citizenship, economics, equality, globalization, international relations, justice, law, philosophy

Migration and Human Rights (45): Open Borders, Luck Egalitarianism, and the Common Ownership of the Earth

[This post originally appeared on Openborders.info as a guest post.] 

Luck egalitarianism is a school of thought in moral philosophy that argues in favor of interventions in people’s lives aimed at eliminating as far as possible the impact of luck. If you have the bad luck of being born into a poor family, your prospects in life should not be harmed by this and society should intervene in order to correct for it.

I’m not going to endorse luck egalitarianism because it’s a theory that suffers from some serious defects. However, the basic intuition seems sound to me and can be used to argue against immigration restrictions. Your country of birth is also a matter of luck, good luck or bad luck, depending on the country. It’s either good luck or bad luck because the place where you are born has a profound impact on your life prospects. The mere fact of having been born in Bolivia rather than the U.S. makes it statistically more likely that you will be poor, uneducated and unhealthy. Since no one chooses to be born somewhere, no one can be said to deserve the advantages or disadvantages that come with being born somewhere.

Hence, if Americans for example are just lucky to have been born in the U.S. and didn’t do anything to deserve being born there, what right do they have closing their borders and allowing access only to a chosen few selected according to criteria that they have unilaterally decided and that mainly serve their own interests? None whatsoever. In claiming that right they make it impossible for others to do something about the misfortune of having been born in a poor country. Hence, they double other people’s disadvantage.

As Joseph Carens has put it, immigration restrictions are the modern equivalent of feudal privilege, inherited status, birthrights and class rule. In our current, so-called modern and Enlightened societies, the good luck of being born in a wealthy country supposedly gives you the right to exclude others, just as in the olden days the fact of having been born in the class of nobles or aristocrats gave you the right to condemn others to the class of paupers. The lottery of birth yields unfair advantages in both cases.

One may claim that none of this necessarily argues in favor of open borders. The fortunate of this earth could compensate for their good luck by other means. For example, they could have a duty, not to open their borders, but to transfer money and resources to those who have had the bad luck of being born in the wrong country.

Obviously, assistance is a moral duty, but I fail to see how the fulfillment of this duty could grant you the right to close your borders. Those who argue that assistance is enough often use a domestic analogy. Consider Hugh Hefner, for example. The point is not that he probably wouldn’t have had the wealth he has now if he hadn’t been born in a country (or granted access to a country) where the average citizen is wealthy enough to spend large amounts of money on soft porn. The point is that there are millions of other people in the U.S. who, through no fault of their own, are burdened with bad luck, a lack of talent or a lack of education opportunities making it difficult or impossible for them to collect a Hefnerian amount of wealth, or even just a fraction of it. These people don’t deserve their lack of talent etc., just as poor Zimbabweans don’t deserve to have been born in Zimbabwe. Should Hefner therefore open the doors of Playboy Mansion? Or is it enough that he pays taxes to fund the welfare state? Most would choose the latter option.

What’s the difference between this domestic situation and the international one? If Hefner doesn’t have to welcome thousands of unfortunate U.S. citizens to his Playboy Mansion, why should the whole of the U.S. citizenry have to welcome millions of immigrants onto their territory? Well, because it’s not their territory, at least not in the way Playboy Mansion is Hefner’s property. People don’t have property rights to a part of the surface of the earth like they may have property rights to things. I have a long argument here in favor of the common ownership of the earth, and I invite you to click the link and read it. It’s too long to repeat it here, but suffice it to say that it leads to a strong presumption in favor of open borders without destroying the possibility of having borders and states in the first place.

More on open borders here.

Standard

4 thoughts on “Migration and Human Rights (45): Open Borders, Luck Egalitarianism, and the Common Ownership of the Earth

  1. Kindness Kills (Bob Leeds UK) says:

    The flaw in your Common Wealth Earth and Land argument is people who cross over other peoples land often arrive in trucks and remove your goods, farm machinery, livestock and stone walling. By doing so, perhaps in some strange and unexpected way, they are simply agreeing with you and going one better by taking your argument to the next stage of purity ‘by supporting and practising the shared goods with all philosophy’.

    In England various large landowners thought it would be gracious of them to open their land up to ‘fell walkers’. ‘a fell over here is a stretch of moorland like you must have seen in the film Wuthering Heights’, which told the tale of two lovelorn fell walkers called Heathcliff’ and Catherine Earnshaw:

    (Heathclife / Laurence Olivier)

    ”You teach me now how cruel you’ve been — cruel and false! Why did you despise me? Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself. Yes, you may kiss me, and cry; and wring out my kisses and tears: they’ll blight you — they’ll damn you. You loved me — then what right had you to leave me? What right — answer me? Because misery, and degradation, and death, and nothing God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, you did it. I have not broken your heart — you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine AND Cathy, you did not close the farm gate behind you and now all your brothers Hindley’s cattle and sheep have escaped and there will be hell to pay when we return. ”

  2. Pingback: Short Survey: When Was the Last Time You Changed Your Mind on a Major Moral Issue? | P.a.p.-Blog // Human Rights Etc.

  3. Pingback: The Causes of Poverty (77): The Lottery of Birth and the Country You Live In | P.a.p.-Blog // Human Rights Etc.

  4. Pingback: Migration and Human Rights (49): Rights and Non-Rights Based Reasons to Favor Open Borders | P.a.p.-Blog // Human Rights Etc.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s