The classical argument in favor of free immigration runs as follows: Other things being equal, businesses go to low-wage areas, and labor moves to high-wage areas, thus affecting a tendency toward the equalization of wage rates (for the same kind of labor) as well as the optimal localization of capital. An influx of migrants into a given-sized high-wage area will lower nominal wage rates. However, it will not lower real wage rates if the population is below its optimum size. To the contrary, if this is the case, the produced output will increase over-proportionally, and real incomes will actually rise. Thus, restrictions on immigration will harm the protected domestic workers qua consumers more than they gain qua producers. Moreover, immigration restrictions will increase the “flight” of capital abroad (the export of capital which otherwise might have stayed), still causing an equalization of wage rates (although somewhat more slowly), but leading to a less than optimal allocation of capital, thereby harming world living standards all-around.
In addition, traditionally labor unions, and nowadays environmentalists, are opposed to free immigration, and this should prima facie count as another argument in favor of a policy of free immigration.
As it is stated, the above argument in favor of free immigration is irrefutable and correct. It would be foolish to attack it, just as it would be foolish to deny that free trade leads to higher living standards than does protectionism.
It would also be wrongheaded to attack the above case for free immigration by pointing out that because of the existence of a welfare state, immigration has become to a significant extent the immigration of welfare-bums, who, even if the United States, for instance, is belowher optimal population point, do not increase but rather decrease average living standards. For this is not an argument against immigration but against the welfare state. To be sure, the welfare state should be destroyed, root and branch. However, in any case the problems of immigration and welfare are analytically distinct problems, and they must be treated accordingly.
The problem with the above argument is that it suffers from two interrelated shortcomings which invalidate its unconditional pro-immigration conclusion and/or which render the argument applicable only to a highly unrealistic – long bygone – situation in human history.
The first shortcoming will only be touched upon. To libertarians of the Austrian school, it should be clear that what constitutes “wealth” and “well-being” is subjective. Material wealth is not the only thing that counts. Thus, even if real incomes rise due to immigration, it does not follow that immigration must be considered “good,” for one might prefer lower living standards and a greater distance to other people over higher living standards and a smaller distance to others.
Instead, a second, related shortcoming will be the focus here. With regard to a given territory into which people immigrate, it is left unanalyzed who, if anyone, owns (controls) this territory. In fact, in order to render the above argument applicable, it is – implicitly – assumed that the territory in question is unowned, and that the immigrants enter virgin territory (open frontier). Obviously, this can no longer be assumed. If this assumption is dropped, however, the problem of immigration takes on an entirely new meaning and requires fundamental rethinking.
For the purpose of illustration, let us first assume an anarcho-capitalist society. Though convinced that such a society is the only social order that can be defended as just, I do not want to explain here why this is the case. Instead, I will employ it as a conceptualbenchmark, because this will help clear up the fundamental misconception of most contemporary free immigration advocates.
All land is privately owned, including all streets, rivers, airports, harbors, etc. With respect to some pieces of land, the property title may be unrestricted; that is, the owner is permitted to do with his property whatever he pleases as long as he does not physically damage the property owned by others. With respect to other territories, the property title may be more or less severely restricted. As is currently the case in some housing developments, the owner may be bound by contractual limitations on what he can do with his property (voluntary zoning), which might include residential vs. commercial use, no buildings more than four stories high, no sale or rent to Jews, Germans, Catholics, homosexuals, Haitians, families with or without children, or smokers, for example.
Clearly, under this scenario there exists no such thing as freedom of immigration. Rather, there exists the freedom of many independent private property owners to admit or exclude others from their own property in accordance with their own unrestricted or restricted property titles. Admission to some territories might be easy, while to others it might be nearly impossible. In any case, however, admission to the property of the admitting person does not imply a “freedom to move around,” unless other property owners consent to such movements. There will be as much immigration or non-immigration, inclusivity or exclusivity, desegregation or segregation, non-discrimination or discrimination based on racial, ethnic, linguistic, religious, cultural or whatever other grounds as individual owners or associations of individual owners allow.
Note that none of this, not even the most exclusive form of segregationism, has anything to do with a rejection of free trade and the adoption of protectionism. From the fact that one does not want to associate with or live in the neighborhood of Blacks, Turks, Catholics orHindus, etc., it does not follow that one does not want to trade with them from a distance. To the contrary, it is precisely the absolute voluntariness of human association and separation –the absence of any form of forced integration – that makes peaceful relationships – free trade – between culturally, racially, ethnically, or religiously distinct people possible.
In an anarcho-capitalist society there is no government and, accordingly, no clear-cut distinction between inlanders (domestic citizens) and foreigners. This distinction comes into existence only with the establishment of a government, i.e., an institution which possesses a territorial monopoly of aggression (taxation). The territory over which a government’s taxing power extends becomes “inland,” and everyone residing outside of this territory becomes a foreigner. State borders (and passports), are an “unnatural” (coercive) institution. Indeed, their existence (and that of a domestic government) implies a two-fold distortion with respect to peoples’ natural inclination to associate with others. First, inlanders cannot exclude the government (the taxman) from their own property, but are subject to what one might call “forced integration” by government agents. Second, in order to be able to intrude on its subjects’ private property so as to tax them, a government must invariably take control of existing roads, and it will employ its tax revenue to produce even more roads to gain even better access to all private property, as a potential tax source. Thus, this over-production of roads does not involve merely an innocent facilitation of interregional trade – a lowering of transaction costs – as starry-eyed economists would have us believe, but it involves forced domestic integration (artificial desegregation of separate localities).
Moreover, with the establishment of a government and state borders, immigration takes on an entirely new meaning. Immigration becomes immigration by foreigners across state borders, and the decision as to whether or not a person should be admitted no longer restswith private property owners or associations of such owners but with the government as the ultimate sovereign of all domestic residents and the ultimate super-owner of all their properties. Now, if the government excludes a person while even one domestic resident wantsto admit this very person onto his property, the result is forced exclusion (a phenomenon that does not exist under private property anarchism). Furthermore, if the government admits a person while there is not even one domestic resident who wants to have this person on his property, the result is forced integration (also non-existent under private property anarchism).
It is now time to enrich the analysis through the introduction of a few “realistic” empirical assumptions. Let us assume that the government is privately owned. The ruler literally owns the entire country within state borders. He owns part of the territory outright (his property title is unrestricted), and he is partial owner of the rest (as landlord or residual claimant of all of his citizen-tenants real estate holdings, albeit restricted by some kind of pre-existing rental contract). He can sell and bequeath his property, and he can calculate and “realize” the monetary value of his capital (his country).
Traditional monarchies – and kings – are the closest historical examples of this form of government.
What will a king’s typical immigration and emigration policy be? Because he owns the entire country’s capital value, he will, assuming nomore than his self-interest, tend to choose migration policies thatpreserve or enhance rather than diminish the value of his kingdom.
As far as emigration is concerned, a king will want to prevent theemigration of productive subjects, in particular of his best and most productive subjects, because losing them would lower the value of the kingdom. Thus, for example, from 1782 until 1824 a law prohibited the emigration of skilled workmen from Britain. On the other hand, a king will want to expel his non-productive and destructive subjects (criminals, bums, beggars, gypsies, vagabonds, etc.), for their removal from his territory would increase the value of his realm. For this reason Britain expelled tens of thousands of common criminals to North America and Australia.
On the other hand, as far as immigration policy is concerned, a king would want to keep the mob, as well as all people of inferior productive capabilities, out. People of the latter category would only be admitted temporarily, if at all, as seasonal workers without citizenship, and they would be barred from permanent property ownership. Thus, for example, after 1880 large numbers of Poles were hired as seasonal workers in Germany. A king would only permit the permanent immigration of superior or at least above-average people; i.e., those, whose residence in his kingdom would increase his own property value. Thus, for example, after 1685 (with the revocation of the Edict of Nantes) tens of thousands of Huguenots were permitted to settle in Prussia; and similarly Peter the Great, Frederick the Great, and Maria Theresia later promoted the immigration and settlement of large numbers of Germans in Russia, Prussia, and the eastern provinces of Austria-Hungary.
In brief, while through his immigration policies a king might not entirely avoid all cases of forced exclusion or forced integration, such policies would by and large do the same as what private property owners would do, if they could decide who to admit and who to exclude.That is, the king would be highly selective and very much concerned about improving the quality of the resident human capital so as to drive property values up, not down.
Migration policies become predictably different, once the government is publicly owned. The ruler no longer owns the country’s capital value, but only has current use of it. He cannot sell or bequeath his position as ruler; he is merely a temporary caretaker. Moreover, “free entry” into the position of a caretaker government exists. Anyone can, in principle, become the ruler of the country.
Democracies as they came into existence on a world-wide scale after World War I offer historical examples of public government.
What are a democracy’s migration policies? Once again assuming no more than self-interest (maximizing monetary and psychic income: money and power), democratic rulers tend to maximize current income, which they can appropriate privately, at the expense of capital values, which they cannot appropriate privately. Hence, in accordance with democracy’s inherent egalitarianism of one-man-one-vote, they tend to pursue a distinctly egalitarian – non-discriminatory – emigration and immigration policy.
As far as emigration policy is concerned, this implies that for a democratic ruler it makes little, if any, difference whether productive or unproductive people, geniuses or bums leave the country. They have all one equal vote. In fact, democratic rulers might well be more concerned about the loss of a bum than that of a productive genius. While the loss of the latter would obviously lower the capital value of the country and loss of the former might actually increase it, a democratic ruler does not own the country. In the short run, which most interests a democratic ruler, the bum, voting most likely in favor of egalitarian measures, might be more valuable than the productive genius who, as egalitarianism’s prime victim, will more likely vote against the democratic ruler. For the same reason, a democratic ruler, quite unlike a king, undertakes little to actively expel those people whose presence within the country constitutes a negative externality (human trash, which drives individual property values down). In fact, such negative externalities – unproductive parasites, bums, and criminals – are likely to be his most reliable supporters.
As far as immigration policies are concerned, the incentives and disincentives are likewise distorted, and the results are equally perverse. For a democratic ruler, it also matters little whether bums or geniuses, below or above-average civilized and productive people immigrate into the country. Nor is he much concerned about the distinction between temporary workers (owners of work permits) and permanent, property owning immigrants (naturalized citizens). In fact, bums and unproductive people may well be preferable as residents and citizens, because they cause more so-called “social” problem,” and democratic rulers thrive on the existence of such problems. Moreover, bums and inferior people will likely support his egalitarian policies, whereas geniuses and superior people will not. The result of this policy of non-discrimination is forced integration: the forcing of masses of inferior immigrants onto domestic property owners who, if they could have decided for themselves, would havesharply discriminated and chosen very different neighbors for themselves. Thus, the United States immigration laws of 1965, as the best available example of democracy at work, eliminated all formerly existing “quality” concerns and the explicit preference for European immigrants and replaced it with a policy of almost complete non-discrimination (multi-culturalism).
Indeed, though rarely noticed, the immigration policy of a democracy is the mirror image of its policy toward internal population movements: toward the voluntary association and dissociation, segregation and desegregation, and the physical distancing and approximating of various private property owners. Like a king, a democratic ruler will promote spatial over-integration by over-producing the “public good” of roads. However, for a democratic ruler, unlike a king, it will not be sufficient that everyone can move next door to anyone else on government roads. Concerned about his current income and power rather than capital values and constrained by egalitarian sentiments, a democratic ruler will tend to go even further. Through non-discrimination laws – one cannot discriminate against Germans, Jews, Blacks, Catholics, Hindus, homosexuals, etc. – the government will want to open even the physical access and entrance to everyone’s property to everyone else. Thus, it is hardly surprising that the so-called “Civil Rights” legislation in the United States, which outlawed domestic discrimination on the basis of color, race, national origin, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, etc., and which thereby actually mandated forced integration, coincided with the adoption of a non-discriminatory immigration policy; i.e., mandated inter-national desegregagtion (forced integration).
The current situation in the United States and in Western Europe hasnothing whatsoever to do with “free” immigration. It is forced integration, plain and simple, and forced integration is the predictable outcome of democratic – one-man-one-vote – rule. Abolishing forced integration requires a de-democratization of society, and ultimately the abolition of democracy. More specifically, the authority to admit or exclude should be stripped from the hands of the central government and re-assigned to the states, provinces, cities, towns, villages, residential districts, and ultimately to private property owners and their voluntary associations. The means to achieve this goal are decentralization and secession (both inherently un-democratic, and un-majoritarian). One would be well on the way toward a restoration of the freedom of association and exclusion as it is implied in the idea and institution of private property, and much of the social strife currently caused by forced integration would disappear, if only towns and villages could and would do what they did as a matter of course until well into the nineteenth century in Europe and the United States: to post signs regarding entrance requirements to the town, and once in town for entering specific pieces of property (no beggars or bums or homeless, but also no Moslems, Hindus, Jews, Catholics, etc.); to kick out those who do not fulfill these requirements as trespassers; and to solve the”naturalization” question somewhat along the Swiss model, where local assemblies, not the central government, determine who can and who cannot become a Swiss citizen.
What should one hope for and advocate as the relatively correct immigration policy, however, as long as the democratic central state is still in place and successfully arrogates the power to determine a uniform national immigration policy? The best one may hope for, even if it goes against the “nature” of a democracy and thus is not very likely to happen, is that the democratic rulers act as if they were the personal owners of the country and as if they had to decide who to include and who to exclude from their own personal property (into their very own houses). This means following a policy of utmost discrimination: of strict discrimination in favor of the human qualities of skill, character, and cultural compatibility.
More specifically, it means distinguishing strictly between “citizens” (naturalized immigrants) and “resident aliens” and excluding the latter from all welfare entitlements. It means requiring as necessary, for resident alien status as well as for citizenship, the personal sponsorship by a resident citizen and his assumption of liability for all property damage caused by the immigrant. It implies requiring an existing employment contract with a resident citizen; moreover, for both categories but especially that of citizenship, it implies that all immigrants must demonstrate through tests not only (English) language proficiency, but all-around superior (above-average) intellectual performance and character structure as well as a compatible system of values – with the predictable result of a systematic pro-European immigration bias.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe [send him mail] is distinguished fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and founder and president of the Property and Freedom Society. His books include Democracy: The God That Failed and The Myth of National Defense. Visit his website.
© 1999 Hans-Hermann Hoppe