>(REPOST FROM Tuesday, June 20, 2006)
Stephen Kinsella over at the Mises blog complains of the open letter to president Bush sponsored by the Independent Institute (in Oakland), signed by well over 500 economists and a few all around notable scholars, in defense of immigration. Kinsella’s critique is that 1) the letter doesn’t seem to have a point, i.e. it lacks a clear policy prescription and that 2) it was drafted and signed at all. I include (2) because it’s clear that Kinsella doesn’t share the view that open borders and immigration is generally a good thing.
In his critique of the pro-immigration camp (the true laissez-faire camp IMHO), he submits that the signers of the letter don’t take into account the non-economic effects:
In addition to the letter’s vagueness and apparent pointlessness, someone else pointed out to me that the letter initially characterizes the debate on immigration as healthy and purports to be purely value-free and scientific, addressing only fundamental misconceptions about the economics of immigration that have cropped up in the debate. In this way, it avoids engagement with the cultural and especially the political aspects of the debate. And that is all well and good. But then the last few paragraphs are prescriptive and normative–as if to imply that the economic effects are the only ones worth considering [emphasis mine], which, of course, is the flaw of narrow, Chicago-style economistic reasoning.
In this case, Kinsella takes an especially important Austrian economic insight about subjective value and individual preference and puts it toward dubious ends. If a neighbor decides to paint her house pink and place garden gnomes with their heads cut off all across her front lawn, and absent a voluntarily agreed to neighborhood covenant proscribing such an act, does the homeowner across the way have any right to stop the action? Of course not. No Austrian – believer in subjective value (so nix the “damage to property value” rationale) and disbeliever in “wealth maximization” ala the Chicago school – would disagree. So in fact, the arguments against open borders via the argument for subjectively felt angst, envy or hatred toward foreigners has no merit. Without property rights violation, one has no claim against another, no matter how “culturally polluted”, or some such nonsense, they may feel.
But perhaps property rights are exactly the reason for Kinsella’s critique. And indeed they are. In his elaboration of his claim to support free trade but not open borders, he explains that state owned enterprises – schools, roads, various “public” facilities such as parks and waterways – are in fact owned by those forced to pay for them: taxpayers:
My basic idea is that the citizens are the true owners of public property, and should have some say-so over how the state uses that property. Their interests and preferences should be taken into account.
Let it be noted that what Kinsella means by “citizen” is “taxpayer”. He couldn’t claim, as a libertarian at least, that someone simply deemed a citizen by accident of birth has any claim over the state property in question (if he did, he’d have no gripe with presumably non-tax paying illegals).
So with this as his basis for a closed border (probably not completely and immutably closed however), I would ask him how his view could be enforced legitimately. The roads are funded, at least currently, mostly from taxes on gasoline – which illegal immigrants pay for like everyone else – and federal and state taxes allocated toward transportation, of which the wealthy pay a hefty share. And the wealthy tend to be more liberal, especially in states like California; and as we know, the “liberal elites” that spot the coastline and pay the lion’s share of taxes, are more amenable to immigration than the general population. Thus, Kinsella’s argument for closed borders due to taxpayers’ democratic dictat is suspect with regard to the first thing most illegal immigrants will meet when entering the country (apart from the vast and uninhabited desert, of which Kinsella would surely not claim to be legitimately owned by the taxpayers, as it requires no upkeep by their coercively attained booty): the roads. And of course the implementation of the act of preventing illegals from gaining access to the roads, based as it is on the exclusion of partial owners, in order to prevent access to goods and services that they are not owners of (though may be invited to partake of), would be a preventitive action. And no self respecting libertarian can support that, as it would be punishment for a crime that has not yet been committed.
Besides, even if 99% of taxpayers wanted to restrict access to the roads, what about that 1% of taxpayers who want to welcome anyone and everyone who agreed to drive peacefully and at the proper speed of traffic? (A non-rivalrous and compatible-with-the-given-function-of-property-in-question-activity…whew!) Given the violent and involuntary nature of the state, it doesn’t seem quite kosher as an individualist and libertarian to deny them that. Democracy in the context of the state is nothing more than might makes right – the “mightiest” obviously being the majority.
So, to get back to that letter, I support it. It isn’t pointless, and although it may be as about as effective as a high school student government petition to build a skateboard ramp in the quad, it’s a decent gesture and a symbolic act of goodwill. After all, with the Senate ok-ing the building of what will in effect constitute a Berlin wall (at least from the perspective of those living in Mexico), these kinds of “pointless” activities are more welcome than ever.
Currently reading : Reinventing the Melting Pot: The New Immigrants and What it Means to Be American By Tamar Jacoby Release date: By 06 January, 2004