Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Open Borders

Alex Tabarrok has a very nice and very short piece at the Atlantic, The Case for Getting Rid of Borders—Completely. (HT Marginal Revolution)

In the Soviet era, there were walls and guards with guns, and we deplored that people were not allowed to cross the border. Is it that different that the guards with guns are on the other side of the walls?

If you're a liberal, you should cheer the policy with the greatest chance of elevating the world's poor and reducing global inequality. If you're a conservative, believe in the rights of individuals and freedom, don't like minimum wages, unions, protectionism, and government control, it makes little sense to switch sides on this one issue.



64 comments:

  1. John:

    The reason many often libertarian-leaning conservatives do not favor open borders is the presence of such generous welfare programs, including public education. If the rest of the government was libertarian, we could have open borders. Until then, it is too expensive. Just ask David Cameron.

    Jeff

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    1. Immigrants pay taxes if you let them work. Look up what fraction of our $6.2 trillion of government spending (federal state and local) goes to educating immigrants, then net of taxes paid by immigrants.

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    2. John,

      Not going from any experience here, but immigrants in many cases are paid under the table. That is the whole reason for hiring them - to allow companies / individuals to forgo paying their half of withholding taxes. If they complain and are not citizens, then they are asked to leave the country.

      As for why conservatives don't like immigrants - voting trends should tell you that answer.

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    3. If you've looked it up, please tell us the answer.

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    4. I think George Borjas, among others, has answered that question: the benefits are minimal.

      Besides, there is the fact that illegal immigration, by not allowing the government to screen entrants adequately, has permitted the entrance of criminals and delinquents.

      Also, the so called High Tech Visas have also been the source of fraud and the return of indentured servitude. In the case of Australia for example, The 7-11 franchise was found to sponsor foreign students under the skilled migration program, who then went to work on their service stations for below the minimum wage. SOme people in other areas work for as low as $3 per hour. And they cannot complain, since the company can fire them and their visa expires.

      Some people who are very enthusiastic for immigration are usually looking for cheap labor for their services. I wonder if there was a deluge of well trained economists from overseas waiting to emigrate here and take your job, or drive down your wages, you would still agree to let them in.

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    5. Borjas bogged in June 2007:

      “There has been a lot of fake fog thrown into the question of whether immigrants pay their way in the welfare state. It’s time for some sanity in this matter as well. The welfare state is specifically designed to transfer resources from higher-income to lower-income persons. Immigrants fall disproportionately into the bottom half of the income distribution. It is downright ridiculous to claim that low-skill immigrants somehow end up being net contributors into the public treasury.”

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    6. Borjas is the man but it's important to make the right conclusions here. "It is ridiculous to claim that low-skill immigrants" ... fine but what about all immigrants? Just because the majority fall into the bottom half of the income distribution (a fact that common sense legal immigration reform could easily fix) does NOT mean that the positive contributors CAN not (i haven't studied the distribution) contribute more than the negative contributors. Innovation impact is not normal. http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertlenzner/2013/04/25/40-largest-u-s-companies-founded-by-immigrants-or-their-children/

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    7. Still my favorite immigration piece ... is it tacky to repost the bloggers previous post? http://johnhcochrane.blogspot.com/2014/06/the-optimal-number-of-immigrants.html

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    8. Third world peasants in a post-industrial society will never, ever pay as much taxes as they get in benefits. Already 50% of Americans don't pay federal income tax, what are the chances that people with 4th grade educations are going to get into a bracket to ever pay such taxes.

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    9. Thats the exact kind of logic I love.

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  2. "In the Soviet era, there were walls and guards with guns, and we deplored that people were not allowed to cross the border. Is it that different that the guards with guns are on the other side of the walls?"

    Um, yes...those are completely different things.

    Is locking your doors to prevent random people from entering your home the same thing as locking random people inside your home and not allowing them to leave?

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    1. Heh. The list is endless. Is pushing an old lady into a train the same as pushing an old lady out of the path of a train? Both are merely pushing around old ladies.

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  3. Gallup recently concluded that roughly 150,000,000 adults (not including their dependent children) want to migrate to the U.S.:

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/153992/150-million-adults-worldwide-migrate.aspx

    Should we accept them all?

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    1. Naturalization party at John's house - only the first 100 million need apply!!!

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  4. "In the Soviet era, there were walls and guards with guns, and we deplored that people were not allowed to cross the border. Is it that different that the guards with guns are on the other side of the walls?"
    -Indeed. Just look at the Manchurian Russia-China border in 1978 (or even today). What a stark contrast. But it is ridiculous to compare keeping people in with keeping them out. The former signals the inferiority of your system; the latter, its superiority.

    And do you seriously think those new arrivals will be prevented from voting Democrat forever? Any Republican or leaner should favor restricting both legal and illegal immigration as a truism. Open borders is a recipe for one-party rule.

    And if America's inner cities became independent countries, I'd 100% favor sealing the border with them (though would prefer a small trickle of immigration).

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    1. "if America's inner cities became independent countries" they'd drop zoning laws the next day after independence, and all the manufacturing and data storage and processing will move there, and they won't be "inner cities" any more, they will become the City

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    2. ahh but they will still be run by tax the crap out of everything and make new rules every day Democrats....thus nobody will move there.

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  5. if we keep the home metaphor... is stopping you from getting to your house the same as keeping you from leaving your house? No, but they both penalize freedom of movement and that's not right.

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  6. Liberal (classical Liberal, e.g. John Locke, J.S. Mill, etc.) political theory is not a complete description of the world. It is at best a heuristic for examining the justifications for institutions. Liberalism does not include, nor can it include, real issues like identity, culture, history, and religion. Yet those are often the very substance of violent conflict.

    Borders and Nationality come from places like identity, culture, and history. Within the scope of liberalism they are irrational and inexplicable. Liberalism leads to fantasies like replacing Israel and Palestine with a unitary liberal state.

    Tabarrok's article, like Mr. Cochrane's essays on immigration, reaches the logical liberal conclusion that there should be no borders, and no restrictions on immigration. Sadly, in the real world of irrational human beings driven by issues like identity, history, and religion such a world would not be the peaceable and prosperous place they imagine. It would be the world that Thomas Hobbes saw. Incessant inter tribal warfare without end. It would be Syria or the Paris Banlieus where French policemen dare not go alone, or even in pairs.

    The political world would be run by the law the Athenians laid down to the Melians: "you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must."

    Quotation from "The History Of The Peloponnesian War" by Thucydides, Book V, Chapter XVII: "Sixteenth Year of the War—The Melian Conference—Fate of Melos"

    The Melians refused to surrender, so the Athenians defeated them, killed the adult men, and sold the women and children into slavery.

    Liberal polities can only survive in places where men are committed for exogenous cultural reasons, backed by strong religious sanctions, to the rule of law. A law that stipulates the fundamental moral equality of every adult member of the community, requires disputes to be settled by legal process not recourse to violence, protects everyone's life, liberty, and property, and allows voluntary association and freedom of communication. Social mores must also promote self control, obedience to the law, and peaceable behavior.

    This is not the natural state of mankind. Therefore, unrestricted immigration and unenforced boundaries are a recipe not for prosperity, but for chaos, war and poverty. "In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

    Quotation from Chapter 13, "Of the Natural Condition of Mankind As Concerning Their Felicity, and Misery." of Part I, "Of Man" of "Leviathan or The Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil" by Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury, London, 1651. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/hobbes-the-english-works-vol-iii-leviathan





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    1. Fat Man, I have been spouting less erudite versions of your post for years now. I thank you for giving me the words to better express the only legitimate view of unrestricted immigration. I work in the immigration business in S. E. Asia and wince every time I hear yet another open borders proponent quote economic stats as their basis for their silly viewpoint. Mahalo and keep up the good work

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    2. Fat Man, we're all immigrants or emigrants in one stage or another -- De Morgan laws.

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  7. Civic virtue, political culture and social capital of a specific community have no meaning?

    If we throw the doors open to all the comers the above will not change?

    If the whole world comes over and votes here, do you expect the rules of the game to stay the same for long?
    Will the new ones be an improvement?

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    1. The overwhelming majority of comments to this entry seem to echo the points above: how can we expect to preserve our way of life, prosperity, institutions in the face of a huge onslaught of people very different from us. Valid concerns clearly.

      Except....we've already done it! The US had unrestricted immigration until 1921. The amount and proportion of people that arrived were greater than anything experienced in recent history. They were far poorer than the today's immigrants, with much less human capital (illiterate mostly) and came from political cultures far more repressive than most of today's immigrants.

      And yet they prospered and the rest of America prospered with them. This was an incredible of achievement, lifting millions out of poverty in a generation and integrating them into a new, liberal society. It is also a profound lesson in the power of a free, market based society.

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  8. I see the problem entirely differently. If the average Mexican could substantially improve their income by migrating to the USA, then surely the morally just thing for the USA to do would be to invade Mexico, kick out their govt and institutions, and replace them with US institutions. That would immediately improve Mexican wages to US levels.

    (Of course, this is also tongue in cheek, but equally as valid as the proposition of removing borders to as to provide economic opportunity)

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    1. Your idea is cheaper, and more practical.

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    2. Dear Dr Cochrane,

      I am a French immigrant to sub-Saharian Africa for 10 years now. I can tell you that with free immigration to Europe, the relatively liberal institutions there would disappear.

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    3. Exactly. This whole idea of huge benefits of open borders assumes that institutions arrive from high heavens. The capital is just there, by the works of,providence. Nothing to do with the people who live in a specific community. We just need the nice dictator to give us the true rules.

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  9. Dear Prof John,

    This is the only single topic in which I (still) disagree with you.

    What makes the US and other developed countries special is not "luck" or "good location". It is the institutions that were created by the people living in these places. Just as skills and work ethic make individuals rich.

    I cannot understand how it would be optimal to allow immigration and dilute the decision power of the people who originally created good countries, and give more power exactly to the immigrant voters who created terrible countries elsewhere.

    I am yet to see a real discussion about the problem that immigrants are voters, not only workers. All these arguments start with "assume institutions are exogenous...".

    The examples of Texas being "full" of immigrants but not being considered democrat is not enough to say that there is no effect. Framing the discussion in libertarian/free market terms to give it the aura of "it is right, you see" is only a way to push the leftist agenda I think.

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  10. There is a property rights question here. People own their status as citizens. In the United States, with Federal citizenship comes the right to determine who will be the Congress and how the Congress will make the rules for naturalization. The current political debate in the U.S. is, at heart, over the question of the price that non-citizens should pay to acquire a valuable status. The difficulty with the proposition that naturalization should be "free" is that it pretends that the citizens are not giving up anything of value. If the same logic were applied to the currency or any other limited resource, even the most cheerful of economists would suggest that there was a real cost to the present holders of citizenship property.

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    1. citizenship is not a property right.

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  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Open borders with censorship. ; )

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    3. @Senor PM, I self-sensored my comment and so did Unknown. In my experience John rarely censors comments, and if he does only the censored party would know (he just doesn't allow it through, leaving no evidence). It's only happened once or twice to me. I have no complaints.

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  12. "In the Soviet era, there were walls and guards with guns, and we deplored that people were not allowed to cross the border"

    Trump was right. Walls do work!

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  13. Open borders have been tried before, with some uncertain results.

    "In the sixth consulship of Arcadius and Probus, Vandals and Alans came into the Gauls, having crossed the Rhine, on the day before the kalends of January."

    Prosper of Acquitaine

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  14. "In the Soviet era, there were walls and guards with guns, and we deplored that people were not allowed to cross the border. Is it that different that the guards with guns are on the other side of the walls?"

    I normally agree with you on most things, but I don't like this comparison at all.

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  15. Our France 39 style, defend the border!, policy has failed completely. There are 11,000,000 who have blitzed it. 11,000,000 who armed bureaucrats actively discourage from cooperating with health and safety institutions. 11,000,000 who provide a great hiding place for terrorists and disease. 11,000,000 who will gladly return home after accumulating wealth, knowledge, and contacts. If we hadn't made transit so perilous and slowed their improvement most immigrants would have returned home and made a better life for themselves and their families already.

    The Maginot line has failed again. A defense in depth strategy will be effective as it is between TX and AK.

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  16. Let's get rid of all borders, including private ones, i.e. those artificial invisible lines marking off pieces of land as exclusive 'private property' - lines which are violently enforced by big government.

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  17. The economic argument for open borders is to allow a temporary increase in the welfare of billions of people at the expense of a permanent decrease in the welfare of hundreds of millions of people within the US. The open borders crowd has no respect for the current US citizen’s standard of living. The capital to labor ratio would fall dramatically in the US with an influx of immigration. This would cause wages for US workers to fall dramatically as the US wage falls to the world average. Would you support a dramatic fall in the US citizen’s standard of living just so you can be consistent?

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  18. Anon,

    they're not consistent. There's nothing consistent about a right-wing 'conservative' advocating 'open borders'.

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  19. I have a spare room that I could rent out. I could gain additional income. There are some inconveniences, of course. More garbage, less privacy, more people using the kitchen.

    I choose not to rent out that spare room. I forsake a bit of income, and prefer privacy and reliable access to resources: there is less competition for the shower in the morning.

    (And, nobody can force me to "quarter" anybody: thanks third amendment!)

    Is the decision to not rent my lodgings an immoral, even uneconomic, decision?

    Surely, I would gain income, while some poor soul would gain access to my resources, if I were to rent. Yet I do not. I can value low immigration similarly.

    Dr Cochrane, do you rent out spare rooms in your house?

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  20. Three points:

    One, Milton Friedman wrote something to the effect, you can have open borders and you can have the welfare state. But, not both.

    Two, bring them all in and give them everything they need. It will mean the end of the welfare state as we know it.

    Three, the Eurozone will show us the apocalyptic consequences as it absorbs relatively unlimited numbers of so-called Syrian Civil War (fomented by really-smart Clinton and infallible Obama) refugees.

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  21. Let us say that (without borders) most of the people of Bangladesh, Haiti, Somalia, Honduras or Afganistan move into Danemark, Holland, New Zeland or Germany (non entirely unrealistic giving what is going on). Isn't it reasonable to think that the these (relatively) "good" societes will end up resemble the "bad" ones ? It is not the weather or natural resources that make Danemark better that Bangladesh, but the people. Since it is hard to understand exactly why Mexicans do not WHEN THEY ARE A MAJORITY of a country act like Canadians, it is safe to assume that wherever they become majority will turn the country in one that resembles the one of origin

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  22. 100% agree John. Though I suspect that whether it works depends strongly on the accompanying policy settings. By that I mean a sensible tax system (land and sales taxes), welfare system/industrial relations system (let them work! don't buy unemployment!), and micro-stuff like zoning and competition policy.

    In Australia we couple high immigration levels with ridiculous urban planning (and the fact there are really only two cities). The result? An incredible transfer of wealth to existing land-owners and ridiculous property prices for the young. There are legitimate reasons one may be afraid of more of the same.

    The endogenous institutions argument as a response to immigration in general is a weak one. First, we have countries and regions that have accepted a huge number of immigrants without changing much. Singapore, Sydney/Melbourne, New York/LA, London, Auckland etc. Second, even if there are groups of immigrants that have terrible outcomes, there are other groups (just as needy) who have excellent outcomes.

    One compelling anti-immigration argument is that many of the capital/public goods in a society that generate its high living standards have been paid for by those who lived there longer; if these externalities exist then they will be underprovided if immigrants don't pay for them. Becker talked about charging immigration fees to resolve this. We could levy income-contingent loans for this sort of charge without much trouble (see the HELP scheme in Australia).

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  23. How does the invisible hand work if the majority of people can't "grok" market-based economies and will vote for market-destroying policies that seem to benefit each of them individually ?

    How does the invisible hand work if "the butcher, the brewer or the baker" can kidnap and enslave you for being of the wrong kind of person ?

    John, I think you are taking much for granted, things like peace and culture and honesty.

    Unless you are envisioning that a world capitalist totalitarian dictatorship would magically pop up and solve these political problems, and forgot to tell us. Yes, if we had that, then borders would be just a hindrance to the world GDP.

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  24. Even if it were true that benefits (e.g., greater national output) exceed costs (e.g., welfare payments) -- and ignoring (at great peril) the long-term political and social aspects of what amounts to invasion -- there is the question of who benefits and who bears the costs. Cost-benefit analysis implicitly accepts the notion of a social-welfare function. But there is no such thing. A's benefits don't compensate for B's costs. To put it starkly: If A punches B in the nose, and enjoys doing so, his enjoyment doesn't cancel B's pain.

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    1. So I can forcibly prevent my competitor from selling you a better product at a better price. Starkly: my competitor's and your peaceful benefit do not cancel my loss so I can initiate force.

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    2. So I can forcibly prevent my competitor from selling you a better product at a better price.
      This is what the US civil war was. The North through sky-high tariffs prevented southerners from buying superior products at lower prices from England.

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    3. agreed

      I recommend against the term civil war because it was not two or more factions fighting for control of the central authority.

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    4. Private property is based on the initiation of force. In a hypothetical world without private property, everything is available to everyone. When you fence off a piece of the world, declare it to be your private property, and threaten to use force against others in order to enforce your claim, you are initiating force against others (and imposing costs on them that they didn't consent to).

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    5. I sharply distinguish between being the first to fence unclaimed land and being the first to use force.

      Private property greatly promotes general welfare and more importantly helps individuals shape their own lives.

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    6. Regardless of the potential social benefits of having a system of private property, the objective fact remains that in the scenario I described, the person who fences off land (or other resources) and then threatens or uses force to enforce his claim, is the one who is initiating force against others.

      However, initiaiting force isn't necessarily a bad thing, if you have a good justification.

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    7. So you claim there is no difference between me fencing unclaimed land and stating I will use force to defend my property if necessary and me just immediately shooting you?

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    8. What you're 'defending' (or enforcing) is a unilateral property *claim*. Others didn't consent to it. As far as they're concerned you are engaging in aggression when you use force against them to deny them access to land or resources which were otherwise available to all.

      Objectively, the first person to use force against the other person is the one who is initiating force. It makes no difference whether the person who first uses force does so in order to enforce a property claim over resources which they have unilaterally decided they are entitled to exclude others from. That is merely their justification for initiating force against others.

      Simple example: (1) There is no property. All land is available to everyone. No one uses force against anyone to exclude others from pieces of land. (2) You claim that a piece of land is your property, and that from then on you will use force against others to exclude them from that piece of land or to enforce your control over that piece of land. (3) You have forcibly denied other people the right to do what previously they were free to do. You have initiated the threat and use of force against others where previously there was none. By forcibly excluding people from things which were previously freely available to all, you have imposed a cost on them without their consent, and forcibly reduced their freedom.

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    9. You did not answer my question about claiming unclaimed land vs shooting.

      Others are limiting my freedom by trampling where I want to build an observatory. No one else has bothered to claim it so I do. Many people will enjoy my observatory in the future.

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    10. "You did not answer my question about claiming unclaimed land vs shooting."

      Some people would argue that you are entitled to immediately shoot anyone who comes onto land that you have claimed as your property, others say you're only entitled to shoot if your orders or warnings aren't obeyed, or if the other person resists or retaliates against your use of non-lethal force. Either way, I don't see why you think that's a important question. Yes, there is a difference between just shooting someone without warning and, for example, putting up a sign telling someone that you will shoot them if they go beyond the sign. It doesn't change the fact that you are using violence to enforce a unilateral (non-consensual) property claim, even if others haven't previously used violence against you.

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    11. An example of a human society with no private property is small communities in the Amazon. They live in poverty with a 40% death rate among males. good fences make good neighbors

      Can you think of a current example with positive outcomes? Why aren't you using the flexibility of private property rights to enjoy a property-less preserve?

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    12. you've switched from 'initiation of force' rhetoric to consequentialist arguments for your preferred system of property.

      my job is done.

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    13. declare victory and retreat bwahahahahahahaha

      Property results in more stuff which is nice and less killing which is important.

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    14. I didn't enter into this discussion in order to play a game of whack-a-mole against various and changing arguments for your specific preferred system of property, only to clearly refute your wrong-headed 'initiation of force' rhetoric in defence of it. Which I did.

      "and less killing" Highly unlikely given that violent conquest, colonisation, genocide and slavery have all been perpetrated with the aim of accumulating more property.

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    15. Your claims seems spurious. Give me a sentence or two(no more) which refutes my 'initiation of force' rhetoric.

      "violent conquest ..." yes many but far less than 40% violent death rate overall. Deaths from disease are far less also.

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  25. Here is an excellent presentation and some comments: http://rationalisthuman.com/content/case-open-borders

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Comments are welcome. Keep it short, polite, and on topic.

Thanks to a few abusers I am now moderating comments. I welcome thoughtful disagreement. I will block comments with insulting or abusive language. I'm also blocking totally inane comments. Try to make some sense. I am much more likely to allow critical comments if you have the honesty and courage to use your real name.