Libertarianism in One Country?

Top libertarian pundit Jacob Sullum wrote recently in Reason Magazine Online

You can move from Nome to Key West or from Honolulu to Bangor in search of a better life without getting official approval from anyone. Not so if you want to move from Tijuana to San Diego or from Toronto to Buffalo. The standard explanation for such distinctions revolves around the concepts of citizenship and sovereignty. But these terms seem to do little more than restate the puzzle: "Citizens" are the privileged ones who get to live and work in a particular place, because the government that exercises "sovereignty" there says so.  …If there's a compelling reason why a different standard should apply to immigration between countries, I haven't heard it yet.

  Jacob Sullum, "Moving Targets"

Well, as a free market fellow-traveler, perhaps I can supply the reason.   

A free market economy has two main advantages over a highly politicized system. Of course, it produces more wealth.  But equally importantly, it doesn't corrupt people as much as any system that uses the state's monopoly on violence to take money from one person and give it to another. (As illustration of the perverting power of combining normal human greed with politics, observe the career of the Rev. J. Jackson.)  

The potentially fatal weakness of free markets, however, is that they increasingly foster inequality.

Within America, income inequality has grown significantly since 1973, for a variety of reasons.  

  • The modern information-industrial economy offers fewer and fewer rewards to a strong back and more and more to a strong mind. In 1952, factory workers made 67% as much as engineers. By 1988, they earned only 29% as much. Today, if you look at young adult siblings raised in the same households, the ones in the top quarter of the IQ scale earn almost twice as much as their brothers or sisters in the bottom quarter of the bell curve.

  • We corrupted America's poor back in the 1960s by (temporarily) offering enough welfare for an unmarried woman to feed herself, her kids, and a boyfriend or two.

  • We've been importing large numbers of people from the less productive classes of the less productive nations. And we haven't come close to the bottom of the barrel yet. Only recently, for example, have non-Spanish speaking Indians from Chiapas and similar downtrodden regions in the south of Mexico begun to show up in America. Andean Indian peasants, favela-dwellers from the scenic slums of Brazil, and Africans (other than the wa-Benzi elites) have yet to figure out how to get to America. But, unless we make the effort, they eventually will.

  • By increasing the supply of low skilled labor, these immigrants drive down wages among America's less able citizens.

  • Population growth, which these days is wholly a product of current and recent immigration, drives up land prices. This makes it harder for working families to afford their own homes in immigrant gateway states. In the West, this drives native-born families out of the lush coastal regions and into the harsh deserts of the interior.

  • We haven't been importing many competitors for our homegrown verbal elites, so their earnings remain strong. American lawyers, for example, are overwhelmingly native-born. With the exception of a few British Commonwealth journalists, media workers are almost all American-born. Laws restricting government jobs to citizens protect federal bureaucrats. Politicians, of course, face little competition from hungry immigrants. So it's hardly surprising that the American establishment has year after year rejected overwhelming public support for limiting immigration.   

It's time for us good guys to take a lesson in prudence from the bad guys. As you may recall, Trotsky and Stalin had a little falling out. Trotsky wanted to pursue "permanent worldwide revolution." In contrast, Stalin thought it wiser to concentrate on "revolution in one country," and only pick off buffer states as circumstances allowed. Stalin won the debate with Trotsky through the penetrating power of his logic (and ice pick), and went on to be the most enduringly successful of the 20th Century's sizable cast of monsters.  

This is what libertarians must realize: There is staggeringly too much inequality in the world for America's love affair with capitalism to survive importing massive amounts of it. 

In The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor, Harvard economic historian David S. Landes wrote, "The difference in income per head between the richest industrial nation, say Switzerland, and the poorest nonindustrial country, Mozambique, is about 400 to 1." (For my review, click here.)

It's crucial to understand that a hankering for equality is not some fad instigated by Marxist college professors. It is deeply rooted in human nature. Just see what happens when you try to give one of your kids a smaller slice of the pie than you give the others.   

America's exceptional devotion to free enterprise was based on our being blessed with a nearly empty continent, populated only by Indians who, while brave and tenacious, were ultimately too thin on the ground to hang on to their property. Throughout American history, cheap land and high wages made possible a degree of equality of land ownership impossible to achieve in Europe without heavy government intervention. Even though 19th Century Great Britain enjoyed a higher degree of social mobility than was typical in Europe, around 250 families owned about 3/4ths of the real estate in the entire country. Today, after generations of punitive death duties, the Duke of Westminster still owns about 10% of London.

Socialism didn't happen here because we didn't need it to happen.

The eternal temptation of the wealthy, however, is to try to acquire cheap labor in order to grow even richer. Plantation owners imported and bred millions of slaves. After the Civil War, Gilded Age capitalists needed factory hands. They could have found them among the millions of oppressed blacks of the Jim Crow South. But they believed, no doubt rightly, that European immigrants were cheaper relative to their productivity.

As a nation, we're still paying for the slave trade, slavery, and the failure to incorporate the freedmen into the national labor market. One of the indirect costs is the vast prestige of liberalism even today, after decades of disastrous policies. The single most important reason liberals maintain their dysfunctional moral cachet in 2001 is because they were on the side of the angels in 1964.

In 1965, however, Congress changed the law to once again allow the importing of large numbers of cheap laborers. This has helped solve the servant problem of the current generation of the rich, but at the cost of slowly creating a new proletariat of voters who suffer from expensive land and low wages.

History shows that people in these conditions tend to vote for the Left. And who can blame them?

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog.]

March 19, 2001