The Great Immigration Debate

Libertarians have been talking up the “open borders” argument with greater volume and frequency of late.

But this makes very little sense.

When liberals argue the point, I can understand, because they hate western civilization, and would like to see it destroyed.

But – by all rights – libertarians should want to see the things which make western civilization distinct preserved and even magnified, rather than attenuated and diluted.

Sometimes, libertarians pretend that their philosophy is universal and that it can be abstracted away from any particular people or place. But it’s obvious, at least in North America, that the liberty we enjoy is fairly traceable to the traditional liberty of Englishmen, under the English common law, as well as to frontier pragmatism and a little bit of European, enlightenment philosophy. The libertarian philosophy, as articulated by Americans, is a straightforward development of enlightenment classical liberalism. So when we talk about “liberty” and “libertarianism” we are indeed talking about particularly western things.

When I was a libertarian, I argued for unrestricted immigration because “muh freedumb of contract! Muh freedumb of association! If I want to hire a foreigner to perform some mutually beneficial exchange of money for labor, why should I have to ask the government, or anyone else?” But this point of view is naive. In the first place, such a bargain potentially has vast consequences, for me, beyond the narrow scope of the transaction in question.
[![A new barber opened up shop in town. His methods are a little bit unorthodox, but his prices are very reasonable. I'm going down there later to get a little off the top.](](
A new barber is opening up shop in town. I hear his prices are very reasonable. I’m going down there later to get a little off the top.
And in the second place, it has consequences for others too, so it’s not hard to see why they would have on opinion on the matter. [![367274](]( Bryan Caplan argues that encouraging the mass migration of individuals from shitty countries to less shitty ones would multiply their productivity and result in huge overall gains in production, from which we would all benefit. The real question is, why are some countries so much less shitty than others?
[![With the right immigration policies, your country too, could be this shitty.](](
With the right immigration policies, your country could be this shitty too.
Things tend to happen for reasons. I think one of the biggest reasons is probably the people. Many chalk it up to culture, to values, to institutions and to political ideology. Those are all reasonable explanations, but who holds values and ideologies or builds cultures and institutions? People… And people tend to bring those things with them. You can see it in America with the migration of Yankees. If you’ve lived in the American south, then no doubt you’ve many times heard some damn Yankee carpetbagger say something stupid like “it’s so great here. There are jobs, and everything is so reasonably priced. If only you had unions, a comprehensive social safety net, and high taxes, it would be perfect!”
[![Well that's not how we do it in Detroit. Don't you want to do it like we do it in Detroit?](](
Well that’s not how we used to do it in Detroit. Don’t you want to do it like we did it in Detroit?
The conditions for prosperity are fragile. Sure, there might be some abstract sense in which everyone could be better off if labor could move freely, or whatever. But you start bringing in waves of actual people, people who are poor for actual reasons, and they bring those reasons with them, then the result is they will be better off, certainly, but we won’t be. I mean, there are only two possibilities. Either those people could make their countries less shitty, like ours, in which case, they don’t really need to move here. Or they can’t, in which case, I don’t see why we’d want them to It’s an involuntary transfer, from the people who – for whatever reasons – can be prosperous, to those who can’t.
[![The real reason liberals want immigration, and libertarians are foolish to.](](
The real reason liberals want immigration, and libertarians are foolish to.
Most people, most places, (including here in America) are nothing like libertarian. So if you want a society that prioritizes liberty, you’re going to have to start by excluding almost everyone. Just the way it is.
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Northman is a latter-day barbarian who dwells in the frigid wastes north of the 60th parallel pondering the ills of the day, their possible remedies, and -- ever so infrequently -- dispensing the dig