Saturday, August 28, 2004

Libertarian Perspectives on Immigration

For such a long time I have questioned whether a libertarian perspective on social arrangements and politics would accept or reject open borders. Much of libertarain philosophy is based upon the foundation of property rights as a means of protecting both live and property and thereby ensuring certainity which permits economic flourishment. Yet, libertarian economists also prize free mobility for both capital and labor as a means of increasing wealth. So, how does a libertarian respect property rights while also allowing a diversity of economic factors into the marketplace?

First many on the "right" argue that keeping a strict immigration system is necessary to prevent illegal immigrants out of the country and overutilizing our resources (i.e. - welfare, education, highways - especially critical in Calif., and criminal justice systems.) This is certainly true to some extent. That is to say, minimizing the utilization of these gov't services is a good thing in theory as it will minimize gov't waste and inefficiency in the economy if fewer people are using those services, yet what many on the right fail to see is that it is not the fact that these services need to be excluded from illegals, but that these services (particularly welfare and education) do NOT need to be provided from the government in the first place. This leads me to what I feel is a true libertarian policy for immigration.

Namely, a libertarian policy on immigration should consist of a *generalized* open border - one that permits as many people into the labor market as is possible. This way there is a greater diversity of resources and talents that will contribute to a lowering of prices throughout the economy (a brief aside, I am NOT an econ. major, so if the terms and theories I present are not exactly correct, forgive me). Yet, this open border policy should also recognize that the immigrants that the United States would "attract" would be those who would appreciate the fact that the United States, as a libertarain society, does not publicly cater to those in tough economic situations, yet instead values hard work and a desire to suceed instead. With this sort of a policy immigration would be benefical and not a net drain on the economy as a whole as it is today (per the recent Center for Immigration Studies report.) However, seeing as it will be a while before the United States becomes a truly libertarian society, it is difficult to determine what exactly our current border policy should be. Personally, with an appreciation of all that has been said above. I believe that we should not alter drastically from a libertarian immigration policy that I have presented above. Immigration should in today's society should be an open policy with the enforcement procedures that are current law today. That is, there should be identification as an immigrant and thus a clear distinction that you are not permitted to receive government benefits as long as you are not paying taxes. Yet, libertarians should constantly push for reform from within and eliminate these services both to citizens and immigrants so as to reduce these transaction costs that are concommitant today with processing immigrants and contributing to delays , and therefore reducing business efficiency at cross-border towns such as San Diego.

P.S. - I understand that this is not a fully developed theory, and really nothing close. Yet, it should be appreciated for what it is, a broad characterization as to my personal beliefs as to how libertarians should approach immigration - chiefly, eliminate incentives to cross the border in order to utilize America's welfare state and cause a net drain on the economy and instead implement necessary, libertarian, internal reforms to the welfare state and thereby reduce these economic distortions.


Blogger Illy said...

That's a great post, Chris! I only have a couple of objections.
First, I think that only an infinitely small number of immigrants come to the US in order to utilize its welfare system. Most come here so that they can live in a free society and be actually able to reap the benefits of their work.
Second, while I understand that it is inequitable to provide (state) benefit to those who do not pay for them and I recognize that we probably wouldn't get away with getting rid of taxation and welfare in a pinch (although I dream of that day), I don't quite see why non-citizens shouldn't be treated the same as citizens. Offer them the same opportunities and demand that they fulfill the same obligations. Allow everybody to work and tax them accordingly. Then allow everybody access to the services they are entitled to.
Let me offer a personal example to illustrate just how utterly silly current Immigration Law is. I am here on an International Student visa. Given my status, if I were to attend a state school, I would pay (much) higher tuition rates than citizens and residents; I am also not able to receive any Federal financial aid. All this is fair enough. The ridiculous part follows. Working is almost impossible. I can work on campus for a maximum of 20 hours a week during the school months and 40 hours a week during the summer (and only non-work study positions). Off campus, I can only work after having been here for a year, and even then, only in a field that is closely connected to my major. Furthermore, I am only allowed to work off campus for a total of 12 months, and only after receiving authorization from the BCIS. Also, I must notify the BCIS every time I change my address, my major, my planned graduation date and my sponsorship and I cannot drop below a full-time course load (if I fail a class, well, it's unfortunate, but they'll have to deport me).
On the other hand, my highly subsidized student health insurance covers birth control pills.
I rest my case.

7:23 PM, August 30, 2004  
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