Sunday, September 22, 2013

Open Borders

I am so happy this website exists:

From the site's self-description:
This website is dedicated to making the case for open borders. The term “open borders” is used to describe a world where there is a strong presumption in favor of allowing people to migrate and where this presumption can be overridden or curtailed only under exceptional circumstances.
The goal of the website is to make the arguments for open borders, and also to explicitly discuss many arguments against open borders, evaluate their validity, and determine ways to tackle the objections.
Living abroad has made this issue more and more personal to me, but I know my experience overall hasn't been too bad. There are millions of people who are not so fortunate.

We need more people who are actually willing to say, "I support open borders." In the Western world, there are far too many intellectual forces which breed prejudice against free immigration, and they often come from what we think of as opposite sides of the political spectrum. On the one hand, you have nationalism, which comes in many forms. Some argue that the state should be obliged first to the economic well-being of its own citizens, and that any disadvantage caused by immigration should be a concern to the state. Others argue that every nation has the right to preserve a certain culture, language, or intellectual or spiritual tradition, and that free immigration would deny this right. Still others argue that it is simply too impractical to allow a pure "melting pot" experiment, in which people from different cultures all try to get along under on state. I call all of these arguments generally "nationalist," even though they may be more or less so.

On the other hand, you have social democracy, which can indeed get in the way of free immigration. If the state has the responsibility to care for the general well-being of all of its citizens, it is naturally going to be difficult to accept a large mass of new citizens. You end up with the paradoxical and sometimes overwhelming tension of a society so compassionate that it can't accept any more strangers.

I think it would be a great moral victory to see the world embrace open borders. I suspect it will happen (if it ever does) more gradually than other moral victories such as the illegalization of slavery.

Morality needs to take a central role in the debate. I am frankly always pessimistic about the average person's ability to understand the economics involved, and even if the whole world were well-informed on economics, maximizing utility functions is hardly an inspiring argument for changing laws. For some on the left, the case for open borders might come down to a sort of cultural relativism in which there really shouldn't be any national distinctions. I don't find this especially convincing, myself. Rather, I think adopting open borders would be the best expression of the values our Western civilization has cultivated over the ages (in particular our Christian values), and I don't think we should be ashamed to say so. We should welcome the stranger, not because cultural differences don't matter, but precisely because our civilization is capable of welcoming others to adopt our way of life. Of course, to invite the stranger is to invite cultural evolution, but there is no ultimate danger in this if one has enduring beliefs that inspire admiration in all. In particular, there is no reason to be shy about saying that all people long to be free, and we should welcome others to share in the freedom for which our ancestors fought hard.

Again, I'm excited this web site exists. Note that it includes every kind of argument you could possibly want: libertarian, egalitarian, utilitarian, conservative, and so on. We live in exciting times, for anyone aware of the intellectual movements going on.

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