A World Without Borders

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Open borders, according to economist Nathan Smith writing in Foreign Affairs, is the

complete freedom of migration worldwide, with rare exceptions for preventing terrorism or the spread of contagious disease. Borders would still exist in such a world, but as jurisdictional boundaries rather than as barriers to human movement. Ending migration controls in this way would increase liberty, reduce global poverty, and accelerate economic growth. But more fundamentally, it would challenge the right of governments to regulate migration on the arbitrary grounds of sovereignty.

Smith points out that

Gallup has estimated that 640 million people worldwide want to emigrate from their current country of residence. Yet the true number could be much greater—economists such as John Kennan predict that in the absence of border controls, global labor markets would tend toward equilibrium, which in practice would mean the migration of several billion people to the West. (In the short to medium run, the true number of immigrants would be closer to Gallup’s estimates, but over the long run that figure might reach into the billions, as stocks of immigrants and their descendants accumulate in destination countries.) The more efficient allocation of labor would result in global increases in productivity, leading the world economy to nearly double in size. This increased economic activity would, moreover, disproportionately benefit the world’s poorest people. 

Smith acknowledges,

At current levels of benefits, a vast influx of immigrants would bankrupt the welfare state, as newcomers would not be able to pay enough in taxes to finance the benefits to which they would be entitled. (A possible solution might involve curtailing welfare programs, or at least their generosity to the foreign-born.) It follows that open borders would probably lead to a large increase in visible extreme poverty in the West. Yet impoverishment by Western standards looks like affluence to much of the world. And far from creating such poverty, open borders would actually be alleviating it. The new huddled masses, although worse off than the average Western natives, would be better off in their new countries than they were at home. The only difference would be that without borders, Westerners would see the poverty that today is kept comfortably out of sight.

He concludes,

Opening borders would expand the scope of freedom, strengthen respect for rights, and widen the realm of actions that governments, including democratic ones, are not allowed to take. This endeavor is an extension of the liberal project that has animated the West since the Enlightenment. And those who sympathize with abolishing migration restrictions, but fear how popular backlash against immigration has recently affected Western democracy, should ask themselves whether freedom can really be secure if its growth is curtailed; whether respect for rights can be compatible with the exclusion of the foreign-born; and whether, in the United States, immigrants are really a greater threat to freedom and the rule of law than are native-born devotees of the president, Donald Trump.

Read the whole thing.