U.S. border Photo courtesy of Irineo Mujica
The Insanity of Open Borders
Somebody on my Facebook feed posted a piece from the Atlantic called “The Case for Getting Rid of Borders—Completely” written by one Alex Tabarrok.
“All people,” asserted Tabarrok, “should be free to move about the earth, uncaged by the arbitrary lines known as borders.” Closed borders “cement...inequality into place”; immigration, by contrast, “is the greatest anti-poverty program ever devised.” There is no moral defense, then, for denying people freedom of movement. “Human rights do not stop at the border,” Tabarrok argues. “Today, we treat as pariahs those governments that refuse to let their people exit. I look forward to the day when we treat as pariahs those governments that refuse to let people enter.”
Full points for virtue signaling; “F” for realism. Some people in the West are too politically correct to admit, even to themselves, just how much better the West is than the rest.
But facts are facts. Look through the State Department reports on the hundred or so poorest countries in the world and read a few at random, and you'll soon recognize that inviting their citizens to move next door to you is to put out the welcome mat for people to whom the world is a far different place than it is to you: a place marked by murderous hatreds between tribal and religious groups; a place where virtually every economic transaction involves some kind of corruption; a place where men take for granted their right to brutally abuse their wives and children; a place where due process is unheard of, where police officers and soldiers can beat, torture, and even kill with impunity, and where judges know nothing of justice; a place where sanitation and medical care are primitive; and a place where the rare soul who refuses to cheat and steal on a daily basis is not viewed as a paragon of virtue but as a fool.
Now, people can be easily removed from such cultures, but they cannot easily be liberated from what those cultures have done to them. Some people living under tyranny and barbarism genuinely long for honest employment and for freedom, and have skills and work ethics that would be of value to any country; surely a reliable way should be found to identify such persons and give them a new life. But most people from such places are hard-wired with that tyranny and barbarism, and take it with them wherever they go.
Nor are we talking about small populations being introduced into large ones. Tabarrok, I have discovered, is from Iran, which is home to 81 million people, more than every European country except Germany (83 million) and Russia (147 million), if you want to count Russia as European. The only other developed countries larger than Iran are the U.S. (323 million) and Japan (127 million). I have to assume that Tabarrok knows very well that if there were open borders worldwide, the traffic would be from countries like China (1.4 billion), India (1.3 billion), Indonesia (262 million), Pakistan (211 million), Nigeria (193 million), Bangladesh (164 million), the Philippines (106 million), and so on, and the destinations, in addition to the U.S., would be nations like Australia (25 million), the Netherlands (17 million), Switzerland (8 million), and Norway (5 million).
Notice the difference? See the problem? The extraordinary imbalance between the populations of the Third World and of the West are, I think, often forgotten by Western idealists who, accustomed to thinking of their own homelands as great and powerful, don't realize how puny they actually are alongside dozens and dozens of the planet's poorer lands, whose inhabitants, in a world of open borders, would overwhelm the richer societies in a trice, creating social havoc and economic disaster.
Alas, Tabarrok isn't alone. Since his silly piece appeared in the Atlantic, similar articles – making pretty much the same arguments – have turned up all over the place. From the New Internationalist, November 2017: “Borders are a form of global apartheid.” From the Washington Post, March 2017: “all six Nobel Prize winners in the United States last year were immigrants.” (Did they cross the Rio Grande on foot or in a car trunk?)
From the Guardian, this past February: “Today, Donald Trump and his supporters see migrants as the barbarians at the gate. However, future generations may look back on our era and see the people violently manning the gates as the true barbarians.”
Finally, writing last December on the website of the Foundation for Economic Education, Bryan Caplan – who, like Tabarrok, is associated with the Mercatus Center – claimed that there's “no principled pro-liberty case for immigration restrictions.” What about this? In 2018, according to Freedom House, a majority of human beings live in countries that are either “Partly Free” or “Not Free”; given that virtually all of these countries are also poor, open borders would result in the massive flow into the world's free nations of people unaccustomed to and uninterested in liberty, overwhelming the native populations and, soon enough, eradicating their freedoms – a development already underway in Western Europe and Canada. How's that for a case, Mr. Caplan?