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Open Borders

March 17, 2020 by

This may not be the best time to start talking about open borders, but the world will continue after corona and we shouldn’t stop thinking about the bigger picture. One of the big questions of this decade is: how should the West treat the immigrants that are coming our way? Bryan Caplan, a professor of economics at George Mason University, has come up with an innovative answer, both in content and in form. With Zach Weinersmith he has published a comic – yes, a comic – about the science and ethics of immigration. Both the cartoons and the language make it an easily accessible book about this important issue.

His plea is to open all borders unrestrictedly because that will massively increase gross world product. If anyone could take a job anywhere, estimated economic gains range from 50 to 150 per cent of gross world product. Open borders is like getting 75 additional Manhattans a year, 150 Googles a year, nine happy meals a day per person. The global poor get higher wages, the natives in rich countries get additional riches. Even low-skilled workers are vastly more productive in the first world than at home.  Everyone will be better off, Caplan writes. Economically speaking, open borders is trillions of dollars a year better than the alternative. Trapping talent in the outskirts of the world economy impoverishes us all.  Open borders is a shortcut to global prosperity.

Caplan states that “the ugly truth” is that “we live in a world of global apartheid. An apartheid not based on the race of your parents, but on the nation of your parents.” He considers it fundamentally wrong to restrict people where they can live or work because of their place of birth. What moral right does anyone have to stop immigrants to choose their place to work and live? By stopping immigration we kill people, Caplan says. We are murderers.

The author notes four main fears about mass immigration: it will lead to poverty, governments cannot afford the welfare benefits, countries will disintegrate culturally and the freedom in the West will be eroded. He deals with those fears convincingly. They are just not true.

However, he forgets to deal with the shock that some people experience in seeing their country change unrecognizably. They see many things that they held on to changed beyond recognition and feel that they can only respond by saying ‘no’. He also does not mention the fact that some of the densely populated countries in Europe might have difficulties in finding places to live for the new arrivals.

Having said that, Open Borders adds some fresh air to a heated debate in Europe and the US by making clear that first, opening all borders makes economic sense, second, it is morally the right thing to do, and third, that many objections against open borders are not logically valid.

Bryan Caplan and Zach Weinersmith. Open Borders. The Science and Ethics of Immigration. First Second, 2019