This Land Is My Land, It Is Not Your Land

I have a different question for Tim, which I’ll put plainly. Presumably, he would object if squatters parked themselves in his yard and began to assemble shacks in which to dwell. He would presumably object even if (a) he was not using his yard for any kind of productive activity; (b) the squatters, by contrast, planned to raise chickens and do piece-rate needlework in their shacks; and © it could be demonstrated that the presence of the squatters improved their living conditions enormously relative to how they would be living back in, say, Lagos, and that their productive labor contributed to an overall drop in prices that benefitted the American economy as a whole.

He would object because the squatters have parked themselves in his yard. It wouldn’t matter to him that their free decision to live and work in his yard increased aggregate global growth or saved them from a life of poverty. These positive externalities to their free decision would matter so little to him that he would feel justified in driving them off by force - more, he would feel justified in expecting the state to drive them off for him.

So my question is: why should the state be expected to use its monopoly of force defending his private boundary, but to refrain from doing so to defend its own?

Tim’s piece has the appearance of an argument about freedom: if the government does not intervene, then individuals can go where they please, live where they please, work where they please; and, conversely if the government does intervene, then individuals who are decent, hard-working and productive get forcibly ejected and returned to places where, in the worst cases, they will suffer terribly.

But it’s not really an argument about freedom. It’s an argument about equality. Because every claim that Tim makes about the injustice of denying a free right of entry into a given jurisdiction can be made about the injustice of denying a free right to the use of private or communal property.

One standard epithet hurled at immigration restrictionists is that they want a "fortress Europe (or America)" or that they want to live in a "gated community." Well, there are people who want to live in gated communities. Tim’s argument is that such a decision is immoral: nobody may rightly choose, freely, to live in a community of freely chosen associates, and to keep others out by force, because my freedom to exclude you impinges on your freedom to join me. Now, as a matter of fact, we don’t believe in an unfettered right to freely associate. We don’t allow communities to exclude people on the basis of race, for example. But that restriction is an impingement on our freedom to associate - an impingement the majority accepts for moral and prudential reasons, but an impingement nonetheless. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is not a libertarian piece of legislation. And we do allow communities to exclude people on all sorts of other criteria; this country is planted thick with zoning ordinances designed by communities to keep those communities from changing into places the owners don’t want to live in. The inescapable fact is that freedom of association is in tension with some of the other freedoms libertarians prize highly. And the nation is, among other things, a very big association.

I don’t mean to belittle his position. There is a moral logic to it. It’s just not a libertarian logic; it’s an egalitarian logic. American citizenship plainly has value, and the decision of who merits citizenship is plainly a decision for the citizenry to make, or there is no such thing as citizenship. Tim is saying that, morally, we should price the value of joining the American citizenry below market – indeed, should give it away for free – because that will help lots of people.

(As an aside, it’s worth spelling out one historical reason why this obvious objection doesn’t win the day. The fact is that America was settled by Europeans who took the land by force, and took it under the banner (in part) of an ideology that privileged productive use of the land. It’s right there in Locke: somebody who takes unused land and improves it has a moral claim to that land that potentially supercedes older claims that have not been maintained by productive use. Tim’s argument turns that logic back against the current citizenry: if 150 million Bangladeshis could improve global productivity by coming to America, then they have a claim to citizenship, in his book.)