Immigration, Secession, and Taxation

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

1. A frequent argument against secession is: What about the tax money that the rest of the country has invested in the would-be secessionist region for infrastructure, education, security, etc.? A region shouldn’t be allowed to secede until it first pays back the full costs of those investments.

Berlin Wall Now many things could be said in response to this objection: do these investments really outweigh the costs, direct or indirect, that the larger unit has been imposing on the region? to what extent did the region voluntarily solicit these investments? and so on.

But I want to offer a somewhat different response. Suppose this argument is a good one. Then by the same logic it should be justifiable to forbid individuals to leave the country. Let’s say I want to move to Canada, and the U.S. government says, “Not so fast – we paid for part of your education, we’ve protected you from criminals and foreign invaders, and now you can’t leave the country until you first pay back our investment.”

Now some countries have indeed had just such a policy – the Soviet Union, for example. But nowadays hardly anyone, including opponents of secession, is willing to embrace the idea of forbidding emigration. So if a history of tax-funded investment isn’t legitimate grounds for forbidding emigration, why is it grounds for forbidding secession? What’s the difference? Why should the principle of “consent of the governed” apply in one case and not in the other?

If the claim to a return on tax-funded investment doesn’t justify a prohibition on emigration (and I agree that it doesn’t), I don’t see how it can justify a prohibition on secession.

2. A frequent argument against open borders (strikingly similar to the anti-secession argument above, though not necessarily offered by the same people) is: What about the tax-funded benefits, such as welfare and education, that immigrants become eligible to receive? So long as immigrants can draw on these benefits, don’t those who pay the taxes have the right to demand that immigrants be excluded from the country?

Smash the Borders Here too, many things could be said in response to this argument: is the average immigrant really a net tax-recipient rather than a net taxpayer? and so on. But here too, I want to offer a somewhat different response.

Suppose this argument for forbidding entry by those who would probably become net tax-recipients is a good one. Why wouldn’t it be an equally good argument for deporting native-born citizens who are likewise net tax-recipients? Now most proponents of restrictions on immigration don’t favour deporting existing U.S.-born welfare recipients. But again, what’s the difference? How can the right of net taxpayers to defend themselves against net tax-recipients depend on where the net tax-recipients were born?

Just as in the secession case, so here, if tax-based considerations don’t justify compulsory emigration (and I agree that they don’t), I don’t see how they can justify compulsory non-immigration.

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16 Responses to Immigration, Secession, and Taxation

  1. an occasional visitor from Spain May 24, 2007 at 1:08 am #

    “is the average immigrant really a net tax-recipient rather than a net taxpayer?”

    Oh, yeahhh. There was some time it wasn`t clear, but today, speaking from Europe, we can loudly say: YES sir. Look at Denmark, where inmigrants monopolize the 40 percent of social funds and they are just the 9 per cent of the population. Or take a look at Sweden, where they monopolize the 35 per cent and their employment rate is half that of the ethnic swedes. Or take a look at the `banlieus` in France. Even considering the best case, the inmigrants only finance the public system at a ~10 per cent in the short term and in the medium and long range they always become a net taxpayer.

    “Why wouldn’t it be an equally good argument for deporting native-born citizens who are likewise net tax-recipients? ”

    Very simple: cause their country is their PATRIA, from the latin root of `father`. It is their `fatherland`, their `motherland`, the land of their ancestors. You can tell me to help other countries` poor people by subsidies, funds or other means. You can tell me to allow *some inmigrants* to get into my country cause this will revert money to their countries. You can tell me I got the must to MAKE A REVOLUTION or CHANGE THE WORLD to establish another fairer system. But you can`t tell me I have to `thirdworldize` my own birthland, or turn my people a minority in our own country: take a look at our disastrous demographics. This is the land of our ancestors. We have been fighting over it for 3000 years. This is our land and it has to go to our descendants. We spent 800 years freeing our country from Islam and after that, other 350 years of maritime and coastal wars agains it. And it was JUST ONE ENEMY of a wide group of threats. We resisted 200 years to romans… but when we were finally conquered and latinized, we turned into the firmest defensors of Roman Empire, voluntary `cannon fodder`, and gave emperors like Adrianus or Traianus. Russians, spaniards and brits, in this order, were responsibles of Napoleon`s defeat. We fought a total war for six years which reduced our population a 20 per cent and destroyed all industries and public goods. And made 250000~300000 losses to French Imperial Army. Only to be free. Only to remain being WE. The ones we always had been.

    And these are only a few episodes.

    And today our citizenship can be `gifted` like it has no value and a inmigrant can enjoy all what dozens of generations suffered SO MUCH to build just with `sitting here`.

    The 70 or 75 per cent of today spaniards are, like me, sons of industrial workers and grandsons oh poor pleasants or farmers, in better cases. I don`t owe ANYTHING to that invaders, that burglars. And If I owe them something, I`m sure it can`t be all my world.

  2. Mark Laufgraben May 24, 2007 at 8:58 am #

    Occasional Visitor,

    You didn’t fight Rome, Islamic invaders, or Napoleon. Your ancestors may have (although, this is not necessarily so either), but you didn’t. It seems to me, then, that what you are saying is that you deserve credit and special status by virtue of the actions of your ancestors.

    Does this mean that you should likewise be punished for any bad actions taken by your ancestors? Should such punishment be meted out collectively (e.g. Germans today should suffer for the crimes of Germans past) or individually (we should trace back your individual lineage and punish you for crimes individual ancestors undertook)?


  3. Sergio Méndez May 24, 2007 at 12:51 pm #

    Mr occasional visitor from Spain:

    It will be interesting that you backed up your statistics concerning imigrants and their use of welfare resources in European states. I will not say “is not that I don´t believe you…” because, well, I DON¨T BELIEVE YOU. Starting with the fact that, ehem, hardly most people living in the banlieus are “immigrants”, since they are mostly, second generation of immigrants that TURNED to be citizens of the republic. If you don´t seem to gasp even that right, I doubt the rest.

    Concerning your argument about “Patria”, I don´t know if you haven´t noticed this is a libertarian-ANARCHIST blog…we don´t accept the idea of states, or NATION state or PATRIA. So your whole argument presuposses that individuals can be coerced by states (or the Patria, or the Nation) to not recieve other people from other parts of the world in their own land (i Mean private land…the idea that the whole european land belongs to collective entities like the mentionated before, is denied, at least by anarchists).

  4. Taylor May 24, 2007 at 3:00 pm #

    Hi Rod,

    Good post, I have a few thoughts on your thoughts.

    1. I think it’s important to acknowledge under what circumstances a potential emigrant received the State’s “investment” before trying to decide if they can leave or not.

    The fact is that this “investment” is provided forcefully, against the potential emigrants will. He pays part of the cost himself without any option of not doing so. In many cases, such as public K-12 education, the potential emigrant is also FORCED to make use of this “investment” (unlike say, police or fire protection, where the potential emigrant doesn’t necessarily have to make use of these institutions if he has any trouble… then again, there are probably civic codes that say it’s against the law to not call the FD if your house is burning as it may pose a danger to other people).

    If the State has a rightful claim to the potential emigrants person because of these “investments” made against the person’s will, then the State also has a rightful claim to the person’s money and property in the form of taxation so as to pay for these “services” that the person may never have asked the State to provide.

    Furthermore, it is impossible for the State to “invest” in anything, a common economic fallacy I attempted to help debunk here:

    2. I have made this same point to a number of minarchist friends of mine who insist, along the lines of Triple-H (Hans-Hermann Hoppe and Co.) that as long as the State exists, it ought to enforce the boundaries/borders because “that’s what private property owners would do” if there was no State. There’s a couple things wrong here:

    — Allusions to a country/State-territory being a “house” in this sense are incorrect, something minarchists hold dearly to despite the metaphor of a country being similar to that of an apartment building. “You wouldn’t let just anyone into your house, right?” Sure, I wouldn’t let just anyone into MY house… as for other people’s houses, I don’t really have a say. That’s why a country/State-territory is more like an apartment building… perhaps you wouldn’t let Joe Drugsmoker into YOUR apartment, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should be allowed to stop Joe Drugsmoker from going into your neighbors apartment if your neighbor invited him.

    When we talk about border enforcement, we’re talking about enforcement of State borders on State-owned (technically unowned) land. People who want to enforce these borders don’t seem to understand that they’re issuing threat of force against people who are traversing unowned land, not owned land held by legitimate property owners. If they want to start shooting immigrants, they can start at the line that designates THEIR property as seperate from everyone else’s, not “the State’s” property line.

    By insisting on the opposite, they are advocating the use of force against people who have never done anything violent to them personally while simultaneously preventing the free interaction of existing property owners who may like to provide immigrants with housing/jobs.

    It always shocks me how someone can adamantly defend unregulated free trade without seeing that open borders/no borders is part of the logical consistency of that position.

    — By labeling one set of people “illegal” and another “legal” and another “citizens” these “libertarians/anarchists” are tacitly accepting the legitimacy of the State and its classification terminology, which is all arbitrary and unjust. As you point out, Rod, what does it matter if someone was born within the boundaries of the US or outside of it before receiving some kind of welfare?

    Once the money is stolen from you, you really have no say in who it goes to and thus shouldn’t be making judgments about the “worthiness” of the recipients, especially not judgments based on criteria established by the State. You may LIKE to, but realistically once something is taken from you its gone. The best solution is to either take it back or end future theft… not resort to trying to influence your thief with “your” vote.

    I can never seem to get anyone who supports closing the borders to keep immigrants away from welfare to also support deporting “citizen” welfare recipients/public servants (welfare officers, Congress, the President, etc.), all of whom survive off the public dole.

    There are so many students of Mises who know his lesson of “government intervention begets more intervention” and yet quietly accept and promote this inanity instead of calling for the END of intervention as a solution to our problems, rather than spiraling into this government black hole even more.


  5. Administrator May 24, 2007 at 11:01 pm #

    Spanish Visitor,

    It is their `fatherland`, their `motherland`, the land of their ancestors.

    If the land is “theirs” in the sense of being their property, then they certainly have the right to keep people out. But what you’re talking about is some native residents having the right to demand that other native residents be forcibly prevented from allowing immigrants onto their property. Seems to me you’re claiming property rights over other people’s property.

  6. Steve May 25, 2007 at 7:43 am #

    Always love to read your blog. I think your point about when someone emigrates that “you can’t leave the country until you first pay back our investment” is an actual reality in the USA today for some people. If a “wealthy” US citizen emigrates to another country, according to the IRS, they have to pay tax to the US Treasury on their foreign earnings for 10 years before their tax liability has ended. As an aside, I also think it is true that the US is the only country in the world that taxes its citizens on income earned outside their native country no matter their level of wealth.

  7. Otto Kerner May 26, 2007 at 10:28 am #

    (cross-commented from HNN)

    I agree completely, but I think this is a bit beside the point in most cases, because, I suspect, very few immigration restrictionists are interested in justifying immigration restriction. They are interested in strategising on the basis of “us” vs. “them”. Contrary to what I had long assumed, “us” does not need to be any kind of rational category — it is a gang assembled for the practical purpose of inter-group competition. Now, (accordingly to the conventional view) the people who are already members of the gang must be treated with a certain amount of dignity. You can’t just kick them out, because that would turn the members of the in-group against each other. But this certainly doesn’t mean that the members are committed to treating everybody in the world fairly — on the contrary, the whole point of the in-group is to compete effectively against others (not necessarily through violent competition, of course). The question of immigration, then, is entirely a question of which immigrants, if any, will bring the most benefit to the current members.

    As a P.S., I think open borders is the most radical libertarian policy position. The concept of “this is our land, where our people live” is deeply ingrained in people’s thinking, especially among settled peoples. I would almost like to salvage it for libertarianism, but I don’t think it can be salvaged, at least not around here. If “peoples” own a right to the integrity of their territory, and if we apply this on a basis more consistent than simply “might makes right”, then all the land in North America must be surrendered to the various Indian tribal governments.

  8. Adem Kupi May 28, 2007 at 1:33 pm #

    Otto is right on the money here. This “us” vs “them” pattern in fact characterizes most politics, not just immigration issues, and is extra pernicious in democratic systems, where it becomes sort of fractalized throughout all of society. Every “issue” that would otherwise be a matter for individuals to settle by putting their heads together and coming up with a reasonable solution, becomes a source of group conflict.

  9. Alexanka June 4, 2007 at 11:01 pm #

    I guess most immigrants are rather net-tax-payers than net tax-recipients. At least theare not too many of them sitting at govt offices and recieving govt salaries!!

  10. Administrator July 2, 2007 at 9:21 pm #

    Update here.


  1. Life, Love, and Liberty » Blog Archive » Anarchistic Imagery to Enjoy - June 3, 2007

    […] I found this delightful image on Roderick Long’s blog. […]

  2. paxx:blog » Blog Archive » Immigration - June 28, 2007

    […] Immigration, Secession, and Taxation von Roderick Long Suppose this argument for forbidding entry by those who would probably become net tax-recipients is a good one. Why wouldn’t it be an equally good argument for deporting native-born citizens who are likewise net tax-recipients? […]

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