Brian Caplan is Wrong on Immigration – Like Most Libertarians

[T]here is nothing new about that though. (And Walter Block is wrong well.) Although I agree with Caplan’s work on education and voting, his position on immigration is ideological, not empirical or rational, and it is decidedly not ethically sound.

The only test of any ethical statement is whether all transfers caused by any act, are voluntary transfers – including involuntary transfers of goods, actions and opportunity, and including both direct involuntary transfers by externality, asymmetry of knowledge, fraud, theft or violence (in that order), and including reverse involuntary transfers caused by impediment, free-riding, rent seeking, or privatization (in that order). There is no other test of any ethical statement. There isn’t. Period.

Libertarian ‘self ownership’ is not an ethical statement. It is an epistemic statement, or it is a demand, or it is an appeal, but it is not an ethical statement. If any statement claims to be moral, or ethical, while at the same time, providing an excuse to conduct involuntary transfer via externality or asymmetry of knowledge, it is simply a RUSE – an act of fraud. (If you are even an amateur libertarian philosopher, then you are welcome to attempt to circumvent that argument. But you won’t be able to.)

In fact, “competition” itself, as we use the term, is the normative sanction of external involuntary transfer by an artificial, counter-intuitive, set of rules we call the market, consisting of voluntary transfer of goods and services, by fully informed consensual exchange, and insured as fully informed and consensual by warranty, at the cost of opportunity and investment to other producers of similar goods, in an effort to coerce producers to innovate in their use of resources, to produce goods for all at lower price, or higher quality, in an effort to produce goods and services at the lowest cost and highest quality for all consumers participating in that set of normative rules that comprise that market, and which we in turn call ‘a society’.


[T]he ‘libertarian’ free trade in labor would be true if and only if there were no external costs to that labor. In other words, immigration is incompatible with redistribution. And distribution is warranted by conformity to norms. Where norms represent property rights. And therefore immigration is an act of theft by capitalists and immigrants from the middle and working classes.

Certainly you would not argue that free trade in nuclear materials and nuclear waste would be a ‘good thing’? Or free trade in communicable diseases? Nuclear energy produces a temporal good, but has many negative external and largely inter-temporal consequences for the environment. Communicable diseases help provide incentives for creating medical treatments, and help us maintain relative immunity from the evolution of bacteria and viruses. But, according to Caplan and Libertarians, these externalities are not part of any equation we use to measure these things?

    a) the economic hazard created by Perverse Incentives – attracting those with the lowest ability, who are productive for the shortest time, while carrying their benefits at the highest long term cost.
    b) loss labor, knowledge, capital, research, technology, to other groups.
    c) The demonstrated preference of groups to seek access to political power in democratic systems in order to advance member’s social status by legal rather than market means.

Institutionally, Caplan would have to prove that the waves of Catholic and Jewish immigrants and their attacks on the constitution, rather than adapting culturally by market forces, have had no long term negative impact on the society – despite without those attacks we can empirically demonstrate that we would not have entered the ‘great society’ problem. Or that immigration of the third world has not further exacerbated these redistributive trends, away from the intertemporal savings and lending model of society which constrains risk and fragility, to the intertemporal redistribution model that encourages risk and fragility.

We can DEMONSTRATE EMPIRICALLY that waves of immigrants have provided short term economic benefit for long term erosion of the property rights, homogeneity of interest, and high trust society that perpetuates those property rights as norms.

We can DEMONSTRATE EMPIRICALLY that the wave of german immigrants both after the 1870’s economic crash in Europe and after the world wars, had a net positive effect on the institutions and economy of the united states, by tracing their technological contributions.

Ethically, caplan would have to DEMONSTRATE that immigration enforces no uncompensated involuntary transfers. I can certainly demonstrate that open immigration forces involuntary transfers – ie: is theft. the only means of avoiding that process, is to allow individuals to immigrate under sponsorship, and to pay for insurance against the immigrant and his descendants from becoming the recipient of involuntary transfers from others. There is no other way to achieve it.

This suite of errors is caused by the misperception that formal institutions rather than informal institutions, are the source of the high trust society, universalism, and individual property rights. However, we can easily demonstrate that just the opposite is true: a society without these norms, and where those norms are enforced by education and formal institutions, most specifically, the rule of law, and where political action is prohibited, forcing all competition into the market.

We all bring our heritage with us. Our norms. Our values. Our metaphysics. They are not chosen rationally. They are inherited as habits from our families. Is it any wonder, any coincidence that Rothbard, Block and Caplan arem Jewish (diasporic perpetual immigrants), Hans Hoppe is German (landed tribal nationalists), and I’m an English-American (institutional imperialist)? It isn’t a mystery. We cannot escape our heritages, because within those cultural norms, assumptions and values, and even possibly, to some degree, in our genes, we hold assumptions about the natural order of man.

The only way to judge those Norms, values, and metaphysics is to judge the civilizations that they produced where they were employed. We know that third world, catholic, and jewish institutions all failed to produce the universal high trust society. We know that we cannot create protestant germanic institutions outside of protestant germanic countries. Because those countries are not filled with protestant germanic norms. And those norms, and the metaphysical value judgements that they reproduce and reinforce,

It was a very different thing a century ago, when our ancestors warned us about this future ‘suicide of the west’. There wasn’t any evidence that they would be right. Now that we have the evidence, the argument is not hypothetical.

Our high trust society and the high trust economy will end, along with the political influence of its practitioners. Just like every other aristocratic european political system has ended. Because the high trust society, the nuclear family, universalism of the extended family, and rule of law are unnatural to man – man who seeks rents and involuntary transfers wherever he can find them in an perpetual effort to reduce the effort he must expend in order to gain or maintain a sufficient level of stimulation that we call ‘experiences’.

So, what is the economic cost of that consequence? What was the cost of creating the high trust society? What was the opportunity cost of creating it?

If the high trust society it is a one time event, impossible to evolve again, because of the impossibility of concordant circumstances, then the economic cost is infinite.

I hope that gets my point across. The cost is infinite.

And this difference, like all differences, is a difference in time preference and ‘population preference’ (as I have explained elsewhere.) But these preferences are not just tastes. They have meaning. That meaning ALWAYS favors a given population over a long time frame. Period.

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