Last weekend, the Swiss voted for immigration restrictions supported by the nationalist and euroskeptic Swiss People’s Party, the party with the most seats in Switzerland’s lower house of the Federal Assembly. The party campaigned for the restrictions using the depressingly common fear mongering about overpopulation. The referendum nullifies an agreement between Switzerland and the European Union relating to the free movement of people. Although not a member of the E.U., Switzerland has adopted many of the bloc’s policies and the Swiss Franc is pegged to the euro. Interestingly, as was noted by George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan, the areas of Switzerland where there are the least immigrants are where support for the immigration restrictions were the strongest.
The vote was praised by nationalistic, xenophobic, and euroskeptic parties across Europe. It shouldn’t be surprising that members of such parties support the referendum, which was backed by 50.3 percent of Swiss voters. However, what is notable is that European politicians and parties in favor of the Swiss immigration restrictions are exhibiting a behavior seen in the Republican Party when it comes to debates on immigration; giving lip service to freedom without being able to match the rhetoric with action.
Many euroskeptic politicians and parties use the word “freedom” without any hints of irony or sarcasm. It should be obvious to those who call themselves “libertarians” or “classical liberals” that parties such as the xenophobic and nationalist Dutch Party for Freedom and the Freedom Party of Austria have little to do with freedom when it comes to immigration.
The outline of the Freedom Party of Austria’s program does mention freedom, but only as “our most valued asset,” not a universal right. The document goes on to state bluntly that “Austria is not an (sic) country of immigration.”
Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, praised the Swiss minaret ban, which was passed in a referendum in 2009, and said, "What can be done in Switzerland, can be done here." Wilders has also spoken out against dual citizenship, and has called for the Koran to be treated like Mein Kampf and banned. These are not the positions of someone who believes in the value of freedom. The Party for Freedom also advocates for economically liberal policies such as lowering taxes on citizens.
The Swiss People’s Party’s program states that the party wants “a secure future in freedom and prosperity” and calls for “more market forces and less bureaucracy,” “the protection of private property and privacy,” and lower taxes.
The selective understanding of freedom demonstrated by European euroskeptics was perhaps best expressed by Nigel Farage, the leader of the euroskeptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), who said the following in response to the recent Swiss vote, “This is wonderful news for national sovereignty and freedom lovers throughout Europe." Farage evidently doesn’t think much of the freedom of movement, and views the restrictions on where people can choose to live and work and on who people can hire and rent or sell property to as “wonderful news.” Farage’s comments are especially ironic given that UKIP’s constitution describes the party as “libertarian,” and says that the party will back policies that “encourage those who aspire to improve their personal situation.” Of course, moving within or between countries is one way people try and make their life better.
Although the British Conservative Party, which includes a number of euroskeptics and claims to support free enterprise, did not respond to the Swiss referendum, it is worth noting that the party's website has a whole section dedicated to reducing immigration.
This confused messaging over freedom and immigration is also seen in the U.S. The majority of members of the Republican Party as well as those that lean Republican claim to have positive outlooks on free enterprise and capitalism. However, the recent Republican rhetoric surrounding the immigration debate on this side of the Atlantic has not been supportive of capitalism or limited government, which is especially worth noting considering that the GOP fancies itself as “the party of maximum economic freedom and the prosperity freedom makes possible.”
According to Reason’s polling, 80 percent of Republicans believe that we would be “Better able to handle today's problems within a free market with less government involvement.” 80 percent also believe that “The less government the better.” As has been pointed out by Reason’s Nick Gillespie and Shikha Dalmia, on the issue of immigration many Republican lawmakers and pundits abandon their supposed distrust of government and belief in the free market.
Reason’s polling also shows that 53 percent of Republicans and 28 percent of Democrats believe that immigration hurts the economy. Additionally, Reason’s polling found that Republicans who favor immigration are more likely than Democrats who feel the same way to back raising the cap on high-skilled visas. However, while the benefits of high skilled immigration are rarely disputed, it should not be forgotten that low-skilled immigrants are also good for the economy.
It is impossible to consistently believe that the free movement of goods is beneficial while making an exception for labor. If someone is a free marketeer they should support the right of any business owner to employ anyone they wish, be they from New York, Arizona, Norway, Mexico, Laos, or any other part of the world. In addition, those who claim to believe in natural rights should also argue in favor of the free movement of people. As Andrew Napolitano explained last year, immigration is a natural right.
Republicans who are wary of immigration reform, like anti-immigrant euroskeptics, could respond by making cultural rather than economic objections to immigration. Given that I am a libertarian it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I don’t believe that the state should have any role in shaping culture and find these sort of objections silly, immoral, or both. That said, those who oppose immigration are welcome to make these objections, but they should acknowledge that restrictions on immigration are anti-free market.
There are of course many differences between the explicitly xenophobic parties in Europe and the American Republican Party. As bad as the anti-immigrant sentiment expressed by many Republicans is, it is nowhere near as bad as much of the xenophobic and nationalist nonsense expressed by members of UKIP, the Dutch Party for Freedom, the Swiss People's Party, and the Freedom Party of Austria. Yet what European euroskeptic parties and the Republican Party have in common is a fondness for messaging that sounds pro-liberty while also advocating for immigration policies that require big government and restrictions on freedom.