By Melinda Nilsson
On September 25th, UF hosted Sven Gerst, who held a lecture on the ethical case for open borders. Currently a PhD candidate in political economy, Sven also holds an M.Sc. in Philosophy from the London School of Economics and Political Science, as well as an M.Sc. in Management from the University of Mannheim. His research interests revolve around the fields of ethics, global justice and the idea of open borders. After learning that borders was also this issue’s theme, Sven agreed to a short interview with Uttryck’s web editor, Melinda Nilsson.
If you could explain briefly, what is the ethical case for open borders?
When peaceful people want to move from one country to another country, they should not be harassed by other people just because those people do not like it. They [immigrants] have the right to engage in peaceful interaction with other people from different cultures and different nations, and if you want to prevent that you ought to have very good reasons. Every reason that has been presented so far has not succeeded in convincing.
Could there be a possible conflict between the ethical case for open borders, and the practical implications of such a policy?
I do not think that anyone advocates “pushing a red button” and abolishing all kinds of borders immediately, because there will be uncontrolled movements of people. If you look to Gallup’s poll, 25% [more recent polls put this figure at 14%] of the earth’s population indicate that they would consider short- or long term movement of themselves. The case for open borders always has a practical dimension, and that is that we want to move towards a more liberal border policy, for there to be less and less restrictions. [On dealing with the brain drain] As for implications of the brain drain, people that benefit from leaving a country that does not return the favor, this is an indicator of a need to put pressure on certain regime types. If you would allow people to leave North Korea, the regime that they have would not be possible. The movement of people is important for institutional change – their movement indicates which institutions are good and desirable to live under. But as I said, no one advocates pressing a red button and immediately diminishing all borders.
If we are not going to press such a button, how do you think that we could achieve open borders?
At the margin there are many cases, such as making working visas much more accessible. If you consider the US, which is the most desirable country of residence for many people, getting a green card there is basically like winning the lottery. Making working visas more accessible will make it easier to reduce labor mobility regulations, little by little. As I said earlier, there does not have to be an uncontrolled influx of people straight away.
What do you think of the future borders; are we going to see a more open world, or are we going to see it close? Right now, we can see isolationist tendencies in many countries – do you think we are moving toward open borders or not?
I am very bad at predicting the future – I was wrong about Trump, I was wrong about Brexit, I think I am wrong about predicting anything [laughs]. General trends we see are that we have to find a balance between maintaining our nation-states, and making them more permeable by letting people come and go as they please. Green cards are a way to do that, by taking in people temporarily. I think that there will be more labor mobility, but that does not mean that we will abolish all borders. There will still be natural borders, like cultural barriers. We will have more subcultures, and we will have micro-borders, between cities and different districts and such. I do not think that anyone wants to eradicate that, it seems to be a part of the natural order. But there will be more mobility, in the form of economic labor mobility.
Melinda Nilsson is a pol sci student fascinated by the twists and turns of American politics – perhaps an homage to her half American, half Swedish upbringing. She is a proud UF member (and Uttryck web editor) and dreams of living and working all around the world.
Image: Nathalie Larsson