Open borders and the Welfare State

Today I write an article about classical liberal theory and compleatly free immigration in Svensk Tidskrift, a journal tied closely to the center-right Swedish Moderate Party. The text is in Swedish. It is pushing the boundaries of what is permitted to say in Sweden and may get me into trouble, but I made the choice to take the hit, hoping for intellectual honesty from those who disagree with me.

My hope is that as someone who grew up for ten years on welfare, who lived close to two years in refuge camps and the rest of his childhood in so called “Millionprogram” housing, in foster-care and “ungdomshem”, who in school was physically assaulted several times by skinheads and Neo-Nazis, who had Neo-Nazis come to his home and yell “sieg heil” in the buzzer, who lived in 99% immigrant Ronna while he commuted an hour and a half each way to Handelshögskolan, I can get away with a tiny bit more on this contentious topic than a blond bourgeoisie Swede would.

I argue against open borders in a modern welfare state based on classical liberal principles.

First I demonstrate that unskilled immigration to current welfare states has led to sizable transfers of wealth from and reduction of freedom of the current owners of the state. These owners are of course citizens, needless to say regardless of race or ethnic origin.

Libertarian theory which is used to derive the principle of completely free immigration tends to make the unrealistic assumption that the welfare state and voting rights over the properties of others do not exist. Libertarians sometimes acknowledge the problem of combining a welfare state and open borders, but proceed to declare that they support open borders and no welfare state.

I argue that this is a logically flawed proposal.

Immigrants from third world countries tend to earn less than for example native Swedes or Americans, and furthermore tend to come from countries with no tradition of classical liberalism.

Hence 77% of non-European immigrants voted for the left in the 2010 election, a year when only 43% of native born Swedes voted for the combined left. In the United States whereas only 35% of whites prefer raising taxes and expanding government, the figure is 65% for Hispanic immigrants and 66% for second-generation Hispanics.

These patterns are completely rational, immigrants earn less and unlike Anglo-Saxons have no traditional preference for limited government.

The way immigrants vote and their political preferences cannot simply be assumed away in any serious ideological discussion.

Open borders in a affluent welfare state leads to unskilled immigrants soon becoming the majority of the voters. Since unskilled immigrants in the reality we live in generally do not support libertarian style limited government, the Sanandaji Principe states that you can only pick 2 out of 3 of:

1. Limited Government
2. Open Borders
3. Democracy

Even if Swedes and Americans abolished the welfare state tomorrow (something which I would oppose), with open borders the welfare state would reemerge as soon as the immigrants became the majority of voters. Ignoring the voting patterns of immigrants when you propose abolishing the welfare state and fully opening borders is subsequently a violation of the Lucas Critique. Open borders and an abolished welfare state can only be combined in a nightmare society where immigrants and their children are never allowed to vote.

For me the choice is simple, I prefer Democracy to Open Borders. If a country decides to take immigrants, they have to be included 100% with full rights, and not permanent second-class citizens.

The three most important Libertarian intellectuals of the last century who thought deeply about the subject all concluded that open borders in our societies with welfare states was a bad idea.

Friedrich Hayek thus wrote ”a recognition of collective ownership of the resources of the country which is not compatible with the idea of an open society”. The minimum standard of living that Hayek believed the state should guarantee even its poorest citizens ”necessitates certain limitations on the free movement across frontiers”.

Milton Friedman also recognized this, and stated ”You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state”.

Late in his life, Robert Nozick become skeptical about open borders, saying (in an interview with a libertarian Swedish journal no less!): ”Why do we not have completely free immigration everywhere? One reason is the welfare state”.

Swedish Libertarians such as Johan Norberg, Mattias Svenssson and Henrik Alexandersson by contrast support open borders combined with keeping or if need be expanding the welfare state. Thus Norberg, Svensson, Alexandersson and others in the “Frihetsfronten” who for decades fought to abolish tax financed health care and schools for Swedish citizens supported the recent decision to grant the same services to illegal immigrants. Mattias Svensson’s comment on this historic expansion of the Swedish welfare state in scope to potentially the entire planet was “This is what solidarity is about”. Johan Norberg similarly gave the decision a thumbs up in his column.

Remember, a simple libertarian solution would have been to allow illegal immigrants to pay for health care and education services out of their own pockets, just as Frihetsfronten wants Swedes to do. But being pro-immigration has become so important for Swedish libertarian identity that they are cheering expanded welfare state services for illegal immigrants. If you wanted to be unkind, a suitable name for this novel ideology would be Libertarian-Socialism.

Limits on free migration is not just an arbitrary state construct, it is necessary to uphold ownership rights imposed by owners (citizens), just as a fence is necessary to uphold private property. Organizations such as condo-associations who produce social externalities for their members and make decisions about collective matters always limit membership. Since we have chosen to organize ourselves in a nation-state and grant some rights over our lives to fellow citizens, we need to restrict who has coercive power over us. Borders are limits on expanding the necessary-evil which coercion through voting represents.

Voting rights of citizens over common decisions and collective assets should therefore best be viewed in this context as form of property. If you accept this premise, abolishing borders in a modern welfare state is a form of socialism, just as abolishing fences would be. Note that both private property and citizenship rights evolved gradually through the spontaneous order and were not “created”, that both serve to increase societal efficiency, and that both are common to all modern societies. Libertarians should remember that that private property also limits free mobility. This theoretical view confirms with reality, where the consequence of unskilled immigration to the welfare states such as Sweden have been an expansion of government and a reduction of the freedom of the existing citizens.

Classical Liberals should take after Hayek, Friedman and Nozick and think deeply about these issues. The discussion should take real world empirical patterns into account and use a richer model than the simple neoclassical model with assumes away voting, the public sector and social externalities. We have to first have a theory of what a nation-state is, what citizenship is and what voting rights are, before we propose to abolishing these rights through open borders.


I had to cut parts of my article [In Swedish] due to space limitations, so I will put it here:

“Ett något tyngre vägande argument än det ekonomiska är att invandring gjort Sverige kulturellt rikare. Men även det påståendet brister. Visst har Sverige berikats enormt mycket av globaliseringen. Men dessa extremt viktiga influenser utifrån har till överväldigande del inte kommit genom invandring, utan genom utbyte av information (och i mindre utsträckning genom handel). Steve Jobs och Jerry Seinfeld var inte tvungna att flytta till Sverige för att vi skulle kunna påverkas av dem.

Det land som Sverige utan jämförelse har tagit mest kulturella influenser ifrån under efterkrigstiden är USA, ett land som vi har få invandrare från i Sverige. I jämförelse är de kulturella influenserna på vanliga svenskar från t.ex. Afghanistan, Irak, och Somalia i det närmaste noll. Sverige har visserligen fått matinfluenser från Mellanöstern, men vi har också fått ännu större matinfluenser från Frankrike, Japan, Thailand och Indien, utan att ha någon omfattande invandring från dessa länder.

Med tanke på att matkultur består av information och råvaror är detta egentligen självklart, på grund av frihandel och informationsrevolutionen behövs det ytterst få individer för att sprida matkultur. Italiensk och fransk matkultur har i och med globaliseringen erövrat hela världen, utan någon storskalig utvandring. Johan Norberg påstod nyligen att Sverige inte skulle ha haft olivolja eller espresso i affärerna utan invandringen. Detta är fel – trots allt finns olivolja i t.ex. finska mataffärer, trots att Finland haft avsevärt lägre invandring än Sverige.

Om invandring inte stärker Sveriges ekonomi, är det åtminstone inte det bästa sättet att hjälpa andra till ett bättre liv? Svaret är tyvärr troligtvis nej. För det första är tredje världens problem för stora för att lösas av invandring, invandringen till väst är en droppe i havet satt i relation till totalbefolkningen i dessa länder. Inget land har i modern tid blivit rikt på att dess invånare flyttat utomlands. Kina och Indien började i slutändan inte utvecklas genom extern utvandring, utan genom interna liberala reformer (precis som i Sverige på 1800-talet, all romantik kring utvandringen till trots). Inte heller är invandring effektiv biståndspolitik. Sverige skulle kunna rädda miljoner liv med mat och medicin för de stora summor invandringen kostar.

Det går inte att täcka in alla aspekter av ett så brett fenomen som invandring i en artikel. Jag är kanske något mer ensidigt pessimistisk än jag borde vara. Å andra sidan är det ytterst sällan sakliga negativa argument lyfts fram på ett samlat sätt. Invandringspolitikens inverkan på samhället börjar nu bli så pass påtaglig att det inte längre räcker med att konstatera att ”som liberal är jag givetvis för en generös invandrings- och flyktingpolitik”.”

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