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An Immigration Attack on Stossel from the Right

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Libertarian Fox News commentator John Stossel has recently been the subject of attacks from the left for taking the position that private owners have the right, under principles of freedom and private property, to discriminate. (See here and here.)

Now, Stossel is under attack from the right for views on immigration that he recently expressed to Fox News conservative commentator Bill OReilly.

The right-wing attack comes from one Mark W. Hendrickson, a conservative academician at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. Hendricksons attack, which is entitled Libertarianism Fails against Illegal Immigration, only goes to show how misguided conservatives are when it comes to the immigration issue.

First of all, Hendrickson gets it wrong in concluding that the immigration position advocated by Stossel in his conversation with OReilly was a libertarian position. It was nothing of the sort. Instead, Stossel was advocating the conservative position on immigration. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, simply because a libertarian advocates a particular position doesnt necessarily make it a libertarian position.

The libertarian position on immigration is based on the principles of individual freedom and free markets. That position involves the rights to travel, move, migrate, freely associate with others, pursue happiness, sustain ones life through labor, enter into contracts with others, trade, accumulate wealth, and do whatever one wants with his own money.

Libertarians hold that such rights are fundamental and inherent. They come from nature and God, not from government. They adhere in all men, not just Americans.

Thus, libertarians hold that people should be free to cross government borders in the exercise of these fundamental, natural, God-given rights. Thats why they favor free trade and open immigration, i.e., open borders.

By the same token, libertarians argue that freedom and free markets produce economic prosperity. Whenever people are entering into economic exchanges with others, including labor exchanges, they are improving their economic conditions. By entering into the exchange, both sides are giving up something they value less for something they value more, thus improving their respective situations.

Did Stossel call for open borders in his exchange with OReilly? No. Instead, while praising the value of immigrants, he called on the government to let more of them into the United States.

That is not a libertarian position but rather a conservative one, because it leaves immigration control in the hands of the government while asking government to exercise such control by letting in a larger number of immigrants than it is currently permitting.

As I have emphasized so many times (see here, for example), there is no immigration reform, including the one advocated by Stossel, that is capable of working. Nothing repeat nothing can or will ever make immigration control work.

Why is this so?

Because immigration control is based on an inherently defective paradigm, one of socialist central planning. As Mises, Hayek, and the Austrians showed long ago, central planning can never succeed because the planner can never possess the requisite knowledge to centrally plan a complex market, especially one as complex as an international labor market. All the planner inevitably does is produce chaos, distortions, and perversions into the market process.

For example, Stossels plan for solving the immigration crisis is for the government to let in more immigrants. Oh? How many immigrants? What should be their qualifications? What countries should they come from? Should the needs of employers be taken into account, and if so, how should that be done? What type of bureaucratic process should be enacted to coordinate all this? How long will it take to process the applications?

No matter what answers Stossel comes up with, there is one big problem with his plan: It cant work. Even if you put 100 Harvard graduates on the central planning board and provide them with the speediest computers in the world, they simply are incapable of planning a complex labor market, especially given that market conditions are constantly changing.

As Mises, Hayek, and the Austrians have shown, thats the beauty of the free market. It doesnt rely on central planners. Instead, it simply uses the price system to enable people to coordinate their activities with others. Farm workers needed in Wyoming? The price of labor goes up. Mexican workers learn of the wage increase and immediately travel to Wyoming to earn the money. No central planner, but instead people planning and coordinating their own lives.

We see the phenomenon of open borders here within the United States, which is the largest free-trade, free-movement zone in history. Every day, countless people from Maryland and Virginia cross back and forth. No one knows the reason theyre coming and going. No one even keeps track of the numbers. No one worries that Marylanders are coming to Virginia to steal jobs or vice versa. No one worries about the trade deficit between the two states. No one worries about the possibility that some of the people crossing back and forth are murderers, robbers, terrorists, or rapists. No one worries that some of them are moving to secure better welfare benefits.

If we werent so accustomed to this open-border phenomenon, some people would consider this process to be chaos or anarchy. Actually, its neither. The border between Virginian and Maryland does not disappear simply because people are free to cross it. And the governments of Virginia and Maryland dont disappear either.

Instead, the open border between Maryland and Virginia simply enables countless people to peacefully seek their own self-interests and coordinate their individual plans with others who are doing the same, without any governmental central planning agency. Everyone remains subject to the laws of the jurisdiction he finds himself in.

In fact, as any citizen in the former Soviet Union will attest, it is socialist central planning that produces chaos. It is what Mises termed planned chaos.

In his attack on Stossel, Hendrickson referred to the violent anarchy in the southern Arizona desert. But what he fails to realize is that his attack is on the planned chaos of socialism and interventionism in the form of both immigration controls (i.e., central planning) and the drug war (interventionism), both of which are conservative programs, not libertarian ones.

The reason that foreigners trespass on peoples private property along the border is because immigration controls make it illegal for them to cross normally at bridges or by plane. If borders were open, there would no longer be any reason for immigrants to risk their lives crossing the Arizona desert or ranchers private property. Instead, they would simply grab a bus or a flight and head north to take the job that some American businessman is offering them.

Its no different with the drug war, which is perhaps conservatives most favorite government program. Yet what better example of government failure than the drug war? Its been going on for decades and yet, what do conservatives say? They say that despite decades of manifest failure, it is more imperative than ever that the war be continued. When asked to justify such an irrational position, conservatives respond in the same way that liberals do when asked to justify the manifest failure of welfare-state programs, Please, judge us by our good intentions, not by the actual results of our programs.

But thats just nonsense. The drug war has not only failed to achieve its purported end, it has actually produced a lot of negative externalities, such as massive death, destruction, corruption, constitutional violations, and infringements on freedom and privacy. Shouldnt government programs be judged by their actual results rather than by the intentions of those who embrace them?

Hendrickson compares immigration to an invasion, but that is also sheer nonsense. An invasion is what the U.S. government did to Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, maimed, tortured, or incarcerated. Immigrants dont come to America to do the types of things U.S. forces have done in Iraq. They come here to peacefully pursue happiness by engaging in mutually beneficial transactions with others, all with the aim of sustaining and bettering their own lives and the lives of their families.

Hendrickson points out that some immigrants commit violent crimes. Then, have the police go after them, just as the police do when violent criminals come from Maryland to commit crimes in Virginia, and vice versa. But dont punish everyone simply because a few people decide to commit crimes.

Hendrickson says that hes sympathetic to libertarian views on fiscal policy and seems to recognize that the federal governments out-of-control spending is a serious threat to the well-being of the American people. But like the proponents of every other welfare-warfare state program, he wants to exempt his favorite programs the drug war and the war on immigrants from the federal spending ax.

In fact, Hendricksons plan (and OReillys) is to have the already debt-burdened federal government spend even more money by deploying military troops to the border. Thats all we need more militarization of America. Surely Hendrickson is aware of what has happened on the Mexican side of the border, where the Mexican military has been deployed to wage the war on drugs. Why, I think the death toll is up to 23,000 since they did that. Thats a lot of dead people. Many Mexican citizens are now pleading with their government to take back its troops.

I grew up on the border. Ever since I was a child, I have witnessed these periodic paroxysms of immigration anxiety, in which some people go into emotional hyper-drive over the latest immigration crisis and propose new reforms to fix the crisis. Each new reform inevitably entails a greater infringement on freedom and inevitably gives rise to a new crisis. Werent such much-vaunted immigration reforms as criminalizing the transportation, harboring, or hiring of illegal immigrants suppose to be the final reforms that would fix the never-ending series of immigration crises? Isnt that what those workplace raids were all about? Wasnt that what the Berlin Fence was all about? Yet, here we are, back into emotional hyper-drive over a new crisis, one that revolves around socialism, interventionism, and the immigration reforms that were supposed to make them work.

Ironically, Hendricksons attack on Stossel was published on a website that focuses on Jesus Christ and Christian living. Youll recall that Hes the one who said that the second-greatest commandment is, Love your neighbor as yourself.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.