The Libertarian Case Against Immigration Controls

by | Jan 6, 2020

The Libertarian Case Against Immigration Controls

by | Jan 6, 2020

Libertarians have long held the view that free trade is an absolute net benefit. There is no economic model demonstrating that barriers to trade increase aggregate wealth. Free trade as a net benefit is actually one of the few areas where economists of every school of thought – from Austrians to Keynesians to Behaviorists to Monetarists – all agree. 

But some want to make a single exception to this economic universal, even a few libertarians. Only in the instance where people are the good crossing international borders are those barriers not necessarily beneficial, say the bordertarians.

This worldview does not even amount to the pretense of an economic argument; it’s always made as a blatantly political argument. The political argument made by bordertarians generally goes along one of the following four lines (or sometimes, a combination of these lines): 

  1. High levels of immigration to a country bring higher crime rates, as evidenced in European countries such as Sweden and Germany.
  2. Immigrants will impoverish America by moving here, going on welfare, and bankrupting the nation because they will be such strong net-tax-takers.
  3. Immigrants largely come from nations with low IQs, and will bring that low intelligence to bear at the voting booth by stupidly voting for socialist policies, destroying the nation through their votes.
  4. The last argument is like the previous, but is a cultural argument rather than an intelligence argument: Immigrants come to the United States today from third world countries without the kind of Western cultural heritage in elections and freedom that past generations had, and they threaten to overwhelm the native population with the pro-socialist/pro-authoritarian votes they’ve brought here from their native countries.

Immigrants and Crime

About 10 years ago, I was approached by a private party to write a harder-hitting series of articles against “illegal” immigration than was being published by The New American magazine, the publication to which I was then sending most of my writing. I initially agreed, noting that this would require a lot of primary source research. The person who contracted with me wanted to start with a piece on crime. This made perfect sense to me, since intuitively our open border with Mexico would attract both the ambitiously good immigrants that America wanted as well as those evil men on the run from their crimes who would drive up US crime rates. Criminals do in fact freely cross our porous southern border, and it made intuitive sense that immigration would increase the crime rate. I also thought a law-and-order type approach – “illegal” immigrants should follow the law and get in line like everyone else – was a good approach for a second exposé. 

My intuition proved wrong on both counts.

First, I was surprised to find the data showed precisely the opposite with regard to the incidence of immigrant criminality. While immigrants are more likely to be in federal jails because of immigration infractions, there was no evidence that immigration had increased actual crime rates – violence and theft – in the United States. Even research from immigration skeptic organizations, like the Center for Immigration Studies, confirmed my findings.

Immigrants, because they trend younger, should account for higher rates of criminal infractions, as young people are likely to commit violent crimes by many multiples more than the elderly (think about it intuitively: how may gas stations get robbed by geezers with oxygen tanks in tow, cruising with walkers wheeled by tennis balls?) So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that some more recent research from groups like CIS have indicated that immigrants may be responsible for slightly higher rates of criminality when compared to the more elderly native-born Americans. But overall crime rates in the United States, in particular violent crime, has been on a downward spiral (decreasing 36%) since the 1980s, even as the immigrant population has increased by more than 100% (largely because of the aging of the US native population). Moreover, many of the cities with the highest proportion of immigrants have proven to be lower in violent crime rates than those with low immigrant populations

I never really abandoned my theory that our porous southern border could contribute to crime, or that immigration brings both the ambitiously good and bad. The dullards, the average people, the unambitious, the “C” students, tend not to emigrate from their native country, absent some earth-shattering catastrophe. There’s really not a libertarian argument for 100% open borders; nobody thinks a murderer should be able to run from his crimes by crossing a national border and starting over. Even in an anarcho-capitalist society, no an-cap believes a person should be able to escape the consequences of a murder or rape by stepping over an arbitrary national border. The influx of about one million legal immigrants – all of whom are screened for a violent criminal background – likely decreased the average, I suspect. But none of my suppositions change the statistical reality that immigration has not increased the crime rate in the United States. 

On the law-and-order front, I had just entered the classroom as a high school history teacher when I was approached to write the above-mentioned series of “hard-hitting” articles on immigration. Among the topics I covered in my classes were the Alien and Sedition Acts, and the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions (written by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson) in response to them. Moreover, the great Dr. Tom Woods had shortly thereafter come out with his book Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century in 2010. Woods’ book brilliantly explained in great detail how nullification was used throughout American history, and I used my copy as a loaner for my students to write research papers on nullification. (I assigned students to blend two or more uses of nullification throughout American history in a persuasive research paper.)

Nullification, it turned out, was first used against the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the Alien Acts being the first uses of pretended federal authority over immigration. As immigration was not an enumerated federal power under the Constitution, Jefferson (and Madison, separately) argued, quoting the 10th amendment, that “alien friends are under the jurisdiction and protection of the laws of the State wherein they are: that no power over them has been delegated to the United States, nor prohibited to the individual States, distinct from their power over citizens. And it being true as a general principle, and one of the amendments to the Constitution having also declared, that ‘the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,’ the act of the Congress of the United States, passed on the — day of July, 1798, entitled ‘An Act concerning aliens,’ which assumes powers over alien friends, not delegated by the Constitution, is not law, but is altogether void, and of no force.” As a classroom history teacher, I not only found the conservative argument that sanctuary cities were exercises in lawlessness was false, but that sanctuary cities were the closest modern analogues to Jeffersonian nullification and Madisonian interposition.  

In the end, I refused the paid contract to write the pieces skeptical of immigration, and instead eventually wrote unpaid pieces for my blog explaining the conclusions of my research for a mostly open immigration system. I instead argued that the Constitution would be more scrupulously followed (and crime lowered, by making the immigration process easier and more open) by letting states vet immigrants for criminal records, as was done under the “Castle Garden system” before Ellis Island opened up in 1892 (which ushered in federal control over the immigration process).  

Crime in Sweden and Germany

More recently, there’s been an explosion of coverage of immigrant crime in the right-wing press with regard to immigrants from the Middle East and northern Africa to Europe. Many of these stories about immigrant criminality in Europe began long before the current wave of immigrants (which itself began about 2013, in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions) from the Middle East and northern Africa, sometimes updating nothing about the data from the original Stormfront and other white nationalist blog posts as far back as 2005

Of particular focus among immigrant-skeptic groups in recent years has been Germany, which now has about 15 percent of its population as immigrants (about the same as the US) and Sweden, which has 18 percent of its population as immigrants. Both countries were facing a demographic implosion by exceptionally low native birth rates before the most recent immigrant wave. And although the majority of immigrants to both Germany and Sweden have been from other EU countries or Eastern Europe (and have lower overall proportions of immigrants than Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand and other countries), these two countries have substantial minorities of immigrants from Muslim countries. 

And the immigration of dusky-skinned Muslims is what has particularly inflamed the political right. While many bordertarians are under the impression that placid Germany has become a violent nation ruled by immigrant Muslim gangs, Germany is in fact experiencing its lowest violent crime rates since unification in 1991, and has one-fifth of the intentional homicide rate of the United States

Sweden also has one-fifth the intentional homicide rate of the United States, despite higher immigration levels. As both countries’ populations have aged over the decades, crime has decreased. But Sweden has become a special case because it has reported rape rates that have skyrocketed since 2005, the same year the national parliament adopted a law making some forms of consensual sex legal “rape.” While rape cases have more than tripled – including the famous double rape case involving Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, which involved two cases of consensual sex – reported “incidents” of rape increased more than 15 times because of new reporting mechanisms. 

Selling the statistical changes resulting from this 2005 Swedish rape law as an Islamic “rape-wave” was something Islamophobic/pro-war organizations such as the Gatestone Institute turned into a virtual cottage industry. And their lies have been widely repeated by the political right’s stenographers who pretend to be journalists, from Breitbart to The New American to Infowars. I’ve exposed the Gatestone Institute’s lies about Muslims and Sweden elsewhere, so there’s no point in recounting their anti-Muslim war propaganda and how their leaders stand to profit from more war here. But there is one more point to make: if Muslims were indeed an criminal underclass inherently prone to raping Swedish women, they’d be prone to raping women in locations other than only Sweden. And that hasn’t been the case in Germany, where rape is at historic lows, despite massive Muslim immigration. 

Nor are Muslim-heavy areas of America – like Michigan – inherently more dangerous for women. 

Promotion of fear of violent immigrants based upon anecdotes and propaganda is nothing new, and it was one of the primary reasons America’s traditional open border with Europe was slammed shut in 1921. The great classical liberal Congressman William “Bourke” Cockran (D-NY) argued that the door to immigration shouldn’t be closed to Eastern European immigrants through the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 because of the “Red Scare” bombings anomaly a few years earlier: “Surely the gentleman from Washington [Mr. Johnson] will not say for a moment that of the 10,000 that debark from vessels at our ports every week there is any considerable number who would want to blow up our Constitution, even if they could find out where it is located. [Laughter.] They do not come here to destroy the government that they are eager to join. Do you not see what a contradiction there is between the actions of these men and the motives you impute to them? They have to ‘go broke’ to come here, to use a familiar colloquialism.” Cockran lost, and America’s era of mostly open borders ended as the Ku Klux Klan had a huge revival in the 1920s based upon stoking fear of immigrants under the slogan “America for Americans.” 

It’s important to stress that not every person who wrongly seeks massive restrictions on immigration is a racist. Nor does every immigration skeptic organization try to paint immigrants as an inherent criminal underclass. Some immigration restrictionist groups like NumbersUSA take pains to stop immigrant bashing. But immigrant-bashing remains the lifeblood of the political viability for America’s foreign wars (which, ironically, drive waves of immigration). 

Viewing the foreign-born – especially Muslims in the 21st century – as an inherent criminal class makes bombing their countries of origin politically palatable enough for our foreign policy brutality to continue. All one needs to do is to contrast what the political impact would be if an errant US drone strike outside of Montreal killed 30 in a maple syrup factory versus the reality of the political silence of the media and public about the September 2019 strike that killed 30 pine nut farmers in Afghanistan.  A strike that accidentally kills dozens of innocent Canadians would create outrage, because they are friendly people Americans sympathize with, while a strike against Muslims we have been propagandized to fear for a generation generated political crickets. 

Are Immigrants a Financial Drain?

One of the main arguments employed against higher immigration levels, or at minimum “legalizing” the undocumented population of immigrants, is that immigrants are a net-drain on government tax dollars. For libertarians, that’s a strange argument. In libertarian circles, it’s a general rule that paying more taxes than you receive back in “benefits” makes you a tax victim and not more virtuous or valuable to society. But if one studies only “illegal immigrants,” many of whom work in the underground economy and pay little taxes, they do in fact pay less on average than an American-born worker of the same income (but also take only a fraction of the government resources consumed by the native-born). Of course, if the main goal were to extract more taxes from “illegal” immigrants, it would be a simple matter of legalizing the undocumented population and bringing them to the above-board economy where most would pay the full income and payroll tax rates paid by natives. 


Some libertarians and many conservatives worry about the social cost – or even collapse of the state – from the costs of immigration. This is the argument made by famed economist Milton Friedman that “It is one thing to have free immigration for jobs, it is another thing to have free immigration to welfare. And you cannot have both.”

The great libertarian writer William Norman Grigg once told me (I’m paraphrasing here): nothing gets a conservative to defend the sustainability of the welfare state faster than an open border with dark-skinned people. 

In conservative circles, it’s fashionable to deploy the phrase “Cloward-Piven Strategy” as a conspiracy by the left to use a wave of dependent immigrants to collapse the federal government financially and usher in an era of socialism. (Incidentally, social scientists Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven’s original strategy in the 1960s was about registering welfare recipients to vote and had nothing to do with immigration.) I jokingly proposed to Will Grigg that we should champion the “Eddlem-Grigg Strategy” to let the Democrats collapse the welfare state this way, since we both actually wanted the welfare state to fail and the people to turn against it.

But the economics of immigration demonstrate that neither the Cloward-Piven immigration strategy nor the Eddlem-Grigg Strategy are practical. Immigrants, as it turns out, are a net economic crutch for both government and society as a whole. Immigrants typically come to the United States poor, often with only the clothes on their backs, but on average, they earn a bit more income than native-born Americans.  They are twice as likely to start a business, meaning that they are not net-job-takers. 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants (i.e., those conservatives label as “anchor babies”). 

Conservative Republicans and bordertarians often cite one particular study – The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigrants on United States Taxpayers (2017) – by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which purports to show that “illegal” immigrants are net-tax takers to the tune of nearly $116 billion per year. This study was perhaps the source of President Trump’s inaccurate Tweet in December 2018 that “Illegal immigration costs the United States more than 200 Billion Dollars a year.”

Analyzing that study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) – and why it employs misleading (but not factually false) data – is key to understanding how the immigration restrictionist movement manipulates data. Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute has criticized the FAIR report for a number of reasons, but the most important is this point: “FAIR counts the benefits consumed by the US born American citizen children of illegal immigrants.  This means that FAIR also doesn’t count the taxes paid by these US born citizens when they start working. Counting the benefits consumed but ignoring the tax revenue they pay (or will do so in the future) is one way FAIR gets such a negative result for this report.” Indeed, the FAIR study acknowledged that: “The overall population that we analyze, for the purposes of determining the costs of illegal immigration, also includes about 4.2 million American-born minor children of illegal aliens.” 

In other words, US-born children of immigrants are more likely to be poorer and qualify for higher benefits, since they’re US citizens by birthright (i.e., they’re “anchor babies”). The FAIR study counts these children as 100 percent immigrant until the day they leave their parents’ home and go out into the world to work, and at the instant these “anchor babies” begin to earn an income FAIR counts them in the column of 100 percent American, native-born citizens. 

The only criticism one might make of the Cato summary of the FAIR report is that Cato says it “is one way FAIR gets such a negative result for this report.” Actually, it’s one of two primary ways. While FAIR slightly inflated the number of American-born children of immigrants beyond the numbers used by other academic studies (such as the Pew Institute or Urban Institute), and it also charged immigrants with the bulk of the cost of border enforcement (and a few other smaller-ticket items), the primary mechanism to which they arrive at this astronomical cost of “illegal” immigration is by counting first-generation American citizens as “immigrants” only while they are children and counting them as native-born when they get jobs. 

FAIR’s study essentially argues we should keep out immigrants (and enforce immigration laws vigorously) because American kids get subsidized school lunches and SNAP benefits.

Immigrants themselves – unlike their American-born children – are exceptionally low users of government services. They generally don’t qualify for welfare (exception: refugees, who are heavy users of welfare) and use far less health care, according academic studies on the topic: “After multivariate adjustment, per capita total health care expenditures of immigrants were 55% lower than those of US-born persons ($1139 vs $2546),” the National Institutes of Health reported in a 2005 study. This makes intuitive sense, since the majority of health care costs are incurred by the elderly; immigrants coming to the United States to work tend to be young and healthy.  With a constant influx of young adults, immigrants are a demographic that perpetually skews younger. Also, they generally do not use government K-12 schools for themselves (they do occasionally bring in children immigrants, but the majority of their children are US-born citizens). 

The other main way to skew the data against immigrants by is by counting government services and ignoring a native-born comparison, a strategy also employed by the FAIR study. In a nation running a $900+ billion annual deficit, as the US federal government is today, each of the 300+ million people in the country are – on average – a net drag on services by approximately $3,000 per person. FAIR doesn’t measure immigrants’ children use of services against the native-born use of services, but a straight taxes paid versus benefits received standard. By this standard, native-born citizens are even larger wards of the state, both on a total cost basis and a per capita basis. But FAIR only reports the smaller immigrant numbers. 

The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded in a 2017 study that adjusted for the deficit and found that “at any given age, adult members of the second generation typically have had a more positive net fiscal impact for all government levels combined than either first or third-plus generation adults.” So the anchor babies draw more heavily from government services than the second-plus generation American kids, but contribute more in taxes as adults than do second-plus generation Americans. In short, looked at independently as their own generation, the “anchor babies” are not the drain on government services the FAIR study portrays them to be. They’re actually a slight crutch so that a higher level of services can be consumed by the older generations of native-born.

In the end, immigration was never a welfare state issue; the welfare state is its own issue, and immigration has almost no effect on it. Milton Friedman was wrong in his assumptions, largely because he never took the trouble to look at the actual economic data. Bordertarians today have no such excuse, since the data is readily available from the NASEM, Cato, the Urban Institute, Pew and other studies. 

 But even if we assume the counter-factual, that immigration is a financial drag on government, what is the practical argument for proceeding? The practicality argument is fraught with impractical hurdles. The only practical way to crack down on “illegal” immigration would be to end visas for tourists, students and H-1B tech workers.  Most “illegal” immigrants come by overstaying their legal visas, not by crossing the Mexican border. But ending visas would seriously hurt tourism in Florida’s Disney World, colleges in Boston, Massachusetts and high-tech sectors of California’s Silicon Valley. The benefits of these immigrants is tangible in dollars, knowledge and entrepreneurship. 

Popular support for national immigration controls is a thin reed: polls continuously show that people appropriately view immigrants as an asset by wide margins, so the popularity battle is already lost for bordertarians. Welfare, however, remains controversial

One might argue that it’s not practical to abolish the welfare state, but – really – what’s more practical: Abolishing the welfare state when nobody’s really tried to do it? Or trying to end “illegal” immigration along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico, after spending tens of billions annually for decades while failing to move the needle in the slightest on the 11-12 million unauthorized immigrants working in the United States? The former would the unified support of libertarians, while the latter would divide libertarians at best.


IQ and Immigration


The narrative for restricting immigration based upon average national IQ can be summarized as something like this: 

Immigrants from developing countries would have an IQ too low to sustain freedom here. They’d immigrate in droves to the United States and stupidly vote to bring to our federal government the socialism and tyranny of their home countries they left behind. A more open immigration system with massive numbers of new, low-IQ immigrants would eventually overwhelm the high-IQ American public. Only by admitting limited numbers of smart (presumably European, but possibly also East Asian) people can the United States avoid the disaster of being overwhelmed by a mass of stupid new dependents who will vote themselves into the same socialist kleptocracies that made them emigrate from their native lands. 

Among the chief proponents of this worldview is Stephan Molyneux, a YouTuber and blogger with some influence in libertarian circles. “Racial IQ differences is the one topic that allows us to push back against Third World immigration without succumbing to racism,” Molyneux has tweeted. The Irish-born Canadian’s YouTube and podcasts total more than 600 million views/downloads, and his works have been progressively banned by establishment social media, with PayPal most recently suspending Molyneux’s account in early November. 

Typical of Molyneux’s argument are the following Tweets: 

“Average IQ in Syria is 83.

Turkey is 90.

They will never ever be like the West.

If they fight, they fight.

Protect ourselves, let the world be the world.”

Twitter, October 7, 2019


“India has an average IQ of 82,” Molyneux tweeted February 24, 2019. “82. But yeah, it is long-ago colonialism that keeps India backward.”

Twitter, February 24, 2019 


“High IQ is better…. People with higher IQs tend to be more law-abiding, tend to tell the truth more tend to be more economically productive, tend to stay out of trouble more, tend to be better neighbors. As a whole, higher IQ for a society is preferable, if you have a choice.”  

FreedomDomain Radio, 2015


None of this, of course, amounts to an economic argument. A free market economy can put people of virtually any intellectual ability to positive use. The mutual beneficence of trade does not rely upon the intellect of the trading partners in any school of economic thought. The poor and working classes definitely make specialization and higher-order organization skills of those with higher intelligence and skills more effective, not less effective, by freeing the latter up from farming and creating food, building their own shelter, and the like.  

Molyneux’s political argument is that immigration from low IQ-average nations tend to eventually lower the intelligence of the recipient nation, presumably leading to more votes for socialism and/or bloated, inefficient government. “My big concern with respect to immigration is – I’m certainly willing to accept that people who come from, in general, lower IQ demographics are above the mean – smarter, smarter people. All right, great, fantastic. But the part of your [Dr. Jason Richwine, whom he is interviewing about Latin American immigration to the US] research that troubled me is the degree to which that does not tend to sustain itself over generations.” 

The primary argument left to Molyneux is that – even assuming Richwine’s narrow research on Hispanics is a universal biological inevitability, something nowhere in the historical record – is that low IQ immigrants will hurt natives through their votes, presumably by voting for socialism and authoritarian government. The main problem with Molyneux’s political argument is that a high IQ is not generally associated with opposition to big government. In fact, in some cases there’s a clear statistical negative correlation between the two, as well as an intuitive partial negative correlation. 

For the intuitive part, one does not associate low intellect with socialist theoreticians and revolutionaries like Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin or Leon Trotsky. They may have been absurdly wrong, as well as evil, but it’s nonsense to claim they had below-average intelligence. History is bereft of examples of dimwits who successfully lead socialist revolutions. Dimwits like Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro may eventually take over a socialist economy, but the ones who lead revolutions tend to have above average IQs, even if they are mislead and occasionally openly evil.

On the empirical front, there are several data points which show a strong correlation between high intellect and support of socialism instead of a correlation between low IQ and support of big government. College graduates tend to have a higher IQ, with the pattern being the higher level of degree, the higher the IQ. Generally speaking, college graduates are far more likely to vote Democratic, and this trend was particularly divergent among white people (a 35-point difference). If college graduates had decided on the presidential race in 2016, Hillary Clinton would have won in a landslide. 

Jews have the highest overall intelligence among any ethnic group but are also among the most loyal Democratic Party constituencies. And while it’s a dubious point to claim that a group leans toward big government simply by virtue of its backing of one or the other of the political duopoly (empirically, government grows faster with a Republican in the White House), this is the primary argument made by right-leaning bordertarians.

Even in a broader sense, the more intelligent occasionally are more likely to back bigger government. High intellect college professors are far more likely to back socialist policy than are laborers (which tend to have lower IQs), the latter being the backbone of Trump supporters and the Republican Party. College professors do not fit into the assumed pattern of high intellects supporting smaller government and lower intellect supporting socialism. 

Finally, the politicians seeking ever-higher burdens of government inevitably are drawn directly from the higher intelligence group of people with advanced college degrees. Say what you will about how wrong Elizabeth Warren is on public policy (and she’s probably the worst), it’s silly to say she has below average intelligence. 

All this is not to say there’s a uniform pattern of smart people supporting socialism and the uneducated supporting the free market. There are contrary patterns as well. College-educated minorities were more likely to vote for Trump than minorities without a college education. While minorities – blacks and Latinos – tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic at any educational level, that trend is minimized by a college education.

Once we acknowledge the data that higher education tends to increase IQ scores, circling back to Molyneux’s Tweets earlier in this essay, it’s not appropriate to compare the highly educated US electorate (44 percent college degrees) against the less educated Turkish electorate (17 percent college degrees ) and Syrian population. 

Part of the problem with taking a raw statistic like average IQ for a particular country and measuring it against the highly-educated and well-nourished United States population is that it fails to account for differences such as education levels, poor nutrition, having a two-parent household, “family chaos,” total family size, exposure to lead paint, and other factors. And there are plenty of nuances even within that statistic of higher education among college graduates: Science and technology majors tend to have higher IQs than do those who major in the humanities. And it’s almost impossible to tell how much selection bias there is among these choices (Do intelligent people choose physics, does studying physics increase intelligence, or a combination of both? – There’s no real data on that.)

Molyneux noted in one of his Tweets cited above that the average Indian has an IQ of 82. But Indian-Americans have an average IQ of 112 (higher than Ashkenazi Jews, the ethnic group with the highest average intelligence), and are among the most successful American minorities earning more than 50% higher than the average white American. Might better nutrition and higher education have something to do with that disparity?

Likewise, Black immigrants earn 30% more than US-born blacks, which is likely due in part to higher education among immigrants, but also likely based in part upon absentee fatherhood, which is less prevalent among African immigrants than among native-born African-Americans.  

There are several kinds of selection bias among immigrants which also should be accounted, meaning that the average IQ person from any particular state may not immigrate to the US. It could be said that “C” students generally don’t emigrate from their native countries. Generally, only the ambitious – whether the good or those on the run from their crimes – tend to emigrate. 

This has also been backed up by history, with the term “brain drain” being invented by British social scientists in the 1950s by the migration of doctors and scientists to the United States in the early Cold War era, a factor that the OECD says is still happening on behalf of the United States today. And the exodus of Venezuelan doctors in recent years from the Maduro regime has resulted in a health care boom across Latin America as Venezuelan doctors have expatriated from their native land. 

In the case of Venezuela’s absolute economic devastation from the corrupt socialist dictatorship, a second round of emigration resulted in unskilled labor leaving the country as well. But this too should not be a concern for libertarians, as economists have long viewed more laborers – even unskilled ones – as an unqualified net benefit for a society.

In sum, the argument that IQ should be a factor in limiting immigration is no argument at all, unless it is an argument about immigrants or immigrants outvoting natives into a socialist hellscape.

Immigrants, Culture and Voting 

While the above demonstrates there’s no economic excuse for limiting immigration by national quota based upon a nation’s average IQ, what of the cultural argument that admitting millions of immigrants from third-world countries to the United States would usher in an era of big government as a result of their votes? 

On a fundamental human level, there appears to be something inherently wrong about deciding whether to admit a man into this country who just wants to earn a living for his family (or flee execution by a tyrant) on the basis of whether they are more or less likely to back Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, whose domestic and foreign policies are only a percent or two different on almost all of the major issues. And it’s particularly problematic when one of the parties, the GOP, has made it more than clear that immigrants aren’t welcome in their party through many public pronouncements (such as here, here and here, among many others). That immigrants have been driven away from the GOP, turning immigrants into a bogeyman among the GOP rank-and-file, is hardly evidence of a pro-socialist immigrant worldview. People tend to avoid supporting a party that is openly bigoted against them, as they tend to take a personal attack personally. So it’s not practical to say that the tendency of immigrants to vote Democratic is an indication they are motivated by a desire to vote for bigger government.  

In fact, some immigrant groups had a strong historical affinity for the GOP until they were pushed away in the 21st century. Muslim-Americans were once a reliable conservative and wealthy GOP voting bloc (though since 9/11, they have switched to Democratic because of fear-mongering in the GOP), as were Cuban-Americans.

It’s instructive to look at this historical impact upon immigration if one wants to analyze whether immigrants tend to vote for bigger government. Bordertarian Stephan Molyneux’s fear that the unwashed masses of immigrants will vote for big government (mentioned above) has never panned out in US history. America had relatively open borders from its founding until 1921, and immigrants tended to side with the party of smaller government (at the time it was the Democratic Party) throughout all of that period. The era of big government under the New Deal and Great Society only emerged after the immigration door had been slammed shut in the 1920s. One could credibly make the statistical claim that immigration prevented big government, based upon the empirical data in American immigration history, but the claim that immigrants bring socialism to a country has never been borne out historically by actual data. 

On the free government front, the average immigrant today, most of whom come from Latin America, has a far greater experience with elected governments than did the immigrants coming from Czarist Russia, Bismarck’s Germany or Victor Emmanuel’s Italy 140 years ago. The days of the banana republic in Latin America are almost gone. Nearly all immigrants from Latin America today left some government after having voted in local and national elections and having a national government with some rudimentary form of separation of powers. By way of contrast, the average immigrant in 1900 had never had the opportunity to cast a meaningful ballot and left a government with a king, czar or other hereditary monarch. Even the Irish Catholic immigrants of the mid-1800s had been disenfranchised by penal laws Britain enacted after conquering the Emerald Isle. 

So using history as a comparison, immigrants have not tended to bring about bigger government in the United States even when they came from the worst authoritarian regimes of the 19th century. Yet government globally has tended to allow citizens to become freer in the last 30 years when compared to the recent past, as evidenced by the results of almost every freedom-in-the-world analysis, from Freedom House to the Heritage Foundation. The cultural argument of immigrants needing more experience in free government before being allowed to immigrate has zero merit when measured against history.

Moreover, “Western European culture” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be in an economic sense. Most people who come from third world countries come from nations whose governments actually control a smaller proportion of the economy than does the US government. This proportionally lower tax and spending burden is admittedly out of necessity, as poor nations’ governments can only extract so much from their poor populace, while rich countries can afford to extract greater sums from their prosperous middle class. Ironically, most right-wing immigration restrictionists afraid that immigrants would bring their home governments’ spending policies to the US through their votes are generally very happy to bring in more immigrants from Germany and the Netherlands, nations whose governments extract more than twice the GDP ratio of that extracted by the Venezuelan government, and even higher proportions if the raw per capita tax bill is considered. Germany in particular is not only the birth-place of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, it’s also led experiments in National Socialism, Soviet Socialism and democratic socialism within living memory.

Public opinion polling

Thus, the entire case made by bordertarians for strict immigration laws is based upon certain public opinion polling numbers, and the assumption that this public opinion polling data will bear out contrary to the way it has worked historically. 

Among the most cited poll questions has been the Pew Charitable Trust, which in 2011 asked Americans “Would you rather have a smaller government providing fewer services or a larger government providing larger services?” The general population of the United States answered 48 percent for smaller government and 41 percent for larger government. But Hispanics responded by only 19 percent seeking smaller government and 75 percent seeking larger government. It’s a huge disparity, and one if borne out consistently over generations could have an impact upon the future of the United States. 

But that’s one giant “if,” measured against the economically certain and historically realized benefit of immigrants. One problem with poll numbers – especially when you are interviewing people only half of whom speak English proficiently – is that how the question is asked can dramatically change the response provided. 

Perhaps more importantly, there’s a huge difference in age between the average age of the native-born non-Hispanic American and Hispanic people living in the United States. Pew Charitable Trust noted in July 2019 that the most common age of white Americans is 58, while the most common age of Hispanics is 11 (that’s not a typo). The median age for both is 44 versus 30, respectively. Just as immigrants skewed slightly Democratic in voting going back to the pre-9/11 era because they’ve always skewed younger, younger voters have always skewed toward higher support for socialism than older (and wiser) people. This disparity is at least partially a function of age, not culture. 

And it may be the answer to the entire disparity in response to the Pew question, a different question, adjusted for age, yields a completely different response. When asked in 2019 about their views of socialism and capitalism by the same Pew Charitable Trust, the numbers were much closer to the national average, about the same difference one would expect once adjusting for the age difference between Hispanic and the population of white Americans. While 52 percent of Hispanics had a strong or somewhat positive view of socialism (versus 35 percent for whites), 61 percent had a strong or somewhat positive view of capitalism (versus 66 percent of whites). 

And the likelihood of the original Pew Trust question bearing itself out over generations seems slim, as the 2012 poll notes that each generation of Hispanic in America is less likely to support bigger government as they remain here into the second and third generations. Moreover, the largest number of new immigrants in recent years has not been Hispanics, but Asians. So this polling data doesn’t even apply to most immigrants any more. 

  Bordertarians essentially think that American culture has become so weak that it cannot bear the same 13-15 percent of its population of immigrants it has historically borne (current levels are about the 1850-1920 historical average), even as other countries such as Australia (33 percent immigrant), New Zealand (25 percent immigrant) and Switzerland (29 percent immigrant) easily bear much higher proportions of immigrants among their populations. Is the American culture of freedom so uniquely fragile it cannot bear the absorption of a sizable minority of immigrants?

The argument against immigration based upon culture – if we assume culture means more than ethnic or religious affiliation – withers at the slightest historical or empirical inspection. So it’s instructive to ask why such a view attained such widespread popularity: If immigrants are not culturally inferior to native-born Americans with respect to supporting a free society, how did so many people come to believe this myth. And the answer is that the American people have been programmed to do so by the Military Industrial Surveillance Complex in order to keep our Middle Eastern “terrorism” wars and Latin American “drug” wars active, using tens of millions of foundation dollars annually to keep up the fear. 

More immigration itself may be the cure to this very high and tangible cost to America in terms of weapons dollars and soldiers’ lives. As more Latinos and Muslims immigrate to America, more people will become personally familiar with them, less fearful of them, view them more like fellow human beings, and become less supportive of our costly and unnecessary aggressive foreign wars. 

Thomas R. Eddlem is a freelance journalist. His articles have been published in more than 20 publications, and he is the author of A Rogue’s Sedition: Essays Against Omnipotent Government. He also authored the foreword to the late William Norman Grigg’s book No Quarter, and is working on completing Grigg’s unfinished manuscript The Stolen Life of Christopher Tapp. His blog can be found at

About Thomas Eddlem

Thomas R. Eddlem is a freelance writer published in more than twenty periodicals, holds a master degree in economics from Boston College and is communications director for the Libertarian Party of Massachusetts.

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