Interesting views, but sadly I don’t agree. I’m afraid I have a very different viewpoint – that we should abolish all borders. Borders are a relatively recent invention (mostly after the Great War) which, far from improving society, is single-handedly responsible for keeping much of the world’s poverty. At best, the desire to control borders comes from a sincere and legitimate will to protect societies; at worst, it is the inadvertent or wilful condemnation of entire peoples to die (in effect, borders are the First World systematically killing those in the First World). Studies show that if we were to abolish borders, global GDP – that is, global production ¬– would double.
To outline my views would take an entire book, so I’ll refrain to making one observation. For much of the world’s poor, the best way to get rich is to go and live in a richer country, where there are higher standards of living and bigger markets able to accommodate them. While of course some immigrants would depress the economy, the average immigrant will boost the economy for everyone, including natives. Because we can’t discriminate between ‘good’ immigrants and ‘bad’ immigrants at the border (and, as I will argue, ‘education’ is the wrong way to go about this), we should let everyone in.
As a Catholic growing up in London, I find there would be something gravely immoral about condemning people to die. Many of my friends are Irish, and from 1846 to 1850, Ireland suffered a famine caused by the potato blight, a natural disease. The population of the country – about 9 million – was too reliant on the potato and was farming the land too extensively. A million people died; 1.5 million Irish people emigrated, mostly to the United States, on unseaworthy boats that would almost certainly look like those that today come from Syria and Libya. It was one of the biggest catastrophes in modern European history and it’s shocking how it goes untalked about in most history books. In time, the blight receded and the reduction in population from deaths and emigration meant that Ireland became a more sustainable place to live. Its population now is still only 6.5 million. But if those 1.5 million emigrants hadn’t been able to leave Ireland – if America had turned them away – they would not have been saved. They too would have died, and the potato blight would probably have even lasted longer because the reduction in population would have come later, prolonging suffering from everyone. Because of open borders five generations ago, many of my friends are alive today. Borders would have killed them. And this is the same story today, when every second, someone somewhere in the world dies of hunger.
You made two assumptions I’d like to contest. Firstly, you claimed ‘skilled immigrants are better’. This isn’t necessarily true. If you invite only skilled immigrants, you are likely to cause a brain drain in the country they came from, which is likely to reduce that country’s long-term growth over there, and this prolongs suffering for the very poorest in the world. Not only this, but skilled immigration will increase your own country’s inequality. Furthermore, unskilled immigrants can be just as valuable to the economy and can contribute just as much. Because they are more productive and they fill vacancies in the market, they reduce prices, so we are all richer. Statistical studies demonstrate that immigrants generally don’t depress the wages of the poorest: they almost everywhere tend to complement existing markets rather than compete in them. For example, the jobs unskilled immigrants take in the UK – fruitpicking, factory working – are generally those which British workers would not do, or are naturally less skilled at. If British workers are less skilled at them, why hire them? It costs more and means we pay for it in higher prices, so we all become poorer. Furthermore, immigrants usually can’t compete with locals anyway – they don’t know the language or the local market as well; and they tend to be hired by the same firms (often set up by immigrants themselves) rather than domestically-based companies. If unskilled immigrants can complement the market, they are just as valuable as skilled immigrants. In general, immigrants avoid relying on the welfare state of the country they arrive at (studies show that the average British native takes money away in benefits; the average immigrant adds money in taxes) and any such costs would also be temporary and probably point to an overgenerous welfare state anyway, regardless of who’s using it. The market naturally directs workers to where they are best placed given the demands of the market and the skills of the workers; I trust that workers would also not move into a country if they were aware they would not find a job there, because it would cost them financially and psychologically too.
Finally, you talked about culture. This is a much harder topic to talk about: there is generally an economic consensus in favour of open borders because empirical studies show that immigration is almost always and almost everywhere a good thing. It is much more difficult to address cultural concerns. I fundamentally struggle to support proposals for ‘enforced English classes’ or ‘patriotism’ because I think this is a huge restraint on someone’s individual liberty, which no government can enforce. In any case, I think immigrants have a strong incentive to learn their host country’s language if they want to get jobs or get their kids to do their best, which are strong enough incentives without the government needing to superimpose an onerous and costly demand of its own. I also generally think culture is a transitory and momentary illusion: the average Englishman of a century ago would be appalled at the irrecognisable culture we have today; and studying history shows just how much of a fantasy a ‘British’ or even ‘English’ culture is, with secessionist rebellions in Cornwall common right into the Tudor era or, for myself as a Catholic, Penal Laws existing until the middle of the 19th century. France, for example, didn’t speak one language at the time of the French Revolution (most French people spoke a provincial language and French was only really spoken in Paris); same for Italy until about a century ago. Cultures change, because people or events want it to change (e.g. the need to trade with Cornish tin, the need to defend against the monarchy across France, the need to work together in the Italian political union) so I think it’s silly to identify too strongly with one culture or attempt to preserve it. And all this pales into insignificance when you consider how many people’s lives would be saved if borders were opened: if someone was dying, I wouldn’t say ‘it’s fine, I’ll save you, so long as you promise to drink tea and stand up before Her Majesty’ – nor do I have the right, having saved them, to ask them to do that, even though I might suggest to them that as gratitude for having saved them, they should do that to please me. If you want to live in a picturesque English countryside village, you can also do that – and you can pay for the privilege of it as well! – and if you don’t want to pay for it, then it suggests you don’t really care for culture as much as you say you do anyway, or you find other things (like, having a job) more important.
Which is more, the strongest reason I don’t think we should obsess about ‘culture’ is those countries which are most racially-homogenous don’t exactly have a very strong culture of their own. Paris, Rome, London, etc. were built by immigrants and exported their cultures to the world – but Swedish, Norwegian, Danish cultures etc. are more elusive. Likewise, when we think of big cultural centres in the States, we don’t think of West Virginia – we think of New York or San Francisco, which are cities built by immigrants. The best way of preserving culture, in my view, is to let people in to see it and share it. And so they blend it with a bit of their own culture, or if I start to acquire some words from Jamaican or Swahili? The culture then changes because we wanted it to change, in one direction or another.