A Future Nobel Peace Prize for Open Borders: The Case?

The Nobel Peace Prize was recently awarded to two individuals working to improve the lives of children in South Asia. The winners are Malala Yousafzai, a teenage girl from Pakistan who is an advocate for girls’ education, and Kailash Satyarthi  of India, who has worked against child slavery in his country.

These are undoubtably amazing individuals worthy of acclamation, including the Nobel Peace Prize, but if Open Borders: The Case plays a major role in achieving its objective of realizing universal open borders, it will be even more worthy. The magnitude of the improvement in the lives of people around the world under open borders would surpass the accomplishments of Ms. Yousafzai, Mr. Satyarthi, and other winners of the prize.

Let’s begin by examining the potential impact of open borders on the cause of eliminating child labor compared to the impact Mr. Satyarthi has had. Mr. Satyarthi’s organization has reportedly freed about 70,000 child laborers in India, which is impressive.  However, there are more than 150 million child laborers worldwide, so his accomplishments are dwarfed by the magnitude of the problem.

Open borders, on the other hand, offers a way to pull millions of child laborers out of their predicaments. Child labor appears to be largely a function of poverty.  The United Nations notes that “poverty emerges as the most compelling reason why children work. Poor households spend the bulk of their income on food and the income provided by working children is often critical to their survival.”  Open borders would allow these families to migrate to countries with more prosperous economies where the adults could earn enough to sustain the family, while well-funded educational systems could provide the children with an education. By enabling families to escape the conditions which lead to child labor, open borders may be the best way to transform the lives of a large portion of child laborers.

In the case of girls’ education, notwithstanding Ms. Yousafzai’s incredible story and worthy efforts, it is not clear how much of an increase in the number of girls receiving an education can be realized through her and others’ advocacy and charitable work. According to the Malala Fund, 66 million girls worldwide are not in school. The recently established Fund provides resources at the local level for girls’ education in developing countries. Hopefully over time it will have a great impact, but that remains to be seen. Open borders, by providing families in developing countries access to countries that provide education equally to both genders, would allow girls to quickly acquire schooling without waiting for changes to be made in their home countries. The increase in remittances through open borders could have a similar effect in home countries.(See my previous post on how open borders could benefit women more generally.)

Similarly, in the struggle against global poverty more generally, open borders would likely surpass the accomplishments of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winners Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank. Mr. Yunus won the prize for developing micro-credit, involving loans to poor people in developing countries, “into an ever more important instrument in the struggle against poverty.”  However, as the BBC states, “the evidence for microcredit lifting people out of poverty remains highly contested.” While the BBC notes a report that found that 10 million Bangladeshis got out of poverty through microcredit over about a 20 year period, the poverty threshold was remarkably low: $1.25 a day.  Similarly, the New York Times reported that “most borrowers do not appear to be climbing out of poverty, and a sizable minority is getting trapped in a spiral of debt, according to studies and analysts.”

While the benefits of micro-credit are contested, open borders is potentially, in the words of Bryan Caplan, “the greatest remedy for poverty ever discovered.” One study suggests that under open borders, “there would be a 46% increase in wages for those who stayed in poor countries, and migrants to rich countries would see their wages rise by 157%.”  Another study suggests that open borders would increase world GDP by 50-150%, presumably with much of the increase flowing to migrants.  Migration helps migrants earn a higher income in developed countries than what they would earn in developing countries, even without a change of skills, and remittances also help.

Lant Pritchett makes a similar point when he compares microcredit and migration (as noted by Robert Guest):  “… as Mr. Pritchett points out, the average gain from a lifetime of microcredit in Bangladesh is about the same as the gain from eight weeks working in the United States.  After doing a quick calculation of the total benefit that Grameen Bank confers on its clients, he asks, mischievously: ‘If I get 3,000 Bangladeshi workers into the US, do I get the Nobel Peace Prize?'”

Open borders might also contribute to the “peace” part of the Peace Prize. Nathan Smith has argued that “open borders would facilitate world peace, by giving each nation a stake in the prosperity of other countries, where some of their own relatives live, by letting people from estranged nations meet on the territory of third countries and find out that they are not devils, and by reducing a bit the importance of just who controls what territory.”

If (hopefully when) open borders are realized, it certainly will have been the result of efforts by individuals and groups throughout the world, making assigning credit to one or two entities difficult. However, at this point in time, Open Borders: The Case is playing an important role as a repository of ideas for achieving open borders. If its work creates a chain reaction leading to open borders, it will be worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize.

Joel Newman

Joel has a bachelor’s degree in history from Pomona College and works as a teacher in Beaverton, Oregon.

See also:

our blog post introducing Joel
all blog posts by Joel

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