Thursday, September 13, 2007

The light of liberty and immigration.

Reading Don Boudreaux’s newspaper column on “Libertarians & immigration” was a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, for some years now, the putrid smell of racism has been wafting up from a collection of racialists, bigots, and nationalists who present themselves as the purest of the pure libertarians. They are so pure they even claim to be anarchists but when they get to immigration they sound like raving socialists, national socialists even.

These individuals, who romp with open racists, white supremacists and the like, argue that in a free society, one that is totally privatized, each individual property owner would determine his own immigration policy onto his own land. But we don’t live there so the best we can hope for is a government that does what private property owners would do. Private owners would not admit immigrants onto their land, they presume, so the state should do the same and restrict immigration. In practice this theory treats government as the property owner of everything.

I found the argument bizarre the first time I heard it, and it is equally bizarre the more I hear it. But I never thought they offered it seriously. It was offered in lieu of their real reasons for this: they don’t like non-whites and most immigrants are non-white. The true reason is more akin to racism than to property rights or free markets.

Boudreaux, the chairman of the economics department at George Mason University, notes, these individuals concocted the claim that immigration is “forced integration.” They, like the socialist Left, seem to use words in the precise opposite of their real meaning.

Assume, for a minute, a totally private society where every business, residence, and road is privately owned. How would private owners act? Pretty much like they do today. Does McDonalds worry about whether their paying customers are citizens or not? Nope. You won’t go through passport control at the drive-up window. And witness how the nativists and Know-Nothings are pushing legislation to force apartment owners to see citizenship papers before renting out apartments. And they are pushing for laws to force employers to do the same thing before hiring people.

One of the lessons of history is that laws are passed forbidding only those things which people are inclined to do. South Africa’s apartheid regime passed laws forbidding employers from hiring black workers. Why? Because absent those laws employers did hire black workers. Apartheid was not the operation of the market but the workings of the state. Jim Crow states, in the American South, forbade blacks from riding at the front of public buses. Why? Because the private bus companies had no desire to alienate their customers and let them sit anywhere they wanted.

When I lived in South Africa the Group Areas Act specifically reserved certain areas to whites and other areas to blacks. Yet the neighborhood where I lived was mixed in defiance of the law. Landlords willingly rented their apartment to anyone willing to pay the rent.

Even toll road operators aren’t going to be vastly concerned about the citizenship of their paying customers. We have thousands of miles of private sidewalks encased inside shopping malls. Have you ever heard of any mall owner demanding Green cards from shoppers before allowing them to buy goods or services? Of course not. And if you are selling your home you'll take money from the highest bidder regardless of whether they are immigrant or not. This argument from these “new” libertarians is rubbish. It is not libertarian and never has been. Nor does it reflect reality.

The reality is that people, for the most part, are willing to work with, and trade with, other people, including people they may not like. Markets are very poor at discriminating which is why every advocate of discrimination pushes for laws to spread the cost of discrimination throughout society. They know that when bigots have to individually pay the costs of discrimination the demand for bigotry declines significantly. Legislation is used to lower the cost of discrimination for the bigots by removing non-bigoted competition from the marketplace.

Such laws are inherently against free markets. They are a form of rent seeking.

These “new” libertarians argue that people of different races simply don’t like to be around others not of the same race. Free movement indicates otherwise but let them have their fantasy. They are merely expressing their own distaste for anyone not of their own race. For them the use of state power to prevent immigration is a benefit and it is a benefit that they seek from the state, and one that a truly free market would not provide them in most cases. They are basically rent seekers.

I have been shocked at how some people fall for this absurd reversal of libertarian principles. But there has been a lot of this sort of thinking lately. And that is why I was thrilled to see Don Boudreaux’s newspaper column taking on this faux libertarianism.

Boudreaux takes the logic of this illiberal group and turns it on its head. He asks about applying this silly concept to other issues. He writes:
Consider, for example, the right of free speech. Would it be sensible to argue that, because each private-property owner has the right to regulate what is said on his property, government in our less-than-libertarian world should have the power to regulate speech uttered in public places or over public airwaves?
Of course not. But such an argument is analogous to the "libertarian" argument for government restrictions on immigration.

Secondly, labeling open immigration as "forced integration" is disingenuous. Such a practice is identical to labeling freedom of speech as "forced listening."

In fact, of course, keeping government from regulating speech is not at all identical to forcing people to listen. Likewise, allowing people to immigrate into a country is not the same thing as forcing citizens of that country to associate with immigrants.
I can recommend you read the full column.

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