A case for open borders and how it can boost the world economy

A case for open borders and how it can boost the world economy
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In 2015, in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election, Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersTrump's trade war — firing all cannons or closing the portholes? The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump rips 'ridiculous' spending bill | FBI dragged into new fight | Latest on Maryland shooting Poll: Most Massachusetts voters don't think Warren should run for president in 2020 MORE infamously insisted that open borders is “a Koch Brothers proposal,” and free immigration is a “right-wing proposal, which essentially says that there is no United States.” Vox’s Ezra Klein, Bernie’s interviewer, quite correctly observed that open borders would “make the global poor richer.”

As philosopher Jason Brennan writes in “Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know,” “When economists estimate the welfare losses from immigration restrictions, they tend to conclude that eliminating immigration restrictions would double world GDP.” Sanders’ assertions of concern for the global poor ring awfully hollow given his unfortunate views on immigration.

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Yet those views make sense if we consider his zero-sum idea of wealth-creation — the notion that one person getting richer necessarily means another getting poorer. This is an idea that economists disavowed centuries ago. In fact, contrary to Sanders’ bizarre, folk-economics, free trade and the free movement of people have made the entire world richer by orders of magnitude, the globe transformed by a positive-sum outpouring of wealth that was previously unimaginable.



And given how unfree the world yet remains — thanks to restrictionists and protectionists like Bernie — we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.

Crossing a national boundary is a crime without a victim — which is to say that in a just society, it is no crime at all. A country simply is not the kind of thing capable of having rights, the possession of which is an attribute of the individual human being.

Moreover, if individuals have rights, then they have every right to move about freely, traveling and settling anywhere they please just as long as they do so peacefully, confining themselves to cooperative and consensual activities in their new homes.

No one has a right to invade another’s legitimate sphere of autonomy, to attack him or steal the fruits of his labor. By contrast, immigration is, by itself, a completely harmless activity, simply the moving to a place to permanently reside there.

Yet it will not suffice to describe immigration as harmless, violating no one’s rights, as if it’s merely a neutral act. It is actually an enormously beneficial, wealth-creating boon to society, unlocking the potential of human ingenuity freed from meaningless constraints on mobility.

Since Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE came to national political prominence in 2015, immigration has been a topic of fierce debate. Yet we observe an interesting coincidence of belief between the authoritarian quarters of both the right and the left on the subject of free, open immigration, both regarding the idea as an unacceptable affront to the sovereignty of the nation.

We must protect the nation and its borders, they say — from what exactly is not that clear. And after all, if immigration amounts to a net positive, there’s no reason whatsoever to limit it. If it’s a net negative, then arguably there’s never a good reason to permit it (though, again, it’s an open question how one would ever acquire the right to do the permitting in this case — how could some group of people arbitrary have the right to tell others where they can move?).

In any case, as we shall see, such vehement opposition to open immigration usually rests on empirically false assumptions about the results of immigration.

In his interview with Vox, Sanders argued that open borders as a policy proposal implies the nonexistence of the United States, but perhaps this shouldn’t scare us away from the idea.

It’s possible that the United States does not actually exist, at least not as something with moral significance or relevance within the context of the immigration policy debate. That is, if the United States has any existence worth observing, it is as a collection of separate individuals, naturally free and equal before the law, who happen to live within its borders — borders that are arbitrarily defined, that those individuals had no part in shaping, that brutally and coercively divide people from one another based on mere accidents of birth. Principled egalitarians should detest such an unjust system.

It’s important to remember, too, that immigrants would not and could not come to the United States if those of us already residing within is borders didn’t want them to — offering them jobs and places to live.

It’s no surprise, then, that immigrants still flock to the United States: Americans are asking them to. Were there actually nothing for immigrants to do and no place for them to go once they arrived here, they would be worse off than if they had simply remained in their countries of origin.

Existing data on immigrants in the United States show this and debunk the ridiculous canard that immigrants who have entered the country illegally are lazy “takers.”

For example, as the Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh shows, “Immigrants, whether one includes their U.S.-born children or not, consume fewer welfare and entitlement benefits than native-born Americans in the third-and-higher generations.”

In his interview with Klein, Sanders suggested that no serious person would want to actually do away with the nation-state, but we might wonder, why not? The nation-state is responsible for more death and destruction than any other human institutional invention, its bloodstained history, particularly in the twentieth century, distinguishing it as the deadliest kind of organization humans have yet devised. Given the available evidence, it seems strange to give the nation-state the kind of deference Bernie (and so many others) so thoughtlessly give it.

We don’t need the nation-state or its borders to have law and order. In fact, the fullest expressions of law and order are impossible while these remain in existence. National borders make the world poorer and more dangerous and lead to the kind of inhumanity taking place at the United States-Mexico border as we speak.

The people of the world should, wherever possible, ignore these borders, for their own benefit and that of the global economy. If doing so should have the effect of undermining the nation-state, then call that an added bonus.

David S. D’Amato is an attorney and a policy adviser to the Future of Freedom Foundation, as well as a columnist at the Cato Institute’s Libertarianism.org.