Welfare state/fiscal burden objection
Opponents of open borders argue that open borders are incompatible with the existence of welfare states and social safety nets, because immigrants, intentionally or unintentionally, end up using more in governmental resources than they pay in taxes. Thus, it is claimed that immigrants (or at least some classes of immigrants) are a net fiscal burden.
These opponents concede that some classes of immigrants do pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits. However, they argue that, instead of open borders, immigrants should be more carefully selected so that they do not pose a fiscal burden (among other criteria).
There are three broad kinds of welfare benefits that are complained about:
- Means-tested welfare benefits for poor people, which immigrants may be able to access either legally or illegally (by hiding their immigrant status)
- Public schools for the children of immigrants
- Emergency medical care for immigrants: While the direct burden of this falls on hospitals, various forms of government subsidy for the provision of emergency medical care may pass the cost to the taxpayer.
Some libertarians have also taken this position. See, for instance, Milton Friedman’s controversial remarks on immigration and the welfare state.
Response by open borders advocates
The overall response of open borders advocates has been to advocate for contracting, or restricting immigrant access to, welfare state benefits rather than forbidding people from entering the country. This can be viewed as a keyhole solution. One implementation may be a guest worker program. Immigration tariffs are another possibility.
More on this line of reasoning, along with links, is available at the contraction of welfare state page.
Evan’s slippery slope argument
In a blog post comment, Evan provides a slippery slope argument (note that Evan uses “political externality” to refer to both political and welfare state externalities of immigrants):
My main objection to the “immigrants use too much welfare” type arguments isn’t necessarily whether or not they do. It’s that using such arguments is a slippery slope that can lead to all sorts of horrible socialist interventions. If you start restricting and regulating a group of people because they place a greater than average burden on social services, where are you going to stop? What conservatives and libertarians fail to realize, when they make these political externalities arguments, is that the left uses these exact same arguments to justify all sorts of awful restrictions on our freedoms.
Smoking bans? The left justifies them by arguing that smoking causes political externalities. Banning fast food restaurants? The left justifies it by arguing that fat people cause political externalities. Soda taxes? Again, the left justifies it by arguing that fat people cause political externalities. Forcing people to buy health care? The left justifies them by arguing that uninsured people cause political externalities. Onerous safety regulations? The left justifies them by arguing that injuries cause political externalities. And the worst example of all that I found was a (luckily unsuccessful) attempt by a faction in the Dutch Parliament to tax stay-at-home moms because since they’re not working they’re not returning the “investment” the government made in their educations.
So I’ve decided, as a matter of principle, to unilaterally reject all “political externality” based arguments for restricting people’s freedom, whether it’s restricting immigration, or restricting fatty foods. The slippery slope it leads down is just too dangerous.
I reject “Overlord Arguments” for the same reason, most conservatives and libertarians who use them as a justification for immigration restriction fail to realize that such arguments can and have been used by the far Left to justify every single social engineering scheme they want to force on us.
Huemer’s starving Marvin hypothetical
Huemer writes (Page 12-15):
Consider again the case of starving Marvin. In the last version of the story, I coercively prevented Marvin from reaching the local marketplace, on the grounds that doing so was necessary to prevent my daughter from having to pay a higher than normal price for her bread. This action seems unjustified. Would I succeed in defending my behavior if I pointed out that, as a father, I have special obligations to my daughter, and that these imply that I must give greater weight to my daughter’s interests than to the interests of non-family members? Certainly the premise is true—if anything, parents have even stronger and clearer duties to protect the interests of their offspring than a government has to protect its citizens’ interests. But this does not negate the rights of non-family members not to be subjected to harmful coercion. My special duties to my offspring imply that, if I must choose between giving food to my child and giving food to a non-family member, I should generally give the food to my child. But they do not imply that I may use force to stop non-family members from obtaining food, in order to procure small economic advantages for my children.
Next, consider the charge that immigrants create a fiscal burden due to their consumption of social services. On the whole, immigrants pay slightly less in taxes than the cost of the social services they consume. This is mainly because immigrants tend to have lower than average incomes, and thus pay relatively low taxes. Some economists believe, however, that in the long run (over a period of decades), increased immigration would have a net positive fiscal impact.
Assume that immigrants impose a net fiscal burden on government. Would this fact justify forcibly preventing a large number of potential immigrants from entering the country? To answer this, first we must ask whether the state presently has an obligation to provide social services to potential immigrants, even at a net cost to the state. On some theories of distributive justice, it could be argued that the state has such an obligation, even though these potential immigrants are not presently citizens. If so, then the state obviously may not exclude potential immigrants for the purpose of shirking this duty.
Suppose, on the other hand, that the state has no such obligation to provide social services to potential immigrants, at least not without collecting from them sufficient revenues to cover the expenditure. If this is true, the state would perhaps be justified in denying social services to immigrants, raising taxes on immigrants, or charging special fees to immigrants for the use of social services. But it remains implausible that the state would be justified in excluding potential immigrants from the territory entirely. It is not typically a satisfactory defense for a harmful act of coercion to say that, because of a policy one has voluntarily adopted, if one did not coerce one’s victim in this way, one would instead confer a benefit on the person that one does not wish to confer.
Suppose, for example, that I run a charity organization. I have made a policy of offering free food to all poor people who enter the local marketplace. Unfortunately, my organization is running a little short on cash, so I am looking for ways to cut costs. When I learn that Marvin is heading to the market to buy some food, I decide to save money by forcibly preventing him from reaching the market. Marvin would be better off being allowed into the marketplace, even without the free food I customarily give out, since he could still buy some inexpensive food with his limited funds. But I have already made a policy of offering free food to all poor people in the marketplace, so I would in fact offer free food to Marvin, were he to make it there. Is it permissible for me to coercively inflict a serious harm on Marvin, in order to avoid having to either break my policy or give free food to Marvin?
Surely not. Perhaps I would be justified in altering my policy and refusing to give free food to Marvin when he arrives at the marketplace—this would be permissible, provided that I have no humanitarian obligation to assist Marvin. But whether or not I have any such humanitarian duties, I surely have no right to actively prevent Marvin from getting his own food. If Marvin had been coming to the market to steal my food, perhaps then again I would be justified in excluding him. Even this claim would be controversial; if Marvin’s condition of need were sufficiently urgent, some would say that I must let him take my food. But whatever one thinks about that question, surely I cannot justify barring Marvin from the opportunity to buy food from others, merely on the grounds that if I permit him to do so, then I will also voluntarily give him some food.