Fight the Welfare State with the Same Vigor you do Open-Borders!

border, borders

In his follow-up article to the first round of the French presidential election, Bric Butler explained at length that, while Marine Le Pen is no doubt a socialist economically, she is still the preferable candidate because of her security and border policy.

I found this argument to be quite interesting within the broader context of the libertarian border debate.

The core argument that closed-borders libertarians make is that for as long as the welfare state persists, borders must be closed. Internally, this logic makes relative sense: refugees and poor immigrants do not contribute to the same extent as taxpayers to the welfare system, and thus should not benefit, lest taxpayers be forced to cough up ever more money. (I have dealt with a problem in this reasoning in my previous column).

The problem, however, is that Butler argues that state socialism – presumably, including the welfare state – will persist in France, writing that state “socialism will not be deconstructed in France, even with the slightly more economically liberal Macron at the helm.” While he does not outright say so, it is implied that state socialism has become part of France’s political fabric, and is thus not something that can simply be legislated away. By this logic, however, France’s borders must be closed permanently, and libertarians must acquiesce themselves with Le Pen’s socialism, as the (invariably protectionist and rarely free market) closed-border candidate must be preferred to the free-movement-of-goods-and-people candidate.

Surely, closed-borders libertarians do not mean to imply that they will advocate for the closing of the borders, but then sit on their hands as far as the ‘closing’ of the welfare state goes? Butler acknowledges that Emmanuel Macron has more free market-inclined economic ideas than Le Pen, and, between him and her, he is more likely to rein in the welfare state (even though this is in and of itself very unlikely), yet Butler and closed-borders libertarians still support Le Pen.

This means that on a hierarchy of priorities, ending the welfare state (which is apparently a prerequisite for opening the borders) is lower than closing the borders! If closed-borders libertarians were merely pragmatists, as they often claim, they would regard ending the welfare state as more important than closing the borders, given that it is apparently the source of the problem.

The same libertarian paradox emerged during the American presidential election.

Rand Paul was widely condemned by libertarians as not being ‘libertarian enough’ and, from my observation outside the United States, I saw a great number of my libertarian American friends go from being anti-Paul to being pro-Trump. Paul was, by no means, an open-borders libertarian, but he spoke far more sense on border policy than Trump, who unashamedly appealed to fear and emotion. Gary Johnson, widely despised among closed-borders libertarians, was pretty good on economics, and was by no means a welfare statist. Yet, on a relative scale, he was an open-borders libertarian.

Surely, it cannot be said that Trump was ‘more likely’ to win when that likelihood was contingent, at least in part, on the support of the libertarians? Otherwise closed-borders libertarians would not have bothered supporting him in the first place, lest they believed that their support is of some value, if negligible. Indeed, if they believed their support of Trump would have made no difference, they would have felt comfortable rallying behind the likes of Gary Johnson – far more of a libertarian than Trump on any scale – than sticking it out with the Donald. These same libertarians persist to this day in their support of Donald Trump, and quite clearly regard their support as having some significance.

My question is the following: when do open-borders become justifiable, according to closed-borders libertarians? It seemed like the answer used to be ‘when the welfare state is abolished’ – but I am seeing less and less of an effort on their part to oppose the welfare state – at least not with the same passion as they do open-borders. It appears to have become a strictly-nationality-based phenomenon where ‘who’ is getting the welfare matters most, rather than the fact that the welfare exists at all.

This will likely not be my last column on the borders debate, as I am just getting warmed up. I commented in my previous column that there are a lot of mixed messages and is significant confusion in the debate between open- and closed-borders libertarians. I simply hope my contribution to the discussion might lead to clarity, and, eventually, some kind of resolution. Not necessarily agreement between the two camps, but a meeting of the minds.

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Martin van Staden is the Editor in Chief of Being Libertarian and He has a law degree from the University of Pretoria. His articles represent his own views and beliefs, and not that of any of the organizations he is involved with.