on open borders

A new piece by   for the Jacobin advocates:

It is for the Left to square the circle the other way, by globalizing labor; that is, eliminating borders… No penalties, no electric fences, no drone surveillance, no papers, no fear. Instead, universal human rights, consecrated in struggle, enforced by solidarity.

Paul Romer’s concept of “charter cities”, too, advocate multinational and highly mobile labor:

The world needn’t choose between forcing migration on countries that do not want it and shutting out those who want to escape inefficient rules. Charter cities offer a third option. By copying rules that work, new cities can quickly give millions of people the chance to move to places that start with better rules.

from Charter Cities dot org 

What is problematic about open borders, so much so that certain sectors of both the left and right clamor for it? For sure, the idea here is not to enhance or give any credence to the cruel and inhumane ICE system in the United States, with countless risking their lives to make runs for the border and the possibility of jobs. Yet there is very little in common between the world’s workers at this point in time; we are intentionally shut off from one another. An influx of more exploitable labor is not going to draw the hotel cleaners closer to the bourgeoise. If anything, it will destabilize and fragment labor markets in favor of capital. This argument also puts aside the implication that all workers will have equal opportunities to be mobile – case studies from all sorts of sourcing countries, including South Asia and SE Asia show this to be false.

The UAE is a fairly good example of a labor economy that is incredibly diverse. Over 90% of workers who are in the UAE originate elsewhere. Yet on arrival, their situation is largely determined by their race, language abilities, and place of origin. A white worker from England working in a bank in Dubai has a different situation than a man from India working on a construction site – and you will rarely find a British man working on a construction site in any capacity other than a managerial or oversight position. For sure, the state still holds a lot of power in this situation – workers are there at the pleasure of their employers, as they would likely be in a borderless situation where relocation costs are mainly absorbed by the employer and then held over the heads of the workers, who often have to surrender their passports to their managers.

In a borderless situation for labor, capital would also have the ability to move workers to areas they see fit – for example, a place where labor laws are less regulated or perhaps a place where they have near-perfect legal control over their workforce, such as Dubai. For instance, moving workers in South East Asia over a border or two could drop the price of labor significantly, as well as promise more control of a vulnerable labor force to capital.

Then there is the issue of brain drain, as doctors, engineers, scientists and other professionals will find incentive in practicing their craft elsewhere, disrupting labor markets both at their point of origin and at their destination. In some locations even today, the social investment that goes into training doctors is lost entirely as the doctors decide to emigrate elsewhere for higher wages.

I agree that deportations should halt and that surveillance of undocumented communities should cease. However, I don’t think it is so simple to assume that a borderless labor force is the answer to everyone’s problems. It seems too much like an argument that markets can equalize themselves given less barriers to access and less regulation, which any leftist should question immediately.

One response to “on open borders

  1. very smart points.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s