By Mike Tront

With a new wave of political correctness sweeping through America, speech is being stifled at an alarming rate.  Expressing unpopular opinions is getting people banned from Facebook. It’s getting YouTube videos demonetized.  It’s getting websites kicked off of the servers that host them.  It’s getting websites delisted from Google searches.  It’s even getting people fired from their jobs.

Currently, the type of speech being stifled is confined mostly to ideas that I personally find wrong, ignorant, and in some cases completely antithetical to the type of anti-authoritarian free society I want to live in.  However, I also want to live in a society that allows bad ideas to be exposed to rigorous and open debate.  Plus, I’m afraid that once the censorship ball gets rolling, anti-authoritarian libertarian ideas will soon be blacklisted as well.

For now, stifling “objectionable” conservative opinions is the trend of the day.  This is being met with stiff resistance and condemnation from virtually everyone on the right. Sadly, this has also led many prominent republicans to look to the government for a solution.

The Republican Solution

After Google fired James Damore, prominent republican talk show host Tucker Carlson had this to say:

Google should be regulated like the public utility it is to make sure it doesn’t further distort the free flow of information.

Carlson isn’t the only republican thinking this way.  According to this recent article from The Daily Caller, even otherwise pro-market republicans like Ann Coulter and Steve Bannon are on the anti-free market train in regards to Google and other social media platforms.

So what would it look like if popular social media sites became public utilities?  I’m sure if you ask these republicans, they’d assure us that there’d be no government takeover, just a bit more regulation to make things more fair and equal.

Anyone who studies history knows that whenever you give government regulators an inch, they take ten miles!  In order to get the level playing field these republicans want, they’d have to empower government to take over the Google search algorithm to ensure a more fair algorithm for right-leaning sites.  They’d have to take over YouTube’s monetization policy to ensure every creator gets the same pay rate.  They’d have to rewrite Facebook’s user agreement to make sure that no one gets banned for having a conservative opinion.  They’d have to take over Twitter’s algorithm to make sure certain people don’t get shadow banned for having unpopular opinions.

What could be more socialist than the government stepping in to level the playing field and make sure all views and parties have equal representation, regardless of the desires of the actual platform owners?

Problems With Government Takeover of Social Media

Just the above words should send a chill down anyone’s spine, regardless of their political affiliation.  Even if there was a way for a completely fair and open commission (ha!) to be set up to simply make sure the free flow of information isn’t restricted, does anyone really believe it’ll stay that way?  How many times do we have to witness a well-intended government program get perverted for political and financial gains before we understand that government is never a solution?

Once government takes over the search algorithms and social media user agreements, it’s only a matter of time before they’re tweaked to suit the needs of the people and lobbyists in power.  In fact, there are numerous exceptions to the 1st Amendment, so why wouldn’t the government alter the search algorithms of all search engines to help stamp out potentially unlawful speech?  This would allow government to hide, or even eliminate, vast amounts of content that might fit into such categories as “obscenity,” “false statements of facts,” “fighting words,” “incitement,” and many forms of commercial speech (which is considered less protected.)

Is it really hard to imagine the major news outlets lobbying government to hide independent news outlets because they made “false statements of facts?” (#FakeNews!) Is it really hard to imagine the government hiding or eliminating websites that are generally anti-state under the claim that they may incite people to do violent acts against state actors?  Is it really hard to imagine wealthy corporations lobbying government to make it harder for new companies to advertise on social media sites?

Perhaps the biggest problem with government turning search engines and social media platforms into public utilities is that it turns these social media platforms into legal monopolies, thus preventing any further innovation in this incredibly important field.

The Free Market Solution

Competition is the ultimate equalizer.  No matter how big and influential a company gets, it will never be immune from the constant pressure of competition.  Just in my short lifetime, many corporate giants have been decimated from competition.  Giants like General Motors went from being one of the largest companies in the world to filing for bankruptcy.  Only a government bailout saved it from going out of business completely.  IBM went from being the top computer company on the planet to posting record breaking losses.  Sears was once the largest retailer in America.  Today it’s fighting to stay profitable while closing stores all across the country.  MySpace went from being the largest social media site in the world to being nothing more than a punchline.

What happened to these giants?  Why did they fall so far so fast?  As companies grow, so do their expenses and potential liabilities.  Their workforce becomes bloated.  Their infrastructure, factories, and stores become out of date or obsolete.  They become targets for lawsuits.  Sometimes, even if a company does everything right and makes all the right moves, consumers just change their desires and tastes.

As companies and industries become more profitable, other entrepreneurs are tempted to enter their field in search of some of that juicy profit.  These new competitors have the advantage of being much more nimble and adaptable to the changing needs and desires of consumers.  They aren’t saddled down with layers of bureaucracy.  Even when the top dogs adapt and stay profitable, no one has ever stayed on top forever.

The new wave of social media censorship is just that, new.  Already we’re seeing the market react.  Gab was created last year as a alternative to Twitter. Gab promises no censorship of its users.  DuckDuckGo is a rising alternative to Google.  It’s main selling point is that it doesn’t track its user like Google does.  Not only does it keep your search terms private, but it eliminates the Filter Bubble that plagues other platforms.

It may seem impossible to imagine any company taking over the markets currently dominated by Google, Facebook, and YouTube, but it was once impossible to predict the fall (and the rise again!) of GM and IBM.  There’s no way to predict who or what will knock over these behemoth’s of the Internet, and there’s no way to predict how long it will take.  One prediction I will make is that if the government turns them into public utilities things will only get worse for free speech.  With public utility status also comes the status of legal monopoly.  If you think it’ll be hard for competition to take down popular social media platforms due to their network effects, just wait until they have the power of government behind them as well.

 

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4/20/16 – Why Should Government Keep Bigots In Business?

 

By Mike Tront

In the wake of the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Confederate monuments and statues are being taken down across the U.S. Predictably, the standard right wing response is outrage and the standard left wing response is jubilation.

I can sympathize with both sides here.  Monuments, even of bad events or people, shouldn’t necessarily be forced to be taken down.  However, people who have no desire to fund a particular monument or statue shouldn’t be forced to fund it.

The libertarian solution is pretty simple, but before I delve too deep into how this can easily be solved with libertarian principles, I’d like to look at the hypocrisy on both the right and left that this controversy has exposed.

Right Wing Hypocrisy

For his 2018 budget, Donald Trump is planning on eliminating funding for several federal programs that subsidize the arts.  Including the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).  The response from republicans is overwhelmingly positive.  The main reasoning for right wing support was summed up by White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney:

“Can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs?” he asked. “The answer was no.”

So this week it was interesting to see Trump abandon this logic when it came to the removal of publicly funded Confederate art.  He had this to say on Twitter:

 

Nowhere did he say that public funding should be cut for these statues and nowhere did he echo Mulvaney’s point about it being wrong to make a “coal miner” or “single mom” pay for these Confederate Monument Programs. As usual in politics there’s no principle, only tribes.  The right wing tribe views the NEA as overwhelmingly subsidizing liberals and their pet art projects.  On the other hand, they have no problem using public funds for monuments and statues that glorify people and events that liberals hate and conservatives are more likely to enjoy!

Left Wing Hypocrisy

Going back to Trump’s proposed budget cuts to the arts, there’s no shortage of left wing outrage.  It’s hard to find anyone on the left who favors cutting government funding to any arts programs.  But therein lies the hypocrisy.  Aren’t Confederate monuments art?  Regardless of any objectionable actions taken by the Confederates, many of these statues and monuments can be seen as aesthetically pleasing, right?  I’m sure many local artisans were paid well for their work in creating these monuments, what liberal could object to that?

It’s easy to see how people who’ve had ancestors suffer through slavery would object to Confederate monuments, but many religious conservatives could easily object to some of the risque art that’s been funded through the NEA.  Additionally, if democracy is to be held up as an ideal, a majority of Americans believe the Confederate monuments should stay!

It seems a bit hypocritical for liberals to champion funding for arts that largely benefit their constituents and donors, but advocate for public art that doesn’t satisfy their constituents and donors to be torn down.  Especially when a majority of Americans want those particular monuments and statues to stay!

Libertarian Solution

If you’ve read anything I’ve posted before, I’m sure you can guess what the solution is.  Privatization!  The only moral and satisfactory solution to this issue is a complete separation of art and the state.  The conservatives are completely correct in their idea that the “coal miner” and the “single mom” shouldn’t be forced to fund art projects.  The liberals are completely correct in their idea that ancestors of slaves shouldn’t be forced to fund Confederate monuments and statues.

To this end, all funding to the NEA and any similar government programs should be cut immediately.  If you happen to value the type of art that the NEA funds, you are free to donate your own time and money to support these artists and galleries. Similarly, all publicly funded monuments and statues should be defunded.

Additionally, all statues and monuments should be sold off to the highest bidder.  Are you a person who hates what the Confederacy stood for?  Do you want to see these statues destroyed?  Great, I’m sure there will be many fundraisers to buy and destroy these statues.  Are you a Confederacy lover and do you want to see these monuments preserved?  Awesome, there will be plenty of fundraisers to buy and preserve these monuments as well.  You can fund any project you want, or no project at all.  The revenue generated in these sales should then be given back to the taxpayers they were taken from.

The tragedy of government funding the arts is that we are all forced to pay for art we may never view and in some cases we’re forced to pay for art that we find terribly objectionable.  This forces people to take sides and fight, since whichever side wins gets to control where the funds go.  Conversely, whichever side loses has to suffer the consequences of their conqueror possibly using the spoils directly against them.

The libertarian principle of non-aggression tells us that you have no right to force others to pay for your wants.  The libertarian principle of private property tells us that others have no right to stop you from pursuing your own wants on your own property or with your own money.  The beauty of these principles is that it allows all of us to directly fund and pursue the art we personally find enjoyable and important, and it allows those of us that don’t particularly enjoy art to use our funds for something that we do enjoy.

 

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9-28-16 Trademark Law, The Chicago Cubs, and Welfare for Billionaires

By Mike Tront

Previously I’ve written about how a private criminal justice system might look, you can find it here.  However, in that piece I didn’t go much into the nuts and bolts of how private courts might work in a libertarian society.

Objections To Private Courts

There are numerous potential issues we can imagine if all courts were private.  Who decides which courts are legitimate?  How do courts get authority?  What happens if a corrupt court takes a bribe?  Who pays for the court?  What if an accused person doesn’t want to participate in a trial?  How does a poor person get legal representation?

In this piece I’d like to quickly offer some solutions that entrepreneurs may come up with if we had a free market in courts.

Voluntary Courts

If a dispute can’t be settled outside of court, the best case scenario would be for all sides to voluntarily agree to let a court decide the outcome.

So let’s look at a scenario.  You get carjacked and roughed up.  Your insurance company pays you restitution through a violent crime insurance policy.  The insurance company then wants to find out who committed this crime, take them to court to make sure they’re guilty, then extract restitution from the criminal to cover their losses.  They hire someone to gather evidence and put together a case.  They find out that the evidence points to me being the criminal.  They approach me and claim I own them $100,000 in damages for the restitution they had to pay as well as the costs of gathering evidence and finding me.

At this point, we could settle out of court and agree to have me pay them back over time.  Or if I’m viewed as untrustworthy, they could offer to let me join a prison work camp that keeps my salary and pays my debt for me.  Or I could refuse to pay them.

If I refuse to pay, they’re going to want to find a way to justify using force against me without upsetting the public and without starting a war between them and the security service I may have hired to protect me.  If I do have a subscription with a security service to protect me, I’m sure that service wouldn’t want to protect me against the victims of my violent acts.  So they would probably have a clause in their contract with me that voids their responsibility to protect me if I’m found guilty of a crime by a reliable court.

So at this point I’m refusing to pay restitution and the insurance company can’t risk using force against me. They need a reliable court to find me guilty before they can proceed in extracting restitution from me by force.  How do they get me to voluntarily agree to go to court and abide by the ruling?  Even if I’m innocent, the deck would appear to be stacked against me.  Couldn’t they just hire the best attorneys and make me pay for their costs after I lose?  Wouldn’t they have a friendly relationships with most courts and judges?

Even if I were innocent, I wouldn’t want to take my chances under this scenario…unless my accuser lets me pick the judge and their prosecutor!  What if the insurance company is so confident in their evidence that they believe any competent attorney in the world could prosecute the case and any competent judge/jury in the world would unanimously find me guilty?  Why wouldn’t they let me pick their prosecutor?  Of course they’d make sure it would be an attorney that has a certain level of certification from a reliable certification company.  I couldn’t just pull in a bum off the street.

If an accuser gives me the terms that I get to pick my own attorney, I get to pick their prosecutor, and I get to pick the judge/jury with the understanding that I immediately agree to surrender myself if I’m found guilty, I’d say these are pretty good terms whether I’m guilty or innocent.  Of course the loser of the trial would also agree to pay all attorney and court costs.

If this offer became standard in criminal trials, it eliminates almost all possible objections to a private court system.  The wealthy can’t push around the poor with superior attorneys or with friendly local judges.  And since both sides are voluntarily agreeing to the outcome, they are establishing authority in the court’s decision.

This also has the added benefit of protecting innocent people.  With this extremely high standard, I can’t image many accusers bringing people into trial unless they have overwhelming evidence.

Forcing Someone Into A Trial

No one would have the right to force someone to participate in a trial.  Such an act would be considered nothing less than kidnapping if anyone other than a government did it today.  Now I’m not saying that it won’t happen, just that it wouldn’t be standard practice.

One example of a possible scenario where a defendant might be kidnapped and held against his will is in the case of a particularly heinous crime with clear evidence of who the guilty party is.  For example, if someone walks into a crowded area and opens fire on a crowd of innocent people, but is apprehended without getting killed himself, he would probably be held captive until a court rules on his guilt and liability.  In this case it’s clear who committed the crime as he was apprehended in the act with numerous witnesses!

So who decides which defendants get held captive before trial and which don’t?  There won’t be a universal standard, but the decision would be based on potential risk and liability.  If someone is held hostage, and is later found not guilty, the people who held him hostage have committed a grievous rights violation.  One which would call for a potentially huge restitution payment to the person who was held against his will.  So if someone is to be held against his will before a trial, the people holding him better be sure of his guilt!  Money isn’t the only consideration.  If an organization gets the reputation of consistently getting it wrong and violating innocent people’s rights, I can’t imagine they’d stay in business long.

Trial In Absentia

The final issue I’ll address is what happens when someone doesn’t willingly participate in a trial?  We’re assuming here that the accused wasn’t caught in the act of a heinous crime like the above example.

At this point there’s no choice but to try him anyway.  This posses a very real problem though.  How do we get the authority and justification to use force against him if he’s found guilty?  After all, if I’m picking the judge, jury, and attorneys wouldn’t it seem like I’d intentionally try and stack the deck?  Or at least wouldn’t it be viewed that way even if I was completely fair?

When thinking about this problem, one thing to keep in mind is that there would be no immunity like there is today with government.  If a court today finds someone guilty and throws him in prison, but later it’s discovered they’ve made a mistake, the people that threw him in prison and found him guilty can’t be held accountable.  In a stateless society, there is no immunity.  So if I do stack the deck and railroad an innocent man, I’m liable for any damages I caused him.  Even the attorneys and judges involved could have some liability if it’s shown that they were negligent in trying the case.  This accountability alone will force an accuser to attempt to put on the fairest trial possible.  The last thing they need is to take more losses by violating the rights of an innocent person.

How would the process look?  The best thing to do to make sure it’s a fair trial is to find some kind of service that specializes in representing people who refuse to participate.  There could be any number of law firms out there competing with each other to prove how fair they are.  Various rating and certification agencies could exist to rate these firms.

Once the accuser picks a firm that has a good reputation in representing people in absentia, the same standard could apply as if the defendant participated.  The firm representing the absent defendant could be offered to pick the prosecuting attorney, court, and judge/jury.  This also has the added benefit of reducing or eliminating liability for the accuser if they do convict an innocent person.  The accuser could claim that they did everything possible to put on a fair trial and that the bulk of the liability falls on the law firm that unsuccessfully defended the innocent person.  This potential liability could also ensure a vigorous defense.

Corruption

Corruption will always be a concern when money and force are present.  A private court system will not be immune from people attempting to pervert the scales of justice .  If there’s a law suit that involves a large amount of money, why wouldn’t one side or the other attempt to buy off someone?  If my side could win millions, it’d be worth a several hundred thousand dollar “investment” to buy off a juror or to pay the opposing lawyer to throw the case, right?  And if a juror or lawyer could get a large payday so easily, why not take it?

I’ll admit this could happen, but with full liability I can’t imagine it happening very often.  If a bribe is taken and is discovered, the bribe taker would be liable for all damages done.  If an innocent man was forced to pay a settlement, the bribe taker would owe that innocent man back the money he was forced to pay along with any other damages he suffered as a result of being put in such a position.  The briber would also be in the same boat when it comes to liability.  Even a hint of someone taking a bribe could ruin someone’s reputation and career, whether or not any actual evidence is ever discovered of a bribe.

These disincentives would make bribery a rare occurrence.

No Perfect System

In thinking about if society should be organized with a central government in some capacity or if it should be completely left up to the market, we have to realize that no system will be perfect.  Mistakes will be made.  Bad people will do bad things.

The idea here is to find a way to eliminate all systematic violence.  Even the smallest government rests on the ability to use taxes to finance it.  Even the smallest government necessitates a monopoly of the courts, thus forcibly keeping competition from innovating and providing superior services to consenting adults.  Perhaps worst of all, even the smallest government will be its own final arbitrator in whether or not one of its decisions is just and whether one of its agents is liable for their actions.

When government is allowed to be the final arbitrator of all rights and wrongs, even the smallest and most well checked government will abuse this power and grow.  Only a completely stateless and private court system will prevent this inevitable erosion of individual liberty.

 

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7/20/16 – A Private Criminal Justice System

7/29/16 Capital Punishment In A Libertarian Justice System

8/11/16 Crime Solving, Libertarian Style

By Mike Tront

The Grenfell Tower Fire in London was a horrendous and preventable disaster that, as of this writing, has claimed 79 lives. In a libertarian free market based society, this tragedy would have been avoided.

From what we know, a small fire broke out in one of the apartment units and spread rapidly. The rapid spread of the fire appeared to be fueled by a recent renovation that left the building with sub-par cladding. This cladding apparently was not fire resistant and may have even been quite combustible. This, along with the complete lack of a sprinkler system in the individual units, doomed the building and its unfortunate inhabitants to suffer the tragic consequences we all witnessed.

Whenever something like this happens, especially when it claims innocent human lives, my thought goes to “Could this have been avoided?” My second thought is usually “Would the outcome have been any better in a libertarian free market society?”

After looking into what we know so far, it’s clear that government incentivized the neglect necessary for this terrible event to happen. Here are four reasons why this would not have happened in a libertarian free market society.

1: The Grenfell Tower Was Government Owned

In a totally free market, there are no government owned assets. When the government owns something, no one is directly responsible for its proper or safe use. There are people who oversee its use, of course. And in the case of The Grenfell Tower, a government funded non-profit property management group known as KCTMO was tasked to oversee the everyday operations of the Tower. But the buck doesn’t stop anywhere.

With government owned housing, no one put up their personal wealth to build it.  No one stands to lose money or clients if a building is managed poorly or engulfed in a preventable fire. No one is held accountable. Worst case scenario for the government is that someone loses their job. Even then, they could easily use their contacts and friendships within government to get another cushy gig.

In most cases, citizens aren’t even allowed to sue the government in these situations. And if they do end up getting some kind of settlement, it’s not coming out of the pockets of the people responsible for the mismanagement and negligence, it’s coming from the taxpayers.

This overall lack of accountability incentivizes negligence, corner-cutting, favoritism, and bribes.

In a free market, whoever built such a building would have to risk their own money, credit, assets, and reputation. If their building is unsafe or is ran negligently, they stand to lose the millions of dollars they invested. They could also be sued. Their reputation could also be tarnished to the point of being put out of business permanently. In a free market, incentives are in place to insure that people build safe buildings.

In spite of all these incentives to do right in a free market, what if someone does want to build an unsafe building?

2. Insurance

Insurance companies would be a huge problem for the perspective builder of unsafe buildings. In a free market, insurance companies would have a lot more latitude than they have today in deciding who they choose to insure and under what terms.

With that in mind, can you imagine an insurance company risking potentially tens of millions of dollars without sending a team of inspectors to assess the safety of a building? Not just for fire risks, but any number of risks that could cause harm to customers which could lead to lawsuits that the insurance company would have to cover.

I view this as the biggest check and balance against unsafe building in a free market society. Any insurance company that insures unsafe buildings would quickly be bankrupted with claims. And with no government to bail them out, they wouldn’t be able to stay in business to continue insuring unsafe buildings.

3. Inspections

When people think about a world without government, one horror they imagine is a world without building codes and inspectors. They imagine people and companies cutting corners in their construction in order to save money. However, I see the opposite happening.

Today, government has a monopoly on building codes. If their department puts their stamp of approval on a building, we assume it’s safe. But because it’s a government monopoly, it can’t go out of business. If they employ a building inspector that is incompetent, or lazy, or just going through motions and passing buildings that are unsafe, we’re stuck with it. Same goes for cases of bribery or favors to friends of those in power.

In a free market, building inspectors would face competition and would be judged on their track record. For example, if a building inspection company gave The Grenfell Tower a passing grade on fire safety, chances are they’d be out of business right now. Not only that, but since they are obviously incompetent and/or untrustworthy, all their former clients would have to get re-inspections immediately from a more reputable company in order to satisfy their customers. After all, if my building had a seal of approval from the same company that gave The Grenfell Tower a seal of approval, I’d be demanding a new inspection immediately or threatening to move out. Wouldn’t you? Today, we don’t have that luxury. Some government agency signed off on The Grenfell Tower at some point, and that same agency is out right now signing off on another building.

But if the government isn’t there to force buildings to be inspected, why would greedy owners pay money out of their own pocket to get them inspected, you ask?

First, we go back to insurance companies. In order to get the best possible premium, insurance companies could offer discounts based on how often buildings got inspected by trusted inspection companies. Plus, it’s safe to assume that insurance companies would have their own inspectors on staff doing their own due diligence. And if a building owner refused to get inspections, how many insurance companies do you think would insure them?  My guess in none, unless the owners are willing to pay outrageous premiums, which would defeat the entire purpose of cutting corners in order to save money.

Second, to attract customers. If you’re looking for an apartment and you find several that are similarly priced, but some have a very recent seal of approval from a reputable inspection company, and others have no seal of approval or approvals from ten years ago, which building would you want to live in? Or one may have a seal of approval from a reputable company, and another from a company that just got caught taking bribes and approving unsafe buildings. Again, which would you trust? Apartment buildings would compete with one another to prove how safe they are to you.

4. Personal Liability

For centuries, wealthy businessmen have been finding ways to use the coercive power of government to protect their assets and businesses.  Perhaps one of the most effective policies they’ve managed to put in place is the idea of limited liability.  This means that when someone goes into business as a corporation, they are now personally off the hook for any losses, debts, lawsuits, and any other possible negative consequences from the action of their business.

So if a wealthy person had owned The Grenfell Tower, the victims of his neglectful business practices couldn’t sue him personally.  They could only sue the actual corporation that owned the Tower.  And if the corporation’s assets were limited to the Tower and the land it sat on, the victims would be fighting over scraps while the owner’s other assets would be shielded from lawsuits. This lack of personal liability makes it easier for an already wealthy business owner to engage in potentially risky and negligent business practices.  Practices they would never imagine engaging in if they were personally on the hook for any harm that these practices caused to innocent people and property.

In a libertarian free market society, there is no government to shield business owners from liability.  If your negligence causes great harm to other persons and property, you are responsible.  It doesn’t matter if you do it as an individual or as a business owner.

Fear is a wonderful motivator.  If business owners were afraid that their actions as a business owner could possibly harm their personal assets, we can easily see that that business owners would take greater care in running their businesses.

But Couldn’t It Still Happen?

We can never say for sure that something wouldn’t happen under different circumstances.  All we can do is speculate on how people would act given different incentives.  We can clearly see that a free market would greatly disincentivize the type of negligence that was necessary for a Grenfell Tower type of tragedy to take place.  And if someone did happen to build such a building, they and everyone involved in building, insuring, and inspecting this building would be quickly put out of business and their personal fortunes would be subject to lawsuits from the victims of their negligence.  Nothing can bring someone back from the dead, but at least in a market based society there wouldn’t be a government to stop victims from seeking full restitution and there wouldn’t be government monopolies that prevent bad actors from going out of business.

 

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10-7-2016 The EPA Causes Pollution; Only Freedom Can Eliminate Pollution

By Mike Tront

Since the rise of the Trump Movement and the Alt Right, some in the libertarian community are rethinking their stance on borders and immigration.  Traditionally, libertarians believe that the government has no right to restrict people from traveling.  Today many are abandoning that stance in favor of government controlled borders.  Specifically, Trump’s plan to build a massive wall is somehow seen as a legitimate government action.

So how do libertarians morally justify a massive, centralized government border-industrial-complex?  There are two major arguments libertarians typically use to justify themselves here.  The first boils down to “the ends justify the means”.  Higher levels of immigration will equal bigger government, they claim.  Therefore, supporting an endlessly costly big government program and the inevitable Liberties it will trample on is worth it because it will actually REDUCE the size and scope of government.

This seems to be the most popular argument among closed-border libertarians, but that’s not the argument I’m tackling today.  Most of the holes in this stance are tackled very well in this Reason Magazine piece if you’re interested in reading that counter argument.

The other argument, which is the one that I find most compelling, is what I’m tackling today.  It’s the claim that since a world without government would have private borders, it’s not necessarily anti-libertarian to advocate for government controlled borders in the meantime.

Why It’s Compelling

An interesting analogy to the border situation is the fact that even the most hardcore libertarian doesn’t object when the government prosecutes murderers, rapists, and thieves.  The government has a monopoly on criminal prosecution, thereby preventing private actors from legitimately prosecuting criminals and extracting restitution.  Since they are actively preventing private solutions, we have no choice but to at least begrudgingly advocate for the government to do what it can to prosecute these criminals.  We may prefer a private option, but in the meantime we can’t just let these violent criminals run free.

Similarly, the government monopolizes the control of the border.  It owns large swaths of land that border other countries, it owns the roads, and it exercises tremendous control over airports and seaports.  The closed-border libertarians theorize that without government, these points of entry would all be privately owned and therefore owners would be able to restrict and prevent people from entering.  Private land owners would take measures to prevent trespassing.  Airport owners and seaport owners could put whatever restrictions on who can use their service that they like.  And road owners could similarly prevent access to their roads to anyone they please.  Since these owners could restrict who would be able use their property in a free market, closed-border libertarians claim that it’s completely legitimate to advocate for government to enforce similar restrictions in the meantime.

Since we’re willing to accept and even advocate for the government to be involved with prosecuting violent criminals, we should also accept the government exercising control over the borders, the closed-border libertarian could claim.

Where It Falls Apart

While it’s true that private property owners could prevent people from using or traveling on their property in a free market setting, there’s no clear evidence that all owners would want to stop people from certain geographical regions from using their services.  There’s no clear evidence that even a majority of these owners would be so restrictive.  In fact, the more restrictive a firm is, the less money it will make.

Take private airports for example.  On the surface, you would think it’d be easy and cheap to prevent immigration.  An airport could just simply refuse to accept airplanes from certain countries.  Boom.  Problem solved.  Except that someone from a “bad” geographical region could just move to a “good” geographical region and enter the country through their airline.  So the airport would either have to accept that a few “bad” immigrants would get in, or they’d have to spend huge amounts of money to do extensive background/litmus tests on every person coming in from an International flight.  I can’t imagine that they’d opt for the latter solution, especially since they’d have to pass the expense to their customers.

But let’s say, for some reason, the majority of airport owners decide that they don’t like making as much money as possible and they do whatever it takes to stop “bad” immigrants from using their services.  The only thing they will accomplish is raising the profits of their competitors that still allow these people to use their service.  And even if ALL the current airports in the land decide to form some kind of cartel with the intention to heavily restrict foreign flights, this will only embolden some profit-seeking entrepreneur to build a new airport outside of the cartel to take all the previously unwanted business.  And since they’re the only game in town, they’d make tremendous profits.  These huge profits would incentivize other people to build similar airports, or it would incentivize current airports to buck the cartel and start loosening their restrictions.  In a free market, discrimination can be costly.

The same goes for roads.  Yes, some road owners could have some sort of litmus test that they force all their customers to take before using their road, but that can get costly and intrusive for their customers.  The increased costs and intrusive paperwork will restrict the “bad” immigrants, but it will also drive away large amounts of “good” Americans who just want to travel without paying big fees and filling out intrusive paperwork.  Plus, entrepreneurs who are seeking profit are always there to pick up the slack from businesses who refuse or alienate potential customers.

The Wall

But surly The Wall is feasible in a free market, right?  Today we see many examples of gated communities and corporate buildings with walls, fences, tight security, etc.  There are already numerous examples of private walls to protect property, so wouldn’t the invisible hand of the free market lead entrepreneurs to build a wall along a border with a government controlled territory in order to stop its people from trespassing?  No.

The first problem is money.  Private walls are only built, maintained, and guarded in order to protect property that has significant value.  It wouldn’t make sense for someone to build, maintain, and guard a wall if this wall costs more than what the actual property is worth!

We could hypothetically say that a network of walls could happen if the entire border is populated with wealthy, thriving neighborhoods and valuable companies on the “good” side.  These communities could be gated as many are today.  However, any wealthy and thriving community is constantly in need of customers and workers.  The people on the “bad” side could end up being both.  In this case it would be in the best interest of the businesses of the communities to allow access to its services to as many people as possible.  More people also means a wider potential employee pool, which could ensure better employees and better services and prices for members of the communities.  Someone also has to mow the lawns, clean the pools, pick up the trash, and perform any number of menial low-paying jobs.  The homeowners who live in these expensive, gated communities probably aren’t garbagemen and pool cleaners.  Even in this hypothetical world, any private borders that are built would have to be rather porous.  No wall will overcome the demands of commerce.

The other problem is the lack of monopoly.  Unless we’re talking about a very small border, odds are at least some of the property owners on the border won’t erect any barriers.  In fact, just the opposite would happen.  Since this is a free market, if there is a demand for people to travel, entrepreneurs will work to satisfy that demand.  Without a government monopoly, who’s to stop someone from buying land on a border and building roads that charge potential immigrants for using them?  Right now potential immigrants pay thousands of dollars to smugglers, called Coyotaje’s, to get them across the Mexico/U.S. border.  With this much market demand, I can’t imagine entrepreneurs NOT building roads to make profits off people who are in the market to escape their oppressive territory.  The only way to stop private individuals and firms from doing this is if there is a centralized government that has a monopoly on the border.

Freedom of Association

When all else fails, the closed-border libertarian often falls back on the freedom of association.  No one has a right to force them to associate with people’s that they don’t wish to associate with.  They are correct, but that only works on their own private property.  Once you leave your property, and enter someone else’s property, they choose who they would like to associate with.  Freedom of association works both ways.  You get to choose who you’d like to associate with on your property, but you don’t get to dictate to someone else on their property who they get to associate with.  And in a free market setting, whether the closed-border libertarian likes it or not, businesses are incentivized by profit to associate with as many people as possible from as many lands as possible in order to get the most customers and the best employees.  Only a government monopoly can build barriers and walls to stop the movement of people.

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