The Amnesty Red Herring

“I’m a libertarian. Of course I believe in ending drug prohibition. The so-called war on drugs punishes what should not be a crime; and it does so cruelly, inhumanely, and in ways that wildly disproportionately hurt the poor and vulnerable. It leads to a militarization and securitization of our whole society; liberties are constantly sacrificed to the enforcement of drug prohibition. Indeed because drug use and sale involves no direct victims, enforcement must pretty much always be invasive; without a victim or complainant, the police must always be presuming people to be guilty, spying on them, finding pretenses to search and arrest them in order to get evidence. And this puts whole populations more or less permanently under police threat. It’s not only those who are arrested and imprisoned who are made unfree by the drug war; it’s all of us. And this is above and beyond the fundamental moral point that the person who ingests drugs has not violated any person’s rights, and so drug prohibition violates liberty in principle as well as in practice.

“Of course, I also believe in the rule of law. We can’t end drug prohibition until we’ve first arrested, convicted, and imprisoned all of the people currently running around who have used, bought, or sold drugs up until now. These people are present in our society illegally; legally, they ought to be behind bars, they just haven’t been caught. There are possibly as many as 100 million of these illegals, given plausible estimates of lifetime marijuana use; there are certainly 20 million, given estimates of illegal drug use in the last year (minus the prison population). The rest of us have played by the rules our whole lives, and it’s not fair to us that there are 20-100 million illegals competing for our jobs and crowding our cities and towns– and voting!– who shouldn’t be present in free society at all. No, before we can end the drug war, we have to ensure that the rule of law is respected and people aren’t rewarded for their past lawbreaking. They can’t be allowed to remain in our society of free persons– and if that means building more prison walls, hiring more police, and giving them more power in the meantime, so be it.”

I submit that this is not a viable, attractive, or coherent position for someone who values human liberty to hold. “I support freedom just as soon as we get around to finding and rounding up tens of millions of people, putting them on the other side of a wall with barbed wire, locks, and many many guards with guns. I oppose laws that restrict freedom, but I even more strongly oppose repealing those laws until we get around to punishing everyone who has violated them in the past. In the meantime we have to make sure that people don’t get away with it.” That’s not a plan for getting to liberty eventually. It’s a guarantee that we constantly become less free; it is always “in the meantime.” In the meantime is when we should want to be free.

Published on:
Author: Jacob T. Levy
  • It seems that Jerad Miller had a long record of arrests and drug addiction. His alienation and paranoia can be seen as a natural response, in part due to being hounded by police over this. We oc course need to make drug legal and medicalize it as well as returning to providing nonpunitive custodial care for the mentally ill rather than imprisonment.

    I just found this web site and didn’t know another way to reach you. So forgive intrusion of another topic. I’m seeking points of convergence between Libertarianism and Progressive thought like Nader, that could be put into a joint platform. So far I had seen two common goals 1) Getting more democratic, people oriented control of the Federal Reserve and credit allocation and 2) Re-mooring American military activities to a rational and humane concept of national and world interests. Having discovered the Basic Income Guarantee endorsement of some Libertarians tells me this is a third area of convergence. Can you, or any contributors tell me whether there has been any updating of Charles Murray’s “In Our Hands,” or later work by any other LibertarianS? And has anyone asked the Koch’s (as opposed to just assumed they would be against it?)

    • You may be interested in Nader’s new book “Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State” and in his upcoming appearance at the Cato Institute to discuss it: http://www.cato.org/events/unstoppable-emerging-left-right-alliance-dismantle-corporate-state

      • I just emailed my 2 kids to get me a copy of Unstoppable” for Father’s Day. Despite the destruction of real wages they may be able to swing it!

      • matt

        Any idea what the specifics? Corporate subsidies? Special interest tax loopholes?
        I was dismayed to see Nader embracing Pat Buchanan style talking points on immigration recently so I hope greater restrictionism is not what he has in mind as one of the ideas.

  • Jerome Bigge

    We need to repeal our drug laws and pardon those who were convicted of drug possession. The only ones who wouldn’t be pardoned would be those who sold to children. Children, unlike adults are usually not capable of making decisions of this nature. This is the same reason why we prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages and tobacco products to children. However adults should be capable of making such decisions for themselves with the understanding of the possible consequences.

  • DJF

    People using drugs do not take away from my liberty

    People entering the country illegaly do take away my ability as a citizen to decide how the country operates, takes from my ownership of the collective property of the country and takes from me my rights of association.

    • jtlevy

      They do so in just the same way that the drug users who aren’t in jail do– indeed the drug users do it moreso because they vote when in principle they legally shouldn’t be entitled to, and thereby dilute your vote. The noncitizens don’t vote. Everything that the migrants do by their presence (in some counterfactual state of affairs in which laws had been more thoroughly enforced, they would be absent and you’d have more lebensraum and a slightly more powerful vote), drug users also do by their presence outside of jail (in some counterfactual state of affairs in which laws had been more thoroughly enforced, they would be in prison and you’d have more lebensraum and a slightly more powerful vote).

      “Ownership of the collective property of the country” and “rights of association” are utterly unviable metaphors. (They’re Hoppe’s, right?) States aren’t in any relevant sense like condominium associations or voluntary associations.

      • Libertymike

        Actually, Jacob, my rights of association include the right to associate with migrants who choose not to genuflect to the rules imposed and enforced by those who restrict the migrants’ right of travel.

        • jtlevy

          Yes, associational freedom are relevant in just the way you mention– and not at all in the way DJF imagines,

          • DJF

            My right of association includes my right to associate as a collective called a country and my right not to associate with people my collective called a country votes not to associate with

            And until you fake anarchists create anarchyville you have been outvoted in every country of the world since none of them have open borders and total freedom of movement.

            And once you do create anarchyville you will put restrictions on outsiders too since if you give up the right to control who goes on your property you give up the right to own a property. Since ownership equals control and control equals ownership.

          • jtlevy

            Associations have the right not only to define membership but also to define rules for members to follow. My religious-associational freedom includes my ability to associate with fellow believers in an association that bans masturbation or compels the wearing of 16th-century Warsaw Ghetto garb or mandates that I pray five times a day or requires me to drink ceremonial wine. Those rules are exercises of my liberty, not restrictions on it, because I submit to them associationally.

            Am I to take it that you think states mandating or prohibiting sexual practices, clothing, prayers, or alcohol consumption do not violate liberty? Your right of association includes your right to associate as a collective called a country that has associational freedom to define the rules of membership?

            The “right to associate as a collective called a country” is going to give the whole game away in terms of criticizing state laws as restrictions of freedom. States are *not* associations, and their rules are not the consensual rules of associations.

            For the record, I am not an anarchist; and both associational freedom and property rights as I understand them include the freedom to *invite someone in.* So if I wish to marry someone, or to employ them, or to benefit from their friendly presence, you restrict my associational liberty and property rights by telling me that I may not invite them in. The right to exclude isn’t somehow morally or logically prior to the right to include.

          • DJF

            So you claim to have the right to put anyone you want onto your property, OK, lets go there, but to get them in and out of your property you need others and those people need to be negotiated with and you will not get everything you want.

            You will not get unlimited access since no one not an idiot would give you the right to unlimited travel over their property. They may restrict you on when, where, with what you travel.

            So reality trumps false ideology. You can’t have unlimited freedom of travel since it runs into ownership of land whether individually, or partnerships, or corporations or family or country. Somebody somewhere claims ownership and they will not give away to others the fruits of that ownerships without some sort of negotiations and agreement. And some will refuse all agreements.

            The world that you want to exist does not exist and cannot exist.

            And even worse your ownership rights are a limited one, first being its the government which issues your property title and they can remove that title when they want. You are not a soverign individual and your property is not a soverign state.

          • David

            to get them in and out of your property you need others and

            If this is your argument for restricting immigration, you’d have to excuse those with ranches that border the Rio Grande from immigration restrictions. Sending a boat across the river to pick up one’s friends and employees and bring them in without anyone else being involved. Also, helicopter owners. Maybe those seem like reasonable exceptions to you, but I’m guessing not.

          • DJF

            But in anarchy land you will need the permission of the river owner. Or at least that section of river. Anarchy land being defined as no government, no borders.

            So there still is no right to immigration or movement. It all has to be negotiated with your surrounding land or water owners.

            Tell me how you get from Mexico City to Chicago or from Chicago to Mexico City without having to negotiate with the property owners along the way. And if they negotiate they will want something and so free movement is not free.

            Getting rid of government restrictions just opens the door for individual restrictions on travel. Its the government today which puts a gun against peoples heads and says that this property is a road and that people can use it. Mass movement of people is a government issued privilege.

          • David

            Your faith in the degree to which property rights will be carefully and lovingly respected under conditions of anarchy is rather touching, but beside the point. We’re not talking about anarchy, we’re talking about whether third parties are affected in some relevant way by my association with non-citizens on my property.

          • If you think this, then what are you doing here? By definition you’re not a libertarian if you believe in this sort of collective decision making, and by referring to this as a “right” you show you don’t even understand what libertarianism is.

          • DJF

            Your not a libertarian either if your believe in free movement of people since where does it say in libertarian that you can demand others to allow you to move on their property. And if you can’t move on other peoples property without their permission then the free movement of people is a very restricted freedom.

            Your rights end where they meet someone else’s nose, or in this case your right to movement ends when it meets someone else’s property

            Its only with nations that the elusion of free movement happens and that is with the socialist owning roads which allow government to take property and use it to move people.
            It similar elusion could occur with private roads but it will not be free movement since allowing anyone to use the road will end with the owners losing control of that road.

          • I think you mean “illusion”. But it’s not one, even in a completely free society with private transportation. After all, why would someone build a road and then not want others to use it?

            You talk about property rights, but you want the state to tell property owners along the border who they can allow to visit them or cross their land, and that’s simply not a libertarian position.

          • DJF

            Thanks for the spell check, I blame government schools 🙂

            Four things

            First, you did not ask the permission of the owner of that part of the river so that your immigrant could get to your land. Nor all the other people who own property along the way. You simply think you have a right to it when in fact you have no right at all

            Second just because someone builds a road does not mean that you will have permission to use and you certainly don’t have the right to use it. This all has to be negotiated. That is what the free market is, negotiation, not someone screaming “FREEDOM”.

            Third once you give up the idea that you have rights over other peoples property when it comes to travel, then you can get down to the serious business of the market negotiation realizing that you will not get everything you want and sometimes won’t get anything you want. So no right to movement.

            And very important before you can get to that you need to get rid of government, since government is defined by borders since that is what shows where government laws are applied. Only then can negotiate with individual owners, but you are nowhere near accomplishing that and so borders still exist no matter how much you yell FREEDOM. Let men know when you get rid of government and then we can negotiate about you using my land to bring in your immigrant. But I will charge so its not going to be free and maybe I will just refuse.

          • I realize that private roads come with tolls, just as there’s a fare to ride a bus or a plane. I don’t understand why you think this is such a show stopper. Nor do I understand why you think this means the state has to end altogether before one can call for an end to its restrictions on people’s movement.

          • DJF

            Not just tolls, there can be all sorts of restrictions, it all depends on what the owners want and not what you want. So you shouting ‘Freedom” does not get you on that road. So you have no right to the freedom of movement that you seem to think you have. Not in a reality with State’s nor in one without State’s

            The very definition of State includes borders. Without borders there is no State.

            Also in all of history where has there been a State that does not have some restrictions on who can enter the state? If there ever was one I am betting that the open borders or the State did not last very long. And as long as State’s exist they will enforce their rules and their borders.

            Now in some cases the State has ways of allowing a change in policy, one way is voting and elections but you don’t want to do that since it involves negotiation with others and you think that interferes with your FREEDOM. But even then just like with private land owners its going to be a rare event when they give up their right to control their property by allowing unlimited movement on that property. You give up control then next step is to give up ownership.

    • Libertymike

      Cognitive dissonance.

      • Sean II

        It’s pretty hilarious watching people try to conjure up deontic arguments for closed border, while still trying to keep their hymen of liberty intact.

        I’m an open borders skeptic myself, but only for one reason: I can see how fragile classic liberalism is in history, and I fear it may not flourish outside of some very particular demographic and/or cultural conditions.

        But I’m not going to disgrace myself by trying to reverse engineer some rights-based bullshit to defend that view.

        What happens at the border is grotesque statist coercion, no doubt about it.

        I’m simply willing to consider the possibility that an eventual revolution might be much, much worse.

        • First, I respect your honesty.

          Beyond that, most Americans aren’t libertarian, so I’m not sure what you’re worried about. Better to let immigrants in, especially since they tend to be more inclined toward entrepreneurship than Americans are, and entrepreneurs are the ones who run headlong into the sort of externalities of the state that leads people to question its value.

          • K.P.

            That’s true for the average immigrant?

          • Apparently so: “Immigrants today are more than twice as likely to found businesses as their native-born counterparts and are responsible for more than 25% of all new business creation and related job growth.”


          • K.P.

            Thanks for the link.

            Call me hard-headed but I’m still seeing a difference between legal immigrants and illegal ones. It seems like ones willing and able to go through the entire (painful) immigration process might be more intelligent than your average person.

          • Sean II

            If I had a nickel for every entrepreneur statist I know whose statism is guided by some anti-competitive impulse arising from his entrepreneurship, then I’d have myself a fine little enterprise.

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            We let lots of immigrants in. We could let more in. Why do they have to be undocumented so that any criminal, terrorist, riff raff, or diseased person can enter? Open borders is a silly repugnant policy which says to people, “My worship at the alter of the individual trumps your attempt to form a safe civil environment.”

          • Jameson Graber

            Whoa whoa whoa, hold on. Do people think “open borders” means no documentation? I don’t think anyone ever said that.

            To me, “open borders” just means more or less what we have now, except no annual limits on how many visas we give out. In other words, let everyone in, not let everyone in without looking.

            And as an open borders advocate, I don’t see why we can’t ask for money, either. I’d much rather ask immigrants to pay for the right to enter than to tell them they just have to wait in line.

            (Heck, I have to pay a bunch of money just to get my *wife* in the country.)

          • Libertymike

            Yes, no papers.
            Open borders necessarily means no to the papers, please society.
            The world got along just fine without immigration bureaucracies and without passports.

          • K.P.

            It did? I know a few Natives/Indians/First People/Whatever who would scoff at that one. They might not be clear thinking though.

          • Libertymike

            Les, false dichotomy. Worshiping at the altar of the individual IS an attempt to neuter, if not destroy, the civilization killing totalitarianism of the state and its immigration restrictionist intellectual half-wits.

          • David

            Why do they have to be undocumented

            Undocumented immigration is an inevitable consequence of the supply of legal permission to immigrate falling well short of the demand for it. This is the sort of thing I’d expect libertarians to understand rather easily.

        • matt

          A serious and stimulating post and props for your candor.
          I’d be perfectly willing to lend my support to our current system if someone said “Look what happens otherwise is we become like China under Mao.” or something like that. But when you look at the massive harm the current restrictionist system imposes in the form of major restrictions on individual liberty (understood purely in negative terms, though also in positive ones) you have to present some pretty compelling evidence that the likelihood of things getting much, much worse is high. And from a utilitarian perspective you’ve got to contend with the massive wealth losses brought about by closed borders. I’m not saying the position that, at the end of the day, greater liberty and wealth would ultimately be lost can be dismissed out of hand of course but, well, you better have one hell of an argument.

    • j r

      “Ownership of collective property” is an oxymoron.

      • DJF

        So corporations don’t exist?

        • DJF

          So partnerships don’t exist?
          So families don’t exist?

          • Ted_Levy

            That’s really dense, DJF. I mean, if you’re going to distort the meaning of “ownership of collective property is an oxymoron”, you could at least go with “So communes don’t exist? So kibbutzim don’t exist? So aboriginal societies don’t exist?” You’re (purposely, I’d guess) ignoring the true meaning of the claim about collective property being an oxymoron–look up the iron law of oligarchy–but at least you could use less pathetic examples.

        • j r

          You got me. I meant in the political context.

          Obviously it possible for more than one person to have ownership rights in a particular piece of property. The problem is that the more people there are, the less it means. And your desire to keep immigrants out is just as much an infringement on my freedom of association. Not sure why the anti-immigration position is automatically in some sort of privileged position.

          • DJF

            Its not, that is why we have voting. Its not a great system but its the one we have and that is how we figure out what the collective that owns the property decides on the rules for that use.
            So lets say we get rid of government, some other form of ownership will happen and there will be rules for how things are decided. But one thing is sure if there are no rules then there is no ownership and I doubt that there will be many places with no rules on travel. So free movement of people, or free immigration or any other way you put it will not happen very often.
            I can’t say it will never happen because I can’t predict what everyone will do but its not something that is in their long term interest and so it won’t happen very much

  • awp

    Don’t forget all the people who have ever gone .01mph over the speed limit and haven’t sent a check to the courthouse each time they did so.

    • DJF

      Or that check can go to the private road owner, partnership, corporation since anyone who owns a road will set rules for that road and demand some compensation if the rules are broken.

  • Jameson Graber

    Fantastic analogy. Though what I think is interesting is how few Americans are actually for rounding up illegal immigrants and deporting and/or arresting them. It’s almost as if people want immigration to be illegal, not so that immigrants don’t come, but just so they come a little slower, and so we don’t have to pay them minimum wage or retirement.

    Heck, it would almost be a libertarian solution, if not for all the arrests and deportations that *do* actually occur.

    • DJF

      People don’t round up illegals because the government likes private enforcement of laws even less then it likes illegals. So any private citizen who tries to stop illegals will end up in jail. The Federal government which is run by people who want more illegals in the country even stops the State and Local governments from rounding up illegals

  • jdkolassa

    Where is this statement from?

  • rocinante2112

    Bear in mind, Brat won IN SPITE of his support for immigration restriction, not because of it. Surveys show that most Republicans in that district supported bipartisan immigration proposals. Brat’s emphasis on that issue has also been exaggerated.


    • DJF

      Except if you need to chose between a survey and an election, election are what count.
      If the US public was as in favor of open borders as these surveys say then it would have happend long ago. Both parties leadership are in favor of it, the press is in favor, business is in favor. So why hasn’t it passed?
      It because the public at the very least think its not important and the ones who think its important don’t like it.

      • David

        If the US public was as in favor of open borders as these surveys say

        I am quite sure no remotely competent survey would suggest this. Are you suggesting that the sort of bipartisan immigration reform bill that gets kicked around from time to time is the equivalent of “open borders”?

        • DJF

          In practice since the people who support “bipartisan immigration reform” don’t intend to enforce any restrictions.
          Just like the lack of enforcement of the 1986 and other immigration laws
          And don’t bring up the lies about Obama being “Deporter in Chief” the government lied about the data and unless you are caught right at the border your chance of being deported is very low.

    • David

      Bear in mind, Brat won IN SPITE of his support for immigration restriction, not because of it. Surveys show that most Republicans in that district supported bipartisan immigration proposals.

      The second sentence isn’t meaningful empirical support for the first. Another possibility, that remains at least as plausible as yours, is that his support for immigration restrictions did help him, because Republican primary voters aren’t particularly representative of Republicans more generally on many issues.