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Number 1,008, February 17, 2019

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A Libertarian Wall
by Paul Bonneau

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Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

Spending time in the libertarian group on, the question seems to come up a lot, whether a border wall could be libertarian—or conversely, whether libertarianism requires open borders. I have some speculations about that, and I’d like to examine them here. I am leaving aside the question of whether or not open borders per se are a good or a bad thing. I merely want to ask, does libertarianism demand one thing or the other, concerning borders?

Let’s imagine there are 3 properties strung along the US side of the southern border, owned by Alice, Bob and Charles respectively, who are all libertarians. Can they remain faithful to the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP) while stopping the “invasion” (an admittedly pejorative term)?

Yes, to an extent. Each can certainly stop the “invaders” from coming on their own land, and they can join in a voluntary association to do the same thing collectively (call it the “Invasion Prevention League”). Private property has borders too, and this fact can be used. Of course this voluntary association can be extended along the US border as long as the later-joining property owners agree.

But what if Bob is a fan of open borders, and invites the invaders onto his property?

Just to the north of Alice, Bob and Charles’ properties are (say) 3 more, owned by Doug, Edward and Francis. These three are also members of the Invasion Prevention League. So whatever leakage happens onto Bob’s property, due to his open-border stance, is still stopped.

As a practical matter, one can quickly see that this strategy probably won’t work unless a high percentage of land owners in the area are members of the League; but since these are so directly experiencing the bad effects of the “invasion”, this is probably doable. Ranchers tend to be pretty conservative in any case. If a city right on the border adds difficulty to this picture, the League ranchers just to the north of the city can still hold the line. So far, the NAP is intact. All those property owners are still libertarian, if they want to be.

But what happens if, behind Bob’s property, are not adjacent parcels of private land, but a government road?

Then everything falls apart. Government always screws things up, doesn’t it? A completely free society can have NAP-compliant borders, but not one run by government.

Of course, not all roads are federal highways. Most along the border are probably gravel roads owned by the counties. And the ruling class in counties are susceptible to social pressure and subject to elections. It’s harder to be a tyrant in a little town, where the separation between peons and rulers is non-existent.

And what about Bob? Social pressure can be brought directly to bear on him, as well as offers to buy his land or at least an easement on it. And money to do so can be found among the volunteers all over the country who prefer not to be “invaded”. NAP is still intact.

Maybe not all the holes may be plugged those ways; however it’s not hard to see that whatever border control agents are out there, will certainly concentrate their efforts on these holes. Such agents certainly are not NAP-compliant; but that is not the fault of those libertarians in the Invasion Prevention League.

Oh, also, no border barrier works 100% of the time, not even (or especially) one run by government.

Now, one might quibble about the use of non NAP-compliant agents to attain the ultimate end of border control, but let’s not forget that the problem exists in the first place because of the web of non NAP-compliant roads. I’d be happy to get all government control out of this equation.

As to the social pressure mentioned earlier, we should realize that not all people using it will be libertarians. The pressure may get pretty intense. Again, it’s not the fault of those libertarians in the Invasion Prevention League.

There is an additional question about whether the Bobs of the borderlands are initiating force or not, by enabling “invasion”. I’ll leave that question to somebody else; it’s outside the bounds of this article. Personally I think the notion of initiation of force is not always a very clear-cut thing…

Of course, the other tactic that is pretty obvious, is to eliminate all welfare—which is something that should be done in any case, and is completely NAP-compliant.

So, I think the bottom line here is that libertarianism does not mandate open borders. One does not need to throw out one’s libertarian beliefs in order to advocate at least some forms of border controls; but it does matter what forms one advocates.

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