Originally published by the Future of Freedom Foundation here .
Let me begin by making a very simple, direct point: There is one — and only one — solution to the so-called immigration crisis: freedom and free markets. Every other measure, including the recently enacted immigration law in Arizona, will accomplish nothing more than continue the “crisis” and actually exacerbate it.
After all, how many times have we been here during the past several decades? How many so-called immigration crises have we encountered, followed by countless measures that would supposedly resolve the crisis, only to encounter a new immigration crisis a few years after immigration “reform”? How many times have we been told that if we just adopt one more measure — laws against transporting, laws against harboring, laws against employing, highway checkpoints, warrantless searches of private ranches and farms along the border, raids on businesses, amnesty, a border fence, and all the rest — the immigration “crisis” would finally be resolved.
It has never happened, and it will never happen until Americans adopt the only measure that will finally resolve the immigration “crisis” — freedom and free markets.
Permit me to explain why.
Immigration controls are simply a form of socialist central planning and economic intervention. What do we know, from both theory and experience, about socialist central planning and economic interventionism? We know that they don’t work, that they’re inherently incapable of working, and that they inevitably produce market distortions and perversions.
That’s what has happened in the area of immigration. For decades the federal government has served as an immigration central-planning authority. The central planner determines how many immigrants will be permitted to come in from any particular country, and it decides the types of immigrants it wants on the basis of such factors as age, education, language, and skills.
That’s on the supply side of the equation. The federal central-planning authority also looks at the demand side. The planner determines the types of immigrants that are needed in the United States and then factors those considerations into its allocation.
Do you see the problem? It’s the problem that besieged the Soviet Union, which relied on central planning for the production of most goods and services almost as long as the United States has relied on central planning in the area of immigration. Yet, we all know what central planning in the Soviet Union produced — planned chaos, in the form of shortages, over-supplies, and other perversions and distortions.
The reason for that planned chaos was explained a long time ago by libertarian Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek. Hayek pointed out that the central planner, no matter how brilliant, can never possess the requisite knowledge and expertise to plan and direct a complex market activity. One of the primary reasons for that inability is that market conditions, which turn on ever-changing subjective valuations of people, are changing constantly, and they’re different in every particular locale across the land.
In the marketplace, circumstances are changing every minute. In the real world, demand is never constant, not even for labor. For example, it depends on what area of the country one is considering. It depends on what the particular circumstances are. Everything is in flux at any given time.
How is a central planner supposed to come up with a plan for this? He can’t, because the minute he comes up with a plan, it’s outmoded. The minute the planner allocates workers to one part of the country because workers are needed there, another part of the country begins experiencing a greater scarcity of workers. The planner cannot possibly keep up with ever-changing conditions in life.
The beauty of a free market is that it accommodates instantaneous changes in people’s valuations. If demand for something goes up, suppliers rush to increase supply. If demand goes down, suppliers decrease production. And it all happens without a central planner. The phenomenon of the market was described by Hayek as the result of human action, not of human design.
What is it that guides people in making their decisions in a free market? The price system, a fascinating market phenomenon that we all take for granted. How do ice and workers get allocated to New Orleans when a hurricane hits there? Suppliers see the price of ice soaring, and they rush to meet the demand. Workers see wage rates soaring, and they rush to supply their labor.
No central planner. Just people planning their own lives, in accordance with the price system.
When government intervenes in the marketplace with economic controls, that’s when the trouble starts. That’s when the never-ending series of “crises” begin, along with the never-ending calls for new interventions to fix the never-ending “crises.”
Here’s another aspect to this sad tale, one that explains the role of the American people in all this. When government enacts an economic intervention, many Americans become vested in its success. It’s almost an act of patriotism. When the intervention fails to accomplish what it was supposedly intended to accomplish, people get angry and frustrated and even go into emotional hyperdrive. They then come up with an endless array of reform plans and enforcement measures that they’re convinced will finally make the intervention succeed.
Along come libertarians, who say, “The problem is with interventionism itself. All you have to do is repeal the interventions and let the free market operate, and the crises will disappear.”
That infuriates those people who have become vested in the interventions. “You libertarians are so impractical. Don’t give us your pie-in-the-sky solutions. Show us your plan for making the intervention work.”
A good example of this phenomenon took place when price controls were adopted during the 1970s. The Federal Reserve was debasing the currency, which was reflected by rising prices across the board.
So what did the government do to address the Fed’s inflationary policies? No, it did not stop the Fed’s monetary intervention. Instead, it adopted a system of price controls, an intervention that placed criminal penalties on suppliers who illegally raised their prices.
Almost immediately there were shortages, including shortages of gasoline, reflected by long lines of automobiles at service stations. There were also numerous cases of suppliers violating the price controls. Countless Americans became snitches, reporting price-control violations to the authorities.
People became vested in the success of the price controls, and they became angry and frustrated when they didn’t work. Going into hyperdrive, they kept trying to come up with some sort of ideal reform — such as rationing cards — that would finally, once and for all, make the intervention work.
But of course, it could never work, which libertarians continually pointed out, much to the chagrin of the reformers. The only thing that would work, libertarians kept emphasizing, is the free market, which meant a total and absolute repeal of the price-control system.
“Repeal? Are you libertarians crazy? Why, that would just lead to chaos!”
But chaos is what the price controls had produced through their attempt to alter the laws of supply and demand. Finally, beaten down by the failure of the intervention, federal officials did what libertarians had been advocating — they repealed price controls.
What was fascinating is how quickly things turned back to normal, once the laws of supply and demand were free to operate. Sure, the Fed was still manipulating the money supply but at least the price system could accommodate the supply of good and the demand for them, and the supply of money and the demand for it.
What was even more fascinating is how the anger and frustration that the controls had produced among the citizenry dissipated so rapidly. Once the program was repealed, people no longer had a vested interest in seeing it succeed.
It was the same with respect to Prohibition. People got angry and frustrated when that intervention failed to eradicate alcohol from society, and they became vested in coming up with reforms to make the program succeed. Finally, Prohibition was repealed, and things returned to normal.
It’s the same with the drug war. For decades, angry and frustrated Americans have come up with an infinite variety of drug-war reforms. Nothing has worked, and nothing will ever work because, again, the government cannot repeal the laws of supply and demand. More and more Americans are finally seeing that we libertarians have been correct from the beginning — the only solution to the drug war is repeal of drug laws.
It’s no different with immigration. The only thing that is going to work is freedom and free markets, which means opening the borders to the free flow of people, goods, and services.
After all, look at the United States, the largest free-trade and free-movement zone in history. People are free to cross borders of the different states. No border patrol. No customs. No interstate checkpoints. No passports. No papers. It works the same way when people cross from county to county.
It didn’t have to be that way. The Framers could have said, “Each state shall have the sovereign prerogative of controlling its borders from the people of other states.” Thank goodness they didn’t do that, because if they had, there is no doubt that many a state government would today be exercising that power, to protect its state from competing workers and producers, welfare seekers, terrorists, drug dealers, and so forth.
The same principle of free trade and free movements of people that characterize the domestic United States is what should be adopted for international borders as well: people freely crossing back and forth, visiting, touring, buying, selling, investing, opening businesses, working, and living their lives as easily as people do domestically.
Think about it this way: Suppose millions of foreign tourists “invaded” America this summer. Would anyone care? When was the last time you asked someone you dealt with to prove to you that he was an American citizen? My bet is: never. The only reason that people care about that issue is that they’ve become vested in making immigration controls work. In a totally free market, no one would care who was a citizen and who wasn’t, except on Election Day, in which case only citizens would be able to vote. In fact, my hunch is that in a free market, most foreigners wouldn’t care much whether they were U.S. citizens or not. After all, if voting was so important to them, they could still vote absentee at home. What matters most to most people is living the life they wish to live, working, and supporting their families.
Millions of people’s entering and leaving the United States during the summer months is no different, in principle, from millions of people’s entering and leaving the United States throughout the year. If the borders were opened to the free flow of goods and services, circumstances would return to normal, as they did after price controls and Prohibition were repealed. People’s lives would no longer be consumed with the immigration “crisis” and they wouldn’t be spending their lives trying to come up with a reform of immigration laws. How many people were consumed with the Prohibition “crisis” or the price-control “crisis” after those interventions were repealed? My hunch: very few.
What about the claim that immigrants just come to America for welfare, not to work? The vast majority of immigrants come to sustain and improve their lives through labor. The reason why the ICE always raids private businesses and not the welfare offices is that it knows that that’s where the immigrants are. Immigrants have always been characterized by their strong work ethic. Moreover, immigrants pay taxes, just as Americans do. Anyway, why infringe on fundamental, God-given gifts, such as freedom of travel, freedom to move, freedom of contract, freedom of association, and freedom to work in order to protect a crooked, corrupt, immoral, and destructive statist system as the socialistic welfare state?
What about the claim that immigrants steal jobs from Americans? While immigrants will impact employment in particular sectors, the vitality and prosperity they bring raise the number and quality of overall jobs in the economy, including better, higher-paying jobs for the people they displace.
What about the claim that borders will disappear? Just because people are free to cross a border back and forth doesn’t mean the border disappears. Just ask the people of Maryland and Virginia, who cross the Potomac back and forth every day. When people cross a border, the border remains and they become subject to the jurisdiction and laws of the area they’re entering.
What about the claim that terrorists will come to America? The only way to put a stop to the threat of terrorism against Americans is to stop the U.S. government from doing any more killing, injuring, or harming of foreigners with its foreign policy of sanctions, embargoes, invasions, occupations, assassinations, kidnappings, torture, rendition, support of foreign regimes, drug laws, and interference with the internal affairs of other countries. A victim of such actions who is determined to wreak vengeance will find a way to enter the United States, even as a tourist. Don’t forget: The 9/11 attackers entered the United States legally. Anyway, we don’t call for immigration controls between the states, notwithstanding the fact that terrorists are free to cross state borders, because we refuse to surrender the freedom to cross domestic borders for the sake of trying to secure safety from terrorists.
What about the claim that not all immigrants assimilate? So what? But why should anyone care if someone assimilates or not? Do we care whether foreign tourists assimilate? What difference does it make if the tourist decides to live here? There are more than a million Americans retired in Mexico, many of whom don’t learn Spanish, continue preparing American food, continue cheering for American sports teams, and maintain their American citizenship. Who cares? Isn’t that what freedom is all about? I say: Leave those Americans alone, and leave foreigners living abroad alone. Anyway, freedom and diversity are America’s culture. That’s why Americans take such pleasure and pride in such places as Chinatown, Little Italy, Greektown, the French Quarter, and, indeed, the entire Southwest United States, which constituted the northern half of Mexico before the United States eagerly absorbed it, along with its Indian-Spanish-Mexican culture, language, people, and customs. We also should bear in mind that immigration and citizenship are two different things. Simply because foreigners, including Americans, are living abroad doesn’t mean that they have to be granted citizenship in the country in which they are residing. Finally, history has shown that by the time the grandchildren of immigrants are born within a country, this third generation is fully absorbed into the culture, with many of them not even being able to speak the language of their grandparents’ country of origin.
A policy of open borders is the only thing that is consistent with the principles of liberty, free markets, morality, love-thy-neighbor as thyself, and economic prosperity. And it’s the only policy that works. In a world mired in socialism and interventionism, Americans should be leading the world out of this morass, and one of the best places to begin is by repealing immigration socialism.
To further explore why a policy of open borders is the only moral and practical solution to America’s immigration woes, I highly recommend the following three books: FFF’s book The Case for Free Trade and Open Immigration, edited by Richard M. Ebeling and Jacob G. Hornberger (libertarians), Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them, by Philippe Legrain (a liberal), and Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders, by Jason Riley (a conservative).
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. Send him email.