TeeJaw Blog

The Machinery of Freedom

Posted in Books, Government and Politics by TeeJaw on Thursday, July 8, 2010, 1: 44 PM

machinery of freedomAny book with that title is bound to be of interest to this blog, based as it is on Truth, Justice and the American Way (i.e., TeeJaw). The one available now is the second edition from 1989, the first edition was published in 1971. I say the second edition is available, and it is but only as a used book since it is out of print. Hardback copies can be found at Amazon for about $75 and paperback for around $25. In recent times a hardback copy in good condition has been offered for as much as $100.

A third edition is in the works. In the meantime the second edition is posted on the internet here where you can read the whole thing for free.

The book is invaluable for its distrust of intellectual orthodoxy in formulating a prescription for a society organized by private property, individual rights, and voluntary co-operation. Its author, David Friedman, is known as an “anarcho-captialist,” which would make him a whack job if he were serious or if it were not possible for us to read around any of his “every man should be allowed to make his own rules” offerings. It turns out that he is not seriously an anarchist, at least for the most part. Those parts of his argument that tend too far in that direction can be safely ignored and one may still gain the benefit of the rest, which is excellent stuff.

For example, Friedman argues for completely unrestricted immigration. But I don’t think he means or contemplates that the world’s entire population of 6.7 Billion people should be allowed to settle in the United States. I also don’t think he favors allowing known criminals to set up their criminal operations in the United States. The current fare of libertarians fail or refuse to address these concerns, or recognize any distinction at all between a legal and orderly system of immigration which would admit most or at least many of all desire to come here to come under certain conditions, and completely open borders with no need to show identity, no passport requirement, no background check, immediate welfare benefits, and the immediate right to vote for Democrats. (All would impose a restriction on voting for Republicans, I assume).

Here is the section of the book on immigration, titled “Open The Gates:”

Until the middle of the 1920s this country followed a general policy of unrestricted immigration; except for some exclusion of orientals, anyone who wanted to come was welcome. From 1905 to 1907, and again in 1910, 1913, and 1914, over a million immigrants a year came. They and their descendants have created a large part of our economic and cultural wealth. It would be hard to find any major public figure willing to argue that this policy was a mistake.

It would be almost as hard to find a major public figure who would advocate a return to that policy. Recent debates have been on how we should allocate and enforce our limited immigration quota among different nationalities, not on whether the quota should exist.

In my opinion, the restriction on immigration is a mistake: we should abolish it tomorrow and reopen the most successful attack on poverty the world has ever seen.

One danger in this policy is that poor immigrants might come with the intent of somehow surviving until they became citizens, and then going on welfare. I therefore include in my proposal the condition that new immigrants should face a fifteen year ‘residency’ requirement before they become eligible for welfare. I also suggest that the federal and state minimum wage laws be altered so as not to cover new immigrants, or, better yet, be repealed.
We would receive a vast flood of immigrants, probably more than a million a year, possibly several million. Most would come from Asian and Latin American countries. Most would be poor. Many would work as unskilled labor for the first generation, as did most of the previous immigrants. They would bring with them levels of education, nutrition, and health, which would appall our social workers; they would live, by our standards, very badly, but they would live well by their former standards, and that is why they would come.

Unrestricted immigration would make us richer, as it has in the past. Our wealth is in people, not things; America is not Kuwait. If a working wife can hire an Indian maid, who earned a few hundred dollars a year in India, to work for her at six thousand dollars a year, and so spend her own time on a 30 thousand a year job, who is worse off?
As long as the immigrants pay for what they use, they do not make the rest of the society poorer. If increased population makes the country more crowded, it does so only because the immigrants produce wealth which is worth more to the owners of land than the land is worth, and the immigrants are able to use that wealth to buy the land. The same applies to whatever the immigrants get on the free market; in order to appropriate existing resources for their own uses, the immigrants must buy them with new goods of at least equal value.

The immigrants will get some governmental services for which they will not pay directly. They will also pay taxes. Given present conditions, I see no reason to expect that they will cost government more than government will cost them.

The new immigrants will drive down the wages of unskilled labor, hurting some of the present poor. At the same time, the presence of millions of foreigners will make the most elementary acculturation, even the ability to speak English, a marketable skill; some of the poor will be able to leave their present unskilled jobs to find employment as foremen of ‘foreign’ work gangs or front men for ‘foreign’ enterprises.

More important than any of these economic effects is the psychological effect on the present poor; they will no longer be the bottom of the barrel, and as Liberals have pointed out with some justice, it is where you are, not what you have, which defines poverty. Mobility will be restored; each generation of immigrants will be able to struggle up to a position from which to look down on their successors.

A policy of unrestricted immigration would bring us more than cheap unskilled labor. It would bring a flood of new skills, not least among them the entrepreneurial ability that has made Indian and Chinese emigrants the merchant classes of Asia and Africa. Once the new citizens become familiar with the language and culture of their adopted country, they will probably work their way into the great American middle class just as rapidly as did their predecessors of eighty years ago.

It is a shame that the argument must be put in terms of the economic or psychological ‘interest’ of the present generation of Americans. It is simpler than that. There are people, probably many millions, who would like to come here, live here, work here, raise their children here, die here. There are people who would like to become Americans, as our parents and grandparents did.

If we want to be honest, we can ship the Statue of Liberty back to France or replace the outdated verse with new lines, ‘America the closed preserve/That dirty foreigners don’t deserve.’ Or we can open the gates again. [This is ridiculous — The Statute of Liberty was never intended to be a symbol of open immigration. TeeJaw]

If Friedman would also agree to enforcement of laws against non-citizen voting and the exclusion of known criminals, his policy of “open immigration” would probably be more acceptable to today’s Conservatives than it would be to the Academic Libertarians at say, George Mason University.

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4 Responses

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  1. David said, on Thursday, July 8, 2010, 4: 53 PM at 4:53 PM

    Wonderful book! And great to see it in its third run. I linked your post here:


    Your blog is also in my Reading Room, and is searchable from my Google “search this” widget.

  2. TeeJaw said, on Thursday, July 8, 2010, 7: 44 PM at 7:44 PM


  3. David Friedman said, on Sunday, July 11, 2010, 11: 36 PM at 11:36 PM

    “or if it were not possible for us to read around any of his “every man should be allowed to make his own rules” offerings.”

    Hard to read around something that isn’t there. I gather you didn’t actually try to understand what I was proposing.

    • TeeJaw said, on Monday, July 12, 2010, 8: 36 AM at 8:36 AM

      I should have said this differently. I should have said “it is not necessary to agree with everything Mr. Friedman says to find great value in his writing.”

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