Tag Archives: open borders advocacy

Introducing: New German-language Open Borders Website

March 16 is not only the second anniversary of Open Borders: The Case; today is also the day a new website is launched: Offene Grenzen.  The name is German for “open borders” and that’s what the website is dedicated to.

Currently, there are about ten contributors to Offene Grenzen.  While the layout looks different, the main thrust is similar to Open Borders: The Case. There are pages for background topics with in-depth material and references. And there is a blog with up-to-date commentary on current developments as well as for debating with proponents and opponents of open borders. Of course, they are also on Facebook, Google+, Twitter and YouTube.

Open Borders: The Case has played a major role in bringing all this about. Not only are two of the contributors to Offene Grenzen occasional bloggers here (Sebastian Nickel and myself), but also some of the initial material could build on the excellent resources at Open Borders: The Case. And also, it is has been an inspiration seeing this website grow over time and generating interest from sometimes unexpected quarters.

English certainly is the lingua franca of the Internet, but it is also important to overcome linguistic borders and to translate concepts to different contexts. While many in German-speaking countries may be comfortable with reading English, often writing posts or commenting on them proves an obstacle. And then there are angles that are interesting from a more local perspective, but not for a worldwide audience.

I am honored to be a part of both Offene Grenzen and Open Borders: The Case, and I am certain there will be a lot of exchange in the future. Since Open Borders: The Case is so far ahead, it may go mostly in one direction at first, but hopefully also some day in the other. And maybe this is also an inspiration for launching further websites in other languages.

As Clemens Schneider, one of the founders of Offene Grenzen writes in a post introducing the website: the process of dismantling borders within Europe, and especially the fall of the Iron Curtain has been a huge inspiration. “But there are still too many walls in the world.”

Let’s tear them down!

Will Immigration Advocacy Contribute to the Competitiveness of Churches?

So my recent post The Coming Catholic Movement for Freedom of Migration seems to be convincing some people. Not convincing people to support open borders, but convincing people that the Catholic Church supports open borders. Actually, I shouldn’t take credit. It’s not my arguments, but a statement of the Catholic bishops, that convinced a blogger to write acerbically about The One Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Open-Borders Church. I merely drew attention to their statement.

Mangan’s writes:

It would be an understatement to call the writers at Open Borders immigration enthusiasts; they make the Democratic and Republican parties look like pikers. And even they have found an organization that appears at least as enthusiastic about immigration as they are: the U.S. Catholic Church [links to my post].

The post and the comments that follow partly criticize the Catholic bishops on what might be called Catholic grounds. Most interestingly, one commenter digs up a quote from Thomas Aquinas which I may quote in another thread. But some of the comments attack Christianity itself. For example:

“Most Christian leaders today are girly men.”

“Who cares what the church says or thinks?… Christianity has nothing to do with the truth.”

“The Catholic Church, and Christianity in general in the 21st century, calls on all white nations and only white nations to be lambs to the slaughter…”

“The Catholic Church has only secondarily — if at all — a spiritual mission. Today’s Church is a worldwide corporation, its main difference from Coca-Cola being that its wealth and investments are untaxed…”

“Pope John Paul II is rumored to have been Jewish by birth and once married with children… Communists as seminarians [have] infiltrated the church in the thousands.”

All this raises an interesting question: can churches afford to promote freedom of migration? If churches teach the Biblical view of immigration, and members disagree with it, why should they listen? Why shouldn’t they conclude that the church is a sinister conspiracy of international Jewish girly men determined to extirpate the white race through lies and slander, for the sake of profit? Why shouldn’t they stand up and storm out?

Religion can be thought of as a competitive marketplace. There is competition at several levels: among major religions; among Christian denominations; between Christianity, secular humanism, and other worldviews for people’s credence; between churches and the world for people’s time and money; within congregations about which activities– youth ministry, music, international missions, poor relief, etc.– will get funding and personnel; between liberals and conservatives to determine policy with congregations and jurisdictions; between priests for parishes; between parishes of the same denomination within a city, etc.

All this competition gives us reason to suspect that Christian churches aren’t really in charge of their own message. Rather, they’re constrained to satisfy customer demand. Pastors who tell people what they don’t want to hear will either get replaced, or else see their congregations dwindle until their parishes become unsustainable. We should see successful pastors teaching what their congregations want to hear. That’s not to say they are insincere. They might be. Some pastors may preach what their congregations like to keep their jobs. More honorably, pastors may downplay unpopular tenets of the faith in order to keep parishioners coming who would otherwise leave, and lose the beneficent influence that (the pastor thinks) even a watered-down Christianity has. But selection rather than adaptation may explain agreement between pastors and their congregations. Pastors who happen to say what the age likes get jobs and see their congregations grow. Pastors who say what it hates, don’t. And what one generation of pastors is silent about, the next generation hardly knows, having not grown up hearing it. And so, by this account, the religious marketplace will ensure that the content of Christian teachings will adapt itself to the times.

Now, I think there’s some truth to the cynical view in the above paragraph, and that’s part of the answer to John Lee’s question, “Why Don’t Christians Care More About Open Borders?” However favorable the Bible may be to open borders, the way the Church is enmeshed in society tends to distort and selectively censor the Christian message at any given moment in history, and often the parts of Christian teaching which are especially unwelcome get partially hidden. So “welcome the stranger” is either not taught, or is taught in an indefensibly moderate way, relative to what “love thy neighbor” would really demand in a world where vast inequalities in economic opportunity and political and religious freedom are largely driven by the accident of place of birth.

What is really striking for me, however, is how little the cynical, demand-side view holds true, when it seems at first glance so plausible. Superficially, Christianity does change with the times, it gets watered down and complacent. But real Christianity is always lying in wait to shine through all the compromises. And the result is that while the lukewarm Christians of former ages seem very alien to the modern Christian, the zealous Christians seem intimately familiar. It would be very difficult, at this distance, to understand the court of the empress Aelia Eudoxia, persecutor of St. John Chrysostom. But the writings of St. John Chrysostom (347-407 AD) are no more, and no less, psychologically remote from a devout Orthodox Christian than those of St. John of Kronstadt (1829-1908) or Tikhon Shevkunov (contemporary author of the bestselling Everyday Saints). The distance between myself and any of these three writers is not one of time, but one of sanctity. They are far above me, but they are not at all out of date. They have the same quality about them, and its name is Christianity. Only at a lower level of sanctity is there a 4th-century Byzantine Christianity and an 18th-century Methodist Christianity and a 20th-century English Christianity and a 21st-century Russian Christianity. At a higher level, all these converge. C.S. Lewis and Athanasius are almost interchangeable. The Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton described near the end of his book, The Everlasting Man, the strange and wonderful feeling that he and I and many others have experienced of coming into the full, living presence of a Christianity we had only glimpsed in the faraway past:

There are people who say they wish Christianity to remain as a spirit. They mean, very literally, that they wish it to remain as a ghost. But it is not going to remain as a ghost. What follows this process of apparent death is not the lingering of the shade; it is the resurrection of the body. These people are quite prepared to shed pious and reverential tears over the Sepulchre of the Son of Man; what they are not prepared for is the Son of God walking once more upon the hills of morning. These people, and indeed most people, were indeed by this time quite accustomed to the idea that the old Christian candle-light would fade into the light of common day. To many of them it did quite honestly appear like that pale yellow flame of a candle when it is left burning in daylight. It was all the more unexpected, and therefore all the more unmistakable, that the sevenbranched candle-stick suddenly towered to heaven like a miraculous tree and flamed until the sun turned pale. But other ages have seen the day conquer the candle-light and then the candle-light conquer the day. Again and again, before our time, men have grown content with a diluted doctrine. And again and again there has followed on that dilution, coming as out of the darkness in a crimson cataract, the strength of the red original wine. And we only say once more to-day as has been said many times by our fathers: `Long years and centuries ago our fathers or the founders of our people drank, as they dreamed, of the blood of God. Long years and centuries have passed since the strength of that giant vintage has been anything but a legend of the age of giants. Centuries ago already is the dark time of the second fermentation, when the wine of Catholicism turned into the vinegar of Calvinism. Long since that bitter drink has been itself diluted; rinsed out and washed away by the waters of oblivion and the wave of the world. Never did we think to taste again even that bitter tang of sincerity and the spirit, still less the richer and the sweeter strength of the purple vineyards in our dreams of the age of gold. Day by day and year by year we have lowered our hopes and lessened our convictions; we have grown more and more used to seeing those vats and vineyards overwhelmed in the water-floods and the last savour and suggestion of that special element fading like a stain of purple upon a sea of grey. We have grown used to dilution, to dissolution, to a watering down and went on forever. But Thou hast kept the good wine until now.’

Against the cynical half-truth that the churches have to say what the age wants to be competitive, I see a deeper reality, that the Christian message is always latent, and I see in history the pattern, that that message repeatedly shines through and shatters the transient compromises.

Christian churches have always, albeit in varying degrees, distinguished God and Caesar, and regarded some matters are primarily Caesar’s realm, concerning which the church should remain on the sidelines. However, law and society and morals and faith are too interwoven for there ever to be a clear and clean separation of church and state. Churches may feel it appropriate to take stands on morally charged political issues. In some cases, they have to do so, because their own practical business is directly affected. It is possible to ask, then, whether a particular issue stance contributes to the competitiveness of churches. To illustrate the point, I’ll compare two issues: (a) gay marriage, and (b) immigration.

Gay marriage.

I’m sorry to say that I think Christianity will lose ground in America in the next generation because of its stance on gay marriage (as this study, for example, suggests). I also think that churches that remain staunch in their opposition to gay marriage will gain market share within the diminished ranks of Christians.

With 70% of young people favoring gay marriage, it seems unlikely that 77% of Americans will continue to self-identify as Christian. After all, both the Old and New Testaments clearly define homosexuality as a sin, and gay marriage contradicts two thousand years of universal Christian practice. If young people disagree with the Bible about this, they’ll feel growing cognitive dissonance in church. Many will leave.

Of course, there are a few churches, such as the United Church of Canada and some Swedenborgians, that recognize same-sex marriage. More churches probably will do so. The trouble is that in adopting the fashionable view on this issue, they fatally weaken the logic of Christianity as a whole. “Is the Bible the Word of God or not?” members will inevitably ask. “If so, why do we approve what it condemns? If not, why should we pay attention to it at all?”

Such churches lose members in both directions. Some will think Christianity true and go to other churches where it is still taught. Some, following their leaders’ concessions to their logical conclusions, will think Christianity false and look for other communities, other principles, and other things to do on Sunday morning.


There are a number of tactical reasons why “welcome the stranger” might be a shrewd message for contemporary Christian churches to emphasize. One is triangulation. A church that feels constrained to be on the “right” of the emerging consensus on gay marriage earns political capital with members who are more on the “right,” but risks losing people on the “left.” A strongly “left” stance on immigration might alienate members on the “right,” but if churches are the last bastion of support for traditional family values, conservatives may have nowhere else to go. Meanwhile, members on the “left” who are alienated by the church’s stance on gay marriage might be pleased by the church’s stance on immigration just enough to stay in.

Again, some Christians today find themselves obligated to violate anti-discrimination laws by refusing to participate in gay “wedding” ceremonies and thus endorsing a false belief about what marriage is. If Christian churches recognize that it’s right to violate the law on an issue of conscience like this, shouldn’t they also recognize that it might be right for someone in a poor or a totalitarian country to violate US law in order to earn enough to feed their families, or to practice their religion freely? And if undocumented immigrants are sometimes right to break US law, doesn’t it follow that the law is unjust and ought to be changed, just as anti-discrimination laws that violate freedom of religion ought to be changed?

Most fundamentally, though, the tactical merits of immigration advocacy for enhancing the competitiveness of Christian churches are linked to the Biblical case for open borders and its consistency with New Testament ethics. If people in the pews dislike what they hear from the pulpit, it matters whether the priest or preacher has the Bible on his side or not. If he (or she) is preaching gay marriage, he clearly doesn’t, and the parishioners’ belief in Christianity becomes the wedge that separates them from the church. But when the US Catholic bishops make a statement that all-but-endorses open borders, honest people among the Roman Catholic faithful, even if they don’t like the stance, must admit that the bishops have a strong case to make. They can’t plausibly regard the bishops as apostates for saying it. They can contest it, by quoting Thomas Aquinas or trying to offer different interpretations in the Bible, and the fact that they can do this is a reason for them to stay in. After all, if your preacher endorses gay marriage, and you disagree, what can you say? You can’t argue from the Bible, because he obviously doesn’t regard it as authoritative on the question. But if you think the bishops are making an honest mistake, you can argue with them, from traditional Christian sources.

At the end of the day, seeing the way public opinion has turned against them in the last couple of decades, Christian churches should be eager to elect a new people.

Reminder: Open Borders Day on March 16

This is a reminder that Open Borders Day will be held on Sunday, March 16, 2014. Due to the international nature of the site, and the real-time nature of discussion on Twitter and other forms of social media, we invite people to start celebrating the day starting from the beginning of Sunday, March 16 in New Zealand (the earliest timezone, GMT+12) and ending at the end of Sunday, March 16 in the latest timezone (GMT-12, followed by some Pacific islands).

Possible actions:

  • Use the #OpenBordersDay tag while sharing open borders-related stuff on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. The Open Borders Twitter account (which you might want to follow and tweet to) is @OpenBordersInfo. Open Borders regular bloggers and some occasional and guest bloggers will be active on Twitter throughout the day participating in the Twitter conversations.
  • Use Facebook to show your commitment to open borders. You could share the Open Borders logo, make it your profile picture or cover photo, or share links on Facebook related to open borders.
  • Organize physical meetups: Feel free to post about possible meetups on the Open Borders Action Group or send messages to people who’ve liked Open Borders: The Case and live in your city (you can find them using Facebook Graph Search).
  • If you’re attending the 2014 European Students for Liberty conference (14-16 March 2014), that would be a great venue to advertise Open Borders Day.

Keep in mind: the goal of the day is to raise the stature of open borders as a topic of discussion. It’s not possible or desirable to make instant converts by posting extraordinarily convincing tweets or posts for open borders (if somebody changes their mind completely after reading one tweet, their conversion is likely to be shallow). But it is possible to shift people’s views at the margin from “open borders is a crazy strawman” to “open borders is an out-there proposal that has a few good arguments for it that at least some people take seriously” — as Bryan Caplan has managed to do.

How do open borders meaningfully differ from mainstream “immigration reform”?

Co-blogger Vipul raised recently the question of whether pursuing the radical concept of open borders is really worth it, compared to just focusing on moderate “immigration reform”. Given I blog here, my response to Vipul’s question is not in doubt. But there’s a basic question I think we can easily overlook if we try to answer Vipul’s question based on gut feel: how do open borders differ from moderate “immigration reform” which most pro-immigration liberals across the world work towards? Here, I’ll outline: several starting premises that we all share; three important ways in which we fundamentally disagree; and finally, one important thing which we actually agree on (or at least, don’t disagree anywhere close to the degree it’s commonly imagined).

At first glance, this seems trivial: open borders is a substantial or total dismantlement of existing border controls. Moderate liberal immigration reforms either seek to reinforce border controls while treating unlawfully-present immigrants better (e.g., most of the immigration reform proposals on the table in the US as of this writing) or minor loosening of border controls for certain types of people (e.g., proposals to allow for greater economic migration in certain job categories, or refrain from holding asylum-seekers in prisons). In other words, open borders supporters want to tear it all down, while moderate reformers simply want to selectively patch up or open certain parts.

This is not the whole story, however. You can’t explain the differences between open borders supporters and moderate reformers until you’ve looked at the reasons why their approaches diverge. Both groups of people I daresay come at the problem of immigration sharing certain perspectives and premises:

  • Economically, immigration is not harmful and actually can be a huge boon
  • Socially, immigration does not threaten the existing order and may actually strengthen and/or improve it
  • Most reasons commonly given for tight border controls have little basis in fact
  • The way border controls treat most prospective migrants is highly inhumane
  • The way governments treat irregular or unlawful migrants is also very inhumane

When you consider these points of agreement, it’s actually a wonder why these two groups of people advocating changes to our immigration systems land so far apart. Why do some embrace a completely radical view that concludes the whole edifice is rotten to its core, and must be fundamentally torn down and rebuilt, while others simply focus on what amount to tweaks — tweaks that no doubt affect the lives of millions, but remain almost infinitesimal compared to the changes which open borders might bring?

The first salient difference I can see is that open borders advocates are not afraid to follow the straightforward conclusions of immigration research to their ultimate conclusion:

  • Immigration is good for the economy? Awesome, why not allow as much immigration as people want to engage in? If a citizen wants to hire a foreigner, everyone benefits — so have at it!
  • Immigration doesn’t threaten our society? Great, yet another reason we can shut down government programmes that spend billions “defending” our borders from restaurant cooks and IT workers, and divert those precious resources to better uses for our nation.
  • Our immigration system treats millions of people as if they are subhuman? Seems like a good reason to begin shutting the whole thing down and replacing it with a more humane legal regime: we could just allow everyone who wants a visa to get one.

Already, I can hear the thousands of moderate reformers protest: that’s wholly unfeasible! That’s simply too crazy! But why is that? You can’t cite studies showing “Immigrants add $X to our economy” or “Immigrants pay $X million more in taxes than they get in benefits” or “Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born here” without addressing the inescapable conclusion: if immigration is so good, what’s wrong with having more of it?

Now, to be sure, I’ve slightly oversimplified the social science here for the sake of argument. But none of the caveats to the conclusions I’ve cited above can at all come close to explaining the immense reluctance moderate reformers seem to have about reaching the inevitable conclusion of the research here. Using the very premises I outlined above that we agree on, it seems that open borders is the only defensible, reality-based policy.

You might protest that most of the evidence pointing to neutral or positive effects from immigration is based on existing levels of immigration. Open borders is sufficiently radical that it might just be “out of sample” for any of the empirical studies we have about migration’s effects so far. I would say that although not strictly empirical, we do have some pretty good evidence from the pre-closed borders era of the 20th century that open borders pose no existential threat to humanity or the nation; for an example, see my take on what open borders history suggests will happen to Latin-American migrants in the modern US. Either way, if we’re being truly honest about the social science, then the right skeptical position is: “We have every reason to believe open borders is the right thing to do. We must move towards it, monitoring the evidence as it comes in for proof to the contrary.”

Economist Bryan Caplan has made just this argument before, responding to the precautionary principle-based argument against open borders. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to meet a mainstream immigration reform advocate who openly takes such a position; the way most advocates talk, they’re happy to embrace empirical evidence which may support “immigration reform,” but shrink from any inexorable conclusion, no matter how firmly the evidence may point towards it, that open borders could possibly be the right thing to do. Most mainstream immigration liberals strike me as irrationally certain that the immigration status quo is backed by the evidence, and open borders aren’t — when actually just the opposite is true. But to give credit where credit is due, one of the few immigration liberals who has been willing to grapple with the tough question of open borders is Slate‘s Matt Yglesias, who had some pretty thoughtful things to say in response to criticism of open borders advocacy.

On to the second important area of disagreement: are loose border controls a government “subsidy” for migration, or are they simply relaxation of the state’s control on an organic human activity? In discussing migration with many of my liberal friends or acquaintances, I find many inherently frame an open migration policy as a subsidy to migrants, artificially spurring human activity that only occurs because the state has encouraged it. This paradigm is why someone like say, Vivek Wadhwa so casually dismisses open borders as not a very meaningful source of empowerment — because in his view, migrants don’t actually want to move! In this worldview, loose border controls are a subsidy to migration: people don’t actually want to move in some platonic world, but by opening the borders a little, you’ve subsidised their migration, and so they’ll pack up and leave the only home they’ve ever known.

I find this view very difficult to understand and almost as hard to rebut, because it seems so obviously self-refuting. Let’s say the government required you to apply for a permit before you were allowed to write any blog post. If government loosened the permit requirements, or abolished them altogether, would any sane person call this new blog permit policy a “subsidy” to bloggers?

It is of course true that loosening border controls promotes migration. But this promotion of migration occurs as a result of migration flows being able to edge back towards their natural state. Returning to my example, you would see an immense spike in blog posts if government abolished the application fees for blogging permits. This abolition of fees would be a “promotion” of blogging in one obvious sense of the word, but it clearly is not a subsidy to blogging — it is a removal of one government barrier to blogging.

In my opinion, seeing border controls as a government barrier, instead of just a natural state of the world, is one of the key differences between open borders advocates and mainstream reformers. If we treat borders as natural, and any loosening in their control as some sort of state “subsidy”, the right intuitive response would be skepticism. After all, a subsidy requires resources from the state. Even if no actual transfer payment is being made, government investment is required to effect the policy, and some prioritisation calls have to be made about the trade-offs of pursuing this particular subsidy or programme versus some other alternatives.

This is why, when open borders comes up, some mainstream liberal in the room will almost always pipe up: “But what about all the problems we have in our country? Sure, we could invest in open borders and that’d raise world GDP, halve world inequality, etc., but don’t we owe it to our citizens to spend our scarce resources on solving their problems first?” The stereotypical open borders response to this might be to stare flabbergasted at someone who just suggested it is more important to spend money on, say, domestic farm subsidies than on aiding the escape of people fleeing genocide. But honestly, we don’t even have to do that. You can be a good citizenist and nationalist and still find this cliched liberal response totally unappealing — because it’s coming from the unintuitive and senseless view that loosening border controls constitute a subsidy, instead of a removal of a barrier.

There is nothing natural about watertight controlled borders. Borders themselves are sometimes natural: rivers, mountain ranges, and so forth have marked out tracts of territory since time immemorial. Many borders are obviously artificial, drawn by some dead white man who might never have met anyone who lived on either side of the line he invented. Can we say that a system of brutal border enforcement truly serves the people’s interest, when these borders have often been drawn with utter disregard for the actual interests, welfare, or way of life of the people living on either side?

Whether drawn artificially or naturally, borders sealed to a degree where virtually nobody can cross are an immense historical aberration. There is nothing natural or logical about assuming a watertight border and taking any loosening of that to be an artificial subsidy. Quite the opposite: our society has to invest an immense amount of resources in sealing our borders to a degree that we fancifully imagine to be somehow “natural”.

The people suggesting that any loosening or opening of the borders would be a pull on the state’s or society’s limited resources are totally ignoring that tight border controls already pull immensely on our resources. Border guards do not work for free. Electrified fences do not build themselves. Prison camps for people fleeing war or economic disasters don’t spring out of nowhere. Plane tickets for deportees do not simply pay for themselves. Every dollar less that we can spend on deporting people or keeping them out is a dollar we can spend on a more deserving citizen here. There simply is no “investment” necessary to “subsidise” open borders.

This pernicious view of sealed borders as natural, and loose borders as a subsidy for migration, directly ties to the third fundamental disagreement: open borders advocates hold state-enforced border controls to a much higher bar for ethical legitimacy than moderate reformers do. Most moderate reformers are not very ethically- or morally-bothered by immigration laws.

A lot of the passionate moderate reformers I’ve encountered are bothered by these laws primarily to the degree that they affect people they know: in other words, migrants who are already present in the country. Open borders advocates on the other hand seem oddly-motivated and passionate about all the prospective migrants who aren’t even here yet, and, if we don’t open the borders, will never come. But this is because moderate reformers see sealed borders as a state of nature, and any loosening of the border as a subsidy to targeted classes of migrants. Consequently, they aren’t interested in open borders, which seem like an untargeted subsidy: it seems infinitely costly, and it’s not clear what the return on what seems like an infinite investment would actually be.  Moderate reformers want the “subsidy” of looser border controls to focus on groups they can immediately see as deserving target beneficiaries: children of illegal immigrants, some illegal immigrants, refugees, high-skilled workers. They don’t see much reason to care about other possible classes of migrants, since that’d be diverting the scarce resources necessary to enact the “subsidies” they’re seeking for these classes of migrants. It’s not morally- or ethically-important to consider people outside these narrow classes: sealed borders are the natural state of things, and it doesn’t make sense to invest resources in opening the borders to unskilled day labourers. The onus is on these “economic migrants” to prove why it’s worth investing in opening the borders to them.

Open borders advocates on the other hand find it ethically abhorrent to insist on removing barriers to organic human movement for certain classes of people, but not others. Why treat a refugee fleeing genocide so differently from another refugee fleeing famine, or another refugee fleeing economic collapse? What is the morally-relevant difference? If we allow refugees from one dictatorship open borders, but not refugees from other dictatorships, what morally-relevant reason is there?

The key difference is that moderates find arbitrary restriction of movement across borders totally ethically acceptable: of course it’s okay for the state to ban you from crossing if you don’t have a university degree, because we shouldn’t be investing scarce resources in subsidising migration for people like you. Open borders advocates reach a completely opposite conclusion: it’s completely ethically unacceptable for the state to do this arbitrarily. Allowing you to cross the border is not a subsidy to you; it is a loosening of an artificial government restriction. If you want to look for work here, come shop, go for a walk, whatever, the onus is on the state to show why your doing this would impose unacceptable costs that require you to be refused entry.

The different ethical bars that state controls over migration are held to here follow completely from the “subsidy versus felling a barrier” paradigm clash. And open borders advocates then go one step further to say: in most cases, there is no such unacceptable cost to society from allowing the person entry, and as such, there is no permissible reason for the state to refuse them entry. This follows entirely from the first disagreement: the evidence is overwhelming that in general, immigration is beneficial. To the extent the state refuses foreigners entry, it must narrowly target these refusals to the exceptions of the general rule that immigration benefits the economy and society.

This brings us to my last promised point: that in one respect, open borders advocates and moderates are not really that far apart. Except for no-borders advocates and anarchists, most of us sympathetic to open borders will grant the state the authority to regulate and control border crossings. I’ve drawn an analogy to trade in the past: nobody thinks “free trade” means that I should be able to import AK-47s at will. Governments control many aspects of movement and life. If you are carrying bird flu, as a general rule you should not expect freedom of movement, domestically or internationally. Open borders is not about allowing armed soldiers or criminal gangs to cross sovereign borders at their whim. Open borders is about allowing innocent people, who want nothing more than to seek a better life, to cross sovereign borders in peace. I don’t think we need to tear down all border checkpoints in the world to achieve open borders. It would be perfectly feasible to maintain border checkpoints in an open borders world: you’d simply approve every visa application unless evidence arises that the applicant has malicious intent, or otherwise is a person who poses a significant and meaningful threat to your society.

The vast majority of migrants in the world today, actual and prospective, neither have malicious intent, nor do they pose a threat to us. The social science shows that their coming here would benefit our economy. They wouldn’t undermine the foundations of our society. Preventing them from coming as if they are an invading army causes a disproportionate use of state force which violates basic human rights and common sense: in what way is it reasonable to bring warships to bear on refugees fleeing mass murder, or use gunships and drones to turn back people looking for a kitchen job that pays minimum wage? Unsealing our world’s borders would not be an untargeted, infinitely-costly subsidy to the migrants of the world, nor would it eliminate a fundamental natural feature of our states: it would simply free up billions of dollars for us to spend on our own citizens in more enriching ways, and allow millions of people to put their talents to better use serving us and each other. Open borders is a radical idea — and we should absolutely move towards it.

The photograph of Syrian refugee children in Jordan that appears above this post was taken by Russell Watkins, and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution licence.

Open Borders Action Group

Open borders supporter Fabio Rojas, the brain behind the Open Borders Logo Contest, recently converted the Open Borders Logo Contest Facebook group to the Open Borders Action Group (OBAG). While the group was originally intended for a discussion of open borders logos, the new incarnation is intended for a general discussion of strategy and rhetoric related to open borders advocacy. Object-level discussion of the merits of open borders is also welcome, but not the focus.

If you’re interested in discussing or following discussions of open borders advocacy and action, consider joining the group. You can edit the notification settings to determine whether you get notified when new posts are made to the group, so don’t worry about getting too much notification spam. You don’t need to be an open borders supporter, or express only “pro-open borders” views in the posts and comments, but the group’s goals mean that you’re unlikely to enjoy it much unless you have some sympathy for the position. That said, open borders skeptics should feel free to join and lurk in the group to obtain “competitive intelligence” so to speak.

A few quick guidelines for OBAG:

  • Fabio moderates posts and comments ruthlessly for incivility, including reciprocal incivility (if somebody’s rude to you, let the moderators deal with it).
  • To the extent possible, when commenting on a post, stick to the topic of the post rather than pivoting to a general discussion of the merits or demerits of open borders. This helps keep the discussion focused.
  • More detailed comments and discussion are better suited to the Open Borders blog, where the bloggers and audience are more committed to hashing out arguments in full detail.