-{Okay, so this post directly addresses one of the previously forbidden subjects. “Comment with care” is hopefully assumed. As long as we avoid conversations about how terrible Mexicans and Mexican immigrants are, I think we’ll be okay. I mention Mexicans because it’s hard not to on these subjects, but there are greater abstract notions at play here.}-

Eric Liu has a worthwhile piece on global citizenship. I’d excerpt it but there’s no really good starting point that doesn’t take five paragraphs or more. He lists three kinds. First is global consciousness for one’s actions, which is laudable but not meaningfully citizenship. The second is more internationalism in the form of institutions, which is useful but limited in scope. The third is economic globalism, which is essentially the self-justification of the elites.

I find the notion of global citizenship unsettling. To be of everywhere is to be of nowhere. It’s nice to think that the world is of one, but… it’s just not true. States and populations within the US have conflicting interests, at times, but nothing compared to the US and China or even the US and Japan. Even countries with relatively friendly relations, like the US and India, are as much worlds apart figuratively as literally. There are times I wonder if the US has too much diversity (beyond checkboxes for race and religion) and too many conflicting interests to be a coherent nation. But the world? I don’t understand how you can have solidarity with everybody, which global citizenship implies.

The third kind that he refers to strikes me as the most problematic and potentially nefarious even. Or maybe what I am thinking about is a tangent off of that. There is a natural order of things with alliances and connections and associations. A stateless nation wouldn’t be the world as one. Rather, it would mean that Silicon Valley can more easily associate itself with Tokyo without being anchored to Fresno. It’s the forced association of borders that sends state tax dollars from New York City to Rochester and federal dollars from New York City to Minot. A lot of people – the sorts of people who ordinarily would think such thing tasteless – take a look at the overall money flow and thing that cutting off those ingrates would be awesome. Maybe they’d learn their place and all that.

But that’s just talk. Sometimes geared more towards scoring political points than anything else. As a practical matter, though, considering residents of Orissa no more or less in league with you than the people in Idaho is a fantastic way for neither of them to get the support they need. From a libertarian standpoint, the answer is “So?” From a liberal standpoint – and it’s more often than not liberalism from whence these attitudes come – it makes any social safety net (for instance) unworkable. We have to view ourselves as Americans, and take care of one another to a far greater extent that we take care of people from elsewhere. Global citizenship makes that impossible. On the other side of the world, it means that New Delhi has to make itself a colleague of the other world cities and that means it cannot be in league with rural Orissa in any real sense.

Which itself could be considered the point. Pull the people out of Idaho and (back) to California and the cities therein. As we all know, cities are superior anyway. Without the erection of borders – either formal or by driving up the cost of living and regulations to prevent people from living too close together and pricing them out – the same problems occur. If we can’t guarantee a certain standard of living of 113,000 Mexicans in Mexico, for instance, it is only a little bit easier of they all immigrated here en masse. One way or another, they’d be left behind. To repeat myself: Treating Mexicans and New Mexicans as equivalent (“We’re all citizens of the world”) would be the end to Navajo Nation. We can take care of them – to the minimalist extent that we do – precisely because we favor them over others.

The erection of national borders separating New Mexico from Mexico may be quite unfair in some sense. Someone from New Mexico can pick up and move to Texas and be a recognized citizen. Someone who works harder, is more ambitious, and is smarter who happens to be born in Chihuahua meanwhile can’t get here without some luck (family members already crossed over, for instance) or a whole lot more wherewithal (sneaking across). We can say that since the latter is smart and ambitious and a hard worker that he should be allowed over, but once we’re picking and choosing who we bring over, we’re recognizing the importance of borders.

We can open our borders and that may or may not be the end of the Republic. But if it’s not the end of the Republic, it is the end to virtually any guarantee of any standard of living supported by most Americans (and all but few liberals).

Category: Statehouse

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5 Responses to The Importance of Borders

  1. Caethan says:

    Noah Millman had an interesting thought experiment about immigration several years ago: http://theamericanscene.com/2007/09/26/actually-this-land-is-your-land

    The free-borders folks support (mostly) unrestricted immigration. If twelve million Mexicans wish to move to the U.S. to work, and they can significantly better themselves by doing so, then we are obliged to admit them. But at least part of the benefit of living in the U.S. is living under U.S. government. So suppose that, say, the state of Sonora decided to unilaterally secede from Mexico and join the U.S. as the 51st state. Is there actually any disagreement that the U.S. could legitimately refuse to admit Sonora as a state? So if it’s legitimate to refuse admission collectively, then how could it be illegitimate to refuse admission on an individual basis?

    Of course, once it is given that national borders are legitimate, then we can discuss how to prudentially decide immigration, which is a much harder question. Personally, I think about immigration essentially in terms of share dilution. I will be passing on American citizenship to my children, and they will inherit some share of ownership in the collective American state. Admitting immigrants both (1) dilutes my share and my children’s share in the American enterprise and (2) may change the collective value of American citizenship for better or worse. Which effect is stronger for what immigration policy? Damned if I know, but I do think it’s the right question to ask.

  2. trumwill says:

    Caethan, sorry for letting your comment stay in moderation for so long. Unfortunately, I am less regularly getting notification about comments that are held up.

    Millman makes a good point, on a smaller scale, that I have thought of on the larger scale. If we were to incorporate Mexico into the United States, how much could we genuinely expect the Mexican states to be more like American states than Mexican ones? I’ve wondered in the past what might happen if Guadalupe-Hidalgo was never signed and we simply took them over. Leaving aside the ramifications of the Civil War, the answer is probably advantageous for the average Mexican, but not for the average American. (Or maybe not sharing such a large border with such a dysfunctional state might be enough to make it okay.) At the very least, it would make any sort of welfare state much more difficult.

    It’s hard to say that it matters all that much if we’re incorporating people or incorporating people and land. I say this as someone who believes that land actually matters independent of the people!

    On the other hand, there is an argument to be made that, in the case of someone willing to trek across national borders and make their home in a new land are exhibiting a degree of sacrifice that staying in their own state and simply joining the US isn’t. So self-selection being destiny. Of course, the easier we make the move, and the smaller the world becomes (as it becomes easier for them to go back home and visit family – necessitating less sacrifice) that becomes less the case. And it doesn’t phase Millman’s point about the moral ramifications of borders.

    On the whole, I generally support a more liberal border policy for a number of reasons. Some logistical, some moral (in a way that applies to the USA but not, say, France). But there are limits. It may be selfish and Ugly American (leaving aside that we have one of the most liberal immigration policies in the world as it is), but there are definite limits to the extent that I am going to sacrifice our national well-being to help an indefinite number of people from elsewhere.

    Given the liberalness of current policy, I mostly need to be sold on future liberalness on the basis of how it will effect those currently here.

  3. Caethan says:

    Here’s another point of interest. Suppose that we are specifically siphoning off motivated and capable individuals due to our immigration policy. It certainly seems plausible to me. I think it’s certainly true (at least within reasonable bounds) that given some number of desired immigrants, choosing to admit more capable and motivated individuals is going to be better for America. Does it follow that this policy is better in general? If we siphon off Mexico’s cream, won’t that make Mexico worse off?

    There’s actually been some research about the effects of brain drain to America and other developed countries with respect to doctors and nurses: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1538589/ Essentially, poorer countries pour massive amounts of resources into developing their human capital, and then most of that investment is wasted when those individuals end up moving out of the country. So if we want, charitably, to at least partially tailor our immigration policy to the benefit of poorer nations, then maybe encouraging high-skill immigration (or, as is plausible with Mexican immigration, selecting for highly motivated individuals) is somewhat counterproductive. Sure, we might make these Mexicans better off by allowing or encouraging them to immigrate, but are the ones back home any better off for having their countrymen gone?

  4. trumwill says:


    I live in a relatively rural state that is, while not Kenya, is not exactly economically thriving. It’s an ongoing issue here that the best and brightest take their K-college and leave. So in a slightly different way, I actually think about this. Would my state (“Arapaho”) be better off if the people were prevented from leaving? It depends, to some extent, on what would happen to them if they stayed here. If they would move to one of the cities here and start a new business, it would be a benefit to the economy. On the other hand, if they’d end up working at a phone bank (a popular industry out here), then their human capital is lost. That’s a loss to wherever they would move to, but in a sense it would be a loss to here as well. Namely, because Arapaho is part of the USA and someone local “made good” on the west coast benefits people here.

    There is an argument to be made that the same works on a wider scale. Would someone from, say, India come over here and more greatly utilize their capital instead of being saddled to a phone bank in India? Or would they be starting the next big Indian startup? I don’t know. Most economists would argue the latter, I think.

    The doctor situation is more complicated. Some countries, like Kenya, may really be feeling the pain. Others, I’m not so sure.

    Mexico, for example, wants us to have a more liberal immigration policy. That may be simply due to remittances back home. Or it may be that they see a gain in human capital here as a gain for them over there. One way or another, they have a percentage in it.

    On the other side, Guyana is allegedly cripped by the number of people moving here. Arguably, we are doing that nation harm. On the other hand, we get Americans that are educated and already know English (in larger numbers than Americans do!).

    Which brings me back to where I am ultimately coming from, which is that ultimately I don’t care all that much if it hurts other countries if it helps us. Well, maybe if we’re hurting another country to the extent that we’re hurting Guyana we can tailor it away from there to somewhere else without hurting our bottom line. But it is of secondary concern. That’s the Ugly American in me :).

  5. SFG says:

    Frankly, I never saw the big deal. China deflates their currency so they can sell more stuff. France sets up barriers to support local movie producers. Every country looks out for their own interests. The USA may not be as tightly-knit as, say, Sweden, but we think of ourselves as a country to some degree. It’s a lot harder to get people to pay to help famine victims in Ethiopia than it is to get federal dollars to help New Orleans, Iowa, New York and New Jersey, or whoever else gets hit by the next disaster. And does anyone really know where the next one’s coming? If hurricanes can hit New York, who knows who’s next?

    I guess I’m not a real liberal, but whatever.

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