Imagine this – you’re born to a large family in a developing country. Your family works hard to send you to school, and through your intelligence and ingenuity, you manage to graduate with a high school diploma. Where you’re from, that alone is an accomplishment. You can help support your family, and you’re proud of the work you’ve done. But, unless you’re one of a very few lucky souls, you’re extremely limited in the money you can earn and the opportunities you can take, simply because you were born in the wrong place.
If you were soy or corn, you could easily be transported across borders to the place you were most needed, but because you’re human, the law controls every move you make. We make exceptions, of course, but even those we view with great suspicion and barely tolerate – until we no longer do. This past summer British citizens voted to leave the EU, at least partially due to European migration. Now, there is a high possibility that other European nations may follow suit. Here in the United States, President Trump has signed a sweeping (albeit mostly temporary) ban on refugees and immigrants from certain countries. Even amongst Democrats, the idea of open borders faces a great deal of resistance.
This is the wrong direction to go in, and not only because of the plight of refugees. Instead of reducing immigration, we should be embracing it with open arms – even considering the idea of completely open borders. With the advent of globalization, we’ve liberalized the cross-border trading of goods, services, money and everything in between. In doing so, we generated trillions of dollars in wealth, greatly reduced the cost of goods and services and strengthened international ties, but humans are still constrained by artificial borders that apply to little else.
The benefits of increased cross border movement should not be limited to only goods and services; there are trillions of dollars in wealth that could be generated by opening international borders to humans as well. Currently, the U.S. spends tens of billions of dollars on foreign aid, and while it may be great for foreign relations, it’s at best useless and, at worst, harmful for poverty reduction and economic growth. Immigration, on the other hand, is the world’s most effective poverty reduction program. Economists estimate that the additional economic value created by admitting enough immigrants to increase the labor force by one percent would be worth more than all the world’s official aid programs together. This newfound wealth would reduce poverty not only for the migrants themselves, but for their countrymen back home when they sent back a portion of their higher wages in the form of remittances. Further, immigrants not only improve their own economic outlook – by providing skills that are often in great demand and little supply in the host countries, they complement, rather than substitute for, natives. Finally, the high numbers of elderly retiring and low birth rates have created social security systems that are requiring a larger and larger percentage of the government budget, leaving less for other items. Immigration allows wealthy countries to take in more potential tax-payers, therefore reducing the tax burden on the rest of us.
There may be legitimate national security reasons to oppose open borders. But from both a moral and economic standpoint, the case for the free movement of people is strong and compelling. Although I am not convinced that the latter concerns outweigh the former, President Trump’s actions last week took us in the wrong direction. At the very least, immigration policies in the developed world could be reformed to usher in an era of increased growth and human potential.