Social Justice, Liberty

Reasons for Open Borders

I suppose the readers of this website are more likely than most to favor open borders. But the majority of people are pretty strongly opposed to immigration. They think the government should amp up its efforts to keep the borders shut (or “secure” in the doublespeak of our time). This post gives reasons for being very skeptical of the idea that governments have a right to do this.

Let’s start at the beginning. Closing the borders strongly curtails the freedom of billions of people around the world. Whenever you want to limit other people’s freedom in these ways, you need a good justification. You better have a good story to tell.

So why would governments be justified in closing their borders? Here are some popular reasons. Perhaps you think that the vast majority of immigrants are dangerous people, and that this is why borders can be justly closed. Or perhaps you worry that immigrations would put undue pressure on our culture. Or you might want to protect the wages and jobs of your fellow citizens, some of whom might lose their positions to more competitive foreigners.

But these are bad reasons to favor closing the borders. First, most immigrants are not dangerous people. In fact, the average immigrant is less likely to commit crime than the average native-born person. So if you’re interested in lowering crime statistics, you should let in more immigrants. In any case, it’s always a bad idea to impose extremely severe limitations on the freedom of many just because you are worried about a few bad apples. Better to try and find the bad apples.

Nor is the desire to protect your culture a good enough reason to take away the freedom of others. Suppose you live in a predominantly white neighborhood, and you’d like to keep it that way. Would that justify you in preventing black people from buying a house nearby yours? Obviously not. (Google: Shelly vs. Kraemer.) But if the desire to protect your local culture does not justify excluding people from neighborhoods, it a fortiori cannot justify excluding people from entire countries.

Third, the desire to exclude people from competing in the labor market also fails to justify closing the borders. Suppose there is this job I want, and you might get it instead because you’ll do the job for less. Does this mean I may coercively prevent you from showing up for your interview? Of course not. It’s the employer’s decision whom to hire, and your decision whether or not to take the job should it be offered. I should let them do as they please. (In any case, it is worth keeping in mind that the likely benefits of allowing people to travel freely are so great that we could easily use some of that money to compensate the people who lost their jobs. You can open borders, tax the winners to make the losers whole, and still come out ahead.)

Some of these arguments may be familiar to you from this excellent discussion by Michael Huemer. But let me add another reason people think governments have the right to close the borders. This is based on the way international law conceives of things. According to international law, sovereign states have the right to close their borders to immigration simply as part of their domestic authority. Might that justify these policies?

To find out, we need to push back the question one step. What are the rights of sovereign states? The question here is about the moral right, not the legal right, to close the borders. So how do states acquire their moral rights to rule? The standard story, enshrined in the US constitution for example, goes that governments acquire these rights from their subjects. Perhaps they receive these rights from their citizens through their democratic consent.

Now as most readers here will know, this story is pretty problematic. (Check back next week for our symposium on this.) But let’s assume for the moment that it works.

Even so, closing the borders would still not be justified. This standard picture conceives of the rights of government as the product of the rights of its citizens. It holds that the government cannot have any rights that its citizens do not possess. (This is why, for example, the constitution mentions inalienable rights – given that these rights could not have been alienated, the government cannot possess them.)  [UPDATE: John Hasnas reminds me that I had in mind the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. Apologies.]

But this story has clear limits. Citizens cannot give the state rights that they do not possess. And no citizen has the right to deny immigrants access to the country. Closing the borders means denying billions of people around the world access to vast pieces of the world. No person has the right to do this.

To see this, consider a US citizen going to France and preventing French Northerners from accessing the French South. Obviously these Americans would be violating the rights of French people – who should be free. But there is no difference between a US citizen violating the rights of foreigners abroad or at home. Violations are violations. The mere fact that one lives within the same area does not help to justify this.

So unless you are already assuming that Americans somehow have a right to close the borders (which is precisely what we are questioning here), there is no reason to think that the US citizens have the right to deny foreigners the freedom to move on American soil. And if they don’t have this right, then they cannot have given it to the government. So this argument too fails.

Let’s consider a final possible argument. Perhaps you think that American citizens together own all the American soil. And perhaps they transferred part of their ownership to the government through their democratic consent. Would that do the trick? (I should note we’re starting to enter into laughably contrived arguments that seem more interested in trying to rationalize as right what now seems clearly wrong. But set that aside.)

Again, the answer is no. For one, it is simply not true that all American land is owned by Americans. Much of it is owned by foreigners. And since they don’t vote, they can’t democratically transfer their rights to the government either. More importantly, it is simply not true that the government is the part-owner of all the land. Just consider what this would mean. If the government had the right to exclude people from all the land, then it would also have the right to decide whom you get to invite for dinner, your party, or whatever. This is plain stupid.

What we are left with is a basic truth.* Closing the borders is horrifically unjust. The vast majority of immigrants simply seek to access our labor market in order to make a better life for themselves and their loved ones. If they could do this from home, they’d probably stay. But they can’t and so they want to come here. By closing the borders we literally prevent billions of people from helping themselves escape the crushing poverty of their societies. We should stop doing this. And we should stop doing this now.


* I have not addressed here what I think is the strongest argument in defense of closed borders. I have in mind Kit Wellman’s argument from self-determination. This argument too fails, and I hope to post a rebuttal of Wellman’s argument here at some point.


[UPDATE:  I occasionally speak of things like “closed borders” in this post. As Matt correctly pointed out in the comments, borders need not be entirely closed in order to violate rights. Borders ought to be open. Closed borders are just the worst kind (and very close to what we’ve got).]

  • Just a question of clarification. You refer throughout your piece to “closed borders.” By this phrase, I assume you mean only “borders that are not completely open,” not “borders that let no one in.” Is that right? If so, I think the phrase is a bit misleading. Perhaps something like “restricted immigration” would be more accurate?

    • Sean II

      I think the thing between closed borders and open borders…I think those are just called “borders”.

      ‘Cause, you know, the tricky thing about “open borders” is that if they’re really open then they’re not really borders.

    • Basvandervossen

      You’re right Matt. I’ll put in an update.

    • reason60

      As long as you are clarifying-
      Does “closed” or “open” refer to the flow of people, goods, or capital?
      What would be the justification for limiting one but not the other?

      • jdkolassa

        “What would be the justification for limiting one but not the other?”


        People commit crimes, but goods and capital don’t.

        Again, just a hypothetical.

        • reason60

          I’m not a libertarian, but “Because we think you might someday commit a crime, we refuse you entry” seems a bit overbearing a use of state power.

          • jdkolassa

            No argument there, but I’m just saying it’s a potential justification someone may bring up. Not that I would use it.

          • Kevin

            That sounds overbearing, but it depends upon the probabilities. e.g. what if the person actually were a criminal?

            But goods can be burdens just as people can be, e.g. importing hazardous waste for storage could increase the risk of externalities.

          • Nameless

            Oh, as a criminal, I fully agree!

    • Six String Samurai

      He also reffered to the doublespeak usage of “secure”. If you read the article, your question would have been answered.

  • j r

    I don’t disagree with any of this, but on this issue you’re not really up against rational arguments.

    For one thing, lots of people have a tendency to imbue the nation state with a form of magical thinking. People judge interactions between the citizens of different nations in radically different ways than they judge the interactions between people of different households or cities or provinces. The city of New York might feel bummed if a big employer left and set up shop in New Jersey, but almost no one would accuse that company of being traitorous. And if Mrs. Smith hired a housekeeper because she can make more money working outside the home, Mr. Smith wouldn’t accuse the housekeeper of taking a job that rightfully belonged to a Smith.

    The other thing is that a good portion of the present opposition to immigration is based on ethnic nationalism, with the economic arguments just there as justification. Nationalists talk about jobs and about the fiscal burden, but that’s almost all a smokescreen. The real argument is that America is a white nation and, while maybe we can tolerate some non-white minority, if that ever changes than the distinctive character of America will forever be altered. This is the brown people don’t understand democracy argument.

    • Basvandervossen

      I fear you are right, j r

  • Bryan C. Winter

    I certainly support the idea of open borders, and i’m 100% behind some form of immigration reform. To claim you like small government but want to fence a 3000 mile border with agents and assault rifles is pretty inconsistent.

    But I do think the question of how unlimited immigration should hasn’t been answered in sufficient depth. For example, there is supposedly a backlog of about 50 Million people. If we removed border agents, customs, ect, what would be result of that?

    I think there is a certain amount of upheaval that this many people all coming to the country would cause to have that many people moving here in the span of a few years. It may end up being a good thing. All that energy, chaos and change can sometimes catalyze the creation of new markets that would benefit the country as a whole, it would shake-up or electoral makeup, forcing leaders to be more responsive. At the same time it could create the conditions for crime, graft and exploitation.

    I am skeptical of centralized control of anything. Our immigration system is a prime example of what happens when politics as opposed to decentralized reasoning is applied to solving problems. I only mean to suggest that the unlimited immigration suggested here hasn’t been sufficiently explored.

    • radgeek

      “For example, there is supposedly a backlog of about 50 Million people. If we removed border agents, customs, ect, what would be result of that?”

      Well, some of those 50,000,000 would presumably make arrangements to move to places within the U.S. As a large number of people began bidding on travel and housing in new cities, fares and rents would increase in response to demand. Eventually, they would become expensive enough that people would stop making plans to move. I have no way of knowing whether or not all 50,000,000 would be willing to afford the move within a short period of time, or whether extremely tight housing and transport markets would price them into more staggered arrivals, depending on when new housing got built, etc. — I am not an expert on housing markets or transport markets everywhere in the U.S., so I don’t know whether there’s enough slack for 50,000,000 people to take up, or how quickly additional building could meet any additional demand over what the markets can currently meet. But either there is or there isn’t enough ready housing and transportation. And if there is, there isn’t any problem to solve; everyone will come and find a place. If there isn’t, then rapid increases in market pricing will peacefully and gradually balance out demand at the margin until the incoming demand more or less matches the housing and transportation being brought into the market. As a general thing, market pricing mechanisms tends to provide an imperfect, but mostly pretty good means for dynamically adjusting the supply of scarce resources to intelligently meet sudden shifts in demand.

      And however many people are able to find places to stay, when they find places to stay, those people will in general be much better off than they were when they were forcibly locked out; as will their neighbors, their families, and their trading partners.

      • Sean II

        Fine, but don’t forget what really happens. Choked by licenses and zoning and building codes and other bullshit, the market will not respond in anything like the manner you describe. So you get a little tent city somewhere, and that smells and looks ugly and the media sensationalizes it into a mini-Superdome and there are calls – not from the people in the tent city, of course, but from idiot hipsters and rent-seeking interests – for “HOUSING FAIRNESS NOW”. This leads to a fresh round of licensure requirements and subsidies and to a ban on “improvised dwellings within 1,000 light years of a school, etc..”.

        Flash forward five years. The new group ain’t doing so well. What explains this? Must be racism. What’s the solution? What else? More white people should get more jobs writing about how awful the racism is. Doesn’t that usually work?

  • Les Kyle Nearhood

    I am completely unmoved by these arguments. Although I am in general in favor of increased immigration, I think that a nation absolutely has the right to regulate their own borders and their own citizenship. I see no natural right to move to whatever nation you wish regardless of the wishes of those people.

    • Basvandervossen

      “I think that a nation absolutely has the right to regulate their own borders and their own citizenship.”

      The burden of proof here is on you. The arguments I discuss in the text suck. So why think this?

      • Les Kyle Nearhood

        Well, since no nation on earth has such a foolish policy the burden is upon you. But let us consider this scenario. The leaders of a small nation like New Zealand are suddenly filled with foolish libertarian extremism and decide to proclaim totally open borders. The populous nation of Indonesia decides to simply flood New Zealand with 15 million people. These people quickly take over the nation and convert it into a sharia muslim society. According to your extremist views the people of New Zealand would have absolutely no say so. They would just have to all convert to Islam and learn to like it. I know libertarians sometimes like to think of nations as some sort of abstraction but they are not. They are real things and nation, culture, religion, all of these things are very important to people. Nations have an absolute right to include or exclude whomever they wish. The wishes of the common people are not unimportant.

        • shemsky

          I have another scenario for you, Les. What if the bible really is true, and you will spend eternity suffering in hell because you didn’t put your trust in Jesus?

          • Freedom72

            So we should have let Hitler rule the world, because our trust in Jesus? This board is quite eye opening and frightening. When academians spend their whole life in their own perceived utopia, these are the policies that germinate. The untold effects are quite the opposite of what is preached here. The examples are endless.

      • nick mardero

        Great piece. I just wondering how you respond to the “we can’t handle it objection” which goes something like this: There’s only so much land and resources here. We can’t handle 50 million people coming over in 2 years. It would massively drive up the cost of everything (rent, education, and so on and so forth).

        • Basvandervossen

          Hi Nick,
          It’s a good question. This is an issue of transition, and obviously it’s not to be ignored or downplayed. One possible way of approaching it would be to phase opening the borders.
          Then again, it’s worth wondering whether the cost of rising rents to some people can justify continuing keeping out so many.

          • Kevin

            What is the difference between “phasing” and restricted growth?

            If, during your phasing process, some groups produce statistically more violence and illiberal behavior than other groups, why shouldn’t the more cooperative groups be correspondingly preferred, since we can handle more of them? Wouldn’t that help us “phase” to open borders faster?

          • nick mardero

            An excellent point. And it’s also important to note that rents are super high in NYC because people from the other 49 states come and live there. I really see no good moral argument for why new Yorkers are not allowed their restrict their entry but allowed to restrict the entry of, say, Canadians, other than an appeal to custom which of course does not move me.

          • Kevin

            It’s not an appeal to custom, it’s an appeal to the states’ contract with each other manifested in the federal government.

            Perhaps New Yorkers should have that right, but it is interesting to note that they cannot presently restrict the entry of Canadians if the federal government permits it. If I recall correctly, there are even limits to what New Yorkers can do if the Canadians are there illegally.

          • nick mardero

            I think you’re right on the law there but there is no real contract between the states. Libertarians should be the last group of people who need to be told that. Sure there was an agreement among the majority of people living in the states hundreds of years ago but why should that be binding on us today and even if the majority today agrees with continuing the concept why should the minority be obligated to accepts its claims, indeed why should the global majority which would like freer immigration be obligated? I don’t think any of these questions are resolved by contractualist arguments unfortunately.

          • Kevin

            There is a contract but no individual is obligated to remain subject to it. The problem is finding a better alternative.

            Let’s say you do create your ideal state with a contract amongst the people. How do you propose that contract be renewed over time?

          • nick mardero

            I don’t think such a mechanism exists or ever could exist in a fully morally and politically satisfying sense… you?

          • Kevin

            No, we can’t fully satisfy everyone, so the question is, what is our best option? A constitutional republic isn’t too bad, in my opinion, with limited authority.

          • nick mardero


    • Nameless

      You make the most sense on this thread.


    I ask this question for the sake of argument, so there is no need to explain to me that it is unrealistic or empirically impossible. Assume that it is impossible to screen out the “bad apples” and that open borders would turn our political culture into that of Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. In this hypothetical, further assume that it would be impossible for people like (the late) Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc. to publically and enthusiastically espouse atheism due to great risk of death; for the same reason it would be very risky for Jews to openly practice their religion; it would be highly risky to publish cartoons depicting the Prophet or otherwise to criticize or mock Islam; etc. Would you still be in favor of open borders?

    • Basvandervossen

      I know you said this much, but for the record let’s stress that this is a fanciful scenario.

      As to your question, yes. There seems to me no difference between our inability to distinguish between the bad apples and the good apples who are abroad, and domestic bad apples and good apples. If you think this is good enough reason to close the borders, why is it not also good enough reason to deport, say, the entire city of Detroit? The latter is obviously unacceptable. So I suppose the former is too.


        I’m sorry, but I guess my hypothetical was not precise enough. Please let me try again. Assume that as things now stand less than 1% of the U.S. population believes that society should be governed by Sharia law and is willing to use violence to impose it. Assume, for purposes of argument, that under open borders that percentage would rise to 20%, with the consequences previously described. Would you still favor open borders?

        • Sean II

          Mark, may I suggest a pure hypothetical is best in this case.

          Imagine two states: Kronos and Vulcan. The inhabitants of Kronos believe in violence, honor, manly posturing, and other silly bullshit. The inhabitants of Vulcan, as a rule if not quite perfectly, believe in reason, wisdom, peace, and other nice things.

          Because a kick to the head always beats a syllogism in the short run, it is obvious that any large-scale blending between these people is bad news for the Vulcans.

          I submit this: anyone who claims the Vulcans have a moral duty to accept this, to welcome the kick to their own heads, should probably take a step back and say: “Hmmm. Something is wrong. My moral logic has given me a totally outrageous conclusion. Maybe I should chuck this in with the ash heap of moral deductions gone mad: the trolley problem, the Kant ax murderer thing, etc. Maybe, if nothing else, I should hold off on the preaching just a bit and say stuff like: ‘This is a difficult problem. On the one hand, huddled masses yearning to breath free. Who doesn’t want to help them out. On the other hand, another couple million bad voters might just ruin the whole thing for me, and for thee.’

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Accepted, thanks.

          • Jason Brennan

            I’m a staunch advocate of open borders. But I think Bas should just respond as follows:

            There is a strong presumption, on deontological grounds alone, in favor of open borders. This presumption can of course be defeated if it turned out that open borders would have very bad or disastrous consequences. Now, when one reviews the empirical literature on open borders–on how they would double world GDP, on how immigrants would boost rather than depress most domestic wages, on how immigrants in fact typically are less likely to commit crimes than those born into citizenship, etc.–then one finds there is also an incredibly strong consequentialist case for open borders. But, yeah, there are costs, too. And if someone can prove to me that open borders would turn the entire world into Islamist shariah hell-holes, then that would, I think, be a strong case against open borders. But that person has the burden of proof in showing that, given the other arguments *for* open borders.

            Or, in short, for almost any policy X that I advocate, if someone showed me X would be a disaster, I wouldn’t advocate X. So, hypotheticals of the sort “what if X caused a disaster?” aren’t interesting. Evidence that X really would be a disaster is.

          • Sean II

            “This presumption can of course be defeated if it turned out that open borders would have very bad or disastrous consequences.”

            As long as you admit that, I doubt you’ll have too much a problem with Mark. Of course you must also admit that some people on your side of the aisle have decided that the deontological case ends the matter. They refuse to admit what you have here.

            And since you are you – the Ethics of Voting guy – it would be especially nice if you came to grips with what seems a near certainty: the new entrants from an open borders policy in the US would almost certainly worse voters, on average…possibly much worse. If you think Americans don’t understand how prices work, just wait until you meet the folks from almost anywhere else!

            On another point, you’re being very kind to describe the literature on open borders as “empirical”. I would rather say “empiricesque”, because there is not and cannot be truly empirical data telling us what would happen if the richest state on earth suddenly opened its borders. That would have to be done, to be observed.

          • reason60

            What is a “worse voter”?

          • Kevin

            One who would vote against your liberties. It’s a paradox for a libertarian to promote a policy on principle if that would result in a less libertarian government.

          • reason60

            Thats the trouble with liberty- everyone wants to exercise it.

          • Kevin

            No, that’s the trouble with voting: it is coercive.

            i.e. exercising free speech is categorically different from exercising your vote to eliminate free speech. One is coercive, the other is not.

          • reason60

            Well, this seems to be based on the premise that there is nothing worse than a restriction of liberty, or coercion.
            I would argue that liberty is merely one of many means to the end of producing a just society. Coercion is entirely legitimate, within proper limits.

          • Kevin

            Sometimes coercion is necessary “within proper limits” as you say, but liberty is not merely one means to a just society, it is a moral of every just society.

            My premise is simply that voluntary solutions are preferable to coercive solutions.

            “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” – Churchill

            In other words, government should be the last resort because it is coercive.

          • reason60

            Of course voluntary is preferable to coercive- but between this post an the other like it above, its sounds like, when faced with a conflict between two parties’ goals, you limit responses to either withdrawal to the archipelago, or some form of coercive tyranny.
            Isn’t it possible that subordinating individual desires to the good of the collective produces a result that is superior to either of the first two options?

          • Kevin

            It depends upon the goals in conflict. The government does adjudicate justice, for example, and it works well in that role as referee — not solving domain problems itself, but arbitrating between others’ conflicts in solving problems. This coercion is justified.

            But the most common response is for parties to voluntarily cooperate, because if subordinating individual desires to the good of the collective would clearly produce a superior result, then they will also tend to cooperate voluntarily to achieve that result.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Thanks for taking my questions seriously. I don’t really disagree with your position philosophically. On the empirics, I am not worried about economics or garden-variety crime, but the loss of what little we have of the rule of law, i.e. with the loss of rights. So, I regard this issue as deontological.

            There are countless millions of U.S. citizens and legal residents of Mexican heritage. I can’t think of a single case in which any of them murdered a person for mocking their religion or for the “crime” of holding a different religion. Yet in this country there is a long there is a long and growing list of crimes by Muslim citizens and legal residents of just this sort (Boston Marathon, etc.). As I pointed out to Bas, it takes only a few crimes of this type to intimidate everyone else. How many artists in Holland will discuss Islam after Theo van Gogh? I also urge readers to google the situation of the Jewish community in Sweden’s third largest city, Malmo, where there is also a large immigrant Muslim community.

          • nick mardero

            Hello there,
            I wonder how much of this comes down to probability for you. If open borders increased the chance of America turning into an Islamist hellhole of repression by 0.1 percent I’d say “Given the certain good that would result it’s worth taking the risk.” If it was 10 percent and then 20 and then 30 and then 50 and then 90… well suffice it to see the very strong presumption in favour of open borders would weaken along that spectrum of probability. What level of probability strikes you as acceptable risk? I don’t think you would argue that the probability has to be zero?
            And while I’m quite sympathetic to your concerns about the Islamist threat (and troubled by how many libertarians are reflexively dismissive of this threat as “neocon propaganda”) I do think your claim of a “long and growing list of crimes by Muslim citizens and legal residents” is overstated. I mean sure the Boston bombings but that’s a few people. So what is the empirical basis for this claim?

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Hi Nick:

            Good questions. I don’t think there is a definite probability of risk that can be cited. I think the question is a general one. If “A” has a particular right, and “B” is acting in a way that poses a risk of threatening to violate A’s right (say destruction of his health or property), when can B be prohibited.

            As to the “long and growing list,” I am a little pressed for time now, by I will start with Maj. Nidal Hasan’s murder of 13 unarmed comrades in 2009 ( and add the Seattle Jewish Center murder of 2006 ( and the Brooklyn Bridge murder of 1994 ( When I have a little more time I will supplement the list.

          • nick mardero

            All the cases you list are morally repugnant of course but, with respect to your time constraints, I still think that even the most wide ranging supplementation would still reveal such acts to be few and far between. However, I think you’ve identified a serious problem: the way that a small band of fanatics can choke off the oxygen of free debate. For example, the cartoon controversy. That said, it does seem like the US Muslim population is more well integrated than the Muslim population in Europe.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            As promised, I supplemented my list (see above). I don’t think we really disagree about this issue. I wouild just note the following: (i) I am sure my list is still incomplete; (ii) it only lists murders and attempted murders, not other still serious hate crimes such as fire-bombing synagogues, vandalizations, etc.; (iii) the list does not include the many dozens of plots to commit murder broken up by the authorities. According to the ADL, sinced 9/11 more than 170 American Muslim extremists have been arrested on terror-related charges,,DB7611A2-02CD-43AF-8147-649E26813571,frameless.htm. People tend to deride these plots as the work of amateurs and cranks…until people actually get killed as in the Boston Marathon bombings.

            The list also does not include threats and intimidation, as in the Satanic Verses and Danish cartoon book referenced above. But the key point, which you grasp, is that it takes relatively few overt acts to cow and intimidate people. I think it is reasonable to think that things would get worse, not better, under open borders.

          • nick mardero

            It’s an entirely reasonable concern and one that poses a serious intellectual challenge to the open borders position. Do you not think, though, that one can make a pretty compelling case that immigration restrictions we have in place now so seriously deprive so many people of liberty and causes so much suffering as a result that the moral calculus, all things considered, still leaves us with a pro-open borders conclusion?
            Also, what of the idea of a North American Union with Canada and Mexico, not with a common currency as the EU but with complete freedom of movement for those living in one of the three countries. Would this not be a considerable improvement on libertarian grounds without involving the threat of Islamitization? In fact, we could go further than that and have de facto open borders with other friendly countries like Britain, Germany, and so on and so forth could we not?

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            No question, reasonable people can differ on the empirics of open borders. I just note this: non-consequentialist libertarians hold that the moral weight of rights trumps utilitarian considerations. So, I don’t think we are required to give up our current (imperfect) rights of free expression, association, etc. because enforcing these rights causes hardship for others. And, yes, I wouldn’t object to open borders with other “civilized” (I say provocatively) nations.

          • nick mardero

            You do say so provocatively but correctly I think. I’m not sure I’d consider myself a non-consequentialist libertarian though. Like Ilya Somin over at Volohk, I think the moral justification for libertarianism lies in a theoretical marriage of deontological and consequentialist arguments but lets stick to deontology since it seems to your preferred ground. I think the problem with your case is that it does not seem to acknowledge what I view as two rights violations. By this, I mean we no doubt have a right to free expression but I would also submit that people have a right to freedom of movement, to go wherever they please. I see current immigration restrictions as violating the rights of millions of peaceful people who would like to come here. Yet I share your concern that allowing such an arrangement might threaten our right to free speech yet I don’t think this reasonable objection changes the fact that immigration restrictions still violate rights. In other words, if people have a right to freedom of movement and a right to free speech and the two conflict…

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            When you say “people have a right to freedom of movement, to go wherever they please,” I think you mean to condition this purported right on them having an invitation to travel to the desired place. I would certainly deny that anyone has a right to camp out in my living room w/o my consent. So, I take it that your claim is that if my neighbor Joe invites someone (“x”) to live on his property, I have no right to object, even if that person is a Islamic fundamentalist from Pakistan.

            Not so fast. Inviting x to live on his property is simply one of many acts that Joe is entitled to. But all of them are limited by the concept of externalities. Joe does not have a right to use his property to build a plant that emits toxic fumes that kill his neighbors. And if x is a crazy man looking to kill Jews, atheists, gays, etc., then he is a negative externality with respect to a tolerant, pluralistic, liberal (in the classical sense) society. At least that is the way I look at it.

          • nick mardero

            Let me put forth a thought experiment here to illustrate the problematic aspect of your thinking even though as I’ve said I’m far from being entirely unsympathetic to it. Imagine a new religion takes hold tomorrow. Let’s not worry about what its tenets are. Let’s just say that many of its adherents are utter fanatics and even though they aren’t the majority the large minority that do exist scare people into silence and, even worse, sometimes harm individuals including killing them. Now further imagine that this religion, for whatever reason, becomes the faith of 50 percent of people living in California. In response, people call for restricted immigration from California, similar to the levels of immigration we accept from Pakistan. Justified?
            The point here just being that a lot of people from Pakistan aren’t extremists and restricting immigration hurts them too. They don’t want to harm anybody and would not create an externality in coming here as they just want to work. You cannot deny the policy you favor violates their right to freedom of movement assuming they do not fit the profile of the “crazy man” you laid out right? I think ultimately the only justification here can be that the lesser rights violation of restricted borders with these countries is preferable to the greater rights violation of open borders with them. I don’t see any other argument?

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Very short answer: yes, if I lived in another state I would favor limiting immigration from California (I’m half-way there as it is!). Somewhat longer answer: I’m not sure the analogy is apt because the people of California have certain expectation rights based on our constitution, laws and customs that foreigners don’t enjoy. It would violate rights to suddenly say one day: “hey, sorry your constitutional protections have just been repealled.”

            Longer answer: This problem is inherent in legislation generally. For example, the cut-off for an illegal blood alcohol level while driving is .08. I am sure that at least some people can drive safely at that level, and thus the law unfairly penalizes them, but the law must generalize, it can’t consider each person’s case on its own merits. The law must strike a balance between achieving its objective and not penalizing the innocent. If it is morally legitimate for the state to legislate in a particular field (e.g. immigration) to start with, I don’t see your objection as fatal.

          • nick mardero

            I’ll give you the final word but first allow me to end with a statement followed by a question. First for the statement: I don’t think the blood alcohol is an apt analogy since, at worst, it’s a small inconvenience for a minority of people whereas restricted borders constitute a huge restriction on the liberty of individuals resulting in great suffering.
            And now for the question. Given that you acknowledge (I think) that restricting immigration is only justified on the grounds of externalities (in this case the externality being the spread of the poison of illiberal authoritarianism) and given that you acknowledge (I think) that many people, even in Muslim majority countries, would just come here and work and not spread such a poison, does it not trouble you that restricted borders punishes those people as well and are we not violating their rights since they pose no harm?

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Very quickly. The blood alcohol case is one of a number of examples I could give. I think the point remains that the imperfect nature of legislation does not make it unjust, so long as the legislature has the moral authority to pass the type of law in question.
            Second. Of course it troubles me. But living in a world where certain subjects are off limits because they offend some people, and where hate crimes would be far more prevalent, troubles me more.

          • RobW

            “Or, in short, for almost any policy X that I advocate, if someone showed me X would be a disaster, I wouldn’t advocate X. So, hypotheticals of the sort “what if X caused a disaster?” aren’t interesting. Evidence that X really would be a disaster is.”

            Jason, I find this line of reasoning a very poor method for determining the rationale that supports one’s first principles. Your line of reasoning says, basically, that you’ll support any policy so long as you like the outcome. If it could be shown, by whatever standard of evidence you deem sufficient, that open borders would let in people who make America “worse”, according to your standards, then you oppose it? But if open borders makes America “better,” then you support it? (Yes, I know you said “disaster,” but that’s just a matter of arbitrary degree based on your subjective judgment.)

            So libertarians should support liberty when it makes us happier, but oppose it when it does not? Principles should stand apart from outcomes. Because, after all, one’s view of an outcome is subjective, and to one a “good” is to another “bad.” Who decides? The majority? The side with the bigger guns? The side who uses terrorism and fights dirty?

            If people are endowed with the liberty to live wherever they like on our planet, then that should be so regardless of whether the newcomers make the place to which they have moved better or worse according to the subjective judgement of some of that’s locale’s prior residents.

          • Jason Brennan

            This objection is a non sequitur. I didn’t say I’d oppose open borders if thy lead to worse consequences, but only if they led to a disaster.

            There’s a huge difference between saying that really severe consequences can override deontological constraints and saying that only consequences matter. I said the former but reject the latter. Your objection conflates the two.

          • RobW

            I don’t see it as a huge difference, The process is exactly the same – you determine your support for a principle based on the quality of its outcome as you subjectively define “quality.” The only difference is a matter of degree. You’ll accept many outcomes, even ones that are subjectively negative, so long as they don’t cross the “disaster” threshold, as arbitrarily determined by you,

            Example: I believe that all people have the right to elect the societal leadership of their choice through free and fair democratic elections. I also believe that electing Sarah Palin as President would be a disaster for our nation. Therefore, if it appears that Sarah Palin will be elected President, is it reasonable for me for oppose democracy because of that disastrous outcome, and instead support a method of imposing a President on the nation that meets my criteria for an acceptable outcome?

          • RobW

            Disagreements aside, I just bought your “What Everyone Needs to Know” book for the train ride this weekend. Looking forward to reading it.

          • Nameless

            Well, I suppose we could just wait and see what happens…then the burden will become to undo the incredible foolishness you didn’t think through.

          • Sean II

            Obviously we are not adversaries here, but I foresee many people taking the cheap shortcut against you* by saying “Really? Sharia? Psshaw! That’s not gonna happen so…”.

            By contrast, when you use Star Trek based examples, you always get instant respect. That’s just a rule.

            * Bas already did that above with his “fanciful scenario” comment. Which pisses me off quite enough, because it’s not a question of Sharia becoming the law of the land. The presence of even a small insanity-based community can pose serious challenges to a liberal order. In my town awhile back, this East African woman died of hemorrhaging from a still birth, despite being less than one mile from a world-class medical center. The EMTs arrived in plenty of time to save her life, but once the “men” of her community realized the male medics would have to see her vagina to save her life, they formed a human wall and let her die. The EMTs screamed and fought trying to reach her, but it was something like 15 against 2.

            Now let me access the libertarian part of my brain, and see what it wants. Is it: a) 15 criminal indictments for depraved indifference, or b) an immigration policy that opens the door to a potentially limitless inflow of people who believe things that are crazy, dangerous, and evil. Hmmm…close call.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            I couldn’t agree more with this: “The presence of even a small insanity-based community can pose serious challenges to a liberal order.” When the Stanic Verses was published in


          • jdkolassa

            FYI, I found this thread so interesting I made a Storify about it:

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Thanks for taking this issue seriously. And, no, sadly I am not related to the Friedman libertarian dynasty.

          • jdkolassa

            Darn. I was hoping to be wrong.

          • jdkolassa

            Just so you know, me and a friend of mine had a Twitter debate over your comment:

          • Sean II

            About that discussion with your friend, a couple things:

            1) The people who said a mass influx of Irish + Eastern and Southern Europeans into the United States would change its culture were NOT wrong. Some of those changes were good (e.g., Yiddish theatre which became comedy as we know it today). Some were very bad. (e.g. Marxism and Roman Catholicism).

            2) Even if they had been wrong, it wouldn’t tell us anything about the risk of a mass influx from Africa and the Middle East today. It could well be, and indeed it seems obvious that, the culture of Southern and Eastern Europe in 1900 was a good deal less hideous than the culture of North Africa today.

            3) Point of fact: the cops absolutely were called in the case of the Somali woman who died in childbirth. They lost a bunch of time looking for a female officer, since their policies, training, etc. required them to do this when dealing with domestic violence/sex crimes/family law in Muslim communities.

            I suppose your flippant friend will say “get more female cops – problem solved, not an issue”. But he’d be dead wrong. The simple fact that police departments have procedures designed to accommodate medieval sexual segregation is powerful evidence of our point – it’s not a saving grace for his.

          • j r

            The culture of Southern and Eastern Europe saw some pretty horrendous things in the 20th century and yet the immigrants from those places were largely able to assimilate into the United States. This might be a clue that successful assimilation has a lot more to do with the culture of the receiving country than with the culture of the home country.

          • Sean II

            The culture of the proposed “receiving country” (i.e., the United States) is a decrepit mix of cultural relativism and affluent guilt. It’s in no condition to defend itself.

          • j r

            By that measure, the culture of Jim Crow, the disenfranchisement of women, and political domination by a small cadre of machine party politicians makes for a healthier country. The idea that liberal democracy is a hothouse flower is a very common defense of illiberal ideas.

          • Sean II

            And gratuitous mentions of Jim Crow are a very common defense of dudes who are losing arguments.

          • j r

            Nice deflection, but sorry. You first mentioned immigration in 1900 and then implied that our culture was less decrepit at that time. Although, I understand why you may find it difficult to defend that assertion, there’s nothing gratuitous about pointing out historical facts.

            By the way, I do admire your stick and move. You’re fine making the “people who look different and call their god funny names are a threat to my democracy argument,” but mentioning the historical facts of what U.S. democracy has actually looked like is somehow gratuitous.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Beliefs, of whatever sort, theistic or atheistic are not a threat to democracy (more importantly, the rule of law). People whose beliefs prompt them to threaten to and then actually firebomb bookstores because they dare sell the Satanic Verses, prompting 1/3 of them in the U.S. not to sell it, and many others to hide it in the back like they used to with pornography, sure as hell are a threat.

          • j r

            Yes, people who firebomb things are a threat. I am glad that we settled that. I still don’t buy the presumed connection to the immigration issue.

          • Sean II

            I’ll give you better than you deserve:

            1) Incredibly enough, merely mentioning the culture of 1900 does not oblige me to embrace or defend every part of it. For example, Jim Crow. If you’re going to Godwin me, at least hit me with Godwin Classic. I hate New Godwin.

            2) The comparison was not between the American culture of 1900 and the American culture of 2013. It was between the culture of Southern and Eastern Europe in 1900 and that of the Middle East & North Africa today.

            3) This part will blow your mind, but denouncing cultural relativism is…hold on to your hat, my brother…is not the same thing as calling for segregated schools and lunch counters. Go ahead and take a minute, I realize that’s a lot to process in one day.

            4) Liberal democracy certainly is a hothouse flower. Just ask any of the following countries that tried and failed to keep it alive: France, Russia, Germany, Spain, etc. If you take the “liberal” part seriously, then you can see that flower wilt in Britain and the United States, too.

          • Damien S.

            It could also be that the scale of migration matters. In the 19th century it was limited by sheer cost and scale. As transportation technology improved and costs fell, legal barriers rose. Having 10% of your population be new immigrants is different from having 60% of your population be new immigrants.

          • J D

            And the potentially limitless flow of people who believe these and similar things severely erodes the ability of the existing order to function (prosecute).

        • Basvandervossen


          Sorry for the late reply – I was out of town. I understood your 1st hypothetical to be about a case in which we couldn’t tell who was more and less likely to violate rights. In such a world, I don’t see why we’d draw an artificial boundary-line and exclude only foreigners from free movement.

          But I now see what your worry is. Although I don’t see why you didn’t just say it: you fear muslim immigration – and probably just a particular kind of muslim immigrant.

          Let me say two things in response. First, I agree with what Jason said in response to your message. But I don’t think Jason said quite enough. If your worried about people coming from countries A, B, and C, you cannot use that to exclude people from countries D through Z. So nothing like a justification for our current policies follows, even if we grant your extravagant empirical assumptions.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Thanks. As I stated in response to an earlier comment, I’m not worried about nations D through Z. However, I think my objection generalizes: if unfettered immigration would result in a substantial loss of rights in the “host” country, whatever the exact cause, the citizens of the host country are not morally required to enact it.

      • Sean II

        Well, since we all know it has been and again will be the driving force behind a massive act of extortion…if I had the power to declare Detroit an open city with no further claim against the taxpayers of Michigan or the United States, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I suppose that’s not a far cry from deportation.

        And for the record: I don’t deny that you’ve soundly deduced a tidy little conclusion from your premises. It really does follow just like you say: if people have an absolute right to migrate as they wish, then states and nations and cultures really must have an absolute moral duty to let themselves be destroyed.

        You bite that mad bullet like a man, I’ll give you that.

  • adrianratnapala

    I suppose the readers of this website are more likely than most to favor open borders. But the majority of people are pretty strongly opposed to immigration.

    Immigration and open boarders are not the same thing. Nor is wanting to enforce exiting laws in immigration the same as opposing immigration. In a country with a often-penetrated border, talk of “securing” it is not doublespeak.

    I think the US border is (now) pretty secure, and doesn’t really need to be secured anyway. But it is still unfair of BvdV to misrepresent others this way.

    Let’s start at the beginning. Closing the borders strongly curtails
    the freedom of billions of people around the world. Whenever you want to
    limit other people’s freedom in these ways, you need a good
    justification. You better have a good story to tell.

    My tenancy over my flat curtails the rights of even more people (including even the flat’s owner). And yet it is well respected. National borders and property lines are not-very-distant cousins. Pre-state (i.e., small) societies wouldn’t really make the distinction. State-scale societies have found they needed at least two levels of territoriality.

    I’m an Australian. When my first predecessors arrived in Sydney and displaced various Aboriginal groups, were they merely exercising their freedom of movement? If they had somehow got permission from individual locals reside on a patch of land, would that have made it OK?

    … it’s always a bad idea to impose extremely severe limitations on the freedom of many just because you are worried about a few bad apples.

    In practical terms, yes. Morally it is only an issue if you assume the many immigrants had the right of entry in the first place. So the argument really just comes down to an assertion.

    Suppose you live in a predominantly white neighborhood, and you’d like to keep it that way. Would that justify you in preventing black people from buying a house nearby yours?

    It even would be unjustified if the hypothetical were not about a racial group but about vilest, wickedest Americans of any race who are not actual convicts. That’s because Americans even vile, wicked ones, have the right to live in America and Aussies in Australia etc. These moral rights were formed long ago by various historical facts and they override the (genuine) practical interests of the existing residents.

    Again you have a circular argument; it only makes sense if everyone in the world already had a right to live anywhere else in the world.

    Third, the desire to exclude people from competing in the labor market also fails to justify closing the borders.

    Protectionism is stupid, but what has that got to do with anything? Again the argument would make sense if you already accepted its conclusion.

    Also, think about trade in goods: I strongly favour free trade, but I wouldn’t want to set it in constitutional stone. If governments can regulate the movement of teapots, then certainly they should be able to regulate the movements of foreigners. (Even though both types of regulation are unwise).

    Now for the metaphysics:

    … And no citizen has the right to deny immigrants access to the country…

    Err, why not? Conceivably citizens have no *ability* to do this. Or else a state might *take* this right from them. But to say that is somehow never existed is just an assertion.

    Closing the borders means denying billions of people around the world access to vast pieces of the world. No person has the right to do this.

    The first assertion is obviously correct. The second is … just an assertion.

    So unless you are already assuming that Americans somehow have a
    right to close the borders (which is precisely what we are questioning
    here), there is no reason to think that the US citizens have the right


    Opponents of immigration use mirror-image assertions to BvdV. If territorial rights were had to be derived from pure reason and transcendental right then all the two sides could do is but heads. At some level we have to recognise those rights which are social facts and discard others. And when if we are talking about modern-day national borders, the facts usually favour border controllers over border crossers.

    Do you want to change these facts? It can be done. An intermediate step would be if nations kept their quasi-property rights but *voluntarily* gave everyone an open invitation to visit as long as they liked.

  • CapitalistRoader

    “So why would governments be justified in closing their borders? Here are some popular reasons. ”

    Maybe I missed it, but an analysis government welfare costs related to immigration should have been included in the column. Will immigration increase or reduce the cost of the welfare state? Short term and long term.

    • Basvandervossen

      One can only do so much in one post. But Huemer discusses this question in the piece to which I linked. I highly recommend looking at it.

      • CapitalistRoader

        Thank you. From Huemer’s piece:

        “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.”

        Considering government fiscal problems in all levels of US government, would it be beneficial to encourage immigration from countries or regions of the world in which the odds that an immigrant to be a net-taxpayer will be higher, both short- and long-run? For instance, see Table 4. Welfare use for Households with Children for Countries and Regions, 2009:

        It seems to me that immigration is similar to an employer selecting an employee to hire. Finding an employee who can hit the ground running is preferable to a new hire who needs extensive training to start producing, everything else being equal.

  • Irfan Khawaja

    On reading this post, I can’t tell whether the author’s intended conclusion is “The borders of every nation on Earth should be open” or “The borders of the United States should be open.” There are references to the moral rights of sovereign states generally, and there are references to “the borders,” which implies some specific border. The first reference seems to point to a completely general claim about states as such, the second to an American-specific one. Which one was intended?

  • Chris Bertram

    Good piece. However it seems to me that there’s a difference between wealthy nations and poor ones with respect to migration, and between rich and poor would-be migrants. When the US excludes poor would-be migrants, it seriously harms the interests of those people in living a decent life. If a poor community in, say, an island paradise chooses to limit the right of wealthy Americans to build homes and retire to their island, they don’t thwart the vital interests of the excluded to the same degree, since those interests can be secured elsewhere.

    • Basvandervossen

      I don’t accept the view – which you seem to accept – that it’s permissible to limit my freedom if the instrumental value of that freedom (the so-called vital interests to which you refer) remains “sufficiently” served. Think about it this way. Suppose the UK government removed you from your job, gave you a similar post in, say, Leicester, and paid for your moving expenses, we might say your “vital interests are secured elsewhere.” But that would not help justify this.

      • Chris Bertram

        Wouldn’t it? Maybe not on its own, but if some other sufficiently weighty value were served by my relocation to Leicester and if my personal interests were adequately protected, then such a guarantee might tip the balance of reasons.

        • Basvandervossen

          Well, you’re adding a very strong extra condition there. I can imagine cases in which that would be permissible. But that wasn’t what you suggested initially.

  • Chris Bertram

    2nd comment on a good piece to which I’m sympathetic.

    You assert that the “standard view” “holds that the government cannot have any rights that its citizens do not possess.” But that view is, plainly, a rather contested one. The Kantian view holds the citizens can indeed jointly create and hold a kind of right that they separately lack, namely, a right to administer justice (with territorial jurisdiction as a part of that). I think that there are a lot of problems with that Kantian story, but it needs to be dealt with to get your argument off the ground.

    • Basvandervossen

      Agreed. I don’t find that particular kind of Kantian view very plausible, but there are some people who hold it.

  • John Hasnas


    You are conflating the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution. The Declaration is not part of the Constitution, and is not part of the “law of the land.” This is commonly done by both civil libertarians and classical liberals, but it is nonethe less an error. The Constittuion does guaranttee right to life, liberty, (property,) or the pursuit of happiness beyond what is explicitly contained in its terms–primarily in the Ammendments, and then only against encroachment by the federal government–and it does not recognize either un- or in-alienable rights.

    This does not undermine your arguments, but the inaccuracy does not help them, either.

    • Basvandervossen

      Thanks for letting me know John. I guess I can hide behind immigrant status? Ouch…

    • Libertymike

      The legal academy, practicing lawyers, judges and other legal beagles often make the error of proclaiming that the Declaration of Independence is not the law.
      The law is not limited to what judges and lawyers say it is.

  • John Hasnas

    Sorry, that should read “The Constitution does not guaranttee . . .

  • Sean II

    I do believe I can sum up the case against open borders in just one line:

    Statists cause statism, and people are statists, and your plan is to go out and get more people? Okay, I think I’ve found what could be a serious flaw…

    • Al

      Brilliant. Use government force (statism) to prevent statism.

      • Sean II

        What’s unusual about that? Lots of statist measures are designed to mitigate the damage done by other statist measures. This is but one in a series.

        • Sergio Méndez

          People are, in general all around the world, statist. That includes the US, regardless of what some seem to think. So keeping some statists out (using statitsmeans ) for the benefit of local statits hardly seems a bright libertarian strategy.

    • If we let people be free, there is a chance that some people will use this freedom to destroy their own freedom and the freedom of others. This is true of immigration. It’s also true of firearms ownership, drug ownership, and a whole slew of other freedoms. So, is that a good reason for not letting people be free in the first place? If it’s a good reason in the case of immigration, but not with respect to other freedoms, is that just because you think the likelihood of freedom being abused is greater there? Or is there some other more philosophical difference?

      If we learned that people in New York were more statist than people in New Hampshire, would that be a good reason for restricting immigration between those states?

      Can we prohibit statist demographic groups from breeding, too, on the grounds that a free society doesn’t want more statist people around?

      Of course, a lot of people reading this blog probably *want* to own a gun, and have a kid. Or, if not, we can at least imagine ourselves in that situation. Maybe it’s a little harder trying to imagine ourselves in the shoes of a potential immigrant. Is it possible that a failure of imagination along these lines might be part of the reason we cringe at open international borders, but not at open international borders, open “intergenerational borders,” and open firearms ownership?

      • Sean II

        I never said it wasn’t messy and inconsistent.

        You’d switch the runaway trolley to kill one person instead of five, right? You’ve said that here…you’ve said that is what grown-ups must do. But somehow you don’t feel this position obliges you to accept harvesting the organs of one person to save five more.

        What’s the difference? There isn’t a clear one. The first case is somehow less monstrous than the second. The action required is less obvious, less ugly. The distinction between the two is not so matter of moral logic, as of moral taste.

        This is like that. Launching a forced sterilization program to stem the dysgenic tide of Idiocracy just seems far more hideous than putting up an immigration kiosk at Newark Liberty International, though both clearly involve the violation of rights.

        In the first case, you’re taking away something people already have, and to which they obviously feel a right: the ability to make children. In the second, you’re simply preserving an unfortunate status quo – one they’d like to change, and one we’d like to let them, but not one to which they feel any natural entitlement. The amount of force required to sterilize people would be great and terrible. The amount required to (weakly and imperfectly) limit immigration is far, far less. Note that compared to the shocking violence of the drug war, the pitched battle between border guards and border jumpers resembles a Little Rascals caper. It’s still awful, just not as much and not the same kind of awful.

        The United States is a jacked-up country, tarred in blood and feathered in folly. No doubt about that. In policy terms, it’s not even the most libertarian state out there. But it is currently host to the world’s largest libertarian movement. If we ever get a chance to launch real reforms outside of a micro-state, it’s probably going to be here. And there is just no way that opens borders could fail to dilute that hope. Even if all the new entrants came from Western Europe, it would push the median voter here in a far more statist direction.

        So my consequentialist math is thus: If we do not have open borders, we violate millions of rights every year. If we do have them, we knowingly cause the very notion of rights to take a giant leap toward extinction, potentially leading to a world where no one has anyone rights at all.

        • reason60

          I guess its not worth asking why your conception of rights is so wildly unpopular that it requires a Maginot line to defend it from the hordes.

          • Kevin

            The schism between popular results of liberty and the simultaneous unpopularity of some of the liberties themselves is the issue.

            People commonly want to keep what they like about the US while changing what they don’t like, in statist fashion, ignoring relationships between the two. And in a democracy, you must compromise your conception of rights with all other citizens.

            The libertarian solution to that is to localize government, but open borders is being discussed here without that preceding condition.

          • reason60

            If other people hold a different value of liberty than you do, if they hold as sacred things you find odd and inexplicable, doesn’t it suggest that a society based on mutual respect and good will involve some sort of compromise?
            Is withdrawal really the only solution to disagreement? Is it even the best solution?

          • Kevin

            Liberty is precisely what allows some people to hold sacred things that others find odd and inexplicable. You are making the case for liberty while at the same time asking to compromise it.

        • Libertymike

          Yet, at bottom, your consequentialist math doesn’t compute.
          Have you ever considered the consequences of creating, administering, financing and doubling down on a liberty restricting regime like immigration restriction and border enforcement? You acknowledge that the liberty of travel for millions is violated every year. In order for that liberty to be violated, there are also many other liberties violated and such violations come at a dear, undiscounted price. Let’s start with financing ICE and other local, county, state and federal agencies which, to some extent or another, must comply with and / or participate in, the restrictions upon the right of travel. ICE bureaucrats like administrators, agents, attorneys, cops, informants, jailers, judges, janitors, soldiers and translators (to scratch just the surface) are parasites the very existence of which, upon a daily basis, erode liberty. They do not make or produce anything upon a voluntary and consensual basis and they offer nothing of real, tangible value. Their salaries are not minimum wage; their health care is not bare bones catastrophic and they do have rather generous pensions and sick days and retirement purchase options. There can be no argument that what these people offer is not offered accepted peaceably; to the contrary, force must be employed by ICE brethren, the IRS and state revenue authorities, in order to finance the unambiguous and unequivocal liberty choking regime of travel restrictions.
          Thus, property must be confiscated, every day, from people who make and produce and serve upon a voluntary and consensual basis. In other words, wealth is destroyed so that the liberty and wealth destroyers can be paid. This is real; it has far reaching consequences which have, over time, inflicted grievous wounds to the body liberty.
          One such consequence has been the terrible squandering of wealth. Another is opportunity cost. Are you measuring opportunity costs in your consequentialist math? Paying the salaries of IRS agents, auditors, revenue officers and the like costs. Ditto for paying ICE goons. Every penny filched from an individual who creates wealth constitutes a present blow to liberty and wealth in addition to a future blow in the form of no new wealth being generated from the investment of the wealth not confiscated.
          The consequences of creating and financing a known liberty destroying regime surely outweigh the consequences of abandoning the same. We are already knowingly causing the destruction of liberty and wealth by continuing to pour resources into the border control sinkhole. Your consequentialist math should look at the real and pass on the speculative.

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  • exitstrategies

    I can’t imagine an easier, faster way of destroying a developed country than unrestricted immigration. Except maybe for war.

    There’s plenty of evidence out there. Look at what happened in the UK, after 13 years of nearly open-doors under the Labour government: millions of immigrants, followed by social breakdown (e.g. massive youth unemployment, insufficient school places and near-destruction of state schooling*, bankrupt welfare system etc), no-go areas, towns with majority immigrants and welfare dependency, ghetto-isation (see East London – Muslim, much of SE London – Caribbean), formation of parallel societies barely tolerating each other. Same in France or some Nordic countries, where they have regular riots. Hate crime and home-grown terrorism as a permanent presence in their lives.

    There’s no reason to believe that if you move Nigeria’s population to London, overnight, they’ll speak English, find jobs, start saying “how do you do” and take gardening as their favourite pass-time. Plenty of reason to believe they’ll build a similar hell-hole to the one they left. Not because they’re evil, but because they don’t know anything else. And the more of them come at once, the harder is to show them something else.

    Add Somalia, Pakistan etc into the mix and see what happens. Or India. Do you think the US has the capability to absorb, say, 1 billion new people? In a few years?

    The result of pie-in-the-sky philosophy done by people with a student-union level of common sense, politics and understanding of the human nature is truly frightening.

    (*) A good friend of mine is a science teacher in a state-run school in East London. The children are mostly Muslim. From Bangladesh & Co. Many barely speak English, because they don’t speak English at home or in their parallel-society social circle. They have no understanding of Western norms of behaviour. For the boys, she’s the equivalent of a servant (being a woman), and they treat her as such. She receives threats and abuse on a daily basis. Violence, drugs and stealing are common. Does she do any teaching? No, she says. They don’t listen or care. Just crowd control, as much as she can.

  • Pingback: Thought-experiments and open borders « The Institute for Objectivist Studies()

  • Kevin

    There’s an odd combination of theory and practice in your argument.

    e.g. in your collective ownership section, in practice, foreigners do own American land but they pay property tax, so there is certainly some form of government claim on all land even if it has not been delegated absolute control.

    The delegation of powers for mutual defense seems the most relevant here since open borders could be readily exploited by those intending to harm or reshape the US, whether by voting, imposing social burdens, violence, etc.

  • Damien S.

    “More importantly, it is simply not true that the government is the
    part-owner of all the land. Just consider what this would mean. If the
    government had the right to exclude people from all the land, then it
    would also have the right to decide whom you get to invite for dinner,
    your party, or whatever”

    That’s a terrible argument. After all, the government is *part* owner, in this theory. Real world property ownership are not atomic bundles of rights, they’re divisible, with entails, easements, land use regulations, environmental regulations, anti-discrimination laws, building codes, sub-soil rights, taxation, eminent domain, and more. One can hold some of these rights and not others. So the government doesn’t decide who comes to dinner but does decide how tall your building can be and who can come to our national dinner party, as it were.

    Deontological arguments against closed borders based on freedom are just as valid as arguments against private property based on freedom. When I claim a piece of land for myself I am restricting the freedom of 7 billion other people. What justifies that?

    Conversely, as far as relieving crushing poverty goes, about a billion people live on $1 a day or less. The US could unilaterally double their income for $365 billion a year. Sure, that would involve slightly higher taxes at home (or lower military budgets), but honest consequentialism seems to massively favor accepting such taxation for a huge improvement in human welfare.

  • Erik Kropas

    I think that the argument for the moral justification of borders does, in fact, rest upon government’s responsibility to mediate and protect property rights.

    In the course of ensuring that millions of law-abiding Americans are secure in their rightly-owned property, the U.S. Government maintains and upholds the contractual agreements entered upon by each land owner. There must, of course, be a limit to the reach of any government. One form of limit commonly manifests as a border.

    The border is not really there to stop individual people, but to stop one government from acting against another government or the people they govern, sovereignty. However, just as people can’t imbue in the government rights they do not have, limitations and responsibilities of the government fall back on its people. There is documentation about who is where for reasons of international justice and relations. People, by necessity, take a degree of responsibility in complying with this documentation. I think it is the responsibility of the government to mitigate this burden on its citizens, however.

    That is why I think it is the government’s responsibility to generally allow visitation and immigration and to process it efficiently and equitably. Work visas should be provided for people who do not want to become full citizens, and they should be subject to all the same labor standards the government establishes for its own citizens. This will eliminate the immigration process as a source for abuse for both the immigrant and the native-born worker, as the immigrant won’t be able to be used as a form of slave labor to drive down wages. Accommodations can, of course, be made for land holders and other such issues.

  • Pingback: A Critique of Wellman’s ‘Immigration and Freedom of Association’ | Open Borders: The Case()

  • Sean Lawrence

    Do you mean entirely open borders, meaning no paperwork and no restrictions whatsoever? I feel that it would be irresponsible to not background check immigrants to make sure they are not wanted criminals. Also, we are having trouble supporting the people who are already here. What are your counter-arguments against someone who believes we should limit immigration because of space and job issues? You touched on job competition, but I want to know what you think about immigration in terms of the unemployment issue.

  • phillycop

    How do you pay for all the people coming in from Mexico who require food housing shelter. How about becoming a citizen through legal means. This country is on the verge of collapse what is so hard to understand the government cannot take care of you

  • patroy75

    You don’t have to go past the point that we are a Welfare state to understand why we have to SHUT the border. SHUT IT, LOCK IT, THROW AWAY THE KEY. As long as you liberals keep wanting to steal my money and give it away, we will always be at odds.

  • MutantRobot

    I support more open immigration, but your argument is terrible and dangerous. Go live on the border of Syria and watch ISIS getting closer and closer to your home and tell me again that borders should not be defended. The nation state, I fear, has not yet outlived its role in protecting liberty, and we forget that at our peril.

    Border control, along with internal policing and a military to defend the nation, is the *primary* reason for the existence of the state. If the state does nothing else, it should keep out non-citizens except under such circumstances as the citizens vote to allow. Liberty undefended by its citizen soldiers nothing but a prize for the strongest warlord.

  • GregB

    You cannot maintain a peaceful, politically stable and law abiding society with open borders/no borders.
    African and middle east nations like Sudan and Syria have virtually open borders and they are all but failed states.
    Open borders are not the solution to global human woes!
    Fertility control and population reduction is part of the answer.

  • tom

    Most of the arguments in favor of open borders are based on hatred towards the indigenous people in the country. By diluting the native born people with newcomers who have no loyalty towards their host country and by stiring up hatred against the indigenous the Open Border people can accomplish their nefarious goals to destroy traditional society.

  • Nameless

    Is the writer in the USA of in the Netherlands?

    Would the writer be willing to petition that bora bora allow everyone that wants to permanently move there to move there, regardless of how many want to go and what it might do to the Polynesian islanders? If so, I’m in!

    Space is limited in certain parts of the world and will become a luxury, so does this mean that parks/mountains/wildlife areas should be turned into apartment complexes so more people can fit?

    We can end taxes, since we’ll have no countries. We can end welfare and state funded aid. Why should anyone have to be burdened with 50million or more immigrants if it means their own freedoms are in question? We can eliminate the Olympics, what’s the point? We can end foreign funding, since no one will be foreign or pledge allegiance to any country. We would be free to transport goods, all goods including hazardous and illegal ones, anywhere since borders are against mans rights and why is anything illegal anyway? Nothing should be! To say so is to infringe on my rights! What if I like creating strains of deadly diseases? That’s no ones business!

    We can freely go to Antarctica. No more secrecy. Hey, no more militaries since no more countries will need to be defended from nefarious groups, since nothing is technically nefarious anymore. Rowland’s genocide? Never happened! And no military should have helped them anyway, since there wasn’t a group hellbent on killing them, that kind of badness just doesn’t exist! (Is this what you feel?)

    No more judges. No more juries, no more cops. What for? Criminals aren’t coming, that’s what your article says, right? Besides, without countries or states or municipalities, who would civil servants work for exactly? The world? That’s going to be interesting and hard to control…unless the UN takes over. But wait, won’t my rights will be imposed on by silver helmets? Dismantle the UN. That’s a great option! (I really like this one!)

    Your land, your creative inventions, your patents…you won’t have a country with laws, so I’ll just ‘borrow’ them. Don’t be upset! It’s my free right! Deal with it. Besides who will hear your case? I’m brown (really I am) and you’re probably white, so I’ll just scream racist! Anyone in charge will understand my point of view.

    Are you thinking one president? Why should I bother listening to him or her if I feel they are imposing on my rights to be a free wandering human? I might want bill gates to remove his fence from his compound…that’s a border and it impedes on my right to live on his land. He doesn’t own his land anyway! It’s the worlds land. Like the song says.

    Opening the borders and eliminating the countries…this could be fun, especially if I have an inclination for crime…which I might…I say, let’s do it so I can test it.

    You do realize that open borders will keep the mega wealthy wealthy and everyone else poor. But I bet you already know this.

    Back to bora bora…how soon before we get to flood it with pollution?

  • Nameless

    One more thing before I leave you:

    As an indigenous person in the USA (part Apache), I’ll offer a bit of advice to the white brothers, (most of you are white), claiming that open borders will not change tradition and anyone who is against it are ethnocentric racists.

    My advice is: go ahead and do it. That’s right, let them in.

    After all, the Native Americans life did not change when the Europeans came, right? So why should your way of life change when the Muslims come?

    Good luck, and may you get a bitter taste of the history you seem so willing to repeat.

  • Chris

    Libertarians ! Why not “open bank accounts”, Yours as well as the State’s and what the heck even throw in the the Fed’s. Keep entertaining the no border policy and eventually there will come a day when signs saying “Libertarians not allowed” will pop up in those areas where libertarians lavishly distributed common property to those with no historic claim to it whatsoever …

  • Henry Smith

    This is the most ignorant post I have ever read that was written by an obviously somewhat intelligent person. Grow up!

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  • Dave Crabb

    This is nuts.If a democracy allows in a large enough group of immigrants over time that produce citizens all from the same country you essentially have politicians being over influenced by a culture that is conflicted.In particular you have Mexicans that produce citizens today in this country but dont want to be American and want their own communities.The fallacy here is that only white people have racist tendencies and want their own culture in America.Its also quite racist to indicate that immigrants are a better people so we should let them in despite the costs of some of the bad apples to the rest of our inferior population.This guy is a liberal dufus.The fact is that most of us love our cultures and like kindness when we can get it and that can promote racism and this includes Mexico and Mexicans.Diversity isnt always good and in many countries its caused tribal warfare and constant costly clashes.