Saturday, February 7, 2009

Kinsella on Hoppe on Immigration

Some lively conversation has already erupted at the Center for a Stateless Society over Kevin Carson's new commentary, “Authoritarians in Libertarian Clothing.” Carson expresses his puzzlement at the support many putative libertarians seem inclined to offer to hierarchical social arrangements in the workplace, the family, etc.

Offering a characteristically clear and pugnacious response, Stephan Kinsella begs to demur. For whatever reason, WordPress hasn't made it possible for me to contribute to the thread of comments on Carson’s post, so I’ve decided to take the opportunity to react to one aspect of Kinsella's argument here.

Carson notes “the argument, by Hans Hermann Hoppe and his followers, that immigration would be restricted in a free market anarchy by the universal appropriation of land,” and points out some objections to it. Kinsella responds:
As for Hoppe–well, although he’s actually against state immigration restrictions as an anarchist, at worst, his second-best approach is to have some restrictions on immigration given that the existence of the state means that someone will lose, whether the state enforces some, or no, immigration rules. Yet, most libertarians support some immigration restrictions, if only the type that says keep out criminals or people who don’t have means of support. I guess most libertarians are “authoritarian.

It would be helpful for me if Kinsella could clarify for me a little what he means by a “second-best approach” with respect to immigration restrictions. It sounds to me as if he’s saying something like this: “There happens, in fact, to be a state; right now, we can’t do much about that. Whatever the state chooses to do with respect to immigration, someone’s position will be worsened. So some restrictions are justified and, indeed, preferable to the absence of restrictions.”

I guess I’m not sure how the fact (let’s accept it as such arguendo) that someone will be worse off no matter what the state does with respect to immigration would necessarily make imposing immigration restrictions appropriate from the standpoint of a Rothbardian or someone of similar moral-cum-political persuasion. Ignore for the moment the obvious interference with prima facie reasonable contractual relationships between workers and employers caused by restrictions on the ability to work without Social Security registration; focus instead on borders. The land adjacent to a border is either privately owned, owned by no one, or claimed by the state. If it’s privately owned or owned by no one, it’s not clear on what basis someone holding a Rothbardian or similar position could regard it as morally acceptable for the state to assert the right to prevent people from entering it from another country. And if the land is claimed by the state, the claim would seem in principle to be invalid, given the general moral invalidity of state claims to authority, as well as the fact that state claims are likely to be further invalidated in virtue of their roots in violence and conquest.

It’s unclear, then, that a person proposing to enter a state’s (putative) territory would have any moral reason to care whether the state sought to restrict entry to the territory or not. In turn, then, it’s not clear on what basis, from a perspective like Hoppe’s, an agent of the state could be morally justified in repelling people seeking to enter the territory without the state’s permission, since the state has no right to control “its” own property and certainly no authority over private property.

There is, in any event, something a little curious about the language of “second-best” from someone like Hoppe. It seems as if there’s no difference in principle (but only as a matter of degree) between saying that enforcing immigration restrictions is a second-best policy, given the existence of the state, to say that, given the existence of the state, taxes ought to be collected to pay for it or that, given the existence of the state, an enormous military force is needed to protect its interests, etc. Why couldn’t “second-best” arguments of the kind you impute to Hoppe be offered on behalf of these things, too? And, if they can, doesn’t that constitute a reductio ad absurdum of the claim that this is in any interesting sense an anarcho-capitalist argument?