Getting Rid of Borders

New immigrants possess skills different from those of their hosts, and these differences enable workers in both groups to better exploit their special talents and leverage their comparative advantages. The effect is to improve the welfare of newcomers and natives alike. The immigrant who mows the lawn of the nuclear physicist indirectly helps to unlock the secrets of the universe.

So says economist Alex Tabarrok in a short piece in The Atlantic titled “The Case for Getting Rid of Borders–Completely.”1 Better yet, he addresses what has become a buzzword among politicians: inequality. “Not every place in the world is equally well-suited to mass economic activity,” he writes. “Nature’s bounty is divided unevenly. Variations in wealth and income created by these differences are magnified by governments that suppress entrepreneurship and promote religious intolerance, gender discrimination, or other bigotry. Closed borders compound these injustices, cementing inequality into place and sentencing their victims to a life of penury.” And many want to keep it that way.

Those that supposedly care about inequality and poverty, but continue to hold protectionist and nationalist views, would do well to take Tabarrok’s words to heart.2

3 thoughts on “Getting Rid of Borders”

  1. I am not wise enough to have a position on this issue, and am mostly commenting in order to be notified when others among the august readership of DR share their thoughts. It’s a fascinating case, but I’m reluctant to give my immediate assent to a presentation which focuses entirely on the positive argument, without any attempt at rebuttal of opposition. Given that the consequences of the big sort have been widely regarded as problematic, I’m not at all persuaded that all consequentialist views must agree with the author. But it’s a strong enough case that I’d like to hear more.

  2. There are some nice intentions with this article but it also strikes me as very naïve. Borders don’t just delineate nationality, but also culture. When immigrants come into a new country they might not adopt the cultural values of their new host. If this happens enough it can threaten the integrity of the social institutions that made the host country so attractive in the first place.

    For example, socialism generally works quite well in Scandanavian countries because they are largely homogenous and strongly egalitarian. Trust in the community (and thereby the state) has been a part of their culture for centuries and hence corruption is low and satisfaction with the government system is relatively high.

    Enter an immigrant from an African nation where corruption and a sense of “every man for himself” is endemic to the culture. Hopefully, when surrounded by these new neighbors, the immigrant can adapt to the best cultural values of their new host. But let’s say a thousand of these immigrants come in and establish themselves in a community. The chances of them simply scandinavianizing themselves and shrugging off old sub-optimal cultural behaviors is reduced considerably. Now, the social system that once ran so well is faced with a crisis as an ever-growing portion of the population no longer shares the same sense of trust in the community and egalitarianism that allowed it to succeed originally.

    That said, I don’t think the alternative to “let everyone in” is “let no one in.” I think a cultural community has a right and a responsibility to assist its newcomers through education, sensible settlement policies, and good old fashioned fellowship in order to ensure order and maintain the integrity of successful cultural institutions. Without borders, that order becomes chaos and leads to sub-optimal results.

    Whether we like it or not, values such as honesty, integrity, equal rights, good governance, private property, hard work, clean environment, and even freedom itself are interpreted and esteemed very differently in different cultures.

    To what extent does a community (and thereby a country) have the right to protect their cultural values and institutions? How do they protect those values without borders of jurisdiction and enforcement?

  3. Nate agrees with Nate. It’s not just about inequality and poverty and fairness, nor is it about bigotry, discrimination, or religious intolerance. It is about culture. As I said at length in a recent comment on one of Nathaniel’s posts, it is about the ability of one culture to successfully absorb and assimilate another culture without losing itself in the process. A generous legal immigration policy is the best way to be kind and fair to those wanting to immigrate here, while still allowing our culture (slowly falling apart all on its own) to retain itself over a longer term.

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