Annals of Self-Contradiction

The central policy issue in this race has become Cantor’s absolute determination to pass an amnesty bill. Cantor is the No. 1 cheerleader in Congress for amnesty [for illegal immigrants]. This is not the Republican way to fix our economy and labor markets.

  — David Brat, congressional candidate and self-described “free market economist”

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20 Responses to “Annals of Self-Contradiction”

  1. 1 1 khodge

    You ought to have a blog category for self-contradiction. It would, of course, fill up pretty quickly.

  2. 2 2 James

    Is the contradiction supposed to be some incompatibility between favoring free markets and opposing amnesty?

    If so, I think the charge of self contradiction is misplaced. I can see someone favoring free markets and opposing amnesty on the grounds that illegal immigration is a form of trespass against the US government as a property owner of a one inch wide strip of land along the borders of the US.

    If Brat wants to claim that free markets are incompatible with any government ownership of land, then this certainly is a self contradiction but most people understand free markets to mean something a few steps shy of Rothbardian anarchism.

  3. 3 3 nobody.really

    Got a couple hours? It appears that economist David Brat wrote a reader challenging the “positivist” nature of utilitarian economics (and science generally?). He praises Donald-Diedre McCloskey and his work in re-characterizing economics from being a science to being a school of rhetoric.

  4. 4 4 Michael Stack


    I wouldn’t think many self-styled “Free market” economists would support the government’s property claim over to the entire United States, which is what our current restrictionist immigration policy amounts to.

    I agree that there are arguments to be made in favor of restrictionist immigration policy, just not to be made by Professor Brat while he claiming to be ‘free market’.

  5. 5 5 Tony N

    You could also argue that anyone short of a dyed-in-the-wool anarcho-capitalist is not truly free market.

    And just to be thoroughly picayune, he doesn’t, at least in the quote above, say that amnesty can’t fix the economy (though I don’t think he believes it can), he says that it’s not the “Republican way” to fix the economy.

  6. 6 6 nobody.really

    [H]e doesn’t … say that amnesty can’t fix the economy[;] he says that it’s not the “Republican way” to fix the economy.

    And it wouldn’t be the Hopi Way.

  7. 7 7 James

    Tony N,

    I’m a free market=anarchy kind of guy myself. But I realize that my disagreement with those who consider themselves free market minarchists or free market conservatives is a disagreement about how to define a word. At some point we have to agree on some set of labels and then get to the more substantive disagreements. Whatever “free market” means, either immigration is an exception to the general rule that central planning doesn’t work, or immigration is not an exception to the general rule that central planning doesn’t work. That’s more important (to me) than who gets to call themselves “free market.”

    Michael Stack,

    I think there are plenty of self-styled “free market” people who believe that if governments are going to exist, then those governments should create and enforce immigration regulations. If you don’t think those people are truly “free market,” I agree but please see my response to Tony N.

  8. 8 8 James


    The facts you raise about Brat, while disturbing, are not self-contradictions so far as I am able to tell. I may be missing something.

  9. 9 9 Tony N

    James, your comment #2 was spot on, IMO.

    I happen to be one of those self-styled free-market people who finds no conflict between free markets and immigration restrictions. And I’d happily direct one to your comment #2 in my own defense.

  10. 10 10 Michael Stack

    I guess I have a hard time understanding what type of argument a principled free market person could muster in defense of immigration restrictions. If I want to contract with somebody but that person happens to live in another country, what’s the argument against that? More importantly, what is the argument against that this is also consistent with a desire for free markets?

    I think it is OK to say, “On issues of immigration I must compromise my free market principles”. I just don’t understand how one can support a free market and also support restrictions on trade.

  11. 11 11 Tony N

    Micheal Stack,

    If I may, I think some principled free-market types might argue that their preference for immigration restrictions emanate from broader concerns, e.g. social, cultural, national security issues. These concerns, to them, tend to trump everything else. Which, I suppose, you’ve already considered, hence your comment:

    “I think it is OK to say, ‘On issues of immigration I must compromise my free market principles’. I just don’t understand how one can support a free market and also support restrictions on trade.”

    With that, I agree.

    My problem with Steve’s post is that it entails a type of criticism that anyone can make if one focuses only on one dimension of a particular issue.

    Immigration restrictions are not, first and foremost, economic policy, just as the prohibition of murder is not economic policy. However, if I were to crank the dial all the way to radical purity, I could argue that anyone who supported a federal proscription of murder (and who doesn’t?) is not genuinely “free market,” as there is certainly a pay-for-murder industry that could flourish in the absence of the severe penalties that currently accompany the crime. Indeed, were murder to suddenly become a legal act, we could easily create room for firms like Whack-a-Wife, or Bump-a-Boss. But so long as we imprison and execute murderers, this fledgling industry, which today exists only in the darkest shadows of our society, will continue to struggle under the weight of our central authority’s clumsy hand.

    It’s ridiculous, of course, but not wrong in principle. We support state-imposed penalties for murder not for economic reasons, but for far more important and fundamental concerns. Many self-described free-market types have similar beliefs when it comes to immigration.

    Anyway, I don’t think people should lose their free-market badge for opposing open borders.

    All that said, I freely admit that Steve targeted a comment in which Brat invokes economics himself. So, there is an extent to which Steve’s criticism makes sense.

  12. 12 12 James

    Michael Stack:

    I’m so free market, I don’t think the government should manage the roads. But since it does, I think it should regulate traffic. I can imagine people thinking similarly about borders.

  13. 13 13 Stumbo

    There’s no contradiction at all between favoring free markets and free trade, and opposing an uncontrolled influx of people who:

    (1) can take advantage of a welfare state (at my expense)
    (2) if/when allowed to vote, would/will vote to preserve and strengthen that welfare state
    (3) may bring in infectious diseases that have been eradicated here
    (4) don’t speak English, requiring bilingual signs, interpreters, and/or specialized schooling (at my expense)

    I’d like to see Steve address these things (or point me to where he has).

  14. 14 14 Leo

    Wait isn’t this about amnesty not about immigration? I know lots of people believe that unjust laws shouldn’t be enforced but I don’t think everyone thinks that. Doesn’t amnesty make it harder to have believable compromises with people who don’t like immigration?

    Why is it fair that the people who crossed the border illegally get the benefits of living in the US more than any other potential immigrants? What is it about them which entitles them to special treatment?

  15. 15 15 Michael Stack


    If we’re going to deny the benefits of living in the US to most everyone outside the US, and somebody offers a compromise in which we offer it to more people but not all (amnesty), I will support it though I think you are right that it is inconsistent.

    To me it is similar to offering to halve the tax bills of a random 10% of the population – I would support it even though I think it’d be better to virtually eliminate taxes for everyone.

  16. 16 16 Michael Stack


    I need to think about what you said a bit more. I will probably respond over in the new thread created today by Professor Landsburg. Hope to see everyone there!

  17. 17 17 Jimbino

    There’s no free market where I, a non-breeding taxpayer, am forced to support the progeny of Amerikan breeders when I might prefer to import a superior and cheaper product.

  18. 18 18 Ken Arromdee

    Michael: Why would we want to give benefits of living in the US to people outside the US?

    Surely you can’t be working from a general principle of “if someone would benefit, we should help them”–that would imply that we should give other sorts of benefits to foreigners as well, not just the benefits gained by immigration. For instance, we should (using tax-originated funds) give as much money as possible to people who are still living in the other countries. For that matter, it implies you should give as much money as possible to foreigners from your own pocket.

    (And Mexicans in the US send huge amounts of money in remittances to Mexicans in Mexico anyway. Why not cut out the middleman and just directly tax people to send Mexicans remittances?)

  19. 19 19 Bob Thompson

    Amnesty for illegal immigrants has nothing to do with free market concepts. It has to do with a concept called ‘rule of law’. Now, the US may have too many laws, too much government, and bad immigration policy, all of which make contributions to the conditions existing regarding illegal immigration and calls for amnesty, but it is pointless to say people are self-contradictory if they embrace free market concepts but oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants today in the US.

    As a matter of fact, with the jumbled mess our government, in concert with two major political parties and big business, has created, I find difficulty maintaining consistency in my own personal positions around many specific problems essentially created through power seeking in this combination. Democrats push actions that shift power to government in cooperation with big business, Republicans push actions that shift power to big business in cooperation with government, and there is no free market to be found.

  20. 20 20 Al V.

    @Leo (#14) asks, “Why is it fair that the people who crossed the border illegally get the benefits of living in the US more than any other potential immigrants?”

    I might ask, “Why is it fair that people who happen to be born in the US get the benefits of living in the US more than potential immigrants?”

    I was born in the US, but under what principle does that entitle me to greater benefit from living in the US than someone else who could contribute more to our economy than me? I didn’t do anything to be born here, I was just lucky.

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