Anarchy Without Bombs

Cooperation Without Coercion

There is no libertarian case for restricted immigration

It is almost 30 years to the day since Libertarian Party Presidential Nominee Ed Clark set off a firestorm of criticism within the party for indicating that he didn’t think free immigration should be immediately adopted.  One of the strongest criticisms came in a post-mortem of that campaign by Mr. Libertarian, Murray Rothbard, who stated:

Immigration provided probably the greatest (or perhaps the second greatest) single scandal of the Clark campaign. New York Times liberals, you see, love Mexicans but only in Mexico; they are not too keen on Mexicans emigrating to the United States. And so the Clark position, which not only betrayed the libertarian principle of free and open immigration, but also froze immigration restrictions in with the welfare system.  — Libertarian Forum, Sep-Dec 1980

We all make mistakes, and the purpose of this post isn’t to single out Clark for something he said three decades ago under the pressure of the highest profile campaign in LP history (indeed, Rothbard himself strayed much further only a few years later).  But the question of whether Clark’s campaign had violated libertarian principles wasn’t even considered debatable at the time: it was obvious to all libertarians that free and open immigration was as clearly the libertarian position as was free and open trade.  It should still be obvious and, in the present environment, it is more important than ever to rekindle that awareness.

An excellent contribution toward that end is today’s post by dL of Liberale et libertaire: Restricted Immigration is not a Libertarian Position.  I strongly encourage you to read it in its entirety.  There are some hard issues on which the libertarian position is debatable.  Immigration (more accurately, freedom of travel) is not one of them.

For those who agree that free immigration is the only position consistent with the non-aggression principle, but who are concerned about the plausibility of some of the non-libertarian objections based on practicality, I would encourage a thorough reading of University of Hawaii Professor Ken Schoolland’s long article for the International Society for Individual Liberty: Why Open Immigration? In particular, Schoolland has demolished the “welfare magnet” theory with an insightful study of migration within the 50 states: there is an incredibly strong correlation between welfare benefits and migration: IT IS STRONGLY NEGATIVE! Immigrants flee the high welfare states to go to the low welfare states (Arizona ranks 46th in welfare benefits: it would be almost the very last place for a welfare-seeker to settle).

Violent crime rates are also negatively correlated to immigration, and immigrants increase the wealth of current residents.  Even the security argument is backwards: the underground railroad that has developed to allow workers to enter this country makes it easier for an undetected terrorist to enter, and would disappear without the revenue provided by the demand by millions of secret passage.

Utopia is not an option, and the practical argument over the pluses and minuses of immigration can never be settled to everyone’s satisfaction, but two principles should guide the confused:

(1) When in doubt as to whether aggression will work or not, the default position should be don’t aggress.

(2) To successfully control the borders would require the delegation of an enormous amount of power to government officials, who are fallible human beings prone to the corruption of power, like all other human beings.  The type of society we would need to restrict immigration successfully would be Hell on Earth.


Written by Less

June 19, 2010 at 3:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

16 Responses

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  1. I’d also recommend the book, “The Case for Free Trade and Open Immigration,” edited by Ebeling and Hornberger. You should be able to find a mostly complete copy online if you Google it.

    Black Bloke

    June 19, 2010 at 5:29 am

  2. Thanks for the reference to my speech and article on “Why Open Immigration?” for the International Society for Individual Liberty, I have also found Jason Riley’s book very good, “The Case for Open Borders.” Better yet, come to Freedom Fest in Las Vegas July 8 for the debate I’m joining on this topic.
    It is crucial that libertarians stand firm with principle on this issue. It is fundamental to liberty that the right to flee tyranny (economic, political, & religious) be respected. There are good practical arguments, but founded on good ethics. Aloha, Ken

    Ken Schoolland

    June 19, 2010 at 12:48 pm

  3. The online version to which Black alludes is available at The full title of the Riley book mentioned by Ken is Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders, available at Amazon at


    June 19, 2010 at 2:12 pm

  4. Less:

    thanx for the reference to my little essay and adding a link to my blog on your blogroll. I was not aware of that fine paper by Schooland but was quite aware of some of research referenced in it, in particular the work done by Julian Simon.

    I believe too it is imperative that libertarians stand firm on the positive good of an open society, including the free flow of ideas, goods and services, capital, labor while standing especially firm on the principle that freedom from constraint of movement is fundamental to any notion of a liberal social order. Schooland, above, casts the latter in terms of a right to flee tyranny or government failure. Of course, I recall that you participated in past blog post at Freedom Democrats, “Free market Medicine”

    where I noted how government failure in US Health Care was driving a robust medical tourism into Mexico. With the passage of ObamaCare, which is only going to exacerbate the problems of high prices and access to care in the US, medical tourism into Mexico is only going to continue to grow. I wonder if these so-called libertarians, in making their case for government’s legitimate functions in restricting movement, have thought through the implications of this when the shoe is on the other foot…


    June 20, 2010 at 1:23 am

  5. […] dL’s inspired comment on my last […]

  6. […] There is no libertarian case for restricted immigration. Less, Anarchy Without Bombs (2010-06-19). It is almost 30 years to the day since Libertarian Party Presidential Nominee Ed Clark set off a firestorm of criticism within the party for indicating that he didn’t think free immigration should be immediately adopted.  One of the strongest criticisms came in a post-mortem of that campaign by Mr…. (Linked Saturday 2010-06-19.) […]

  7. Thanks for this – the immigration “debate” is another one of those issues where I was beginning to feel increasingly alone in my views. It’s a recurring theme on my blog, too.

    David Z

    June 22, 2010 at 12:25 pm

  8. If libertarians made this and anti-militarism key issues I would have considerably more respect for them. Though a left anarchist, I’m willing to work with capitalists in dismantling the horrifically oppressive present immigration system. Unfortunately, these days you have a fair number of Minutemen types calling themselves libertarians.


    June 24, 2010 at 2:00 pm

  9. @Summerspeaker

    Most libertarians do make anti-militarism a key issue: libertarians started and are the major contributors to, and the LP has a solid anti-intervention platform. I agree that anti-militarism MUST be a key issue (maybe even THE key issue) for anyone who is serious about liberty. Of course, those whose opposition to militarism mysteriously disappeared at noon on January 20, 2009 (or at noon on January 20, 2001) are beneath contempt.

    And, of course, I share your view that freedom of movement must be brought to the forefront, which is why I wrote this post. I haven’t seen any presence of Minutemen in any libertarian organizations, though (I’m not denying that some Minutemen may choose that self-definition, much to our dismay).

    By the way, I think the list of critical items where broad cooperation is possible can be lengthened a bit: in addition to the two you mentioned, the war on drugs, corporate welfare, and central banking. And there is currently a big shift in attitudes taking place within the libertarian movement regarding intellectual property (especially among ancaps), so I’m hoping that can be added to the list soon.


    June 24, 2010 at 5:27 pm

  10. […] Antman at Anarchy Without Bombs (originally posted June […]

  11. Nice article. BTW, the Libertarian International Organization at continues to encourage interest in universal free working residency, and activists are working with Ecuador to present a Pan-American treaty. Step by step.


    March 13, 2011 at 5:16 pm

  12. […] Two years ago at Freedom Democrats, I posted an article on Libertarianisim and Immigration that sort of languished at the time. A year later, my republishing of the article managed to achieve some degree of notoriety with Less Antman’s endorsement. […]

  13. “Immigrants flee the high welfare states to go to the low welfare states.”

    Actually, immigrants flee poor states to go to prosperous states. It does not follow, however, that immigrants understand why the new state is more prosperous than their old state–or that their cultural bias toward collectivism suddenly disappears when crossing the border into low-welfare state. Many liberal Democrats have fled California to escape high taxes. Does that mean they have abandoned liberalism? I doubt it.

    Just Some Dude

    April 11, 2013 at 11:17 pm

  14. @JSD I don’t see anyone here arguing that migrants are libertarians. The point is that, factually, migration has clearly been in the direction of low welfare states and away from high welfare states, making the supposed “welfare magnet” argument against immigration look pretty silly. As for motivation, we probably agree that people who move are more ambitious than people who don’t move, and it is likely they are moving in order to find work. Clearly it isn’t to find welfare.


    April 12, 2013 at 2:42 am

  15. Hello, ISIL has changed his site since you’ve posted this, thus the new link for Ken Schoolland’s article is:



    February 24, 2014 at 1:26 pm

  16. Thanks, I’ve updated the link. I hope.


    February 25, 2014 at 12:36 am

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