Rand Paul officially announced his candidacy for the 2016 U.S. Presidential election on April 7th, 2015. Unofficially Rand Paul has been preparing to run for the Presidency ever since he first came onto the spotlight as an electable messenger of his father’s, Ron Paul’s, libertarian ideals. There has been much discussion in the libertarian movement whether Rand Paul is a ‘true’ libertarian or if he is a ‘beltarian’ more concerned with getting elected to the White House. Those who argue the latter point out that he diverges from his father on several policy issues.
One issue in which both father and son remain near identical in is in immigration. Unfortunately immigration is one of the few policy areas where Ron Paul is at odds with libertarian principles. To his credit Ron Paul isn’t in favor of building a fence across the Mexican-US border, but his opposition to such a fence is that it could be used to restrict the freedom of travel of US citizens. Rand Paul in turn might be against open borders, but focuses his attacks using second-order arguments (e.g. Migrants increase the welfare state).
To understand why Ron Paul, and ultimately his son Rand Paul, are not proponents of open borders we must discuss the wider libertarian movement.
Libertarianism has historically been sympathetic to, if not necessarily open borders, minimal immigration restrictions. This is of no surprise given that most founders of the modern libertarian movement were migrants fleeing tyranny in Europe. Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek were both Austrian migrants. The infamous Ayn Rand, for whom Rand Paul is not named after, was a Russian migrant. Ayn Rand was also the libertarian movement’s best known illegal alien and one of its strongest proponents of open borders.
It was a strange incident then when a faction of libertarian intellectuals came out in favor of migration restrictions in the late 20th century. Hans-Hermann Hoppe, a German migrant himself, convinced Murray Rothbard on the legitimacy of migration restrictions. Hoppe, who remains one of the few major libertarian intellectuals in favor of migration restrictions, argued that open borders were tantamount to forced integration. Hoppe often points out that in an anarcho-capitalist society home owners would be free to refuse to associate with whomever they please and that open borders would violate them of this right. As my co-blogger, Nathan Smith, often points out though it is possible for open borders to exist with private discrimination and thus Hoppe’s argument do not serve as a case for migration restrictions.
Hans Hermann Hoppe did not manage to win the debate on migration and the libertarian movement remains largely sympathetic to open borders, but he nonetheless managed to convince some libertarians, most importantly the Lew Rockwell – Murray Rothbard circle. This circle included Ron Paul who was a friend of Murray Rothbard. Ron Paul in turn influenced his son’s political views. In short Hans Hermann Hoppe’s views on migration have culminated in Rand Paul having negative views towards open borders. One wonders how things might turned up if Walter Block, also a member of the Rothbard-Rockwell circle, had dominated discussions on immigration instead of Hans Hermann Hoppe!
There are those in the libertarian movement who believe that Rand Paul is not as much of an immigration hawk as I have outlined above. To be fair, Rand is not as hostile to open borders as Hans Hermann Hoppe himself but he is no friend to open borders. During the 2013 debate on Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) Rand voted against the passage of the bill. He voted against CIR arguing that it did not grant enough congressional oversight to ensure that the border was secured. The problem with this argument is that immigration creates constant political gridlock and that by increasing the role of Congress it would become increasingly unlikely that immigration liberalization would ever take place. It is difficult enough to get Congress to address immigration once every few decades; the last major overhaul was in the 80s. It is unthinkable to imagine Congress repeatedly addressing immigration as Rand desires. It is partly due to these political difficulties in immigration policy that federalizing immigration policy is an attractive option.
Rand Paul, who is often seen as being more politically savy than his father, surely understands this. If so, why does he insist on a poison pill that would kill any meaningful immigration reform?
As a recent interview with Rand Paul by Andy Hallman showcased, Rand is willing to make the Friedman argument that open borders are incompatible with the welfare state. However Friedman’s argument wasn’t against open borders; Friedman’s argument was that as long as we had a welfare state it would be preferable to promote illegal immigration.
By no means should this post be taken to mean that Rand Paul should not be supported by libertarians in the upcoming 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Immigration, while important, is not the sole policy issue of relevance.