Responsicle to Freakonomics Radio ‘Is Migration a Basic Human Right?’

I recently listened to your podcast, ‘Is Migration a Basic Human Right?‘. In it, you do interviews with thinkers, experts, economists and luminaries on the topic.

Central to the debate was the question ‘what if the borders were open?’ and there were a few comparisons that were made, but I think you could have looked farther. Specifically, the ‘open’ borders of the United States were mentioned, and how there aren’t major problems due to internal massive migration. This might be true currently, but hasn’t always been the case. The Great Migration of African Americans who fled the South after Jim Crow ended was one such event (there was another wave after the Great Depression). An estimated 6 million people headed for the West and North, primarily for economic reasons and to escape the oppression of the South. It was this migration that made African Americans primarily urban. To properly understand the effect of open borders, you’d need to look at this.

Another rich source of data for this hypothetical would be the visa lotteries that the US runs in other countries. Every year the US offers green cards for low-immigration countries by lottery, presumably because there is more interest than numbers would allow. To understand what the impact of an open immigration policy would be, you could simply look at the number of applicants per country. This page from 2013 suggests that 50,000 visas were issued as part of this program, from 12.6 million applicants. So an ‘open borders’ program might get up to 13 million additional people annually.

I’ve traveled to many countries where moving to the US represents the biggest dream people an hope for. But what I’ve noticed is that in many cases this is based on the TV and film version of American life that gets exported. Often when they get here the cold, hardship, racism, dirt, and aloofness is in stark contrast to what they’ve always dreamed of, and they’re too ashamed to come clean to their families.

Does this mean that the borders shouldn’t be open? I’m not sure. But I do know that we should look long and hard at historical data, and the number of people currently trying to get in.


About Kia R. Davis

Strategist. Author. Blogger. Armchair intellectual. Fintech thinker. Backseat economist. Evolutionary psychologist wannabe. Entrepreneur's fairy godmother. Ecosystem developer.
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