Thursday, September 10, 2015

Refugees and Migrants in a World of Government Meddling: "I Too Have Fled My Country"

By Per Bylund

[Updated Author’s Note: The issue of immigration has only become more pressing over the ten years that have passed since this article’s original publication. And, unfortunately, the libertarian movement has not reached a consensus on this issue. But it should be easy, considering how government is at both ends of the problem: government is the number one reason people choose to escape their countries, whether because of governments’ war or devastating poverty due to the lack of opportunities in regulated markets; and government is the reason ordinary people, in a desperate state because their lives have been forcefully uprooted, have a hard time choosing where to lead their lives in peace. The desperation is due to the so-called “failings” of their own governments, and augmented by ours.

I too have fled my country, though not because I’m fearing for my life but because I sought a better life and greater opportunities. While the immigration issue generally focuses on people from poor countries with little skill or education, it is hardly the case that governments welcome people at the other end of the spectrum: the highly productive, highly educated, and hard-working. On the contrary, government is the least forgiving, least reasonable, and most costly when it deals with non-citizens — those who cannot hold government officials accountable in any sense and do not have a voice. This should make immigration a prime target for the libertarian argument for freedom, peace, and property.]

Immigration Controls and the State

The pre-1914 world saw no immigration issues or policies, and no real border controls. Instead, there was free movement in the real sense; there were no questions asked, people were treated respectfully and one did not even need official documents to enter or leave a country. This all changed with the First World War, after which states seem to compete with having the least humane view on foreigners seeking refuge within its territory.

The “immigration policies” of modern states is yet another licensing scheme of the twentieth century: the state has enforced licensing of movement. It is virtually impossible to move across the artificial boundaries of the state’s territory in the search for opportunity, love, or work; one needs a state-issued license to move one’s body, be it across a river, over a mountain, or through a forest. The Berlin Wall may be gone, but the basic principle of it lives and thrives.

Immigration controls are not different from other kinds of licensing even though it has been awarded a special name. Licensing has the same result regardless of what is licensed: licensing of physicians causes poor health care at higher cost just as licensing taxi businesses causes poor and untimely service at high cost — licensing on movement means restricted freedom and higher taxes for people (whether “citizens” or “foreigners”). From a libertarian point of view it should be clear that all licensing needs to be done away with, including licensing for immigrants.

Yet the immigration issue seems to be somewhat of a divide within libertarianism, with two seemingly conflicting views on how to deal with population growth through immigration. On the one hand, it is not possible as a libertarian to support a regulated immigration policy, since government itself is never legitimate. This is the somewhat classical libertarian standpoint on immigration: open borders.

On the other hand, the theory of natural rights and, especially, private property rights tells us anyone could move anywhere — but they need first to purchase their own piece of land on which to live or obtain necessary permission from the owner. Otherwise immigration becomes a violation of property rights, a trespass. This is an interpretation of a libertarian-principled immigration policy presented by Hans-Hermann Hoppe a few years ago, which since then has gained increasing recognition and support.

To a non-libertarian bystander, the discussion of the two alternatives must seem quite absurd. What is the use of this libertarian idea of liberty, if people cannot agree on a simple issue such as immigration? I intend to show that the libertarian idea is as powerful as we claim, and that there is no reason we should not be able to reach consensus on the immigration issue. Both sides in this debate, the anti-government-policy as well as the pro-private-property, somehow fail to realize there is no real contradiction in their views.

The Open Borders Argument

The people advocating “open borders” in the immigration issue argue state borders are artificial, they are creations based on the coercive powers of the state, and therefore nothing about them can be legitimate. As things are, we should not (or, rather: cannot) regulate immigration. Everyone has a right to settle down and live wherever they wish. This is a matter of natural right; no one enjoys the right to force his decision upon me unless it is an act of self-defense when I am violating his rights.

In a world order based on natural rights, this would be true. It is a golden rule, a universal rule of thumb proscribing that I’ll leave you alone if you leave me alone; if you attack me or try to force something or someone on me, I have a right to use force to defend myself and what is mine.

The problem with this idea is that it has too much of a macro perspective. While arguing there should be no states and therefore no state borders, it presents arguments with an intellectual point of departure in the division of mankind into territorial nationalities and ethnicity. It is simply not possible to make conclusions on immigration to, say, the United States, if we start our argument from the libertarian idea. What is “immigration” in a world with no states?

The Pro-Property Argument

A less macro view on immigration is taken for granted in the pro-property argument. Here, the individual’s natural right to make his own choices and his right to personal property is the point of departure. Since we all have in our power to create value through putting our minds and bodies to work, we also enjoy a natural right to do as we please with that which we have created and place ourselves wherever we have property owners or guests. Or, as Hoppe puts it, “[i]n a natural order, immigration is a person's migration from one neighborhood-community into a different one.”

Consequently, the immigration issue is in real terms solved through the many choices made by sovereign individuals; how they act and interact in order to achieve their goals. There can simply be no immigration policy, since there is no government — only individuals, their actions and their rights (to property). The “open borders” argument is therefore not only irrelevant, since it has a macro point of view; it also fails to realize property rights as a natural regulation of movement. Since all property must be owned and created by the individual, government cannot own property. Furthermore, the property currently in government control was once stolen from individuals — and should be returned the second the state is abolished since property rights are absolute. There is consequently no unowned land to be homesteaded in the Western world, and so “open borders” is in essence a meaningless concept.

Libertarian Utopia

Immigration will thus be naturally restricted in a free society, since all landed property (at least in the Western world) is rightfully owned by self-owning individuals. Just like Nozick argues in his magnum opus Anarchy, State, and Utopia, a society based on natural rights should honor property rights in absolute terms, and therefore the rightful owners of each piece of property should be identified despite the fact that humankind has been plundered by a parasitic class for centuries.

What is to be considered just property when the welfare-warfare state is eventually abolished is not at all clear. Can one take for granted that the subjects (citizens) of a certain state have the right to an equal share of what is currently controlled by the government? Are they, at all, the rightful owners to what they currently control with the state’s legal protection? If we intend to seek the just origin of property, we need to roll back all transactions until the times before the modern state, before monarchies and feudalism, and probably to a time before the city states of ancient Greece. If we do, how should we consider the produced values of the generations we’ve effectively dismissed?

There is probably no way to sort out this unbelievable mess along the lines of absolute property rights. It should be dealt with this way, but I dare say it will be a practical issue when we get to that point, rather than a philosophical one.

A State Immigration Problem

Another problem of immigration and property arises from the social welfare system financed by money extorted from citizens. With the open borders argument, private property rights might be undermined even further if immigrants are entitled to special rights such as housing, social security, minority status and rights, etc. Also, immigrants will automatically become part of the parasitic masses through enjoying the common right to use public roads, public schooling, and public health care — while not paying for it (yet).

The concept of private property rights seems to offer a solution to this, but it is not really a way out: it is not as simple as “private property rights — yes or no?” Private property rights is a philosophical position offering a morally superior fundamental framework for how to structure society, but it does not offer guidance in what to do with non-property such as that currently controlled by government.

It is deceivingly simple to claim all of the state’s subjects have just claims to “state property” since they are entitled to retribution for years of rights violations. This is, however, only part of the truth. It is also a matter of fact that all private production to some degree is part of the rights violation process, with direct state support through subsidies, tax breaks, patent laws, police protection, etc., or indirectly through state meddling with currency exchange rates, “protective” state legislation, through using publicly-owned and maintained property and services for transportation, and so on. There is simply no such thing as just private property anymore in the philosophical sense.

Therefore, it is impossible to say immigrants would be parasites to a greater degree than, e.g., Bill Gates: the Microsoft Corporation has benefited greatly thanks to state regulation of the market, but has also been severely punished in a number of ways. We are all both victims and beneficiaries. Of course, one might argue that forced benefits are not really benefits, but only one aspect of oppression. Well, in that case it would also be true for immigrants, who too are or will be victims of the state (but perhaps not for as long as you and I).

A Libertarian Stand on Immigration

We must not forget libertarianism is not a teleological dogma striving for a certain end; it rather sees individual freedom and rights as the natural point of departure for a just society. When people are truly free, whatever will be will be. Hence, the question is not what the effects of a certain immigration policy would be, but whether there should be one at all.

From a libertarian point of view, it is not relevant to discuss whether to support immigration policy A, B, or C. The answer is not open borders but no borders; the libertarian case is not whether private property rights restrict immigration or not, but that a free society is based on private property. Both of these views are equally libertarian — but they apply the libertarian idea from different points of view. The open borders argument provides the libertarian stand on immigration from a macro view, and therefore stresses the libertarian values of tolerance and openness. The private property argument assumes the micro view and therefore stresses the individual and natural rights.

There is no conflict between these views, except when each perspective is presented as a policy to be enforced by the state. With the state as it is today, should we as libertarians champion open borders or enforced property rights (with citizens’ claims on “state property”)? Both views are equally troublesome when applied within the framework of the state, but they do not contradict each other; they are not opposites.

The above originally appeared at


  1. Given how any society in history has always been the product of disparate societies, ancient worlds mixed with modern ones, and so forth, I don't see how any society will be the product of one idea--libertarianism or anarchism or communism. Communism will always appeal to some people as will democracies, totalitarian societies, republics, and so forth. So not all libertarians argue from the point of view of seeking a libertarian world. That can be had today . . . now by slipping under the radar of the law.

    The other point he makes is that immigration is caused by government--either the pull in terms of free goodies to newcomers or pushes as in refugees from war or poverty. The problem with legal immigration is that many of these immigrants tend to side with the government who anoints them as citizens and grants them a rebirth with all kinds of perks. Legal immigrants become the government's most faithful. In truth, illegal immigrants, though they may be breaking immigration law, are the more libertarian or anti-government of the lot. I mean illegal immigrants are the enemy target of Conservatives, Republicans, and every legitimate political group in the U.S. Shouldn't that alone be reason enough, if not to embrace them at least admire them. Wouldn't illegal immigrants actually be the more entrepreneurial and more libertarian than most groups simply because they thumb their nose at the law?

    1. Many if not most illegal immigrants from Mexico are Mexican nationalists who are for socialism and gettin' even with 'the gringo' who they blame for their problems.

    2. Anonymous, your argument might be valid in the absence of the welfare state. As it is, many of the immigrants (I believe it is over 50%) go on some sort of welfare after arriving in the U.S.

      So, I suppose you could call it more entrepreneurial (if by that, you consider it enterprising to seek free money taken from the productive U.S. taxpayers), but you definitely could not consider that more libertarian. There is nothing libertarian about seeking to receive the fruits of another man's labor.

    3. @Dave,
      ─Many if not most illegal immigrants from Mexico are Mexican nationalists who are for socialism and gettin' even with 'the gringo' who they blame for their problems.─

      Even paranoids have enemies, as they say... Dave is no exception to this rule.

    4. @Old Mexiccan

      Even liars and idiots have enemies, as they say... Old Mexican is no exception to this rule.

  2. All this hypothetical world stuff, how about setting a standard for what a libertarian policy on immigration should be in the *real world*? Whether people are allowed to immigrate or not should be based on how libertarian the immigrants in question are, whether they're likely to make the country freer or less free because they will be voting like it or not. Things like their average rates of crime should be looked at as well, to see if they're going to make it a more peaceful society or add more violence to it. That should be the criteria. Anarcho-capitalism was a fantasy ten years ago when this article was written and it will likely stay a fantasy ten years from now and beyond. In the mean time we have the right to defend what freedoms and property we *do* have, we shouldn't just be mandated to be held hostage as millions pour in to redistribute wealth and impose socialism on us. Will we inevitably keep some people out who would have made the country freer and safer? Yes, but it's a necessary evil in order to prevent the even greater act of aggression imposed upon of having the will of the *majority* of the immigrants who are statists carried out.

    1. There is a standard real world libertarian policy on immigration:

      No welfare. The end. It's not unrealistic. It's not anarcho-capitalism "fantasy." It was reality for centuries, and it fits in just with fine the non-aggression principle, which is always libertarian policy.

      Your post is riddled with appeals to central planning and utilitarianism. For example, when you say that the average crime rate should be "looked at," you neglect to elaborate. Looked at by who, judged by a standard set by who, and enforced by who?

      Why do I feel like the answer would be DC, DC, and DC?

      Immediately following that, you accurately point out, "we shouldn't just be mandated," by people who, "impose socialism on us." Yes, true...but that contradicts your prior statement.

      And did you just say "necessary evil" in a post about libertarian policy?!?

      I'm not trying to be negative, just pointing out that you have some inconsistencies to clean up in whatever your view is.

    2. Dave: How would you administer your libertarian test? Right now, they ask questions like: Are you a terrorist? I presume most terrorists still would answer no (and not just because they don't consider themselves to be terrorists). If you ask people questions and they have to answer a certain way to get in, then they will answer that way, regardless of whether it's true.

      From your argument, it appears you're looking at collectives now (ie "things like their average rates of crime"). So, to do this, you need to go based on nationality or ethnic group, or religion, or whether or not they dress like hipsters (or whatever). Anyone truly fleeing a super oppressive regime where there is a lot of crime (state and otherwise) would be forbidden from coming to your country simply because their neighbors are wicked. Basically, the only immigrants your ideas allow are the ones that have the least reason to immigrate (which might not be a bug, but a feature of your policy).

      Now, the standard for a libertarian policy in the real world is the same as the standard in a hypothetical world (it's just a matter of degree). Any immigrant would need to have a place to stay, whether it be land/housing purchased or rented by them, a friend or family member who allows them to stay, or some charity that runs a new immigrant housing complex. Additionally, there could be no welfare benefits going to any immigrant ... period! If they cannot find housing, cannot support themselves (or receive voluntary charity from others for their support) or violate someone's property rights, then they have to go. It's really quite simple and would only require a welfare wall (something entirely feasible even under the current statist system.

  3. Way to sit on the fence. There is no place on Earth without a state/government. We, in these uSA, are no exception. A farmer lost his land to illegal immigrants in court. The only case? The property owners near the border with Mexico are losing cattle and their property is being damaged by trespassers coming from Mexico. These uSA are sinking and libertarians, aligned with the leftists and corporatists, are sermonizing about how great it is to let more people get aboard, against the wishes of the people trying to save the ship. Then, the libertarians have the blind faith that these immigrants will somehow see the light of libertarianism and adopt it. Yeah, right, after they learn English, or more likely, after they make you learn Spanish, and demand a more socially responsible government.

    1. Your argument makes it apparent that you neither read the article or any of the libertarian comments below it. No where does anyone make the argument that there should be immigration without respect to property rights. And no where does anyone claim that immigrants (illegal or otherwise) should be allowed access to welfare. More importantly, with welfare as an incentive, the libertarian position is that people looking to be net recipients of taxpayer moneys will be more attracted to the country. There is no blind faith that people will switch to libertarianism, after they have traveled to the U.S. simply for the free stuff. In fact, the libertarian position is the opposite.

      I'm beating a dead horse here, but maybe that horse likes it. The libertarian position, even in a modern statist society, is to protect individual property rights, and to deny welfare to any immigrants. Nothing soft there and nothing aligned with leftists who want to violate property rights and give everyone my money (and presumably yours, if you're also a net taxpayer).

      I suspect that you're distorted view on libertarian thought comes from MSM distortions, or from the inside-the-beltway quasi-libertarian squishes. If you spend more time here at EPJ or over at, then you will see that libertarianism jives with protection of private property far better than any of the tax-and-spend Republican socialist or corporatist politicians and "thought leaders".

    2. @JaimeInTexas,

      ─ libertarians have the blind faith that these immigrants will somehow see the light of libertarianism and adopt it. ─

      Why do you think the libertarian argument in favor of immigration is based on the idea that immigrants will embrace libertarianism?

      My argument for immigration is based entirely on the Non-Aggression Principle and Natural Law: A person has freedom. That freedom entails the freedom to move, to change locations. Nobody, not even the immigrant, has a right to impede the free and peaceful travel of a person. I don't care of the person happens to be a non-libertarian or a Justin Bieber fan, as long as the person respects the rights of others.

    3. There is no right of freedom to move in a world based on property ownership. Only the owners of a piece of property has a "right" to move on that property. All others much get the owners permission. If you want to go from Chicago to Boston you will have to negotiate with every property owner along the way and each can set their own rules and own compensation.

      If you do trespass on someone's property in order to move you are the one violating the non-Aggression Principle.

      As to "Natural Law", you will have to spell it out since there are various beliefs on such things

    4. I'm not sure if you're being disingenuous here or overly pedantic. Sure, you cannot freely move across someone's property without permission. However, roads will still exist in a stateless society, as will jets, trains, and other modes of transportation. These things won't suddenly disappear. And, they will be owned by someone (person, people, incorporated group of people). The owner of the road (or jet or whatever) will, unless they purchased them simply for personal enjoyment, have an interest in allowing passage on their owned property. In fact, that's probably why they bought it in the first place.

      So, you're right. A person cannot pass across strangers' property without permission. They can, however, move on the transportation owners' property with their permission (most likely for a fee, but in certain cases for free).

      Old Mexican's freedom to move is obviously meant as the freedom to relocate to another property where they have permission to reside from the owner of the property (ie themselves, if they purchased it, or some landlord).

    5. Old Mexican: I have asked you a couple of questions twice and you still have not responded.
      Are originally from Mexico? Do you support the right of a property owner's to protect and defend his private property? What about the losing the farm to an illegal immigrant/trespasser, in court?

      Anonymous: I read it and I do not misunderstand libertarianism. It is the suicide of libertarians to support open borders at this time. Better start learning Spanish and what "mordida" means.

    6. @DJF,

      ─There is no right of freedom to move in a world based on property ownership.─

      They're NOT mutually-exclusive, DJF. Your mistake consists in thinking that moving entails trespassing ipso facto, but if there were the case then every single individual would live and die in the exact same spot he or she was born.

      ─ Only the owners of a piece of property has a "right" to move on that property. ─

      Now you're engaging in equivocation. The right to move does not mean one has the right to move IN. Of course one has to seek agreement with owners just like any other trade, but just like you have the right to trade, you also have the right to move.

      Stop equivocating.

      ─If you want to go from Chicago to Boston you will have to negotiate with every property owner along the way and each can set their own rules and own compensation.─

      Really? So you think there would not be road owners? No airplanes? Please

      ─As to "Natural Law", you will have to spell it out since there are various beliefs on such things─

      There is nothing to believe. Natural Law is the result of logical deductions. Natural Law means a rule is true or right by itself and not because someone enforces it.

    7. @Anonymous,

      ─I'm not sure if you're being disingenuous here or overly pedantic.─

      DFJ also displays a lack of awareness. I specifically said that a person has no right to impede another person's free and PEACEFUL travel.

    8. Jaime en Tejas: which libertarians advocate open borders at this time without first eliminating welfare benefits to the immigrants? Seriously ... name some.

      I'm sure they exist. But I haven't yet seen any on here.

    9. Old Mexican, so you are a Mexican living in Mexico.

    10. To Old Mexican

      So you are saying that your Libertyville depends on roads created by government and that these would be open to all and so could bypass private property owners? I said a world based on property ownership, not one based on old forms of government.

      And yes roads could exist if the property owner decided to make them available but the rules would be of private ownership. Your travel on the road is just as dependent on the property owner giving permission as is any movement on that property owners property. He or she might allow you to travel on it, but not me, or maybe I can drive my horse and buggy on it but you can’t drive your semi-truck on it. Maybe there is a standard set of rules over a wide area or maybe not, it depends on the property owners and how they have negotiated with each other and with any possible users.

      ‘Right to Trade’????? There is no right to trade just like there is no right to move, you may move and you may trade but who or what is declaring this a right? Are you going to force me to trade like you want to force me to allow you to travel on my property? Trade like travel is something base on mutual agreement, there is no right involved, what is right is what is agreed too

      “””Natural Law is the result of logical deductions. Natural Law means a rule is true or right by itself and not because someone enforces it.”””

      Truth and right in itself? There are many things that some declare to be true and right and many others don’t. Some declare that property owners control the use of their property, others don’t

      “”””DFJ also displays a lack of awareness. I specifically said that a person has no right to impede another person's free and PEACEFUL travel.”””

      But you are not being peaceful when you walk across my property without my permission.

    11. DJF, is it your claim that no one would buy property to build roads without government?

      Your argument against private road owners setting their own rules is mind-boggling. I'm pretty sure that government sets its own rules, frequently to impede the flow of traffic and extort addition revenue through various idiotic ticketing practices. Unlike the market, government actually tries to discourage people from using service it provides.

    12. No, I am saying that you don't have a right to use a private owned property whether it is a road or anything else. The property owner determines whether you can use that property.

      Government does set its own rules and does sometimes impede traffic, at other times it takes private property and allows huge numbers of people to travel long distances. For example someone can travel from Boston to San Diego with little to stop them. All the property owners along the way have had their property stolen and their rights destroyed.

      A world based on private property would not have a right to travel, (except on your own property) only the ability to negociate with the property owners along the way. I cannot predict if you could travel from Boston to San Diego, that is up to the property owners involved

      Government is based on arbitrary rules, the free market is based on negotiations. Government may allow someone to travel from Boston to San Diego but not Boston to Mexico City. On the other hand a property based system would have the same trips determined by the property owners that the traveler needs to travel. Just like the same people would need your permisson to travel on your property

    13. "Jaime en Tejas: which libertarians advocate open borders at this time without first eliminating welfare benefits to the immigrants?Seriously ... name."

      Are you new to EPJ? Have you been to Target Liberty? Just two places where you will find people advocating open borders regardless of current welfare as it exists on the ground.

      Bylund, is one of several people that have stated the dilemna and my critique is that no path was formulated to advance libertarianism. Hence my fence comment.

      Old Mexican, who cowardly refuses to answer my questions, is an example. BTW, pretends to be a libertarian purist but seems to hide behind his citizenship.

  4. Mr. Bylund is mostly correct, however there are a few things that need to be teased out from his argument.

    First, he states that there is no unowned property in the western world. The only way that one could come to this conclusion for the U.S. is if you believe that: 1) the native american tribes have ownership of all unhomesteaded land; or 2) that each individual taxpayer has a share (proportionate or otherwise) in all unhomesteaded land. From his argument, it appears that his view is in line with number two. He, however, points out that determining how the currently government land would be allocated in a libertopia would be essentially arbitrary. Based on this, the conclusion would simply be that, no, not all land is owned. Many plots of land (in the Western states in particular) was considered sub-marginal and never settled (or homesteaded) at the time the government placed it off limits. The fact that nobody owned the land and that it would be impossible to decide on a proper allocation of ownership based on net tax payments vs. net tax benefits (whatever those are), means that the only proper solution would be to open the land up to homesteading.

    Secondly, there is a very real conflict in the two views in a statist system. Simply put, the open borders argument is completely anti-libertarian without the pro-property argument. The reverse is not true. The pro-property argument can stand on its own. Open borders with a welfare state requires further invasion of private property through increased taxation to pay for the benefits of the new recipients.

    Thirdly, Bylund gives credit to Hoppe for a Rothbardian argument on property rights. As far as I can see (and someone who is more well versed than me may correct me), the property rights argument Bylund details does not include any of Hoppe's unique (ie non-libertarian) arguments. Instead, it comes from a pure private property ownership perspective, given by Rothbard.