The limits of open borders advocacy

Here is a very good piece by The Mitrailleuse, though I do not agree with all of it.  Here is the conclusion:

In summary, the libertarian discussion surrounding immigration shouldn’t be viewed as an all or nothing proposition and as Sanandaji has argued, it should take real world empirical patterns into account rather than assume away voting, the public sector, and social externalities. Libertarians should adopt the same skeptical economist’s view they apply to all other subjects when weighing questions about immigration to determine if we can actually affect the changes we would like to make.

It is perfectly acceptable for libertarians to disagree on such a complex subject and to hold opinions in favor of more marginal change. There are plenty of modest ways libertarians can criticize the existing immigration system without being in favor of open borders. These libertarians shouldn’t be vilified for their humility and prudence. There is no academic consensus on the subject and the issue is too complex and contextual for there to be a clear-cut libertarian position. The burden of proof lies on advocates of open borders to engage these criticisms.

For the pointer I thank Andrea Castillo.


"Open borders" is not a "libertarian" position. In a libertarian regime, there are no borders and no immigrants, only owners, tenants and trespassers. All movement off your own property would require permission. And if no intervening property owners will allow egress for your army of cheap berry-pickers from Guatemala, too bad. No government to lobby for visas and civil rights protections and public infrastructure.

" there are no borders and no immigrants, only owners, tenants and trespassers" Ummm....sounds pretty feudal. thanks I guess for clarifying that. Probably a good reason to identify as a classical liberal rather than a "libertarian"

Classical liberalism is a transitional state. Liberal societies must either succumb to invading illiberal peoples, or they must cease being liberal.

Yes, the future is probably neo-feudalism, whether the libertarians or the statists like it or not.

The entire Western Hemisphere is an example of illiberal societies withering away without conquest by neighboring liberal states. Of course, it helps to have a massive ocean on each flank.

"All movement off your own property would require permission."
This is an important point: anarchist libertarians certainly are NOT for "freedom of movement": movement will be restricted way, way more under an anarchist-libertarian regime than it is today.

Ostensibly there will be more or less universal rights of passage through defined corridors. The anarcho-capitalists can't fathom the enormous transaction costs and inefficiencies based on what land each individual find most suitable for transit. If you talk to them for more than a few minutes, you learn that inefficiency is a feature, not a bug.

And of course the only way to enforce those rights would be to actually see the person crossing your land, and shoot them in the act. So if you have a big enough land you'd have to spend 100% of your time on mounted patrol. This does appeal to some people though.

This is not a libertarian regime, this is an anarcho-capitalist regime. It is also a global anarcho-capitalist regime, else there is pretty obviously a border at the edge of the finite anarcho-capitalist regime, and that's the one that is relevant for this discussion.

If you want to argue that libertarians must all ceaselessly advocate global anarcho-capitalism, go right ahead, but I think it would pretty much mark the end of the libertarian movement if any significant number of them were to agree with you.

What is the distinction between libertarian and anarcho-capitalist?

Is the former, "just enough government to enact my preferences?"

Libertarians is the larger set, and libertarians mostly favor government taking care of the things that haven't been routinely handled privately in the past, especially national defense, courts, some right-of-way-related services like roads, and some things that for technical reasons are hard to slice into tidy individual property rights (maybe aquifers, e.g.). Depending on how hard core they are they may also favor public education or other things. Anarchocapitalists are harder core than that, and have various ideas about how even those things might be best handled without creating an unaccountable central authority. (So some of the institutions that they would create end up prompting critics to say "gotcha, hahaha, so you would have a government after all" and the ancaps reply that no, what bothers them about government is not its capability of defending against external enemies, but e.g., its power to arbitrarily send you off to die in its service, to rewrite the law at will, and to imprison or kill its critics. Thus as ancaps they feel pretty darned good about an institution which defends against external enemies without the drawbacks of a government. It is an interesting question whether their designs might work.) AFAIK there aren't many book-length treatments of anarchocapitalism, and _Machinery of Freedom_ is the best one. There are lots of books on the more usual garden-variety libertarianism, and furthermore it's close to ideas you could get at book length from older thinkers like some of the Whigs.

Their principles are laudatory and their idwas worthy of consideration, but libertarians and ancaps, as you call them, have a self destructive streak. First, they have religious devotion to the purest form of their views; any adulteration is intolerable. Second, they run from pragmatism, blind to the fact that the properties of our political system have a strong effect on the outcome. Third, the only examples of their world in action are found in fiction (which they quote as gospel). I sincerely worry about their health and sanity.

I am a moderate pragmatic libertarian.

"Just enough government to enact my preferences" would be monarchism. Specifically, the rule of John I, Emperor of These United States and Protector of Mexico.
But I'll need the death ray up and running to make that happen, and nobody has yet found a big enough diamond for the main focusing crystal.

Until then, anarcho-capitalists believe that there should not be a government, and libertarians believe that there should. Libertarians frequently, and legitimately, disagree about exactly how much government and exactly which preferences should be enacted, but agree that certain social functions are necessarily performed by government. Administering public lands is one of those functions. The extent to which government funds should be used to turn some public lands into paved public roads is one of the contentious debates, but a libertarian regime will be tied together by public access ways of some sort.

Anarcho-capitalists will find a private substitute for every government function, including law enforcement and national defense, and assert that the entities performing these functions will not become de facto governments. Some of their proposals are interesting and not obviously wrong, and I'd kind of like to see them tried - far, far away from here. And I'd like to see more thought given to the public access / travel issue; most anarcho-capitalist writings I have seen do implicitly acknowledge something akin to public land with at best vague handwavings as to why it hasn't been privately claimed or why the private claimants are generously maintaining it as a near-substitute to traditional public lands.

I don't quite understand. Did you mean to say that all movement *onto* your own property would require permission? That makes sense to me. But why would movement *off* your property require your permission?

Because if all property is privately owned, then you need the adjacent property owner's permission to move from your property on to his property. There is no a priori right to travel.

Ah! Got it. Thanks.

All movement off your own property would require permission.

Fortunately, anyone living in such a regime quickly recognizes the practical impossibility of operating under this constraint.

That's why we have hundreds of years of common law defining unowned rights of way. Every property unless explicitly penned in by, say, an HOA, has a right of way to larger rights of way that guarantee the ability to reach every other property not explicitly penned in.

Of course, the ability for every individual to reach a property does not mean every individual has a right to be on that property: that is up to the property owner to decide. But property rights are materially curtailed if the property owner does not have the right to have those he invites to his property to reach his property. Hence rights of way.

Death to anti-immigrationists. That simple. We don't need more tolerance for these racists, we need less. As this: 'the burden of proof lies on advocates of open borders to engage these criticisms": easy. Look at the world of biology. Every successful animal--the rat, the flea, the cockroach-- is the product of a stressful environment where the animal mixes freely. Every animal that went extinct (the dodo, the Tasmanian tiger, Stellar's sea cow) was in a cloistered environment where little mixing occurred (typically an island, as in closed borders). Successful people mix, just like in social networking. Evolutionary dead ends don't. Face it: the future master race will be some shade of brown, with oriental features. Might as well embrace it (him, her).

Fighting words, friend-o. And it is going to come to that. It's already the case in the Middle East, where life is not turning out like a Coca-Cola commercial.

Chimpanzees go to war over territory all the time. So do lions and hyenas. In fact, what prey animal out there does not have territory that they fight tooth-and-nail for? I can sit on my porch and watch mockingbirds doing that.

You're posting from the Phillipines--ask them how Spanish immigration turned out for their culture.

If you compare to PNG, I would say the effect of Spanish immigration was beneficial.

Spanish immigration devastated traditional Filipino culture. The effects were horrific, and are still felt today.

I'm not your friend-o, compadre.

And are the rats struggling to engineer a better world in which all members of the species are lifted out of poverty and pain and into self-actualization and freedom from illness and death? Or are they just surviving? If all you want to do is make sure the human race survives maybe you could be right, although probably not.

By the way, I direct you to this page:

In order to convincingly support the statement that "Every animal that went extinct ... was in a cloistered environment where little mixing occurred" one would have to explain that process for every known extinct animal.

Life on earth has experienced a number of great extinctions. Apparently these were caused by environmental changes. I suppose one could say that, up until their extinction, the species that perished in one of earth's great extinctions had been excessively "cloistered." I suppose one could also say that these same extinct species eventually found themselves in an overly "stressful" environment. So what was the cause of extinction for a given species? Excessive cloistering or excessive stress?

And, anyway, isn't cloistering a kind of stress?

Is this even a meaningful discussion?

@Al - cockroach, rat, flea (though they can be very picky at times), fly (id), ants (id) (some ants are endangered or extinct, but not the Argentine ant). Those are my witnesses and I rest my case.

Apparently the Earth is a cloistered environment for some extinctions.

His observation has lost contrast. Every extinction, by definition, comes from an environment of fixed size that cannot be escaped and to which the extinct species cannot adapt. If there is a lesson to be learned, it is that the larger the environment in which a species lives, the more outs you have from potentially catastrophic environmental changes.

There are clearly some environmental changes too large for any form of life to adapt. Genetic diversity is not sufficient for survival. First, many traits are immaterial to survival. Second, concentration of traits is often necessary to get a new, superior trait off the ground.

you start off saying we don't need more tolerance of racists, and end by describing the physical features of the future "master race." how provocative.

but how do we even know that a "master race" will actually emerge from the current human population? have there been successful human "master races" in the distant past, when the formal state didn't exist and "successful people mixed"? if so, what happened to those master races? i mean, how long does a "master race" last before some other "challenger" emerges and displaces it?

@Al- a very long time. Ginghus Khan is with us today. So is Neanderthal Man the latest studies show.

Brazil is quite mixed race, but there is nothing to indicate that the mestizoes are some sort of master race. Your argument based on human hybrid vigor is clearly lacking in evidence.

"Death to anti-immigrationists. That simple. We don’t need more tolerance for these racists, we need less"

How nice of you to wish death upon me, and other like minded people. You sound like a coward stuck behind your keyboard.

how about this: have a "master race" but let anyone join it, kind of like a political party. that way you get the free and open mix of people.

also, all members of the "master race" agree to a mutual defense pact to protect each other from external threats and a mutual aid pact to promote each other in their chosen fields. that way the "master race" will have a higher life expectancy and more financial resources (so they'll be "successful people").

i'm not sure what the physical features of the group would be though.

To a first approximation, all species that have ever existed are extinct.

This might be the most confused application of Darwinian thinking to the human condition that I have ever come across.

@BD - no, use confuse extinctions caused by mass events with what I posit. A good book on this is: Extinction: Bad Genes Or Bad Luck? by David M. Raup (you notice Raup leaves open the question that I precipitously closed).

Ray, I confuse nothing. Just stop while I still have respect for your opinions in your ares of competence (chess, intellectual property, young Filipinas.)

It seems as if I need to buy more ammunition.

Without magazines, you have nothing but a clumsy single shot weapon.

A master race implies a servile race beneath it.

According to mr. Lopez the slave race will be the "racists", that is if they are not killed off

"Look at the world of biology. Every successful animal–the rat, the flea, the cockroach– is the product of a stressful environment where the animal mixes freely."

All animals defend territory. The immune system itself is a way of keeping out unwanted "immigrants," as are cell walls. And calling anyone who disagrees with you a racist is childish.

According to you, when should Ukraine open its borders to unlimited Russian immigration? Ask your Filipino friends how they would feel about opening the country up to unlimited immigration from mainland China. It's not all about "race."

The author seems to think that libertarianism is the same as utilitarianism. It's not.

Maybe you could let Mark Lutter (PhD student in economics at George Mason University) know, so he can inform his fellow contributors of their error.

Alex, taking account of the practical consequences of a policy does not equate to utilitarianism: it is called "prudence," an ancient virtue. Now, if what you mean to say is that to be a libertarian, one must lack prudence, well, I can't disagree there!

"Tread carefully" or your argument against mine might make you "racist". PC thuggery at its lowest. Why would anyone engage with a pinhead who writes such things?

Not sure how that comment ended up up here. It was meant in response to the paste-eater below.

Would The Mitrailleuse apply the same argument to import quotas? If not, what is the economic difference here? (Note: Arguing that "people are not fungible" in response to this question implies racism, so respondents should tread carefully here.)

I agree that open borders advocates should engage these criticisms. The Mitrailleuse linked to one of the pages at I presume he also read the many other pages at that website that do, in fact, engage these criticisms. If so, shouldn't he respond to those arguments? Isn't that where the conversation is now?

It does not imply racism even if you think genetics is racism. An equally viable explanation is culture. Doesn't really matter which it is, does it? Just the empirical facts.

As a freedom-oriented liberal (why do I need both descriptions? One should do), I believe there should be little or no commercial protection and that all countries should have loosen immigration restriction perhaps leading in time to world-wide open borders. But I don't say that as a matter of fundamental right.

Protectionism and restrictive immigration laws are bad policies, and they hint at ugly politics, but they are just the kind of bad laws that countries are morally allowed to make. That is they don't violate fundamental rights of citizens. Here I differ from many liberals because I think "country" is an important moral category. Such restrictions within countries are morally unacceptable -- though I wouldn't advocate war to prevent them from being imposed.

"(Note: Arguing that “people are not fungible” in response to this question implies racism, so respondents should tread carefully here.)"

Explain to us how methodological individualism implies racism, Rod.

I'm not Rod, I'm Ryan. No relation to Rod that I know of. His middle initial is T. Mine is P.

If one were to argue that each individual immigrant is not fungible and is different from every other individual immigrant, then we'd be talking about "methodological individualism." If this is what you mean by "people are not fungible," then I agree with you.

If, on the other hand, you want to argue that categories of immigrants are categorically similar to each other, but categorically different from natives, who in turn are categorically similar to other natives, but categorically different from immigrants... in that case it is you, not I, who has compromised methodological individualism.

"in that case it is you, not I, who has compromised methodological individualism."

Not if a given group of immigrants is, indeed, empirically categorically different from natives. Do you think this is an impossibility?

I encourage you to make your empirical case. I love it when immigration restrictionists spell out exactly why they think immigrants are "different," because it makes the ethical case for open borders that much clearer.

By all means, proceed.

Arab Muslims and Jews.
Chechens and everybody.
Roma and everybody.
Aztecs and Spaniards.
Boers and Zulu.
Greeks and Turks.
Armenians and Turks.
Kurds and Turks.
Cherokee and Anglo-American.
Aborigine and Anglo-Australian.
Manchurians and Japanese.
Tibetans and Chinese.
Sunni and Shia.
Sunni and Christian.
Shia and Zoroastrian.

I can probably think of more but you get the idea.

Well, Ryan, one way they are certainly categorically different is they are not acculturated to the country they wish to emigrate to, right?

Isn't the different rates of economic success among different ethnic groups in the US empirical evidence suggesting that some different groups are categorically different from each other?

(Oh, no! I didn't tread carefully... All is lost!)

1. "Labelism" is polluting this discussion in many ways.

2. Why people want to self-identify with a label and compress whatever nuanced beliefs they may have into one or two words is beyond comprehension.

3. "Open Borders" is an idiotic way to label policies that support immigration, whatever they may be.

4 Opposing any policy whose proponents are stupid enough to call it "Open Borders", whatever it actually is, does not mean you are racist.

Very good.

How to know you read far too much military SF - when the title of a group blog screams 'rapid fire weapon.'

'A mitrailleuse (French pronunciation: ​[mitʁajøz]; from French mitraille, "grapeshot") is a type of volley gun with multiple barrels of rifle calibre that can fire either multiple rounds at once, or several in rapid succession.'

The biggest problem with libertarian open border advocacy it's largely constituted as advocacy in the first place. Weird, emotional arguments that libertarians (and most other folks) would laugh at under normal circumstances.

To wit, the first couple of responses here are all simplistic and stupid. On one side there's glee at the prospect of abolition of thousands of years of legal development. On the other, there's calls for death and intolerance.

The article is right. We, including both sides, aren't as smart as we think we are, and the correct answer to not knowing something is to be cautious and assume we don't know everything.

Tyler's trolling Bryan Caplan again...

I think he's trolling Alex Tabarrok. Successfully.

People, people, the article is not arguing about border policy, it's arguing about discourse within the libertarian movement. "Traditionally, libertarianism has welcomed a plurality of views on the immigration question." is the first sentence! When you have posts like this:

and Bryan Caplan's entire blog output, as well as the near universal support for unrestricted open borders from big-name libertarians (yes, this is what they are advocating for!), libertarians expressing reservations about open borders feel excluded from the movement. Since humans are not atomistic individuals, this does hurt, and whining about how "labels are stupid" just means one should learn more psychology. Besides, if one is confidant in one's position, one should be able to handle criticism (other than the favorite criticism, pointing-and-sputtering "RACIST!").

This seems to be making consequentialist arguments on a topic many view as more appropriately thought of through virtue ethics. In that case, it won't advance the conversation one whit.

I wonder if there is a causal link between being on the autism spectrum and advocating open borders. It seems like many of the advocates don't appreciate the more subtle social nuances of group dynamics. Perhaps we need a regression analysis.

SE(gay)--seems you like to link genetics with every human choice, in a deterministic way, and this is plain error, though you do seem to imply you understand subtle social nuances. Sometimes societies simply choose to live a certain way (say North Korea, Cuba) that is closed, to their detriment. Or take being 'gay'. In ancient Greece, it was acceptable to have an older man have sex with a much younger man, but two older men having sex was deemed ridiculous (check out the articles by the Columbia university historian Peter Gay on this topic, no pun intended; btw he as also written some excellent history on social conventions). This is the exact opposite of today. Further, there was no biological basis for homosexual behavior in ancient Greece, as Aristotle noted in his tome Politics, since neighboring city-states had different attitudes about same sex behavior. By contrast in modern times there's almost always a biological argument made ("born this way") since social convention has shifted and it's considered creepy by the majority almost everywhere to engage in homosexuality (maybe Polynesia, with their adolescent rights of passage 100+ years ago, was the last exception to this rule).

I am an awesome repository of human wisdom. Repository not suppository!

"Further, there was no biological basis for homosexual behavior in ancient Greece, as Aristotle noted in his tome Politics, since neighboring city-states had different attitudes about same sex behavior."

Elsewhere, I lay out rules of logic. You should give those a read.

Yep, they've addressed that canard, too.

Writing "nuh-uh" isn't "addressing a canard," Rod.

"I may be inclined to think twice about open borders if those who were arguing against it weren’t also the same people claiming that immigrants are a genetically inferior group of people."

Come on. How many people who are educated enough to know what Asperger's Syndrome is and could therefore accuse your side of being debilitated by it would make an argument about immigration, writ large, hinging on immigrants' genetic inferiority to natives? Nobody.

If this is what passes for substance at, I suppose I can continue on my merry way, completely ignoring that website.

If that's your attempt at a rebuttal, your mental problem isn't autism

"I wonder if there is a causal link between being on the autism spectrum and advocating open borders. It seems like many of the advocates don’t appreciate the more subtle social nuances of group dynamics."

Right. To use Simon Baron Cohen's way of thinking about the autism spectrum, open borders fanaticism based on logical principles about how the world ought to be is one variant on extremely male thinking.

The people who fall prey to this tendency are smart enough that they ought to be able to recognize it in themselves and have a good laugh over the way they tend to get carried away with concepts.

The people who fall prey to this tendency are smart enough that they ought to be able to recognize it in themselves and have a good laugh over the way they tend to get carried away with concepts.

No, that's what your wife and younger brother are for.

The writer seems to be unaware of the rather large collection of libertarian rebuttals to her points. Her thesis that libertarians don't deal with her concerns is incorrect.

See, Journal of Libertarian Studies, Michael Huemer, and work by the Cato Institute that addresses each and every one of her concerns in detail.

Its funny. Everything the writer mentions is so obvious to normal people.
But becauese of the silliness of libertarians it is considered to be thoughtfull.

The libertarians on this blog appears to be very angry. EVERYTHING in the world just support their world view. There can be no such things as "disagreement" on this issue. Open the borders. End of discussion. It is that simple.

When a party/movement/school of thought is out of power, it usually exhibits this degree of absolutism.

For example, most of us are believers in "free speech," yet recognize that there are (perhaps!) areas in which it should be curtailed (e.g., fraud). Because we live in a society in which freedom of speech is generally recognized, we are free to enumerate and discuss exceptions. But if we were in, say, the Soviet Union, our rallying cry would simply be: "free speech now!" We wouldn't have room on the banner for the footnotes.

This is a good point. More generally, any party or candidate out of power can run on vague principles while the party or candidate in power has to run on detailed plans and accomplishments. Governance is harder than campaigning.

And libertarians, with almost zero experience in governing, havent developed a sense of humility from failure and political loss. They also cant run on experience. So they quote Ayn Rand and declare themselves the debate winners.

Gotta add hot water to warm up the bath tub.

It's not about adhering to absolutist principles but moving in the direction of greater liberty in all aspects of life. Thinking libertarians are happy to take the marginalist approach. :)

Well that's kinda my point. I consider myself a libertarian, but compared to my friends who are actively evangelizing and plugging for the Libertarian Party, or those who daily quote Ayn Rand, Im a fascist because I believe in public goods, efficiency, externalities, and moderate government. It leads me to believe that the spectrum of people calling themselves libertarian is quite wide, and thus the label cannot adequately describe them. The concept of libertarianism becomes fuzzy, and the public image is shaped by vociferous nutjobs.

In my view, libertarians ought to seek influence within one party or the other, but they seem to delight in being the spoiler, usually to their own detriment.

I agree. It's a little disturbing when an idea like "the libertarian discussion surrounding immigration shouldn’t be viewed as an all or nothing proposition.., it should take real world empirical patterns into account" is considered wise and insightful rather than simple common sense. I think there is a lot unthinking zealotry and motivated reasoning going on amongst the open borders set.

Agreed. Libertarians "shouldn't be vilified for their...humility".

I would add that the claim that anyone who opposes open borders is a "xenophobe" is worryingly similar to the claim that people who oppose the welfare state "hate the poor." In other words, it's a strawman.

Of course youre right. Im an immigrant myself, and my family had to go through the process of legal immigration three times in order to get to the US.

Open borders advocacy is the reductio ad absurdum of liberalism. A liberal might think "hey, if Africans are so wonderful, why not import, say, 100 million of them" but would most likely use crimestop to stop short of that thought, as the thought of a hundred million Africans coming into America in a short period might induce heretical thoughts.

Fallacy of composition too.

So colonialism is fine now? Okay then.

"Libertarianism in one country" is much more feasible than "open borders libertarianism:"

Are these open borders guys for open admissions at GMU? No? That seems racist to me. Time to put the beer back in the fridge and cancel the cheese-crust Dominos order freshmentarians! Live to discuss private toll roads and bridges and refusal to pay taxes another day!

Why should someone who holds a "libertarian" position on some issues have to apologize for holding a position that does not tow the "party line" on other issues.

The argument above about how a certain line of argument is "racism" reminds me of the recent Scott Sumner post at Econlog about how labeling something with an ambiguous word with negative connotations doesn't advance the argument.

As to whether Open Borders advocates are autisticy, maybe, (maybe all economists are autistic), but Bryan Caplan doesn't seem driven by out-of-control mental models over this issue as much as he seems intoxicated by the idea of being a Great Man on the Right Side of History. This romantic view of his own role in history would flow more from the right side of the brain than from the left.

There are NO LIMITS to Open Borders Advocacy! Open Borders are going to save the world economy

I have a tent set up in Alexandria.

I attended a Libertarian Party meeting in Boulder, CO once. Fascinated by the number of libertarians who proudly said they don't vote because the System is rigged.

As I often say, libertarianism is not a suicide pact.

"Libertarians should adopt the same skeptical economist’s view they apply to all other subjects"

If that did that, they would be Center Right Liberals.

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