Tonlieux have been a topic of discussion lately in libertarian circles. A tonlieu is a fee paid to a sovereign in exchange for safe passage or residence in his domains or for access to the markets thereof, and for the protection of his laws. Tonlieux were common in Medieval Europe. Domains of all sorts – cities, counties and abbeys, and of course duchies, principalities, and kingdoms – charged a fee to travellers who traversed or stayed in their lands or transacted in their markets (or used their bridges, ferries, or roads), no matter how short or long their stay. Payment of the tonlieu was manifest in an insignia – a visa – on a passport, which amounted to a receipt for payment. If you were in country without a current visa, you were not reliably under the sovereign’s protection, and so (in general, and with due allowance for differences in the detail of enforcement from one domain to another) might be fair game for footpads and highwaymen, thieves and burglars, muggers and fraudsters; and might be without recourse in any local court of law (which usually amounted to the throne room of the local sovereign); and might furthermore be subject to immediate deportation upon detection by the cops, if not also taking without compensation (in such cases the cops would take their cut of the expropriated assets and pass them up the hierarchy, with each level taking a cut, and the sovereign fisc last in line, although not least)(“civil forfeiture” has been around for a very long time: ‘cop’ is from the Latin capere, to take).
The recent proposals for tonlieux vary considerably. Since I’ve been talking up the notion for years, I might as well here offer a more detailed explanation of what I would propose. It is of course subject to change as I learn more.
The tonlieu has come to the fore of late as a potential policy response to the recent titanic crisis of illegal immigration, both in the US and in Europe. It could solve that problem, completely and quickly. But by no means is that all it could do. It could ensure that *all* aliens who enter or reside in a country are treated properly; which is to say, *as aliens* – i.e., as respected visitors – and *not* as permanent residents. It could cure and prevent the deleterious effects upon a nation of massive immigration of foreigners – which cannot but dilute its native cult and culture, thereby weakening it. It could be a massive source of revenue for the sovereign fisc.
These are all different aspects of the basic effect of an optimal tonlieu: it would introduce economic rationality into immigration policy. Access to a good country is itself an economic good. It ought therefore to be explicitly and legally priced, and paid for. Or else, the good of that good country will be simply taken and consumed by those who have nowise paid for it, and without compensation to those who, with their forefathers, helped build and maintain it, at no small cost to themselves, and who now possess and enjoy it as their own patrimony. To the extent that the price of entry to a country is not optimal, or – as now – even negative, immigration policy is radically insane. It amounts to giving away bits of the store to everyone who comes in the door, whether or not they buy anything from its inventory.
In brief, then, and remembering to distinguish tonlieux from tolls (or use taxes) or transaction taxes (sales tax, VAT, and the like):
- The tonlieu is divided into two parts: rent on the visa, and a security deposit. The rent is the price of staying in country for a given period, and is renewable for periods of up to a year. The security deposit is refundable upon departure from the country, but is forfeit in the event the depositor is convicted of a crime (minor infractions of traffic laws excepted) or held liable for a civil tort, or overstays his visa. If an alien fails to renew his visa, and has not documented his departure from the country and thus recollected his security deposit, that deposit immediately, automatically and irrevocably escheats to the sovereign fisc.
- The rent must be renewed. The maximum renewal period is one year. The rent per diem can vary: it can rise or fall unpredictably.
- The security deposit is equal to the rental portion of the tonlieu as of the date of payment. If you’ve been in country for a year and the rental portion of the tonlieu changes by 10%, so does your security deposit upon renewal of the visa.
- As with the optimal tariff, the price of the rent is set at the point where sovereign revenue on sales of visas stops increasing. The sovereign can increase the tonlieu ad libitum, even within a single day. He increases the price from what seems to him a reasonable base until his revenues level off; that’s market equilibrium. If revenue on visa sales later decreases, he can lower the price until the decrease of revenues stops.
- There is no upper bound to the number of visas that may be sold in any given period. The limit on aliens allowed in country is set by the market price of visas. The greater the demand to enter a good country, the higher the tonlieu. With prices set optimally, only the wealthiest and most productive foreigners will want to travel to a country that is of great value, such as the US or the UK; i.e., only they will be find such travel economical.
- If optimal tonlieux were a regular feature of international travel, there would be a lot less such travel. Somalia would be a cheap destination, of course, for because no one wants to go there anyway, its tonlieux would be very cheap; that would not induce travelers to come to Somalia. Switzerland, on the other hand … Almost no one would want to travel to Somalia, just as now, and almost no salient of the Somalian cultural failure could afford to travel to Switzerland: great for the Swiss (under the 80/20 rule, 80% of your revenues come from the top 20% of your customers).
- But doesn’t a high price for visas engender a black market in illegal immigration? No. Not if illegal immigrants don’t enjoy the protection of the sovereign’s laws. The only way to get that protection, remember, is to buy it from the sovereign by paying the tonlieu. Without that protection, illegal aliens are vulnerable to enslavement, rape, or kidnapping (we see this sort of thing happening already to illegal aliens in the US). Of course, a good and valuable and lawful nation of the sort that people very much want to get into swiftly executes slavers, rapists, and kidnappers of any sort (by flogging in the public square), and expropriates all their assets. But as illegal aliens, their victims have no recourse. They can expect no benefit or recompense from the sovereign offices, or any tort compensation from the civil courts. They can expect only immediate deportation, and – because they are themselves criminals – immediate expropriation of all their assets within the sovereign domain.
- Note also that protection of the sovereign’s laws includes access to the health and welfare benefits provided to his subjects, such as they might be, and on the same terms as those under which such benefits are available to those subjects. Pay the British tonlieu, and you have access to the NHS – or whatever eventually replaces it – just as if you were a British subject. Neglect to pay it, and you are on your own.
- All things considered, then, it is far cheaper for a prospective illegal immigrant to a good country either to pay the stinking tonlieu, or else stay home. Even if human smugglers charge a fee a bit lower than the tonlieu, the risks of illegal immigration, not just from the sovereign authorities, but from criminals – especially of the sort who engage in human smuggling – far outweighs the cost of legal entry via the tonlieu.
- Different sorts of visas – as for students, tourists, visiting scholars, or guest workers – can be differently priced. Visas that allow foreigners to work, e.g., can be more expensive than those issued to tourists, who after all come only to spend money, and do not reduce wages to the domestic labor force. Likewise student visas can be more costly than tourist visas, because students take a place that would otherwise have been available to domestic students, and export the capital investment in the knowledge and skills they acquire at university, decreasing the domestic supply of that knowledge and those skills. How much more? As much more as can be, without decreasing sovereign revenues on sales of work visas.
- Visas are nowise a path to citizenship. They are rather a path to denizenship, and then only for a specific period, paid for ex ante. *Aliens all must leave, sooner or later;* or else, apply for citizenship, and pay for it. Citizenship – or, to be more precise, legal subjection, since not all subjects of the sovereign are ipso facto citizens, or a fortiori electors – is a whole ‘nother topic, covered at length in the comments to a different post.
- When labor markets in country are tight because times are good, and the economic good of immigration is therefore great, the tonlieu is bound to be relatively high. When they are loose, and times not so good, it is likely to be relatively low.
That’s really about it. Very simple, in principle. Note that there is no reason any nation might not impose other criteria than ability to pay the tonlieu. And the tonlieu could be priced differently for different types of entrants. No country would want to admit a notorious pedophile or a Somalian warlord, for example, no matter how much he might be able to pay for his visa. Indeed, perhaps a certain country might not want any Somalians at all (not to pick on Somalians, of course; it’s just a thought experiment; and after all, Somalia might not want any Swedish Americans inbound, for that matter). And no country would need to admit anyone it didn’t like, any more than a baker must allow anyone at all into his store, at any and all times – or than Israel must allow anyone at all to immigrate. So: having met all the *other* criteria for admission to a country, whatever they might be, and however difficult it might be to meet them, an immigrant would then have to pay the tonlieu to get in. That’s all.