What is egalitarianism?
Egalitarianism, in the broadest sense, is a trend of thought in social and political philosophy which favors some kind of equality as morally optional (a desirable ideal) or morally compulsory (a component of justice), normally on the grounds that all persons are equal in moral status (although not all humans, or not only humans, necessarily qualify as persons). In modern democratic societies, ‘egalitarian’ is often applied to a position favoring greater equality of income and wealth than currently exists.
John Rawls contributed a new understanding of justice to social contract theory in an attempt to reconcile the classical liberal conception of freedom with the welfare state’s redistribution of economic goods. He argued that the principles of justice are those that free and equal rational people would hypothetically agree upon under conditions of fairness, and proposed a thought experiment called by himself the ‘Original Position’ to answer the questions of what principles and what conditions those would be. In the Original Position, people are situated behind a veil of ignorance about their personal and their society’s condition and circumstances, and therefore would agree, in the following order of priority, to (1) have equal basic rights and liberties to all and (2) permit social and economic inequalities as long as (a) they are attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity and (b) to the benefit of the least advantaged.
In an article titled Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders, Joseph Carens takes a global view of the Original Position, as opposed to the national original one, and argues that states’ sovereignty should be (morally) constrained by the Rawlsian first principle of justice: free and equal rational people, not knowing within which state one will be born and how it might prove essential to one’s life plan, not necessarily for economic reasons (that is, even if economic inequalities among states were reduced by a global application of the second principle), would agree to have an equal right to migrate across state boundaries.
End of poverty
Open borders can be considered as one more strategy to drastically reduce world poverty in the short run and eliminate it in the somewhat longer run, as the same person, without any change in skills or in the number of hours worked, but for reasons of differences in economic and legal institutions and social structure, can earn a considerably higher income in some countries than in others (this is called ‘place premium’), thus moving themselves out of poverty, and helping others do the same via remittances and by creating a more interconnected world. If free labor mobility was enjoyed all over the world, we can expect a 50-150% increase in world GDP according to academic literature.
In Apartheid South Africa, laws by the ruling party restricted where the non-whites could live, work and shop. The same can be said of Southern USA under Jim Crow laws. Within the borders debate, the term for the concept of minority rule in international decision-making ‘global apartheid’ points out that Western immigration laws are similar in nature and consequences to those intra-state segragation laws, for they disproportionately restrict labor mobility for immigrants from the Third World, even if based on national sovereignty rather than racial identity.
Equality of opportunity
Open borders rule out inequalities determined by the dysfunctional institutional systems and low living standards in developing countries. Within countries in the developed world, there are also unequal opportunities determined by social circumstances, but few are coercively enforced through the systematic enforcement of immigration laws. This case touches on another debate, that of free association vs. equal opportunity, except for laws that both forbid free association and deny equal opportunities to those already underprivileged, allegedly immigration laws.
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