Higgs of Louisiana (via Washington State via PA via Maryland via ….) on Immigration

by Don Boudreaux on February 27, 2008

in Immigration, Myths and Fallacies

Patrons of the Cafe know of my great admiration for Robert Higgs, as both a scholar and a person.  Bob edits — with much creativity, energy, and scholarly wisdom — the Independent Institute‘s splendid quarterly journal The Independent Review, and has a long corpus of work, chiefly in economic history.  Here’s Bob’s most recent essay.  In it, he eloquently defends immigration — and, in the process, challenges many of the most fundamental myths of modern politics.  Here’s a paragraph to whet your appetite:

Lest you wonder about the point of this mundane little narrative, I
hasten to emphasize that my father had done something quite remarkable:
he had left the sovereign state of Oklahoma, crossed the sovereign
states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, and entered into and
established permanent residence in the sovereign state of California,
all without the permission of any of the rulers of these states.
Imagine that!

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Tom February 27, 2008 at 5:53 pm

Thanks for the link, Don. That was a great piece.

As I look at history and the various follies of the ages, I've always wondered what great folly we are now engaged in. I'm convinced that the current wave of nativism among "conservatives" will be remembered as being as destructive as the race based laws of the 20th century.

colson February 27, 2008 at 6:57 pm

but… but… what about the children?

Tom February 27, 2008 at 7:26 pm

Thanks for the link, Don. That was a great piece.

As I look at history and the various follies of the ages, I've always wondered what great folly we are now engaged in. I'm convinced that the current wave of nativism among "conservatives" will be remembered as being as destructive as the race based laws of the 20th century.

Gil February 27, 2008 at 9:35 pm

Hasn't always been the way that free-market types prefer open immigration and those who aren't don't?

JAS February 28, 2008 at 12:50 am

Excellent stuff once again Don. I look forward to getting your new book 'Globalization'.

PS, Here's another tribute to Julian Simon and a critique of Paul Ehrlich.

Here's a BBC story that scientists have made another scientific breakthrough which will allow for food to thrive in desert environments.

Oh what irony on the 40th anniversary of Ehrlich's abject failure in 'The Popultaion Bomb' to recognize the creativity and drive that people in a free society have to advance the welfare of their fellow citizens by advancing their own.


Rob Dawg February 28, 2008 at 9:08 am

he had left the sovereign state of Oklahoma, crossed the sovereign states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, and entered into and established permanent residence in the sovereign state of California, all without the permission of any of the rulers of these states.

Talk about compounding a lie with inflammatory rhetoric. You see as signatories to the Federal Constitution he had explicit permission to both cross those State borders and establish residency. That is the lie part, that he didn't have permission. Rhetorically calling each of those democratic States as being run by "rulers" is at best sophomoric.

vidyohs February 28, 2008 at 10:10 am


It is rare that I find anyone whose opinions so closely parallel mine on immigration, and in my opinion Robert Higgs wrote exactly what I have been saying in conversations in in essays shared with my circle of frineds and acquaintances.

We don't have an immigration problem, we have a government problem. I.E. as Mr. Higgs said, "Get rid of welfare or any kind of state support." That is a simple thing to do, eliminate that attraction and put immigrants in the position of working for what they receive…..and, my friends the only way to do that is to eliminate that same welfare for U.S. citizens/inhabitants. Which is why it isn't done. Our thumb suckers want the teat but bitch like hell when someone else is offered a place at the teat.

We don't have an immigration problem we have a government problem. If some one, who has a criminal background, comes here with that background undetetected that is a government problem of lack of thoroughness, if he/she later commits a crime and is caught, the answer is instant deportation after serving criminal time here, and being in detetion while waiting trial. Our government problem is in catching criminals and so frequently letting the go on bail so as to instantly disappear to commit other crimes. But, of course we can't address that part of the issue because it is the same way our home-grown criminals are treated, because of our government problem.

We don't have an immigrant problem, we have a government problem. If nothing else "patrons" of this Cafe should understand how markets work. Drugs are a consumer good and are in demand because of the desire and use by consumers. Taking a hit of heroine should no more be illegal and a matter of government attention or action than taking a pint of BlueBell Vanilla. As long as there are customers, there will be a supplier. Our government problem is in trying to shut the market down by concentrating on the suppliers and not the customers. And all kinds of insane rational is created and expelled into our conversations about why it should be that way, and they are all bullshit.

You simply can not prevent customers from obtaining ice cream by closing Kroger supermarkets. If there is a problem with ice cream consumption at all, the problem exists because of the customer desire, not because of the BlueBell Creamery or Kroger's distribution system.

There is no reason in natural law or intelligent law why any one should be dictating to another person what the second person puts into his body or for what reason he does so, ice cream or dope. Danger? I see fat people squeeze into the front seat of their vehilces in conditions where their steering wheel is indenting their chest and belly. It is impossible for a driver to properly react and control his vehilce under those conditions; fat people who can not operate a vehicle safely should not be allowed to drive. I see people climb into a vehicle after consuming some sort of drug, booze, weed, or smack and I don't think they are in a position to exercise good judgment or have good reaction time. The danger is obvious.

However, if they compensate for their dangerous conditions and get to and fro without causing harm to another or damage to property are we to be put into the position of criminally charging and prosecting people who have commited no crime? Just a tad on the stupid side of hopelessly insane.

So, to cut this short, no matter how you shake it or bake it, our government acts in the arena of immigration with the same intense stupidity as it does in any other arena.

vidyohs February 28, 2008 at 10:21 am

"Rhetorically calling each of those democratic States as being run by "rulers" is at best sophomoric.

Posted by: Rob Dawg | Feb 28, 2008 9:08:37 AM"

Rob Dawg,

Don't come to Texas with that attitude, King Perry will kick your ass! LOL

Oh and BTW, you might make it a stretch and say that the sovereign states Mr. Higgs mentioned did in some fashion "sign" the Constitution, though I sincerely doubt that is the case; but that still does not address the issue of how Mr. Higg's dad, a foreigner to Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California was permitted to cross those sovereign state lines without permission.

The point is that Mr. Higg's dad was a foreigner. One point you might want to check out. The Constitution does not in any shape or form mention the "free individual" as did the Articles of Confederation. The AOC specfically mentioned the right to freedom of movement by the free individuals, the Constitution does not. It doesn't mention you at all as a free individual.

The kicker is that none of the parties mentioned in Mr. Higgs's essay were "signatories" to the Constitution. I doubt seriously any of those were left alive in the early 1940s.

Rob Dawg February 28, 2008 at 2:09 pm

No doubt there's no winning an argument as to whether signatures at the convention or signatures to the legislation authorizing ratification or whatever made the various States signatories but on your final point is wrong. I wasn't talking about Mr. Higg's dad, I was talking about the States and they most certainly were still around and still bound by the terms to which they agreed. In practice I wouldn't even be surprised if there weren't even obstacles to this free and open border myth. Try bringing fruits and vegetables into California sometime. Stack them on top of your guns next to the unrelated minor child holding the pit bull puppy and tell us how it all worked out.

And that's the point if taken to an extreme. We have very good economic and environmental reasons to prohibit certain fruits and vegetables from entering California. So, States do have authority over their borders where health, safety, economy and the environment are recognized explicitly as legitimate reasons. Care to see the problems some Counties in California are having responding to biological infestations, drug resistant TB, Whooping Cough, etc.? Nothing there about health, safety, economy and the environment?

Justin February 28, 2008 at 2:11 pm

I like this blog for its economic analysis, but this article about immigration is remarkably question-begging. The argument against immigration is that immigrants put a tremendous stress on the cultural fabric.

Now, that can't be quantified and measured, so reductionist economists will never even admit that such a thing exists, but if you read your Branfield and your Harrison you have to realize that capitalism and freedom really do cultural foundations.

Nathan Benedict February 28, 2008 at 3:35 pm

Justin–that may be one argument against immigration; it is certainly not "the" argument. And, apropos of the Higgs article, the same argument could be made to prevent Alabamans from moving to New York.

As to the alleged "stress on the cultural fabric" I must admit that one can't measure a metaphor. Perhaps some concrete claims would help. In the interim, I will merely offer the observation that the U.S. has absorbed millions of immigrants in its history, from Western and Eastern Europe, Asia, Central and South America, and some unwilling ones from Africa too. Somehow, the cultural fabric is intact.

Rob Dawg February 28, 2008 at 4:10 pm

Why is it do you suppose that there are so very few eloquent advocates of unfettered immigration from Southern California?

I'm still wondering why our host has yet to open his classes to students and non-students alike regardless of their status. Could it be that behind the ivory walls there is a recognition that doing so is not the "rising tide lifting all boats" theory that is being foisted on the greater society as fact? Oh, and when the professor does reverse his current position institutes a policy of "do as I do" leading by example be sure to raise the paying student's health clinic fees to cover the costs of their new non-paying classmates.

Scott Wood February 28, 2008 at 10:02 pm

I don't suppose you could change the heading to "…from Seattle…" We Huskies chafe at being confused with Cougars.

vidyohs February 28, 2008 at 10:44 pm

No No Rob Dawg, undoubtedly there are formal agreements creating states and/or admitting independent nations such as Texas and……well Texas is still unique. We agree on that.

My point about signatories to the Constitution is that you ain't one nor am I. They are all dead and there wasn't but a handful of them to begin with. And, certainly in the process of creating a state from a territory no one signed the Constitution in that process.

And, Si Si, I have been across the border from Arizona to California and experienced the Gestapo border shakedown over fruits and veggies, but but but and this is a but that you'll have to agree with, California didn't object to me, just my apples. I was a foreigner free to enter California with no problems from the King.

What Don is pointing out is simply the same thing I attempted an honest dialogue with muirduck on and that is the mythology of borders. Don is correct in pointing out that there remain countrys today where the people can't even move about withint their own country without permission from the "boss".

And, actually I am tired from a long day, so I'd better stop at that.

Justin February 29, 2008 at 1:56 pm

Hi Nathan,

Thank you for the response. There are differences between Alabama and California, but they have more in common in than they are different, as measured by language, literacy rates, and the all-important social capital. There is, by contrast, a larger gap with many Latin American countries.

As regards past waves of immigrants, they did ultimately assimilate, but only after large amounts of work. For example, the Catholic Church was very active in reforming the character of Irish immigrants. The statistical discrimination practiced against the Irish was out of rational self-interest, and only disappeared after the Irish improved their cultural capital.

indiana jim February 29, 2008 at 5:30 pm

Virginia is deporting illegals who are sex offenders and has plans to extend this practice to other visitors who commit serious criminal offenses. Telling a story from one's upbringing is one thing, dealing with current reality, as Virginians seem to realize, is something else again.

vidyohs February 29, 2008 at 6:12 pm

indiana jim,

I certainly applaude the efforts of the Virginians, and I am sure that Robert Higgs would as well.

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