The Free Marketeers

Yesterday’s brief post raised an eyebrow over a congressional candidate who manages simultaneously to call himself a “free-market economist” and to support strict controls on immigration. Here are a few more words for those who don’t quite see the problem.

First, I can imagine two possible meanings for the adjective “free-market”. Either it means you place a high value on freedom as an end in itself or it means you believe that freedom is, in general, a highly effective means to other ends you care about, like prosperity or security. I happen to be a free marketeer in both senses, though I can easily imagine being a free marketeer in either sense alone.

I see my preference for freedom as an end in itself as being similar to my preference for well done meat — you either share that preference or you don’t, and if you don’t, we’ll just have to agree to disagree — there’s no right or wrong here. One exception: If your preferences strike me as inconsistent — if, that is, you seem to make a lot of choices that indicate a strong preference for freedom while denying that freedom is terribly important to you — then I’m apt to point to that inconsistency and suggest that you might want to think a little harder about what your true preferences really are. That was the thrust of what I once tried to do in a book called Fair Play, where I suggested that the choices we make as parents often reveal values contrary to those we express in the voting booth — and that by reflecting on those choices, we might become more thoughtful voters.

On the other hand, if you doubt that freedom is an effective means toward prosperity, then I’m pretty sure you’re just wrong, and that if you thought about it harder you’d change your mind. A lot of my other writing has tried to explain how to think about it harder, and to demonstrate that this is a subject where hard thinking can be fun.

Now I’m not sure in which sense our congressional candidate considers himself a free marketeer, but surely if you’re a free marketeer in either sense, you’ll tend to endorse statements like these:

  • I, and not the government, should get to decide who will be a guest in my home.
  • I, and not the government, should get to decide who I’ll hire to mow my lawn.
  • I, and not the government, should get to decide who I’ll go running with this evening.
  • I, and not the government, should get to decide whose businesses I’ll patronize, who I’ll serve as customers in my own business, and who I can sell my house to.

Strict controls on immigration are, of course, antithetical to all these propositions because their entire purpose is to exclude a large class of people from visiting my home, mowing my lawn, joining me for an evening run, selling me products, buying my products, and generally being, at my discretion, a part of my life.

Could a “free marketeer” nevertheless support strong immigration controls for some other reason that, in his view, trumps his preference for and/or faith in free markets? Sure, but it seems awfully unlikely. After all, those reasons are available to everyone. If millions of people who don’t think of themselves as free marketeers have weighed those reasons in the balance and come down in favor of welcoming more immigrants, then surely you’d expect the scales to tip even further when you throw in a strong preference for freedom.

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86 Responses to “The Free Marketeers”


  1. 1 1 Bennett Haselton

    You could be generally pro-free-market, while still believing that illegal immigrants are disproportionately likely to wreck the free market through low-level stealing. (This may or may not be true, but a person could consistently *believe* it.) And hence they might oppose amnesty because it encourages future illegal immigration.

    And, to answer your final question, that argument against immigration might be more compelling to a free marketer than to a traditional progressive. If an illegal immigrant steals to support their family, the progressive might say, who cares? But to a property rights fundamentalist, it violates their core principles.

  2. 2 2 David Johnson

    Steven,

    Thanks for expressing so well the contradiction I believe is at the heart of the ideas of the UK Independence Party. This is a hot topic at the moment over here.

  3. 3 3 Jim W K

    Steve >> Could a “free marketeer” nevertheless support strong immigration controls for some other reason that, in his view, trumps his preference for and/or faith in free markets? Sure, but it seems awfully unlikely. <<

    I'm not so sure it's always the case. Consider David Johnson's allusion above to the UK Independence Party (UKIP). They are pro-free market libertarians who think the UK Conservatives have strayed too far to the left, but they also express lots of concerns over immigration.

    Here's the key; one can be a libertarian yet still wish for serious controls on immigration if it is felt that the country in question lacks (at present) the infrastructure (hospitals, schools, etc) to support more and more immigration – which is what UKIP is suggesting.

    I don't know the situation concerning your congressional candidate, but in principle being a free market libertarian doesn't mean you should think all immigration at all times is good, even if you support it in principle as a good thing. Of course, one might argue that resorting to strict controls on immigration would indicate a past failure to have built the infrastructure to faciliate more immigrants – a problem that's usually caused by too much government interference in the markets.

  4. 4 4 Charles G. Phillips

    Professor Landsburg,

    Progressives are consistently surprised by the failure of state-imposed programs to work in the real world despite the elegance of these programs in theory. How would you implement a policy of open immigration without falling into this trap? Regards, Chas Phillips

  5. 5 5 Joel

    Fridman put it well:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C52TlPCVDio

    To your second paragraph, Friedman was a “Consequentialist libertarianism”:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PaN9M4WwHw#t=68

  6. 6 6 Zazooba

    So, surely if you’re a free marketeer in either sense, you’ll tend to endorse statements like these??

    I, and not the government, should get to decide who votes in U.S. elections,

    I, and not the government, should get to decide who collects welfare benefits at the expense of U.S. citizens,

    I, and not the government, should get to decide whose children are educated at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.

    Sorry, sounds like a giant non-sequitur.

  7. 7 7 Tony N

    “Strict controls on immigration are, of course, antithetical to all these propositions because their entire purpose is to exclude a large class of people from visiting my home, mowing my lawn, joining me for an evening run, selling me products, buying my products, and generally being, at my discretion, a part of my life.”

    You’re conflating purpose and effect.

    None of your propositions represent the purpose of immigration restrictions, they are at best corollaries of immigration policy, just as they are all also corollaries of imprisoning criminals. Locking up rapists and murderers for the rest of their lives results in, by your standards, the government deciding who will be (certainly, who will not be) a guest in my home.

    The existence of an ordered society with even a modicum of concentrated authority will preclude absolute market freedom. So in the real world, we are always going to be talking about a difference in degree when it comes to free markets.

  8. 8 8 Jody

    Your obtuse reasoning and pretzel-like logic explain why I am a conservative and not a libertarian. There is nothing wrong with a nation state having a reasonable and working immigration system and I agree with Mark Steyn that not having one is a death blow to a working republic. The current sorry excuse for an immigration system in this country is the fault of liberal statists (some of whom unfortunately call themselves republicans) and one of the things we conservatives need to do is come up with realistic and serious proposals for fixing it.
    In any case, we are far better off with Brat in congress than Cantor. We can at least give him a chance and see what he does. It will be far easier to remove him from office in 2 years than it was and is getting rid of so many of these other fossils who have been in office forever!

  9. 9 9 Rob Rawlings

    (resubmitted as it ate my first attempt)

    Imagine a small community that has as part if its charter an agreement that the inhabitants get to vote on who is allowed to live there.

    Would that be okay ? It seems reasonable that in a small community people should have that right.

    If it would be ok , then one can imagine the community growing larger and larger over time but still keeping this rule in place. Eventually it has grown to the size of the USA and has decided to call the people who enforce the results of the voting “the government”.

    At what point in this transformation from small to large does it violate freedom to have controls on who is allowed to be part of the community ?

  10. 10 10 Jim W K

    Tony N >>Locking up rapists and murderers for the rest of their lives results in, by your standards, the government deciding who will be (certainly, who will not be) a guest in my home. <<

    I don't think that's a fair comparison. Immigrants are (or should be)free citizens with the liberty and freedom to sell their labour wherever there is a market for it – hence they are candiates to be invited to your home for dinner. Incarcerated criminals, on the other hand, are people who've forgone their right to have dinner at yours by virtue of the fact that they've oommitted a crime and are no longer free in society.

  11. 11 11 iceman

    Zazooba #5 – bingo.
    I think much of the opposition to completely open borders comes from the notion that many people come here not simply to “trade”, but as net recipients of publicly (read *involuntarily*) funded benefits. To that extent it does not seem unreasonable to say that those paying for such benefits should have some say in the matter. Saying this issue is central to “fixing” the economy might a stretch though.

    Also agree with JimWK #7, except to the extent people migrating are also imposing on others’ liberty as described above.

  12. 12 12 Bonefish

    Similar to posts #3 and #6, I question why it is inconsistent for someone to support free markets as well as practical restrictions to free immigration, and whether this turns on how the destination country is organized.

    For example, let’s say there’s a country, Minima, that has the geography of a spiral. The geography is important because only the outer ring borders other countries; land in the inner ring is completely bounded. Every individual or family in the country owns a 1 square mile tract of land.
    Everything in Minima is done through private transactions, except for a collective Transportation Authority that maintains the one road that spirals through the country, bordering every tract of land. The residents of Minima jointly own the road, and support the Transportation Authority by paying an annual fee and/or volunteering to work for it–this includes manning the border check stations at the two ends of the spiral road.
    Consider two different situations:
    1. For the cost of maintaining the road to remain at a steady state, the Transportation Authority only allows -x- travelers to use the road per day. The Transportation Authority will use force to prevent any additional travelers from entering Minima.
    2. The residents of Minima have a genetic deficiency such that if someone carrying the Disease passes within 1 mile of them, they have a 10% chance of dying. The Transportation Authority can easily check immigrants to see if they carry the Disease, and will use force to prevent any carrier from entering Minima. Bob is a resident of Minima who wants to hire Tom to mow his lawn. Bob lives in the interior of Minima, so Tom would have to use the spiral road and pass within 1 mile of numerous other Minima residents. Bob’s risk profile is such that he values having a mowed lawn more than the 10% chance of dying, but it’s likely that one of his neighbors will die.

    To reiterate some questions I have about how we define free markets:
    - by creating a collective Transportation Authority, have the residents of Minima already closed the door on calling themselves free market?
    - is there no room for practical restrictions on immigration volume, that are prima facie neutral as to who the immigrants are, to moderate the effect on existing infrastructure and potentially allow time for new infrastructure to be built?
    - if Bob smuggles Tom into Minima, aren’t they deciding that their right to voluntary transact is more important than the existing order and the other residents’ safety?

  13. 13 13 Marcelo

    Joel #5, you beat me to it. Was Milton Friedman, one of the greatest free marketeers of all time, “inconsistent” when he pointed out the difference between unrestrained immigration into a genuinely capitalist economy vs. unrestrained immigration into a massive welfare state?

  14. 14 14 Ted Ung

    The professor’s examples seem vitiated greatly by an omitted proposition: “I, neither the government nor interlopers, should get to decide who shall eat at my table.”

  15. 15 15 Thomas Purzycki

    Rob Rawlings #9: Your example doesn’t seem to violate any freedom, but only if the “community” buys its land from someone with a right to it or sets up on land no one else was claiming. Are you suggesting that this is how the United States evolved?

  16. 16 16 Rob Rawlings

    @#9

    Thomas,

    No, I don’t think that is how the USA evolved.

    It was a thought experiment to help me understand how the concept of how freedom plays out on a small v a large scale.

  17. 17 17 John Faben

    Couldn’t you believe in the free market but believe even more strongly in the rule of law? So you would be pro-immigration, and all for hugely increasing quotas for legal immigration, but still against the idea of amnesty for illegal immigrants, since they are the ones who broke the law? Or you could believe that people who are willing to break one law are more willing than average to break another?

    I’m not saying I believe these things, just that I can imagine consistently believing them.

  18. 18 18 Tony N

    Jim W K,

    Criminals have foregone their right according to whom? The government, of course. You and I may agree with the government’s determination in many instances, but our consent is not required.

    I’ll freely admit, thanks to the relative anonymity this forum offers, that from my perspective there are plenty of so-called criminals, even ones convicted of violent crimes, who have done nothing to forfeit any of their rights. As I type, there are people doing time for acts that are not only a far cry from a true crime but that arguably constitute a benefit to society. Absolutely, if it were up to me, some of these people would have parades held in their honor rather than be placed behind bars.

    But it’s not up to me, and it’s not up to you. It’s up to a system that does not require my consent in order to administer justice.

    So long as it is a government that ultimately decides when one has forfeited one’s rights, I believe my example stands. And I’m unable to identify any useful distinction between a system in which some authoritative entity says “we TAKE AWAY your right to be a part of this society” and “we DO NOT GRANT you the right to be a part of this society.”

  19. 19 19 Darin Johnson

    It’s possible to be in favor of open borders in theory but opposed in practice. Several people have already mentioned welfare, but there’s another issue.

    Freedom is always a little tenuous because people who don’t value it can vote it away. It would be nice if we had some kind of written document that precluded this possibility — call it a “Constitution” — but it seems we don’t.

    If you valued freedom for its own sake, and you though that people who immigrate here were likely to vote freedom away, you might decide that keeping them out, at least in large numbers, is the lesser of two evils.

  20. 20 20 Amir Weitmann

    One of your weaker ones. Go to Europe and have a look for yourself at the results of free immigration together with welfare: disaster.
    Crime, social disintegration, terror for certain communities, who are harassed by Arab/Muslim/Black immigrants, a general loss of security, etc, and that’s before the cultural “malaise” of having to live with hordes of de-facto uncivilized savages who make life miserable for other people. I think you should at least reconsider some of your ideas.
    And btw, I love your work, Steve, just keep up the good work in general.

  21. 21 21 Thomas Purzycki

    Tony N #18 – The distinction between granting vs taking away permission to be a part of society is not very important. The real question is “when is coercion justified?” I’m going to modify a thought experiment from Michael Huemer’s recent book:

    Suppose for a moment that there was no “authoritative” entity around and that rapists and murderers plagued you and your neighbors. Imagine you unilaterally decided to go out with your boom stick and some of your friends, round up these criminals, and lock them away. Your neighbors may have some concerns about how fairly you treated your suspects, but as long as you avoided arresting or endangering innocents and their property and didn’t treat your prisoners sadistically, the vast majority of people in your society would probably consider your coercive actions justified.

    Suppose the next day, you gather your friends again and this time you go out and round up all of your neighbors’ house guests and gardeners and expel them from the neighborhood because they didn’t receive your permission to enter the area. Even if you were just as careful as you were with the rapists and murderers (only collecting the aliens and treating them all politely), do you think your society would find your new coercive actions acceptable?

    If you believe this is not a fair analogy of immigration restrictions, how would you amend it to make day two’s anti alien coercion justifiable to the same degree as your actions on the first day?

  22. 22 22 Tony N

    Thomas,

    The trick isn’t to reconcile day one’s actions with day two’s actions. The trick is to reconcile the entire thought experiment with reality; something to which it bears little resemblance.

    As I see it, this experiment in real-world terms would look more like a bunch of minutemen types unilaterally deciding that they’re going to round up immigrants in a territory completely lacking immigration restrictions, because, hey, they just feel like it, and you’ll thank them later.

    But that’s not the case in the real world. There are laws on the books that actually compel the expulsion of these people. So, in order to be more analogous with reality, we would have to suppose that the neighborhood elected a portion of its members to make the rules on everyone’s behalf, and that one of the rules they created mandated the expulsion of people who entered unlawfully. Where’s the coercion in such a scenario?

  23. 23 23 Bruce True

    Nicely put Professor.

  24. 24 24 Jimbino

    The idea of immigrants coming here to partake of Amerikan benefits and freebies is entirely bogus. Lots of Amerikans breed in order to take advantage of those benefits and freebies, which include tax exemptions, deductions and credits and free public education.

    As a tax-paying child-free Hispanic, I would like to have the option to choose NOT to send my tax dollars to support the breeding and mis-education of even more privileged White Christian kids and instead to support families and kids who might appreciate them and who, furthermore, often come potty-trained.

  25. 25 25 Zero M. Ocean

    @20,

    That seems a bit unfair. Welfare in itself creates crime, social disintegration, and cultural malaise. These negligible effects are inhering whether or not the recipients of the benefits are immigrants. To say you’d rather deal with these qualities from someone born in the same country as you rather than someone who’s from Mexico or anywhere else seems to be kinda asinine: a poor, devious, lazy criminal is a poor, devious, lazy criminal regardless of nationality.

    If anything, welfare needs to be jettisoned before immigration laws are tightened like a noose.

    Very Sincerely & Respectfully,

    0

  26. 26 26 Harold

    #20 “Go to Europe and have a look for yourself at the results of free immigration…the cultural “malaise” of having to live with hordes of de-facto uncivilized savages who make life miserable for other people.”
    I am not sure who you are talking of here, perhaps the French? Or maybe the English? I believe there are areas of Spain that have been taken over by Brits. Still, uncivilised savages seems a bit harsh. EU has free movement of people only within the EU.

    The USA has free migration between States. I imagine most Americans would be horrified if you put barriers to inter-state migration.

    The EU has free migration between member states. This causes no more problems than in USA as long as the members are similar in wealth. So movement between France, Germany, UK etc causes very little disgruntlement. Newer members, Romania, Bulgaria – to an extent Poland – are not felt by other states to be members of the club – they are poorer. There is greater incentive to move from a poor country to a rich country, so migration tends to be one-way.

    Long term, the new members will hopefully become as wealthy as the old members, and migration will reach equilibrium.

  27. 27 27 iceman

    Tony N -
    “So long as it is a government that ultimately decides when one has forfeited one’s rights”
    This would seem to be the only workable approach – and in that respect, I think we’d agree, a(nother) argument for limited powers

    “the neighborhood elected a portion of its members to make the rules on everyone’s behalf”
    And wherever this is the case and consent is not unanimous, enforceability requires the backing of coercion
    Note you can make the same characterization of taxes etc.

  28. 28 28 Harold

    The free market does not promise that everyone gets wealthier – at least in the short term. Every innovation has winners and losers. A “perfect” free market just produces more winners than losers.

    People have a perception (right or wrong) that free immigration will mean that the losers (in the short term) happen to be a significant section of people that currently live and work in the USA as they will loose their job or get lower wages. The biggest winners will be the immigrants, and the lesser winners will be the other Americans who are not the losers (and employers). Immigration is restricted because people care more about the current members of the club than non-members or possible future members. The loss to current employees of losing their job is counted as more than the gain of the non-member gaining a job.

    Unions are in a similar position. If they relax restrictions to jobs, there will be “immigration” into their employment area. The big losers will be current employees, the big winners will be the new employees, and the lesser winners everyone else (through cheaper products). Those current members feel exactly the same as do the current members of the USA who fear immigration. Relaxing rules may produce more winners than loses, but that does not matter because it is the current members who will be the losers.

    The conservative who argues against unions and for immigration control must justify why members of the “USA” club are somehow worthy of protection at the expense of others, whereas members of the union club are not. I think a lot of people just assume that this is the case without any actual justification.

    Anyone that argues for control of immigration on cultural grounds – that the immigrants will change the culture, I hope will acknowledge that the Native Americans were justified, and European immigrants completely in the wrong.

  29. 29 29 Tony N

    iceman,

    Technically, I believe you’re right. But in the same sense, my very existence is coercive, because I am forced to do certain things like drink water, eat food, and breathe air in order to remain in existence. I wish I didn’t have to breathe air, as that would allow me to, I don’t know, spend more time exploring the seven seas. Whatever. If I don’t breathe, or if I starve myself, my own body, the design of which I did not choose, will kill me.

    I’m not trying to be cute or silly here. I’m just going somewhat argumentum ad absurdum to demonstrate just how low we can set the bar for coercion. And I think Libertarians are often guilty of setting it far too low. I also think they cry “coercion” or use the guys-with-guns-will-come-to-your-home line far too readily. I sometimes wonder if they have any idea how bat shit they sound to people that aren’t tuned to their frequency.

    Btw, that last bit is just an aside. Something I often tell my Libertarian friends because I believe we are, for the most part, in the same camp. That’s all.

    Anyway, and I admit that this is merely the way I look at it, the neighbors who object to the policy aren’t be coerced, at least not in a more practical sense, into obeying the policy IF they sanctioned the means by which the policy is created and, moreover, the means of enforcement. And that was my point.

    To put it another way, when I lose a bet, I am compelled to pay on that bet lest suffer harm to my reputation or worse. Nevertheless, although compelled to pay when I certainly would rather not, I wouldn’t dare say that I am being coerced into paying because I voluntarily entered into that bet.

  30. 30 30 Thomas Purzycki

    Tony N – If everyone in the neighborhood consented (say by signing a lease) to submit to any laws created by their elected governing body, I would agree that there is no unjust coercion occurring in your scenario. Anything less than unanimous consent to be governed that way is problematic though, and that is certainly the case in reality. Holding a democratic referendum is not sufficient to obligate the losers to submit to the whims of the winners. If you go to a bar with your colleagues and they all vote that you should pay the group’s entire tab at the end of the night, few would say you are obligated to submit to their will, and even fewer would suggest that they gain the right to hold you down and raid your pockets if you defy them. This holds even if your colleagues insist on calling their edict a “law”.

    Returning to your original point about purpose versus effect, what exactly would you say the purpose of immigration restrictions are? Since we currently don’t have a less coercive way to protect society from murderers and rapists, the purpose of locking up rapists and murderers (to protect society from them and deter would-be murderers and rapists) can justify the coercive effects, even to free market people, no matter who is locking them up (vigilantes/private security/government). There are only limited purposes that could justify expelling a foreigner from a neighborhood. For example, it may be just to expel trespassers, but any attempt to equate undocumented immigrants to trespassers in reality would run into the problem of identifying who is being trespassed against due to the lack of consent issue mentioned above.

    Additionally, any justification for a coercive regime only holds true if there are no methods to achieve the righteous purpose that are less coercive. If the purpose of immigration restrictions is not in fact to “exclude a large class of people from visiting my home, mowing my lawn, joining me for an evening run, selling me products, buying my products, and generally being, at my discretion, a part of my life”, then there are methods of achieving whatever the purpose is without resorting to a regime with all of those side effects. After all, no one is suggesting that immigrants pose the same dangers to society as murderers and rapists!

    I’ll channel Bryan Caplan here: if you’re worried that poor immigrants will break the welfare system, then let them come, but deny them welfare benefits. If you’re worried that immigrants will vote the wrong way, then let them come, but don’t give them a vote. If you’re worried that immigrants will agree to work for less than natives, then let them come, but tax them and make transfers to newly unemployed natives. If you’re worried that immigrants will be stinky, then let them come, but mandate baths. I believe some of these concerns are unworthy and do not justify the coercion implied in the solutions I proposed, but adopting any of these proposals would be a no-brainer if they replaced the current regime.

    Anyone who believes in freedom as an end in itself or an effective means to an end should recognize that the justification for coercive immigration restrictions is grossly inferior to the justifications for things like the coercive imprisonment of rapists and murderers. They should also recognize that even if the current restrictions serve some useful purpose, there are far less coercive methods available to achieve that purpose.

  31. 31 31 Ken Arromdee

    @29: “There are only limited purposes that could justify expelling a foreigner from a neighborhood.”

    Free-market proponents would prefer that the neighborhood be controlled by a private housing association. The private housing association, who owns the neighborhood, could eject anyone they want to with no need to justify that–after all, they own it.

    Not allowing immigration just treats governmental ownership more like private ownership: the country is “owned” by its residents, who can exclude anyone they want for any or no reason.

  32. 32 32 Thomas Purzycki

    Ken – I agree with everything in your first paragraph, but I don’t agree that you can equate a government to a PHA. People who buy or rent a house governed by a PHA explicitly consent to follow the PHA’s rules. There is no equivalent consent in any real world government.

  33. 33 33 Roger

    This post is a good example of Libertarian pursuit of consistency, while blind to the disastrous consequences. Libertarians will argue that if tea is legal, then consistency requires that heroin must be legal, regardless of the consequences.

    The Virginia voters apparently decided that they, and not the pro-immigration govt policymakers, should have the freedom to have some say in who moves to their community. The Brat election was very much a pro-freedom vote. Steve seems to be implying that immigration policies should be imposed on us without a vote. That is tyranny, not freedom.

  34. 34 34 Roger

    @Thomas-31: The USA was founded on the concept of Consent of the governed. But I guess this conflicts with some business wanting unlimited freedom to import cheap foreign labor, regardless of the consequences to the citizens.

  35. 35 35 iceman

    Harold — I agree with everything you said except to the extent publicly-funded benefits are involved.

    Tony N – I appreciate a good logical extension, however in this case I don’t think it’s too hard to draw a line between what you do to yourself (incl. what your body ‘does’ to you i.e. realities of physical existence) and what others do to you without your consent. I know what you’re saying about the “if you don’t pay your taxes you go to jail” line, although in the right context this can provide a useful perspective on “government is force”. Of course it doesn’t help when some of these people seem nutty for other reasons.

    Tony, Roger & Ken A – Thomas P beat me to the punch: while I agree it’s possible for every member of a particular group to literally sign on to whatever a process may spit out, extrapolating this devolves into “implied consent” which was at best a useful myth but not hard to dispel. Personally I agree that, again other than for the welfare bit, restricting who other people can “trade” with does fail on these grounds of “implied consent”. Some believe what this means is that we need to focus on is ensuring a *process* by which any resulting laws are just (e.g. “necessary and proper”).

    Roger I would add that a thoughtful libertarian would rather say the *default* position should be that we require good reasons – e.g. grounded in negative externalities (as opposed to saving people from themselves) – in order to decide a principle should not be applied in particular cases. We need not dismiss a whole school of thought with an overly broad brush.

    Good weekend all.

  36. 36 36 Roger

    Brat’s message: “With 50 million Americans in their working years unemployed, the last thing we should do is provide amnesty or any form of work authorization to illegal immigrants. Yet, Eric Cantor believes that we need to import more low-wage foreign workers at the expense of lower wages and fewer jobs for Virginia families. Cantor also favors the Dream Act and Enlist Act principles. A vote for Eric Cantor is a vote for open borders and corporate handouts.”

  37. 37 37 nivedita

    Steve, your argument only applies to free marketers of the first type — those who place a high value on freedom as an end to itself, and moreover only assuming they also place a high value on other people’s freedom, not just their own. Free marketers of the second type, those who do not value freedom in itself, but only as a means to an end of greater prosperity and/or security, can quite consistently support restrictions on immigration, since they only happen to support freedom to the extent that it acts to benefit their prosperity.

    Relatively poor, unskilled workers can quite rationally oppose immigration of unskilled laborers, since that generally works against their prosperity.


    I, and not the government, should get to decide who…

    Strict controls on immigration are, of course, antithetical to all these propositions …

    This is silly. Those controls are perfectly fine with me, if what I’ve decided is that I don’t want foreigners near me, and I don’t particularly care about the freedom of others to choose differently.

  38. 38 38 Advo

    @Steve:

    The Americans and their ancestors have built the infrastructure and institutions existing in the US at great expense.

    Letting others share in those will diminish the value they offer to existing Americans. It’s wealth redistribution.
    I don’t think you’ve ever explained why there is a moral obligation for Americans to do so.

  39. 39 39 Ivan

    Just to simplify matters, suppose someone loves freedom for its own sake. In addition, suppose she believes that the degree of freedom depends on political choices that people make. Additionally, suppose she believes political choices people make are somewhat dependent on that ephemeral thing called culture.

    Under these assumtions it is easy to see how the person in question might fear that immigration of people representing a different culture in the numbers that would influence the country’s political choices could lead to his freedoms being severely curtailed.

    An extreme example might be that uncontrolled immigrants might democratically install some sort of Putin in your country or, failing that, might help an outside Putin to annex part of your country.

    The desire to control immigration seems consistent with this set of beliefs. Would you claim that the said set of beliefs is internally inconsistent, or that some of them are demonstrably wrong?

  40. 40 40 Robert Ayers

    I can imagine two possible meanings for the adjective “free-market”. Either it means you place a high value on freedom as an end in itself or it means you believe that freedom is, in general, a highly effective means to other ends you care about, like prosperity or security
    Both of the Landsburg choices stress the word “free” and ignore the word “market”. I suggest that I can be in complete agreement with “free market” (prices set by the marketplace etc) and not be in agreement with “free travel”.

  41. 41 41 dictum

    @40

    I’m sure this argument has been made with considerably more elegance elsewhere but here goes:

    If you restrict travel, in practically all relevant cases, you restrict what jobs someone can take. If you restrict what jobs people can take, you restrict the labor market. If you restrict the labor market in this way, you’re putting an infinite price floor on labor at certain margins. If you put an infinite price floor on labor at these margins, you don’t care about prices being set by the market.

  42. 42 42 Zazooba

    @41

    Whoa. Non-sequiter-city here.

    “If you restrict travel, … you don’t care about prices being set by the market.”

    So, if a bank restricts travel in and out of its vault, it doesn’t care about prices being set by the market??

    And, if a country restricts travel by foreign armies into and through its territory, it doesn’t care about prices being set by the market??

    Don’t you think you went a little too far with your conclusion? Wouldn’t a more reasonable conclusion be that “you don’t believe that all prices everywhere should always be set by the market without any consideration for any other factors?”

    When said that way, your argument doesn’t sound very strong.

  43. 43 43 dictum

    @42

    “So, if a bank restricts travel in and out of its vault, it doesn’t care about prices being set by the market??

    And, if a country restricts travel by foreign armies into and through its territory, it doesn’t care about prices being set by the market??”

    Bank vault travel restrictions aren’t preventing people from taking jobs abroad. International travel restrictions pretty obviously are. And I don’t think the free travel of invading armies is particularly relevant to the issue of international labor protectionism.

    When you prevent travel, you are manipulating prices within the labor market, which is not consistent with a preference for free market outcomes. I think this is pretty self-evident.

  44. 44 44 Harold

    @40 I think you cannot restrict movement of labor and still say you have a free market, any more than you can restrict the movement of goods. We cannot put large import duties on goods and say we respect the free market, but not free imports.

  45. 45 45 Al V.

    I live in a neighborhood that is predominantly Latino, with perhaps 60% of the adult population born outside the U.S. I have not surveyed my neighbors to see who came her illegally, but I would assume that at least some did.

    My observation is that some come here for economic opportunity, and for their children to be born and raised here to benefit from that opportunity. Some come here but leave their family back home, and remit part of their income to support that family elsewhere. The number that come here to benefit from our generous welfare programs is vanishingly small. And given the cost of living in this part of the U.S., it seems unlikely that someone would be better off living on welfare here than in, for example, Uruguay.

    In my experience, people who come to the U.S. from another country are much less likely to prefer earning their living from crime or welfare than those that are born here.

  46. 46 46 Ken B

    Tony N’s elegant 7 is a nice rebuttal, but Steve has *completely missed* what Brat actually said. The quoted remarks were about *amnesty* not immigration. I see several commentators picked that up yesterday. Too bad SL was not amongst them.

    @Harold 44: I am sorry to learn you are not free to scratch your nose.

  47. 47 47 Zero M. Ocean

    http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/high-school/top-10-myths-about-immigration <— I'll let this speak for itself.

    In 1974,John Perkins (author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman — among other books) states a diplomat from Saudi Arabia began to show him photographs of the city Riyadh (the Saudi Arabian capital). In the pictures, John notices garbage strewn across the streets in massive heaps — and on these huge dunes of junk, there are goats grazing I guess as if they were on a field as green as an oompa-loompa's head.

    When Mr. Perkins asked why the hell there were herds of goats eating trash everywhere in the country's capital, the diplomat explained the goats were the city's sanitation department. The diplomat also went on to mention that "No self-respecting Saudi would ever collect trash. We leave it to the beasts."

    Perkins was in Saudi Arabia as an "economic consultant" (do not judge, please.). Long story truncated (to death), he discovered by and large, the more arduous the work, the less the natives were interested in doing it. Basically, you could count the Saudi's out whenever it came to building, or menial tasks in factories or in any industrial setting. What was the resolution? Import the labor from neighboring countries where people needed jobs. Imagine that. . . he went and found immigrants from the neighboring Islamic countries to come build Saudi Arabia.

    Now, to me, this sounds strangely familiar.

    I grew-up in a place referred to by the local denizens as the Inland Empire of Southern California. At one point, I lived in a small town where near an amusement park there was a huge Orange orchard owned by Dole. Every time I drove by that field there were workers of Hispanic descent in the field working away, sweat clinging to their brow. Now, I'd imagine that maybe some of them were immigrants. My mother was a property manager. On her property, majority of the maintenance staff were of Hispanic descent — along with the landscaping crew, the vendors used to repaint and re-carpet the vacant apartments and the cleaners who shampooed carpets that could be saved. These men and women were my neighbors, and I can tell you with certitude these were some of the hardest working, respectable people I've ever met. Even where I'm at now (the East Coast) this trend endures.

    My question is thus: if you're not going to take the job, why in the hell does it matter who does as long as it gets done? I'm pretty sure it extends far beyond "they'll wreck the welfare system," or, "they'll vote for the wrong guy," or, "they'll send all of their money back to 'the old country'." To me, it's completely outrageous. Pundits jump on Fox News and bemoan the idea that a hardworking Earthling (because we do come from the same planet, contrary to how some people spin it) wants to come here and make a living. Why? Not too long ago, we were shipping boatloads of men, women and children from West Africa to do work that was otherwise too onerous for many Americans. We didn't even pay them. In fact, they were slaves. That was fine, and great for the economy, though? We were cool with that, but lord forbid someone get a paycheck. What?

    It's also peculiar to me we're worried about jobs being taken from beneath our noses that nobody wants, while all of the jobs that people want are being outsourced overseas to countries that are ignominiously plastered as terrorists (or close enough to it we should consider them one) on all of our news channels. I mean, shouldn't we be concerned in general about an aggregate loss in labor being stolen from our "countrymen"? Nope. Only one can be a serious issue at a time. Moreover, when reporting the dilemma, all impartial information need be excised because it might mitigate the fact we're trying to suggest Americans are victimized by the further destruction of ludicrous boundaries set by bigots and xenophobes.

    Immigration Amnesty = Good

    Outsourcing of Jobs = Good

    I don't see what the fear is, unless of course you're racist.

    Very Sincerely & Respectfully,

    0

  48. 48 48 Steve Landsburg

    Ken B:

    The quoted remarks were about *amnesty* not immigration.

    I don’t see this as a terribly important distinction. If I believe something should never have been illegal in the first place, then I am inclined to believe that people should not be penalized for having done it.

  49. 49 49 Henri Hein

    @Tony N:
    “they are at best corollaries of immigration policy, just as they are all also corollaries of imprisoning criminals”

    There is no relevant analogy between immigrants and convicted criminals. By categorizing them the same, you are telling us more about yourself than shedding light on the issue. A criminal has committed a transgression, by definition. A Mexican has committed no transgression just by being a Mexican, and I have committed no transgression by wanting to exchange with a Mexican.

  50. 50 50 Henri Hein

    @Advo #38:
    “Letting others share in those will diminish the value they offer to existing Americans. It’s wealth redistribution.”

    I think this attitude is at the heart of the contradiction. If you think immigration is wealth distribution, you have no fondness for markets.

  51. 51 51 Harold

    Ken B 46 -sorry, I don’t understand you comment.
    SL #48 – you may not see it as an important distinction, but there could be people who do.

  52. 52 52 Advo

    @50
    I’m just asking – why do Americans have to share use of their (costly) infrastructure, physical and otherwise, with foreigners who haven’t paid for it?
    What does that have to do with fondness for the markets?

  53. 53 53 Steve Landsburg

    Advo: Do you feel the same way about sharing that costly infrastructure with Americans who pay less than the average amount in taxes?

  54. 54 54 Tony N

    Henri Hein,

    You know, my interest in any given online debate tends to have a very short half-life, so I decided not to respond to the last few comments aimed my way. It wasn’t terribly difficult either, because although I believed those comments missed the mark, I certainly believed they were thoughtful.

    Not so much with yours.

    Anyway, I’m wondering what it is you think I’ve revealed about myself. Is it that I’m a xenophobe? Is it that I’m a bigot? Maybe it’s that I’m racist.

    I just want to be sure so that I’m able to finally come clean when I go home to my wife after work today. Because, you see, I’m reasonably certain that by dating her for several years while she lived here in the States illegally, helping her secure a license and work permit during that time, and eventually marrying her and sitting through those highly entertaining third-degree interviews at the USCIS office, she was pretty convinced that I have nothing against immigrants.

    Btw, by failing to grasp the point of a simple analogy, you are telling me about yourself much more than you are shedding light on the issue.

  55. 55 55 Zero M. Ocean

    @ Advo,

    To piggyback off of Dr. Landsburg: what about citizens who hitherto haven’t had the opportunity to contribute to American society at no fault of their own? Maybe a gentleman who was disabled, and only recently became able to work due to prosthetic limb enhancements?

    What if the gentleman wanted to contribute by working, and paying taxes? Is his right to walk up and down a sidewalk every other person litters with fast-food wrappers declared invalid, or is it his birthright to as an American to drop a double-quarter pounder box on the side of the road like everyone else born in America?

    Now, if your argument is that I’m absurd, and of course he would be given the opportunity to contribute because he was victim of a physical incapacity, then I’d say that if you abstracted this a bit and thought of amnesty as a prosthetic, and immigration law as a physical incapacity admninistered by the government instead of nature, you’d be more inclined to agree that an immigrant isn’t so much different than a person who is handicapped by the provison of the law.

    It’s just chance: a man from Mexico City is no more voluntarily able to elect that he be born in San Antonio, Texas than someone who is infirm has chosen to be lame in lieu of an olympian triathlete.

    If you bridge this comparison, what the hell does it matter if an immigrant didn’t put chips in for the curb to be repainted? He wants to when he gets here, and that’s all should be relevant.

    @ Tony N.

    Stay radiant, bro.

    Very Sincerely & Respectfully,

    0

  56. 56 56 Advo

    @Steve:
    There’s two lines of argument to address your question.
    The first goes into the direction of “intergenerational social compact” and inheritance.
    Americans, as a people, are part of an implicit social contract to build a nation. They and their ancestors invested a lot of money into it. That some people (and their ancestors) paid more taxes than others doesn’t change that fact. Americans are part of that compact, non-Americans aren’t. Americans are under no obligation to accept non-Americans into the compact.

    The second line of argument notes that richer Americans tend to draw much more benefit from America’s infrastructure and institutions than poor Americans do, so benefits tend to correlate with contribution.

  57. 57 57 Roger

    @Zero M. Ocean-47: You nicely explained the best reasons for immigration. It is just like Saudi Arabia using goats to eat trash or 18th century slave importation, and if you are against immigration amnesty then you are a racist!

    This is more persuasive than any of the other pro-immigration arguments here.

  58. 58 58 Zero M. Ocean

    @ 57,

    Rodger that, Captain.

  59. 59 59 Thomas Purzycki

    Advo: Roads and bridges are largely funded through gas taxes and tolls, which immigrants pay. Schools, police, and firefighters are funded through property and sales taxes which immigrants also pay assuming they buy things and are not sleeping on the streets. Water, power, and data infrastructure are funded by their users. Social security, medicare, and medicaid are not available to illegal immigrants. The military is probably the only expensive piece of infrastructure that illegal immigrants might benefit from and not pay for if they don’t pay income tax, but extra population does nothing to diminish whatever benefits are conferred by a strong military.

    What kind of infrastructure are you concerned that immigrants are not paying for and are diminishing through their presence?

  60. 60 60 Zero M. Ocean

    @ Roger,

    My being inflammatory aside, I don’t think that there’s another way to look at it other than racism.

    If I recall, back in 2005 (I was a freshman in high school) and Dr. Landsburg was on Fox News debating how protectionism was not so dissimilar from racism. I think the video can still be found on youtube.

    I think that protectionism, and anti-immigration policies employ the same barriers to an economy (and society) on the very same unconscionable premise of discriminating against complete strangers that did not voluntarily select to be any one nationality, complexion or provenance in lieu of another. On that premise alone, it seems to me denying someone the right to come to America to make a living — especially working a job paying a competence many of my “countrymen” have deemed unsuitable for themselves — is just wrong.

    If you disagree with that, cool. We can agree to disagree.

    If I miffed you with my sarcasm, I apologize as I really didn’t intend to. Still, I do feel there is very, very little difference on any level that deems anti-immigration laws any different than Jim Crow fundamentally. We just keep masking words like racism with words like “patriotism”, and discrimination as “protectionism”.

    Just my two cents, friend.

    Very Sincerely & Respectfully,

    0

  61. 61 61 Al V.

    @o (#47), your post reminds me of an episode of 60 minutes I watched many years ago. The 60 minutes crew was in North Carolina interviewing a tobacco farmer who used undocumented works to pick his crop. The newsman asked him why he used undocumented workers, and he responded that he couldn’t get U.S. citizens to do the work.

    The crew then went down the road to a trailer park and started knocking on doors. They asked the residents if (a) they were employed, and (b) if not, would they be interested in picking tobacco? Universally, the response was, “Are you nuts? I’m not standing bent over in the sun for 10 hours a day for minimum wage!”

    Of course, there are holes to poke in that story. First, people refusing the jobs were presumably earning a living somehow, via unemployment compensation, welfare, or off the books work. Second, there probably was some wage level where they would have accepted the work – perhaps $20 or $25 per hour. However, if the farmer was paying that wage, he would not have been able to sell his crop at a profit.

    It appears that in this country we are willing to allow some percentage of the population to exploit the system to ensure that children get fed and people don’t die of starvation. Our safety net is larger than many countries, and smaller than Europe’s. If we want to eliminate cases like the one above, we have to more strictly control immigration, eliminate or restrict welfare to force people back into the workforce, and raise the minimum wage. However, I doubt we are willing to suffer through the unanticipated side effects.

  62. 62 62 Ken B

    Steve Landsburg 48:
    “I don’t see this as a terribly important distinction. If I believe something should never have been illegal in the first place, then I am inclined to believe that people should not be penalized for having done it.”

    I could perhaps, by your own criterion, indict you for inconsistency here couldn’t I? Free markets depend on property rights, and their enforcement. You like free markets yet here ague against an particular case of the rule of law.

    I might not like copyright laws and so feel that pirating one of your books for profit should not be punishable but still think that if we change the law now we should not revoke any past judgments you or your publishers have won. Ex post facto laws are dangerous things.

  63. 63 63 Henri Hein

    @Tony N:

    “Btw, by failing to grasp the point of a simple analogy, you are telling me about yourself much more than you are shedding light on the issue.”

    Fair enough. I was posting late last night and discussing immigration tends to get me fired up. I still don’t see how your analogy holds water, though. Yes, the government prevents me from interacting with peaceful drug-users and prevents me from interacting with peaceful Mexicans, but you’ve abstracted out substantial details. Citizens will naturally disagree on what vice to accept. With immigrants, we are not talking about degrees or flavors of morality. If I want to hire foreigners or rent apartments to them, that is something everybody accepts that I could do freely with people on the right side of the border. By calling it ‘immigration,’ it becomes an arbitrary distinction based on a political line that is there purely by historical accident. I agree with you that there are people in prison that shouldn’t be, but that is a different discussion and it has little to do with free markets.

    (I realize drugs or vice may not be what you had in mind. Just trying to follow your line of reasoning by supplying my own specifics.)

  64. 64 64 Brian

    “The quoted remarks were about *amnesty* not immigration.

    I don’t see this as a terribly important distinction. If I believe something should never have been illegal in the first place, then I am inclined to believe that people should not be penalized for having done it.”

    Steve,

    You may not view this as an important distinction, but in my experience many conservatives do and David Brat is likely one of them. If so, doesn’t that nullify your charge of inconsistency against him? He likely favors free trade, but does not approve of those who try to smuggle goods into the country in violation of the law. (Perhaps you agree with him on this–do you think smugglers should be granted amnesty as a matter of protecting free markets?) Likewise, Mr. Brat could favor legal immigration but not approve of those who illegally sneak into the country. That’s who amnesty is aimed at, after all. If his objection is to amnesty specifically (the only immigration issue mentioned in the quote), then it’s hard to see where he’s being inconsistent.

  65. 65 65 Henri Hein

    @Advo,

    Thomas Purzycki already spelled out how immigrants contribute to infrastructure depreciation. I will add that they probably contribute more than native-born, since immigrants tend to have higher rates of employment and entrepreneur-ship.

    Whether or not that holds up, notice that you invoke and rely on the social contract, which is at least orthogonal, and often anathema, to free markets.

  66. 66 66 Henri Hein

    @Ken B:

    I don’t think so. One could be in favor of the income tax, and still excuse someone who fills out their return wrong, given the complexity of the tax code. Believe it or not, immigration law is more complex, and less fair, than the tax code.

  67. 67 67 Zero M. Ocean

    @ Brian #64,

    I’m having a hard time with your post. Can you elaborate on what this means for me?

    “He likely favors free trade, but does not approve of those who try to smuggle goods into the country in violation of the law. (Perhaps you agree with him on this–do you think smugglers should be granted amnesty as a matter of protecting free markets?) ”

    I read it, and it makes me think of the following:

    1.) An illegal immigrant who comes to the US to work is a smuggler by default. He’s smuggling himself (labor). Does that count?

    2.) Smuggling does cause dissension in the marketplace. In the 1960s, Frank Lucas, a small time drug-dealer from Harlem established a connection in Bangkok, Thailand to import a premium quality heroine (later named Blue Magic, as it rendered a royal blue on purity tests indicating it was awfully potent). The reason for this drastic venture was predicated on his greed, and his observation that in order for an African-American to obtain substantial wealth in the drug game, he would have to splinter from the dope monopoly held by the Italian Mafia.

    This was necessary for several reasons. . . The quality of their heroine was diluted by about 40%, and if you purchased from the mafia, the mafia had overhead which means you’re paying considerably more than if you yourself had purchased the dope from the source. Not to mention they controlled distribution, so it was very possible they could and had in the past caused market contractions so as to constrict enterprise growth.

    Well, somehow or another, Lucas established his smuggling enterprise and generally sent the dope market into complete arrest: he sold the dope sinfully cheap, and in a relatively short amount of time his packets of heroine were being slung from every corner in the Tri-State area.

    I guess the friction he began to encounter involving the mafia was directly related to the fact he had introduced a product at a price that could not be contended with in the marketplace. Now, I can’t remember exactly what I read that transpired between he and the mafia, but in the movie American Gangster (a partly fictionalized account of his exploits), Lucas is shown to exchange the heroine with the mafia for a wholesale price — which due to how deeply entrenched the mafia was in America at that time led to a country wide epidemic.

    Now, this caused huge issues. Frank Lucas had shook-up the world. But why? The only thing that I could imagine is that not everyone was involved in the benefits of his enterprise. Addicts we ODing left and right at a bargain price, but the established infrastructure of the underworld was essentially drawing the short stick.

    If you grant immigration amnesty, you grant clemency to labor smuggling so that you may tax it (more people benefit from it?). Smugglers on the other hand, idk how you’d tax them. If I’m a smuggler, I’m smuggling because I’m deliberately giving the government the middle finger. The same could be same for illegal immigration, but statistics says that by and large, immigrants supplying labor pay taxes.

    I guess my thinking cap it burned out, sir. I like the question, but I can’t figure-out how the two are different. I may need a Red Bull

    Very Sincerely & Respectfully,

    0

  68. 68 68 Roger

    @Zero M. Ocean-60: Don’t forget to cry species-ism, since you are talking about goats taking jobs from humans.

    Just in case you are serious about the “raciesm”, what race is Brat favoring when he speaks out to support the unemployed?

  69. 69 69 Tony N

    Henri Hein,

    “I still don’t see how your analogy holds water, though. Yes, the government prevents me from interacting with peaceful drug-users and prevents me from interacting with peaceful Mexicans, but you’ve abstracted out substantial details. Citizens will naturally disagree on what vice to accept. With immigrants, we are not talking about degrees or flavors of morality. If I want to hire foreigners or rent apartments to them, that is something everybody accepts that I could do freely with people on the right side of the border.”

    Thank you for the thoughtful reply.

    Nevertheless, and forgive me if I’m missed something, but I’m not sure if your argument is that

    A) the incarceration of a subset of the population does not limit the market,

    or

    B) it does limit the market, but that that such a limitation is ok because we all agree that most criminals should be incarcerated.

  70. 70 70 Zero M. Ocean

    @Roger,

    I think you miss the point with that tidbit. I didn’t at any point say goats took jobs from anyone. The point — like Al V correctly observed — was that Saudi Arabians chose not to do anything about their garbage issue. I also mentioned that ultimately, the issue was resolved by importing labor.

    The point was explicitly stated that there were jobs to be done left undone simply because of the public opinion such jobs were below the native population. This alluded to the status quo present in America.

    This will be my last response to you, though. You’re going too far out of your way to be shrewd, and I’m here solely to socialize and learn other people’s opinions. I’m not interested in your mocking sarcasm.

    Be well.

    PS: Where is Nobody.Really? I thought for sure I’d see him/her in this thread.

    Very Sincerely & Respectfully,

    0

  71. 71 71 Henri Hein

    Tony N:

    In my mind, A) could not possibly be true. By retiring actors from the market, incarceration necessarily limits it.

    B) is closer, though it’s not that it is OK to limit the market in general. I see a contradiction in saying that a factory owner in El Paso should be able to hire a handyman from Detroit, but not one from Juarez. I don’t see a contradiction in saying the same factory owner can hire either one, but not a rapist.

    Think about it this way: under a pure anarcho-capitalist system, we would still have security agencies that most likely would detain suspects and transgressors. There would not be a demand for preventing two agents from contracting just because one lived in another country.

  72. 72 72 Tony N

    Henri Hein,

    Thanks, and I figured that was the answer, as category A is nonsensical.

    So we agree on that, which brings me to my point:

    When you say market-limiting policy X is not the same as market-limiting policy Y, and then go on to demonstrate how by arguing that policy Y is necessary and proper and moral, and how policy X isn’t, you are telling me that, as a supporter of free markets, you don’t oppose market-limiting policies per se, you simply oppose market-limiting policies that you believe are immoral and unjust.

    The problem is though, free markets are free markets. A market in which I can sell crystal meth to a 10-year old is more “free” than a market in which I can’t. Period. It doesn’t matter whether it is a government, a mob, or a moral consensus that is stopping me in the latter market, because the fact remains that I’m not able to make transactions as I, an individual, see fit.

    Of course, selling meth to a child would be repugnant, but that is, naturally, a moral argument.

    Steve didn’t take on Brat’s moral argument for amnesty, because Brat doesn’t make a moral argument. He simply took him to task for a categorical inconsistency that we all, and I mean all, at some level, are guilty of….as any decent person should be.

  73. 73 73 iceman

    Do we limit the free market by restricting my ability to force you to trade with me? At least those who value freedom as an end in itself will support free markets by extension. Seems rather than complete anarchy, a workable baseline can be based on principles that our actions must be generalizable (don’t infringe on the freedom of others) and require mature consent, which address examples of murderers and children. Morality is still involved but the counter-examples start to look less like exceptions (or hypocrisy).

    I think what’s missing in SL’s argument, as has been noted above, is that one can have legitimate concerns *in the name of freedom* to the extent open borders translate into publicly-funded benefits which may also be consistent with a “cultural shift” that increases the likelihood you will eventually lose freedoms at the ballot box. That is, perhaps some of the “millions” of non-free marketeers who support open borders do so specifically because they do not value freedom.

  74. 74 74 Brian

    “@ Brian #64,

    I’m having a hard time with your post. Can you elaborate on what this means for me?”

    Zero M. Ocean (#67),

    Yes, I apologize for my vague post. I was trying to be quick and took several unexplained leaps. Having said that, though, you seem to have gotten the gist in #1.

    Here’s the point in more detail. Steve is accusing Brat of inconsistency. By this I think he means that Brat claims to be a free marketer in terms of trade, but is not applying that position to immigration. Steve, you, I, and likely everyone here recognizes that when immigrants enter the country to work, they are selling a product–their labor–and immigration restrictions limit their ability to trade that product freely. Hence the inconsistency.

    My point is that Steve needs to carry the analogy through completely. Even under conditions of free trade, a country controls its borders. It requires that products shipped in need to be inspected, registered, and approved. An import fee is paid. Later on, of course, taxes are paid on the sale, but that is unrelated to the importation itself. The existence of border control on imports is viewed by virtually no one as being inherently wrong, nor is it intrinsically contrary to the free market. This is a long-accepted, constitutionally protected action of any national government. Such restrictions are only contrary to free markets if they are too restrictive or engage in protectionism. Otherwise, they support and are consistent with free market economics.

    Now, when someone attempts to bring in a product secretly, contrary to the laws that govern importation, this is called smuggling. It doesn’t matter whether the smuggling involves something good, like medicine for a sick child, or something bad, like a disease that could cripple the entire U.S. food chain. It’s still smuggling. And I am not aware of any general principle in which smugglers are granted amnesty. Regardless of the reason for the importation, every importer has a legal responsibility to declare the product they want to import.

    In the case of illegal immigration, the immigrants are importing a product, their labor, without following the laws that govern that importation. And just as there is no general principle for giving amnesty to smugglers, there can be no general principle for giving amnesty to illegal immigrants. Indeed, the default position would be no amnesty unless there were special, extenuating circumstances.

    Given the analogy between product importation and labor importation (via immigration), it appears that Steve is the one being inconsistent here. He says that he doesn’t view amnesty as an important distinction, but that’s because he hasn’t carried his own analogy through completely. This is indicated by his comment where he says “If I believe something should never have been illegal in the first place, then I am inclined to believe that people should not be penalized for having done it.” But immigration is NOT illegal. Only undocumented immigration–smuggling–is illegal, as it is for every other product. Unless Steve wants to argue that importation should be completely unrestricted for all products, he is being inconsistent.

    There…that’s the fuller explanation. You can see why I went with the shorter, if vague, version earlier. :)

  75. 75 75 Tony N

    Iceman,

    “Do we limit the free market by restricting my ability to force you to trade with me?”

    No, but force precludes the possibility of trade. It’s not trade if I knock you unconscious and take money from your wallet…even if I leave you something in return. I did not acquire something within a “market” if I took it by force.

    The examples I offered, however, do involve two parties seeking a transaction. We have a willing buyer and a willing seller, and limits placed upon the transactions they can conduct. In the case of imprisonment, we’ve removed someone from all markets altogether.

    “Seems rather than complete anarchy, a workable baseline can be based on principles that our actions must be generalizable (don’t infringe on the freedom of others) and require mature consent, which address examples of murderers and children. Morality is still involved but the counter-examples start to look less like exceptions (or hypocrisy).”

    Absolutely, but they are still exceptions. Tolerable and reasonable and necessary, sure, but still exceptions.

    As I see it, in order to know whether a particular position represents a sensible exception rather than blatant hypocrisy, we would have to determine where it falls in relation to this baseline you’ve suggested. And in order to do that, we would have to at least establish a rough sketch of this baseline.

    When was either done vis-à-vis Brat?

  76. 76 76 Al V.

    @Brian (#74),

    I disagree with two points in your post:

    First, “An import fee is paid. … The existence of border control on imports … intrinsically contrary to the free market.” Charging a fee on imported products that is not charged on domestically produced products IS contrary to a free market. A truly free market should not distinguish between imported and domestic products.

    Second, smugglers generally import products for two reasons: to avoid taxes of some sort, whether tarriffs or sales taxes; or to provide a product that is illegal in the country of sale. Cigarettes are smuggled into New York State to avoid the high sales taxes here. Cocaine is smuggled into the U.S. because it is not legal to import.

    Undocumented workers are not smuggling themselves into the U.S. for either of these purposes. They are smuggling themselves because they wish to increase the labor supply in the U.S. Restricting immigration is the equivalent of banning or setting quotas on the import of cars or tires. According to the U.S. Customs website, the U.S. does not have absolute quotas on any products, and thus labor is the only thing subject to quotas.

  77. 77 77 Al V.

    Argh! In my prior post, the comments editor changed my post. What I was trying to say was, “An import fee is paid. … The existence of border control on imports … [is not] intrinsically contrary to the free market.”

  78. 78 78 Zero M. Ocean

    @ Brian,

    Thank you kindly, sir. And yes, I do understand why you chose the abridged version now. lol.

    Still, while only undocumented labor is illegal, have you seen the cold-blooded, manifold shenanigans we employ to buffer immigrants from doing it legally?

    I mean, really. . . people would rather find a coyote along the Rio Grande, walk for days, and risk being shot by ICE agents instead of doing all of the US requires. That has to lend you some sort of insight.

    @ Al V.,

    I don’t think that immigrants migrate to the US with the intention to increase the labor supply. I think they immigrate to the US to afford themselves the opportunity to live a better lifestyle. However nuanced, I observe this to be the linchpin of Landsburg’s abhorrent disposition regarding strict immigration policy.

    I also think the human element is what Landsburg is trying to focus on, so when you take your very brilliant example of tires, cars and products in general not having a quota, and apply that human element, we’re (in a very repugnant fashion) placing a quota on lifestyle and quality opportunities we’ll afford people [immigrants and natives alike].

    After thinking about smuggling and whether or not it too should be subject to amnesty as labor immigration is, you really can’t draw a line in the sand between the two without integrating a human component. To me, this might accentuate the fact it may indeed be a poor argument to say smugglers of goods aren’t being offered or denied similar concessions that smugglers of labor are not. Still, I can’t bring myself to believe that just because you tell a drug trafficker (or an apple trafficker for that matter) he can’t bring a thousand kilos of heroine into the country, you’re immediately denying him the myriad of opportunities you’re denying a carpenter if you tell him he can’t enter the country.

    Very Sincerely & Respectfully,

    0

  79. 79 79 Henri Hein

    @Tony N:

    “He simply took him to task for a categorical inconsistency that we all, and I mean all, at some level, are guilty of….as any decent person should be.”

    I am completely in agreement with this. I also think it’s great we have people like Steve to point it out when we do.

    Thanks for an interesting dialog and apologies for my initial crassness.

  80. 80 80 Tony N

    Henri Hein,

    Agreed, likewise, and no worries :)

  81. 81 81 Brian

    “Still, while only undocumented labor is illegal, have you seen the cold-blooded, manifold shenanigans we employ to buffer immigrants from doing it legally?”

    Zero M. Ocean (#78),

    I haven’t seen any of it first hand, but it doesn’t matter much to me. I’m already opposed to most border restrictions, whether tame or torturous. Yes, I am in favor of something close to open borders, depending on how one defines that.

    The point of my post was simply to show that the issue of amnesty is completely different. Do most illegal immigrants defy the law because of the restrictions we place on their free immigration? Yes. But even if we had effectively open borders, we would still require all entrants to declare their entry and give their reasons and intentions. We would still reserve the right to exclude them if they carried a dread disease or were convicted criminals in another country. We would still reserve the right to exclude them if it appeared that they were coming explicitly to do us harm. NOT to take these precautions would be pure negligence and dereliction of duty to the American people. On top of that, we would still want to keep count of who is entering and leaving, for the purpose of demographic research and planning.

    So…even in the case of open borders, DOCUMENTED entry would still be the law of the land and anyone who tried to sneak in as an undocumented immigrant would be violating the law. Again, there is no general principle that allows us to grant amnesty to smugglers of labor.

    In the case of immigrants today, yes, the current restrictions are beyond frustrating. It is understandable why many might simply sneak across. But there are also many of their own countrymen who try to follow the rules and immigrate legally. They are willing to be patient and pay the necessary fees. To reward the illegal immigrants with amnesty seems somewhat unfair to those who tried to follow the law, at least to my eye. I think, unfortunately, that many advocates of more open immigration (of which I am one) see amnesty as a way to get around a law they do not like, but it’s not (in my estimation) the rational or logically justifiable approach.

  82. 82 82 Brian

    Al V. (#76)

    Thanks for your response. You say “Charging a fee on imported products that is not charged on domestically produced products IS contrary to a free market. A truly free market should not distinguish between imported and domestic products.”

    Well, this is not quite right. An example will show why. The U.S. places restrictions on how much pollution a car can emit. Automakers in this country abide by these regulations as a matter of law. When a foreign automaker attempts to import a car, we have no idea whether that car satisfies the regulations. The car has to be tested, etc. The testing and documentation process requires the Federal government to expend resources, just so the foreign-made car can be imported and sold. Now, should we bear that cost ourselves or should we expect the importer to cover that cost? It seems obvious that the latter should cover it. They’re the ones that want access to the U.S. market. So for the cost of testing and documentation, it’s appropriate to charge a fee. Contrary to your claim, this does not favor domestic automakers over foreign–the domestic ones have already spent the money to ensure compliance with the law–and acknowledges the obvious point that foreign makes are not quite the same as domestic–they still need to be brought over here and integrated into our society. Far from being contrary to the free market, it supports and broadens it.

    Please note that some fees, such as tariffs, can be contrary to the free market, as I said in my post, but fees per se are not. It depends on their intent and how burdensome they are to the act of importation.

    You also say “Second, smugglers generally import products for two reasons: to avoid taxes of some sort, whether tariffs or sales taxes; or to provide a product that is illegal in the country of sale.” More generally, smugglers are seeking to avoid a restriction that they don’t like, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER IT HURTS THE COUNTRY INTO WHICH THEY ARE SMUGGLING. Drug dealers don’t care whether more Americans become addicted, and indeed might welcome it. They only want to make more money. Those who are avoiding taxes don’t care whether the taxes are being used for good things, like healthcare or food for the poor. They just want to avoid the tax. Likewise, undocumented immigrants–smugglers of their own labor–don’t care whether the immigration restrictions have a good and just purpose or not. They only care about avoiding the long waits for processing immigration requests or about avoiding the fees that come with it. In other words, they are behaving as they do FOR EXACTLY THE SAME REASONS that more standard smugglers do. We may sympathize with them and think that their cause is more just, but that doesn’t change the reality of what they’re doing. it’s smuggling, plain and simple.

  83. 83 83 iceman

    Tony N – one can argue “trading” with someone who is unable to grant mature consent is akin to force or fraud, which as you argue is not inconsistent with the principle.

    And again, those who value freedom as an end in itself – presumably including a Tea Party candidate – will value free markets *as an extension* of that principle, so seemingly consistent with incarcerating people who are a demonstrated threat to property and /or life, notwithstanding the potential for some missed trade opportunities (perhaps we can make up the gap in license plates and roadside trash collection).

    That said, I think setting aside these marginal examples we could agree SL’s critique has merit to the extent Brat connects immigration / amnesty with “fixing *our* economy” – that sounds like plain old pandering. Again I think the problem is his critique fails to consider whether there are reasons to oppose open borders *in the name of* preserving freedom, like public benefits…or how does one respond to “make me a citizen so I can vote to reduce your freedoms”?

  84. 84 84 Roger

    @Zero: My mocking sarcasm? You were the one talking about Saudi Arabian goats in the sanitation dept. Now you say that the goats were not taking jobs from anyone. So were the Saudis going to live in garbage without the goats? The whole story seems like mocking sarcasm to me.

    No one here is addressing what Brat said. Sure he is in favor of immigration restrictions. So is every other Congressman.

  85. 85 85 Will A

    The statement was:

    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.

    He didn’t say the free-market way to fix our economy. He said the Republican way to fix our economy.

    If most Republicans don’t see this as a contradiction, then it isn’t a contradiction.

  86. 86 86 Ken B

    @Henri Hein 66:
    This is fairly silly Henri. A *blanket* amnesty is nothing like forgiving those who *tried* to follow the law but were trapped by its complexities.
    Your condescending remark about what I might believe or not is silly too, since the issue is those who flouted the law deliberately.

  1. 1 Some Links
  2. 2 Some Links feedly | Daniel J. Smith
  3. 3 Do you truly believe what you believe you believe?- Between The Lines
  4. 4 Support for open borders is a fundamental tenet of libertarianism, and David Brat is not a libertarian | Open Borders: The Case
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