Today, we are resuming our review of the new Routledge Handbook of Libertarianism. The four essays we have reviewed thus far have all focused on various abstract aspects of libertarian theory. By contrast, the next few papers we will review can be categorized as essays about public policy, i.e. “applied libertarianism” as opposed to “theoretical libertarianism.” In particular, let’s begin with Javier Hidalgo’s essay “The libertarian case for open borders.” (Dr Hidalgo, a professor at the University of Richmond, studies the ethics and political philosophy of immigration.) Prof Hidalgo points out a major contradiction in applied libertarian thought: many free-market libertarians are committed to the free movement of goods but are simultaneously opposed to the free movement of peoples. For his part, Dr Hidalgo argues that most restrictions on immigration are not justified. Why not? Because immigration restrictions prohibit many mutually beneficial economic and personal exchanges between people of different nationalities. Moreover, Hidalgo anticipates and persuasively refutes many pro-libertarian objections to free and open immigration.
To his credit, Prof Hidalgo is that rare breed: an intellectually-honest libertarian, for he candidly and openly acknowledges that libertarians are perfectly willing to restrict individual liberty when such restrictions are justified, and he offers this dramatic example: “most libertarians would deny that you have a right to own, say, a tank or nuclear warhead.” Therein lies the main weakness with Dr Hidalgo’s argument in favor of open borders: where do we draw the line between “justified” restrictions of individual liberty, such as laws that prohibit me from owning an F-16 fighter jet, and “unjustified” restrictions of liberty, such as laws that prohibit me from hiring an illegal alien? Yet, as we mentioned in a previous post (regarding assault rifles), reasonable men and reasonable women might measure the potential harms and prospective benefits of open borders differently. For our part, we would emphasize two points. First off, we already have a limited form of “open borders”; for the most part, people inside the USA are free to travel and work in any U.S. State and to ship most goods across State lines, so the real question is: should our domestic “open border” policy be expanded to include other countries, like our neighbors Mexico and Canada? Secondly, any transnational open-border policy should ideally be a reciprocal one: other countries must agree to open their borders too.