This is a personal statement by John Lee (written by him in first person), one of the regular bloggers for the Open Borders site. For information about John Lee, see here. For all blog posts by John Lee, see here. For the overall site story, see here.
History of attitude to open borders
I’ve never been a restrictionist or even immigration skeptic. It was a bit difficult to be one when I saw my family having to cope with the vagaries of immigration law. It never made much sense to me that my mother had to make an annual ritual of asking permission from the government to live with and take care of her own children. Studying economics made me pretty sure that more immigration would be a good idea, and combined with a study of history, made me fairly confident that immigration policies have essentially never been set up to optimise anyone’s wellbeing. More so than many other types of policies, immigration policies have been established to pander to those who fear people of different races, religions, cultures, or national origin, with scant regard for actual empirical study or evidence.
But none of this meant I supported open borders (though in spirit I was quite clearly already a believer of sorts). It was only after watching economist Michael Clemens’s seminal lecture on the place premium and global apartheid that I found it impossible to ignore the injustice of closed borders. At least to me and my family, closed borders are a bit of an inconvenience. This is not to slight their impact — closed borders probably cost me and my family personally something on the order of thousands of dollars every year, accounting for everything from the cost of red tape, to the opportunity cost of being banned from pursuing economic betterment. But there are millions of good, decent people around the world who are being forced to stay in lives of grinding poverty, not because they are lazy or criminal, but because we’ve arbitrarily decided that being foreign-born makes you a threat to the rest of us.
As political philosopher Jason Brennan says, “Immigration restrictions expose the world’s poor to exploitation. If you have an economic system where everything can be globalised, except poor labour, then you make the world’s poor sitting ducks for exploitation.” The immigration status quo is empirically unjustifiable and economically irrational. But the straw that broke my proverbial camel’s back was how the immigration status quo blatantly oppresses and exploits the most unfortunate of us all. Our laws condemn people to lives of suffering and poverty purely on account of an accident of birth. None of us chose the country we were born into. Oppressing others who were unlucky enough to be born into lousy countries is economically insensible — and morally intolerable.
For more about my personal reasons for supporting open borders, see my first blog post.
Future plans for involvement with open borders, both the website and the cause
I am primarily interested in public policy questions around immigration. My blog posts generally focus on a broad mix of policy questions, ranging from economic impacts of immigration to policy alternatives that allow greater freedom of movement. I am also interested in raising awareness of the arbitrariness and injustice of the immigration policy status quo. My personal experiences as an immigrant and growing up in Malaysia, a country of immigrants (in more than one way), also inform many of my posts.