Borders

by John Quiggin on March 23, 2020

As part of the general lockdown in response to the pandemic, most of the Australian states* have just closed their borders (as has the US state of Hawaii I believe). For those antiglobalists who have been claiming that the pandemic justifies their opposition to “open borders”, this presents a problem. Unlike international borders, those within countries like Australia have truly been open, with the exception of a handful of quarantine restrictions. Once the pandemic passes, does the anti-migration lobby want to introduce internal passports, require everyone to justify their movements to the police and so on? That would seem to follow from the logic of many of their arguments, not just about the pandemic but about overpopulation, competition for jobs and so on.

As regards the pandemic, it has raised the point that on any given day, millions of people are (or were, until recently) crossing international boundaries. The proportion whe are doing so for the purpose of migrating from one country (legally or otherwise) to another is minuscule. For example, Australia (poulation 25 million) is a high migration country, with 162 000 migrants in 2019. In the same year, there were 42 million passenger arrivals. If we assume that half are returning Australians and that visitors stay an average of two weeks, that implies there are over a million non-migrant foreigners in the country at any given time, equivalent to five or six years worth of migration. Are the restrictionists calling for them to be excluded permanently?

A final observation is that our quasi-military Border Force, created to stop refugees arriving by boat, has done a pathetic job in dealing with cruise ships loaded with infected and potentially affected passengers. Thousands have been allowed to disembark and return home without even a temperature check, then frantically chased when tests on fellow-passengers came back positive.

{ 22 comments }

1

Gunlord500 03.23.20 at 6:59 am

>does the anti-migration lobby want to introduce internal passports, require everyone to justify their movements to the police and so on?

Honestly, a lot of anti-globalists, particularly religious ones, want the world to be taken back to the Middle Ages as much as possible. They’d prefer to see most people ending up as not just peasants, but *serfs.* In their ideal world, absolutely no one except perhaps the upper classes would ever venture more than a mile away from where they were born. So yeah, internal passports are probably the least of what they’d take, given the chance.

2

Peter T 03.23.20 at 7:03 am

A little O/T, but can I direct people to Adam Tooze’s piece on how the financial underpinnings of the world economy are again creaking:

https://adamtooze.com/2020/03/22/crashed-to-corona-1-the-dollar-shortage/

3

Ikonoclast 03.23.20 at 9:21 am

This requires a detailed answer.

“does the anti-migration lobby want to introduce internal passports, require everyone to justify their movements to the police and so on? That would seem to follow from the logic of many of their arguments, not just about the pandemic but about overpopulation, competition for jobs and so on.”

This is a straw man argument. The anti-immigration lobby, except for isolated cranks perhaps, has not indicated that it wants internal controls and state border police in Austrlia. Where are your sources for this claim? Having said that, there are many variants of the so-called anti-immigration lobby. There are hard-line anti-immigration racists, that is true. There are many others whose views are more nuanced. It is neither anti-immigration nor racist to put forward a zero population growth policy because of concern about the sustainable footprint of Australia, the driest inhabited continent. A ZPG policy for Auaatralis would still mandate immigration and/or refugee acceptance to counter Australia’s considerable emigration. Our replacement rate (births minus deaths) is about net zero.

As regards the pandemic, it shows that international visitor rates and international tourism in general are far too high and/or nations are far too slow to close borders in a pandemic. If we cared about pollution and climate change we would want international tourism, a purely wasteful consumption activity which the planet can no longer afford, to be seriously curtailed in future. Of course, the rich should not be permitted special privileges in this regard. Indeed, being excessively rich should not be permitted at all. A democratic socialist government would not permit such high level inequalities.

However, the false dream that everyone can live a high consumption upper middle class life is over. We are heading towards climate collapse. Excessive globalism, excessive global travel and indeed excessive tourism and discretionary travel are highly damaging to the world’s environment.

It is actually unfettered, neoliberal globalism which will take us back to the dark ages via a climate change driven civilizational collapse. As in all things, there is a golden mean. Too little international connectivity would be damaging to the world, to the sharing ofpeople, resources and knowledge. Equally, too much international connectivity is clearly damaging to the world. We see now it plays a role in leading to serious collapses.

It is a common fallacy to think that because a little or a moderate amount of something is a good thing then more and more of it must be better. This is almost never true. It is clear the world has passed the levels where international travel and even international trade is a good thing and well into the zone where these are deleterious to the climate, to the biosphere and to human health. If you call for anything without limits in a world of finite limits then you are calling for ecological and civilizational destruction.

4

maidhc 03.23.20 at 9:31 am

Australia used to be famous (to Mark Twain at least) as the country where every colony selected a different railway gauge to impede the flow of goods and passengers from one to the other.

5

Kenny Easwaran 03.23.20 at 2:52 pm

It is not uncommon in the United States for people in states experiencing a lot of net migration (particularly Texas, Oregon, Colorado, and Idaho, but probably others) to express a desire for a ban on immigration from states that are sending a lot of people (particularly California). This doesn’t usually correlate (or anti-correlate) with people expressing desires for a ban on international immigration. And it’s probably partially in jest. But it’s definitely something people *say* they support.

6

Tm 03.23.20 at 3:14 pm

Ikonoclast: you are missing the point of the OP.

7

bt 03.23.20 at 7:34 pm

Lots of politics and policies are not really about being effective. They are about the optics of ‘doing something’ so that people can be convinced to provide votes/support. Some of this is just plain old tribal signaling and nothing more.

So America closes off travel from China, except Americans can keep going back and forth. Of course it makes no sense. But China bad OK?

In America, the Republicans have been going in this direction for years, but Trump is really the most unvarnished case and it’s instructive. Facts, outcomes, logic, he doesn’t need them, because he understands like any good con man that the marks won’t be moved by them either. He gives them a show. Politics and Policy are completely separated, there is no logical consistency at all and if you try to point that out you are a pointy-headed intellectual or worse.

Arguing against these things on logic is sort of missing the point. I don’t know what the alternative is though, but if you start an argument with someone in good faith, and the other guys is ‘cheating’ you’re going to lose.

I often wonder what a guy like Trump says about his people when they are not around. He’s smart enough to know that they are suckers, like the people who bought real estate from him or signed up for Trump University. For people like this only losers play by the rules.

8

william uspal 03.23.20 at 9:40 pm

As a Hawai’i resident, I’ll note that we haven’t actually closed our borders, although the governor has mandated a 14-day self-quarantine for all arrivals. I don’t see any enforcement measures in place, and I’m not terribly confident that visitors who have spent thousands dollars to come from the mainland or abroad will dutifully stay 14 days in their hotel rooms.

9

Alex SL 03.23.20 at 9:44 pm

This needs to be said, but it does not “present a problem” to those antiglobalists, because they either don’t care or don’t even notice the lack of logic in their argumentation. These are the kind of people who bitterly complain about how a few Asian groceries are changing the cultural fabric of their town all of 150 years after their own ancestors immigrate to force indigenous people off their land. Lack of self-awareness is a necessary precondition for their ideology.

I see Iknonoclast comes at opposition to migration from a different angle, but here it seems that at least three different issues are conflated: migration, tourism, and living standards. Even if a solid case can be built that there should be no tourism and that living standards should be reduced to those of the mid-18th century it is unclear how that same case would be able to show that it is a bad idea to let people migrate to different countries, if their qualifications are better utilised there.

10

Ikonoclast 03.23.20 at 11:04 pm

The point of the original post seemed to be that completely unrestricted movement internationally along with the massively polluting international travel industry was always and everywhere an unalloyed good. It seemed to imply that anyone calling for the observing of emissions targets, reductions in discretionary travel and sustainable footprints, might risk getting lumped in with hardcore, crank racists and supremacists. This is not the way to develop a leftist coalition to tackle these difficult topics.

I have a lot of respect for Prof. John Quiggin but he needs to be more nuanced on this issue. A lot of the globalism and open borders stuff has been and is pushed by right-wing libertarians and neoliberals. They hide under the flag of positive identity politics while pushing extreme class politics and economics creating the enormous wealth inequalities we see today.

11

John Quiggin 03.24.20 at 2:13 am

@10 Given that you’ve been reading my blog for a long time, I’m a bit surprised by this, Ikon. I’ve been banging on about the need to reduce air travel and the associated emissions for decades. I just don’t think that entails giving up holidays.

Here’s a post from 2007 on tourism and another on videoconferencing

And all of this is tangential to the OP, which precisely makes the point that short-term (tourism and business) travellers are the main contributors to most of the problems attributed to migrants. Indeed, your comment seems to get this backwards.

12

John Quiggin 03.24.20 at 2:15 am

@8 Yes, that’s the same with the Australian states (closed borders was just shorthand). And I note that Florida has just implemented something similar, but only for New York and New Jersey. The flowering of unitary national sovereignty due to the virus has barely lasted a week.

13

Ikonoclast 03.24.20 at 3:34 am

JQ,

When you ask, “Are the restrictionists calling for them to be excluded permanently?”, you, in the same paragraph or two, explicitly lump by association restrictionists with anti-migrationists with anti-globalists with cranks who want permanent controls on internal state borders.

This leads me to infer from the text alone that you are in favor of unrestricted migration, unrestricted travel and the current form of globalism which is intrinsically and extensively neoliberal. There is no other way to read it unless you are more careful in how you frame your points. Many on the left are captured by the endless-immigration lobby and some even by the endless growth myth. I worry when I notice you don’t appear sometimes to take these points into consideration. Instead you seem to incline to a form of unrealistic liberal leftistism instead of being a ” left realist”; two very different things.

Unrestricted migration from anywhere except perhaps New Zealand and the small Pacific Islands would result in Australia being overwhelmed and collapsing. Australia is a dry, barren continent as you well know. It needs to stabilize its population at or before 30 million people approximately as it is already close to or overshooting its safe ecological footprint. Either that or the extra food we export to feed another 60 million people approximately must be curtailed as we grow. There is a good argumentt hat we can safely and reliably feed more people than our own population by NOT growing any more. Thus we can continue to assist somewhat to in the coming food crunch in S.E. Asia (for example). If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

As a “left relist” I consider it important to come out against the shibboleths of the left as well of those of the right. Unrestricted immigration would simply destroy us without helping anyone else. Indeed, it would wreck our ability to be a positive actor in the world. The demand for massive amounts of world tourism like all other over-consumption, needs to be throttled right back. It’s just another environmentally destructive activity. Hopefully world tourism will never recover. Hopefully passenger airlines will never recover. Hopefully cruise ships will never recover. Hopefully professional sport will never recover. Hopefully, the subsidies for all of these plus fossil fuels will finally be removed.

These developments need not cause unemployment or poverty, albeit over-consumption of luxuries and indulgences will necessarily drop. We need to completely re-focus, re-tool and re-infrastructure our entire global economy. There will be plenty of work doing the sustainable power build-out, the mass surface electric transit build-out, building more public housing, hospitals, schools, educational centers, arts centers, research facilities, removing much plastic and many toxins from the economy and a thousand other things. Everything that makes us more sustainable and resilient must be gold-plated. Every self-indulgence which makes us weaker and the planet more damaged must end. It’s the beginning of our extinction crisis. Will we meet it or fail it? If we go on consuming like there is no tomorrow there definitely will be no tomorrow.

14

Matt 03.24.20 at 4:23 am

For what it’s worth, it’s not clear that there is legal authority for governors in US states to do what the Florida one has claimed to do – travel between the states is protected by the constitution, and while there may be some limited ability to make emergency orders, I don’t think it would hold up when it’s done in this way. And, of course, it would be almost impossible to enforce. In cases like this, I do think it’s worth while thinking about the actual legal authority, and stating clearly what’s being done and what’s allowed – less clear statements can lead to panic and confusion.

15

J-D 03.24.20 at 5:06 am

I often wonder what a guy like Trump says about his people when they are not around. He’s smart enough to know that they are suckers, like the people who bought real estate from him or signed up for Trump University. For people like this only losers play by the rules.

Michael Lewis wrote a book called Liar’s Poker based largely on his own experiences at Salomon Brothers. One of the lines from it that has stuck with me comes from a context I’m not 100% sure I remember correctly, although I think it was a response by a Salomon Brothers trader to a question from somebody in the Salomon Brothers training program: anyway, the line was something like this: ‘You are proof that some people are born to be customers.’

Also memorable was one of Lewis’s own observations, based on his experience of how people in the finance business treated other people (including other people in the finance business): it was something like this: ‘If you don’t know who the fool in the market is, it’s probably you.’

16

Robespierre 03.24.20 at 9:58 am

Most civilised countries use identity documents. The irrational hostility to them is mostly limited to English-speaking countries.

It is also perfectly sensible to introduce limits to in-country movement during an epidemic. The fact that these meadures are uncoordinated is just another example of the lunacy of federal systems.

17

Ikonoclast 03.24.20 at 10:41 am

JQ, I did not get it wrong. I said explicitly;

“As regards the pandemic, it shows that international visitor rates and international tourism in general are far too high and/or nations are far too slow to close borders in a pandemic. If we cared about pollution and climate change we would want international tourism, a purely wasteful consumption activity which the planet can no longer afford, to be seriously curtailed in future. “

I also said;

“It is neither anti-immigration nor racist to put forward a zero population growth policy because of concern about the sustainable footprint of Australia, the driest inhabited continent. A ZPG policy for Australia would still mandate immigration and/or refugee acceptance to counter Australia’s considerable emigration. Our replacement rate (to put this in context) is about net zero.”

I got it exactly right on both counts. I am not entirely sure why you can’t see it. I think the explanation is that you have consistently under-rated the existential dangers of limits to growth and have consistently over-rated the ability of conventional economics simpliciter to make adjustments to our dangerous over-shoot trajectory. You still do this to this day. It’s not that you are unaware of either of these factors. Rather, it is your relative weighting of the importance of these factors which is empirically and demonstrably incorrect. You weight the limits to growth as distant and relatively unimportant when in fact they are very close and crucial in historical terms. You weight conventional economics as relatively useful for these problems, when in fact it has proven useless to date. The empirical proofs (for example no effective flattening of the CO2 curve nor of the 6th mass extinction crisis) are already to hand.

18

nastywoman 03.24.20 at 2:35 pm

For somebody who makes a living by portraying and visiting ”World Heritage Sites” –
the ”self-destruction theory of tourism” has become such a… a… problem?

That the only way to solve this problem – seems to be?
– to completely giving up – making a living by portraying and visiting ”World Heritage Sites” and becoming a… a ”carpenter” or ”cheesemaker” on a Swiss Alp?

Which on the other hand doesn’t solve the problem – that after CV -(after the C-Virus)
”hords” and ”hords” of ”trampling fools” – welcomed by a lot of people who love NOT to take any refugees -(who don’t pay entrance) AGAIN – will return and destroy what they love.

AND that’s why I still have this note on my wall which says:

”Protect Me From What I Want”!
– and sorry – that I seem to see that a lot less as a ”political” problem as even the dear Prof. or somebody called… Ikonoclast…?

19

bt 03.24.20 at 9:38 pm

“I note that Florida has just implemented something similar, but only for New York and New Jersey”

——————–

In a perverse way, this sort of makes sense. A huge percentage of those who live in Florida are from New York or New Jersey. I lived briefly in Miami one summer and it really seemed like every other person that I met was from New Jersey.

Also the New York / New Jersey areas of Florida are the more blue areas. This leaves the red areas of the state still working under the conservative theory that no Federal actions are ever justified or legitimate and that this virus thing is a hoax meant to take down the President.

20

K 03.25.20 at 10:45 pm

Just a detail.
Hawaii is requiring a 2 week self isolation for anyone who arrives in onto the state.
Easier since 99% of arrivals are by plane.
Just as gun control works better in Hawaii since they do not share a a land border with states like Indiana who sell guns with crackjack packages

21

ravedubin 03.26.20 at 2:43 am

bt@18,
Orlando may be turning into another “island of blue” (a sort of sub-state of exception amidst the permanent Land Boom):

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/mar/10/donald-trump-lose-florida-hurricane-maria-refugees-us-elections-2020

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhO7s4WT2Sk

22

derrida derider 03.28.20 at 2:14 am

Gee, its not as though pandemics due to globalisation are unknown. Justinian’s Plague was spread by those magnificent Roman roads throughout the empire, and the Black Death arrived in Europe by a single ship trading with the Mongols in the Black Sea. And the Spanish flu was spread by deployed and then repatriated armies.

The point is that you don’t need very much globalisation at all to propagate a pandemic, so as no-one is propsing a world with zero globalisation then avoiding pandemics is not a useful argument against having lots of globalisation. You need to argue for or against that on other grounds.

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