Walter Block and I have had an ongoing email exchange over several weeks on the topic of open borders and immigration. We have reached a natural pause; Walter, as he often does, has graciously allowed me to publish the conversation. The following covers the last of the back-and-forth; I have included some additional, clarifying (I hope) comments.
Walter was very specific regarding his view of libertarian theory to this topic:
What I’m trying to do is to apply the libertarian theory I learned at Murray’s knee to immigration, and my conclusion is that the proper answer is full private property rights and open immigration. Both.
Note that there are two requirements for Walter: full private property rights AND open immigration.
I wanted clarification, so I asked:
I understand the pure libertarian theory, and while I hold a slightly different view, this is a topic for a different discussion. I am asking if you care to apply theory AS YOU SEE IT to today's situation. Today, we do not have private property rights. Can your theory not be applied, given that we do not have full private property rights in the real world?
A fair question; as we do not have full private property rights, is Walter’s theory applicable to today’s reality? I continue:
There are many libertarians who will say that open borders TODAY - without full private property rights - is libertarian, and would therefore open the borders. Would YOU do this TODAY absent full private property rights? I really am trying to get a yes or no answer from you on this specific question.
Now, to fully answer your question: I agree with those libertarians, not you. If I had the power to open the borders, fully, right now, I’d do it.
Walter’s response set the stage for a worthwhile exchange.
Thank you for clearly and directly answering the question.
This is all very helpful for the dialogue. I think you have demonstrated that open borders cannot be found via libertarian theory in a world made of states. Your position might be a transitional position – and we both know transitional positions are perfectly fine as long as ultimately liberty is in view (I paraphrase Rothbard greatly, and agree with him on this as I suspect you do).
I will come later to my view of this “transitional position.”
Now, why would I say “you have demonstrated that open borders cannot be found via libertarian theory in a world made of states”? Because in a world made of states, inherently we do not have full private property rights. I have significant evidence on my side on this one!
I suggest: without “full private property rights,” “open immigration” is not a libertarian position. You suggest it as well – your sentence requiring both conditions makes this clear. Again, it might be a transitional position ultimately leading to a libertarian condition, but it is not – by itself – a libertarian position.
Walter answered in a manner that should not be a surprise to those who know Walter and his writings:
How do you answer the above three questions? I answer all in the positive. I’m an immediatist, not a gradualist in all of these things.
The questions are on topics such as: if I could wave a wand and immediately eliminate all drug laws, would I do it? My response:
We need not distract ourselves with other questions. Instead, your questions only further serve to demonstrate my point. To achieve the libertarian condition in each of the three scenarios you present requires only one step, one action – removing the respective NAP-violating law.
Just eliminate drug laws and you achieve a condition consistent with the NAP: one step, one action. I continue:
But to achieve a libertarian condition regarding borders and immigration requires two actions – according to your own construct: removing the NAP-violating law AND privatizing all property. One action without the other does not achieve a libertarian condition – as you say. Maybe an acceptable transitional position, but not a libertarian condition.
Walter remains undeterred:
On a practical level, I still think I can have my cake and eat it too, here. Namely, I predict that it would take less time for us to privatize everything, if we had full power, than for the hordes to descend upon us en masse.
There will be individuals who comment at this blog – new names, just commenting for the first time. They often start with the line: “I have been reading you for many years.” My antenna always goes up when I read such a line: am I being trolled? With such people, a comment like this would result in a less-than-polite response from me.
But I would never do that with Walter. We have a long history of respectful exchanges. Because my exchanges with Walter are always cordial (and, truthfully, I can’t say that I fully understood what he meant by “if we had full power,” because it is so far outside of both the realm of today’s reality and outside of the realm of libertarian theory), I didn’t lose it.
Instead, I offered:
This is where you demonstrate that your transitional position does not move us toward liberty. At best, (and very generously, at that) we stand still; at worst (and in my opinion, virtually certainly) we fall further into the abyss.
“…if we had full power…” How does opening the border give “us” “full power” to “privatize everything”? In other words, your “prediction” that we would privatize everything before the hordes descend upon us en masse stands on a foundation not merely of quicksand, but swamp – the same swamp that refuses to be drained today by Trump and the American voters. By opening the borders, will the swamp voluntarily give up?
No, opening the borders will not gain us full power, nor will your transitional position move us toward liberty, nor will the swamp voluntarily agree to be drained.
We have seen this transitional position put in place in Germany and Europe recently – open immigration without fully privatized property.
How has this worked out for liberty? Certainly, for the immigrants, it has enhanced their liberty.
What of the Germans, Swedes, and other Europeans? Are they MORE free? Have there been calls for REDUCED government action because of this open-border-induced influx? Has all property been privatized before the masses descended? Has the swamp been drained, with “full power” returning to those who wish to privatize everything?
The answer for each of these is, of course, no. The answer is worse than no. The answer for each of these is exactly the opposite of a move toward liberty.
That was a couple of days ago. I was about to start putting together this blog post when I received this reply from Walter:
You make some very good points. I’ll have to think more about this. When my latest article in this vein is published, I’ll send it to you. Then, please, write up your criticism in your blog, as is your wont, and I’ll write another journal article.
Walter has been gracious in this regard. He has tried to get me to have my articles published; I have tried once or twice and really hated the process. So Walter has offered to respond even if my posts are not published in refereed journals. He has cited bionic mosquito on more than one occasion.
I think your point about me needing two things, while in legalizing drugs, ending slavery, we only need one thing, is very important. You are a very formidable debating partner.