This page contains the current draft of the full text of Chapter 8 of RAFT 2035. All content is subject to change.
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8. Open borders
Goal 8 of RAFT 2035 is that the UK will be part of a global “free travel” community of at least 25% of the earth’s population.
Freedom of movement means that people can travel to other locations in order to study, to work, to explore, to carry out joint projects, to deepen mutual understanding, or to engage in many other types of activity.
Greater freedom of movement can bring many benefits, including the building of the all-important trust and rapport mentioned in Goal 7. Migration has been found to have considerable net positive effects for the UK, including raising productivity, boosting public finances, strengthening cultural richness, and increasing individuals’ well-being. Flows of money and ideas in the reverse direction also benefit the original countries of the immigrants.
Indeed, greater freedom of movement can assist with fulfilment at multiple levels of the hierarchy of human needs, including belonging and love needs, cognitive needs, aesthetic needs, self-actualisation, and transcendence.
Eight years of research by the Migration Advisory Council (MAC) is summarised in a recent report by Professor Jonathan Portes of King’s College London. Here are some extracts:
Immigration has a substantial, positive and significant on productivity; an increase in the immigrant share of the labour force by 1 percentage point is associated with an increase in overall productivity of 2 to 3 percentage points.
Overall immigrants are relatively more beneficial for the public finances than natives, with migrants from the EU making on average a large positive contribution… On average, the average net fiscal contribution of an immigrant was £440 more than that of a native.
The average EEA migrant arriving in 2016 will contribute a discounted total of around £78,000 to the UK public finances over his or her lifetime. Overall, the future net contribution of 2016 arrivals alone to the UK public finances is estimated at £25bn. Had there been no immigration at all in 2016, the rest of us would have had, over time, to find £25bn, through higher taxes, public service cuts, or higher borrowing.
The report notes that similar conclusions have been reached by international bodies such as the IMF and the OECD.
The case for open borders is also reviewed in an Economist article from July 2017 with the headline “A world of free movement would be $78 trillion richer”. Here are some of the points from that article:
In America, the foreign-born are only a fifth as likely to be incarcerated as the native-born…
A study of migration flows among 145 countries between 1970 and 2000 by researchers at the University of Warwick found that migration was more likely to reduce terrorism than increase it, largely because migration fosters economic growth.
Borders, open but managed
At the same time, unrestricted freedom of movement can lead to overcrowding, overuse or spoiling of local resources, the unwelcome disruption of previous cultures, and a rise in resentment and hostility between original residents and newcomers. That’s why freedom of movement often faces opposition. For these reasons, systems of “free travel” and “open borders” necessarily involve a number of agreements and restrictions.
This is an example of an important general principle: in order to obtain and enjoy greater freedoms, various elements of lesser freedoms sometimes need to be restricted. For example, to enjoy the freedom to drive a car on a public roadway, we have to give up our freedom to drive at excess speed, or in a vehicle that has failed tests of roadworthiness, or whilst we are intoxicated. Likewise, to enjoy the freedom to travel to a different country, we have to give up our freedom to violate local laws or trample key local customs.
Similarly, to enjoy the benefits of a rich association with a larger group of countries, the UK needs to be willing to adopt and support some standards agreed by the group as a whole. We need to be willing to pool sovereignty and to collaborate on decision-making, in order to gain more from the relationship than we lose.
Here are some examples of rules that could apply for international travel, to avoid any drastic adverse changes in local culture or social stability:
- Visitors could lose their right of residency if they fail to respect agreed norms.
- Immigrants could be denied a vote until they had been resident for a given amount of time (perhaps five years).
- Immigrants could be denied access to various social security payments (including any basic income payment) until, again, an agreed period of time has elapsed.
- Immigration of this sort could be restricted to people coming from countries with whom a reciprocal agreement exists.
- Immigration to particular regions of countries could be limited to numbers agreed in advance.
The growth of open border agreements
Recognising both the potential benefits and the potential drawbacks of free movement across open borders, a number of international open border agreements have been established around the world in recent decades, involving in each case a set of neighbouring countries which have a broad level of social alignment and economic equality with each other. Over time, as a sign of the general success of the idea, some of these regions have grown and merged.
Here are some examples from Europe.
- The Nordic Passport Union of 1954, establishing open borders between Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland.
- The Benelux Economic Union, dating from 1944, between Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.
- The Schengen Agreement started in 1985 when the three countries of the Benelux Economic Union were joined by France and Germany in a declared intent to gradually remove checks for people and vehicles crossing the borders between these countries.
- The Schengen Agreement was subsequently extended to incorporate the countries of the Nordic Passport Union and also Austria, Czechia, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Malta, Monaco, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and Vatican City.
Other examples from around the world can also be mentioned.
- The Andean Community in South America, dating from 2007, of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
- The CA4 Border Control Agreement in Central America, dating from 2006, of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
- The CARICOM Single Market and Economy, in the West Indies, dating from 2009, of Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.
- The East African Community, dating from 2000, of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.
- The Gulf Cooperation Council, dating from 1981, of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi-Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.
- The Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement, dating from 1973, of Australia and New Zealand.
- And, at the time of writing, a common travel area also operates between Ireland and the United Kingdom.
From time to time, countries in these various regions do impose tighter controls at individual borders, as a reflection of practical difficulties as well as occasional hostilities. For example, borders between Qatar and Saudi-Arabia have been closed since 2017, and travel between Qatar and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council is subject to constraints.
Schengen and beyond
The combined population of the 29 countries in the Schengen region is currently 421 million. Adding in the populations of Ireland and the United Kingdom would bring the total to 493 million, which is 6.4% of the global population of 7,714 million. Achieving an open border region comprising 25% of the world’s population will therefore require significant additional growth and mergers. Like the other goals in this roadmap, it’s a challenging vision, especially in the light of recent political changes in the UK, but it’s one that is important to keep in mind.
Larger free travel areas, whilst providing additional liberties and enhanced opportunities, will in general also involve an acceptance by individual countries of giving up portions of their local sovereignty, with decisions on matters impacting the entire region being taken by consensus at a multinational level, rather than just at the national level. However, this kind of pooling of sovereignty should be evaluated, not just from the viewpoint of what an individual country appears to lose, but also from the viewpoint of the additional benefits of strength-in-depth.
Another important factor that will enable and encourage this kind of agreement on freer movement is when localities and countries around the world no longer experience seemingly “being left behind”. Reduced regional and global inequality will reduce the powerful pressures that people feel to rush to relocate to areas of visibly greater prosperity and flourishing. Accordingly, various elements of RAFT 2035 address not only the creation of abundance but also the equitable circulation and distribution of that abundance, worldwide. Perhaps counter-intuitively, when there is less urgency about the need to migrate, it will enable a fuller and more productive set of migration.
The UK and the EU
The decision by the UK to leave the EU, taken in a national referendum in June 2016, and in effect re-confirmed in the General Election of December 2019, rules out the possibility of the UK remaining within the main EU framework. However, in the years ahead, a number of other changes are likely to take place:
- A restructuring of the EU into a number of different layers of membership and associate membership
- Extensions in the relationships between the EU and other nations (and groupings of nations) around the world
- An awareness within the UK of the importance of minimising unnecessary friction in the relationship between the UK and the countries in the EU
- An increased appreciation of the benefits of managed open borders, as envisioned by RAFT
- A growing acceptance that greater opportunities and greater liberty involves surrendering some elements of local autonomy – similar to how (as described by Thomas Hobbes long ago) the different citizens in a locale gain important new opportunities and liberties when they surrender some of their own autonomy to local government.
Accordingly, the position of the UK in a future enlarged version of Schengen may or may not involve the UK in due course formally rejoining the EU. That choice remains open.
Fear of culture overrun
One factor lies behind much of the apprehension about open borders. This fear goes beyond economic matters and focuses on culture change. The idea, expressed in, for example, the writings of Douglas Murray, is that:
- Western European culture has grown stale and feeble
- Western Europe is filled, not only with a panoply of trivialities, but also with loathing and self-doubt,
- In contrast, immigrant groups often bring a self-confident culture with them from overseas
- The culture of immigrant groups is often opposed to the norms and freedoms that Western Europe champions
- Especially when combined with particular strains of Islam, immigrant culture can give rise to murders, rapes, and terrorist outrages
- Even if second and third generation immigrants appear to have assimilated to Western European norms, they may flip back to extreme elements of their parents’ culture, especially when experiencing alienation and emptiness.
In summary, to quote the first sentence of Murray’s book The Strange Death of Europe,
Europe is committing suicide.
One response to this analysis is to argue for stronger barriers to entry, along with a revival of traditional Western European culture – particularly traditional Christianity with its formerly mighty network of churches and apparent moral certainties.
Never mind that the raw statistics of violence committed by immigrants can be queried – and that there is evidence that immigrants are, on the whole, more law-abiding than people with longer roots in a locale. The “suicide” argument resonates with some listeners on different levels of thinking, especially in times of economic distress. Because of feeling left behind by the pace of change, these listeners are quick to cast blame on people who seem alien – people who dress differently, eat different food, and appear to worship deities in different ways.
However, RAFT rejects that conclusion. Rather than seeking a return to a bygone age of dominance of culture by Christian churches and traditional morality (with much reduced social diversity), here’s a better response. It’s a response that looks forwards rather than backwards:
- Elevate elements of the RAFT vision of a near-term future with abundant flourishing for all
- Clarify which elements of diversity should indeed be restricted (in order to avoid destruction of human flourishing), and which, instead, should be supported and celebrated
- Make explicit a (short) list of elements of the local culture that need to be upheld as sacrosanct
- Highlight ways in which the aspirations of members of formerly dominant religions – aspirations for improved health, improved prosperity, improved wisdom, and an improved sense of meaning and purpose – can be met, not via a forced re-imposition of centuries-old beliefs and practices, but by the wise use of twenty first century science and technology.
To accelerate progress with Goal 8, two interim targets for 2025 are proposed:
- To reach a general understanding of the economic case for open borders, and the types of constraints that need to be applied so that the benefits significantly outweigh the drawbacks.
- To agree a statement of the “core values of all UK residents”, highlighting those features of law and practice which are regarded as key to harmony and flourishing within the UK. This statement can also make it clear which elements of human and transhuman variation and diversity should be accepted or even encouraged – and which elements of diversity should be resisted. The UK’s participation in an extended open border region can be made conditional upon ongoing compatibility of the UK’s agreed core values with the corresponding practice throughout the wider region in question.
An issue which is poised to put grave strain on international relations – and to generate huge waves of migrants that will stress tolerance to breaking points – is that of climate change. That’s the subject of the next chapter.
For more information
- The 2017 book by Rutger Bregman, Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World
- The 2011 book by Ian Goldin, Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future
- The 2019 book by Tony Czarnecki, Democracy for a Human Federation: Coexisting with Superintelligence