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Open Borders: A Gift from the Founders

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Americans are a fortunate people. More than 200 years ago, our Founding Fathers had the wisdom and foresight to protect us from the government officials of today. The Framers of the Constitution ensured that the respective states of the Union would be forever prohibited from implementing trade restrictions and immigration controls against one another. The result has been the largest free-trade and free-movement zone in history.

We take it for granted, but it is impossible to overstate the benefits of open borders within the United States. It is a marvelous thing that we Americans can travel into any state we wish without encountering a state immigration or customs official at the border. When we travel on the highways, oftentimes the only indication that we have crossed a state border is a highway sign welcoming us to the state. And we buy, sell, and invest in other states without encountering tariffs, import quotas, and other protectionist devices.

Why should we be grateful that our Founders enshrined the idea of open borders in the Constitution? Because if the Constitution hadn’t prohibited them from doing so, there is little doubt that state government officials today would be waging trade and immigration wars against each other. After all, most governmental officials today are not only ardent enthusiasts of trade and immigration controls, they honestly believe that they produce economic prosperity.

We can imagine the governor of Iowa proclaiming to his citizens: “My friends, our trade deficit with California continues to worsen every month. We keep buying oranges and computer chips from them, but they’re not reciprocating by buying enough hogs from us. The books aren’t balancing. Something has to be done or Iowa will ultimately cease to exist as a state. We need tariffs and import quotas until Californians buy as much from us as we’re buying from them.”

We can imagine the governor of the state of Texas saying, “My friends, New Yorkers are flooding into Texas and stealing our jobs. They don’t fit into Texas culture and they’re constantly reminding us, ‘That’s not the way we do it in New York.’ Worst of all, they’re bringing their socialist ideas into our state, like income taxation and rent controls. We’ve got enough people in Texas and we don’t need any more. It’s time to close our borders to these foreigners.”

We can imagine the governor of New Jersey saying, “My friends, we need protection from businesses in Mississippi. They don’t pay high wages down there and we do. How can our high-wage businesses compete against their low-wage businesses? I believe in free trade but there’s got to be a level playing field.”

Fortunately, the foresight that the Framers of the Constitution exercised more than 200 years ago protects us from all of this. Open borders have ensured the freedom of Americans to trade, move, and travel between the respective states.

But open borders have done more than that: they have also contributed to the highest standard of living in history. For when people are free to trade and move, they raise their standard of living through the very act of doing so. In every trade, a person gives up something he values less for something he values more. When one person with 10 apples trades with a person who has 10 oranges, both of them have raised their standard of living simply by trading. By the same token, when a person moves to a new location, he is giving up something he values less for something he values more.

Thus, the freer people are to trade and move, the better off they are economically. The corollary is: Whenever government interferes with the ability of people to trade and move, standards of living fall.

So, the next time we count our blessings, let’s remember to thank Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Franklin, and our ancestors two hundred years ago because they recognized the value of open borders and protected us from those today who do not.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.