The Case for Open Borders
Presented by Joseph Carens

If you think countries should have open borders, then Joseph Carens, a prominent political theorist, is on your side. But, why?


According to Carens, in the state of nature before society began setting political boundaries for separate countries, everybody has equal moral worth and value. Restrictive citizenship bounded by countries is practically the same as feudal birthright privileges. As such, Carens even goes as far as saying that political borders (i.e. countries, nations) are incompatible with the equal status of individuals!

The most fool-proof way to defend your argument is against people of all different perspectives and theories. This is exactly what Carens does. He shows that a utilitarian, Nozickian, and Rawlsian ALL lead to the same conclusion: countries should all have largely open borders!

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Under a utilitarian view, Carens argues that open borders allow the free movement of capital and labor, and less economic control will optimize overall economic gains. Because a utilitarian only cares about maximum utility, the millions of poor and oppressed have much greater marginal benefit from migration than any costs incurred from migration. 

Under the Nozickian view, Carens argues that a minimal, uninvolved state has no right or power to exclude migrants. A minimal state is only concerned with protecting negative rights and private property -- none of which involve controlling immigration.

Under the Rawlsian view, Carens argues that human beings are morally equal globally so societies should maintain open borders to respect for the freedom of each individual. Under the global original position, Carens states that the same lexically-ordered principles of justness as fairness would be chosen because migration across borders is a basic liberty that may be essential to one’s plans in life. To make up for the unfair randomness of the natural lottery of birth, the equality of opportunity and difference principle should apply globally, justifying open borders.

So, what do you think? Do you think President Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban is unjustified or justified? Should we tear down the US-Mexico wall?

Continue exploring other compelling theories and we will explore these complicated policies in action!