July 12, 2010
Recently, Bill O'Reilly interviewed John Stossel about the dangerous situation along Arizona's porous border with Mexico. Stossel is probably my favorite reporter. I admire the way he demolishes popular myths, particularly economic myths. However, on the topic of how to deal with waves of illegals (some of them perpetrators of violent crime) in Arizona, his remarks were perplexing.
Stossel's arguments showcased "doctrinaire libertarianism"—defined here as the rigid belief that government is always the greater evil. Essentially, though by no means condoning crime, Stossel was more willing to tolerate illegal aliens imposing murder, mayhem, and an oppressive sense of danger on American citizens than to defend against such aggression by the deployment of National Guardsmen.
This position is baffling, because a primary libertarian tenet is nonaggression. It suggests that Stossel's rejection of government is so total that he prefers violent anarchy in the southern Arizona desert to Uncle Sam doing what our founding fathers said was the sole legitimate function of government, namely, to protect the life, liberty, and property of citizens.
Stossel implied that gangs of Mexican drug smugglers wouldn't sneak into our country if drugs were legalized. Even assuming that were true, I was dismayed by his stance: because the current U.S. drug policy is wrong, we shouldn't waste tax dollars protecting the innocent Arizonans whose lives are in danger. Say it ain't so, John!
Like many libertarians, Stossel tends to view the right to liberty (in this case, the liberty of foreigners to enter our country) as absolute. This is impossible in practice. In first-year law school, students learn that the precious right of free speech doesn't include the right to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater.
The fact is that an alarming number of noncitizens have crossed into the United States and murdered Americans who live in southern Arizona. So dangerous has that area become that American officials have publicly warned American citizens to stay away from a miles-wide swath of American territory abutting the Mexican border. The Obama administration refuses to send sufficient reinforcements to the under-staffed border patrol to enable them to repel the invasion of illegal aliens, some of whom are truly lethally dangerous.
For Stossel to maintain that the federal and state governments should not deploy National Guard troops to secure the border because it is expensive turns people off to libertarianism. I share Stossel's aversion to big, expensive, wasteful government. But to make a dollars-and-cents argument that the United States, still the wealthiest country in the world, shouldn't spend money to defend its citizens and its borders against swarms of sometimes-violent foreign invaders is flabbergasting.
Libertarians promulgate and promote many sound economic ideas. They are in the vanguard of making the necessary case for greater economic liberty (no, not the total liberty of no laws or rules of the game to protect the innocent). Many of the free-market principles that libertarians articulate and the policy reforms that they propose are our country's only hope for avoiding economic stagnation and a quantum reduction in individual liberty under growing government regimentation.
By taking a doctrinaire ideological position on illegal immigration and appearing to side with foreign aggressors against the fundamental rights of American citizens, Stossel has made a tragic strategic mistake. He has made it less likely that Americans will listen with an open mind to anyone labeled as having libertarian beliefs. I, for one, will continue to value his excellent reporting on economic issues, but I fear that many mainstream Americans who desperately need to learn what Stossel teaches will now tune him out.
Meanwhile, come on, Mr. President, secure the border. American citizens' right to life must be secured against foreign invaders. That point is not debatable. Protection of its citizens is a core function of government.
Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.