Thoughts on economics and liberty

Immigration is NOT a fundamental human right

The FEE, with which I mostly agree, has published an article by Sandy Ikeda entitled, Immigration Is a Fundamental Human Right.

I wish to point out that I disagree with this view.

Immigration is NOT a core classical liberal principle. Free trade is. Free trade does not require the physical movement of people.

Immigration is always a privilege, never a right. The human species has colonised the Earth, but each group controls specific territory. These groups, called nations today, have sovereign powers to determine who gets into that territory. Each country has the right to control its borders.

Three principles can apply to immigration in a free society:

  1. Let each country pick and choose the best for entry into that country. I have suggested that full immigration rights should be given automatically, free of charge, to persons who qualify from top institutions in the developing countries (e.g. the old IITs in India).
  2. Thereafter, all others should be charged a significant fee (ideally an auction) to immigrate (as suggested by Gary Becker). I do not agree with Bryan Caplan’s view that the fee can be charged post-facto through welfare rights being given only after people have paid $100k in taxes. That can’t work and will never work. You can’t have two classes of citizens in a single country.
  3. Finally, there must be complete and comprehensive power to exclude potential immigrants based on their worldview. In particular, people who do not believe in ABSOLUTE liberty of speech should be kept out. And anyone who brings along a violent tendency – e.g. Muslim fanatics who believe in the Great Book of Hate called Quran – should be kept out. Let there be at least a few countries in the world that are somewhat free.

People who claim to be classical liberals should never forget that everything starts with territory. There is NO freedom, only violence, in the state of nature. If we are to have a state, to deal with the chronic problem of violence and disarray in a less organised state, then we must give the state absolute control over its borders.

Those who promote free immigration give liberalism a bad name. They make it appear to be a form of anarchy. It is not. It is a highly organised state of affairs for the defence of property rights and liberty. There is no ‘free for all’ in a free society.

Btw, it should be noted clearly that property rights only exist within a tightly controlled territory. If a group (society/nation) does not exercise absolute control over its territory, the idea of property rights loses any meaning. It is the state that defines and ensures property rights. While property rights are innate and exist in the state of nature, they remain incipient, being always crushed and over-ridden by violence. The state is then created, for the defence of these innate rights. The state’s first obligation is to protect territory.

For those interested in a detailed exploration of the theory of state of a free society, please read The Discovery of Freedom (particularly chapter 4).

Sanjeev Sabhlok

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