Borders are strange beasts. We all accept them despite little evidence that they are to our benefit. We often only become aware of them when we realise that they are a problem to us, for example in times of war or civil unrest when we need to move. Borders are there to impede our movement, to keep us where we are whether we want to be there or not. Unfortunately, most interest is focused on the use of border to keep people outside. In Britain and other areas of Europe this has become a major feature of political debate – “How can we secure our borders and keep people out ?”
This dislike of movement is against all the evidence which has shown that immigration has a positive effect on societies – both economically and socially. There is no incentive for people to move to make matters worse somewhere else, that is the role of states with their wars and empire building. We, as individuals, move to be able to improve our lot and, at the same same time, improve the lot, through trade and work, of our new neighbours.
The real concerns, that immigration may have the effect of undercutting the wages of local workers, or that it may overstretch the provision of welfare services, are easily dealt with. The first problem’s solution lies in good syndicalist movements and the organisation of workers. Through effective unionisation and collective bargaining it is possible avoid this potential downside of immigration. Indeed, if immigration improves the economy, as it invariably does, there is more wealth to be distributed; the task is to distribute this more fairly (rather than to allow deleterious effects on the economy, through banning movement. which mean everyone has less).
The second concern, over the utilisation of welfare services such as health or education could again easily be managed. Rather than have these schemes based on taxation and residence, return them to insurance based schemes. People could then make provision for their services whatever their country of origin. Schemes would soon develop which would aid people in their movement, the effects of the local levels of supply and demand would encourage the development of varied services which would meet the local needs. The free market makes better, more appropriate, services for local societies and much more quickly than the cumbersome and slow processes of central national planning.
But to return again to the beginning, border do not just keep people out, they keep people in. According the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10th December 1948 (UDHR) we have the right to leave any country including your own. However, this is a basic right that is largely ignored. Try and leave your country of residence without a passport and you will find it well nigh impossible legally. No carrier will assist you, you will not be able to start discussion with any other country where you may wish to go.
This right to leave any country forces on nations a negative obligation that they do not impede our movement and that they issue all the necessary travel documents without undue delay. In essence this means that the country issues passports to its citizens. However, this is not done as a matter of course and is not always done without payment. This control over our ability to leave is a restriction on our liberty and something that should not be tolerated. We are free men and women, we are not the property of our state.
Next time you witness refugees fleeing disasters, whether these be natural or, more likely state made, remember how borders are slowing down their flight to safety and making it less likely that they will succeed. Think also on the matter of how you would flee if there were a change in your country’s rulers so that you and your family were at risk, or how you would flee were there a natural disaster or war. Would you be happy to see the barbed wire of the border fence and happy to meet the border guard ?
Borders – we don’t need them.