What’s the Difference Between a State Border, and a Country Border?

I was driving fast, about 60 miles per hour, and I wasn’t planning on slowing down.  I didn’t have a passport, my driver’s license was expired, and I was approaching the border.  This might have been a dangerous situation, except that the border I was crossing was between Minnesota and South Dakota – a border that’s so open, all that exists is a sign that says, “Welcome to South Dakota”.

What’s the difference between a state border, and a country border?

If you ask most people, there’s a big difference.  Crossing a country’s border could screw up their economy!  We might give them terrible diseases, or use up all their welfare.  Murderers might be able to get across the border, and cause all kinds of terror.

But, somehow when we cross the border between states (at least in the United States), most people don’t think about any these nightmare scenarios.  When I moved to Hawaii, no one was afraid that I was going to steal their job.  No one was afraid that I was going to give them a disease, or use up all the welfare.  Isn’t it odd then, that people should be so worried about people crossing a country’s borders, as opposed to a state’s borders?

Of course, this is maybe because when I move to a state, many people realize that I’m benefiting the state in many ways.  Many people would LOVE to have me move to their state instead.  But this same logic should also work for international immigration.  Studies show that in general, people who immigrate are actually GOOD for the economy.  They grow the economic pie for everyone.  They create a demand for housing, which causes a boom in the real estate market, and so on.

In fact, research at the Center for Global Development shows that if the entire world opened it’s borders, it would instantly double the world’s GDP.  Just think about that for a second.  Double the GDP . . . for the entire world.  Whoa.

But what about murderers?  Surely we need to protect the country against any and all bad guys.  Yet, many murderers enjoy the freedom to travel through state borders without going through any security checkpoints at all.  It’s so mundane that most people don’t even care.  Bad guys going from state to state are a non-issue.  But bad guys from other countries are seen as somehow different.  As more devious, or evil.  But to quote the economist Brian Caplan, if they REALLY wanted to cause terror in this country, “They’re probably already here.”

As a thought experiment, imagine if all states in America closed their borders.  Floridians were no longer allowed into Alabama.  Nebraskans could not go to Kansas.  Imagine if it took hours, or years to leave Minnesota, just to drive over to South Dakota.  Imagine if Wyomingites were never allowed to leave Wyoming.  Would the economy be better off, or worse off?

Obviously, we would all be worse off.  Perhaps some state rulers would be very cruel to their residents, knowing that no one was allowed to leave.  Parents would send their kids over the border, risking their lives in order to get the chance to see a better life on the other side.  When borders are open, parents get to travel safely with their kids, and create a better life for their family.  They can send money back home — so much money in fact, that last year, immigrants sent 600 billion dollars back to their home countries, globally.  That makes global charity organizations and foreign aid  money look like peanuts, compared to the amount of money that individuals can send to their own relatives back home.

America is used to an open borders policy — the country has benefited from free and open borders between states for hundreds of years.  Opening the borders between countries is not that far fetched, and it would probably work just as well as it does with states.  Open the borders, grow the economy, and let people freely choose where they’d like to travel.  It’s an American success story.

 

Car interior with man in suit driving fast