The Austrian Way: Immigration Swiss-style

Immigration is the debate du jour at Bogpaper at the moment. Trust that old subject to stir up the emotions, result in bucket loads of comments under articles and create some excellent and very healthy debate.

Two weeks ago RGTyler wrote a great blog on The Case for Immigration.

The author urged that the influx of new peoples added welcome diversity, crucial competition in the jobs market and generally increased the range of goods and services we might want to consume, whilst also lowering their costs. True, true; open and free societies do tend to enjoy the most social and economic progress.

We were also reminded that not all immigrants are a drain on the state with an interesting example of localised, intra-community provision of support to others. It is also true that many migrants are highly entrepreneurial.

RGTyler’s main concern was the far right and left’s liberty killing tendency to err towards closing borders and its potential for looking us into unhealthy stasis and societal ossification.

Along came Russell

After this immigration starter, we had Russell Taylor serve the second course.

With a deft conservative retort, Russell argued that whilst immigration is a good thing, when left unlimited it has a range of costs and implications that can be problematic for not just other peoples’ pockets but also their liberty.

Given the sacred cow of welfarism in the UK, we are reminded of the financial costs of supporting, ‘socialising’ and launching these migrants into their new lives in our land. Within this strand of argument, Russell also took exception to New Labour’s social experiment of loose immigration policies and their seeking to benefit from inflows of more voters with eyes for Labour’s more generous hand-outs.

Beyond the financial considerations Russell also explains how unlimited immigration can swamp the local culture, destabilising pre-existing communities, whilst also eroding institutions and values that previously served as attractive beacons to the outside world. Remember that an influx of aggressive, illiberal and anti-social beliefs can have significantly deleterious effects on the liberty of those who were here first, opined Russell.

Turning Swiss to be Austrian

Readers will have enjoyed both RGTyler’s and Russell Taylor’s pieces, but are we overly focusing on both ends of the extremes of potential outcomes here?  Are we falling into a bipolarity of arguments between concerns over airtight borders locking UK plc out of new dynamism, lifeblood and development versus worries about unchecked immigration enabling rampaging hoards to impinge on our liberty, visit their ghettoization on us and suck the welfare budget dry?

My interest in Austrian economics was driven by its down-to-earth focus on what we can actually do as well as its interests in liberty.

With this in mind, and in no way because I’m sat looking over a breath-taking view of the Swiss Alps, might I suggest that we should just get a bit more Swiss about these things?

No I don’t mean sporting lederhosen, quaint check shirts and felts hats whilst we talk about this subject, but I do mean simply devolving immigration policies to the most local level possible.

In the interests of achieving the most responsive policies, alongside the most optimal and liberty respecting outcomes, should immigration policies not be decided by local communities, boroughs and counties, according to their own needs, local economic factors, current social diversities, et cetera?

For example, councils in Devon might decide they need a few more immigrants with the skills and educations Devonians were lacking. They’re obviously strong on making clotted cream down there, playing rugby and say ‘ged orf my laaand’, but what if they need more unskilled workers to add competition to the market for menial jobs? Or, perhaps the restaurant, food shop and takeaway markets aren’t delivering what Devonians now want? Or, even perhaps Devonians suddenly want more university grads and entrepreneurs to help drive the resurgence of Exeter, Plymouth or even Tiverton?

I’m not trying to patronise Devon – I am ‘from those parts’ – but, the point is that Devonians, in the same way as Brummies, Londoners, Mancs and everyone else, are best able to work out what they have, want and need when it comes to immigration.

Surely the Austrian way on these things would be to devolve power to the most level possible and remove central planning and philosophy from it?

Making immigration bottom up, not top down

You might say that the UK government has to manage the borders, so you’re wistfully trying to get too local you fool.

But, couldn’t counties or councils work with the current highly centralised, state immigration apparatus to deliver a more bottom up approach to allowing people in according to the accumulation of local desires, not Whitehall target sheets or what Dave or Red Ed’s gurus tell them, and then distributing the newly arrived to where they are wanted most?

Certain liberties of some people are going to have to get compromised on in any outcome to this immigration debate, perhaps a more localised solution could be least worst one here.

Devolving immigration lets local people get to decide what is best for them and their liberties, whilst immigrants do have a chance of finding a better life even if they don’t get to choose the exact destination within the country they arrive in.

As I enjoy this Sunday in rural Switzerland (when I wrote this drivel!) and note the fact that no shops are open, the diversity of people and food stuffs is very limited and that London is so very different to this quieter way of life, the thing I like most about it all is that they chose it this way.

Swiss style localised politics makes policies and their outcomes more responsive, more tailored and more promoting of local liberties. These lucky Swiss, with their free smelling, sweet, clean air, get so much more of a say about the things that affect their lives than we bloody do.

Couldn’t getting a bit more Swiss about immigration sort this shit out?

13 comments on “The Austrian Way: Immigration Swiss-style

  1. Anthem
    August 13, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    Blimey. Talk about treating people as commodities! It’s all very well having an immigration policy based on the expediency of the moment but what do you do when the urgent local need for their skills has ended? Send them back?

    Other than that, I’m with you and, despite your urging not to do so, I’m currently wearing lederhosen, a quaint check shirts and a felt hat.

  2. Rocco
    August 13, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    Mr Way ( I do like to be polite, you understand), firstly, which liberties have to be overridden in any case? Could you be specific, please.
    Secondly Mr Way, you make an excellent point: surely it’s best to devolve decision making to the lowest possible level. I agree with this completely. And the lowest possible level decision making can be devolved to is the individual.
    Therefore, if I wish to trade with a migrant the State shouldn’t stop me. If another fellow doesn’t wish to trade with migrants, he should not be forced to.
    The error in your article, is that you refuse to carry devolution through to it’s logical conclusion. That is to say, not so much open borders, rather, no borders.

  3. Rocco
    August 13, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

    One more thing, Mr Way, given that you are an Austrian, you must be familiar with von Mises’ calculation problem argument (I brought this up late in the day with Mr Taylor, but I don’t know if he is an Austrian).
    So, in light of that argument, how can you expect the government -no matter how local- to respond after the manner of a free market, “bottom up” as you put it?

    • Rocco
      August 13, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

      Or, if you prefer von Hayek, his ‘knowledge problem’ would show the folly of such government behaviour just as effectively.

  4. evanescent
    August 13, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    Rocco has eloquently stripped the discourse down to the bare essentials. I couldn’t have said this any better: “surely it’s best to devolve decision making to the lowest possible level. I agree with this completely. And the lowest possible level decision making can be devolved to is the individual.”

    If the question of immigration is really a question of whether other individual human beings should be allowed to move and live where they wish (which it is) then the next obvious question is: why should anybody else, *any* collective, whether they be national, regional, county or communal, get to have a say on the private voluntary agreements of other people? I challenge anyone to give a rational non-collectivist answer to this.

    If one wishes to implement a system where people are free to move, one where individuals will naturally gravitate towards areas of demand which need to be supplied, there is a little system which already exists in rare isolated regions ideally suited for this end. It’s called “the free market”.

    Finally, “removing philosophy” from the issue is the very last thing we should be doing. The Left has absolutely no rational foundation for any of its notions. But this is a question of politics, which is a question of ethics, which is the purview of philosophy. This is how the debate will be settled.

    • Rocco
      August 13, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

      Thank you, my friend. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but I do enjoy reading your comments! 😉

    • The Austrian Way
      August 15, 2013 at 8:11 am #

      Thanks for your comment Evanescent,

      I posted a reply to your good self and Mr Rocco below.

      Good day to you.

  5. Rocco
    August 14, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

    The Austrian way, am I to take this as a snub or something? I notice normally you are very prompt to reply to readers who leave comments. And yet here I am, over a day later, waiting. Dude, that’s not cool. Especially since you made a big deal about how great it was to have so much debate in the comments. But on your own article, you refuse to enter into any kind of debate at all it seems. Like I said, not cool.

    • The Austrian Way
      August 15, 2013 at 8:10 am #

      Hi Rocco and Evanescent,

      Thanks for reading and for the thoughts and comments, which are welcomed and well-received. Apologies for the tardy reply – I am on holiday at the moment and have been removing myself from laptops, phones and the net for cycling and climbing the Swiss Alps instead! Désolé.

      Perhaps I might split the two main points being discussed her into two areas:

      1) Devolving decision making down to the lowest possible level, and the counter that I am not devolving it as low as could be done and as low as is optimal for the promotion, ney preservation of liberty.

      This is a good point and I was thinking about this as I wrote the article. I suppose I would reply with two points. The first is that I was thinking of the here and now and realistic, perhaps incremental, steps towards progress from the status quo. I think we’re in agreement that some devolution away from Whitehall-based central planning is at least a step in the right direction. There is further scope of devolution here indeed and I had not explored it further.

      The second part of this first point is something I have been grappling with, not entirely successfully, this morning and something I’d appreciate your thoughts on – that if we devolve such things all the way down to the sovereign man, does this not have implications for the nation state? Now, I know Libertarians can view the nation state as some form of collective, but if the participants of this collective enter into it of free will, by their own choice and are exercising their liberties to do so, can this product of choice not have some rules based immigration apparatus? A rules based system for new entrants, but an open door to leave should any citizen find things not entirely satisfactory from a liberty and other perspective?

      I call myself a Libertarian but I’m also conscious of the concept of no borders, given rightly or wrongly I believe the nation state, post treaty of Westphalia, has played a role in human progress. I want no Hobbesian Leviathan, but if we devolve everything down to the individual level we have to expect all to play by the Libertarian rules. I’m not sure this is an entirely reasonable assumption to make. The temptation for individuals to use what sway they have in various areas (eg – strength) during interaction with other individuals is significant. Is Mill’s harm principle not partly an acknowledgement of this and thus a utility derived prescription for ensuring the least possible injuries to our liberty and property?

      2) The argument that there ever has to be a compromise where some liberties of some peoples are impacted at the expense of others, within the immigration debate.

      To return to Mill’s harm principle, the way I read and understand it is that we have to limit the pursuit of our liberties, desires and endeavours to the extent that it harms another’s property (intellectual, physical etc).

      Then going back to immigration generally, this means that an immigrant’s liberties would be compromised to this degree. In the interests of utility I would agree with this compromise. In a Devon village, if an immigrant family had a religious practice of heavily burning incense which taken by the prevailing winds affected close bye houses of local residents – what is to be done? Would not the harm principle suggest that the immigrants have to limit the extent of their burning and mean that their liberties are partially compromised here in the interests of respecting other peoples’ liberties?

      Obviously in the case of the system I suggest in the main article, this more devolved apparatus decides where the immigrants can relocate to according to the expressed desires of the localities. Whatever you think of this system, this would indeed mean a compromise of the immigrants liberties to relocate to where they want, within this new territory.

      I look forward to hearing your thoughts and counters. Please forgive delayed responses, I will often be off-the-grid until August 26th, in mountain refuges and the like.

      • Rocco
        August 15, 2013 at 10:34 am #

        Swiss Alps, eh? Never heard of them!
        Thank you for interrupting your holiday to reply Mr Way.
        First point, first part: Given that your suggestion gives ‘local communities’ the power to tyrannize over individuals willing to trade with outsiders, I wouldn’t call it a step in the right direction at all. The position of the dissenting individual would remain unchanged.
        Regarding making practical suggestions for incremental changes: “Gradualism in theory, is perpetuity in practice”. Aside from this, what’s the point of libertarian writing, if we don’t apply our principles to the fullest extent?
        First point, second part: The nation state is not, and must not be thought of as, a voluntary institution. This is poisonous nonsense. The State is a coercive institution by it’s very nature. By definition, in fact. If you genuinely believe it is a voluntary arrangement, stop paying tax and you’ll see just how voluntary it is.
        In your system a majority would decide on whether an individual, or private business, really needed a new employee or two. But how on earth would they know? And why on earth should they, as a third party, be deciding anyway? Because might makes right? There’s more of them than us, so we better do as they say?
        Second point: Mr Way, you seem at this point to forget what liberty is. It’s probably something to do with reading JS Mill.
        Mr Way, only people such as lunatic serial killers believe their liberties have been compromised when they are prevented from harming other people. There is no such thing as liberty to initiate aggression. If the incense is burnt on such a scale as to damage person or property, this is an act of aggression, plain and simple.
        Regarding the “compromise” on the immigrants’ freedom to relocate: under your (completely anti-Austrian) quota system, it would not be a compromise. It would be an act of aggression against the immigrants, commited by the quota systems enforcers.
        There you go, Mr Way. And I’m still genuinely interested to hear what you have to say about how the “calculation problem” and the “knowledge problem”, effect your article. No rush, obviously.
        Enjoy your holiday, sir.

      • Rocco
        August 15, 2013 at 11:50 pm #

        The Austrian Way, on the risk of devolving down to the level of individuals:
        Wont the strong exploit the weak under such a system? What, after all, would stop them? Well, what stops them now is the police. The police are individuals who make a living dealing with those who exploit others. But why do the police exist in the first place? Perhaps because the government wants them to? But if the majority of people wanted to be exploited, no government would institute a police force. It would be electoral suicide. So, the reason we have police is that there is a demand for security.
        Much like there is a demand for shoes, biscuits, mobile phones, carpets, bicycles, weed killer etc etc, there is a demand for security. And just as there are people happy to supply shoes etc, for payment, there are people happy to supply security for payment. Currently, these latter are called “police”.
        Now, as an Austrian you are fully aware that monopoly (genuine monopoly) leads, neccessarily, to a lower quality of product at a higher price than would exist on the open market. At present the police are a monopoly, a compulsorily funded State monopoly no less. As I have demonstrated, the demand for security exists independently of the State. So, in the abscence of the State, security providers would still exist.
        Moreover, given these would be private businesses, with competition operative amongst them, funded through voluntary payment only, and needing to satisfy peoples demand for a peaceful life, what could we conclude? What we would conclude about any other private business, supplying any other product – for security is just another product – in comparison to that product if supplied by a state monopoly. The price would be far lower; the quality would be far higher; customer satisfaction would be far higher.
        So, Mr Way, worry not about devolving down to the level of the individual. The production of security is no more a cause for worry than is the production of shoes, biscuits, mobile phones, carpets, bicycles, weed killer etc etc. And nobody thinks we need a State to ensure any of those exist.

  6. The Austrian Way
    September 10, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    Hello Rocco,

    A belated, post-holiday and post-back to work pile-up reply here. Tardiness is not a virtue and apologies for it.

    I agree that the Police exist for the protection of private property and whilst I find your argument for the existence of a market in the issuance of this service logical and attractive, I’d also be keen to hear/learn of such examples where a healthy and diverse market like this exists. Just because there might not be examples to point to naturally does not mean it cannot exist, but I would be keen to hear of such examples should they be in existence.

    On the other good point you made above about why should we not go the whole hog with Austrian and Libertarian minded writings and speech on blogs such as these, I suppose I would suggest there is one simple reason for this. I think many of us here would agree that Aust/Lib thinking is getting a kicking in the world/war of ideas at this time. Would you concur? When I look at Western politics (I include Japan in this definition), economic and financial academia, high-finance, central banking, government bureaucracy, the mainstream media and so on, we have few high priests of our cloth in positions of power. The world as a result is steeped in proto-Keynesianism, interventionist ideas and the masses are so deeply conditioned into the Starnesville mindset that it requires a vast intellectual jump to jettison their mental baggage and jump ship to a more right-minded vessel. Given my, and other author’s here’s, belief that people are generally not big fans of change or typically able to make instant 180 degree changes of tack in their world view, I think some gradualism here might not be a bad thing. Others might disagree. I note when I lay on the gold bug, monetary economics and central banking ‘lesson’ to friends in Starnesville they reject me like Nietzsche calling the death of god. I get much further when I drip, drip ideas into them and suggest something like Ron Paul’s ‘End the Fed’ as as good holiday read.

    • Rocco
      September 11, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

      Mr Way, no need to apologise.
      Your first point is a good one. I would say that a reasonable approximation in the here and now would be those “gated communities”. After all, roads would be privately owned in our libertarian future, and they would be protected by their owners.
      Regarding radical arguments: Yes, it is probably better to proceed step by step where you can, especially with those close to you. Rather than, say, haranguing them for not wanting to legalise child labour immediately. Probably, at least 😉
      But we must never hide our ultimate goal. We must never act like we’re ashamed of it. We shouldn’t pretend to be moderate when we are not. For, not only is A, A (to mangle Rand), but this can easily backfire on us. “Why would this person hide this from me?” and so on. To be evasive might end up doing more harm than good.

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