Sunday, November 22, 2015

Borders Neither Open or Closed: Richman Gets it Right

When I first read the title, I didn’t think so: TGIF: Let the Refugees In.  Yet Sheldon Richman’s conclusion is doubly tasty as it comes from about as left a left-libertarian as one can find – and certainly one of the more thoughtful (and civil) of the genre.

After highlighting the extensive government scrutiny that potential immigrants undergo before being allowed to enter the United States, Richman offers:

Of course the government's role in scrutinizing refugees makes (most?) libertarians uncomfortable. (For one thing, it's tax-financed, though it need not be.)

Quite true.

But that's the way it's going to be for the foreseeable future.

In fact, for this otherwise-consistent-with-the-NAP function it is the only option available in this world we live in today.

Nevertheless, we can take up the question of how a completely libertarian -- by that I mean stateless -- society would handle this matter.

I have suggested, more than once, how this would likely proceed: for a stranger to be allowed to enter a new community (no need to get hung-up on artificial state lines as a stateless society will have none; further, remember: we have a right to “go” as we please, we do not have a right to “come” without permission), some combination of a letter of adequate employment and / or a letter confirming housing and / or a letter from a sponsor assuring that the newcomer would not place an undue burden on the community would be required.

We can be confident that a free society would devise methods of joint suretyship by which strangers could be vouched for, giving others confidence in dealing with them safely.

That’s what I said.

In fact such mechanisms were devised long ago and would quickly be updated to be fully consistent with individual rights if the state were to leave the field.

Richman offers the example of the Frankpledge – one more of countless examples from the Middle Ages that point to governance solutions in a decentralized world. 

I am aware of other, more recent, similar examples.  This is as libertarian as one might hope to get in this world we currently live in.  It has happened before; it still happens today in some countries and under specific conditions.

The borders to my property are not open, nor are they closed.  The conditions under-which I allow either goods or people onto my property are managed by me.  My position on borders is merely to extend this fundamental property right to the next, logical, step.

Unfortunately, there is only one, very un-libertarian, agency available.  As no one has yet to send me all of their Federal Reserve Notes or their bank account digits, and no one has written to me of their commitment to stop using all streets and sidewalks, I suggest every so-called libertarian puritan has found some way to make peace with this un-libertarian agent.

Hypocrites, one and all.  The lack of bank transfers I have received proves your hypocrisy.  You have made peace with the money and credit of this un-libertarian agent; you have made peace with its streets and sidewalks.

On what issues and on what basis does one choose to make peace with this un-libertarian agent?  Is it random – whatever makes one feel good, righteous, in with the cool crowd?  I make peace when the activity is one that would not be in violation of the NAP had not the financing been coercive.  I advocate for removing the coercive financing, but I deal with it on a daily basis.  I find living better than martyrdom.

Richman is suggesting that libertarians make peace with this agent of border management – a function that would be consistent with libertarian theory absent the coercive financing.  Richman gets it right. 


  1. "I suggest every so-called libertarian puritan has found some way to make peace with this un-libertarian agent."

    While I generally agree with you and have learned much from your writing, I think that this cannot be true of libertarians.

    I made peace with the fact that I either cannot escape the State or the cost is too high. Using FRNs is a mark of slavery. Using the State's roads is a frightening, forced choice. I live in a state of constant war and terror with the State. The best that I can do is to live strategically within it and convince family, friends, and neighbors of what the State really is and how to live more peaceably. Peace is the last word I would normally use when talking about the State.

    1. Use whatever term you like. Those who choose for some version of managed borders have no choice in the service provider; the same is true for many other state activities utilized by libertarians: FRNs, roads, etc. (I suggest that you have more choices in medium of exchange than I do in who manages property rights).

      You cite Rothbard and his radical hatred of the state, yet he taught at a state university. On what basis did he feel this was justified? No different than what I present here in the above post.

    2. In regards to Rothbard, I find Block's argument regarding taking from the State compelling.

      I wasn't addressing the immigration issue directly. I'm on the fence about it.

      Strategically, it makes more sense to think locally (in terms of property) and educate broadly. Immigration hundreds or thousands of miles away doesn't affect me in a practical sense.

      I also can't help appreciating the "illegal" immigrants' necessity of treating others on an individual basis versus the State's job regulations.

    3. Josiah, I am familiar with the argument of "taking from the state...." I am not sure I agree with this approach because it seems to take an "ends justifies the means" viewpoint, which I find difficult to accept.

      I also believe Rothbard makes the distinction of state activities that monopolize (or virtually monopolize) otherwise non-violent (save for the funding source) professions - such as teaching at universities. I am more comfortable with this approach because it is difficult to accept that I must exclude myself from an occupation merely because the state has taken it over.

      I write this knowing that it doesn't offer complete satisfaction - and certainly not complete libertarian perfection (as this is impossible in any endeavor in this world). Hence, we all figure out where we each draw lines, or make peace, or accept, or whatever term you find reasonable.

    4. Thank you for the clarification on Rothbard's position.

      I'm fine with home owners' associations assuming that they don't own me by virtue of me being born in one.

  2. Guess you won't call the police if you get mugged by an illegal immigrants, then. And you sure won't ask for the illegal immigrant that mugged you to do deported, right?

    1. Matt, to whom is your comment directed?

    2. My apologies. It's directed at Josiah.

      Strange how people have made peace with the government as enforcing agent in most cases, except border control. Note that they are fine with the government forcing the border open.

      For whatever reason, open borders libertarians want borders of Western countries only to be opened to the people of the third world. And it definitely isn't libertarian ideas that motivate this advocacy in my opinion.

    3. Immigration status would not affect how I would respond to a mugging.

    4. What are you going to do then? Something like the movie Death Wish?

    5. Matt,

      I never hear open border libertarians objecting to homicide detectives arresting murder suspects and DA's prosecuting them. Shouldn't they, though? Aren't the cops, DA's, public defenders,judges and prison guards being paid for with tax dollars? For they life of me, I don't understand how government inaction in an area it monopolizes has become the default libertarian position.

  3. "My position on borders is merely to extend this fundamental property right to the next, logical, step."

    A border is not your property line, so how can you extend your property rights to it?

    1. I have the right to decide who and under what conditions someone is allowed onto my property; my neighbors and I therefore have the right to decide who and under what conditions someone is allowed into our neighborhood.

    2. I'm not sure your conclusion correctly follows from your premise. Do you and your neighbors own the roads and sidewalks that are used to enter your neighborhood? What if you and one of your neighbors agree to exclude a particular party but two other neighbors wish to allow him access? You seem to be postulating a group right. How is that right exercised if the individual members of the group are not in unanimous agreement?

    3. Short answers: yes, if in an HOA (as one example), technically yes if a "public" sidewalk or street although the government exercises control; in an HOA, governed per the association agreement, otherwise we are stuck with today's nonsense.

      Long answer, read everything in the attached, in order: