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In defense of open borders

Eric Hobsbawm called the 19th century “a gigantic machine for uprooting countrymen.” He believed that the reason for mass migrations of people was straightforward. For the immigrants of the 1800s, the United States “was not a society but a means of making money,” often in the hope of “returning home, rich and respected, to their native villages.”

Those immigrants began their American lives by and large doing low-wage, back-breaking, monotonous manual labor and domestic work, which was still better than what was available from in their homelands. In the old country, they’d starved; in the new one, they’d strive. The United States was to forge a national identity out of the collective national identities of millions of foreigners.

In the age of globalization, however, the nation state has retreated as the locus of world power. Multinational free trade agreements, supranational financial institutions, and transnational corporations ensure that capital can float between nations with all the ease of a monarch butterfly. Labor, on the other hand, remains under the jurisdiction of border-obsessed states.

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