Anarcho-capitalist counterfactual

This is a slight variant on the collective property rights argument. This variant is different, however, in so far as it relies on considering the counterfactual of an anarcho-capitalist society, and asking: “would such a society effectively have open borders?” Opponents of open borders argue that an anarcho-capitalist society would not have open borders, and hence, existing nation-states should not have open borders either.

Historically, this argument was developed by Murray Rothbard in his later years, and then further developed by anarcho-capitalist Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Stephan Kinsella has defended the logical consistency of the argument, even though he has clarified that he personally identified as pro-migration and pro-open borders, and argued that free migration is the lesser evil given that the state does exist.

Writings making this argument

Attempted refutations of this argument

Quotes from Hoppe’s paper “The Case for Free Trade and Restricted Immigration”

From the recognition that proponents of free trade and markets cannot advocate free immigration without falling into inconsistency and contradiction, and hence, that immigration must —logically—be restricted, it is but a small step to the further recognition of how it must be restricted. As a matter of fact, all high-wage-area governments presently restrict immigration in one way or another. Nowhere is immigration “free,” unconditionally or conditionally. Yet the restrictions imposed on immigration by the U.S. and by Switzerland, for instance, are quite different. What restrictions should then exist? Or, more precisely, what immigration restrictions is a free trader and free marketeer logically compelled to uphold and promote? The guiding principle of a high-wage-area country’s immigration policy follows from the insight that immigration, to be free in the same sense as trade is free, must be invited immigration. The details follow from the further elucidation and exemplification of the concept of invitation vs. invasion and forced integration.

For this purpose, it is necessary to assume first, as a conceptual benchmark, the existence of what political philosophers have described as a private property anarchy, anarcho-capitalism, or ordered anarchy: all land is privately owned, including all streets, rivers, airports, harbors, etc. With respect to some pieces of land, the property title may be unrestricted, that is, the owner is permitted to do with his property whatever he pleases as long as he does not physically damage the property of others. With respect to other territories, the property title may be more or less restricted. As is currently the case in some developments, the owner may be bound by contractual limitations on what he can do with his property (restrictive covenants, voluntary zoning), which might include residential rather than commercial use, no buildings more than four stories high, no sale or rent to unmarried couples, smokers, or Germans, for instance.

Clearly, in this kind of society, there is no such thing as freedom of immigration, or an immigrant’s right of way. What does exist is the freedom of independent private property owners to admit or exclude others from their own property in accordance with their own restricted or unrestricted property titles. Admission
to some territories might be easy, while to others it might be nearly impossible. Moreover, admission to one party’s property does not imply the “freedom to move around,” unless other property owners have agreed to such movements. There will be as much immigration or non-immigration, inclusivity or exclusivity, desegregation or segregation, non-discrimination or discrimination as individual owners or owners associations desire.

The reason for citing the model of an anarcho-capitalist society is that by definition no such thing as forced integration (uninvited migration) is possible (permitted) within its framework. Under this scenario, no difference between the physical movement of goods and the migration of people exists. As every product movement reflects an underlying agreement between sender and receiver, so all movements of immigrants into and within an anarcho-capitalist society are the result of an agreement between the immigrant and one or a series of receiving domestic property owners. Hence, even if the anarcho-capitalist model is ultimately rejected—and if for realism’s sake the existence of a government and of “public” (in addition to private) goods and property is assumed—it brings into clear relief what a government’s immigration policy would have to be, if and insofar as this government derived its legitimacy from the sovereignty of the “people” and was viewed as the outgrowth of an agreement or “social contract” (as is the case with all modern, post-monarchical governments, of course). A “popular” government which assumed as its primary task the protection of its citizen and their property (the production of domestic security) would surely want to preserve, rather than abolish, this no-forced-integration feature of anarcho-capitalism!

In order to realize what this involves, it is necessary to explain how an anarcho-capitalist society is altered by the introduction of a government, and how this affects the immigration problem. Since in an anarcho-capitalist society there is no government, there is no clear-cut distinction between inlanders (domestic citizens) and foreigners. This distinction appears only with the establishment of a government. The territory which a government’s power extends over then becomes inland, and everyone residing outside of this territory becomes a foreigner. State borders (and passports), as distinct from private property borders (and titles to property), come into existence, and immigration takes on a new meaning. Immigration becomes immigration by foreigners across state borders, and the decision as to whether or not a person should be admitted no longer rests exclusively with private property owners or associations of such owners but with the government qua domestic security producer. Now, if the government excludes a person while there exists a domestic resident who wants to admit this very person onto his property, the result is forced exclusion; and if the government admits a person while there exists no domestic resident who wants to have this person on his property, the result is forced integration.

Moreover, hand in hand with the institution of a government comes the institution of public property and goods, that is, of property and goods owned collectively by all domestic residents and controlled and administered by the government. The larger or smaller the amount of public-government ownership, the
greater or lesser will be the potential problem of forced integration. Consider a socialist society like the former Soviet Union or East Germany, for example. All factors of production, including all land and natural resources, are publicly owned. Accordingly, if the government admits an uninvited immigrant, it potentially admits him to any place within the country; for without private land ownership, there exist no limitations on his internal migrations other than those decreed by government. Under socialism, therefore, forced integration can be spread everywhere and thus immensely intensified. (In fact, in the Soviet Union and East Germany, the government could quarter a stranger in someone else’s private house or apartment. This measure—and the resulting high-powered forced integration—was justified by the “fact” that all private houses rested on public land.)

Socialist countries will not be high-wage areas, of course, or at least will not remain so for long. Their problem is not immigration but emigration pressure. The Soviet Union and East Germany prohibited emigration and killed people for trying to leave the country. However, the problem of the extension and intensification of forced integration persists outside of socialism. To be sure, in non-socialist countries such as the U.S., Switzerland, and the Federal Republic of Germany, which are favorite immigration destinations, a government-admitted immigrant could not move just anywhere. The immigrant’s freedom of movement would be severely restricted by the extent of private property, and private land ownership in particular. Yet, by proceeding on public roads, or with public means of transportation, and in staying on public land and in public parks and buildings, an immigrant can potentially cross every domestic resident’s path, even move into anyone’s immediate neighborhood and practically land on his very doorsteps. The smaller the quantity of public property, the less acute the problem will be. But as long as there exists any public property, it cannot be entirely escaped.

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