In many ways, Europe seems to be in a crises at the moment. Economic problems of some EU states, most importantly Greece have been constantly in the news over the past few years and no end is in side. The people in charge to manage the crises are our completely clueless politicians. They have identified all kinds of causes, except the real one, which is of course themselves. And so every new ‘solution’ presented is really only trying to solve the ever bigger mess that their last one caused. Every time they come up with a new solution, everything seems to go quite for a moment before the disaster resurfaces.
In the first half of this year, it was Greece that was heading the news. They put a bandage on this problem and so everything has gone quite for now, until in a few month, the bandage will come off and will reveal an even bigger wound. But it seems we are not going to get to enjoy the holiday in the mean time. This summer, a new crises has emerged. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people are trying to get into the fortress of Europe. Of course there have always been many people trying to get into Europe, but because of the horrendous devastations that various political groups, including and probably most importantly our own governments have caused in the middle east, the numbers of refugees, looking for a better and in many cases simply any life have become so big that it cannot be ignored anymore. We have a problem!
However, just like in the economic crises, the reasons presented to us in the mainstream media for what caused this crises are false most of the time. First of all, the real reason why the middle east has become such a hell hole has a lot to do with the foreign policy of our governments in that region, at least since WWII. However, the details of these policies shell not be the topic of this article. Let us instead focus on the refugee crisis itself.
Since the collapse of the soviet union, most people and even politicians seemed to have learned the lesson that outright centrally planning the economy does not work. Few people however seem to understand why exactly that is. Most just seemed to accept the empirical case without understanding the mechanism behind it. That is probably the reason why we still have a few bastions of real central planning left. One especially bizarre example in the UK is the NHS. It is bizarre, because most countries in Europe are pursuing a much better, less centrally planned alternative. And yet, despite of that, the NHS seems sacrosanct.
But one area in which every state I know off still prefers economic central planning is the movement of people over state borders. Of course there are other aspects to migration than economics, but economics is usually one of the main arguments in favour of this policy. Migration control really is classic central planning and we are seeing all the problems we would expect from such a system.
Every person who crosses a state border, needs to have a permission from the state in whose territory he or she is traveling. Sometimes, he even needs a permission from the state from which he is traveling. This includes citizens, who also need to be ready to proof their membership in that state if requested. From this follows logically that every lip service to private property by any state is an illusion. If the state can prevent me from entering my property and if it can prevent me from inviting strangers to my property, then it cannot really be my property. The real owner seems to be the state.
To select who can pass and who cannot, the criteria are as always in central planning completely arbitrary. We have a classic soviet style system of licensing based on arbitrary criteria and quotas in place. On the surface, all these criteria are openly and precisely laid out. So it looks like we are dealing with an organised system. However, since these rules do not relate to the real needs of people in the world, what we really get instead is what Ludwig von Mises called a planned chaos. What does that mean? For example, while I was studying a Masters at Bournemouth University, I lived with a guy from Japan, who was doing a language course at one of the many language schools in Bournemouth. On a student visa, the central planners had decided, he could work for 20h a week. Why 20h, I don’t know, but that was the number the comrades came up with. He worked in a restaurant as a waiter. In that job it is sometimes hard to keep track of hours worked and so one week he worked a little bit longer. Unfortunately, the restaurant documented this, because he got paid for the extra hours. When the central planners discovered it, they gave him 2 weeks to leave the country. In addition to that, since he had caused such a damage to the UK economy, he was banned from re-entering the country for 10 years.
There you go, that is central planning at work. The people who planned this system were doing it under the assumption, that if someone with a Japanese passport works for more than 20h then that is bad. However, if a student with a Spanish passport or for that matter an English one would do the exact same work, then that is perfectly fine. There is no way of making sense of this. It is a complete chaos, disconnected from any common sense and the real needs of the people involved. But it is a chaos organised with merciless brutal precision. This is of course just one example of one regulation. But every state migration regulation works like this. There are no free market prices involved in these decision. We just have arbitrary bureaucratic categories, based on whatever the central planners think is sensible. And since everyone crossing a state border needs to be categorised in one of these, I would expect to see quite a bit of chaos from this.
Migration control is not a minor little policy. With this policy the state claims nothing short of the right to control everyone who is on its territory. It is therefore violating the rights of everyone on both sides of the border, not just migrants with foreign passports. Of course, it cannot succeed in ever really controlling people. There has never been a closed border, or for that matter even a completely tight prison. People who really want to cross the border, will cross the border. The state merely raises the costs to do so. But since the state claims the right to control everyone, every person crossing the border without state permission is seen as a problem. And so, further, tighter restrictions on freedom need to be put in place. It is like with all interventions. The state is causing the problems that it is trying to solve. Therefore, we are constantly moving towards more and more
But the chaos is completely unnecessary. We have a real tool of order in the word which is liberty. The truth is of cause that in every voluntary agreement, both sides always win. If this simple economic principal holds true then no migrant crossing a state border without violating anyones private property rights can possibly cause any damage. On the contrary, if it is indeed voluntary, then there always is a net economic benefit from it.
We also live in a world economy in which goods are being traded all over the globe. Talking about a national economy as if this existed as a separate entity is simply nonsense. There is no such thing, outside of North Korea at least. And even they are not completely cut off. If that is true, then we have a self interest that people move from areas in which they cannot be productive to productive ones. Not only will this not hurt our standard of living, it will improve it.
So if we are now seeing people fleeing areas in which productivity or even pure survival is not possible anymore, we should be happy that they have decided to do the right thing and move to peaceful, productive areas. This is the market trying to solve the problem and the market knows better than the central planners. This is completely leaving aside the fact that there are of course strong moral reasons to let them in.
But what do our politicians do? They do the only thing politics can ever do, which is preventing people from solving problems. Once the solution has been prevented, Leviathan then can have its own go at it and so justify its existence. And again, since their solution will only make things worse the beast will then claim that it needs more power and grow.
The chaos that we are now seeing of hordes of poor migrants interrupting traffic and trains in search for a ride, or worse bodies of drowned migrants including children being washed on the shores of the Mediterranean is the consequence of Leviathans solution. Although, thanks to capitalism we now live in a world in which a journey of thousands of miles is affordable to almost everyone, immigrants from a lot of countries to Europe do not get to enjoy these benefits. The state has threatened everyone with punishment who is trying to give one of these people a ride. That is why on every international flight, airlines will ask you about your passport and visa details. Without those, they will not let you on board. Thanks to immigration controls, the state has forced them to be a part in their border control force. This is a good example of one regulation following another. As a consequence, everyone, even legitimate asylum seekers will have to come into Europe on dangerous hidden routes. This shows how serious our governments are about helping the poor. It is a bit like praising oneself for providing free healthcare, but then making it very difficult for people to get to the hospital. Actually it is worse. With asylum, nothing extra needs to be provided actively. The state simply has to go out of the way. But the reaction of many states to this crises has been the opposite. They have build higher fences and hunting down so called traffickers who are transporting migrants.
As a result, migrants who are determent not to die and make it to Europe often have to pay a lot of money for a ticket on the black market. On the 23rd August this year, the German newspaper ‘Die Zeit’ published an article about a young family of five fleeing Iraq. Amir Shamo, his wife Maha and their three young children, 4 month, 3 and 5 years old, had to flee, when the Islamic State marched into their town and started to terrorise the locals. They are Yazidis and faced the choice of either converting to Islam or being executed. Since they did not want to convert, they decided to flee. They paid traffickers with their whole savings of 34000 Euro (about £25000 or 38000$). That comes down to about an average British year salary. In other words, even for western standards that is real money. 5 plane tickets from Iraq to Germany on the other hand would have cost them just 500 Euro. But thanks to the state, that was not an option. And so, after a long and dangerous journey, their traffickers kicked them out of the van near Passau at the German part of the German/Austrian border. They were dehydrated and hungry and only had a small back of possessions left. All their saving, that they could have used to start a new life are now in the hands of traffickers. Probably not the nicest people to give the money to. But one can hardly call them criminals. If they were not providing this important service, even at a high price, the family would now most likely be dead.
The reason why they wanted to go to Germany is because Amir’s brother lives in Munich. So he had savings and relatives in Germany, but since neither is a category in the bureaucracy of the central planners, non of that helped to get into the country ‘legally’.
Normally we would not see pictures of flocks of seemingly poor migrants walking through Europe. They would simply arrive on a plane, train, bus or ship and no one would notice any difference to the other passengers unless you were to ask them for their passports. A lot of these people are not the poorest of the society they are fleeing from, they are among the stronger. The really poor don’t even get out. It is the state that is producing the chaos that we are witnessing.
And the chaos does not end when they finally arrive at their destination. In Passau Amir went to the Police and that put him into the hands of the bureaucracy of the welfare state. Instead of reaching his brother in Munich, he will now have to spend several month in a state organised refugee camp. Even if he is granted asylum in Germany, he will not be allowed to work for at least 1 year. That means he is forced to live on welfare. That also means that he will end up in a statistic of foreigners getting welfare. These statistics then serve as proof that these new people arriving here really are no good. Not only is he actively prevented from being productive, but resources have to be used to keep him unproductive. Only Bureaucrats can come up with such a nonsense. And as Mises pointed out, they really only can come up with nonsense, no matter how hard they try. These refugee camps then end up being another tool in the propaganda of liberty haters. Showing all these people locked up in one location, like bad guys is water on their mills and a good target to attack or to protest against. The latest fashion in the chaotic world of central planning are demands for quotas for states in the EU. Instead of letting people go where they are most needed, bureaucrats will distribute them all over Europe. The criteria used for that will of course again be completely arbitrary and will only spread the chaos. But that is good news for the state, as more chaos means again we will need even more central planning.
The closed border policy often also prevents people from going back. Humans, as well as some other mammals are psychologically programmed to experience loss of something they have more negatively than not having gotten it in the first place. For example, it is more painful to lose £20 then to not get promised £20. “Illegals” do not have the chance to simply come here, see if they like it and then go back if they don’t. That leads to often completely wrong expectations. Because of their illegality, they also do not have the chance to arrange things from the far. When I moved to England, I didn’t just jump into my car and saw what happened. I made sure that I had a place to stay and something to do here before I came. The same is probably true for almost any legal migrant.
But illegals do not have that possibility. Everyone trying to arrange their stay here would commit a crime. So they have little other chance than to somehow make it here and then see what happens. Even if what they find that life here does not meet their expectations, they will be very reluctant to go back. First of all it would make their huge investment that they had to pay to get in look like a loss. Secondly, if they go back, they then cannot easily change their mind and try to get into Europe again. In other words, the closed border system is putting huge costs on ‘illegals’ to go back. And we know that a lot of immigrants at some point will end up going back to their homeland. They often just want to earn some capital that will give them a big advantage in their home country. If we did not have central planning in immigration, all this chaos would play out quite differently. People would come and leave for all kinds of reasons ranging from having been offered some kind of job to having to flee for their lives. According to their needs and expectations, they would need to make arrangements with the locals. Not collectively of course, but on a one on one basis. If their expectations are not met they will go home again. But if they are met and they can improve their lives here it will be a win for everyone. The masses of people that we hear about at the moment, would probably not be very noticeable. What is half a million people in a country like Germany that has already about 80 million.
But yes, over time things would change. We will see multiculturalism. This multiculturalism however, is a fundamental part of the market process. Markets are not very conservative. In fact the big advantage of markets is that they are quicker to adopt to an ever changing world than any other institution. However, the idea that this is like an invasion of a foreign army is simply nonsense. People come here because they value what is here. If we embrace liberty and offer them a part in this society, they will take the offer. But of course, if we fight them, then they will fight back. At his point people often start to mention the welfare state as an excuse to keep the central panning in place. This however is very little persuasive. Let us assume the argument is correct and open borders would bankrupt the welfare state. In that case people who believe that the welfare state is good because it is helping the poor will have to answer the question, how they can seriously argue that we need to not give all these poor people in the world a chance to come here in order to protect the poor. Clearly if that is the outcome of the welfare state, then it is not worth having and protecting it under its own moral principals.
And those who already understand that the welfare state is not helping the poor, they really have nothing to object. I heart some libertarians argue that with a welfare state, immigrants would violate their property rights and therefore we cannot have open borders. But it is not the immigrants that are violating your rights, it is the welfare state. We should not stop opposing one state intervention because of another. With the same logic, someone could say that as long as we have the welfare state, it is libertarian to be in favour of state birth control. After all a number of the people who are born will become welfare recipients. Therefore, should we not argue that everyone who want to have a baby first needs to proof that that child will never be at risk to go on welfare? I better stop here, because I don’t want to give anyone stupid policy ideas. If the welfare state really is so important to you, then build a fence around the welfare state and not the nation state. That means exclude immigrants from welfare.
The world is too complex to let central planners run it. We need now more than ever to bring the order of liberty into the statist chaos. So comrades, go home, do something productive for a change and open the damn borders!