I readily admit that what makes me less-inclined to be a part of the Republican Party is that all too often, I believe that institution abandons reason for the sake of politics. Too often, I find that these avenues of departure occur on issues in which it seems to me that the party is more interested in getting votes by superficial causes than by doing the harder worker of reasoning with would-be supporters. I tend to have some very libertarian ideas in such fields as economics, in which I believe the best answer is remove government as an influence, for better or worse(as it’s almost always the latter,) from every economic consideration. In this context, it’s easy to understand why I have some significant sympathies with libertarians, because I believe the freedom to choose in a market, rightly or wrongly, and the opportunity from those choices to profit or lose, is as fundamental to human progress as any virtue that has ever existed in human history. Some libertarians over-extend this argument and the best example of this over-extended idea is the fixation some libertarians seem to have with easy immigration and open borders, ignoring all the problems accompanying such ideas, to the extent that the contradictions explicit in their proposals seem to be invisible to them.
I believe in rational self-interest, a notion perhaps best explained by author and philosopher Ayn Rand, and I am hardly alone in my favorable impression of her ideas on that subject. Many libertarians and advocates of reason will reference her works on the subject because of the power of her logic to persuade. The problem arises, however, when some advocates of a free market go so far afield in their wide-eyed insistence that markets and people be perfectly free that they abandon reason in its material implementations. Immigration is one such issue, and to shed some light on where I think the disconnect occurs or how the problems become invisible to advocates, I’d prefer to address this in the sense of a study in the rational self-interest with which libertarians are generally concerned. I noted today that one writer who I read from time to time had decided to attack Sarah Palin, and specifically, among all the more laughable claims, he seemed most displeased with her stance on the immigration reform bill. Wrote Reason Editor Nick Gillespie over at TheDailyBeast:
Palin herself has sneered at immigration reform, dismissing pending Senate legislation as “a pandering, rewarding-the-rule-breakers, still-no-border-security, special-interest-written amnesty bill.”
Far be it from me to let Mr. Gillespie in on a guarded state secret, but “a pandering, rewarding-the-rule-breakers, still-no-border-security, special-interest-written amnesty bill” is the most precisely accurate description of the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” or “Gang-of-Eight” bill I’ve yet read. This legislation is being pushed as the way to save the Republican Party, by ostensibly enticing more Hispanics to vote for GOP candidates, therefore meeting the precise definition of pandering. The bill ultimately lets people cut in line, despite having broken our laws. It fails to secure the borders as has been promised since 1986. It was created in a devil’s brew of deal-making between the unions and the Chamber of Commerce, for Heaven’s sake. In all respects, it is precisely as Gov. Palin described it. In today’s article, Gillespie goes on to take numerous cheap-shots at Palin, but given the issues of the day, and Gillespie’s distinctly libertarian views, particularly on immigration, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to address this issue. Gillespie is a forceful advocate for libertarian positions, and is particularly adamant in his views on open borders and liberal immigration policies. His article today seemed as though it needed an FEC disclaimer because it read like a campaign advertisement for Rand Paul and also Justin Amash, two Republicans with decidedly libertarian viewpoints.
Nick Gillespie would tell you that he is an opponent of collectivism. I too am an opponent of collectivism, but as Rand properly noted, I recognize that there are certain facets of human interaction for which government is the only rational answer. We know governments simply cannot allocate wealth as efficiently or as honestly as a free market, so that government’s sole role in the field ought to be reduced to that of a referee. That’s why we have a court system complete with all the possible avenues of civil redress and relief. We know also that the notion of a collectivized defense is probably the only rational way in which to protect one’s nation against foreign attackers, since we likewise recognize that while we may mean no harm to others, we can’t count on that as a driving motive behind the policies of other nations. In short, we know that there are legitimate roles for government, but that much as our founders would have explained it, those roles are definite and limited.
After all, a nation is but a collection of persons, bound by the geographic description of a region, and each of those persons is entitled to a natural right of self-defense, and property, along with a general pursuit of happiness. Together, they have an aggregated right to those same ends, so that it is only natural that they should decide the boundaries of their nation, and how they will be enforced. A nation-state is exclusionary by design, the very object of its creation as an institution being the limiting of who may enter, and under what conditions. National boundaries exist to create a delineation, so that a person may know that as he moves from one nation to the next, one is bound by the laws of the jurisdiction to which one has entered.
Libertarians will scream at me here, arguing that every person on the planet ought to be as free(or more so) than had been the residents of the United States. While I agree in principle, what I know about the world tells me this can never be the case. There are no Utopias to be found here. Not even Rand’s Galt’s Gulch can be made on Earth, because there will always and forever be people who choose the shortcuts, the paths of least resistance, and the desire to dominate their fellow man. We may not like it, and we may wish we could create some sort of Heaven on Earth, but it will never be, whether proposed by the statists or the libertarians.
This being the case, any organization of people uniting to build a country and creating its laws to guarantee the rights of its residents ought to carefully guard that nation. It must be guarded against invasion and attack, and its quality of life must be guarded to the benefit of those paying for all of this protection. The libertarian mindset is that we must extend our liberties to all humanity through a permissive immigration policy while improving free trade across borders. In this way, they surmise, it is possible to elevate many people’s lives, both immigrant and native-born, simply permitting them to come and partake of the same liberty current residents enjoy. Lovely though it may sound, however, this is at odds with all human experience on the subject, and offers no real hope to those actually deserving to enter.
The object of any nation’s immigration policy ought to be simple, and it’s a construct much like the justification for a national defense: How does a given immigrant’s entry comport with the collectivized interests of the nation at large? If this is the standard, and it should be, then we would permit many more immigrants from Asia and Europe, and many fewer from Central and South America. You see, it is right to ask of immigrants: “What do you bring to the party?” The sort of indiscriminate open-borders notions held by many libertarians would destroy the very thing they had hoped to extend to millions more humans. It is this central contradiction, this hole in their reasoning, that damns their ideas on the subject as the child-like tantrums of a dream made of rainbows and unicorns interrupted by the intercession of reality. There’s nothing wrong with such dreams, but once one wakes up to confront reality, it’s time to reconsider.
How much evidence does one need to demonstrate that not every person entering the United States shares in those visions of Utopia? If a nation does not control its borders, how is it to discern among the many entrees, or who among them will contribute to or detract from the quality and standard of living in the country? I live in Texas, a border state that has seen its share of tragedies born of those who made it into this country without proper vetting. Scarcely a day goes by without a story in the press about some illegal immigrant who has inflicted untold suffering on our residents. The clear point in all of this is that we have every manner of rational self-interest as individuals, but also aggregated as a nation, to ensure to the degree possible that those who come to our shores will be contributors rather than burdens.
I well understand the trials and tribulations of legal immigrants, inasmuch as my own spouse is an immigrant to this nation. She has worked continuously for twenty-two of the twenty-three years she has resided in the US, making her a net taxpayer by a wide margin and providing little in the way of burdens upon the public, by way of her use of the roads and bridges of our state for which she is also taxed. She creates economic activity by virtue of the expenditures of her earnings, and in point of fact, has worked two jobs for most of the last decade. In addition, she works the farm, and has raised a child who is well on her way to likewise becoming a productive American. I understand immigration, because particularly, my mother’s family was one of poor, hard-working immigrants who toiled endlessly to scratch their way to something approximating economic stability. Some immigrants come here precisely for the economic opportunities, with a firmly-held work ethic and a love for their adoptive country, but this does not nearly describe all of them.
Sadly, in too many cases, immigrants who come to the United States not to partake of our liberty and our relative prosperity by contributing to it, but instead by finding ways to skim and scam from it. How many now come expressly for welfare benefits? How many come to engage in drug or human trafficking? How many come solely for the attractions of a society ripe for the pillaging? Surely, the latter do not wish to “come out of the shadows” in any event. When my wife filed all of her immigration paperwork, one of the things I had to file was a statement of financial responsibility, stating that I would not permit her to become a burden on the government. I always wondered how it could be that so many recent immigrants could apply for and gain access to welfare-state benefits with laws on the books that would seem, on the surface, to make that illegal. The answer should have been obvious to me: Children.
The children born to immigrants are citizens under current US law. This citizenship entitles them to all the benefits available as part of our welfare systems. Health-care, food-stamps, and all the other provisions of the welfare-state are available to the American-born children of recent immigrants. Are we going to provide Section 8 housing for the children but force Ma and Pa to live on the streets? Are we going to provide food assistance to the kids while insisting that Mom and Dad do without? Simply put, if the benefits sufficient to feed a number of children are dispensed on the basis of their needs alone, it will be sufficient food to also care for the parents if they’re smart shoppers. In this way, the alleged barrier to welfare benefits for immigrants is bypassed or mooted.
I don’t blame immigrants for seeking out and taking advantage of benefits we offer. I simply believe we should not offer them, but I wouldn’t limit that proscription only to immigrants. Our vast welfare state is an enormous magnet, and one that permits some very unsavory characters to make their way to the US both illegally, and legally, as we have seen in the case of the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston. The truth is that a liberal welfare state is wholly incompatible with a liberal immigration policy, as the experience of post-war Europe has demonstrated. This is because those immigrants will tend to change the culture and the polity of their new country at a rate faster than the subject culture can tolerate, particularly when drawn in all the faster by liberal welfare-state offerings.
I also note that for all their wistful pondering over the benefits of an open border, such advocates seem to be all one-way in their thinking. Why is it that this spreading of liberty must occur solely through immigration to this country? Why aren’t the libertarians emigrating, so zealously desirous to see all men free, that they must be willing to take their message to countries like Venezuela and Mexico? Surely, if only they can convince the governments of these third-world nation-states, they could prevail upon the leaders in those stricken countries to simply make their residents free. No? No takers? I suspect not many libertarians are ready to pack their bags for that journey, and with good reason: They wouldn’t stand a chance in Hell.
What gave the United States its edge in development and prosperity was not immigration, as Jeb Bush would have you believe. Instead, it was a set of ideals and beliefs taken nearly to their logical conclusion that had set the stage for the American explosion. It was not the immigrants alone, because the industrial revolution had commenced well before the great waves of immigrants at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. The growth of American prosperity had progressed with the extension of freedom. Those early 20th century immigrants were indoctrinated rapidly in American history and culture, and they quickly blended into the great melting pot, further driving the growth of prosperity. Still, they brought with them some bad things too, including pieces of a polity that preferred collectivism, and it was out of this forge that the progressive era was born.
Most of the ideas of the progressive era were really European ideas. Margaret Sanger’s eugenics were well-received in Europe, and one wonders if with his fixation on the fertility of immigrants, Jeb Bush may be a fan. He certainly is in the progressive mold, after all. The point to understand, however, is that when the waves of European immigrants came to the United States, they had an immediate effect on the politics of the nation, both by force of their numbers, and by virtue of their political beliefs, then imported with them to their new home. This will be true of any immigrants in any age, but now, we face a threat of socialism. Some form of statism is dominant in virtually every nation from which we receive immigrants, and yet we do not hesitate even long enough to ask what cultural norms, beliefs, practices, and politics they will bring with them. This is a tragic error.
If the United States is or had been the greatest and freest nation on the planet, then it had owed to the foundation laid by our earliest immigrants, our founders and framers. To the degree its polity has changed, it owes in some large measure to the influx of immigrants. My question to libertarians is whether they believe it is possible to import so many souls born to tyranny and despotism without changing the nation for the worse. The one hopeful sign is that immigrants are, after all, the people who fled, whether for political or economic reasons, but if the greater number is for the latter, we cannot say with any surety how well they will reinforce the ideals that had built this country. Some years, perhaps decades hence, when some dozens of millions of new immigrants will have converted this country to just another third-world Republic, will the libertarians who insist now on open borders and liberal immigration policies likewise insist that native-born Americans be permitted to flee? If so, to where?
The United States of America has grown and prospered because for the most part, until the last half century, we had taken great care most of the time as to who could come and claim their bona fides as Americans, and under which conditions they could do so. The immigration bill now in process takes no such care, in fact discarding many provisions that might have helped in preventing our eventual collapse under the weight of an immigrant-heavy welfare-state. It’s time for libertarians to wake up, shake off the unicorns and rainbows of their perfect dreams, and realize that there is more at stake than some tortured notion of ideological consistency, of which I am generally myself a big fan. Sometimes, the plane on which one must remain consistent is a good deal more obvious, and this case is one of those: The United States, in order to remain a country into which any would willingly immigrate must remain a country of freedom and opportunity, but if we don’t first protect the culture that had created that freedom and opportunity, those virtues will rapidly diminish and die. Two decades hence, living in a Venezuela-like paradigm, lost in the wild places between totalitarianism and anarchy, it will be of slim consolation to the libertarian, open-borders advocate when he sees finally his dreams going up in flames around him.
Time to wake up, Nick.