Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Libertarian Realist vs. Bryan Caplan

Open borders champion Bryan Caplan responded via email to my response to his tweet.  In this post, I quote (with Caplan's permission) from his emails to me and include my responses back to him.

Suppose, however, that I was a freedom-loving PERSON, who cared about the freedom of Haitians as well as Americans.  Would advocacy of open borders be "crazy" then?

Would you similarly say that a "freedom-loving white American" would be "crazy" to oppose the exile of black Americans who share the same undesirable characteristics you attribute to Haitians?  Why or why not?

If you valued the freedom of Haitians and U.S. citizens equally, then I suppose open immigration for Haitians would be justified if Haitians gained more freedom than they subtracted from U.S. citizens.  To me, it's an irrelevant question.  It is not the purpose of a libertarian government to help redistribute freedom more equally around the world.  It is to secure the freedoms of the people under its jurisdiction.

Do you value the freedom of Islamists to impose sharia law wherever they want?  Presumably not, since it would be crazy to value a person's freedom to take another person's freedom away.  

Do you favor more Muslim immigration into Western Europe?  The Muslim influx is having disastrous consequences for freedom there, ranging from skyrocketing rates of rape in Scandinavian cities to sprawling polycentric Sharia zones in London, where drinking is banned, women must be covered, and gays can't exist openly. 

Would you similarly say that a "freedom-loving white American" would be "crazy" to oppose the exile of black Americans who share the same undesirable characteristics you attribute to Haitians?

No, but Thomas Jefferson was a freedom-loving white American who favored both the emancipation of black slaves and their deportation back to where they were illegitimately taken from.  That opportunity has passed.  I don't favor forcibly exiling people unless they've actually committed a crime.

But the granting of citizenship to the foreign born is the granting of positive rights and privileges (to vote, etc.), to which the entire world population isn't  automatically entitled.  Being highly selective as to who gets citizenship is an aspect of national security.  Citizenship selectivity would be especially important for a libertarian country that exists within an overwhelmingly non-libertarian world.

Indiscriminately open immigration can result in rapid political and economic deterioration if the immigrants are overwhelmingly low-IQ, crime prone, statist, and/or culturally hostile.  Imagine that Detroit circa 1955 -- which was majority white, relatively safe, prosperous, and widely considered to be one of the greatest cities in the U.S. -- became a sovereign city-state.  Should it have adopted a policy of open immigration?  We don't have to speculate about the consequences of such a policy.  It was in place by default.  And it was catastrophic.  

My informed speculation is that Detroit's death spiral of rising crime, declining property values, a collapsing economy, white flight, and depopulation would have been averted with immigration restrictions.  Detroit today might still be a jewel of a city.  I think you'd have to admit that it's hard to imagine a sovereign Detroit with selective citizenship being worse off than Detroit today actually is.  

I'm not saying that every city should be its own nation.  But if the people who reside in a given nation -- however delineated -- value their freedom, they should favor an immigration system that selects for a population with compatible characteristics.

If you're a libertarian, where does this "jurisdictions" stuff come from?   I'd think that the purpose of a libertarian government would be to respect *people's* freedom.  And even if you think freedom in a jurisdiction is a priority, that hardly means it's an absolute priority.  In the worst case scenario, full Haitian immigration make Americans mildly less free.  In the status quo, American immigration restrictions make Haitians vastly less free.

It seems pretty straightforward to me: A government exercises authority over a particular geographic area whose inhabitants pay it to provide certain services for them requiring the use of force.  The only type of government that would operate on a mandate as broad as securing freedom for all people in the world would be a global government. 

 Global government is the logical conclusion of the movement to break down all borders.  If you view any effort of any nation to resist migrant inflows as a human rights violation, then the purest manifestation of your one-world ideology would be a single world government to prevent all the other governments from defending their obsolete borders.  But a world without borders would mean there would be nowhere left for anyone to escape from a one-world, all-equal utopia turned into a one-world tyranny.

But keeping out all Muslims because a few of them are nutjobs is much crazier.

Taking into account statistical risk profiles in immigration policy is quite sane.  Insurers do it all the time.  They don't treat all people or all neighborhoods as equals.  40% of British Muslims want to impose Sharia law.  24% of of British Muslims and 35% of French Muslims believe suicide bombings are justified.  That's more than a few.  

A private company charged with providing border security and terrorism insurance for a libertarian nation whose people insisted on results -- insisted on an immigration policy that resulted in no increase in crime rates from its immigrant inflows, no increase in levels of economic parasitism, and certainly no growth in freedom-restricting Sharia zones... If a private company were to implement an immigration policy that best protected the freedoms of the people who paid for its services, and it were to choose between open immigration for Muslims and no immigration for Muslims, it wouldn't take a lot of sophisticated risk analysis for the Muslim immigration that's now being pushed by statistically averse governments to be halted.

If you think people aren't entitled to *more*, why not complain about the welfare state instead of immigrants?

I do complain about the welfare state.  I also complain about the efforts to grant voting privileges to millions of foreigners residing here who want to expand the welfare state.  67% of Hispanics want bigger government (Washington Post/Kaiser Poll).  Your complaints about the welfare state are not merely futile, but are undone many times over, by your support of immigration policies that result in more votes for the expansion of the welfare state.  You can try to separate immigration and citizenship conceptually, but in practice more immigration means more Democrat votes for generations to come.  You can't stop immigrants from having kids and you don't want to ever deport them anyway.  So, pretty soon, there will be no Congressional districts left in Texas where it is demographically feasible for a Ron Paul to get elected.  

What you call "catastrophe" is, by world and historic standards, a paradise.  Would saving Detroit have justified depriving blacks of the freedom to live and work where they like - and whites the right to trade with them?  No. 

You are helping to accelerate the demographic demise of libertarianism by supporting a globalist egalitarian immigration policy based on altruism.  You've admitted that you're willing to see negative consequences for freedom here due to Haitians...would have been willing to prevent Detroit from deporting violent populations in order to save itself from ruin...all for the sake of what you call freedom to migrate.  

Of course, all property rights restrict people's movements.  What you're demanding is a positive right to transcend property boundaries, which is alien to libertarian conceptions of rights.  It's no more restrictive of my freedom if the Singaporean government denies me entry into the country than if an owner of some private island denies me entry into his island.  I have no positive right to move anywhere I want to in the world.  If the whole country of Singapore was a privately owned community and it announced that it was no longer taking in new residents, would the rest of the world suddenly become less free?   

Not according to a libertarian conception of freedom.  To the contrary, any person who decided to break into Singapore without permission would be a transgressor of property rights.  Whether Singapore is a private community or a state that limits who can come in has no bearing on the freedom status of anyone outside of Singapore.  People can be forcibly denied entry  just the same.  There is no positive right possessed by everyone in the world to live within the particular area of land called Singapore.  

Turning away Haitians at the U.S. border does not violate any of their negative rights.  But any Haitians who come here to mooch, mug,  or murder violate U.S. citizens' rights.  The statistically greater likelihood of Haitians committing acts of aggression as compared to other potential sources of immigration is all the justification that is needed for disfavoring Haitian immigration.  

So the question is whether we as libertarians want libertarian results for ourselves.  Are we willing to be suicidal martyrs for a grand global idealization of liberty that never will be, anyway?  If not, then we must do what is necessary in order to maximize and sustain our freedoms in practice to the extent that we can while we still can.  Advancing immigration policies that demographically aid freedom's sworn enemies is libertarian suicide.


  1. Ironclad response. One hopes Caplan will be moved by it.

  2. The difference between a private community and the state most certainly has bearing on the status of restrictions on movement.

  3. This Bryan Caplan guy is basically a leftist. There's a strange overlap between these super-idealistic libertarians and commies. I had it out with the dude myself here:


    1. Bryan Caplan put up the museum of communism to warn people of communism's horrors.

      "It would be a great tragedy if Communism disappeared from the earth without leaving behind an indelible memory of its horrors. Communism was not essentially about espionage, or power politics, or irreligion. Rather it was a grand theoretical synthesis of totalitarianism... a theory which millions of people experienced as the practice of murder and slavery."


      Bryan's premises are sound and his conclusion follows logically from them. Different values for different people based on region or nation cannot be justified. Libertarians can't believe in private ownership of landlords and businesses, and then believe in communal ownership when it comes to keeping immigrants out of "our" country.

      Is it idealistic? Show that the long run consequences clearly outweigh the short run horrors of war. Bryan has shown many times that they don't. He's extremely practical in his argumentation.

    2. Communal ownership *is* private ownership -- by a community. I do not understand how anyone fails to grasp this.

      Different values for different people based on region or nation cannot be justified.

      This sounds like a very confused way of saying that the pursuit of self-interest cannot be justified.

  4. Instead of re-inventing the flat tire, get behind the guy who launched the modern world Libertarian movement, Michael Gilson-De Lemos.

    See his analysis and explanation of what Libs are supposed to be focusing on at: http://rightsandpolicyreporter.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/li-clarification-immigration-treaty-approach-analysis/

    Love how he points out that we have creeping emigration controls and that China needs to open up internal immigration. A quote:

    Advocates of the Gilson Reform have done much since 1969:

    •Ending the wall between the Communist and other countries, bringing about mass free travel compared to what was
    •Increasing regional free trade and immigration approaches; a committment by China to evolve into a ‘United States of China’ on democratic lines
    •Encouraging many bi-lateral treaties and cross-border co-operation exercises, asylum areas, etc. via coalitions

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