Public Property and the Libertarian Immigration Debate

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A critical but underdeveloped part of the libertarian debate about immigration is the question of who, if anyone, owns public property, and the consequences of the answer to this question. Libertarians who favor restrictive immigration policies, such as Hans-Hermann Hoppe, argue that taxpayers own public property, and that the state, while it is in control of such property, should manage it on behalf of taxpayers in the same way private owners would manage their own property. In other words, it should be quite selective about who may enter. Walter Block, who takes an “open borders” position, does not appear to dispute the claim that taxpayers own public property, but nevertheless argues that immigrants are entitled to ignore the state’s control of, and thus may freely enter, such property. In this article I explore the question of public property ownership using Rothbardian property rights principles. I conclude that, at least with respect to a particular type of public property, neither Hoppe’s nor Block’s reasoning is consistent with these principles. I also consider the idea that the state ought to have a role in managing public property in light of some libertarian anarchist ideas about the state. I conclude that supporting a legitimate role for the state as an immigration gatekeeper is inconsistent with Rothbardian and Hoppean libertarian anarchism, as well as with the associated strategy of advocating always and in every instance reductions in the state’s role in society.
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