My interest in liberty has long focused chiefly on the condition as a moderating principle in society, as a constraint on human excesses, of individuals, sure, but especially of groups. As such, I consider it a stabilizing discipline. But, from my earliest acquaintance with its strongest advocates, I have noticed a strain within their ranks who treat liberty as a principle to be advanced even when it leads to social instability.

The idea among these freedom partisans seems to be this: any motion towards liberty is a good move.

My perspective is different. I think a move towards liberty that encourages a revolt against liberty down the road, or leads to social instability and chaos, is not a move to liberty at all. It is an illusion. A misstep. Sometimes a fiasco.

This issue plunges us deep into a question of strategy, with various forms of radicalism and incrementalism — “gradualism” — vying for dominance. I argue that some forms of radical, bold moves to greater freedom are good, because they encourage further moves to even greater freedom; other forms are bad, because they encourage backlashes, or lead to situations so destabilizing that they discourage further progress.

The classic case is in banking regulation, when deregulation is coupled with increased subsidy.  The Savings and Loan debacle of the 1980s shows the dangers of that approach.

A similar case is free immigration. It is a great idea in a general context of freedom and the division of responsibility. But when coupled with subsidies from the welfare state, it can be a grave threat.

Yet some libertarians advocate increasing the scope for freedom in movement even under a regime of guaranteed subsidy. So that, practically, the policy they promote is subsidized immigration.

Jacob Hornberger is one of those libertarians . . . as can be seen by his polemic of July 31, 2019, “Open Borders Are Compatible With the Welfare State.” 

I will consider each of his points:

For some time now, there has been a conservative faction within the libertarian movement that has advocated that libertarians abandon their position in favor of open borders and instead join up with conservatives and progressives in support of government-controlled borders.

So, it is a “conservative faction,” sez Hornberger, even though controlled migration has traditionally been a progressive position … so why aren’t the libertarian open border skeptics a “progressive faction”? This is a small matter, but I have noticed that those who lean left in the libertarian movement sure do love to identify their opponents as “conservative oriented” or “rightwing.” Ugh.

In doing so, these conservative-oriented libertarians always fail to address one of the principal costs of abandoning libertarian principle on this particular issue — an immigration police state, one consisting of highway checkpoints for travelers who have never left the United States, roving Border Patrol checkpoints, warrantless searches of farms and ranches within 100 miles of the border, body-cavity searches of Americans returning from overseas vacation, warrantless searches of cell phones and mandatory disclosure of passwords, violent raids on private businesses, forcible separation of children from parents, squalid conditions in immigrant concentration camps, and boarding of private buses to examine people’s papers.

Always? I know I have disliked this regime, and have mentioned its horrors. Indeed, one reason to put up a “wall,” or border fence — or other barrier, such as a moat! — is to avoid the domestic ramp-up of totalitarian methods.

Similarly, folks who do not want to get into altercations on their own property with trespassers often put up fences, or locked gates and the like, to prevent unpleasantness on their own property.

All I am saying here is that the “immigration police state” — which I do indeed find alarming, and have argued against — is not required by the policy of controlled immigration if the control is physical at the border.

Ideal? No. Do I especially like this solution? No. But it is an option, and it is one reason why a lot of people voted for Trump and his Wall.

One of the principal arguments that such libertarians cite is that open borders are not compatible with a welfare state. If America didn’t have a welfare state, these libertarians say that they would favor open borders. Pending the dismantling of the welfare state, which might be never, such libertarians have resigned themselves to joining up with the statists on the immigration issue.

All advances of liberty “might be never.” But if it can be shown that an advance A would necessarily preclude future advances B, C, and D, then Hornberger’s desperation, here, is less than convincing.

In taking this position, such libertarians, of course, are implicitly acknowledging that open borders is, in fact, the libertarian position. That, of course, makes sense given the core principle of libertarianism — the non-aggression principle. It holds that people have the right to engage in any action whatsoever, so long as their conduct does not involve force or fraud against another person. When people cross political borders, whether such borders are state, local, or international, they are not violating anyone’s rights, given that they are simply exercising their natural, God-given rights of freedom of travel, economic liberty, freedom of contract, and freedom of association.

Sure. But it is worth remembering that private property owners can also exclude transit, and that border protections between states could be done voluntarily (at risk of free riders) — and at the U.S. southern border there have been erected borders on private property, with some success, and . . . have you ever wondered if one reason for borders has been to subsidize private property owners? Or, to help private property owners avoid free rider problems in excluding unwanted migrants and . . . and trespassers? Of course you have. But if libertarians are going to be arguing over this stuff on a fundamental level, maybe drilling down to fundamental issues would be a good idea, and not just engage in purist hand-waving.

The fact is, however, that the libertarian position favoring open borders is entirely consistent with a welfare state. And the fact that America is a welfare state should not cause libertarians to abandon their principles and join up with the statists on this particular issue.

Well, here is the thesis. Finally. Somehow a libertarian policy maven asserts that a libertarian institution — freedom of movement — is “entirely consistent” with an anti-libertarian institution. This should get interesting.

Breaking it down, what is the real argument that these libertarians are using in support of their argument? They are saying that if we have open borders and a welfare state, foreigners will come to the United State and get on welfare, which will mean that Americans will have to pay higher taxes. 

That is part of it. Another part is the expectation that they and their progeny will be more likely to vote for transfer payments to folks like themselves . . . from established native taxpayers. Yet another is that their progeny will soak up police and court resources.

And those of us concerned about social stability also note that immigrants’ children will be run through the great tax sinkholes that are America’s public schools, and that demands on those resources are often much greater than for natives’ children.

That’s the core of their argument—that libertarians should abandon their principles because open borders adn a welfare state will mean that people will have to pay higher taxes.

Well, no. It is also that the institutions will be placed under great stressors that will increase social discord and even violence and class resentment, and that these results can be even worse than mere tax increases.

Of course, that’s not necessarily true for three reasons:

First, most immigrants come to the United States to get rich. 

This is inaccurate. Immigrants come here to improve their lives, sure — and sometimes through accessing commons resources as well as through trade. But few become “rich.” And indeed, the ones who get rich are generally the ones who come here legally. Depending on country of origin, many, many illegal immigrants are poorer than the general run of natives. Open up the borders while still giving out transfer payments and tax-funded services, and the marginal immigrant will tend to be and remain poorer yet.

Very few people get rich on welfare. 

Most people do not get rich, so this is an irrelevant observation. They don’t even try to get rich — they just aim to get richer. And the very formulation of wealth acquisition as the goal implies that folks use only one manner of human interaction to advance themselves. Ignoring marrying into wealth, there are four basic methods for immigrant advance:

  1. trade;
  2. begging;
  3. mooching off the State;
  4. stealing outright.

A family that arrives here with few work skills and no capital is likely to try all four methods. Only the first is desirable.

Moreover, the economic prosperity (and taxes paid) generated by working immigrants might well offset the additional taxes that would be needed to fund welfare for the dole-receiving immigrants.

They might. Do they? That is an empirical question. 

More importantly, though: what is the situation with the marginal immigrant population (illegals) we are actually talking about? What is their marginal cost to taxpayers? 

Second, there is nothing inherent in the welfare state way of life that requires Congress to provide welfare for foreigners. Congress could easily enact legislation limiting the dole to American citizens.

Barack “You Lie!” Obama promised that his Obamacare would not give healthcare to immigrants, and it was widely considered bad form to even suggest it might; now, of course, almost all the Democrats running to take up the Obaman mantle insist that illegal aliens get precisely such services. Fat chance getting the nixing of welfare benefits to illegals through now. The only way to prevent illegal immigrants (or new additional immigrants) from getting key and expensive welfare state handouts would be to dismantle the welfare state. And this is what libertarians should argue. But, you know . . . I cannot think of one libertarian to have made this case — other than me, actually — namely, “You want open borders and diversity? Well, the only way to secure them is to chuck the welfare state!” Why have I not heard libertarians make this case?

Why isn’t Hornberger saying “Aha! We have the solution to your problem!”

Instead of taking a libertarian critique of the destructive nature of the welfare state and applying it to migration, he argues, lamely, that free migration is compatible with the welfare state. 

Third, given the difficulty, both psychological and financial, in leaving one’s homeland, his culture, his language, and his friends and relatives, it is difficult to imagine that large numbers of people would leave their homelands simply to get on welfare in a foreign country, especially one in which they are going to be insulted and abused. After all, how many people in Alabama move to California, where welfare benefits are much higher?

OK, this is just witless. Of course some people move to collect better handouts. I can point to specific people in the county in which I live who have done precisely this.

And, once again, this is an empirical question that could be actually researched. But, barring that apparently onerous task, note that California is even now being flooded with homeless people from all over the country. Does this not indicate to Hornberger that he has asked a question with a ready answer not to his liking?

But let’s assume the worst. Let’s assume that America restores its founding system of open immigration, 

This is not quite accurate, by the way. Even Jefferson contemplated the several states controlling immigration.

…continues its welfare state, and opens it up to immigrants. Should that be reason for libertarians to abandon their principles and join up with conservative and liberal statists by supporting America’s system of immigration controls and America’s immigration police state?

I say: No. I say that libertarians should continue adhering to principle regardless and continue focusing on ending the wrongdoing — i.e., the welfare state. If we abandon principle because it pinches, then how are we different from Republicans and Democrats, who do that as a matter of course?

So, here we see Hornberger bury the lede. He is making a pitch regarding principles, and seems uninterested in emphasizing what libertarians could add to the discussion: ending the welfare state.

It is worse, though. Libertarians at their best understand social processes over time. They are not bound to narrow time slices. We have extended time horizons. So what we can add to this debate is explaining where both the far-left and the alt-right err.

But Hornberger does not seem interested in increasing knowledge. He seems just interested in “sticking to principle.” Or sticking libertarians with principles they may not quite agree with. But when you do that relentlessly, without careful attention conduct, policy and consequences, you come off as a dogmatic and moralistic prig.

No wonder libertarians go nowhere.

Of course, an obvious question arises, one that those conservative-oriented libertarians never ask: How much in estimated additional taxes would have to be paid if the United States had both open borders and a welfare state? After all, isn’t that reason that these libertarians claim that open borders are incompatible with a welfare state: that it will result in the payment of higher taxes?

How much in additional taxes? Oddly enough, such libertarians never ask that question.

As I have stated above, this is not the main point. The thing most necessary is opposing a policy — de facto subsidized immigration — that trains immigrants to become plunderers, to become socialists . . . and in the process increases social discord.

Oh, and I have heard libertarians ask the question. I know I have wondered.

Suppose, for example, that each American citizen would be required to pay an additional $10 a year in income taxes? Should that be enough to cause libertarians to abandon principle and join up with the statists? $100 a year? $1,000 a year?

I say: Libertarians should not abandon their principles for any amount of money, no matter how high taxes might get

What? So, we should let in immigrants even though the heavens fall? Even if the country goes socialist?

This is sheer craziness.

After all, throughout history there have been people who have paid a much higher price than additional taxes for the sake of their principles. The Alamo comes to mind. So does the story of the White Rose.

Getting your head chopped off in a time of desperation is one thing — doing it so that people from foreign countries who have scant interest in liberty can mooch off the taxpayer, and, over time be trained by Democrats into voting socialist is not heroic.

It is stupid.

If drugs are legalized, poor drug addicts could go on Medicaid to treat their addiction, which would cause taxes to go up for the rest of us. Should we join the statists in support of the drug war until Medicaid is abolished? Perish the thought! 

Once again, Hornberger neglects to put the actual libertarian position on the table. He instead lubes up the libertarian anus to be reemed by statists — in the name of “principle.”

But he misses something, too. A big difference. A drug addict going on the dole is something we have now. And by putting drug addicts on state assistance we are not increasing the number of voters who will vote to give more money to drug addicts. With allowing open immigration we are not only subsidizing them, we are helping them produce a class of people (their children, and even their very selves) with an interest in plundering existing citizens of their wealth, who are likely to vote for such plunder.

Libertarians should continue adhering to principle by continuing to support an end to this deadly, destructive, and immoral government program, even while continuing to advocate a dismantling of Medicaid. We should continue doing the same with respect with respect to America’s deadly, destructive, and immoral system of immigration controls.

Hornberger emphasizes the berating of libertarians for their lack of purity and underemphasizes the attack upon the welfare state. He only mentions this latter solution in an offhand way. He does not address the underlying logic, but merely characterizes the policies as deadly, destructive and immoral. And that logic is important, deserving of more coherent advance: you can have a large, intrusive state and a monoculture, or diversity and limited government. Our pitch to leftists is that their current mania for diversity is incompatible with the welfare state. Our pitch to rightists is that their love of monocultures encourages the maximum state. Left and Right have it wrong.

Do libertarians have it wrong?

Only if they keep attacking each other and siding with the left or the right.

One would think that the best method for achieving liberty would be to approach the two sides with where they are right, and then try to convince each where they are wrong . . . leveraging the good in their allegiances.

Hornberger appears to be uninterested in this method.


These are the dog days. In which I respond to inane arguments.
Inaccurate title, but…