Cosmopolitanism and open borders: a follow-up

After I wrote my post on the apparent lack of interest in open borders among cosmopolitans, I received some comments offering some contrary evidence. While, as an advocate of open borders, I remain disappointed with the book I referenced in that post (though more generally as a student of cosmopolitanism I happily recommend The Cosmopolitanism Reader), I believe I was premature in claiming cosmopolitans have unduly ignored migration.

First, even if most of the mentions of migration and border controls in the book are cursory, some of the contributors have substantively commented on migration elsewhere. Brian Barry, one of the contributors to the part titled “Cosmopolitan Global Justice” that focused so much on global distributive justice, mostly ignored movement across borders in his essay. Yet he also edited a book in 1992 titled Free Movement: Ethical Issues in the Transnational Migration of People and of Money (which I have not read fully).

Simon Caney, another contributor, has also discussed migration separately. In a 2006 paper he admirably brought the sometimes abstract discussions of global justice into the practical realm of policy by comparing a dozen (ostensibly) cosmopolitan policies, one of which was open borders. He proceeds by defending the policy against the charge that open borders would not actually benefit the world’s poor:

Maybe the upshot will simply be that talented and able-bodied people will migrate, leaving the most vulnerable behind and unprotected. This is no doubt a risk but two points should be made in reply. First, recent evidence from the World Bank and elsewhere does indicate that migration aids the global poor. It is important to recognize here that migration generates two distinct kinds of beneficial effects. First, it improves the standard of living of the migrants and, second, migrants send remittances to their family members who remain in the home country and so the latter too can benefit from migration. So the beneficiaries include not simply those who leave (who are likely to be able bodied and skilled) but also those who are not able to leave to seek work. In its 2006 report entitled Global Economic Prospects: Economic Implications of Remittances and Migration, the World Bank found, for example, that the amount of money sent as remittances to developing countries was likely to be approximately $167 billion in 2005 and it has increased by 100% in five years […]. The report further adds that ‘remittances have been associated with declines in the poverty headcount ratio in several low-income countries—by 11 percentage points in Uganda, 6 in Bangladesh, and 5 in Ghana, for example. […]

Other cosmopolitan thinkers were also brought to my attention, including Phillip Cole, who has written two books on the ethics of immigration (or one and a half: the second was co-written with Christopher Heath Wellman, who argued for the right of states to restrict immigration. Phillip Cole has been discussed on this site previously here). I am not sure Cole considers himself a cosmopolitan, but he is certainly a fellow traveler, basing his arguments on the moral primacy of the individual and universalizing this primacy by applying it to every individual.

Likewise, Joseph Carens is an ethicist with whom I was already familiar (and who has been discussed on this blog previously), but I didn’t include him in the original post because I’ve never seen him adopt the cosmopolitan label. But focusing too much on labels can be unproductive. Carens has been writing about the ethics of migration for decades, with one classic essay, Migration and Morality: a Liberal Egalitarian Perspective, appearing in Barry’s book mentioned above. In this essay he stakes out the position, similar to that advanced by this site, that “Liberal egalitarianism entails a deep commitment to freedom of movement as both an important liberty in itself and a prerequisite for other freedoms. Thus the presumption is for free migration and anyone who would defend restrictions faces a heavy burden of proof.” Carens has continued his work in defending free migration to the present: Amazon tells us he has a book forthcoming on the subject in December.

Arash Abizadeh is a political philosopher at McGill University of a cosmopolitan bent who has defended open borders in a number of recent papers. In one especially novel paper (pdf), he defies the conventional wisdom that democratic principles and liberal egalitarian principles come to loggerheads on the issue of border control. He proposes that, because border control is coercive to individuals seeking to cross borders, democratic legitimacy requires that the migrants (those on the business end of coercion) must be given some democratic say in the matter.

According to the state sovereignty view–the dominant ideology of the contemporary interstate system–entry policy ought to be under the unilateral discretion of (the members of) the state itself, and whatever justification is required for a particular entry policy is simply owed to members: foreigners are owed no justification and so should have no control over a state’s entry policy. What I seek to demonstrate is that such a position is inconsistent with the democratic theory of political  legitimation domestically is thereby committed to rejecting the unilateral domestic right to control and close the state’s boundaries, whether boundaries in the civic sense (which regulate membership) or in the territorial sense (which regulate movement).

Obviously I cannot exhaustively cover all the cosmopolitan and cosmo-curious thinkers who have discussed the ethics of migration in this post. A brief dip in the literature has turned up more than I originally thought I would find based on my introductory text. I’d like to close with perhaps my most encouraging find. Gillian Brock, in her 2009 book Global Justice: a Cosmopolitan Account, devoted a whole chapter on immigration. An adapted excerpt of the chapter was published on openDemocracy. Brock is not opposed to increased migration per se, but she expresses skepticism that freer migration will advance global justice if unaccompanied by policies mitigating perceived adverse side effects of liberalized emigration from poor countries. Specifically, she contends brain drain effects on sending countries can outweigh the positive effects on host countries and the migrants themselves, especially in the case of health workers.

I plan to address Brock’s concern about the “brain drain” in another post, but for now I want to point to the attention her arguments received among other cosmopolitans. The journal Global Justice: Theory Practice Rhetoric (mercifully ungated) hosted a special issue in 2011 to discuss her book. Two of the response essays focused on Brock’s treatment of migration, criticizing her skepticism of freer migration policies. The journal editors, perhaps sensing the wide interest in the topic, then devoted their 2012 issue to migration and its relationship to global justice. Even when cosmopolitans oppose unrestricted movement or hedge their arguments against it, they offer a refreshing point of view. In a debate where so often advocates of open borders struggle to get our interlocutors to acknowledge that the rights and preferences of would-be migrants warrant our consideration at all, skeptical cosmopolitans on the contrary fear that we may have insufficiently considered the effects on all of the relevant affected people. The coverage of migration by cosmopolitan philosophers is more substantive than I thought, and it’s heartening to see that, if anything, interest in the subject has deepened in recent years.

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