Hoppe: A Libertarian Against Immigration

Free immigration is a calling card of orthodox libertarians. Well, for most of them, that is. German-born economics professor and staunch libertarian Hans-Hermann Hoppe is famous for his support of strict immigration controls. In his 2001 book Democracy: The God That Failed, Hoppe argues that the United States has an immigration policy that is both too generous and misguided in terms of the criteria it uses to award visas.

Like many libertarians, Hoppe believes immigrants should only be able to immigrate if there is someone in the host country who is willing to receive them. What distinguishes Hoppe from most libertarians is his ideas concerning how government should regulate access to public property.

Whereas Hoppe is in favor of privatizing all land, he maintains that as long as public property exists, democratic rulers should restrict access to this property as if it were their own private property. If they followed his advice, Hoppe says democratic rulers should allow in immigrants based on their skills, intelligence and cultural compatibility (such as English proficiency) and not on altruistic concerns like family reunification or accommodating refugees.

Hoppe is very concerned about how immigrants will affect the society into which they are moving. Hoppe worries that a liberal immigration policy will allow in immigrants who use more than their share of government services and who impose other costs on the citizens through their use of public property. Fair enough. I think those are issues worth considering.

What makes Hoppe’s position bizarre is his complete indifference to the livelihood of those immigrants. Hoppe describes what would happen if a country like the United States or Switzerland were to open its borders without changing any of its welfare policies:

Hoppe: Is there any doubt about the disastrous outcome of such an experiment in the present world? The United States, and even faster Switzerland, already weakened by protectionism and welfare, would be overrun by millions of third-world immigrants…Civilization would vanish from the United States and Switzerland, just as it did from Greece and Rome (page 159).

Neither in this section nor anywhere in the book does Hoppe ever stop to consider that the “millions of third-world immigrants” would be much better off under free immigration. Granted, we should consider the effect of potentially large mass migrations on all the people affected by them, such as the people paying for the welfare state. But to totally ignore the fact that millions of people would almost certainly be better off from the policy is hard to understand, to put it mildly.

Hoppe also seems to assume, wrongly, that the government’s welfare policies are static and that they would continue just as they are even after a massive influx of immigrants. There is empirical evidence that suggests that is not the case. In 1996, the U.S. government passed a welfare reform bill that limited legal immigrants’ access to programs such as food stamps and Medicaid.

While it is true that the welfare state puts pressure on government to restrict immigration, it is also true that immigration puts pressure on government to restrict welfare. For someone who wants to eliminate all welfare, such as Hoppe, it would be more logical for him to advocate for more immigration and not less.

I will grant that some welfare programs are easier to change than others. For instance, it is highly unlikely that the federal government will do anything to reduce Social Security payments in the near future, which accounts for approximately 21 percent of the total federal budget. However, it is worth noting that immigrants are net losers from Social Security under the present system. Immigrants who use fictitious social security numbers still have taxes withheld from their paycheck even though they rarely collect those benefits.

In 2002, the Social Security administration reported it received $56 billion from people who used incorrect Social Security numbers on their W-2 forms and estimated that three quarters of the incorrect numbers were from illegal immigrants. The money generated from illegal immigrants’ Social Security taxes made up 10 percent of the administration’s surplus that year.

I quote these figures not to suggest that we should continue to deny social security benefits to immigrants who have paid into the system. I bring them up to show that Hoppe’s fears of immigrants destroying “civilization” by inflating the welfare state are not well grounded.

Hoppe is a terrific economist who has done a great deal to advance the cause of liberty. Sadly, his ideas about immigration are not up to par with the rest of his academic work.

P.S.: To read a more thorough criticism of Hoppe’s stance on immigration, see Walter Block and Anthony Gregory’s reply to Hoppe that appeared in the Journal of Libertarian Studies in 2007.

Advertisements

5 Responses to “Hoppe: A Libertarian Against Immigration”

  1. Curt Doolittle Says:

    Hi,

    I think you’re confusing multiple concepts. The Hoppe/Rothbard system is just that, a system of interdependencies. These interdependencies are based upon an analysis of an ethics of property. (Which Rothbard attributed to natural law and Hoppe to a variant of natural law using a different method of proof (argumentation)). Hoppe is answering the problem of maintaining a CIVILIZATION, and the retention of freedom within a civilization, and the quality of life that comes from freedom. (Freedom TO do, not freedom FROM something)

    In your analysis above, you are saying that SOME benefits come from taxing immigrants in the short term. But you have not answered the cost of those immigrants, both in the short and long term. And failing to do so is why you are making such a hasty conclusion.

    Hoppe, and Weber and others (myself included) would argue that time preference (shorter and higher, versus longer and lower) is part of the division of labor in society, as well as an indicator of class.

    This is a statement of necessity. Since humans have different abilities to forgo gratification, since it requires more knowledge and greater intelligence to make longer forecasts, since we learn at vastly different rates, since goals are transmitted intergenerationally, and most importantly since habits and production processes with different periodicity appear to be cognitively incommensurable, it is NECESSARY that we form a division of knowledge and labor in society because it’s all we CAN do, as people with unequal ability.

    Since the nobility as a class profits from ‘owning society’ it has the longest and lowest time preference. Hoppe himself has that time preference – because like everyone back to the Greeks, we are trying to solve the problem of politics – cooperation rather than conflict. THe assumption here, which appears to be justified, is that a society with longer time preference accumulates all forms of capital for longer term use and creates a more prosperous society that is DURABLE. THis also brings into question whether property rights perpetuate across generations, which would be necessary if a society is to accumulate social order as one of the forms of capital.

    It’s not uncommon to make this mistake, because the debate is still open on immigrants. If you immigrate talent (like we did from europe after the fall) then you benefit because you did not pay to create it, and did not take the common with the elite. But if you immigrate talent, even for jobs that your people do not want to do, and especially if they have values that conflict with the values that made your civilization possible, it’s not clear at all that immigrants are a value. In fact, it appears that they’re no different from printing MONEY and inserting it into your economy. No small number of great thinkers have worked on this problem and there is no consensus.

    However, Hoppe might answer, (and I would) that you cannot have facts without a theory. And unless you can explain the theory which your facts supposedly support, then there is no way of knowing that you’re talking about the same problem, you’re just using CORRELATION, not CAUSATION. (This is the premise of the Mises->Rothbard->Hoppe argument.)

    Hoppe is giving us a theory of human cooperation and social order.

    In my own work I agree with Hoppe. I have altered his argument slightly to additionally rely upon calculation and incentive, and added group behavior to it, to better support less individualistic assumptions about human nature which works against the market as much as it works in favor of property. But this is an improvement upon Hoppe’s work, not in any way a refutation of it.

    The point is, that you don’t refute a Hoppian argument (which is a christian noble’s argument about civilization as much as it is a rothbardian middle class argument about individual rights) with a short term utilitarian expression of tax revenues, because either you are unknowingly supporting his argument, or you haven’t espoused a theory sufficient to compete with the broader theory, and instead are arguing irrelevant and perhaps unrelated facts, that can only be made relevant by the elucidation of a replacement theory. At the very least, you may be describing NOISE not SIGNAL (see Mandelbrot and Taleb) without such a broader theory. (Which is what you’re doing, really, but that’s part of your intellectual development just like it was for the rest of us.)

    And your theory would have to say that you agree with the USE of GOVERNMENT VIOLENCE to steal property, potential, and freedom from the current citizens of your country to give to immigrants for the sole purpose of empowering government such that it can profit from violating those rights, whether it be out of ignorance, or (as Rothbard and others have stated) because of a misguided application of Christian egalitarian principles, or because of a human foible that makes us feel good about being charitable with public property because we get a social and emotional benefit,a s well as temporary status increase, from giving away what is not ours to give.

    I’ve tried to lay out a line of reasoning for you in short form, but may not have succeeded. If not, I’ll try to answer what I can for you. Having spent most of my life trying to find an answer to the problem of society, I think hoppe has taken it the farthest.

    If you assume that we should and can burn accumulated social capital in an effort to make current life better for the global underclass, then you are operating by different PREFERENCES, not by different TRUTHS. And truths are what make argumentative persuasion possible, But you MUST be taking from your citizens, and from their ancestors, to redistribute to your immigrants.

    THe arguments about productivity increases of immigrants are NOISE if they impose costs on the social order. They are not SIGNAL. They are temporary fluctuations gained by arbitrage, and the theft of property from citizens, not trends to be extrapolated, and upon which we can make value judgements about a theory of political and social economy that is yet to be stated except as a set of “Derivations” (Pareto), or more abstract metaphysical assumptions about the nature of man, or cognitive biases due to incomplete knowledge of human social processes (Popper).

    Cheers.

    PS: I have a google alert for all articles referencing Hoppe, so that I can educate people about his work, and that’s how I found your posting.

  2. Capitalism V3.0 » Blog Archive » Hallman Criticizes Hoppe Says:

    […] I’ve not run across Andy Hallman before. But he posted a blog entry today that is critical of Hoppe entitled A Libertarian Against Free Immigration. […]

  3. Andy Hallman Says:

    Thanks for the comments, Curt. That was quite possibly the longest comment I’ve had so far on this blog. I’ll try to address a few of the points you make.

    In your analysis above, you are saying that SOME benefits come from taxing immigrants in the short term. But you have not answered the cost of those immigrants, both in the short and long term. And failing to do so is why you are making such a hasty conclusion.

    I did offer a few figures on Social Security, the largest social welfare program of the federal government. It looks like immigrants pay more into the system than what they’re getting out. What information does Hoppe cite that indicates immigrants are a drain on the budget?

    I’m happy to marshall evidence to support my position, which is to have mostly free immigration. I expect Hoppe to do the same for his position, which I don’t think he supports terribly well.

    I don’t know why the burden of proof needs to be on me necessarily. I’d say that Hoppe and I believe that freedom is a good thing (and I’ll include you too judging by your comments). If anything, the burden of proof should then be on Hoppe, who wants to restrict liberty in this instance even though such restrictions run counter to his wider philosophy.

    It’s not uncommon to make this mistake, because the debate is still open on immigrants. If you immigrate talent (like we did from europe after the fall) then you benefit because you did not pay to create it, and did not take the common with the elite. But if you immigrate talent, even for jobs that your people do not want to do, and especially if they have values that conflict with the values that made your civilization possible, it’s not clear at all that immigrants are a value.

    Where is all that high-falutin’ libertarian rights talk of treating people as ends in themselves and not simply as means? Or as that just a Randian thing?

    An immigrant’s value is not dependent on how useful he is to someone else. His life has value insofar as he can experience happiness.

    And your theory would have to say that you agree with the USE of GOVERNMENT VIOLENCE to steal property, potential, and freedom from the current citizens of your country to give to immigrants for the sole purpose of empowering government such that it can profit from violating those rights, whether it be out of ignorance, or (as Rothbard and others have stated) because of a misguided application of Christian egalitarian principles, or because of a human foible that makes us feel good about being charitable with public property because we get a social and emotional benefit,a s well as temporary status increase, from giving away what is not ours to give.

    Hoppe is advocating government violence by preventing people from living and working where they want.

    I’m not in favor of free immigration because I believe it will benefit government. I’m in favor of it because I believe it will benefit the immigrants and also many (but not all) of the people in the receiving country.

  4. Curt Doolittle Says:

    Fundamentally, you have an inadequate concept of property. What do people OWN? And your making assumptions in multiple layers. Ill try to help a bit. Although I have to write this quickly and catch a plane….

    RE:
    “I’m not in favor of free immigration because I believe it will benefit government. I’m in favor of it because I believe it will benefit the immigrants and also many (but not all) of the people in the receiving country.”

    In other words, you want to GIVE something to immigrants that isn’t yours to give. The only purpose of government in a free society is to resolve conflicts over property. The problem becomes, the definition of the scope of property. In this case you seem to be comfortable giving a way mutliple forms of property at the expense of others.

    I’m sure your honest in your belief, and of course you believe it, but you’re justifying your belief, which is what people do. They search for confirmation biases, and then make use of them. There is nothing special about that process. It’s wired into our minds, which unfortunately, unlike the mythical brain in a vat, is constructed such that emotions, intuition and reason are inseparable constructs. The primary reason being we possess insufficient memory and calculative ability to uniformly determine first causes. The world is too complicated. We always act on insufficient information. Almost all our reasoning is made by tie-breaking between choices consisting of insufficient information. We break ties with biases. Therefore we rely on our biased wants, not our findings. This is why the intellectuals duty is to disprove his theories, not confirm them. Thats the principle of falsification. However, to have a principle of falsification requires vastly more knowledge than does confirmation.

    Hence my criticism that you are apply christian charity and getting the psychological status perk without paying the cost yourself. (or you would not consider the problem in the first place.) If you want to immigrate people, then make it calculable: track all the costs of doing so: You are 100% responsible for their welfare and resposible for correcting any costs they place on society. If you would not do this as individual responsibility, then you should not enforce this responsibility on others. This is the only test of your choice. And since it is possible for you to do this, then you should if you believe it.

    I’ll start with an obvious point:

    RE: “hoppe is advocating government violence by preventing people from living and working where they want”

    Hoppe would say, that if we are having the debate, that the reason we are having it is because at least one of us considers our property is involved. That is the principle of the argumentation ethic. So, de facto, this is a question of property not government. If with insufficient knowledge and information you are trying to advocate the distribution of my property then since I THINK it’s my property it IS my property until you prove it is someone else’s. In other words, your only possible argument is to a common good, which is not a property argument it’s a socialist argument.

    So lets start here with your argument: You have a farm. Immigrants want to live and work on it. You wouldn’t let them It is your property. You know it is your property somehow. How do you know? (This is a very important question.) How do you know it’s your property?

    Now, what have you paid for or settled other than the farm itself? In other words, what is the extent of your property? Are you not an owner of the social order? (The system of property rights that made it your property?) Is there property that is obviously yours, and some that is not obviously yours? What about institutions (habits) that people have? What about morals and ethics and manners? Are you a shareholder in that property? Why would people act to defend such things if they weren’t shareholders? Or are you saying manners, ethics, morals, and habits have no material value?

    In other words, is property, those things which you can get away with protecting, or is it the collection of actions (PAYMENTS) you have made in all forms? Where on that spectrum do you make your point of demarcation?

    Lets say we have a society that allows freedom and property rights. And over a hundred years you immigrate people from a different society that have more collectivist leanings, and using democracy they erode your property rights. What if they instituted a new form of government? what if they factionalize your government? What if they led to civil war? What if they wanted to impose a new legal system? What if they created a new dominant religion that denied property rights?

    I think you are making the mistake of quantitative epistemology. That which exists is what can be measured (Positivism) versus the problem of knowing how to measure what humans ACT UPON, which is the full accounting of our property. Since almost all economists acknowelge that we have not solved the problem of the social sciences, and that we are certainly incapable of solving the problem of induction (which would allow us to solve the problem of the social sciences), then what makes you think that you can use insufficient analysis to make a moral argument against the property argument of others?

    In other words, you’re saying you get to determine what property is, and what theft is, and where it is tolerable. And you are doing so by pointing to quantitative measures, without possessing the tools for quantitatively measuring all the forms of property that exist.

    Humans calculate first with property. Numbers are simply the way of making sure we get it right. Habits and property are the first cause. Property is the source of society. But that is not the same thing as TRADE property. THe fact is that people start with one currency: TIME. that means all costs are opportunity costs. So all economic study is the study of OPPORTUNITIES, not fixed assets. Fixed assets are simply the wagging tail of the human economic dog. Unless you answer the impact on opportunity economy (actions people have taken to create potentials) then your just another myopic socialist that does not have respect for the property (payments) that people have made to construct the social and political order that makes the prosperity that you live under possible.

    Hoppe is concerned, like most of us, in preserving freedom.

    Freedom is a code word for property rights.

    giving other peoples property away is not freedom, it’s theft. Forcing people to change their own societies so that they CREATE something is a better solution. We do that through trade, not through immigration. Immigration is theft.

  5. David Says:

    The property you’re now sitting on was taken in large part through theft, outright by settlers and through the US government ignoring contracts at its convenience, and through murder and war on the American Indians. Surely the US is not unique in this. Also, there are few parts of the world that have not even relatively recently seen displacement (and destruction) of people through war. And everywhere governments to some degree are continuously pushing people around through eminent domain, through taxation, etc. You are appealing to moral intuitions about property that don’t hold up to history.

    “So, de facto, this is a question of property not government.”
    Sure. So, if I want someone who happens to live in another country to come work on my land with my capital, why should anyone be able to interfere with that?

    Your “what ifs” about collectivist immigrants coming in seem incoherent to me because they themselves represent an argument for restricting individual freedom for the common good.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: