From the Comments: Mass Migration and Open Borders

Fears of mass migration are overblown. Each person who migrates must cover certain costs – one must abandon one’s social network, often must abandon property, must fund transportation and the transition.

For instance, when I crossed America from Pennsylvania to California, I had to pay for transportation expenses, the first month’s rent, a security deposit, and other expenses. Migration, whether within or between countries, tends to be self-limiting.

This is from papalibertarian. Check out his blog. I am still ambivalent about the whole open borders project. Of course I support freedom of movement for individuals (“labor”) to cross arbitrary borders, just as I do for goods (“capital”). Papa L’s comment only bolsters my support for open borders, but what about the people who don’t migrate?

What about the people who, for all the reasons Papa L describes and more, cannot migrate?

Federation or some other form of political union answers this question much better than mere open borders. Think about the old couple in California who would like to move to Mexico because of its lower cost of living. Under open borders, they can do it but they wouldn’t have many rights (tit-for-tat and all that). If that old couple migrated from California to Oregon they’d still have all their rights. Why shouldn’t they have these rights simply for migrating from California to Sonora? Federation would strengthen migrants’ rights whereas mere open borders would only grant migrants the ability to cross borders.

I suspect many open borders advocates are incrementalists, so I can’t fault them for not answering my silly questions, but I do hope that they come to see open borders as an incremental phase leading to a much more politically integrated world (as well as economically and socially integrated).

7 thoughts on “From the Comments: Mass Migration and Open Borders

  1. I heard a viewpoint on Open Borders that I like quite a bit until someone convinces me otherwise. The view was that Open Borders would work just fine but only in a non-welfare State. You cannot simultaneously have a welfare state AND Open Borders. I agree with this until proven otherwise.

    My support rests on the fact that when we think of “classical” immigration in America, such as Ellis Island and all that, those huddled masses and the sick and the poor that came here understood that this was not a free ride. What it was, was opportunity. Make or break, your choice. And that was more attractive to them than where they came from, which I can empathize with.

    I came from a small town with very little opportunity. I could have stayed and cobbled something together, because I am smart and ambitious, but I moved 2,800 miles for opportunity…nothing more, nothing less.

    On the other hand, if you have a welfare State with massive amounts of subsidies and social programs, there is no understood contract between our nation and those that come here that the only offering is opportunity. Therefore, it could be said, that while not all people that would cross the border to come here are here for the welfare, all people seeking welfare will cross the border to come here. And I think that distinction makes all the difference.

    • I think the welfare concern is overblown to be honest. Most migrants are not eligible for welfare for five years (at which time they would be eligible for citizenship anyway). First generation migrants are overwhelming net tax payers and use welfare at lower rates than natives. Even if that still concerns you, I don’t think it would be difficult to have open borders but restrict access to welfare benefits to newcomers.

      What I’ve been pushing towards for a while is using NAFTA’s labor provision to offer quasi-open borders among the American countries. NAFTA created the ‘TN’ status that essentially allows Canadians, Mexicans, and US Americans to live and work in one another’s countries.

      Unfortunately the original plan only allows for certain occupations to participate. What needs to be done is an expansion of the program to all citizens of the NAFTA countries. Add a provision excluding NAFTA migrants from welfare access, and boom, that’s it. You get a lite version of Open Borders without the welfare concerns.

  2. I support both Open Borders and greater federation (but not world government). I think the United States should offer statehood (or at least commonwealth status) to the Mexican states, the Canadian provinces, and the Caribbean countries.

    Contrary to popular belief, the northern half of Mexico is actually highly developed and only a few notches below Texas in quality of life. It is also in northern Mexico, border towns excluded, where the power of the drug cartels is weakest. If they were allowed to join the US I think those regions would quickly catch up with the rest of the US. Likewise several Caribbean states seem like they’d be natural candidates for statehood. The Bahamas, Jamaica, and the rest of the Anglo-Caribbean in particular make obvious candidates.

    I think there are several lessons that we should incorporate from the EU experiment. For example, political union should probably not be divorced from fiscal or monetary union.

    Unfortunately a good chunk of libertarians oppose both Open Borders and increased federation. I think that libertarians, at least the American breed, forget that the US government is actually very good relative to its counterparts abroad. I fall prey to this myself – I remember having lunch with a pair of libertarians from Brazil a few years back. I was complaining about the congestion and poor quality of roads in LA. They on the other hand were amazed how well managed the roads were.

    Likewise I don’t see many Americans supporting either proposal. Hawaii and New Mexico are, if memory serves, the only states to not have a non-hispanic majority population for most of their histories. Efforts to grant Puerto Rico and the other insular areas statehood have been torpedoed due to ethnic differences thus far. There isn’t anything wrong with greater ethnic diversity, but it does discourage political willingness to spend state money.

    In the near future we can expect hispanics to increase their political strength in the US. Maybe this will translate into an increase willingness to grant statehood for Puerto Rico and begin offering it to Latin America. I have my reservations though. Likewise I’m not sure what conditions would have to be met for statehood to be offered to the Caribbean countries.

  3. “I think the United States should offer statehood (or at least commonwealth status) to the Mexican states, the Canadian provinces, and the Caribbean countries.”

    Sigh. What makes you think that Canada has any desire to be absorbed by the US?

    • Good question, Dr A, but you’re lookin’ at it from the wrong angle. (Does everybody here know Professor Terry, by the way? Here is his “homepage” at Rotman.) It’s not about Canada or absorption. It’s about Canadian provinces and federation. I know the distinction almost seems pedantic but it’s not. It’s huge!

      Canada looks at lot like the US demographically. You have a snobbish, Anglophile vanguard on the east coast; a hippy-dippy British Columbia on the west coast; Quebec is Louisiana; and the prairie provinces look a lot like “flyover country,” that is to say: it’s made up of German and Scandinavian farmers and Natives rather than snobby, wimpy English fishermen.

      Washington and Ottawa should be competing for those prairie provinces. Hell, they should be competing for all the states and provinces.

    • I don’t think Canada and the US need much further integration actually. They already have a standing defense pact, both de jure and de facto, and have few trade barriers. I do wish Canadians and Americans could both freely migrate between one another and the remaining trade barriers removed.

      I included Canada in my list out of courtesy. Much of the benefits of integration would come from offering statehood to those regions that aren’t yet closely integrated such as Mexico and the Caribbean.

      Similar to Brandon, I would also wish for Canada to attempt to compete for some of the US states. If memory serves, there was actually a plan for Canada to incorporate the Anglo-Caribbean countries. I think the geography favors a US statehood for the Caribbean, but I don’t think it’d be strange if Minnesota or some other Midwestern state preferred to switch federations.

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