Open Borders? Maybe Not. Immigration According to the Austrian School (Part V)

Open Borders? Maybe Not. Immigration According to the Austrian School (Part V)

Open Borders? Maybe Not. Immigration According to the Austrian School (Part V)

Hans-Hermann Hoppe

“The lower middle classes –the French that one no longer dares to call Français de souche (ethnic French)– are already moving out of the Parisian suburbs and farther into the countryside. They have experienced that in some neighborhoods they are the minority in their own country. They are not afraid of the others, but rather of becoming the others themselves." 
Alain Finkielkraut (2013)

What Rothbard only drafted, Hans-Hermann Hoppe (2001, 2002) develops and expands with great lucidity and originality.

This originality can be seen in Hoppe’s approach towards the issue of immigration. Our author is ready to accept that from a strict economic point of view, the case for unrestricted immigration is irrefutable (Hoppe 2001). He also concedes that the existence of large welfare state systems in any given society does not constitute an argument against immigration. In fact, the possibility that some immigrants could become “welfare bums” and put an extra burden on the shoulders of tax payers should not be taken as rational to limit immigration but as a powerful reason to abolish the welfare state –which should be destroyed in its entirety for our author.

Nevertheless, this classical argument for free immigration suffers from two shortcomings. In the first place, according with Austrian subjectivism we cannot reduce wealth exclusively to material wealth. If so, from a raise in living standards alone one cannot deduce that immigration is “good”. The second shortcoming is related with the implicit assumption that a country is unowned territory and the immigrants enter a virgin frontier.

Like Rothbard (1994) did, Hoppe assumes an anarcho-capitalist situation. With this scenario, in which all property is privately owned, there will be no such thing as free immigration. Admission to the different territorial units would be according to what owners allow. These possible restrictions –even if they are taken to the degree of extreme segregation– do not mean a simultaneous limit to free trade. No economic protectionism derives from owners exercising their property rights. One can perfectly trade from a distance. “It is precisely the absolute voluntariness of human association and separation–the absence of any form of forced integration–that makes peaceful relationships–free trade–between culturally, racially, ethnically, or religiously distinct people possible” (Hoppe 2001:140).  If this is so, free trade and restricted immigration –the possibility to exclude related to property rights– constitute a virtuous circle in which they reinforce each other and they are a force for peace. Thus, not only fee trade and restricted immigration do not contradict each other but free trade requires restricted immigration to be sustainable and peaceful.

But obviously we do not live in an anarcho-capitalist context. So the micro management of migration, community by community, from the anarcho-capitalist ideal situation changes completely. “… Under statist conditions immigration is immigration by ‘foreigners’ from across state borders, and the decision whom to exclude or include, and under what conditions, rests not with a multitude of independent private property owners or neighborhoods of owners but with a single central (and centralizing) state-government as the ultimate sovereign of all domestic residents and their properties (macro migration)” (Hoppe 2002:81-82). Under these conditions, and depending of government policies we can either have forced exclusion or forced integration. We suffer the former when a resident invites a person and makes all the preparations for her arrival to her property but the government prevents this person to enter the state territory. We suffer the latter when the government admits a person who has not received any invitation from a resident.

The state is at both end of this process. Massive migration movements follow a clear pattern, according to Hoppe. They move from countries which exploit their citizens more to countries that exploit their citizens less. The receiver states, in turn, impose their native citizens forced integration via the complete nationalization of road and means of transportation and a variety of laws that minimizes private property right to exclude.

Hoppe warns that currently the US, Australia and Western Europe, far from free immigration are under a process of continuous forced integration. Advocates of free immigration are in fact pandering invasion and/or forced integration to be imposed on resident-owners. Free trade requires an agreement of two parts. Therefore it is mutually beneficial. Immigration should follow the same logic.  

Trivial as this distinction may appear, it has momentous consequences, for free in conjunction with trade means trade by invitation of private households and firms only; and restricted trade does not mean protection of households and firms from uninvited goods or services, but invasion and abrogation of the right of private households and firms to extend or deny invitations to their own property. In contrast, free in conjunction with immigration does not mean immigration by invitation of individual households and firms, but unwanted invasion or forced integration; and restricted immigration actually means, or at least can mean, the protection of private households and firms from unwanted invasion and forced integration. Hence, in advocating free trade and restricted immigration, one follows the same principle: of requiring an invitation for people as for goods and services (Hoppe, 2001:161).


This leaves us before the question of how could we solve this problem. If immigration as currently understood causes forced integration, what can we do? Hoppe (2001) makes an explicitly public policy proposal.

A popular government, says Hoppe, should try to preserve the anarcho-capitalist feature of no-forced-integration. To protect its citizens from invasion and forced integration a government has two sets of measures at hand.

As preventive measure the government, as trustee of the people, must at all possible points of access for non-residents –such as airports, ports, etc. – check that they are in possession of a valid invitation by a domestic property owner. These valid invitations should consist in contracts between one or more domestic resident and the arriving person. To be valid, this invitation may or may not involve employment but it has to involve housing.

The government should also implement corrective measures to curve the effects of forced integration. The easiest way to do this –which by the way, could also have a tremendous positive impact on the economy– is reducing the amount of property in the hands of the state. This process of privatization of property should be accompanied by the return of the right of admission to private owners.

Finally, the fundamental criteria to acquire citizenship ought to be the ownership of real and residential property. “Only by selling real estate to a foreigner does a citizen indicate that he agrees to a guest's permanent stay, and only if the immigrant has purchased and paid for real estate and residential housing in the host country will he assume a permanent interest in his new country's well-being and prosperity” (Hoppe: 2001:168).


Finkielkraut, A.
(2013) “There is a clash of civilizations” in Der Spiegel, on line publication:

Hoppe, H-H.
(2001) Democracy, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, 2007
(2002) “Natural order, the state and the immigration problem” in in Journal of Libertarian Studies (Volume 16), on line publication:

Rothbard, M.
(1994) “Nations by consent: decomposing the nation-state” in Journal of Libertarian Studies (Volume 11), on line publication:

* Federico N. Fernández is President of Fundación Internacional Bases (Rosario, Argentina) and a Senior Fellow with the Austrian Economics Center (Vienna, Austria). He is also the president of the Organizing Committee of the International Conference “The Austrian School of Economics in the 21st Century,” which its eighth edition will take place in Vienna in November 13th & 14th 2019.

Federico Fernández

Federico Fernández
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