The Voluntaryist Position on Borders
The Voluntaryist position on borders is one that seeks to focus on the principles of liberty first and foremost by recognizing that the greatest threat to the individual is the forced collective known as the state. As the state is the most dangerous superstition under which wide groups of people are stolen from, murdered, and manipulated, the focus on border action comes from the perspective of deontological ethics and principles in stopping government power. Before use of terms, we want to ensure that communication about the use of the term “open borders” is clear so that there is little room for misinterpretation. The following are 4 pillars to make the conditions clear:
- Open borders does not mean that there are two different sets of rules for citizens versus non-citizens for land acquisition as many closed-borders advocates will claim. Open borders does not grant foreigners the right to homestead government-controlled land or use resources to the exclusion of others in a manner that citizens ordinarily would be barred from via government action.
- Open borders does not seek to create ownership in government-controlled property. Government-controlled property is “unowned” and, to the extent the government is controlling it, open access in a manner that is non-discriminatory for citizens versus non-citizens should be applied.
- Open borders is not a one-way street. Open borders is a policy that applies to all governments, for those making egress or ingress, whether citizen or non-citizen.
- Open borders does not preclude advocacy for other positions, such as ending the welfare state or ending the citizenship process itself.
With these pillars in mind, it will hopefully be easier to see what Voluntaryists advocate for in opening borders and what closed-border advocates are proposing.
Borders are geographic boundaries of political entities or legal jurisdictions, such as governments, sovereign states, federated states, and other subnational entities. A border, as a legal concept, means that the government in power exercises violence carried through paid agents to maintain access across that boundary. The government does not make a distinction between public and private property as to legal boundaries, and will use its powers on purely private property to enforce border policy.
Borders, as originally staked, stemmed from general proscription by the now deceased who claimed land without any material touching or manipulation of the land in a libertarian Lockean tradition. Those who claimed borders did so through ideology (stating ownership on parchment or drawing lines on a map), through trade using stolen funds (taxation) with other sovereign entities, including native tribes, and through the use of brute force in conquest, funded by stolen funds. Because government makes a claim as a forced association based on threats of violence and theft and not physical claims, the control of geographical boundaries are invalid under smallest “l” libertarian, Anarcho-capitalist, Voluntaryist, and anarchist norms.
The advocacy of open borders policy is for government agents to not increase violence by actively threating, killing, shooting, maiming, detaining, or deporting people so long as people are not initiating violence against others and their private property not exclusively claimed by the government. If government does not act in this manner, then the violence of the state will be reduced as to all who wish to trade and travel unobstructed by government threats of violence.
To compare the opposite policy, an advocacy for government to do violence against people otherwise interacting peacefully would be an increase of the violence of the state and, thus, an unprincipled position on its face. This is the nature of closed borders when government sets restrictions for passage, whether strict or lenient.
To counter arguments against open borders, we must look at common criticisms.
CLOSED BORDER ARGUMENT 1: GOVERNMENT CONTROLLED PROPERTY AS PRIVATE PROPERTY
The foundation to most critiques of open borders stems from the idea that government controlled property, especially that which is developed such as roads or hospitals, is not truly unowned, but is effectively in a coercive trust awaiting return to the rightful owners – taxpayers and those affected directly from government violence. This argument relies on a restitution theory that requires 3 assumptions:
- The land controlled by government can be privatized without following traditional property norms: homesteading and voluntary trade with those who have homestead.
- The land controlled by government can be used as restitution without initiating violence against people.
- The land controlled by government can be used as restitution without violating other property claims
To weigh these issues, we must take a look first at the various types of government controlled land.
Government controlled land that is undeveloped without greater claim, such as someone physically removed by eminent domain, should be considered unowned if the principles of homesteading and ownership are taken at face value. It would be no different a situation if government itself disappeared as it would open those areas to homesteading opportunity and, thus, no one should be excluded under the pretense that the land is “owned.”
Government controlled land that is developed is more nuanced. As it was money taken from people to pay for the improvements on the property, it was not the property that was taken, but the value the money represented. Some will try to argue that taxpayers are owed a restitution for this money, and, as money is not available due to debt, the next best solution is to use the land as a means of restitution.
While this sounds like a practical solution on the surface, the net cost of government interference with each person must be accounted for in the equation and, in addition, the notion of restitution versus retribution, to avoid contradiction and hypocrisy.
The most common proposal from the closed-border camp is for U.S. taxpayers to be given a share in land based on the total amount of taxes paid and other financial harms suffered at the government’s behest. This can be a problem when we start to look at the details of the situation.
To elaborate, if a U.S. taxpayer were to be given a share in land, but the native Americans forcibly removed by government via the Indian Removal Act were ignored, it would seem hypocritical that the law of taxation is weighted as violent theft while the actual violence of physical removal and destruction of many natives’ homes is ignored when committed through law.
Taking this policy to a global scale, the U.S. government has toppled the governments of 7 countries (that we know of: Iran, Guatemala, Congo, Dominican Republic, South Vietnam, Brazil, and Chile), destabilized the middle east, causing some 461,000 war-related deaths in Iraq, and dropped 26,171 bombs on 7 countries in 2016 alone.
It is not hard to calculate that people across the globe have been directly affected by U.S. policy in ways far worse than taxes or court-processed eminent domain for local citizens. Because of this, the idea of creating a restitution out of land isn’t just difficult, but ethically impossible, without accounting for all victims of U.S. government law and policy.
In addition, many of those who have paid taxes for infrastructure improvements and other public functions are either dead, a non-person (corporation), or are themselves a foreign visitor or tourist. Because of this, the amount of calculations that would be required to accurately give people a restitution based on a proportionate share is virtually impossible from a longitudinal perspective.
Take it a step further, and note that government benefits are themselves a returning of what is lost if we factor land, a non-monetary thing, as restitution, making it that some persons are not net taxpayers for restorative calculation. According to research by the Cato institute, the Federal Government spends over $1 trillion on benefits annually. Trying to ascribe a 100% accurate value for each person based on benefits consumed compared to taxes paid is a next-to impossible task.
But wait, there’s more! As government legal systems have been used to enrich select groups of people via lobbying cronyism, rent seeking, subsidies, and bailouts, why would it be that those who used the state to benefit themselves with regulatory capture be placed in a higher position than those who tried their best to engage in the market without government? And, additionally, why would those who have been wrongfully oppressed by the government and put into jail or out of business have less of a claim because they were unable to pay more taxes than others who obeyed the government’s rules? As it is made clear with this line of reasoning, the amount of ethical conundrums one is faced with in trying to centrally plan a land restitution is virtually limitless from a human perspective.
Because of these factors, any person who claims that restitution via land is the most ethical outcome or close to the most ethical outcome must have a high tolerance for ignoring the difficulty of these mathematical tax calculations and the difficulty of these ethical dilemmas in the division of the land. The complexity doesn’t simply make it an inconvenience but, potentially, a situation more violative of the property rights of those it seeks to restore through new power controls mimicking government structure in the land disposition.
CLOSED BORDER ARGUMENT 2: PRIVATE MARKET DISPOSITION INSTEAD OF GOVERNMENT
Some have tried to argue that private market disposition can take place in lieu of government control. However, as this is central planning for the ownership in a forced association (shares in land), the idea that there is going to be an ethical and mathematically accurate disposition and control of land based on yet-to-be defined shareholders is problematic. How can anyone justify an organization of control and management when the assets for control have themselves not yet been defined accurately nor have they been ascribed definitively? The incentive for those in control of the organization to portray themselves as being in power and having the majority control is stark. As ambiguous collectivism is the operative feature in a tentative power control, the whole apparatus for private ownership and management falls apart at the point of contest over competing powers. (Funnily enough, it’s a war over who has been more oppressed. Sound familiar?)
As private disposition of land cannot be metered out in a truly ethical and mathematically accurate manner, a solution that relies on collectivism and forced association is one that fails the principled standard and should be rejected outright.
CLOSED BORDER ARGUMENT 3: FOREIGNERS WILL ERODE SCARCE RESOURCES
The argument that foreigners will erode scarce resources is one of pragmatism as it looks to weigh the harms of foreigners using resources instead of state-imposed violence.
Some will try to say that, as welfarism is rampant, open borders is an incentive for people to come to the country that has the most welfare for handouts and increase violence against the taxpayers footing the bill.
While it is true that open borders does not, on its own topic, account for this, there is ample evidence that open borders does not lead to the problems complained of if simple metrics of non-violence are implemented such as cutting welfare and denying new citizenship.
While these policies may seem improbable to carry out in the political climate of today, they have no greater danger than the present socialism through welfare and the present violence of the state, which is neither speculative nor waning. There is no guarantee that the native population will not themselves, even with closed borders, grow the welfare state as has been seen with homogeneous European countries.
Current evidence points to the fact that illegal immigrants already contribute heavily to the workforce and to taxes, not just sales, but personal and property taxes as well to the tune of $11.6 billion. While some may try to argue this is less than the risk of costs for other variables like crime and resources expenditures, it has to come from a “compared to what” analysis. The fact of current, native use of the resources is not slowed nor abated without welfare being cut.
Looking to many of the most developed European States, the welfare spending is between 20-30% of GDP in most countries. The idea that a group of people coming in can make something worse does not, in a pure policy position, undo the need to end the growing welfare due to the native population. It would be immaterial from a principled standpoint.
The principled argument then should not be one of more government intervention, but less. To suggest anything else is to exchange principles for speculative pragmatism.
When one exchanges principles for pragmatism, the message of liberty is tainted. A person who proclaims that government is violence on one hand, then suggests that the government use more violence against human beings not otherwise infringing on property with the other, presents a hypocritical, non-universal stance. This hypocrisy will distort the message of liberty, especially as to foreigners who have seen the horrors of socialism and imperialism, because the principled groundwork is not there for long-term intellectual commitment. In this framework, the argument that greater dangers than government exist that require government to solve, will win out.
CLOSED BORDER ARGUMENT 4: OPEN BORDERS AS 100% SOCIALISM
Open borders is not 100% socialism as there is no requirement for a global amount of users in a forced association in order to qualify as “socialism.” At the point of common ownership based on force, it is socialism. The amount of people in that association does not change the characteristic, it only makes it clearer why scarce resources are best left in actual private control. This is why a country with a population of 500 can still be socialist in-as-much as one with a population of 500 million.
While many libertarians have focused on restitution in the equation of government harms, few have factored in whether retributive justice is something that must be sought at all in terms of satisfying victim claims. The reason why this issue may arise is that some tax victims may free like they did not get justice for the harms done to them either because restitution was inadequate or not present. All citizens of a country experience the threat of government, but not all end up being net taxpayers or being able to be made whole for violence that money and land cannot restore, such as lost time in jail or prison, loss of personal autonomy in physical violence from treatment by police, courts, TSA agents, or just wasted time at the DMV. Others may feel this resentment if they lost a loved one due to U.S. government wars, whether foreign or domestic.
Retributivism could be factored instead of restitution when restitution seems impractical or impossible. Retributivist justice measures are also difficult to meter out without addressing the notion of criminal justice theory in a stateless society and, thus, may be something left to market means down the road. However, to dismiss the retributivist problem and opt only for compensation will end up creating a outcome where those guilty of aggression will be left untouched in a manner that even market mechanisms may not excuse. It is an elephant in the room for those who wish to only consider the weight of restorative justice norms in pragmatic solutions.
COUNTER-COUNTER ARGUMENTS FOR RESTITUTION METHODS
MONEY IS DEBT OR FUTURE THREATS AND SO CANNOT ADEQUATELY PROVIDE RESTITUTION
For fiat money to be understood, one must understand that the fiat money is loaned out as debt to the U.S. government from the Federal Reserve, and the Treasury prints the money and gives it to 12 Federal Reserve banks for loan-making. This system, which is designed as a perpetual debt-based system, does not create wealth based on market measures, but attempts to facilitate movement of the dollar under the pressure of inflation (printing of more paper money).
Because the paper is itself is not subjectively valued much, and government took fiat money from taxpayers primarily, a better means for government to get historically valued money is to trade assets on a gold exchange basis, and, if giving out restitution, to use the gold instead of paper. The government could also accept remaining paper in exchange for gold to liquidate fiat (burn/sell the paper after collection). However, this will be a difficult process to orchestrate and the fairness in restitution may not be viewed as justified when the government’s assets are liquidated people are shocked to see what remains. However, a total loss to U.S. taxpayers should not be considered unethical to the extent that it is a reality of government harms and the product of the government’s unsustainable nature.
As this is another difficult solution to meter out ethically, it may be hard to justify in the same vein as land-based restitution.
COUNTRIES OTHER THAN THE UNITED STATES
Countries other than the United States may have an easier time with restitution depending on the population size and historical harms presented. It may be the case that some countries could manage privatization better due to clear title chains and clear taxation histories. It is unlikely though that anything other than the smallest of counties could effectively distribute government-controlled lands due to the aforementioned conflicts of claim and interest.
While it is unclear what types of solutions are most ethical given the geopolitical climate, a principled approach would be one that seeks to deactivate the compulsory parts of government operation and open government functions back to the market through de-monopolization. Any solution that seeks to curtail government powers, while ensuring that rightfully-acquired private property is respected by government in the process, is paramount.
One such option is the not-for-profit government model. The not-for-profit government model operates on three principles:
- Taxation is the greatest power government has and must be abolished.
- Government cannot be allowed to monopolize its power and must compete with the market.
- Government should not get in the way of private alternatives that can outmode government services.
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