i am a new abolitionist
A few years ago, Tyler Cowen remarked that open borders activists were too reckless, similar to abolitionists of the past. A fervent passion for migration would trigger backlash. In response, his co-blogger, Alex Tabarrok, responded by saying that history goes to the passionate. The great changes in history are driven by groups of people who were not interested in marginal change but instead pushed for radical change:
When in 1787 Thomas Clarkson founded The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade a majority of the world’s people were held in slavery or serfdom and slavery was considered by almost everyone as normal, as it had been considered for thousands of years and across many nations and cultures. Slavery was also immensely profitable and woven into the fabric of the times. Yet within Clarkson’s lifetime slavery would be abolished within the British Empire. Whatever one may say about this revolution one can certainly say that it was not brought about by a “synthetic and marginalist” approach. If instead of abolition, Clarkson had settled on the goal of providing for better living conditions for slaves on the voyage from Africa it seems quite possible that slavery would still be with us today.
This leads me to our situation today. We face a modern form of domination, the system of prisons and detention centers. This system is responsible for imprisoning and deporting millions of people. Like the abolitionists of the 19th century, we have to ask whether there is any justice to this system. When I ask myself if there is there any ethical difference between a “patrol” that picks people up based on their race and a border patrol that deports people from the wrong nation, I say no. It is simply a system of violence leveraged against disliked groups. Confronted with this conclusion, I recognize that abolitionism is the answer. It is the only ethical answer.
So that brings me to Tyler’s point. Yes, the advocates of open borders are the new abolitionists but open borders advocates should be proud to belong to a longer tradition of freedom. If that makes people feel uncomfortable, that’s fine with me. I’m on the right side of history.