Discussion: What Would a ‘Borderless World’ Look Like?

Travelink-the-world-with-a-4x4Mathew Stinson and I had some fun with the hypothetical question (see the Storify): what would happen if there were no ‘borders’? It stemmed from an awful question on a Time Magazine political personality quiz that asked, “if there were no borders, would we be one people?”

The questions we came up with instead:

  • Would no borders promote more or less cultural diversity?
  • Could the nation-state survive without borders?
  • What would be the impact on poverty and wealth distribution?

Parameters: The major thing that changes is the removal of the need for visas and passports. Anyone can fly, drive, walk or float anywhere and stay (and work) there for as long as they’d like. Assume people find degrees of political enfranchisement wherever they go, such that they have some political voice and clout, though probably not as much as ‘natives’ do.


  1. Trey said:

    I think cultural diversity would largely be on the increase. First, because I think the most threatened cultural groups might have the option to more easily move to safer places. For instance, what if the Kurds all picked one of the four countries they’re distributed in and put their collective weight there? What if Tibetans could just migrate south to India and Nepal to escape Han expansion and CCP repression? What if Uighers could move north or west away from the same problem? What if they could go even further and find a home in what is now Turkey, where there are strong cultural and linguistic similarities? Essentially, people with threatened cultures would have more choices and there would be something like local and regional Zionism (w/o the nation) – groups of people finding safe stops to gather, which reinforces the bonds within the group.

    I think the nation-state could survive. Even with a much larger flow of citizenry, private property would still exist and borders would exist ’enough’ to tax people inside them.

    To the last question, I think truly open borders would have a great equalizing effect on the world economy. Migrants would flood prosperous cities and drive the overall standard of living down. An educated Indian or Filipino could compete in New York, Singapore, and Hong Kong for any job that a local does. I think this would promote growth *and* drive wages down. But it would also make way for opening a gate straight from war zones, like Syria or the Congo, straight to Western Europe and the United States.

    I think it would also lead to novel scenarios of ethnogenesis. I wonder, for instance, what sorts of people from around the world might congregate and rebuild on the ruins of Detroit?

    January 12, 2014
  2. Leonhard Weese said:

    First of all, I do believe that restricting travel and immigration is the greatest crime that the Western world right now commits. I compare it to Apartheid, especially because it is inherently racist while at the same time denying this fact (“separate, but equal”).
    The principle that allows us to lock people out of our homes does not apply to nationstates no matter how democratically they might be ruled. While it is easy to argue that we have property in our houses, we do not hold communal property over our nations’ soil.

    So what if we were to recognize this? What if we were to open our gates in the same way that America, Australia or Canada had their gates open for most of the 19th century?

    1) The social welfare systems would need to be completely reformed.
    There is quite some irony in Western states handing out hundreds of Euros to the unemployed with the argument that everyone deserves to live in dignity while the same countries kick out poor people into areas that have neither running water nor toilets. Maybe some states will converge to a welfare model similar to that of the gulf states where indigenous families live off a generous welfare system while denying the majority of their population basic services.
    Many welfare services are already moving away from simple transfer payment systems but in any case this might be the biggest disruption that open borders would have.

    2) Civil war zones would dry up.
    Many people want to leave Syria, South Sudan, Iraq and the much ignored “War in North-West Pakistan” (it doesn’t even have a proper name, that’s just what Wikipedia calls it). The reason why people still live there is because few recognize them as refugees, and the likelihood of being sold into slavery or seeing your organs harvested on the way to Europe is often higher than being killed at home, hence people stay. If we had open borders these people could legally, safely and cheaply take shelter in less violent states.

    3) People wouldn’t die from hunger or poor sanitation anymore.
    While modern nations probably wouldn’t be able to carry on with their generous welfare policies under the influx of millions of economic migrants, they would easily be able to keep providing clean water, electricity and sanitation to anybody who arrives. Even if these services were to be supplied at cost, they would still be easily affordable to even the poorest of the world.
    Parts of this is simple geography. Northern states have lots of water, more than enough for crops, livestock and billions of people. Sub-Sahara Africa does not, and clean water will always be infinitely more expensive there.

    4) Technological development would drastically increase.
    We are bound in our capabilities by our surroundings. The reason why people in Liberia make less than 1 Euro per day in average while people in Hong Kong make about 80 times that is not because intelligence is distributed unequally. There is still a lot to discover and to be built in this world.

    5) Backlash from indigenous people, open rejection and subtle violence.
    Just because opening borders is the right thing to do, many people will not agree with this. Opening borders is so unpopular, even most libertarian/green/socialist/christian parties of this world do not advocate it despite it being deeply rooted in their philosophical framework. People in rich countries are as racist as anyone else who lived on this earth in the past few thousand years, and people will feel threatened by any immigrants, especially from unknown and far away places, and even more so if they look different.
    But people are pragmatic as well, and they will appreciate affordable services of all kind as much as they will appreciate more customers for the goods and services that they provide.

    6) Slightly more cultural diversity.
    Borders rarely prevent people from going home, they mostly prevent people from travelling abroad. But in the long run not much will change. ‘Home’ seems to be a pretty strong concept for most people, and while many will be willing to migrate for economic reasons, they will often go back when the situation at home has become more bearable.
    At least the visibility of cultural diversity is also just driven by market forces, and unless the population of Zuerich or Basel demand more exotic restaurants or concerts new immigrants will not provide their culture to the general public.

    January 13, 2014

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