Resolved: That all national borders be abolished.
In a recent Atlantic article, Alex Tabarrok takes the affirmative on the proposition above. In the article he fails to produce facts or evidence. This is the entirety of his argument, such as it is, from the slug of the article:
No defensible moral framework regards foreigners as less deserving of rights than people born in the right place at the right time.
That is nonsense. It is a claim not a proof. He is using a rhetorical device (and fallacy) called “burden-shifting”, attempting to place the burden of proof which, as the affirmative, he must meet on those who oppose his position. Ultimately, I believe Dr. Tabarrok is confusing ends with means.
There is no universally recognized human right. There are extreme cases of that. For example, in some places same-sex sexual activity is considered a right; in others it may get you executed. The less extreme cases are simply too numerous to mention. In Mexico non-Mexicans do not have a generalized right to own real property; here non-Americans do. The English recognize a right to “cross the land”; here that is considered trespassing. In most countries of the world including England, France, and Germany there is no right to freedom of the press quite as expansive as ours. The list is endless.
Indeed, it is true for every right—free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, private property, the right of transit, and so on and so on. Notions of rights are portable; people bring them with them when they move from place to place.
The very notion of rights is culturally mediated. In some places rights are construed very expansively. In others they are practically nonexistent. That most expansive of explications of human rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, does not recognize a right of immigration (emigration, yes; transit within countries, yes; immigration, no). To the best of my knowledge no majority Muslim country recognizes the Universal Declaration—it is considered inconsistent with Islam. There is an alternative Islamic Declaration of Human rights. Far from inhibiting human rights, rights are secured by borders.
Borders do not cause these differences although the borders may reflect the differences. The differences are caused because of differences in preferences, differences among cultures.
A world without national boundaries would not be a world in which rights were expansive and every person was regarded as inherently possessing equal and high moral worth. It would be a world in which rights were reduced to the lowest common denominator, i.e. no rights at all, and persons would be considered as having no moral worth.
Borders secure my rights, particularly my right to freedom of association and my right to property. Indeed, the right to property only exists within national boundaries.
After failing to establish a first principles argument, Dr. Tabarrok is left with a comparative advantages argument and he fails to meet that as well. The Western world is quite familiar with the implications of a world without national borders. In such a world there were still governments, armies, and weapons. There was also war without boundaries, war without end. Thousands starved due to the war-induced famine; more were concerned with simply surviving than with asserting their rights. Far from being an economic parousia it was an economic desert.
Borders and the sovereignty of national governments within those borders brought peace, security, economic growth, and prosperity. In much of the world there are still no national borders or, more precisely, national borders are merely lines on a map and otherwise of little significance. Those are places of war, insecurity, poverty, and desperation.
Hat tip: Charles Cameron, Zenpundit