Refuting the Hoppean Closed-Border Argument

Hoppe makes the case for non-open borders, even in an anarcho-capitalist society, here and in other places.

He begins with the classical argument for free trade and open borders, which I paraphrase: wages and capital utilization tend to equalize, other things being equal. An influx of migrants tends to lower nominal wage rates, but will not lower real wage rates if the population is below its “optimum” size. (how might that be determined?) To the contrary, real incomes will rise. Restrictions on immigration harm domestic workers-as-consumers more than they might gain as wage-earners. Moreover, immigration restrictions increase “capital flight” abroad, leading to less-than-optimal allocation and thereby harming world living standards.

Hoppe begins by agreeing with this, or rather with his own statement which, I hope you will agree, is a somewhat more verbose version. “[T]he above argument in favor of free immigration is irrefutable and correct. It would be foolish to attack it, just as it would be foolish to deny that free trade leads to higher living standards than does protectionism.”

Hoppe further agrees that arguments related to welfare consumption by immigrants are, more properly speaking, arguments against welfare.

Hoppe briefly argues that values are subjective, which weakens the argument above – but it must be observed that subjectivity also weakens any theory that immigration restrictions would be beneficial. He spends little time on this argument; neither shall I.

Who, if anyone, owns or controls the territory into which immigrants would move? Hoppe claims that it is implicitly assumed that territory is unowned, virgin, open territory. I make no such assumption, nor is such an assumption needed to allow immigration.

Assume an anarcho-capitalist society. Hoppe: “All land is privately owned, including all streets, rivers, airports, harbors, etc.”, and “Under this scenario there exists no such thing as freedom of immigration.”

Yes and no. The door to my home is obviously not open to everyone who wanders by. I, my co-residents(if any), and guests are welcome. Some may choose to live in more narrowly-restricted apartment complexes or gated communities. It is possible that Hoppe would seek out a community which bars everyone except heterosexual Europeans, but odds are that restrictions in many other communities would be far less strict.

Suppose that we are all blonde, blue-eyed Aryan stock, all wealthy members of a very exclusive and hi-falutin’ class. Who will clean the toilets? Who will mow the lawns? Who will babysit the children? Who will fix the plumbing? We’d have to ease up on immigration restrictions to allow tradespeople, presumably by the back entrance. It’s easy to imagine a small market for hyper-exclusive living arrangements, harder to imagine a mass market for impenetrable walls, unless we truly are willing to be completely self-sufficient, to live in autarkies behind great walls, as the Chinese and Japanese did at certain points in their history.

But let us imagine various exclusive communities. How would we get from one place to another? Until mass teleportation is invented, people will walk, bicycle, and use cars, trucks, buses, and other forms of transportation which will require physical right-of-way arrangements. In some cases – such as a road within a gated community or an elevator in an exclusive office building – access to such rights of way will be tightly controlled. In most cases, however, even a private road-owner would have very loose controls.

Hoppe refers to over-production of roads by governments, and we surely do see examples of this; however, in areas with very little government, one of the most valued activities is the creation of roads; inter-connectivity serves vital human purposes. Hoppe’s view of over-production of roads as “forced integration” has little to do with reality. Communities often protest the production of highways not because too many people visit, but too few; greater ease of travel means that fewer people stop and shop in the small communities along their route.

Hoppe refers to “forced exclusion” and “forced integration”, but the two are quite different. Forced exclusion is very common: many employers and families wish to allow particular examples of immigration, otherwise barred by the government.

However, “if the government admits a person while there is not even one domestic resident who wants to have this person on his property, the result is forced integration” — is this not extremely rare? It would be a loathsome person who could find not even one individual to welcome him. It’s possible that governments do import, house, and employ loathsome criminals, but this is not a critique of immigration per se, but of government’s nature qua criminal enterprise.

I find the entire section on “forced integration” hard to take seriously. Genuine forced integration would look something like this: people being extracted from other countries at gunpoint, forced to work in our homes, to garden, to care for children, to program computers, to provide health care. It would entail workers being forced on employers; tenants upon landlords.
The reality is very different. It is not force if one person says to another “Here is some money; will you allow me to rent or to buy this house or apartment from you?,” and that other person agrees. It is not force if a person offers to work for another, and the employer agrees.

Hoppe shifts from the examination of anarcho-capitalism to a sort of fiefdom, owned by a king. Hoppe claims that such a king would necessarily be highly selective with respect to immigration. His argument appears to merely assume the desired conclusion.

“such policies would by and large do the same as what private property owners would do, if they could decide who to admit and who to exclude.” — is Hoppe trying to sneak in such policies by first assuming that they are beneficial to a hypothetical king, and secondly assuming that rational private property owners would seek the same?

By way of analogy, it can be argued that America’s Jim Crow laws came about because of under-provision (in some minds) of private discrimination. Some white people were deeply offended by proximity to black people. They could not bring about their desired degree of isolation via normal voluntary means. This cannot be blamed upon anti-discrimination law, which did not exist at the time. Laws were created to enforce discrimination. This is a classic example of a special interest group causing a political system to do things which benefit that group while harming others. This bit of history tends to counter a) the theory that democracies are inherently egalitarian, even within their own borders, and b) the theory that isolation is a natural outcome in a free market.

Democracies, in Hoppe’s view, tend to pursue egalitarian, non-discriminatory emigration and immigration policy. That’s quite an unfounded assumption; one must analyze the interests and beliefs of the voters and political classes to even hazard a guess as to which policies they’d promote. Since American immigration policies are anything but “egalitarian and non-discriminatory”, we must conclude either that his argument is wrong, or that America is insufficiently democratic. (America’s immigration laws have extensive lists of per-country quotas, and special treatment of “skilled” workers.)

I can find little to agree with in the next several paragraphs about democracy. Politicians care far more about taxes and campaign contributions than about the total number of votes. A President is indifferent to whether he rules over one million or one billion votes; on the contrary, he does care about whether he governs a small or large economy, and whether he can extract a small or large income via taxation, inflation, and borrowing.

Where Hoppe has a point – which is far smaller than he makes it – his point is against non-discrimination laws; it is not a point against immigration per se.

Recall the very narrow definition of “forced integration” above? Now, Hoppe switches to a much broader version of “forced integration”, which is largely an absurdly overblown complaint about non-discrimination law.

When person A – whether Jew, homosexual, Muslim, or any other category – seeks employment, absent anti-discrimination laws, the employer presumably makes a voluntary choice. The employer estimates that Person A will contribute more than the cost of person A’s wages. Who is forced? The employer? Obviously not. Coworkers? They are free to seek another employer with more finicky tastes. Close associates often get an informal veto in any case – employers prefer not to hire somebody who is truly objectionable to existing employees. People who walk down the street who might find it distasteful to see a person with X characteristics or who speaks a different language? What kind of free society would permit every passerby to have veto power over the movements of all others?

Permit me to articulate a contrasting vision. We already have many small communities with varying levels of openness. Imagine a private complex with residential, shopping, and office buildings. Odds are that roads and shopping areas would be open-access; if anyone violates the rules of decorum – stealing, street preaching, public urination – that individual might well be kicked out and barred from re-entry. In general, however, public areas would be open to all. Each store would have private employee-only areas. The residential areas would of course have individual dwellings, with access as tight as the individual residents would choose. Hallways might be open to “residents, employees, and guests.” Office buildings might have open hallways and elevators, or closed-access – or a mix.

It is highly unlikely, however, that any such complex would universally impose bizarre rules per Hoppe’s suggestions: sponsorship, pre-existing employment contracts, tests of English language competency and intelligence, and so forth. Job-seekers are usually welcomed by private employers. Would-be residents and shoppers usually need only demonstrate ability to pay. Many job-seekers must show competence in English and other skills, but there are wide variations; there are jobs for which other skills are of considerably greater importance. It may be easy for a college professor to sneer at roofers and gardeners, but let him spend a hot August week at those tasks before deriding their skills. One-size-fits-all policies prevent the free movement and division of labor.

In a free society – including a hypothetical anarcho-capitalist society – individual prospective landlords, employers, mates, and sellers will have different subjective valuations. At many firms in a culture similar to America, English language skills will be highly prized; there are voluntary ways to encourage such skills. However, in all but the most narrowly parochial societies, other language skills also have value. I have shopped at many venues where multiple languages were in use. Many customer-facing employees are fluent in English and other languages; others, not so much. Some institutions (such as hotels) might actually prefer Filipino or Hispanic employees. Hoppe’s proposal would bar such potential employees. It might be nice in Ivory Tower land for everyone to have genius-level IQ, but would those great genius brains truly be competent plumbers, mechanics, gardeners, and roofers? Would it not be better for Ivory Tower wonks to specialize in their particular strengths, per Ricardo’s law of comparative advantage? If so, should they not be more tolerant (for their own sake) of the existence of lesser mortals who are competent in other areas?

Many observers have remarked on the mobility between “classes” in an open society; people might clean toilets or wait tables while young, progress to office jobs, thence to management, and thence to retirement – and there are many possible variations of those tracks. If we do not allow “low skill” people to enter, are we sure we’ll generate enough interest in “low skill” jobs to meet the demand?

Some might counter that we’d have the reverse problem in an open society: too many “low skill” immigrants clamoring for entrance. If we’re not offering “free” welfare, entrants would have to pay their own way, or seek a sponsor. Hoppe has already conceded that the existence of welfare programs cannot be used as an argument against open borders, so let us simply argue that immigration to a large area is self-regulating, just as for smaller areas.

It seems to me that closed societies tend to impose artificial stratification; the answer to “who will clean the sewers?” tends to become “the sewer caste.” Societies which do not accept newcomers may tend also to restrict internal mobility, both geographically and career-wise.

Lastly, be careful what you wish for! Hoppe believes that a requirement for “all-around superior (above-average) intellectual performance and character structure as well as a compatible system of values” would lead to “the predictable result of a systematic pro-European immigration bias.”

Given the strong performance of Asian students at the university level, perhaps Hoppe and his European neighbors might not fare as well as all that. Perhaps it is they who would be confined to the backwaters of Europe?


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