Privatize the Borders, Part 2

By Robert P. MurphyLibertyChat.com contributor

In my last post, I suggested that the truly libertarian stance on immigration would be to privatize the borders. In other words, rather than debating the proper number of people that the U.S. government should allow into the country, libertarians instead ought to explain that this is not something that should be decided in Washington, DC. In the present post I’ll develop the argument some more.

To make sure you understand the type of claim, switch contexts for a minute. Instead of worrying about new people “entering America” from other countries, instead think about it as new people entering America from their mothers’ wombs. In other words: newborn babies. It horrifies most people–not just radical libertarians–to think of the United States government enforcing quotas on population growth in the case of existing U.S. citizens having more children.

Indeed, if you take just about any of the usual arguments for the U.S. government limiting immigration, you’ll find that it probably applies just as much–or not!–to the U.S. government limiting citizens from having more children. Yet even though existing, unskilled mothers who are U.S. citizens might have children who don’t speak English, will reduce the wages of current workers, will overwhelm the local schools and hospital, will grow up to vote for more welfare benefits, etc., just about nobody recommends that the U.S. government fix the “newborn problem” by sterilizing existing U.S. citizens, or by deporting their newborn children. Walter Block and Gene Callahan spelled this out a while ago (though Callahan has since changed his position).

However, we shouldn’t draw an erroneous conclusion from the childbirth analogy and conclude that the United States government should have “open borders.” After all, libertarians don’t think that newborn babies have the “right to move freely” into their neighbors’ dining rooms, or into a local factory. The standard libertarian view is that all real estate in a community should be privately held, with the individual landowners making decisions about who is and is not allowed on the property.

This is what I’m suggesting when it comes to real estate that happens to lie alongside a border with another nation-State. Yet for some reason, what most people recognize as a sensible (though admittedly politically unattainable) stance in a local community, all of a sudden sounds crazy when it comes to borders with foreign countries.

In order to defuse these worries, let me make a simple observation. First, consider the following map, showing what the southern border would look like, if my proposal were implemented:

New Map Before

Of course I’m being simplistic in the above diagram, but I’m just making a point here. I’ve taken the existing map of the U.S./Mexican border, and supposed that the real estate has been privatized into the hands of 12 new owners. (To help compare this new map with the existing one, I’ve retained the original state boundary lines, and kept them a lighter thickness than the new black lines which I invented.)

Now if they saw this particular map, the critics to my original post would say something like, “Murphy you idiot! Your proposal is tantamount to NO BORDER AT ALL! I mean, suppose Jim, Sue, Bob, et al. are generally wise and have a smart enforcement policy, but that Pam is unaware of the risks of ebola and just lets anybody onto her property! Then the whole country would be vulnerable because of that one weak link in the chain. Man you libertarians are dumb.”

Yet hold on a second. Let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that Pam in the diagram above has no restrictions on the influx of people onto her land, and that this policy horrifies most people in the free society of what is now called “the United States.” Why wouldn’t the problem be contained like this?

New Map After

You see, it’s not simply the border real estate that would be privatized; the entire country would be divided into plots and held privately. So if Pam really did have some “nutjob” policy, letting ISIS fighters or lepers or mass-murdering cocaine kingpins roam around her land freely, then Meg, Ed, Bo, Mark, and Eve could contain the problem with their own border policies. It would be as if Mexico simply had a “peninsula” that extended upward into current U.S. territory (which is why I’ve shaded Pam’s land as yellow).

Think about that for a minute: Just about everyone in the current U.S. immigration debate takes it as a given that the Mexican authorities are going to do whatever they’re going to do, and that the U.S. government is allowed to build fences and place troops on its southern border in response. Nobody except Ann Coulter thinks the U.S. government should conquer the Mexican government in order to make Mexico do a better job preventing undesirables from trying to cross the U.S./Mexican border. So by the same token, it would be absurd to limit Pam’s ability to set whatever policies she wants on her land–and it is her land, by stipulation–when everybody around her could simply respond to her policies with their own.

In conclusion, let me admit that of course there are all sorts of complex issues and concerns that I haven’t addressed in this brief blog post. But I hope I’ve prodded you, the reader, to stretch your mind beyond the very limited debate that we normally get on the question of immigration.

 

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