Politics & Law

The Moral and Practical Case for Open Immigration

by Harry Binswanger, Ph.D.

This is a defense of phasing-in open immigration into the United States. Entry into the U.S. should ultimately be free for any foreigner, with the exception of criminals, would-be terrorists, and those carrying infectious diseases. (And note: I am defending freedom of entry and residency, not the automatic granting of U.S. citizenship).

An end to immigration quotas is demanded by the principle of individual rights. Every individual has rights as an individual, not as a member of this or that nation. One has rights not by virtue of being an American, but by virtue of being human.

One doesn’t have to be a resident of any particular country to have a moral entitlement to be secure from governmental coercion against one’s life, liberty, and property. In the words of the Declaration of Independence, government is instituted “to secure these rights”–to protect them against their violation by force or fraud.

A foreigner has rights just as much as an American. To be a foreigner is not to be a criminal. Yet our government treats as criminals those foreigners not lucky enough to win the green-card lottery.

Seeking employment in this country is not a criminal act. It coerces no one and violates no one’s rights (there is no “right” to be exempt from competition in the labor market, or in any other market).

It is not a criminal act to buy or rent a home here in which to reside. Paying for housing is not a coercive act–whether the buyer is an American or a foreigner. No one’s rights are violated when a Mexican, or Canadian, or Senegalese rents an apartment from an American owner and moves into the housing he is paying for. And what about the rights of those American citizens who want to sell or rent their property to the highest bidders? Or the American businesses that want to hire the lowest cost workers? It is morally indefensible for our government to violate their right to do so, just because the person is a foreigner.

Immigration quotas forcibly exclude foreigners who want not to seize but to purchase housing here, who want not to rob Americans but to engage in productive work, raising our standard of living. To forcibly exclude those who seek peacefully to trade value for value with us is a violation of the rights of both parties to such a trade: the rights of the American seller or employer and the rights of the foreign buyer or employee.

Thus, immigration quotas treat both Americans and foreigners as if they were criminals, as if the peaceful exchange of values to mutual benefit were an act of destruction.

To take an actual example, if I want to invite my Norwegian friend Klaus to live in my home, either as a guest or as a paying tenant, what right does our government have to stop Klaus and me? To be a Norwegian is not to be a criminal. And if some American business wants to hire Klaus, what right does our government have to interfere?

The implicit premise of barring foreigners is: “This is our country, we let in who we want.” But who is “we”? The government does not own the country. Jurisdiction is not ownership. Only the owner of land or any item of property can decide the terms of its use or sale. Nor does the majority own the country. This is a country of private property, and housing is private property. So is a job.

American land is not the collective property of some entity called “the U.S. government.” Nor is there such thing as collective, social ownership of the land. The claim, “We have the right to decide who is allowed in” means some individuals–those with the most votes–claim the right to prevent other citizens from exercising their rights. But there can be no right to violate the rights of others.

Our constitutional republic respects minority rights. 60% of the population cannot vote to enslave the other 40%. Nor can a majority dictate to the owners of private property. Nor can a majority dictate on whom private employers spend their money. Not morally, not in a free society. In a free society, the rights of the individual are held sacrosanct, above any claim of even an overwhelming majority.

The rights of one man end where the rights of his neighbor begin. Only within the limits of his rights is a man free to act on his own judgment. The criminal is the man who deliberately steps outside his rights-protected domain and invades the domain of another, depriving his victim of his exclusive control over his property, or liberty, or life. The criminal, by his own choice, has rejected rights in favor of brute violence. Thus, an immigration policy that excludes criminals is proper.

Likewise, a person with an infectious disease, such as smallpox, threatens with serious physical harm those with whom he comes into proximity. Unlike the criminal, he may not intend to do damage, but the threat of physical harm is clear, present, and objectively demonstrable. To protect the lives of Americans, he may be kept out or quarantined until he is no longer a threat.

But what about the millions of Mexicans, South Americans, Chinese, Canadians, etc. seeking entry who are not criminal and not bearing infectious diseases? By what moral principle can they be excluded? Not on the grounds of majority vote, not on the grounds of protecting any American’s rights, not on the grounds of any legitimate authority of the state.




That’s the moral case for phasing out limits on immigration. But some ask: “Is it practical? Wouldn’t unlimited immigration–even if phased in over a decade–be disastrous to our economic well-being and create overcrowding? Are we being told to just grit our teeth and surrender our interests in the name of morality?”

This question is invalid on its face. It shows a failure to understand the nature of rights, and of moral principles generally. Rational moral principles reflect a recognition of the basic nature of man, his nature as a specific kind of living organism, having a specific means of survival. Questions of what is practical, what is to one’s self-interest, can be answered only in that context. It is neither practical nor to one’s interest to attempt to live and act in defiance of one’s nature as a human being.

Yet that is the meaning of the moral-practical dichotomy. When one claims, “It is immoral but practical,” one is maintaining, “It cripples my nature as a human being, but it is beneficial to me”–which is a contradiction.

Rights, in particular, are not something pulled from the sky or decreed by societal whim. Rights are moral principles, established by reference to the needs inherent in man’s nature qua man. “Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival.” (Ayn Rand)

Every organism has a basic means of survival; for man, that means is: reason. Man is the rational animal, homo sapiens. Rights are moral principles that spell out the terms of social interaction required for a rational being to survive and flourish. Since the reasoning mind cannot function under physical coercion, the basic social requirement of man’s survival is: freedom. Rights prescribe freedom by proscribing coercion.

“If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work.” (Ayn Rand)

Rights reflect the fundamental alternative of voluntary consent or brute force. The reign of force is in no one’s interest; the system of voluntary cooperation by mutual consent is the precondition of anyone achieving his actual interests.

To ignore the principle of rights means jettisoning the principled, moral resolution of conflicts, and substituting mere numbers (majority vote). That is not to anyone’s interest. Tyranny is not to anyone’s self-interest.

Rights establish the necessary framework within which one defines his legitimate self-interest. One cannot hold that one’s self-interest requires that he be “free” to deprive others of their freedom, treating their interests as morally irrelevant. One cannot hold that recognizing the rights of others is moral but “impractical.”

Since rights are based on the requirements of man’s life as a rational being, there can be no conflict between the moral and the practical here: if respecting individual rights requires it, your interest requires it.

Freedom or force, reason or compulsion–that is the basic social alternative. Immigrants recognize the value of freedom–that’s why they seek to come here.

The American Founders defined and implemented a system of rights because they recognized that man, as a rational being, must be free to act on his own judgment and to keep the products of his own effort. They did not intend to establish a system in which those who happen to be born here could use force to “protect” themselves from the peaceful competition of others.




One major fear of open immigration is economic: the fear of losing one’s job to immigrants. It is asked: “Won’t the immigrants take our jobs?” The answer is: “Yes, so we can go on to better, higher-paying jobs.”

The fallacy in this protectionist objection lies in the idea that there is only a finite amount of work to be done. The unstated assumption is: “If Americans don’t get to do that work, if foreigners do it instead, we Americans will have nothing to do.”

But work is the creation of wealth. A job is a role in the production of goods and services–the production of food, of cars, computers, the providing of internet content–all the items that go to make up our standard of living. A country cannot have too much wealth. The need for wealth is limitless, and the work that is to be done is limitless.

From a grand, historical perspective, we are only at the beginning of the wealth-creating age. The wealth Americans produce today is as nothing compared to what we’ll have two hundred years from now–just as the standard of living 200 years in the past, in 1806, was as nothing compared to ours today.

Unemployment is not caused by an absence of avenues for the creation of wealth. Unemployment is caused by government interference in the labor market. Even with that interference, the number of jobs goes relentlessly upward, decade after decade. This bears witness to the fact that there’s no end to the creation of wealth and thus no end to the useful employment of human intelligence and the physical effort directed by that intelligence. There is always more productive work to be done. If you can give your job to an immigrant, you can get a more valuable job.

What is the effect of a bigger labor pool on wage rates? If the money supply is constant, nominal wage rates fall. But real wage rates rise, because total output has gone up. Economists have demonstrated that real wages have to rise as long as the immigrants are self-supporting. If immigrants earn their keep, if they don’t consume more than they produce, then they add to total output, which means that prices fall (if the money supply is constant).

And, in fact, rising real wages was the history of our country in the nineteenth century. Before the 1920s, there were no limits on immigration, yet our standard of living rocketed upward. Self-supporting immigrants were an economic benefit not an injury.

The protectionist objection that immigrants take away jobs and harm our standard of living is a solid economic fallacy.




A popular misconception is that immigrants come here to get welfare. To the extent that is true, immigrants do constitute a burden. But this issue is mooted by the passage, under the Clinton Administration, of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity and Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), which makes legal permanent residents ineligible for most forms of welfare for 5 years. I support this kind of legislation.

Further, if the fear is of non-working immigrants, why is the pending legislation aimed at employers of immigrants?




America is a vastly underpopulated country. Our population density is less than one-third of France’s.

Take an extreme example. Suppose a tidal wave of immigrants came here. Suppose that half of the people on the planet moved here. That would mean an unthinkable eleven-fold increase in our population–from 300 million to 3.3 billion people. That would make America almost as “densely” populated as today’s England (360 people/sq. km. vs. 384 people/sq. km.). In fact, it would make us less densely populated than the state of New Jersey (453 per sq. km.). And these calculations exclude Alaska and Hawaii, and count only land area.

Contrary to widespread beliefs, high population density is a value not a disvalue. High population density intensifies the division of labor, which makes possible a wider variety of jobs and specialized consumer products. For instance, in Manhattan, there is a “doll hospital”–a store specializing in the repair of children’s dolls. Such a specialized, niche business requires a high population density in order to have a market. Try finding a doll hospital in Poughkeepsie. In Manhattan, one can find a job as a Pilates Method teacher or as a “Secret Shopper” (two jobs actually listed on Craig’s List). Not in Paducah.

People want to live near other people, in cities. One-seventh of England’s population lives in London. If population density is a bad thing, why are Manhattan real-estate prices so high?




Immigrants are the kind of people who refresh the American spirit. They are ambitious, courageous, and value freedom. They come here, often with no money and not even speaking the language, to seek a better life for themselves and their children.

The vision of American freedom, with its opportunity to prosper by hard work, serves as a magnet drawing the best of the world’s people. Immigrants are self-selected for their virtues: their ambitiousness, daring, independence, and pride. They are willing to cast aside the tradition-bound roles assigned to them in their native lands and to re-define themselves as Americans. These are the people America needs in order to keep alive the individualist, hard-working attitude that made America.

Here is a short list of some great immigrants: Alexander Hamilton, Alexander Graham Bell, Andrew Carnegie, most of the top scientists of the Manhattan Project, Igor Sikorsky (the inventor of the helicopter), Ayn Rand.

Open immigration: the benefits are great. The right is unquestionable. So let them come.


Dr. Binswanger, a longtime associate of Ayn Rand, is a professor of philosophy at the Objectivist Academic Center of the Ayn Rand Institute. Special Offer: Dr. Binswanger moderates Harry Binswanger’s List (HBL)–an email list for Objectivists for discussing philosophic and cultural issues — a free one-month trial is available at: www.hblist.com.

Olympic Gold All Around Gymnast Paul Hamm: Only Human

By Mark Da Cunha

After three out of six rotations in the Men’s All-around Olympic Gymnastics, American gymnast Paul Hamm was ranked first place in the standings. His next event was the vault. Hamm’s vault was to be a Tsukahara–named after Japanese gymnast Mitsuo Tsukahara. It was ranked a 9.9 out of 10 for difficulty, in part because of its’ two and a half twists leading into a blind landing. No easy feat. But Hamm had never missed a vault landing in competition. Ever.

The expectation that Paul Hamm–the reigning world champion in Men’s gymnastics–was going to win the gold medal in the Men’s All-around Olympic Gymnastics was more than halfway to becoming a reality.

That expectation was shattered as Hamm crashed into the Judge’s table while stumbling during the landing on the vault. Hamm dropped from 1st to 12th place as he finished 22nd on the vault (out of 23 competitors) with a score of 9.137.

With only two events left to go, a depressed American crowd in the Olympic Hall looked on in silence. Surely Hamm’s dream of being the first American to win the Olympic all-around gold medal was over.

Or was it?

As least I thought so as I watched Hamm–the reigning world champion gymnast–ever the perfectionist, stumble as he tried to stick a landing that could have perhaps been partly saved with a small adjustment step. But Hamm is a perfectionist. He is the kind of man who pushes himself not merely to victory, but to greatness. A great gymnast does not take small adjustment steps, but sticks their landings. So rather than take a small step to prevent his fall, Hamm consciously held his feet in place in order to make a perfect landing. Unfortunately, in this one instance, the price of failing to take that small adjustment step was an even larger fall, as Hamm’s body did not obey his mental directions. Or in the gymnast’s own words, “In the air I felt fine, and then when I landed I felt weak in my legs and just lost control…”

I walked away from my television unable to watch. I do not mind seeing great athletes lose because their competitors achieved something greater. But, I hate to see an athlete lose because of the kind of mistake that an athlete of Hamm’s caliber performed. It’s like watching Pete Sampras crash out in the second round of Wimbledon to a low-ranked journeyman. That kind of stuff is not supposed to happen.

Ever since he was a young child, Hamm had “day-dreamed about winning the Olympics thousands of times.” How would you feel in such a situation? Hamm felt a huge wave of depression as he struggled to fight back tears. “I was really depressed because I thought I ruined everything with the vault” said Hamm of his psychological state after the fall.

Many a mortal at this point would have folded. But not Hamm. Rather then blaming the Athenian Gods, or complaining about the malevolence of the universe, or crying foul at being a puppet to The Fates, Hamm chose an alternate course of action: he chose to think. Hamm realized that he was the master of his destiny. The results of that philosophy brought on a new set of possibilities: he could salvage his Olympics by performing greatly in the next two rotations; he could achieve a strong finish; he could win a third-place medal. Or, in Hamm’s words, “At that point in time I decided I was going to go after the bronze medal.” (NBC)

In the face of embarrassment and failure, with the flick of a mental switch, the young American gymnast’s dreams were reborn from the ashes.

The next event for Hamm, was the parallel bars. His goal was to give it the best performance of his life. He did. With little left to lose, Hamm achieved his best score of the night on the parallel bars–a 9.837. This score moved Hamm into fourth place. Commented Hamm later, “I realized that I had brought it back from a point where I felt I had no chance…I brought it back to a point where I was thinking, ‘Wow, I’m going up on high bar, I have a chance to win an Olympic medal here, I’m going after it.’ That’s the mindset I went into that event with.” (NBC)

It was in the last event of the rotation–the high bar–that Hamm left the crowd, and I, nearly speechless. Where the previous gymnast spun around the bar with both hands, Hamm circled it even faster as he held on with one. The American flew through the air, effortlessly spinning around the bar while precariously attached to it by five small fingers. He was like a large planet orbiting a long cylindrical moon held to it by a string. Hamm followed the one-arm maneuver with an even more difficult one of three blind release moves as he let go of the bar only to come back and catch it as he spun around it. This time there was no string to hold the orbiting planet in place–only the laws of physics and Paul Hamm’s ability to use his mind and body to demonstrate them. All that was left was his dismount–and landing. And then–unlike the vault–Hamm stuck his landing with both arms raised proudly in the air. The crowd roared in approval.

Hamm needed a score of 9.825 to achieve gold–he scored a 9.837 in the high bar for a total score of total score of 57.823– a mere 12-thousandths of a point ahead of his closest competitor (South Korea’s Kim Dae Eun whose total score was 57.811) in the closest finish ever in Olympic Men’s Gymnastics history. Paul Hamm had pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in Olympic history.

Said Hamm of his victory,

“I think I probably day-dreamed about winning the Olympics thousands of times…I did not every picture myself having a mistake and then winning. I would have loved to have finished the competition flawlessly, but at the same time it shows how strong my character was. I wasn’t going to let it go. I really had to fight for what I wanted.” (NBC)

In a world where to be “only” human is to be a “Hero” defeated by a “tragic flaw”, or a “sovereign” dictator that murders innocents, or a moocher seeking welfare off the backs of others, Paul Hamm’s quest for gold is an example of what makes a human being human: the ability to apply ones’ mind in concentrated physical effort over an extended period of time to achieve a long-range goal in the face of obstacles. Thank you Mr. Hamm for proudly demonstrating the actuality of the human potential in all of us. Be proud of your achievements–you earned them.

Update (August 21, 2004):
According to the BBC:

Three gymnastics judges were suspended on Saturday for a key scoring error which resulted in American Paul Hamm winning the men’s all-round gold. The mistake on Wednesday cost South Korean bronze medallist Yang Tae-young a tenth of a point needed to win. The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) upheld the South Korea’s protest but said Hamm would keep his medal. After reviewing the results, FIG officials confirmed he should have been awarded a start value of 10. He scored a 9.712 on the event, but with the extra .1, he would have finished with 57.874 points and defeated Hamm by .051….Yang finished third, another .037 behind Kim. [BBC]

However, MSNBC reports:

The Los Angeles Times reported that U.S. Olympic officials said they would consider supporting South Korean officials in a bid to award duplicate gold medals to Hamm and Yang. The International Gymnastics Federation suspended the two judges who determined the start values — Benjamin Bango of Spain and Oscar Buitrago Reyes of Colombia — along with the judge who oversaw the panel, George Beckstead of the United States. But the federation said the results will not be changed. Hamm believes the problem started when FIG decided to review the videotapes of the event after the South Koreans complained. Reviewing tapes to handle protests is not allowed in international gymnastics.

…USA Gymnastics president Bob Colarossi said he wasn’t taking a stand on whether Hamm should share the gold medal with Yang. He did, however, reiterate that he didn’t think the result should be changed. “In a sport where things are decided by thousandths of points, there are zillions of places for little mistakes,” Colarossi said. “I’m proud of Paul. I stand behind Paul.” Hamm and his coach, Miles Avery, said they looked at Yang’s routine and saw a place where he should have received a 0.2-point deduction that the judges didn’t take.

As NBC’s gymnastics commentator Tim Daggett–who reviewed the tape of Tae-Young’s parallel bar routine–showed, Tae-Young made four holds on his parallel routine as opposed to the maximum allowed: three. For this mistake, Yang Tae-Young should have received a mandatory 0.2 deduction. So even with the adjustment for the 0.1 added to his starting score, Paul Hamm would still remain the Olympic Gold medalist. Yang Tae-Young does not deserve the gold medal, Paul Hamm does.

— Mark Da Cunha is a photographer who admires heroes and seeks to learn from them.

How to Achieve Real Campaign Finance Reform

By Edwin A. Locke

The U. S. House of Representative is again debating campaign finance reform legislation. The proximate cause of this debate being brought to the floor now is the Enron scandal, including the fact that the company gave large amounts of money to politicians from both major parties. The deeper cause is the increasing disgust the American people have come to feel about the unprincipled manner in which our legislative process is conducted. The process, in essence, is that swarms of lobbyists descend like locusts on Washington, demanding special favors in return for campaign contributions. It is claimed that the ultimate culprit in this mess is money (“wealthy special-interest groups”). This claim is false. “Moneyed interests” are only a symptom of a deeper cause. The corruption is caused not by material wealth but by spiritual poverty. It is caused by a bankrupt philosophical premise: the concept of the “public interest.”

Let us see how this premise operates in practice. Imagine that you are an honest, idealistic congressman just elected to office. On your first day, you are accosted by four lobbyists. The first demands a tariff increase on certain imports to “protect” his group’s industry–which, he claims, serves the public. The second lobbyist asserts that it will benefit the public if his group gets a subsidy to help its members survive in a “brutally competitive” market. The third insists that it will help the public if members of his group are given license to be the exclusive providers of a certain service. The fourth says the public will be better off if unions are made illegal in his industry. The next day, a new group of lobbyists asks you for favors. These requests often conflict with those demanded by the first group, but are just as fervently presented as being in the “public interest.”

How then do you decide what to do? If an auto-industry spokesman argues for import tariffs on cars to protect the jobs of hundreds of thousands of workers, and an auto-dealer association argues for no tariffs in order to give hundreds of thousands of buyers lower prices, which group, in this case, is the “public”? Both and neither. You realize that “the public” is not an actual entity but only a collection of individuals. So which individuals, in any given case, should get what they want and at whose expense? There is no way to tell–anyone can claim to be the public on any issue. In dismay you recognize that “the public interest” has no objective meaning. It is empty rhetoric.

Politics abhors a vacuum, and when there are no coherent moral principles to guide action, the void is filled by pressure-group warfare. The winner of any given battle is decided by such arbitrary factors as which group is bigger, richer, better connected (e.g., to the White House), or more attuned to the latest media hype or political tide. In practice, the principle of the “public interest” leads to a political war of all against all in which some individuals are sacrificed for the benefit of others. This mess is known as the “mixed” economy. (There are, of course, some principled lobbyists who seek, not special privileges, but simply the right to be left alone–but their pleas fall on unprincipled ears.)

All this leads to widespread cynicism and demands for “campaign finance reform”–but it cannot work. To think that you can eliminate the cause–philosophical bankruptcy–by limiting its effects–the buying and selling of favors–is to think that you can eradicate mental illness by limiting the number of beds in mental hospitals. Real campaign finance reform requires philosophical reform. We must discard the notion of the “public interest” and replace it with the proper principle: individual rights, which means the freedom of each individual to pursue his own interests as long as he does not coerce or defraud others. This means: replace the mixed economy with real capitalism–no tariffs, no subsidies, no protection from competition, no favors.

How would such a system work in practice? Consider the recent hoopla over steel imports. It is reported that Bush is being pressured by some 50 different groups to either pass or not pass legislation that would put tariffs on steel imports or to ban some imports altogether. Which side will win? No one knows; probably the side that makes the most noise or has the most votes. But all this begging of favors could be eliminated on the spot if Bush simply articulated one simple principle: what buyers and sellers of steel do is none of the government’s business and I will take no part in interfering with the free market. End of lobbying; end of favor-seeking. No lobbyists would bother to show up at the White House or in Congress because no one would have anything to sell.

Only when politicians have no power to offer other men’s property–and their own souls–for sale in the name of the “public interest” will we have true “campaign finance” reform.

Edwin A. Locke, Dean’s Professor Emeritus of Leadership and Motivation at the University of Maryland at College Park, is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.