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"Open Borders": A Gimmick, Not a Solution

By       Message Richard Eskow       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink

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Reprinted from Smirking Chimp

Newsweek recently published an article by Daniel Bier with the headline "Bernie Sanders on Immigrants: Silly, Tribal and Economically Illiterate." The piece, when it is not distracting the reader with rather unimaginative vitriol (phrases like "lame socialist agenda" are hardly Pulitzer material), bases its argument on a trendy libertarian idea called "open borders."

Like many libertarian ideas, "open borders" is bold, has superficial intellectual appeal -- and is incapable of withstanding thoughtful scrutiny. It would benefit the wealthy few at the expense of the many, here and abroad.

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The "Open Borders" Debate

The latest controversy began when Sanders (for whom, it should be noted, I work) was asked about immigration in an interview with Vox's Ezra Klein. The "open borders" concept is a simple one: allow workers to travel freely from country to country in search of employment. Proponents argue that this would improve the lives of people in poor countries, because they could earn more by moving to nations like the United States.

They also claim it would, magically, do very little harm to workers in nations like this one -- even though proponents also frequently suggest eliminating the minimum wage at the same time.

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Klein, it should be noted, didn't simply ask Sanders about the open-borders idea. He argued for it, forcefully. "You said being a democratic socialist means a more international view," Klein said to Sanders. "I think if you take global poverty that seriously, it leads you to conclusions that in the U.S. are considered out of political bounds. Things like sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders."

Sanders responded that the idea is "a Koch Brothers proposal," a "right-wing proposal" (he presumably felt that Klein, a former Democratic blogger, was not a right-winger), and added that...

"It would make everybody in America poorer -- you're doing away with the concept of a nation state...

"What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don't believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.

"You know what youth unemployment is in the United States of America today? ... You think we should open the borders and bring in a lot of low-wage workers, or do you think maybe we should try to get jobs for those kids?"

Libertarian Pushback

To Bier, Sanders' mention of the Koch brothers is gratuitous -- as if it were absurd to suggest the Kochs' own economic interests have motivated their ideological investments. (Don't libertarians believe everyone is primarily an economic actor?)

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Bier claims that it is "patently untrue" that an open borders policy "would make everybody in America poorer," and cites a study from the (Koch Brothers-funded) Cato Institute as evidence. Unfortunately, that study based on a far lower rate of immigration than an open borders policy would produce, rendering his interpretation of it meaningless.

The work of economist Ha-Joon Chang, by contrast, provides compelling evidence that an open borders policy would exert a powerful downward pull on American workers' wages.

Devaluing Other Countries

Bier then gets to the core of the open-borders argument, writing that...

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