Immigration and Property Rights


It saddens me to read people attempting to justify immigration controls not only on libertarian grounds but on rights based libertarian grounds; something which is obviously utter tripe. In this article I hope to respond to Keir Martland’s view that immigration controls can be justified on property rights basis. Do note that this is not a consequentialist piece, if you want the arguments about economic benefits of immigration please look at why we should open our minds and open the borders. This is, simply put, what libertarians do best: arguing with each other over minor points about what rights are, if you don’t believe in fundamental property rights this isn’t really for you.

As far as I can understand Keir’s argument runs as follows: Government cannot own property, therefore all Government property is communally owned. As it is communally owned all owners get a veto on who can use it. Keir’s argument has some worrying consequences before we even look at why it is wrong. If a joint owner opposes tourists using communal property that would mean we would have to ban tourism, going further what if an owner is racist, do all non whites get banned? What if owner A opposes owner B’s usage and vice-versa? Why if the Government has net stolen from me for generations can my wishes be over turned by someone who has been a net benefit from government action, and whose family has overall had a net benefit going back generations? Do all members of society have equal ownership of these ‘common goods’ or just net tax benefits (noting that immigrants are on average higher net tax benefits than domestic workers)? If my family is historically British but has always been a net tax taker can I also be prevented from utilising these facilities if I am say a new born child or is it only children born outside of the UK who are prohibited?

In fact the majority of this response article could be me asking more questions.

The belief that property rights can be used to ban immigration comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of property rights and immigration. Immigrants do not ‘steal’ or invade our property; immigration is voluntary interaction. If I choose to sell my house to a non British person that is a voluntary choice and any immigration control is unjustly limiting my right to voluntary interaction. If I choose to give a job to an immigrant I am using my natural right to employ who I choose (given that they agree) in my business, limiting immigration prevents me from doing that. If I want to gift my house, my property, a job etc to a immigrant I should be free to do so.

I have no right to other people’s property as Keir rightly suggests, however immigrants are not using other people’s property. When immigrants use roads they are not violating my rights or yours as no part of the road is identifiably my property. Currently the Government owns the roads, Government rightly cannot own property, but while it does hold it through force it is the only violator of property rights, not people using the facility. Imagine person A steals person B’s land. I come up to the land and wish to cross, person A is identified as the owner and permits me to do so. I later find that actually person B owned the land, the fault lies not with me but with person A. For the moment, while the money to build the road was stolen by the Government the roads themselves weren’t. Any compensation to the population must come via monetary reimbursement not some sort of warped idea of joint ownership with total veto.

The argument that some parts of society are communally owned thus we all must stick to the lowest common denominator, the basest views held amongst us is flawed in its entirety. For one any free market libertarian must recognise national borders as the unnatural, state product that they are. Why apply your argument to national borders, why not county ones or local council ones where local council tax and business rates pay for many things. What does Keir say to the idea that no one from outside York or Glasgow can enter it because one person inside there hates all non Glaswegians or Yorkists. If one replies that such borders are artificial then so to are national ones, as hypothetical as any town boundary or city limits. Finally Keir’s desire to use the Government to enforce this betrays any sense of libertarianism from his argument. The Government is a theft based organisation, no true libertarian policy and view should have them doing anything at all, much less rely entirely upon them. With no government Keir’s dream would be unrealisable, as private airports and docks would be free to ship in immigrants as much as they like. The argument requires nay rests upon the use of force and coercion to implement. It cannot be considered libertarian in the slightest.


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