Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Tangled Web of Anti-immigration Argumentation

By Robert Higgs

Probably the most often voiced objection to open immigration of all peaceful people is that “you can’t have open immigration and a welfare state.” (Even people as smart as Milton Friedman have made this objection.) But why can’t you?

Well, people claim, if you have a welfare state, the masses of the world will flood into the USA just to collect the welfare state’s “free stuff.” But why let them? Even under currently existing rules, undocumented immigrants are ineligible for nearly all welfare-state benefits. If a flood of immigrants will break the welfare-state bank, why not simply make immigrants ineligible? Case closed.

In that case, the opponents of immigration claim that making the immigrants ineligible for welfare-state benefits won’t work because they will find a way to get the stuff in one way or another. But this objection is, in effect, a declaration that the state is incompetent—which is not exactly a news flash, to be sure. So the anti-immigrationists insist that instead the government must “close the borders.”

Notice, however, that in this case the anti-immigrationists, having just insisted that the government is too incompetent to exclude ineligible immigrants from welfare-state benefits, now presume that the government is so competent that it can keep undocumented immigrants out of the country. This assumption is manifestly counter-factual, given that more than 10 million such immigrants are estimated to be living in the USA at present.

So, which is it, anti-immigrationist: is the government too incompetent to exclude ineligible recipients from getting benefits, or is it too incompetent to keep illegal immigrants out the the country—or is it both? If the government is simply incompetent at everything it does, then it doesn’t matter what immigration policy is adopted: whatever it is will fail to be implemented successfully.

At this point, of course, some anti-immigrationists will claim that the government is not too incompetent to exclude ineligible recipients from receiving benefits, but is deliberately giving them the goodies in order to flood the country with more future Democratic voters and anti-capitalist residents. But if the government is thus engaged in a conspiracy against its own stated laws and policies, what difference does it make that the government purports to be closing the borders, whether with a wall or with a string of random tactical nuclear explosions along the border? If the government cannot be trusted to carry out its own stated policy in one area, why should anyone trust it to carry out its own stated policy in another area?

Oh, what a tangled web they weave when once they turn to the government to do—well, pretty much anything.

The above originally appeared at the Independent Institute.


  1. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz !
    Let's just drop the government obsession for a moment.

    Why do Libertarians equate an unlimited stream of low IQ 3rd worlders with freedom ?
    Some of us no longer want these people here regardless of whether a "welfare wall" is in place or not.

    Has America become more free or less free since Hart-Cellar ?
    Coincidence ?

    1. 1965 85% white
      2009 65%
      2042 whites will be a minority

    2. Re: FormerIntelligent,

      --- Why do Libertarians equate an unlimited stream of low IQ 3rd worlders with freedom? ---

      Because it frees the more productive labor for other, more profitable endeavors.

      Next thing you're gonna say is that libertarians worship Capitalism like a god, or the "Tucker Carlson/Mike Pence Admonition".

  2. This argument is a straw man for many of the reasons Mr. Higgs raises.

    It is a libertarian argument, not an alt-right one.

    It does not reflect the historical record. It also is contra 70 years of post-1965 experience.

    History and current events show clearly that immigration of this scale always, ALWAYS, subsumes the native culture. If you think this is a good thing, I can find some Indians (feather, not dot) to talk about the error of your ways. Common cause with the globalists, regardless of the difference of your reasoning, makes you part of the problem.

    1. Advocating for state-mandated apartheid is not "libertarian" IMO.

    2. Re: Shimshon,

      --- It is a libertarian argument[...] ---

      No, it is not.

  3. My reading of this is it's a critique of government rather than a critique of anti-immigration. In all honesty, I gotta say that we've got all the diversity we can handle without further inflows.
    We also need fewer H-1B's and more aggie guest workers. That's gonna be tough with all the Silicon Valley donors and the Farm Worker's Union.

    1. Re: Cap'n Mike,

      It's a critique on the argument that borders should be kept closed by the same incompetent bufoons who can't seem to keep welfare benefits from the greedy hands of the same immigrants the anti-immigrant zealots want the government to keep out.

  4. Make it the law, as it already is, and enforce it. Oops. Who is going to enforce and what penalties?
    Higgs, do you live under HOA, or equivalent, controlled territory?

  5. The problem isn't immigration but the existence of the state and democracy. As long as people believe that the state has a right to cripple them from defending their own property against tax collectors and regulators, they will react the only way they can, by asking the state (via their vote) to protect them and their property by "building the wall." We have to go back to the beginning: #1 - Stop fostering the UTOPIAN belief that the only way a society can be civilized is for people to walk around unarmed and defenseless. #2 - Restore the natural and rational urge to defend oneself and one's property from all aggressors, which ultimately means ending the ability of a ruling class to tax and regulate and the ability of voters to make decisions about other people's stuff. Then, we will have no political borders to worry about, immigration won't be an issue, and the free market can prevail.

  6. Higgs is correct. It is a failure of the state.

    In Europe, the issues with refugee violence is the direct result of states not enforcing their laws. In essence, the state is point its gun at its own citizens, stating it will not protect them and they -- the citizens -- better not try to protect yourselves.

    And, ala Higgs, a state that actively protects the violent actions of any group (immigrants, refugees, or subgroups of the native population) against its citizens has no justification to rule.

    It seems very strange to want to strengthen the very entity that is the cause of the issue. That, more than immigration, is the real crisis.