The media makes the case for open borders

Well, not quite. But a better lifting of the global Rawlsian veil there never was. Citing a study by The Economist, the Washington Post published this map of the best countries in the world to be born in today (the bluer the better):


The summary of the results is worth reading, but there were a couple money quotes:

Even Portugal and Spain, for all their very real troubles, score highly. A child born today is likely to have a better life, according to the data, in Poland or Greece — yes, Greece — than in rising economic giants such as Brazil, Turkey or China.

Though countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam are projected to show astounding economic growth over the next generation, they are poor today. This map is a reminder that being born into a poor society, even one that offers opportunities for new wealth, can still mean life-long challenges.

So, if you’re a Westerner fretting about American decline or European collapse, then if nothing else, know that your children have still lucked into one of the best deals in history: being born in the right place at the right time.

Being born in the right place at the right time counts for a lot. There’s nothing ironclad that makes the amount of people being born in Portugal or Greece or Australia or the US today the right amount. If I took ten babies from Bangladesh and dropped them off in Germany tomorrow with forged German citizenship papers, in what conceivable way could their presence harm anyone there, growing up as German as can be? Yes, there is in principle some limit to how many people a country can have, and coming up against that constraint is a plausible reason to enforce immigration restrictions. But adopting restrictions without bothering to prove such a limit has been reached is nothing more than creating a new aristocracy.

Putting aside difficult-to-quantify social factors for now, from a purely economic standpoint, the global aristocracy of birthplace is immensely inefficient. How inefficient? The most conservative estimate is that true open borders would make humankind 67% richer. The most aggressive estimate suggests it would make us 150% richer. We’re talking doubling world GDP, folks. Even if you make allowance for social frictions necessitating some immigration restrictions, there is absolutely no rational basis for believing the economically rational thing to do is to, as a general rule, only have people live and work in the country of their birth.

Much of what I am today, I owe to my parents and my country, and to my creator who made me who I am. But I also owe an immense amount to studying and working in the United States, which literally offered me opportunities no other country could give me. I was lucky enough to be born in circumstances that could get me to the US. How many billion others can say the same?

It’s one thing to punish someone because if you don’t, they will harm you. That is at least prima facie plausible. But it’s another thing to punish someone purely for an accident of birth out of their control. I had no choice in where I was born. Neither did you. Let’s be glad we were born in pretty good circumstances (because if you’re able to read this, you’re almost certainly one of the luckiest people alive). But let’s not use birth as a reason to deny those less fortunate than us some of the same opportunities you and I had.

John Lee is an administrator of the Open Borders website. Liberal immigration laws are a personal passion for him. See all blog posts by John.


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