“Immigration Is The Viagra Of The State”—A Libertarian Case Against Immigration

[PB: This is an edited version of a speech I gave May 30 to the Property and Freedom Society conference, now held annually in the stunningly beautiful town of Bodrum in south west Turkey. All VDARE.COM readers should go!]

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I want to start off by thanking Hans [-Hermann Hoppe] and Guelchin [Imre, his wife and owner of the equally beautiful Karia Princess Hotel] for hosting this conference and in particular for inviting me to speak here today.

We`re at a peculiar moment in the history of liberty. It`s been almost seventeen years since the Soviet Union collapsed. (I`m acutely aware of this because my son was born that day, making him, as I like to think, the very first post-Communist baby!) At that time, even a life-long American academic socialist like Robert Heilbroner was compelled to confess, in a celebrated essay in the New Yorker magazine, [The Triumph Of Capitalism, January 23, 1989] that the century-old battle between capitalism and socialism is over and capitalism has won.

Yet in the US it`s very probable that the party of free markets—perhaps I should say the alleged party of free markets—is going to be annihilated in this year`s election and that the party of statism may be in power for a generation.

There are obviously a number of reasons for this reversal. But one of them, I think, is that (at least in the US) libertarianism rested on its laurels and simply did not address the next generation of problems that came to the fore amid the wreckage of socialism. One of those is problems is immigration and, ultimately, the role of the national community, the nation-state. As I understand it, the role of the Property and Freedom Society is to address those problems and to rearticulate the libertarian vision.

Hans-Hermann Hoppe did address the problem of immigration, in his own writings and by arranging for a special issue of the Journal of Libertarian Studies, the summer 1998 issue [Volume 13, Number 2] guest edited by Ralph Raico, which was devoted to the subject. It`s a seminal volume of essays, revealing for example that the dean of American libertarian philosophers, John Hospers, who actually received one electoral college vote when he ran for President as the Libertarian Party candidate in 1972, rejected open borders and the notion that if you support free trade, you have to support free immigration. [A Libertarian Argument Against Opening Borders(PDF)]I don`t think the debate among libertarians has moved much further forward, greatly to the discredit of the Libertarian Establishment. Hans should really be giving this talk today. But I guess he believes in the division of labor!

So my topic today is A Libertarian Case Against Immigration. I am myself an immigrant (or an emigrant, depending how you look at it) from Britain to the U.S. with some years in Canada. So I`m not saying that immigration is absolutely a bad thing. But I am saying that it can be a bad thing, and that in the US today—and also Europe—it is a bad thing. In the U.S., we`re constantly told by immigration enthusiasts, a distinct subspecies among American intellectuals, that immigrants do dirty jobs Americans won`t do. And, I tell them, here I am!

I`m going to make this case with special reference to the example of the U.S., partly because that`s where I`ve lived for nearly forty years and partly because I`m a financial journalist, not a philosopher, and I find the presence of actual facts, as opposed to pure theory, kind of comforting. I will say, however, that the problems of America are the problems of the West.

How many of you are Americans? Any Canadians? Europeans? Brits? (I distinguish between Britain and Europe!). [PB: Mostly Europeans, a few Americans and Brits, one Australian on walkabout, no Canadians.]

I am going to start off by reviewing the facts of the US example. Then I`m going to analyze those facts from what appears to me to be a libertarian perspective, looking at practical problems and then theoretical problems. I`ll conclude by suggesting what this suggests about immigration—and about libertarianism itself.

Americans are taught to believe that they are a nation of immigrants. Of course, all nations are nations of immigrants. There is no known case where people grew out of the ground. What`s different about America is the speed with which it was put together. Unfortunately, it can be unput together just as quickly. And that, in essence, is what`s happening.

So these are the facts:

  • For almost 50 years in the middle of the twentieth century, from the early 1920s to about 1970, there was pause during which there was almost no immigration into the US at all.

There have been many such pauses in American immigration history, stretching right back into the colonial period, and they have been essential to the process of assimilation. During that period, no-one, not even the great Austrian economists like Mises or Hayek (and certainly not the influential Objectivist novelist Ayn Rand, remarkable though she was), really thought much about immigration.

·         The 1965 Immigration Act, plus a simultaneous decision to stop enforcing the law against illegal immigration, unleashed a new influx. (The decision to stop enforcing the law is very obvious in the date, most glaringly in the 98 percent collapse in workplace prosecutions during the Bush Administration, unmistakably a precursor to the planned integration of North American workforces as in the European Union). About 1 million legal immigrants and some 3-500,000 net illegal immigrants now enter the US every a year.

·         For technical reasons—basically the emphasis on so-called family reunification, which is not family reunification at all but chain migration—immigration has been skewed away from Europe and toward the Third World.

·         As a result, although Americans are stabilizing their population at around 300 million, the government is in effect second-guessing the people on population size, which because of immigration could be 400 million by 2050. One third will be post-1970 immigrants and their descendants. Because these are overwhelmingly non-white, the U.S., 90% white as recently as 1960, will be majority non-white sometime after 2050.

This is a transformation without precedent in the history of the world.  To adapt Brecht, the government is dissolving the people and electing a new one

·         Amazingly, the consensus among labor economists, confirmed by the 1997 National Research Council report The New Americans, is that there is no significant net aggregate economic benefit to native-born Americans. There is an increase in Gross Domestic Product, but virtually all of that is captured by the immigrants themselves in the form of wages. If transfer payments factored in, there is a small but significant nation-wide loss.

In other words, Americans are not merely being transformed for nothing, but they are actually paying to be transformed.

Of course, individual Americans benefit, notably employers of cheap labor, and they lobby hard for the privilege (not something libertarians of which would normally approve). But other Americans, notably workers, lose. And they lose a lot—basically government policy is redistributing about 2 percent of GDP from labor to capital.

So here`s something that is having enormous consequences, inflicting enormous expense, operating quite contrary to what was anticipated.

Obviously, it`s a government policy!

And that`s the bottom line to this review of the US situation, which I really want to stress. The point is that the status quo is statist.

We don`t have open immigration in the US or any Western country. We have an extremely complex and intrusive government policy. Government determines, by commission and omission, how many immigrants come in, what race they are, and what skill levels they have. (In the U.S. the post-1965 influx has been significantly less skilled than before, basically of the emphasis on “family reunification”, which is not family reunification at all but chain migration). Doing nothing about immigration as it exists right now is not a libertarian option. It`s a statist option.

Conversely, arguing that the US should restrict immigration, should in fact have a simple moratorium, with no net immigration, could paradoxically represent a diminution of the government`s role, in its powers and its opportunity to exercise them. We`ve all heard of the night watchman state. What libertarians also should want, it seems to me, is a gatekeeper state.

So that`s the situation in our case study, the US. Now I`m going to analyze it from a libertarian perspective. It seems to me that it presents two types of problems—practical and theoretical.

Practical

The Americans have had mass immigration before—notably the so-called Great Wave of  immigration from about 1880 through the 1920s, when it was cut off by legislation. And they`ve had a welfare state before, roughly since the New Deal in the 1930s. But they`ve never had both together. And they just don`t work.

At one stage, when I worked at Forbes, I used to interview Milton Friedman every year, until we got a new editor and he stopped it on the curious grounds that Friedman was too old. In one of these interviews, Friedman said something that has been much quoted. He criticized the Wall Street Journal, which has a major and negative role in this and other American debates and said “They`ve just got an idée fixe about immigration: “It`s just obvious you can`t have free immigration and a welfare state.

But it`s not obvious to many libertarians, who continue to think about immigration as if it was still 100 years ago and the government was taking just 5 percent of GDP, instead of 30-40%. Yet the welfare state has visibly altered the incentive structure for immigrants. One of the ways it shows up is that, in the last Great Wave, somewhere up to 40% of all immigrants ended up going home. If they failed in the workforce, there was no safety net. Now there is. And net immigration is 90% of gross immigration.

Now the libertarian response to this is often to say, well, let`s just abolish welfare. Obviously, despite the reforms of the 1990s, the US has failed to do that. But it`s also important to note that we`re not just talking about welfare, strictly defined. We`re talking about transfer payments of all kinds.  One of the most important is public education, which currently represents a subsidy from the taxpayer to the student of some $8000 a year. And because of a Supreme Court ruling called Plyler vs. Doe, American school districts have to educate the children of illegal immigrants. So what rational immigrant is going to go home when his child is getting an education worth, or at least costing, two or three times the per capita GDP of his country of origin?

Of course some libertarians say, let`s abolish public schools too. And I agreeI`ve actually written a book advocating wholesale privatization of public education. But let me put it this way: at the very least, abolishing public education is going to take even longer than abolishing welfare. Meanwhile, immigration continues at a million and a half a year.

And the government is even trickier than this. It`s invented subsidies to immigrants that don`t pass through its books at all. For example, it`s required of all hospitals to treat patients for free if they can`t pay. This is how many immigrants get their health care. Private hospitals have to find the money from somewhere, so they pass the cost on to Americans with health insurance.

And then we get into the whole area of race-based “affirmative action”—in other words quotas, which the government has succeeded in imposing throughout public and private sector in America in the teeth of the letter of the law, with very little debate. They`re not trivial. Fifteen years ago in Forbes, I used standard techniques to estimate that they retard American economic growth by up to a percentage point.

The original rationale for quotas was that they compensated American blacks for the lingering effects of slavery and segregation. But all immigrants who belong to the so-called protected classesbasically non-whites—are eligible for affirmative action preferences, even though they by definition were not in the country to suffer any wrongs.

One of the interesting points about quotas is that they force you to think about race. The single most denounced passage in my immigration book Alien Nation was my reference to the fact that my son, Alexander, has blue eyes and blond hair. American intellectuals get hysterical about this sort of thing. Yet I was making an unimpeachable point: quotas are a zero-sum game. So if you import more members of the protected classes, you disadvantage Americans who are not members of the protected classes, as Alexander manifestly is not.

For this reason alone, when the government monkeys with the racial balance through immigration, it matters

Further practical problems with immigration arise in the area of freedom of speech. For example, in Britain there is a Race Relations Act and under it, people have been jailed for saying things, like blacks are disproportionately involved in crime, which are actually true. But truth is not a defense. The leader of the British National Party has been prosecuted for critical things he said about Islamic immigration in a private meeting—a prosecution conveniently launched on the eve of an election. Obviously this is an abomination. And it would not have come about if the government had not created through immigration policy racial minorities to whom the British (completely white until after World War II) were required to “Relate”.

There are similar atrocities in Canada, where the celebrated journalist Mark Steyn is currently running afoul of the quasi-judicial Human Rights Commissions. It hasn`t quite happened in the US because of the inconvenient fact of the First Amendment. But that problem is being worked on, with hate speech codes. As a practical matter, public debate is narrowing, as we saw in the reaction to the Ron Paul Letters.

Randolph  Bourne famously said that war is the health of the state. That the perceived need to combat an external enemy requires and permits government to assume increased powers that, of course, it never lets go. And we`re learning that again to our cost in the US, with the so-called War Against Terror.

But what I would suggest here is that the immigration influx of the late twentieth century into the US and the West in general has been the Viagra of the state. It has reinvigorated the state, when it was otherwise losing its powers because of collapse of socialism and the triumph of classical liberalism. It`s an aspect of what should be called neosocialism—the statists` argument for government control of society, not in the interests of efficiency—not because government can prevent another Great Depression etc.—but in the interests of equity, rooting out discrimination, racism and so on.

Immigrants, above all immigrants who are racially and culturally distinct from the host population, are walking advertisements for social workers and government programs and the regulation of political speech—that is to say, the repression of the entirely natural objections of the host population.

So these are the practical objections to the current situation from a libertarian perspective. Let`s look at things from the point of view of theory

Theoretical

The most obviously troubling problem from a libertarian perspective is the notion that support for free trade necessitates support for free immigration.

Some of the answer to this is clear from the preceding section. Imported goods are not people. Their arrival in a society is not subsidized by the taxpayer. Imported goods do not have implications for future transfer payments, much less freedom of speech. And, of course, imported goods don`t vote.

Also, as Hans-Hermann Hoppe has pointed out, imported goods differ from immigrants in that they are imported by someone who wants them. Both buyers and sellers volunteer for the transaction. But immigration is a unilateral decision by the immigrant. He arrives even if the host community does not want him. Arguably, he is trespassing. Government immigration policy amounts to what Hoppe calls forced integration.

Of course, you can have situations where an employer wants to import labor, usually cheaper labor, but his neighbors or the community at large don`t want him to. In the end, this raises the question of the legitimacy of collective action, which I`ll discuss later.

But there is also a practical point. The way immigration works in the welfare/transfer state like the US is that employers are privatizing profits from imported labor and socializing costs, such as education, health care etc. Obviously, this is indefensible for libertarians—but you don`t hear many American libertarians talking about it.

Libertarians would presumably agree that in a regime where property was completely private, property owners could exclude whomever they chose. This is actually what happened to Friedrich von Hayek. He was refused permission [PDF] to buy land in the Tyrolese village where he had spent his summers for many years on the grounds that the community did not want to sell to foreigners. Hayek thought this was perfectly reasonable—evidence that he, at least, had some sense of collective action.

(I say “libertarians would presumably agree” because private property in the U.S. is trammeled by public policy. For example, you can`t place a restrictive covenant on who your property can be sold to, part of the general assault on freedom of association that came with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Again, because of the general US hysteria about racism, this isn`t something that most American libertarians want to talk about, although from a theoretical point of view, it`s indefensible.)

What about property that is owned by the government i.e. most of the country? There is a libertarian argument that no-one, even foreigners, can be forbidden access to that. But Hans-Hermann Hoppe has countered that these public goods are actually held in common by taxpaying citizens, hence a species of private property.

To my mind, this is conclusive. Last year, Walter Block and Anthony Gregory published a response in the Journal of Libertarian Studies [PDF], which struck me as ineffective. But I will quote a footnote from it because it illustrates another problem with libertarian theory and immigration:

Another anomaly for the Hoppe position surfaces when we consider migration between cities and states within the US. If migration from, say, Norway or Brazil to the U.S. constitutes an unwarranted `forced Integration`, then why does not movement of people from, say, Texas to Ohio fall under this rubric too?

The answer, of course, is that Texans and Ohioans are Americans. But Walter, like many libertarians, simply does not recognize the reality, and the necessity, of the national community.

And this is my final point about libertarian theory on immigration.

Any libertarian must recognize the importance of the metamarket, the institutional framework without which markets cannot function. The most obvious example is that you cannot have a functioning market economy without property rights, a law of property.

But it`s equally clear that you can`t have a functioning market without some degree of cultural coherence. And that probably ultimately means ethnic coherence too.

In the US, public policy is breaking down that coherence by importing immigrant groups with vastly different cultural traditions. For example, somewhere over a quarter of the current influx is Mexican, an unusual if not unprecedented concentration. The Mexican elite is openly following a policy of dumping its poor on the US welfare system, resulting in an astonishing mass movement sometimes called the Mexodus.

The result of this is that American border towns that were Anglo a generation ago are now Mexican—and now have Mexican characteristics, such as crime, corruption, poverty etc. Mexicans are also bringing with them a predilection for labor unions, socialism and the repression of free speech—the major Mexican organization in the US has unblushingly begun a campaign to lobby the major American media to prevent them quoting or featuring immigration critics on the grounds that criticism of immigration is hate.

Walter Block says that it was contemplating this phenomenon of one ethnic group swamping another, specifically the Russians swamping the Baltic Republics, that caused Murray Rothbard to rethink his previously uncritical libertarianism on immigration.

Americans are taught that Diversity is our strength. But diversity is not strength. It is weakness, for a wide range of reasons. America, notably including its libertarians, has not thought through the implications of the post-Communist break-up into their component nations of the syncretic states that sought to base themselves on ideology or creed, as the US is now being encouraged to—the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.

Hayek had an interesting quasi-sociobiological explanation for the apparently immortal appeal of socialism. He argued that for essentially all of human history, we lived in small hunter-gatherer bands. Face-to-face relationships are much more intuitively comprehensible to us than impersonal ones. So a rent increase provokes the urge to bash the greedy landlords with rent controls, despite all the evidence that this reaction leads merely to shortages and inequity.

To extend Hayek`s point, it`s much easier to demonize a landlord if his features—language, religion—appear alien.

Conclusion

There is a reason there are no families in Ayn Rand`s novels. It`s because libertarianism is too often an incomplete philosophy. It takes little or no account of the non-atomistic aspect of the human experience, of human groups, their dynamics and differences.

It was to supply that lack that Rothbard and others tried to bring into existence a refinement of libertarianism, which incidentally accepted the need to control immigration: paleolibertarianism.

It`s tragic that this attempt has stalled since Murray`s death. I salute Hans, and all of you here, for seeking to revive it.

In conclusion, I`m going to cite, as I often do, and not least because Yuri [Maltsev] has already discussed him, Alexander Solzhenitsyn`s I970 Nobel Prize speech—a speech which I think is all the more remarkable because it marks Solzhenitsyn`s break with the ideology under which he grew up, which, very like modal libertarianism today, also denied the importance and legitimacy of national communities. Solzhenitsyn said:

The disappearance of nations would impoverish us no less than if all peoples were made like, with one character, one face. Nations are the wealth of mankind, they are its generalized personalities: the smallest of them has its own particular colors, and embodies a particular facet of God`s design.

I believe that America, and the historic nations of the West, represent a “particular facet of God`s design”.

Part of that design is liberty. Without the historic nations of the West, it will not survive.

Peter Brimelow is editor of VDARE.COM and author of the much-denounced Alien Nation: Common Sense About America`s Immigration Disaster, (Random House – 1995) and The Worm in the Apple (HarperCollins – 2003)