Defending Immigration Socialism

Defending Immigration Socialism

Jacob G. Hornberger

by Jacob G. Hornberger
October/November 2003

Given that conservatives threw in the towel on opposing socialism and central planning decades ago, it’s not surprising that they rarely raise moral arguments any more in their “free-market” articles.

It’s even more disappointing, however, when libertarians fail to mention moral arguments, even while defending socialist positions. A good recent example is an article entitled “Displacing Americans” by Ilana Mercer, which takes The Future of Freedom Foundation to task for its free-market, open-border position.

Ironically, two weeks after Mercer published her article, U.S. authorities forcibly repatriated to Cuba a group of refugees who had hijacked a ferry in an attempt to escape communist tyranny. Even though Castro had recently executed some immigrants who had done the same thing, U.S. officials negotiated a promise from Castro that the maximum sentence he would impose on this group would be only 10 years in a Cuban jail. How kind!

Of course, it wasn’t simply the fact that they had broken Cuban law that caused U.S. officials to repatriate the refugees. U.S. immigration policy has long required such action whenever U.S. officials discover Cubans on the high seas who are doing their best to escape communist tyranny. That’s why U.S. authorities recently repatriated another group of Cuban refugees who had escaped on a raft that had an old Chevy truck perched on top of it.

Let’s also not forget the U.S. government’s horrific use of immigration controls to prevent Jews from escaping the Holocaust.

Where’s the morality in preventing people from escaping communism and Nazism? Where’s the morality in using immigration controls to deprive people of all hope of escaping death, misery, or impoverishment, including through starvation, torture, or the gas chamber?

Unfortunately, in her article Mercer fails to address such moral principles. Instead, she spends her time defending socialistic central planning in the area of immigration — exactly what conservatives do in such areas as education, health care, and monetary policy.

The article that inspired Mercer’s attack, “Freedom of Movement,” is an excerpt from noted investment advisor Jim Rogers’s new book, Adventure Capitalist: The Ultimate Road Trip, which was posted on The Future of Freedom Foundation’s website. The article advocated the elimination of passports and other restrictions on people’s fundamental right of freedom of movement.

Mercer focused on the following paragraph of Rogers’s article:

The United States has huge shortages of nurses, computer specialists, software and other engineers, veterinarians, doctors, janitors, teachers, clergyman, nannies, housekeepers, and farmworkers. Social Security and Medicare desperately need more young workers to maintain fiscal solvency. We have too many lawyers, too many bureaucrats, and too many people holding protected jobs. They, of course, are the ones trying to close the borders.

Citing government statistics showing unemployment in two of those occupations — computer specialists and engineers — Mercer ridiculed Rogers’s open-border position and suggested that the notion that immigrants cross borders in search of a better life was an “insipid sentimental argument.”

But whether labor shortages exist or not in certain sectors of the market is not really the point. The point is how the issue is going to be resolved — through the free market or through socialistic central planning. The libertarian answer is, of course, the free market. The conservative answer is, not surprisingly, socialistic central planning.

Ask yourself: How do we know when there is a shortage of workers in Tennessee and an oversupply of workers in California? Is there a government central planner keeping track of such things? Should there be? Do we need some government official telling workers in California that they’re needed in Tennessee?

Of course not. Most of us know that that would be ridiculous. Unlike labor in North Korea or Vietnam, where it is allocated by socialist central planners, labor within the United States is allocated according the supply-and-demand principles of the free market. All other things being equal, if demand for labor rises in Tennessee and the supply of labor increases in California, workers will tend to move from California to Tennessee.

Do workers rely on some government central planner to let them know that jobs are decreasing in California and increasing in Tennessee? Of course not! They rely on the primary messaging mechanism of the free market — the price system. Labor tends to flow away from the sectors in which the price for labor (i.e., the wage rate) is decreasing and flow into those sectors in which the wage rate is increasing.

That free-market principle is no different with respect to international labor markets. The free market is the best determinant of whether people are needed in one sector and not needed in another sector. That’s what the free-market’s price system and the law of supply and demand are all about.

Compare that approach to the socialistic central-planning approach advanced by advocates of regulated borders. Rather than rely on the free market to make complex and ever-changing labor determinations, they want government central planners to do the job. In fact, that’s undoubtedly why Mercer places such heavy emphasis in her analysis on statistics gathered by the central planners in the U.S. Department of Labor.

But central planning in labor markets suffers from the same defects and maladies as central planning in other areas of life. Indeed, how can the horrible distortions and maladjustments in the U.S. immigration market surprise any free-market advocate, especially after several continuous decades of immigration central planning?

As Friedrich Hayek pointed out, the central planner suffers from the “fatal conceit” of pretending he has the requisite knowledge to plan the lives of thousands or even millions of individual poersons, each of whom has his own specific wishes, desires, demands, and wants. Unlike the free market, central planning fails to capitalize on the infinite knowledge possessed by each individual actor in the marketplace.

Mercer also takes Rogers to task for citing the recently acquired ability of Europeans to freely move about the various countries in the European Union without the use of passports. But rather than explain why such freedom of movement is a bad idea per se, she points out that the EU consists of “highly unelected E.U. bureaucrats [who] have achieved a massive consolidation of power, in the process moving to obliterate many of the ancient European communities.”

I’m not sure, however, whether I get her point. Rogers isn’t defending the socialism of European countries; he’s simply saying that freedom of movement within those countries is a good thing. Mercer’s argument is akin to saying that praising the absence of drug laws in the Netherlands constitutes an implicit defense of that country’s socialistic welfare state.

Would it be better if all the EU countries were libertarian? Of course! But even in that case, wouldn’t Mercer want to keep want to keep everyone walled within his own country? Excuse me, but wasn’t that what the Berlin Wall was all about?

Finally, Mercer makes a very odd point in referring to advocates of open borders as “statist libertarians.” Say what? Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t statism the “doctrine or practice of vesting economic control and economic planning in a centralized government”? How can the term legitimately be applied to the absence of government control over the right of people to freely move and travel? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to apply it to the vesting of economic control and economic planning over immigration in the centralized government in Washington?

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation ( and co-editor of The Case for Free Trade and Open Immigration.


by Jacob G. Hornberger

Copyright © 2003 The Future of Freedom Foundation. All rights reserved.

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