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Freedom of Movement

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…Removing the barriers to the free movement of people, labor, capital, and intellectual capital is what the European Union is all about and what the euro is designed to promote. If you are a member of the European Union, you no longer need a visa or passport for internal travel no more than does a U.S. citizen to go from Tennessee to Texas. The whole world should operate that way.

Sound radical? The world managed without passports for thousands of years. Christopher Columbus did not have a passport or a visa. Those great waves of immigrants into the United States in the nineteenth century those people did not show up at Ellis Island with passports and visas. They just came. Had visas been required, most of our grandparents would have been denied them, and denied entry. Great cities, countries, and cultures grew as people unrestricted by passports and visas headed to the new frontier. This has always been, and is, good for society.

Passports were conceived by the British as a way to control their people and their empire. They did not want a lot of foreigners leaving the outposts of the British Empire and coming to England, or even going to other parts of the empire, unless they could control such movements. The last thing they wanted was people of color showing up in the mother country. The White Mans Burden was not something that should be shouldered at home.

The passport, in its earliest incarnation, under the Chinese or perhaps before, was a medallion of safe passage given to a courier or emissary of the emperor, for example, attesting to the bearers bona fides and saying, Please look after him, or Let him pass. In time, the notion was inevitably corrupted and was expanded to the point where every citizen was required to carry a passport in order to control travel. And soon even that was not enough, and along came the additional requirement of a visa, creating even more control and restrictions.

Think of the tens of thousands of people who do nothing but sit around at borders checking passports, checking visas, issuing passports, issuing visas, stifling mobility, creativity, and efficiency. Think of the massive amount of resources that could be opened to the world in the absence of their being there.

I remember the case of a Cuban who strapped himself onto a barrel and washed up onto the shore in Florida whereupon he was immediately arrested. I would love to have that guy working for me or living in my town. Those are the kinds of people we need in America risk takers, driven, brave, bright, ambitious people.

The world, and this country especially, got along quite well without passports and visas in the past and could get along without them in the future. What keeps them in force today is basically inertia. The concept of a world without them is foreign to most people, for no other reason than because in their minds it has always been the way it is. If you raise the question, people look at you as if you were a fool. What about national defense? you might ask. That is just another way for the government to say, We need to control people. And we are better at deciding what is good for the world than other people are.

Throughout history, those opposing immigration have used the same arguments, especially these immigrants are different from the ones before. Remember how in the mid-nineteenth century Americans complained bitterly that the Irish were different from the previous immigrants? They were drunks and outlaws, and they formed gangs. And worse, they were a different religion: Roman Catholic. They could never be loyal Americans because as Papists they would first obey Rome. For 170 years it was inconceivable that a Catholic could be elected president. Then came Jack Kennedy. Later generations said the same thing about Italians, Jews, Chinese, eastern Europeans, Ethiopians, Cubans, Dominicans, and Vietnamese. For decades, Asians could not own property because they were different.

The arguments against all these people sound ludicrous now, just as the current set of differences will seem absurd a few years from now. The mayor of Schenectady, New York, is out recruiting Guyanese immigrants now because they add so much to his city.

Closing our doors to outsiders is not going to make the United States any safer. The bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City reminded us that terrorism is a domestic problem as well as an international one. The McVeigh family had been here for generations, as had the family of John Allen Williams, the alleged leader of the Washington, D.C., sniper attacks, who terrorized the nation for several weeks in the fall of 2002. The Unabomber was an American graduate of Harvard. No war was ever lost because of a lack of visa controls. Mohammed Atta, reputed mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York, was in the country legally. The only way to protect the country from outsiders is to close the country completely. Are we all going to quit our jobs to patrol our thousands of miles of borders to keep out foreigners? Under such a system of homeland security, we would admit no foreign businessmen, tourists, sports teams, or entertainers; the Beatles would not have been allowed to tour the United States.

Would you want to live in a country like that? I would not. To achieve the same end, I would recommend as an alternative that we stop making so many enemies.

If ever there was a time when the nation was under serious threat from its enemies, it was Benjamin Franklins time. The country was full of subversives; a third of the population was in the enemy camp. Even Franklins only son, William, was a Loyalist (Tory). Furthermore, enemies surrounded the country. The fledgling nation was bordered by warring Indian tribes and by the colonies of England and Spain, two vastly superior military powers two of the greatest armies in the world at the time. Today, our nearest enemy of consequence is five thousand miles away. Both internal and external threats to the country were greater then than they are now, notwithstanding the existence of weapons of mass destruction. And Ben Franklins answer to the question of homeland security was this: They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Of course, if all those foreigners were to come in, they would work for less. Which, contrary to the position your representative in Washington would take, is a good thing. If one country is extremely prosperous, attracting a lot of people, some of those people might hold wages down or at least work harder, since an immigrant always has to run a bit faster which in turn would increase productivity. Everybody would be better off as a result; immigrants made us great, and continue to so. The guy sitting there with a protected job, corporation, or monopoly would not be better off, but the rest of us would.

Of the legal immigrants living here, 21 percent have at least seventeen years of education, which often includes graduate or professional schools. Among Americans born here, only 8 percent boast such expertise.

The United States has huge shortages of nurses, computer specialists, software and other engineers, veterinarians, doctors, janitors, teachers, clergyman, nannies, housekeepers, and farmworkers. Social Security and Medicare desperately need more young workers to maintain fiscal solvency. We have too many lawyers, too many bureaucrats, and too many people holding protected jobs. They, of course, are the ones trying to close the borders.

Scientists are making huge strides now, especially in genetic research. Someday they will discover that all bureaucrats have the same gene a defective gene. They are the same worldwide; their eyes glaze or they flinch whenever something new comes along. I have seen thousands of them, everywhere, and their first reaction is always No.

This excerpt is taken from Rogers’ Adventure Captialist: The Ultimate Investors Road Trip. (Also, see a book review by Doug French.) Copyright 2003 by Beeland Interests, Inc. Permission to reprint granted to The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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    Jim Rogers, an investment advisor who regularly appears on CNBC and Fox News, is the author of "Investment Biker: Around the World with Jim Rogers" and "Adventure Captialist: The Ultimate Investor’s Road Trip".