For libertarians in modern day politics, there has been more commotion regarding the proper stance on borders than ever before. This confusion has focused on the debate between whether we should be proponents of ‘open’ or ‘closed’ borders, and depending on who you ask, you get completely conflicting answers.
Why this topic causes so much confusion among libertarians is a complete mystery, as the debate regarding the proper stance on borders has been self-evident for almost 50 years now. So self-evident in fact, that Murray Rothbard barely even addressed it in For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, spending less than a handful of its few hundred pages discussing it. Why it has been so prominent lately though can be attributed to a few things.
Let’s start with the overall increase in skepticism shown towards immigration, as it will certainly be brought up as a criticism later.
Nationalism has always been something promoted by the state, with an irrational fear of foreigners likewise trailing close behind. Immigration, however, has always been and still is an overall net benefit to an economy. For starters, immigrants do not ‘steal’ people’s jobs, because unless you own the company, you do not ‘own’ your job. Instead, they fill in the gaps left by most natives. In America, immigrants tend to be either exceedingly high or low skilled, complementing the majority of American workers who fall somewhere in the middle. Not only are immigrants less likely to commit crimes than natives, but research also shows that in America, immigrants are assimilating better than ever before. And although we can agree that we have a massively overblown welfare state, immigrants as a whole pay more in then they receive.
Part of the reason this illogical cynicism has been exacerbated in libertarian circles is due to the influx of both Democrats and Republicans abandoning their respective party, choosing to identify as libertarian with no real knowledge of its specifics.
These individuals, ranging from members of the alt-right all the way to full-blown communists, have caused the focus of the issue to be distorted. The ‘open’ and ‘closed’ borders distinction serves only to confuse most people through their subjective definitions, misleading many into arguing over inconsequential details. They have in essence academized libertarianism unnecessarily, much like what modern progressives have done with inequality and racism. Thus, taking a settled debate and adding excessive details, oftentimes complicating it to the point of arriving at the opposite answers.
Ironically, Rothbard predicted this would happen, and in For a New Liberty no less. In it, he refers to these groups through the borrowed Marxist terms of ‘left-wing sectarians’ and ‘right-wing opportunists,’ and wrote the following:
“The critics of libertarian ‘extremist’ principles are the analog of the Marxian ‘right-wing opportunists.’ The major problem with the opportunists is that by confining themselves strictly to gradual and ‘practical’ programs, programs that stand a good chance of immediate adoption, they are in grave danger of completely losing sight of the ultimate objective, the libertarian goal. He who confines himself to calling for a two percent reduction in taxes helps to bury the ultimate goal of abolition of taxation altogether. By concentrating on the immediate means, he helps liquidate the ultimate goal, and therefore the point of being libertarian in the first place. if libertarians refuse to hold aloft the banner of the pure principle, of the ultimate goal, who will? The answer is no one.”
With that in mind, we can better understand the libertarian stance on borders, which is the complete abolition of state-owned property, followed by a strict adherence to private property rights. There is no adaptation of government involvement in any issue surrounding libertarianism, and borders are no different. Every issue brought up by the sectarians and opportunists to muddy the waters does not hold water themselves. Claiming the need for government to close borders to combat a problem brought on by the state requires the abandonment of the libertarian foundation. We’d no sooner advocate for the government to nationalize our health industry to solve the current insurance ‘death spiral,’ brought about through a previous intrusion of government.
Likewise, the idea of handing the state more power to solve a state-sponsored problem is antithetical to libertarianism. It disregards both the truth that government cannot perform even the most menial tasks as efficiently as the market can, as well as the key argument that any authority the state is granted is never willingly given back. Instead, we should combat the state’s expansion and advocate its dissolution, specifically the policies aggravating the problems at hand, as aggressively as possible at each turn. For example, we may agree that the state is currently subsidizing immigration to the detriment of its citizens’ well-being, however, giving more authority to the state to solve this matter for reasons of ‘pragmatism’ only further incentivizes the state to cause crises in other sectors so that it may usurp more authority in its resolution.
But, even the great Murray Rothbard fought vigorously with himself over this, going back and forth later in life. If this tells us nothing else, it means that until such a time where it is the individual property owner’s choice, the border debate is done a gross injustice when reduced to the polarizing false dichotomy of ‘open’ or ‘closed.’
What solutions can we advocate in the meantime then?
Rather than fall prey to the circular logic of initial state expansion as a means of reaching the goal of abolition, we should spend our time calling out the problems the state is guilty of promoting and educating those we can of the discernable solutions the market provides. With regard to borders, this means calling for the immediate end to all the things currently being provided at the federal level possessing negative incentives. These include subsidized and preferential immigration policies, tax-funded border walls, and above all else, the welfare-warfare state. Similarly, the focus should also be put on decentralization, until the point where the authority resides in each private property owner, as mentioned earlier. We can fight to accomplish these things simultaneously.
Now, to some that are too entrenched in the debate to digest this truth, this may sound contradictory. But we must be vigilant not to allow the aforementioned opportunists to usher in more state power, so that they may wield it for their own ends. We can think of this in simpler terms through another analogy borrowed from Rothbard. We all believe in freedom of speech, yet we know from his teachings that this does not include the ability to yell fire in a theater, or disrupt a service in a private hall. While we want these rights upheld, surely, we would not advocate for the state to establish a ‘Ministry of Speech’ to achieve that end, as we know it would end up being a complete contradiction of its intended purpose. Likewise, we want private property rights, however, advocating that the state undertakes its implementation through monopolistic tactics should be seen as clearly self-defeating at this point.
The recent election process, however, has shown us that people are yearning for a change from the traditional solutions put forth by government. If we could reunite behind this foundational principle instead of tearing one another down through petty infighting, there’s no doubt we could crush any misconception or delusion the left or right throws at us, while simultaneously influencing an untold number of people toward our cause as they witness the veracity of our arguments when put up against the current status quo.
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Thomas J. Eckert
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