This entry is part 12 of 22 in the series Great Libertarian Memes

This article is #12 of a weekly series highlighting the former memes of Bureaucrash, an organization once headed by my friends Pete Eyre and Jason Talley of the Motorhome Diaries. The memes were originally authored by Pete Eyre and Anja Hartleb-Parson, and were intended as means of communicating ideas about liberty in catchy and succinct ways.

Thanks in large part to misinformation, protectionist legislation passed with the support of Big Labor and other rent-seeking groups, and rhetoric accompanying these actions, immigration has become a divisive topic. As was seen between East and West Berlin decades ago and between the United States and Mexico today, this controversy sometimes results in the construction of physical barriers to prevent the free movement of individuals. Yet, fortunately there are some reasonable voices in this discussion, helping to point out how immigration restrictions further entrench governments and negate individual rights, in addition to severely hampering the economy.

Why we support free and open immigration:

Immigration restrictions violate the natural rights of each individual. Restricting where a person can live or work based on the geographical location where they were born hearkens back to the days when governments imposed similar restrictions based on another factor outside of an individual’s control—their skin color. We should be concerned about the welfare of all persons, not just those who happen to be born within a certain arbitrary political boundary.

Immigration restrictions violate self-ownership. An individual has the right to reach an agreement with an employer, whether he happens to be born 50, 500, or 5,000 miles away. To allow the government to prevent such a contract violates each individual’s rights; if the government has the authority to determine who can work for whom, we are slaves.

Immigration, like free trade, improves the economy. Robust immigration helps to raise the standard of living. Any limit on the potential pool of mental and physical labor only diminishes the market’s potential for wealth creation. Free and open immigration allows for the dynamism and entrepreneurship of the market to be more fully realized as individuals are free to specialize in areas that they excel, to found businesses, and to innovate. In turn, this creates jobs and improves goods and services. A rising tide raises all ships.

Allowing for immigration is a peaceful way to pressure tyrannical states to shape up. Rights are not granted by the government. Individuals born in North Korea, Brazil, the United States, Germany, and Nigeria all have the same rights. But, since governments usurp rights, those living under the most repressive regimes often move to less-restrictive areas, seeking a better life for themselves and their families. If the best and brightest from a particular country are emigrating elsewhere, even the most authoritarian of governments realize the loss of talent and are forced to become less burdensome—something that helps individuals still living in those countries.

Immigrants internalize the ideas of freedom. They know firsthand the stifling effects of burdensome, corrupt governments. By uprooting their family and moving to a new area, they have demonstrated that they value individual liberty, personal responsibility, and markets. They have, quite literally, voted with their feet. They remind each of us of the importance of liberty, and of the importance of preserving that liberty. Immigrate? No. ImmiGREAT!

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Dr. Norman Horn

Norman founded LibertarianChristians.com and the Libertarian Christian Institute, and currently serves as its President and Editor-in-Chief. He holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from the Austin Graduate School of Theology. He currently is a Postdoctoral researcher in Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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  • Daniel Hewitt

    This particular issue took me some time to think through fully, but I finally arrived at these conclusions. One additional point is that open immigration should help to stabilize an economy. If there were a surplus of workers in a certain industry, those with the weakest ties to the area would simply move to another country to find employment there. Allowing workers to immigrate/emigrate to match the demand for labor would greatly reduce unemployment.

  • Daniel Hewitt

    This particular issue took me some time to think through fully, but I finally arrived at these conclusions. One additional point is that open immigration should help to stabilize an economy. If there were a surplus of workers in a certain industry, those with the weakest ties to the area would simply move to another country to find employment there. Allowing workers to immigrate/emigrate to match the demand for labor would greatly reduce unemployment.

  • @Daniel: Absolutely, it’s no different than people moving between the individual states right now to find work.

  • @Daniel: Absolutely, it’s no different than people moving between the individual states right now to find work.

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  • Doug Smith

    I support immigration for all but the first reason listed. However, I oppose free and open immigration for the following two reasons.

    1. It is utterly foolish in a welfare state in spite of the benefits listed.

    2. It is simply natural to desire stability in the communities we live in. Slow evolution is good. Some neighborhoods and small towns have been swamped by people of disparate cultures. They are not bad people, they just do not welcome change that is too great and too rapid. It seems only fair to be first concerned about the interests and feelings of indigenous people before we worry about the natural rights of immigrants. I would use the same argument if Germans were flooding into Sri Lanka.

  • Doug Smith

    I support immigration for all but the first reason listed. However, I oppose free and open immigration for the following two reasons.

    1. It is utterly foolish in a welfare state in spite of the benefits listed.

    2. It is simply natural to desire stability in the communities we live in. Slow evolution is good. Some neighborhoods and small towns have been swamped by people of disparate cultures. They are not bad people, they just do not welcome change that is too great and too rapid. It seems only fair to be first concerned about the interests and feelings of indigenous people before we worry about the natural rights of immigrants. I would use the same argument if Germans were flooding into Sri Lanka.

  • @Doug: While I kind of understand what you’re saying… I think there are some problems.

    Regarding (1), how about we say instead that it’s just foolish to have a welfare state? Immigration is a good, but a welfare state is a bad. I don’t want to punish a good because a bad exists. On the contrary, I will focus ever more attention on eliminating the bad.

    However, a welfare state does provide a perverse incentive in the “market for immigration,” which is why immigration is likely more rapid than it might be otherwise. But even if it were not, supply and demand would put an economic limitation on immigration so that it wouldn’t get too rapid. It would simply become too costly for everyone, and so only those who truly desired to live in the area (and those who would more likely hold to the general values of that area) would choose to immigrate in. Make sense?

    In sum, I find it distasteful for the government to divert attention from REAL problems, i.e. the health-care/welfare/fiat money/warfare state, to the minor problem of immigration.

  • @Doug: While I kind of understand what you’re saying… I think there are some problems.

    Regarding (1), how about we say instead that it’s just foolish to have a welfare state? Immigration is a good, but a welfare state is a bad. I don’t want to punish a good because a bad exists. On the contrary, I will focus ever more attention on eliminating the bad.

    However, a welfare state does provide a perverse incentive in the “market for immigration,” which is why immigration is likely more rapid than it might be otherwise. But even if it were not, supply and demand would put an economic limitation on immigration so that it wouldn’t get too rapid. It would simply become too costly for everyone, and so only those who truly desired to live in the area (and those who would more likely hold to the general values of that area) would choose to immigrate in. Make sense?

    In sum, I find it distasteful for the government to divert attention from REAL problems, i.e. the health-care/welfare/fiat money/warfare state, to the minor problem of immigration.

  • Doug

    The problems with immigration are certainly minor compared with the welfare state or the warfare state or the gigantic fiscal mess government has created. I couldn't agree more. But rapid and uncontrolled immigration is still a real problem, like the complaints Arizonians have registered. They're just left to live with the issues while to most Americans it is a non-issue. I think it is both prudent and thoughtful to manage immigration in a way that maximises the benefits and minimises the liabilities. But the Federal government can't do anything right, except elections and parades, I suppose. Doug+

  • Ok, but if you *restrict* immigration more, you just manage to encourage more illegal immigration, all other things equal. Which means that to enforce it, you'll need a bigger and bigger state with more and more power. Don't you think that such a cost is just as high, if not higher, than welfare statism, and increases the violence overall toward those who, on the average, don't mean any harm?

    On the other hand, if you make it more feasible to immigrate legally, aren't you simply following a more open immigration policy anyway?

    Immigration away from oppressive regimes to what *should* be a more free country is what this is all about. To keep making it more difficult for Lady Liberty to say “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…” seems counter-intuitive at least to me.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm concerned about unsustainable trends and I think it is an issue, but we need to pull a Henry Hazlitt here and get to the bottom of the issue. The *State* is *always* the problem, not the innocent.

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