Us or Them, or Us and Them?

Author:Lemieux, Pierre

In Defense of Openness: Why Global Freedom Is the Humane Solution to Global Poverty

By Bas van der Vossen and Jason Brennan

240 pp.; Oxford University Press, 2018

The question in the title of this review is paraphrased from the new book by Bas van der Vossen and Jason Brennan, philosophers at Chapman University and Georgetown University respectively. Their book, In Defense of Openness, presents a strong, well-argued case for global openness, by which they mean not only free trade in goods and services but also open immigration.

Global openness, they argue, is the only way to resolve the injustices that have generated or maintained so much poverty in the world. Their case is primarily a moral case: morally defendable individual rights include economic freedom across political borders. They argue that a strong presumption exists for liberty and this presumption is impossible to invalidate. They also present an economic case for openness, which is the only way to increase prosperity over the whole planet. It is an interesting book of philosophy informed by economics (as it should be).

Van der Vossen and Brennan believe that justice must be compatible with "common-sense moral intuitions and ideas" and with empirical facts. For example, economists have shown that the quality of institutions (social, political, legal, economic) is a determining factor in economic growth and we must include this factor in any theory of justice. What is needed is "positive-sum global justice"--that is, win-win cooperation among individuals as opposed to simply taking from some individuals to give to others.

Good institutions are built around the rule of law, private property rights, and economic freedom. These economic rights are "human rights" by themselves, the two philosophers argue, adopting the usual rights-talk of mainstream philosophers.

'Yes' to mass migration I If economic rights are defendable within national borders, they seem to also be valid in interactions over national borders. Thus, there is a moral presumption for free trade and free international mobility, just as such a presumption applies within a given country. This presumption may be defeated, but only with justifications. To assert that normal economic freedoms stop at a political border because they are superseded by the group rights of people across the border presupposes a demonstration that group rights (already a fuzzy construct) are sufficient to defeat the presumption of liberty. This is not easy to do.

How could the moral presumption for free mobility and thus free immigration be defeated? Certainly not by economic arguments, the authors argue persuasively. Economic research suggests that free mobility of workers, whereby every individual can move wherever his work is most valued in the world, would greatly increase global GDP, perhaps by as much as 50% to 150%. Open immigration would be a win-win, just as free mobility within a country increases economic efficiency.

The two philosophers, who know much about economics, debunk standard economic objections to open immigration. Immigration cannot...

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