Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 302.
From The Human Action Podcast, Oct. 23, 2020, with Jeff Deist, discussing Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed, chapters 5-8.
From the Mises.org shownotes:
Lawyer and libertarian theorist Stephan Kinsella joins the show to discuss the middle chapters of Hoppe’s Democracy, The God That Failed—in particular dealing with “desocialization” of collective property, immigration, and free trade. These are the most controversial and widely-discussed parts of the book, and Kinsella provides a fascinating analysis of property vs. wealth, the problems with public ownership and forced integration, and the concept of rule-setting for state property. And don’t miss the final part of the show for his explanation of “Hoppephobia.” Kinsella’s article on LewRockwell.com: www.lewrockwell.com/2005/09/stephan-kinsella/a-simple-libertarian-argument/ Read Stephan Kinsella’s Against Intellectual Property at Mises.org/KinsellaBook Use the code HAPOD for a discount on Democracy: The God That Failed from our bookstore: Mises.org/BuyHoppe
Mises Institute original video:
Jeff Deist and Stephan Kinsella on Hoppe’s Democracy
JEFF DEIST: This is Jeff Deist, and you’re listening to the Human Action podcast. Hey, ladies and gentlemen, thanks so much for joining us, and welcome back once again to the Human Action podcast, a show we do every week where we are not afraid of books, even the 900-page books. And that’s really what the show is all about is working our way through what we consider important or seminal works in the broad, let’s say, Austro-libertarian landscape, and then by doing so, hopefully encouraging you to read these books, to tackle these books and also helping you through them as you go.
So that’s the goal, and as you know, we have recently started with Hans-Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed, and we chose this purposely because we had three weeks left until the election, so we’re breaking it up into three sections. And last week we were lucky to be joined by my friend, Jayant Bhandari, and we had a great talk about things like time preference and civilization and capital at the beginning of that book. And in the mid part of this book where Hoppe gets into the discussion of centralization and trade and immigration, I thought there would be nobody better to invite on the show than Stephan Kinsella with whom most of you are already familiar no doubt.
He is a patent attorney. He has written extensively on not just libertarian theory but I would say more narrowly libertarian legal theory, which is a bit of a different animal. And also, of course, he’s perhaps best known for his work on IP, and we will link to at least one article of his, which we shall discuss during the show. We will link to his book, Against Intellectual Property, at the mises.org site. If you haven’t read it, and you – or maybe you don’t have developed thoughts about IP in the digital age, you should read it. You can read it easily over a weekend, and I very much encourage you to do so regardless of where you fall on that debate. I – my personal feelings are in line with Kinsella on that topic, by the way. So all that said, Stephan, thanks for joining.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Glad to be here, Jeff.
JEFF DEIST: Well, I want to ask you before we get into the book, it came out in 2001. Unfortunately, the Mises Institute doesn’t own this book, wish we did. So where were you? What were you doing in 2001? Where were you living? How did you become aware of Hoppe or this book?
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Oh 2001. That’s a good question. I remember that because that was the year of 9/11. I was back in Houston. I’m from Louisiana. I had moved to Houston as a lawyer in 1992 and moved to Philadelphia in ’94 and been there for a few years and moved back to Houston. And I remember in 2001, I was in my bedroom when the Twin Towers attack happened.
I was already a Hoppeian, Rothbardian, Austrian, anarcho-capitalist libertarian, and my first Hoppian introduction was his argumentation ethics in a Liberty Magazine symposium, which I read in 1988 in law school and – when I was in Louisiana. And so I became enamored of Hans when I read that, and then I read his Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, which is a sort of a systematic treatise laying out his propertarian, Austrian theory, and then of course his subsequent books, his subsequent books which are more or less previously published articles but related by a common theme, so economics and ethics in private property in 1994 if I recall, and then Democracy, the one we’re talking about how, and then The Great Fiction, and who knows what else is to come.
[Note: see related biographical pieces are here.]
JEFF DEIST: And so did you get to meet Rothbard?
STEPHAN KINSELLA: I did. I was in Philadelphia in 1994, and I had written – I was a young lawyer. I had written a review essay, a complementary review essay in the Law Review for Hoppe’s second book. And I sent it to them, and I was a big fan of Rothbard and Hoppe and the others associated with them like Block and David Gordon and Lew and these guys. And they were having a – it was a time of the fusion – the second fusionism movement with the – I forgot the name of the group now. It was at Crystal City, Virginia, the…
JEFF DEIST: It was the Randolph Society.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Yeah, the John Randolph Society. That’s what it was. And I was actually – I’m from Louisiana, so I saw the cigar smoking, puffing I would say neo-confederate kind of guys. There was a little bit of this kind of southern, neo-confederate, flag, puffing stuff going on that – not too much, but it turned me. That wasn’t my attraction. My attraction was to meet Lew and Block and Hoppe and Rothbard. And so I met Hans, and it was a pleasure and Lew, and I sat alone in an auditorium for about 30 minutes with Rothbard, and he – we talked, and he signed my book. And then he died two months later in January, so I did get my little tiny overlap with Rothbard, which I’m glad to have done.
JEFF DEIST: Well, that was serendipitous, no question about it. The book in question today, The God That Failed, I did an interview with Hoppe a few months back when I mentioned that this is undoubtedly his most famous work. It doesn’t necessarily mean his most important, but his most famous. So I guess give us your overarching take on the book and where it fits.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: It’s interesting because my take on Hans is not the same as that of others, partly because my take is more academic and more in the praxeological point of view. And my favorite book of Hans is – and his is – we have a nice relationship, and he kind of rolls his eyes. Oh, you love my Theory of Socialism and Capitalism. I know that’s my favorite work of mine for you because it’s systematic. And that was his first one that I read. It bowled me over.
The other works were more compilations of essays, but they’re not just like a typical book of compilations of essays. They’re just like, okay, it’s not like a columnist at the New York Times. They’re just – these are deep essays, and they usually relate to each other, and they do hang together. But I had read most of them already by the time they came out, so when the books came out, I already knew most of them.
And I was the one going like, why isn’t extreme apriorism or extreme rationalism included in one of these books? So then it finally came out in The Great Fiction or whatever. The Democracy book has a little bit more of the social – the conservative cultural kind of views. I’m a lawyer and engineer who has dabbled in and lucky to have received knowledge in history and economics from the Mises Institute. And these scholars I have been lucky to rub elbows with, but I don’t view myself in the same class as these guys.
So I don’t view myself as a cultural expert, so I find it interesting. I have learned and borrowed from a lot of the stuff he wrote about that is in Democracy in some of my legal writing. For example, the stuff about time preference and how it affects the formation of cities and just democracy itself, like this American assumption that democracy was an improvement over the earlier ancient regime.
I mean the introduction – to be honest, I know we’re talking about chapters. This is something funny, by the way, about intellectuals like you and I, people that get into these books. You said, hey Stephan, let’s talk about chapters five through nine, and I know we narrowed it down to five through eight. You said it’s only 58 pages or whatever. And by the way, on EPUB, it’s like 128, but for most people that’s a monograph of densely worded, terse, intellectual stuff with footnotes.
And that’s fine. I’ve read it before, but it’s like that’s not a minor assignment, but this is the way we think. But – and I love it. It’s juicy. It’s like a nice, meaty t-bone, rib eye steak for me. But I just think that as Americans we take for granted that the move from democracy to – or from monarchy to democracy was a good thing. And in this book, Democracy, one of the best things about it is the introduction.
And by the way, another great thing that Hoppe has written is the introduction to the revised edition to Rothbard’s Ethics of Liberty, the re-released version in 1997 or 1998 I believe. The introductions are tour de forces. I mean by themselves, and I could just recommend anyone just go read the introductions to these two books. The sort of revisionist history he gives in the introduction to Democracy is amazing. I had never thought this way as an American.
And this is one thing I’ve always appreciated about Hans and the circle of friends I’ve acquired through the Mises Institute and other organizations but especially the Mises Institute, internationalist, individualist, contrarian, willing to work ideas. No one cares about your background, your past, but they appreciate what you bring to the table. If you’re around the table with a bunch of Germans and French and Russians and Austrians or whatever and someone criticizes America, the Americans won’t get upset. If you criticize the French, the French won’t get upset. It’s not about that kind of stuff. It’s about ideas and truth and goodness and economic values and human life. And so I would just say really, really, really read his reconstruction, his revisionist view of the World War I, World War II, 20th century order in Democracy.
JEFF DEIST: It’s excellent. I mean it’s really fantastic. He also makes a defense of extreme apriorism as the method, the proper method of the social sciences in that introduction. So it’s definitely a punch in the face from the get-go, and I think it relates to chapter five in certain senses that Hoppe immediately brings up the argument that the orthodox view is that the centralizing political features of the 20th century across the west are inherently a good thing and that the old, decentralized Europe was a bad thing and that a lot of what his book is about is disabusing us of that.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: I totally agree, and there’s a good chapter. I think it’s chapter six or five. I think it’s chapter six in his first great book in English, A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, where he totally explodes the entire positivist approach to social sciences. And it’s just such a fresh approach, but because he came from a socialist lens, because I came from nothing, from Louisiana, I’m from the south and I never was a lefty who became converted, I just came from nothing. I always say I never quite trust a lefty, but Hans is one of the few former lefties that I trust. Maybe I never trust American lefties, former American lefties. They have no excuse. If you’re from Germany in that era, you have a little bit of an excuse.
JEFF DEIST: Well, the – chapters five and six both, it’s really interesting because he’s so methodical. He lays out a case. For example, if we look a the former Eastern Europe, and he’s writing this in 2000/2001 thereabout, he says how would we go from a socialist state-owned economy or property rights regimen or lack of property rights into one that’s freer? And I was curious rereading this, what you thought about his argument for syndicalism as a form of – as a method for privatization in a country that never had private property. And he says, well, it’s a little different in a mixed economy like the US, but in the former republics of Eastern Europe, here would be a way to undo all this. And this is the kind of thing that only Hoppe really does or talks about.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: I think Hans has this sort of Teutonic or rationalist style of writing. Plus he’s not a native American or English speaker, and so sometimes the way he writes rubs some readers the wrong way. I’ve always given him the benefit of the doubt when he has these sweeping statements, and he has parentheticals where – so I get what he’s saying. He’s coming up with generalizations, and characterizations or categorizations of things. Everything he says to me makes roughly sense. They’re not rigorous in the sense that they can be empirically tested, but in a way that’s what we Austrians are saying can’t always be done in the social sciences, right? Like there’s a dualistic or a distinction between what can be empirically tested.
He’s drawing upon his experiences and the experience of the times. This was I think written in the – probably in the ‘90s after the fall of Eastern Germany and the Soviet Union and Czech Republic and these countries. So I think as a pragmatic matter, what he proposes makes rough sense. I like how in his footnotes he has an extensive explanation that he’s not proposing syndicalism as it’s used by the left-wing socialists, right?
What he means is that, in a system as in Eastern Europe in the former Soviet Union where you can’t tell who used to own what, you might as well just give the stuff to the people that are using it now, something like that except for the people that are the government cronies who have unclean hands. So he mixes together all these sort of common sense doctrines, which appeal to common sense, intuition, even some common law doctrines. I think they make rough sense. If you take them to be dictums handed down from on high, then you would say who is he to say these things? But I don’t think he means it that way. I think what he means is that there is a way – I believe – I couldn’t find it in my research for our episode today.
I think Rothbard even has said, and Rothbard at different phases in his life, he had some even more leftist sort of comments about universities being handed over to the students and things like that in his earlier days. But I think the idea is that it’s going to be messy once you have the government mess things up, and there’s no way to have 100% restitution because wealth is destroyed by government action. And so the goal is to end government continuing control of things and harm and return things to private control, preferably in the more just manner but preferably return it to private control. And then that’s better than having it in public control. Now, I don’t see Hoppe really saying that, but I have a feeling he would agree with that, and I think Rothbard leans towards that in some of his writings too.
JEFF DEIST: Well, and I was also struck given the current debate over socialism, which is very much I think en vogue among younger people today. I wonder how many casual readers this book had ever even come across, his explication of the three just ways of acquiring property, which he argues socialism negates. So forget AI. Forget Hayekian knowledge. There are deeper reasons to oppose socialism based on justice principles. And so Hoppe says, well, there’s three ways to just the acquired property. You have homesteading, you have production, which is mixing labor and resources, and then you have contract, or what I guess we would call trade. And I know that you’ve talked about that in your own work about contract, but I’m not sure many people have ever really even thought that.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Well, I think this is actually – this is, to me, one of the parts of the genius of Hoppe. Like if you get the fundamentals straight, then the things you say, you carefully think about them – they have implications for things later on that you never contemplated. So Hans was really talking about the sources of wealth. He also talks about the sources of property rights in chapters one and two of Theory of Socialism and Capitalism. But in the passage – I don’t have it highlighted in front of me, but in one of the chapters, five through eight that you and I are talking about today, he talks about the sources of wealth. And as you say, he talks about you can have initial acquisition of an unowned resource, or you can have what he calls production, or you can have contract, which is an exchange.
So what I find interesting here is that he was obviously formulating these ideas on his own, and he started to rebel against the leftist ideas in Germany when he was a young grad student, rebelling from the leftist ideas of his teachers and things like that, and starting to come up with a proto-praxeology on his own before he had encountered Rothbard and Mises, and then when he encountered Rothbard and Mises, he realized already a body of knowledge like he was stumbling onto on his own. And so here’s what I think is important. He’s talking about the sources of wealth. So – but wealth is a subjective phenomenon according to Austrian economics. So you can acquire wealth, but what does that mean to acquire wealth or to achieve wealth?
So if you are an actor, human body – that means a human actor in the world, and so a human actor possesses or controls a body. We don’t need to get into metaphysics or religion or all that to talk about the soul, but everyone can agree that a human actor is a person identified with a body, and we act. We have control over our body, and we see these resources in the world, and we can identify that there are some resources that are unowned. No one has used them yet and that we need to use these resources as means of action, so that’s the Mises praxeology, the means of action. So we start acquiring or appropriating or using these resources, so that’s original appropriation. So that becomes a source of wealth if you acquire something.
Also, if you take a resource and you transform it, or as Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard and Mises all said explicitly, if you rearrange it by your effort or your labor into a more useful configuration or pattern into a better, more useful thing that you can use for something else, either as a capital good or as a consumer good, like say you take piece of metal. You make it into a spear to stab animals or to catch fish, or you take a piece of fish, and you turn it into a cooked fish that you can eat, something like that. You’ve actually rearranged this item of material property in the world into something that’s now a consumer good that you can enjoy and consume. So now you’ve increased wealth in the world, so that’s the way of rearranging things by employing your labor and your intellect and your effort and your knowledge, so Hoppe says that.
And the third way is contract, so by contract we mean that two people exchange something. One does something for the other, and that could be an exchange of title or a service, something like that. And each one is ex ante better off. They expect to be better off after the trade. So those are the three ways of acquiring wealth. But if you notice, Hans is careful not to talk about property. The mistake that people make is they start to confuse – they think that because you can acquire wealth in these ways, that they are also means of acquiring property, which is the mistake people make in thinking that applying effort or labor is a way of acquiring property itself, which, by the way, Hoppe himself, even though he wasn’t mired in this intellectual property debate because it wasn’t a debate really in 1988 on this panel at the Mises Institute way before the internet, way before this was a big issue, he was on a panel with David Gordon, Leland Yeager, and Murray Rothbard.
And someone said, do you own information? Do you own the information that you produce? Because, after all, if you go with this idea that you can produce wealth by production and production means rearranging things to a more valuable configuration, which does produce wealth as Hoppe readily recognizes, does that mean that you own the results of that, the fruits of your labor, this Adam Smith idea, this kind of Lockian idea? I should say Locke, not Smith. And Hoppe said no right away because Hoppe was really steeped in this praxeology idea.
He recognized right away. He instinctively saw no, you don’t own the fruits of your labor because you don’t own knowledge. Knowledge is what guides action. The means of action are scarce resources that someone has to own. They’re exclusively used and owned, and the things that you labor on, that you produce, they are exclusively owned. So he saw right away. So once you have a clear framework and the only thing that I think leads you to that really – I think Henry – I would say Milton Friedman, Adam Smith, free market economics, gets you part of the way there. Common sense economics gets you part of the way there. The law of supply and demand gets you part of the way there. But really you need Austrian subjectivist economics as a la Mises and Rothbard Hoppe, this type of thinking, to really see these issues clearly.
JEFF DEIST: So Hoppe was always on board with your IP arguments as you developed them?
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Yes, he was because he was there before I was, but he was only there in a sort of abstract sense. So when I started thinking about this in – around the time he was already there in the abstract sense, I was an IP lawyer, and I was trying to struggle with this issue. And I was trying to find their argument for IP because I was practicing it, and I thought I’m the guy who can figure this out because Ayn Rand’s arguments make no sense. J. Neil Schulman’s arguments made no sense. The utilitarians’ arguments make no sense. I’m going to figure it out. I’m the guy that can figure it out because I know actually IP law, and I – no one else can do it. Maybe I can do it.
Finally I realized, oh, everyone else has failed, and I’m going to fail because it’s actually unjust. Like slavery is unjust, this is unjust. So let me unpack it, and let’s go back to the foundation, and it leads to lots of insights on other issues, and so that’s what happened. And I sent Hans this paper, and I was tentative because I was afraid it might hurt my career because I was a young patent lawyer. Little did I know that clients don’t care what you think about politics, and not only that, it helps your career because they think, oh, this guy has an opinion. He must be smart. They don’t really care. They just care that you’re smart enough to have an opinion.
JEFF DEIST: Or you’re published.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Exactly. They don’t care what you say. They’re not going to read the footnotes. So no – so I sent Hans this paper. It was some mealy-mouthed title like “An Exploration of the Arguments for and Against Industrial Property,” and he says, I think you should just call it “Against Intellectual Property.” I said, okay. It’s one of those things.
JEFF DEIST: And I don’t have any recollection or knowledge of this. Was Leland Yeager pro-IP?
STEPHAN KINSELLA: I don’t recall actually.
JEFF DEIST: I’m going to suspect he was.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: My guess is he was pro-IP because he never said anything about it. If you ever come across a fairly widely published libertarian who thinks he’s a radical who is quiet about it, there – I give him a little credit for being a little bit humble enough to keep their mouth shut. But that means they’re usually pro-IP, but they don’t want to say anything. That’s my guess usually.
JEFF DEIST: Leland Yeager lived right up until just a few years ago, and I used to see him walking around downtown Auburn. He lived downtown with a caretaker in his later years, but he lived in his own place until the very end. And I always enjoy his writing immensely, but I just suspect on this that he wouldn’t share your opinion.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Well, I have one funny story about Leland. It’s a little bit of a sidetrack, but Yeager – I met him a few times at Mises. I always liked the guy. But I had this – I had an article in Liberty Magazine about IP, and one of my sort of side arguments about it was that you have these arguments for IP, which is – they’re like a personality argument. It’s like this Lockian argument like you own yourself, and therefore, you own your labor, and therefore, you own what you mix it with, that kind of thing. And I said, look. We can skip this whole argument. You don’t have – it doesn’t matter whether you’re a theist or an atheist, religious or non-religious, Christian or not.
In fact, you don’t even have to be a libertarian or a state – or an anarchist or not. The entire case against IP could be made very simply. And I’m not going to make it here, but it doesn’t depend upon being an anarchist or even a libertarian. You don’t even have to take a stance on whether we have a soul or not, but this self-ownership idea is at the root of this Lockian argument that you own yourself. And I said, listen. The self is this kind of concept that everyone has different thoughts on.
It’s kind of amorphous and vague. The law is about the use of force against tangible objects. It’s a tangible thing itself. Force is a tangible thing. So what we really object to is when someone wants to point a spear or shoot a bullet into our body, which is a physical thing. So it really always comes down to who owns your body, and the answer the libertarian gives is I own my body. Now, an atheist libertarian doesn’t need to say that there’s a soul there. He just needs to say there’s a person there, a legal person. And a religious person would say there’s a soul there. That’s fine. We can all get along.
So I had something like that in my article, and Leland Yeager wrote a letter to the editor, and he accused me of all – he thought I was a Christian or something. He accused me of all kinds of crazy things like I thought there was a body and a soul owner. And I said, Leland, I’m an atheist like you are. You don’t even get what I’m saying. So – but he was 90 something, so I tried to be gentle.
JEFF DEIST: Well, not only will these young kids today never enjoy a panel with Leland Yeager and Murray Rothbard and David Gordon and Hans Hoppe, but more importantly, they’ll never know what it was to be at home and get that physical copy of Liberty Magazine delivered to them in the mail because, folks, that’s all there was. And those who are – I remember those, receiving that very fondly, and it always had some sort of Randian or objectivist article almost without exception.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: My three were Reason before Reason got fuzzy and then Liberty and then the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, of course. That was my law school reading for awhile.
JEFF DEIST: Well, I want to spend a good chunk of time on these chapters, seven and eight, which are about free immigration. And forced integration is seven, and free trade is eight. And really they dovetail because, in chapter eight, Hoppe makes the argument for saying, you know, restricted immigration is not the same as protectionism against goods. Those are two different things. And I think you and I are largely in agreement and Hoppian on the immigration question that’s been a lot of rancor over the years.
And about a year or two ago I did a roundtable where I summarized Hoppe’s views on immigration among others. So let’s get into it. Let’s talk about the arguments for and against free immigration, and he lays out the former at the outset of chapter seven.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: So here’s my take. I’m an anarchist. I’m a libertarian. I think – Hans is an anarchist, libertarian. I think you are. I have trouble endorsing anything the federal government does like the INS, so that’s one thing. I think what Hoppe has done, what he’s done in the field of immigration, is similar to what he did with the field of democracy and monarchy. What he said was don’t be so quick to assume that the move from monarchy to democracy was an unalloyed – it was progress. There were some things about that move that were bad.
Democracy has lots of negative attributes from the point of view of liberty. It’s obvious. It’s all over his book: time preference, the incentive structure of the leaders, the war of all against all, all kinds of things about democracy, which are pretty obvious if you think about it and if you just open your eyes. And he has clear – and so now everyone says, oh Hoppe is a monarchist. No. Hans is not a monarchist. He has explicitly said I’m not a monarchist, and this is not a read for monarchy.
He’s simply saying that in many respects, monarchy is superior to democracy, and therefore, if you want to come up with a public policy model for how your democracy should perform, even though these recommendations are probably futile because democracy’s incentive structure is not going to implement this, this is what you should be in favor of. So it’s sort of like a cheap shot to say, oh he’s a monarchist. He’s not a monarchist. He would prefer anarcho-capitalism, and so would we.
But the question is what would be better, a world of 10,000 small Lichtensteins or – and that’s what it gets into a lot in these chapters. And I think it’s hard to imagine counterfactuals, but in a lot of respects, a world of 10,000 Lichtensteins seems to me to be obviously preferable to the world that we have now, the world of hegemonic, large states that have a large tax base. I mean the US is no better than Singapore or Canada except that it’s bigger. It’s bigger so it has a large GDP per person and a large population.
So if you combine those two things, it has a large tax gas, so it can build a large military. That’s it basically, right? China has a large population but a low GDP per person, so it’s not quite there yet. It’s getting there. Russia’s population isn’t quite big enough, so it’s only a medium player. Europe is too non-consolidated. India is a basket case. South American is a basket case. Singapore is rich, but it’s small. Canada is rich, but it’s small. So if you had 10,000 small, rich countries, I think Hans has a good point, that that might be the ideal world. How do you get there? Now, the ideal world would be anarchy, but this would be a step on the road towards that. So I think that’s one aspect of his point of view.
So I think on immigration, I think what he does is he says, listen, in an ideal world, there would be no such concept as immigration because there would be all private property, and people would just engage in free trade. And people would live on private property according to the owner’s consent. That’s all. I mean it wouldn’t be an issue. But now that we have democratic-run governments and public property everywhere, you have these issues come up. And so we have two problems, and he identifies – he isolates two problems.
And by the way, all his opponents focus on one thing that he identifies, which is what he calls forced integration, which I think is – he’s right to identify that. So forced integration is when you have a mass state like we have in the US, let’s say, 350 million people, public roads, public property, welfare state, anti-discrimination laws, the whole host of things that we have now.
Then you have forced integration. You have people being forced to support each other, live together, communities living in ethnic groups and different types of people being forced to live together that maybe naturally wouldn’t live together right away so quickly or whatever. I do have the impression that the US experiment in this has gone better than other countries like in Europe. But still it could be a recipe for a disaster at some point as we see right now with all the riots happening all over the country.
So you have forced integration. On the other hand, if I want to invite a friend or a relative from overseas to come live with me or visit me or work for me, and the government’s immigration rules don’t permit that, that’s a case of forced exclusion, and Hans admits that. Now, his critics never point that out, so what Hans is pointing out is that when you have government in control, they will harm people in two ways. They will have forced integration and forced exclusion, so the obvious solution is to get rid of the state, right?
But barring that, what’s the second-best solution? To decentralize, to have smaller states, and to have local autonomy, and to have decisions about who gets to come in that are modeled based more upon the monarchical solution than the democratic solution because the solutions or the decisions that would be made by the democratic decision-maker are more likely to be based upon short-term interests and political decisions like who’s going to vote for me, things like that, rather than who’s going to be reliable, who’s going to be stable, who’s going to be consistent with the culture of the country, that kind of thing. So everything Hans says seems to me to be common sense and is what everyone says that you meet in real day, everyday life.
JEFF DEIST: Well, sometimes I’m struck with the notion that we just over-think immigration. In other words, leave people the hell alone and see what they do. Some of them would form certain kinds of enclaves that are full of their friends and relatives and people who look an awful lot like them. And some of them would form very cosmopolitan, multiracial centers, places like Hong Kong and Singapore and Dubai. I don’t – so that’s – I agree with you that there’s a common sense element to this, but the root I think that Hoppe is getting at is this idea of owned versus unowned land.
And when you have a pure private property society, there’s no real unowned land, but when we do have this discomfiting reality of ports and highways and public schools and all this, the question becomes how ought the state carry out the rules by which that amorphous public property is used? And so you wrote what I think is really an excellent article on lewrockwell.com quite awhile ago now, 2005, where you talk about this idea of rule setting for private property. And so can you give us a little background on that?
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Yeah. I was – as I said, I’m reluctant to say that the – anything the INS does is legitimate because I view the federal government as a bunch of thugs. So – but my focus was, is it a violation of rights of foreign citizens or foreign would-be immigrants to be prevented from immigrating here or not? So to me, I always think in legalistic terms like is it a violation of their rights? So I’m thinking okay, so to immigrate to the US, you can’t just step onto someone’s porch.
If you did, then it’s only a question of whether you’re trespassing or not, and that’s a question of private law. And if you’re invited, that’s fine, but you’ve got to get there somehow. And we have a network of private roads and private facilities and ports of entry and things like that in this country. Now, they are privately owned legally by the governments, the federal government and the state governments and the local governments in this country legally. I say legally because I’m not endorsing it. I’m just saying as a matter of law that’s who it’s owned by.
Now, from a libertarian anarchist perspective, how should we view that situation? And I think we should view it as the rightful owners, and this gets back to what you mentioned earlier, Hoppe’s program for de-socialization. If we ever were able to unwind the state, how should we do it? And in the US, for example, Hoppe is against this auction idea, and I’m not completely opposed to the auction idea. I think it should probably be the last resort, but I think probably you could figure out who the taxpayers are, and you – so the taxpayers would have the greatest claim.
Then the syndicalization idea would be the next, like the neighbors, the highways, or whatever. But you could find some kind of way. As long as you return it to private hands, to my mind, in 100 years, it would be nice and functioning and in private hands. That would be a better solution than what we have now. But in any case, the point is, the way to view it is, there are private people, and there are government parasites.
And the government parasites can be best viewed as caretakers of the property legitimately owned by the private claimants who have a legitimate claim but is just being stopped right now by the workings of the actual legal system itself. And so I would say that the highway system, the federal interstate highway system, is legally owned by the federal government, but is morally owned by the taxpayers of the country, like American citizens who have paid income tax over the last 50 years, something like that. And therefore, the question is, okay, well then who gets to use it?
I would say the rules should be determined in accordance with the wishes of the owners, and the owners are the real owners, and that is the taxpayers. So they would say since we’re the citizens, we’re living here. At least let us use the highways that we paid for so we can drive to work and go get our groceries and things like that. That way, we’re getting some kind – and by the way, in Fifth Amendment imminent domain law, there is some kind of law about when you take someone’s property for public use, you can pay them a monetary payment, damages or you can give them in kind. So, for example, if you take someone’s house or part of their yard to make the highway bigger, but they get access to some freeway, that might be some benefit that gets credited against the damage done to them, etc.
So there are ways that the government plays games with these things, but the point is if you at least let these – if you tax them to make them pay for freeways and then you don’t let them use them, then you’re adding insult to injury, or you’re adding injury to injury. So at least let them use the freeways.
Okay, so then the question is, well, should you let foreign immigrants from Mexico and Honduras and Ukraine use the freeways too for free? Well, I don’t know. Would most people – would most citizens that are the owners of the roads want them to use them? I don’t know, maybe. Maybe so, maybe not, probably not. Maybe they want them to pay a fee. But the point is that these foreigners are not taxpayers, and they are not owners of the roads, and so if the federal government, as an imaginary caretaker of the roads for the true owners, which are American taxpayers, put up a barrier and says Mexican citizens are not entitled to use these roads, it doesn’t violate their rights because they don’t own the roads.
American citizens might have a claim to own the roads, but foreigners don’t. Therefore, that would be one way that immigration could be severely impeded simply by denying foreigners access to public property. If they could find a way to get to someone’s private property, like fly a helicopter into Bill Gates’ estate and Bill Gates wants a bunch of Costa Ricans to land on his property tomorrow, hey, he can do what he wants. So to my mind, it was just a thought experiment about how you don’t have a right to immigrate if it involves using public property that someone else owns.
And from the point of view of the immigrant, the outsider, it doesn’t matter whether the owner is the US federal government or the US taxpayer that’s the real claimant because you don’t own it. You don’t have a claim. So that was sort of my kind of legal cute argument about trying to say that it’s not a big holocaust of America doesn’t allow unlimited immigration into its borders and allow unlimited use of its public property by foreigners who don’t have a claim on these resources.
JEFF DEIST: Right. And, of course, Walter Block went back and forth with you and Hoppe on this more than a decade ago in the JLS. But one thing Walter says, well, we ought to view all this public property so-called as just virgin unowned territory and anybody can go in and homestead it. So Antifa can just take over CHAZ in downtown Seattle, and that’s great. And Walter has actually argued that. But Hoppe rejoins this argument, and I mentioned this in my interview, as saying his argument that we ought to view net taxpayers as the real owners of so-called public property is really one that applies in this context of immigration, not in necessarily a broader conceptual context.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: That’s interesting. I think that Walter’s arguments never made sense to me with respect to obviously transformed property like, say, university buildings or government buildings. I would not be averse to the argument that you could treat them as if they’re unowned, but it’s a legal fiction. And then you could say, okay, so the way we’re going to privatize these things is treat them as if they’re unowned and then let whoever is the first claimant get them.
But then you’re just – then that’s just your method of auction in a sense, and then Hoppe has already opposed auction as a method of doing that. I think it would be better to say, look, imagine a clear, pristine case. You own a house. The government takes it from you, and they pay you $200,000, and it’s worth $200,000, let’s say. So you’ve already been compensated by the taxpayers, so I would say in that case the taxpayers have claim on the house.
The house was owned by you. You don’t own it anymore because you’ve been compensated already. The government owns it legally, but the taxpayers have a general claim on that house. I don’t think it’s unowned. I think if Block would say the house is unowned he’s wrong. It’s not abandoned. It’s not virgin territory, so it’s not unowned.
Now, for the case of millions of acres of forest owned by the BLM, the Bureau of Land Management, I do think you could make an argument that some of that is unowned, and it’s open to all comers. That’s a different argument. But for transformed land that has been transformed according to Lockian principles, that used to have a recorded owner and that it’s just been taken over by purchase or by imminent domain. I don’t think calling it unowned is the right model.
JEFF DEIST: Well, you know what’s interesting to me though is that just as Hoppe offers at least a conceptual idea for how to de-socialize a country through the syndicalism or whatever, he also says, hey, here – the way we can require a would-be immigrant to bear the full cost of his or her impact on public ownership is simply to use the insurance process, some kind of surety bond. And what’s always struck me, there’s a lot of beltway libertarians who really dislike Hoppe because of immigration. They think it has to be motivated or animated by racism or something like that, which it isn’t.
But what’s interesting to me is this seems much more humane than the process they propose, which is open borders but for health and safety and criminal checks. Well, Hoppe is saying, look. The Catholic Charities of America or a family member or the ACLU or whoever could simply sponsor an immigrant by posting a bond. And that bond goes away at some point, and during their stay, prior to becoming a citizen, it simply covers the taxpayer for the full cost of anything, if they get in criminal activity, if they get in – or problems. So in other words, instead of going through this immigration rigmarole, you could post a bond, and somebody could fly here tomorrow.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Well, yeah. And that gets close to the idea of just buying citizenship, which is basically just pay half a million dollars and just buy your citizenship, which honestly the US probably could do. But then you’re getting into that idea that that presupposes the right of the federal government to limit immigration and to sell it off, and who is the money going to go to? I guess theoretically if – as a practical matter, that probably would be a good solution to be honest. I personally think that more population in the world and in the US is better. I think division of labor, more geniuses, is better overall.
And if – I think if we had a policy where we said we’re going to open the borders, okay, you can have some controls for criminal records and whatever. But just prove that you’re self-sufficient. Have a bond at least as a way in. Get some corporation to sponsor you. It wouldn’t be libertarian ideal, but it would be so much better than what we have now, and probably the number of immigrants that could come in would be ten times what’s permissible now. So it would be an – it would be something unobjectionable to everyone basically except for people that want us to have lower populations, the zero-growth people. But basically you would satisfy everyone, so I don’t understand why we don’t just do that, just say, listen – except it wouldn’t be a pro-democratic vote strategy.
JEFF DEIST: Amen.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: That’s the real thing.
JEFF DEIST: Hey look. This is Hoppe the humanitarian, pragmatist. That’s what people need to understand. But okay, so the free trade question, Hoppe says, again, this isn’t the same as protectionism because when you have goods crossing borders, you have the sender and the receiver agreeing ahead of time, whereas individual humans can just migrate. They possess a will. So immigration, like trade, ought to be invited. So give us your take on his general argument in chapter eight.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: I think that’s a great argument. He has – I don’t know if I have time to find it really quickly here. He has a great argument. He says something like without a government, there’s really no distinction between free trade and free immigration because they both happen naturally, and they both benefit. They’re not the same thing, but they – free trade –the argument for free trade is easy to understand. But once you have a government, then the movement of people has political consequences because they become subjects.
They can cause harm. They’re animals. They have a will, and they can then – under democracy like we have now, they can start voting. And that’s, of course, why the democrats want to – they want Puerto Rico and DC as a state. That’s why they want to have amnesty for the 11 million or whatever-it-is million people that are dreamers. Obviously they’re not – these are not humanitarian. They just want democrat votes. It’s obvious to me.
There are political implications for these people, and they change the culture too. There’s nothing wrong with culture changing. It always will change over time, but for the state to intentionally half-assedly, arbitrarily engineer a change in the culture for some other goal like as a side effect, I don’t see why anyone would want that to happen, which is what we’ve done with the Great Society program. Look what we’ve done to American culture just because of that and because of the – what we’ve done to the education system. I mean all these things have resulted in amazing cultural shifts, and even the defense and the wars, even inflation. People don’t think about this. I mean I think – is it – the guy that wrote the Gilligan book for you guys, brilliant guy. Cantor?
JEFF DEIST: Paul Cantor.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Yeah, Paul Cantor, about Paul, man, and – man and inflation. Inflation has affected the character of this country in unbelievable ways. We don’t really have hyperinflation yet, but we have inflation that’s affected the character of this country. It’s a monetary thing. It’s boring to most people, but – so we have affected the character of the country.
JEFF DEIST: Well, almost out of time. I want to wrap it up with a question about Hoppephobia, which a term I believe coined by Rothbard. But look. There are personalities and individuals involved in all of these philosophical and academic debates, and there’s also a sociology to any putative movement. So I think what happens is when Hoppe says here’s my argument why monarchy may be preferable to democracy but I’m not a monarch, here’s my argument for potentially restriction immigration in society as it is. But I’m not someone who actually believes in borders or government controls or passports. When he says these things, I think a lot of his critics will say I don’t believe you.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Right.
JEFF DEIST: That’s really what we’re getting at, and so he doesn’t do himself any favors when he uses terms like bums in the book to describe undesirables. So just comment on Hoppephobia.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: It reminds of Trump in the debate last night. I don’t know if you could stand to watch it. Or no, it was [inaudible_00:55:11]. He was – in the town hall he said I’m not a white supremacist, and the woman just went on. I mean what can he say? I mean how many times can you deny that you beat your wife? You’re a white guy, and you say I’m the least racist person in the room, and everyone laughs. It’s like what can I say? I’m not a racist. If you’re not a racist, what can you say if you’re accused of it?
So the funny thing was – so the time I came across that term, Hoppephobia, was this – I have it in front of me because I came across it when we were – I was revising or revisiting these things. It was this article, “Hoppephobia” in – I think it was in Liberty Magazine by Rothbard. And it was a response to Lomasky. Now, Loren Lomasky, I think he’s still alive. He’s this older philosopher up in Minnesota. Are you familiar with him?
JEFF DEIST: I know the name.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: He wrote this book, Persons, Rights, in the Moral Community, which I really enjoyed back in the ‘90s or ‘80s, whenever I read it. He looks like Lysander Spooner. He’s got this long beard, so he looks like a crazy anarchist type, like the guy on a Kansas album or something. And – but for some – but I think he’s just a minarchist. So he wrote this article attacking Hans for being an untrammeled anarchist. And so – wait. Let me see if it’s in here. So he wrote this thing. This is Rothbard, Rothbard at his best.
So this is Rothbard’s response to Lomasky attacking Hoppe. He says he’s shocked and stunned that Hoppe is a defender of not only capitalism, but it’s no less than a manifesto for untrammeled anarchism. And so here’s Rothbard. “Well, heavens to Betsy! Anarchism. One wonders where Lomasky has been for the last 20 years. Perhaps the knowledge has not yet penetrated the fastnesses of Minnesota, but anarchism has been a vibrant part of libertarian dialogue for a long time as most readers of liberty well know.”
But so this article – so Hoppephobia and the part that – so he says this. He says, “The Lomasky review is an interesting example of what is getting to be a fairly common phenomena—Hoppephobia. Although he is an amiable man personally, Hoppe’s written work seems to have the remarkable capacity to send some readers up the wall, blood pressure soaring, muttering, and chewing the carpet.” I love that line, muttering and chewing the carpet, and it’s true.
I’ve known Hoppe since ’94. Dude, he’s the sweetest guy. He’s hugged me. He’s wonderful. You know Hans. He’s great. And people think he’s this ogre. I don’t get it. He loves liberty. He came to liberty from leftism. He came to Austrianism from mainstream economics. He’s dedicated his life. He came to America to follow Rothbard, for God’s sake. He went to UNLV. This wasn’t a prestigious position. You know what I mean?
JEFF DEIST: Yeah.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: So the guy has dedicated his life to liberty. He’s achieved amazing insights, which, to me, he’s my number-one thinker. I mean he’s up there with Rothbard, Mises, and that’s about it for me.
JEFF DEIST: Well, I think we need to leave it at that. I knew that there was nobody better we could get for this show today than Stephan Kinsella. He’s got a website, stephankinsella.com, which you can use as sort of a portal to some of his other work. We’re going to link again to his Against IP book and to his Lew Rockwell article, which we discussed today. You can also follow him on Twitter. He is at nskinsella, all one word, N-S-K-I-N-S-E-L-L-A. So you’ve got to follow him on Twitter. Keep up with his stuff. He’s really one of the more interesting and erudite people in our environ. So Stephan, I want to thank you a lot for your time today, and ladies and gentlemen, have a great weekend.