This talk was delivered at the Mises Circle in Phoenix, AZ, on November 7, 2015.
Whether we’re talking about illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America, or birthright citizenship, or the migrants coming from the Middle East and Africa, the subject of immigration has been in the news and widely discussed for months now. It is an issue fraught with potentially perilous consequences, so it is especially important for libertarians to understand it correctly. This Mises Circle, which is devoted to a consideration of where we ought to go from here, seems like an opportune moment to take up this momentous question.
I should note at the outset that in searching for the correct answer to this vexing problem I do not seek to claim originality. To the contrary, I draw much of what follows from two of the people whose work is indispensable to a proper understanding of the free society: Murray N. Rothbard and Hans-Hermann Hoppe.
Some libertarians have assumed that the correct libertarian position on immigration must be “open borders,” or the completely unrestricted movement of people. Superficially, this appears correct: surely we believe in letting people go wherever they like!
But hold on a minute. Think about “freedom of speech,” another principle people associate with libertarians. Do we really believe in freedom of speech as an abstract principle? That would mean I have the right to yell all during a movie, or the right to disrupt a Church service, or the right to enter your home and shout obscenities at you.
What we believe in are private property rights. No one has “freedom of speech” on my property, since I set the rules, and in the last resort I can expel someone. He can say whatever he likes on his own property, and on the property of anyone who cares to listen to him, but not on mine.
The same principle holds for freedom of movement. Libertarians do not believe in any such principle in the abstract. I do not have the right to wander into your house, or into your gated community, or into Disneyworld, or onto your private beach, or onto Jay-Z ‘s private island. As with “freedom of speech,” private property is the relevant factor here. I can move onto any property I myself own or whose owner wishes to have me. I cannot simply go wherever I like.