This is a Terrible Idea. They Going to Take their Hair and Gold Teeth Too?

Apparently, Denmark is considering a plan (WSJ, gated) to seize valuables from migrants to offset government costs.  I am sure this will work out just as fairly as do American asset forfeiture laws

Denmark’s minority government has secured cross-party backing for a plan to seize cash and valuables from asylum seekers to help meet the cost of their stay in the Nordic country despite criticism from the United Nations and some Danish lawmakers.

Details of how the plan, which could be adopted by parliament as early as next month, would be put into action remain scant.

Liberal Party lawmakers, who draw up the proposal, have provided few details other than to say that police won’t be taking people’s possessions as they enter the country. Police or other officials would appraise the value of people’s possessions as they check the identity of asylum seeks before deciding what, if anything, the new arrivals should pay.

A while back I wrote a controversial post saying that I don't see any moral difference between building a wall to keep people in a country vs. building a wall to keep them out.  **

For a period of time in the late 1930's, the German government was actually encouraging Jews to leave the country -- the one requirement, though, was that the government stripped them of all their property and valuables on the way out.  So I ask the same question slightly modified.  What is the moral difference between stripping refugees of their assets as the leave a country vs. as they enter a country?


** Several people argued the point by analogy, saying it is OK to lock people out of your house but not to lock them in your house.  Certainly, but this frequent use of exclusionary rights on private property as an analogy for an entire country is deeply flawed.  Essentially, for this to be a valid analogy, one would have to adopt Marxist definitions of state ownership of all property and totalitarian views on individual rights to argue that an entire country is just like a private house.


  1. Sam Hardwick:

    Some of those coming over aren't necessarily poor, and spend their own money on groceries, clothes, phones etc. as asylum seekers in Europe. Is it so completely crazy to ask those who have the money to pay something towards accommodation too?

  2. None:

    Only if they are planning on claiming welfare. It's the same rules for the Danes - your personal possessions (above a certain value) are government property if you want to claim welfare.

  3. ddbb01:

    Can someone make a claim to others' property (whether through cash handouts, food and lodging, personal/governmental services) simply by stepping over a border with no ability for the "host" to decline?

  4. Daublin:

    That's how it ought to work, but the article implies it would be everyone. The word "sieze" is a strong indicator of that. If it were voluntary, we'd be seeing words more like "sell" and "offer".

    There's this weird government logic that you can save money by deporting people across the border and thereby avoiding the need to pay for their wellfare. Here's a way to save even more money: don't pay for the wellfare, and also don't pay to deport them.

  5. Adriana:

    They don't have a claim. Governments are giving it away. Your objection is with the government who collects taxes and redistributes the money to people you don't like, not the people you don't like.

  6. NL7:

    Well, if a government morally has the power to tax you when it wants, then an exit tax and an entrance tax are not really distinguishable.

    But for those of you defending the entrance tax on transactional grounds, you are saying "Denmark is only charging for the costs of welfare provided." Well, what if an exit tax is meant to cover the costs of emigration? Namely, the country provided a bunch of services and investments to the emigrant, but those services and investments won't get paid back because they are leaving. To be devil's advocate, the government paid for schooling, roads, infrastructure, defense, police and job subsidies, but now the emigrant is leaving while he still has years of productivity ahead of him. So he was given a good start in life, the government invested, now it wants its money back. Why isn't that transactional argument just as valid? Both of them are unfair, because they are involuntary taxes.

    If it's literally just about paying their own way, then the government can wash its hands of the refugees but allow private companies and private charities to provide housing and beds. If the private actors need to be paid, they can ask refugees to pay.

    Note that our government charges an exit tax, too, guys. If you try to expatriate - not just physically leave, but abandon your US citizenship - then you must pay a tax on your US capital assets. It's treated as if you the US citizen sold them to a foreigner. Because for tax purposes, you did (if you became a foreign national who resides exclusively outside the US, then your US capital assets are generally not going to be hit with US tax, so if they don't tax you when you expatriate, they will never tax that gain). Plus, Chuck Schumer tried a few years ago to add more punitive taxes on expatriates, and to include limitations on physically returning to the US.

  7. NL7:

    It sounds pretty clear that this is meant to dissuade refugees from coming to Denmark, and to signal to Danes that their government is angry at refugees, not that it's a true cost-saving measure. It's possible that the extra work and administration might cost more than whatever family heirlooms the Danish goons manage to seize and pawn. But it makes the prospect of going to Denmark sufficiently terrifying that maybe refugees won't go. That's the point of this law.

  8. NL7:

    It's amusing to see conservatives applauding basically the highest-tax country in the OECD, with a ridiculously sprawling welfare system that makes Bernie blush, because this time the high tax punishes Muslim refugees.

  9. obloodyhell:

    }}} Certainly, but this frequent use of exclusionary rights on private property as an analogy for an entire country is deeply flawed. Essentially, for this to be a valid analogy, one would have to adopt Marxist definitions of state ownership of all property and totalitarian views on individual rights to argue that an entire country is just like a private house.

    No, your response is deeply flawed. CLEARLY the government -- including the founders, by acknowledging the concept of "Eminent Domain" -- has SOME shared ownership of properties not in private hands but within the bounds of the borders. SOMEONE has to "own it", clearly. Otherwise squatting would be completely moral.

    Equally critically, you're taking a BLACK-WHITE position on something that is clearly SHADES OF GREY. No doubt there should be some limits on how much property the nation owns collectively -- with the west of the USA being a prime example of waaaay too much -- but there's clearly a CONCEPT built in for everyone that there's such a thing as collective ownership.

    I swear, just by bringing this stupid thing up yet again after getting pretty thoroughly hammered the last time, you're trolling your readers.

  10. obloodyhell:

    }}} Your objection is with the government who collects taxes and redistributes the money

    No, this is my objection, above. It doesn't need your silly codicils.

  11. obloodyhell:

    If you're a self-proclaimed "libertarian" who doesn't grasp the distinction between libertarianism and actual true anarchy, like, say, Warren... then yes.

  12. obloodyhell:

    }}} Well, what if an exit tax is meant to cover the costs of emigration? Namely, the country provided a bunch of services and investments to the emigrant, but those services and investments won't get paid back because they are leaving.

    The obvious answer to this trollish question is really disgustingly simple:

    You had no control over those "services" -- you got them just by being born here, didn't sign any contract for them, and didn't have any option on the matter. Anyone coming INTO this country has an option, if you don't like the deal: DON'T.

    The end conclusion of your ridiculous scenario is total slavery for all. You are only allowed to exist at the behest of the government, are thereby owned by the government in perpetuity, unless you can (somehow) manage to pay back, in full, the amount they invested in you -- which you (again) had no say in, no control over.... you didn't get any say in going to school and the costs that represents -- you were ORDERED to go or face truancy laws.

    Since that assertion is a priori ridiculous, the whole equivalence you've made falls apart. An "entry tax" is NOT the same as an "exit tax".

  13. Adriana:

    Read the entries you posted above. You don't address my argument. Most of it is a stream of consciousness that you diarrhea-ed all over the comments, as usual.

  14. chembot:

    If police patrol their precincts and keep watch for potential undesirables, and occasionally chase off trespassers, does that mean they claim ownership of all property within their domain?** If they see someone walking around the residential neighborhood with jerry cans and matches, is it OK to question them or at least make note of suspicious activity? Or must we wait until the Arson happens and adopt a completely reactive approach in order to not offend the sanctity of individual rights? "But there is a miniscule <1% chance of arson, that is no reason to harass everyone!" And that is true. But it doesn't mean that people who fit the high risk profile can't be reasonably viewed with a higher level of scrutiny without society collapsing into a totalitarian craphole.

    If instead of calling it "the border patrol" and we instead called it "the neighborhood watch", would that be better? On one hand you are replacing a gov't entity with a private association... on the other hand, I suppose the first analogy would be to call those folk Nazis, Dunce-capped racists, or perhaps most ironically wild eyed government hating militiamen.

    **I note here that this is not a total endorsement of police, whom I feel have way too much power with way too little accountability. Frequently they do act like their personal fiefdom encompasses the realm of their vision, inflicting disproportionate punishment when the proper level of sservility and obsequity is not observed.

  15. chembot:

    InB4 "But most people are simply trying to sell their labor. What right do we have to prevent freedom of travel and freedom of association?"

    Conceded for the purposes of this discussion. What is not conceded is that a governmental interest in what occurs within its jurisdiction necessarily implies that private property cannot exist, or that we are somehow serfs because controlled borders do exist.

  16. Bram:

    So they shouldn't means-test welfare recipients (basically what these people are)? Keep your bling and pay your way if you want.

  17. Q46:

    Leaving aside miral arguments...

    There are several practical flaws in seizure of assets from 'asylum seekers'. (Of course because politicians are involved.)

    Many so-called asylum seekers are in fact economic refugees and have little or nothing to seize.

    In any case, if an immigrant has any assets of value worth taking, seizing it removes any possibility for them to maintain themselves until they find a means to earn a living, or invest in order to make a living - so instead of being able to pay their own way, the taxpayer ends up doing so anyway.

    Authorisation of agents of the State to confiscate property from immigrants who may be frightened, unfamiliar with the Law, with little or no understanding of the language opens up the possibility of corruption and bribery.

    Additionally once the State gets involved in any activity, it breeds flocks of civil servants, offices, resources so the administration will cost more than what is recovered.

    Reality: this nonsense has nothing to do with the economics of the situation and everything to do with political posturing to distract the population and get votes.

  18. morganovich:

    regarding the private property comparison, i think it's too simplistic to speak of just keeping people out of a country. this goes beyond that.

    the presence of people on the land is one thing, but their right to claim social welfare benefits as a result of it is another.

    open borders and universal welfare are not compatible.

    if this is just about people wanting to come and live and escape oppression, that's one thing, but when those people also demand that you pay to house, feed, educate, and provide healthcare for them, you're into very different territory.

  19. Not Sure:

    "To be devil's advocate, the government paid for schooling, roads, infrastructure, defense, police and job subsidies..."

    The government didn't pay for any of those things. Taxpayers did.

  20. Adriana:

    You're being pedantic.

  21. Adriana:

    If the argument is that these asset seizures and entry taxes are justified because people should pay for the government benefits and programs they're receiving, then what does it matter whether one was born there or arrived? An exit tax would be perfectly appropriate using this logic.

    You're sidestepping the crux of the analogy because it's incompatible with your conclusion.

  22. Adriana:

    Eminent Domain is a private property concession. The government compensates the owner, in theory, for his loss of property. You'll have a hard time arguing that this demonstrates collective ownership. Rather, it demonstrates that people here have a prima facie right to property that can be taken away if and only if the government satisfies certain criteria (too lax for me, but I digress) and then pays for the property.

    I think you took 12th grade civics too literally if you believe "we are the government" and thus that we own government property holdings collectively. We really don't. The government can exclude a citizen and an immigrant alike, so in no way are these "collective holdings." You're allowed onto government holdings at the government's discretion, not your own. You're not a collective property owner in any meaningful way.

  23. mesocyclone:

    There is zero moral equivalence between building a wall to keep people out and building one to keep them in. In the former case, you are presumably using the wall to enable the immigration controls that every nation in the world has had since the Treaty of Westphalia, at least. In the latter, you are violating the rights of your own sovereign citizens.

    There is a reason we have nations: they are a group of people who have joined together on a chunk of the earth. They do so for, at a minimum, common defense. Preventing trespass is certainly a form of common defense.

    You also break Godwin's Law by invoking the Nazi's with your gold in their teeth comment. For shame. The need for that analogy betrays the weakness of your position. Whether taking their assets is good policy is a debatable question. Their right to do so, and not be considered Nazi's, is not.

  24. MJ:

    How "liberal" of them. Can conscription and/or indentured servitude be far behind? After all, I doubt many of these people have any real possessions of any great value at this point.

  25. MJ:

    He didn't call them Nazis. He merely pointed out, by way of illustration, that the German government was one example of a government who adopted this odious policy in the past.

  26. MJ:

    Exactly. They've finally found common cause with Uncle Bernie. Take a bow, guys.

  27. oneteam:

    Immigrating into a cradle to grave socialist country has financial ramifications. I think it's a great introduction to what they can expect as a full blown citizen/resident. Welcome to socialism folks. Now let's see what you can provide to the collective, shall we?

  28. mesocyclone:

    He invoked the Nazi's, as I said, which then invokes Godwin's Law. The Nazi's odious policy was taking that stuff as part of the process of killing their own innocent citizens. Nobody is proposing yanking the teeth of these "refugees" - just making them pay a tiny bit for the huge costs they represent. Coyote's analogy was logically incorrect.