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Why Are Some Libertarians So Conservative About Immigration?

Summary:
I frequently hear libertarians object to open borders on the grounds that removing immigration restrictions would immediately and radically disrupt American culture. Aside from the empirical reasons for thinking this objection is unfounded, here’s why I can’t take seriously those libertarians who raise it: you want to allow 7-11 to sell crystal meth, privatize all schools, dismantle the welfare state, and permit sex workers to set up shop next to Cold Stone Creamery! Don’t you think these changes might radically disrupt American culture? So why single out immigration? Now, maybe you are worried about the cultural effects of legalizing drugs and privatizing schools. You might take a Hayekian stance: society is complicated, so change it slowly. Fair enough. But then apply the

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I frequently hear libertarians object to open borders on the grounds that removing immigration restrictions would immediately and radically disrupt American culture.

Aside from the empirical reasons for thinking this objection is unfounded, here’s why I can’t take seriously those libertarians who raise it: you want to allow 7-11 to sell crystal meth, privatize all schools, dismantle the welfare state, and permit sex workers to set up shop next to Cold Stone Creamery! Don’t you think these changes might radically disrupt American culture? So why single out immigration?

Now, maybe you are worried about the cultural effects of legalizing drugs and privatizing schools. You might take a Hayekian stance: society is complicated, so change it slowly. Fair enough. But then apply the same standard to immigration. If you’re a Hayekian incrementalist, then be an incrementalist about drugs and immigration. Let’s gradually scale back restrictions on both.

Alternatively you might be a “liberty or death” type who wants to eliminate the state’s coercive restrictions on peaceful behavior as quickly as possible. Let’s not worry about cultural disruption; let’s worry about getting crystal meth on those convenience store shelves tomorrow. If that’s your approach to political reform, then at least be consistent. Don’t advocate society-shaking reform of the regulation of drugs, schools, business, food, and sex only to get cold feet about immigration.

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Author: Christopher Freiman

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