's stature even coincidentally sharing his view.

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