Why We Have Borders

When I was in undergrad, I was for open borders. The people in the postcolonial states have been badly screwed over for ages. The western states did this to them–why not let postcolonial peoples get access to western job markets, western public services, and yes, even the western welfare state? They’re human beings, just like us. The purpose of borders is to determine who has access to the juicy western stuff and who doesn’t. Why should anyone be denied access to that stuff? It’s patently unfair. The global economy is a system. The rich countries have gotten rich off the backs of the poor countries–our achievements are their achievements too. Why can’t they share in the spoils?

More recently, I wrote a piece for Current Affairs about the value of political unions. In this piece, I argued that we couldn’t economically integrate territories–permitting capital and people to move freely within them–without politically integrating those territories. Political integration is hard–people in rich countries don’t want to have to redistribute resources to people in poor countries, and they don’t want people from poor countries to get a say in decisionmaking. It’s much easier to get people to support free trade and free movement than it is to get people to support creating and expanding federal states. I reluctantly concluded that we can’t open our borders economically until we’re ready to open them politically. Free movement and free trade with Mexico requires political union with Mexico, and until Americans are willing to do the latter the former will cause trouble.

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