Peaceful Coexistence Requires Border Friction
What is the ideal amount of government? Should government provide a generous safety net or should government be cheap? Should government purchase healthcare services on behalf of the populace or should privacy and markets prevail? Which recreational drugs should be legal? At what age? How much exposed skin constitutes indecent exposure? What about late night parties? Untidy lawns? Gambling? Polygamy? Duels? Privately owned assault rifles? Sexist hiring practices?
Opinions differ. A lot. Enough to inspire mass murder, aka war.
Democracy is an attempt to find balance, acceptable compromise. It doesn’t always work. With deep diversity, there is no acceptable compromise. Behold the many attempts by the United States to liberate countries in the name of Democracy, only to leave chaos and rubble behind.
To give The People the government they want, you need to give The Peoples their own governments, including governments which look quite unpleasant from afar. This is a case for independent nations, for breaking up empires, and/or radical federalism.
Let the socialists pay high taxes, the libertarians live free, and the lawn police see no blade of grass uncut. Let a thousand nations bloom.
With enough independent nations, you could choose the society you prefer instead of mucking about in politics. Many libertarians thus favor ending the United Nations, creating semi-independent city states, floating sovereign islands, etc.
They also generally favor open borders and free trade. This, alas, is a contradiction. True, you need to be able to cross borders in order to choose your own government, and international trade is required for small countries to be viable. But you cannot have national independence and completely open borders – for people or trade – at the same time. There needs to be friction for independence to work. Let’s look at some scenarios to demonstrate the problem. [The following examples come from Milsted’s Business Plan for a New Political Party with light modification.]
Bernietopia vs. Galt’s Golf Course Community
Bernietopia is a delightfully egalitarian place with plenty of free stuff: free college, free healthcare, free daycare, free back rubs… Taxes are high but crime is low, and the lifestyle is laid back. It’s hard to get ahead in Bernietopia, but it is also hard to fall far behind.
Galt’s Golf Course Community features incredibly low taxes, few regulations, and minimal government services. Water, public sewer, education, golf courses, and even personal protection are all privatized. “You get what you pay for” is the motto.
What happens with free trade and open borders between Bernietopia and Galt’s Gulch?
Well, the rich, especially the productive rich, notice that they can save enormous amounts of money by moving themselves and their production facilities to Galt’s Gulch. Meanwhile, the not-so-rich in Galt’s Gulch notice all that free stuff in Bernietopia.
Galt’s Golf Course Community grows ever richer. Bernietopia goes bankrupt. Libertarians neener dance – at first. Then things grow bad enough in Bernietopia that refugees move en masse to Galt’s Golf Course Community, and vote for higher taxes and a cornucopia of government goodies.
A paranoid fantasy? Look at what is happening in California.
And the Evil Banana Principalities
Let’s add a third country to the above scenario.
In the Banana Principalities the Founding Families own most of the good farmland. The wealth gap is enormous. Oppressing peasants and ostentatious displays of wealth are the favored pastimes of the ruling elite. Government exists to serve and protect the elite and little else. In the teeming slums, infrastructure and police protection are lacking. Poverty and criminal gangs rule.
Suppose we open the border between the Banana Principalities and Galt’s Golf Course Community. A wave of migration presents no big problem to the government. No begging is permitted on the privatized streets and sidewalks of Galt’s Golf Course. There is no welfare system to burden. Burglars tend to get shot by the heavily armed citizens. The desperate migrants are a net asset to current citizens. They provide cheap maid service and gardeners for the well off, and cheap labor for the sweatshops. It’s a win-win situation – as long as the refugees are not allowed to vote in their new home.
Now let’s open the border between the Banana Principalities and Bernietopia. The fresh load on public services is enormous. The huge influx of unskilled labor pulls the market wage for unskilled labor well below the minimum wage. The treasury drains. There is talk of a humanitarian crisis. Parliament discusses a possible humanitarian military invasion to liberate the Principalities.
Ecotopia vs. The Mystics of Priapic Enlightenment
Finally, a completely different scenario:
The citizens of Ecotopia love nature and love living in it. The residents average less than 2.1 children per adult, and they have grand plans to rewild much of their country over time.
The Crowded Isles are ruled by the Mystics of Priapic Enlightenment. The Mystics pursue transcendence through tantric yoga with multiple wives. Large numbers of children are evidence of enlightenment among the Islands’ elite. The Grand Master is reputed to have sired over a hundred sons. (He has lost count.) Taking care of all those surplus children, however, is a bit of a distraction. In the good old days, there was plenty of war and disease to dispose of the surplus population. Today, the walled cities are overflowing, the temples surrounded by unsightly slums.
What happens when you open the borders between Ecotopia and the Crowded Isles?
Answer: the Ecotopians become an endangered species. Either that, or they declare war on the Mystics. Biodegradable bombs. Phytoestrogens in the water supply. Air drops of angry womyn’s studies majors...
That’s right, border friction is an environmental matter as well.
What Kind of Border Friction?
For Galt’s Golf Course Community, border friction is built in. You cannot live there without paying the existing property owners and service providers. Perhaps the only required price for full citizenship would be property ownership.
Bernietopia has a bigger challenge. Tariffs, or at least a hefty VAT, are required to keep industry from migrating to tax havens. And a rather long residency requirement before you are eligible for government benefits is also in order. (As this is being written, the Democrats are in complete denial of this requirement. They used to know better, even Bernie himself. Trump has successfully driven his opposition insane.)
The United States is somewhere in between Bernietopia and Galt’s Golf Course Community. Our welfare system is less generous than most of Europe, but more generous than many poor countries. This, not racial issues, is why it is generally safe for the US to have liberal border policies with Europe, Canada, and Australia. As for the poorer nations for whom we look like Bernietopia, to keep our welfare system from being swamped by the billions of people for whom US welfare and the US minimum wage are big bucks, we have elsewhere suggested replacing most welfare and progressive taxation with a Citizen’s Dividend, and requiring new citizens to buy in.
As for Ecotopia, we leave that one as an exercise for the reader...
You can comment on this chapter here.
(Link should open in a new window so you can see comments and text side by side.)