Choose: open borders or the welfare State?

Summary: Too often we prefer to listen to people who were wrong rather than those proven correct. That’s true of our mad wars. It is true of the current immigration crisis, as seen in the writings of Dr. Tino Sanandaji, who starting in 2011 warned about the consequence of massive immigration into Sweden. Being right isn’t enough for us to listen. But that can change.

”You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.”
— Milton Friedman in an interview at the 18th Annual Institute for Liberty and Policy Analysis (ISIL) World Libertarian Conference, 20 August 1999, posted by Virginia Dare at VDAR.

EU Immigration

Open borders and the Welfare State“.
The Sanandaji Principle.

By Dr. Tino Sanandaji in Svensk Tidskrift, 15 April 2011.

“Today I write an article about classical liberal theory and compleatly free immigration.”

…My hope is that as someone who grew up for ten years on welfare, who lived close to two years in refuge camps and the rest of his childhood in so called ”Millionprogram” housing, in foster-care and ”ungdomshem”, who in school was physically assaulted several times by skinheads and Neo-Nazis, who had Neo-Nazis come to his home and yell ”sieg heil” in the buzzer, who lived in 99% immigrant Ronna while he commuted an hour and a half each way to Handelshögskolan, I can get away with a tiny bit more on this contentious topic than a blond bourgeoisie Swede would.

I argue against open borders in a modern welfare state based on classical liberal principles. First I demonstrate that unskilled immigration to current welfare states has led to sizable transfers of wealth from and reduction of freedom of the current owners of the state. These owners are of course citizens, needless to say regardless of race or ethnic origin.

Libertarian theory which is used to derive the principle of completely free immigration tends to make the unrealistic assumption that the welfare state and voting rights over the properties of others do not exist. Libertarians sometimes acknowledge the problem of combining a welfare state and open borders, but proceed to declare that they support open borders and no welfare state.

I argue that this is a logically flawed proposal. Immigrants from third world countries tend to earn less than for example native Swedes or Americans, and furthermore tend to come from countries with no tradition of classical liberalism.

Hence 77% of non-European immigrants voted for the left in the 2010 election, a year when only 43% of native born Swedes voted for the combined left. In the United States whereas only 35% of whites prefer raising taxes and expanding government, the figure is 65% for Hispanic immigrants and 66% for second-generation Hispanics.

These patterns are completely rational, immigrants earn less and unlike Anglo-Saxons have no traditional preference for limited government. The way immigrants vote and their political preferences cannot simply be assumed away in any serious ideological discussion.

Open borders in a affluent welfare state leads to unskilled immigrants soon becoming the majority of the voters. Since unskilled immigrants in the reality we live in generally do not support libertarian style limited government, the Sanandaji Principe states that you can only pick 2 out of 3 of …

  1. Limited Government,
  2. Open Borders,
  3. Democracy.

Even if Swedes and Americans abolished the welfare state tomorrow (something which I would oppose), with open borders the welfare state would reemerge as soon as the immigrants became the majority of voters. Ignoring the voting patterns of immigrants when you propose abolishing the welfare state and fully opening borders is subsequently a violation of the Lucas Critique.

Editor’s note: The Lucas Critique: named for Robert Lucas’s work on macroeconomic policy-making, says that it is naive to try to predict the effects of a change in economic policy entirely on the basis of relationships observed in historical data. See Wikipedia.

Open borders and an abolished welfare state can only be combined in a nightmare society where immigrants and their children are never allowed to vote. For me the choice is simple, I prefer Democracy to Open Borders. If a country decides to take immigrants, they have to be included 100% with full rights, and not permanent second-class citizens.

The three most important Libertarian intellectuals of the last century who thought deeply about the subject all concluded that open borders in our societies with welfare states was a bad idea.

Friedrich Hayek (see Wikipedia) thus wrote ”a recognition of collective ownership of the resources of the country which is not compatible with the idea of an open society”. The minimum standard of living that Hayek believed the state should guarantee even its poorest citizens ”necessitates certain limitations on the free movement across frontiers”.

Ed’s note: From Law, Legislation and Liberty, Volume 3: The Political Order of a Free People.

Milton Friedman also recognized this, and stated ”You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state”.

Ed’s note: From an interview at the 18th Annual Institute for Liberty and Policy Analysis (ISIL) World Libertarian Conference, 20-22 August 1999, posted by Virginia Dare at VDAR.

Late in his life, Robert Nozick (see Wikipedia) become skeptical about open borders, saying (in an interview with a libertarian Swedish journal no less!): ”Why do we not have completely free immigration everywhere? One reason is the welfare state”.

Swedish Libertarians such as Johan Norberg, Mattias Svenssson and Henrik Alexandersson by contrast support open borders combined with keeping or if need be expanding the welfare state. Thus Norberg, Svensson, Alexandersson and others in the ”Frihetsfronten” who for decades fought to abolish tax financed health care and schools for Swedish citizens supported the recent decision to grant the same services to illegal immigrants. Mattias Svensson’s comment on this historic expansion of the Swedish welfare state in scope to potentially the entire planet was ”This is what solidarity is about”. Johan Norberg similarly gave the decision a thumbs up in his column.

Remember, a simple libertarian solution would have been to allow illegal immigrants to pay for health care and education services out of their own pockets, just as Frihetsfronten wants Swedes to do. But being pro-immigration has become so important for Swedish libertarian identity that they are cheering expanded welfare state services for illegal immigrants. If you wanted to be unkind, a suitable name for this novel ideology would be Libertarian-Socialism.

Limits on free migration is not just an arbitrary state construct, it is necessary to uphold ownership rights imposed by owners (citizens), just as a fence is necessary to uphold private property. Organizations such as condo-associations who produce social externalities for their members and make decisions about collective matters always limit membership. Since we have chosen to organize ourselves in a nation-state and grant some rights over our lives to fellow citizens, we need to restrict who has coercive power over us. Borders are limits on expanding the necessary-evil which coercion through voting represents.

Voting rights of citizens over common decisions and collective assets should therefore best be viewed in this context as form of property. If you accept this premise, abolishing borders in a modern welfare state is a form of socialism, just as abolishing fences would be. Note that both private property and citizenship rights evolved gradually through the spontaneous order and were not ”created”, that both serve to increase societal efficiency, and that both are common to all modern societies. Libertarians should remember that that private property also limits free mobility. This theoretical view confirms with reality, where the consequence of unskilled immigration to the welfare states such as Sweden have been an expansion of government and a reduction of the freedom of the existing citizens.

Classical Liberals should take after Hayek, Friedman and Nozick and think deeply about these issues. The discussion should take real world empirical patterns into account and use a richer model than the simple neoclassical model with assumes away voting, the public sector and social externalities. We have to first have a theory of what a nation-state is, what citizenship is and what voting rights are, before we propose to abolishing these rights through open borders.


Flash forward in time to stories like these…

“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”
— Don Fabrizio in The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (the top-selling novel in Italian history), and a 1963 film with Burt Lancaster.

Sweden’s violent reality is undoing a peaceful self-image” by Paulina Neuding at Politico, 16 April 2018 – “Shootings have become so common that they don’t make top headlines anymore. …In a period of two weeks earlier this year, five explosions took place in the country. It’s not unusual these days. Swedes have grown accustomed to headlines of violent crime, witness intimidation and gangland executions.”

Sweden rape: Most convicted attackers foreign-born” by the BBC, 22 August 2018 – A report by Sweden’s Public broadcaster SVT.

It is not just Sweden. Other nations that have experimented with open borders have similar stories, such as “An Ice-Cream Truck Slaying, Party Drugs and Real-Estate Kings: Ethnic Clans Clash in Berlin’s Underworld” by Bojan Pancevski in the WSJ, 17 October 2018 – “Criminal clans of Arab and Kurdish origin fight violently in Berlin and broaden their sway in Germany.”

Other articles by Tino Sanandaji

Ethnic Diversity and the Size of Government“, 11 May 2011.

“I formulated the Sanandaji Principe, which stipulates that due to the left-leaning voting patterns of unskilled immigrants, we can at most have two out of three of Open Borders, Libertarianism and Democracy. Open Borders and Democracy will inevitably lead to a welfare state, as non-libertarian immigrants sooner or later become the majority of the voters and vote themselves benefits.”

What Is the Truth about Crime and Immigration in Sweden?“, 25 February 2017 – “The U.S. media debate has been misleading, but the biggest problem is that the Swedish political establishment doesn’t want to know the answer.”

“In quantitative terms, the NTU data on sexual assault show a rising victimization level from the first survey in 2005 to the last reported year, 2015. …Not a single recent research study in Sweden has attempted to estimate the causal effect of immigration on sexual assault or homicide rates. Parliament recently defeated a motion to produce up-to-date crime statistics based on national origin.”

His most important, vivid, and scary article, from 2016, now obviously prophetic – Torching Utopia: Sweden tries mass immigration.Tino Sanandaji

About Tino Sanandaji

He is a Kurdish-Swedish economist and author. Born 1980 in Iran, his family moved to Sweden in 1989. He has an MSc from the Stockholm School of Economics (where he now works as a researcher), an M.A in economics and a PhD in Public Policy from the University of Chicago.

See his Wikipedia entry for more information and links to his work. See his blog (in Swedish) and his C.V. and publications.

For More Information

Ideas! For some shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See about immigration, and especially these…

  1. Horrific news from Sweden about sexual assaults by immigrants.
  2. Trump points to Sweden’s problems with migrants. Then they riot, again.
  3. Amidst the smoke & fire, a new multicultural Sweden arises!
  4. Europe’s elites use immigration to reshape it.
  5. Sociologist Wolfgang Streeck explains the politics of the migrant crisis reshaping Europe.
  6. Politics of the EU: “Vanity and Venality” — by Susan Watkins (editor of the New Left Review).
  7. Martin van Creveld calls out the cowards in Europe.

Two books about immigration, both well worth reading

Europe is our future. We can watch them to avoid their mistakes.

Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West by Christopher Caldwell (2009). See this post about it: About Europe’s historic experiment with open borders.

The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam by Douglass Murray (2017). See these posts with excerpts from the book: Martin van Creveld’s reaction to Europe’s rape epidemic. Warning of the “Strange Death of Europe”, and Strange perspectives on the challenges facing Europe.

Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West
Available at Amazon.
Strange Death of Europe
Available at Amazon.


8 thoughts on “Choose: open borders or the welfare State?”

  1. Voting rights of citizens over common decisions and collective assets should therefore best be viewed in this context as form of property.

    A great observation IMO, since it goes to the dynamics of how immigration can change the government.

    This goes with a previous observation that immigrants bring their own culture, and its effects, if they do not become part of the culture of that the country, can be better estimated by looking at the country/culture they came from.

  2. Also, choose between equal rights for all, and equality before the law, or multi-culturalism. Can’t have both.

    The result of open borders together with the politics of identity and the mirage of multi-culturalism will be, as in Germany, the rise of the far right as the identity politics of the existing residents. Tell them often enough that they are a distinct ethnic or racial group, and they will believe, you, and they next will believe the populist who tells them to act on it.

    People who have seen Act I of this drama are confidently predicting what will be in Act II – generally they are predicting the original culture submerging. They are predicting no material change of attitudes or politics. But it is entirely possible that Act II will surprise them with right wing authoritarianism and mass deportations.

    If not worse. We have already seen worse in the 20C. We will not see the same exact thing again. But it may rime.

    1. “Also, choose between equal rights for all, and equality before the law, or multi-culturalism. Can’t have both.”

      This may be too elliptical. Does a girl living in a Pakistani community in Bradford have the same legal protection and rights as a white girl living in an Anglo Saxon nominally Christian family living in Cheltenham? The same rights to date who she wants, follow the religion of her choice? Go on holidays where she wants?

      Nominally, maybe. But not in practice, because cultural sensitivities mean that the head of the family, if Muslim, has in practice a blank check.

      And in several English cities, it has turned out that if your daughter was being groomed by a British pedophile, that would attract the immediate attention of the law and the social services. But were she to be being groomed and exploited by a gang of Asian men, cultural sensitivities would mean that she and your family would be denied in practice the protection of the law.

      This is the lesson of Rochdale. The real impact of different laws for different groups is when the conduct goes across groups. Of course, forced marriages and the enforcement of the Islamic code on going out or travelling alone is a real infringement of liberty for the Muslim women subject to it. But there it was justified on the grounds of none-interference in multi culturalism. However, it turned out in Rochdale that this approach is not possible to confine the damage within a community, because de facto immunity spilled out into their relations with non-community people.

      Another example is that as a British Muslim woman you won’t have the same protections that the law of marriage gives to non-Muslims. Though a recent court ruling was a welcoming awakening on that front.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        You appear unclear about the meaning of “rights” in US law. It does not refer to outcomes, but to the far narrower concept of the individual vs. the State.

        Unlike those drunk with power today, the Founders did not believe the State had the power – or the right – to regulate the family life of a girl in Bradford.

    2. “the Founders did not believe the State had the power – or the right – to regulate the family life of a girl in Bradford”

      The EU does appear to. In the Human Rights regime it declares rights which individuals have, which the state is obliged to enforce.

      The issue however I was pointing to was equal enforcement. Two people from different communities. The Human Rights Convention says they have the right to choose or change their religion. If a Christan does it, and someone tries to threaten him or her not to, the law will intervene. If a Muslim, probably, at least until recently, not.

      This is the incompatibility of multi-culturalism with equal treatment before the law. Some rights which individuals nominally all have equally are not enforced for citizens of some categories.

      You have to choose: if you have real heavy multi-culturalism, you give up extending the same protections to individual freedoms that the majority have. You have, whatever the formal legal situation, ended up not protecting them from their community or family in the way that the majority are.

      In Rochdale this meant not protecting white nominally Christian girls from the Asian grooming gangs.

      I see no way around this. If you want equal protection and equal treatment in respect of what are nominally common rights, you have to trample on community norms and kiss multi-culturalism goodbye.

      FGM is a similar issue. So is equal education for both sexes.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        I don’t believe the EU documents are intended seriously, nor are they enforceable – as is the US Constitution. This was taken to an insane degree in the proposed EU Constitution, hundreds of pages of promises that would take a god to enforce.

        This imaginary aspect of core documents is a commonplace in our era, as States attempt to gain legitimacy by pretending to copy the US Constitution. The Constitution of the Soviet Union sounded wonderful. Analysis of them as if they were serious is imo a waste of time.

  3. It’s all pretty simple. If you make another country your home follow its laws and norms. If you don’t want to do that then stay in your old country. Oh, and do it legally.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      While I agree, it is not very simple. Which is why it is so seldom understood. People come here and shape our society. It’s more than following the laws. Under multiculturalism, our reigning policy, they have no obligation to follow our norms, just our laws.

      More broadly, there are limits to the numbers of people a society can assimilate. Sanandaji explains them here. This is knowledge the Left does not want you to have!

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