Entrepreneurial Evil

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July 18, 2007

Libertarians are divided on the issue of immigration. On the one hand, there is the notion that anyone should be free to present themselves upon property to which they have been invited. That notion is held by all the leading libertarian thinkers. It is a simple fact, however, that there is no purely private immigration. Frequently, immigrants to this country trespass on private property to enter, then utilize various public (government) services such as welfare, public schools, and free medical care once they have settled into an area. This use of government is of particular concern to many libertarians. Some say the United States government must stem the tide of illegal immigration before any meaningful rollback of taxes and welfare can take place. While I do understand and to some degree sympathize with this argument, the commonly proposed state solutions to the immigration problems are fraught with problems of their own.

It is my firm conviction that, whenever there exists a problem which is both persistent and widespread, the hand of the state may be found, either actively causing the problem, or preventing its speedy resolution. So when we see a problem, it is crucial to not only treat the symptoms; those things which are most apparent, but also to fix the underlying problem. If I have intestinal pain and the diagnosis is stomach cancer, the solution is not morphine. It is important to try to actually get rid of the cancer. As Thoreau wrote, "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root." I would add that there are many more than that who are wholly uninterested in horticulture, and a not insignificant number liberally spreading fertilizer. The most common problems I have seen ascribed to illegal immigration are cultural changes as immigrants arrive, higher crime rates among illegal immigrants, and welfare benefits to immigrants causing an increase in taxes among citizens. These things are all symptoms of government interference with free association among people and government interference in the free market. Through anti-discrimination laws which cover legitimately owned (private) property, a person who wishes to exclude a particular person or group of people is not allowed to do so. This is simply a violation of the rights of the property owner. If, for example, the owner of store A wishes to exclude all blacks, or whites, or Hispanics, he should be free to do so. By the same token, the owner of store B should be free to welcome those same people with open arms. In this way, people will tend to go to those places in which they feel welcome, and will tend to avoid those places in which they do not. So if a person wishes to, say, purchase a tract of land, establish a community with certain cultural/religious values and exclude those who do not fit in, that person should absolutely be free to do so, and those who rent from him, or purchase the land after being screened by him and agree to the stipulations he has set forth should be bound by that agreement. Such arrangements do not interfere in any way with the right of those outside of that private property to set whatever rules they desire, upon their own property. Private property is also the solution to the problem of crime. If the streets and roads are private, the various owners can choose to exclude whomever they wish from their property, just as I can exclude whomever I wish from my home. Few private property owners would intentionally invite criminals to take up residence upon their property. If I own the street, there is no obligation for me to allow strangers to congregate upon it. If a group of people own the street, there is no obligation for them to allow such activities either.

Let us consider some of the proposals for immigration reform. At the one extreme, we have those who wish to have the military secure the border, evict all illegal immigrants from the country, and heavily penalize businesses that fail to verify employee work eligibility. On the other hand, we have those who would grant amnesty to all illegal immigrants and make the process for becoming a citizen of the United States easier. Either of these approaches will cause problems, given current laws. Some critics of amnesty plans claim that amnesty will bring about more illegal immigration, and on that point, they are correct. Those in favor of it often cite the impossibility of securing a very long border with Mexico , along with the impracticality of rounding up all the current illegal immigrants who are already here. These are also reasonable analyses. Many of those alarmed by the influx of illegal immigrants claim that simply rounding up a significant portion of them will have a noticeable impact on the numbers who attempt to enter the country in the future. This may well be true, but any genuine immigration crackdown will cause far more problems than it will solve.

Within the apparatus of the state, there are many types of people. Far too many libertarians think the state is "just a bunch of incompetent bureaucrats." While this is largely true, it is not entirely true. There are different sorts of people working government jobs. I have met some people who are very competent at specific tasks. These are the technicians. They usually would be successful at private sector jobs. Sometimes a lack of people skills or simple inertia keeps them in government jobs. Others I have met are the ones we most identify as government workers. The people who are basically taking up space and following the rules to the minimum. These are the inefficient types. There are also people within government who are truly incompetent, and their days are spent essentially avoiding being fired so that they can hold on to their jobs long enough to draw a pension. I have encountered many of these sorts of people, and they make all of our lives miserable with their inability to perform meaningful work.

The fact that the vast majority of government workers fall into these three categories causes many of us to forget what government is really all about. The state is an entity which engages in what I call entrepreneurial evil. Those of us who enjoy the fruits of freedom and the bounty brought forth by the market economy often praise people's abilities to spot opportunities and exploit them. If there is a need or want expressed by people, someone steps forth to provide it, benefiting both the entrepreneur and the consumer. There is an analogy to this in government. Dotted among the throng who work for governments at various levels are people with something akin to an entrepreneurial spirit. These captains of sin-dustry can be fairly unnoticeable until the conditions become ripe for some hitherto less useful skill or desire to be made more useful. For example, the anti-communist fervor of post-WWII America helped make war by executive fiat the norm rather than an aberration. The "police action" known as the Korean War would hardly have been possible in 1925.

Entrepreneurs are opportunists. They see people in need of something, and take risks to offer them goods and services for a profit. It's a win-win situation. The state also employs its opportunists. They wait for legal openings to expand their own power and influence, and consequently the power and influence of the state. It seems apparent to me that the legal and social climate which would allow for a serious illegal immigration crackdown would also be one which would allow for various other things, such as raids on businesses suspected of employing such immigrants, a national ID system to effectively exclude illegal immigrants from employment and public services, and random traffic stops in areas suspected of being havens for illegal immigrants. These areas need not be limited to those areas near the border with Mexico . There are many areas around the country, particularly those areas which require large amounts of unskilled labor, which would likely be targeted.

A serious immigration crackdown would likely require nothing less than the intrusion of the federal government into every private transaction involving housing, employment or licensing. Eventually, of course, as companies move jobs outside of the US to less regulated areas, the economy would sour, and this country would no longer appeal to immigrants. For those supporting a war on immigration, this would be a Pyrrhic victory indeed. To return to my earlier comparison to cancer, the problems associated with immigration are but symptoms caused by the cancer known as the state.

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