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The Left case against open borders

As is currently understood, it is ‘right-wing to be against immigration’ and ‘left-wing to be for immigration’. But when the respective vitriol and piety is put to one side and the matter is objectively seen, as Angela Nagle warns, the other way round – what then? American Affairs: The Left Case against Open Borders

“Of course, the Reaganite project did not end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Reagan—and his successors from both parties—used the same triumphalist rhetoric to sell the hollowing out of trade unions, the deregulation of banks, the expansion of outsourcing, and the globalization of markets away from the deadweight of national economic interests. Central to this project was a neoliberal attack on national barriers to the flow of labor and capital.

“By embracing the moral arguments of the open-borders Left and the economic arguments of free market think tanks, the Left has painted itself into a corner. If “no human is illegal!,” as the protest chant goes, the Left is implicitly accepting the moral case for no borders or sovereign nations at all. But what implications will unlimited migration have for projects like universal public health care and education, or a federal jobs guarantee?

“The destruction and abandonment of labor politics means that, at present, immigration issues can only play out within the framework of a culture war, fought entirely on moral grounds. In the heightened emotions of America’s public debate on migration, a simple moral and political dichotomy prevails. It is “right-wing” to be “against immigration” and “left-wing” to be “for immigration.” But the economics of migration tell a different story.

“The transformation of open borders into a “Left” position is a very new phenomenon and runs counter to the history of the organized Left in fundamental ways. Open borders has long been a rallying cry of the business and free market Right. Drawing from neoclassical economists, these groups have advocated for liberalizing migration on the grounds of market rationality and economic freedom. They oppose limits on migration for the same reasons that they oppose restrictions on the movement of capital. The Koch-funded Cato Institute, which also advocates lifting legal restrictions on child labor, has churned out radical open borders advocacy for decades, arguing that support for open borders is a fundamental tenet of libertarianism

“During the Reagan neoliberal revolution, union power was dealt a blow from which it has never recovered, and wages have stagnated for decades. Under this pressure, the Left itself has undergone a transformation. In the absence of a powerful workers’ movement, it has remained radical in the sphere of culture and individual freedom, but can offer little more than toothless protests and appeals to noblesse oblige in the sphere of economics.

“Today’s well-intentioned activists have become the useful idiots of big business. With their adoption of “open borders” advocacy—and a fierce moral absolutism that regards any limit to migration as an unspeakable evil—any criticism of the exploitative system of mass migration is effectively dismissed as blasphemy.

“Developing countries are struggling to retain their skilled and professional citizens, often trained at great public cost, because the largest and wealthiest economies that dominate the global market have the wealth to snap them up.

“According to Foreign Policy magazine, “There are more Ethiopian physicians practicing in Chicago today than in all of Ethiopia, a country of 80 million.” It is not difficult to see why the political and economic elites of the world’s richest countries would want the world to “send their best,” regardless of the consequences for the rest of the world. But why is the moralizing, pro–open borders Left providing a humanitarian face for this naked self-interest?

“It has now become a common slogan among advocates of open borders—and many mainstream commentators—that “there is no migrant crisis.” But whether they like it or not, radically transformative levels of mass migration are unpopular across every section of society and throughout the world. And the people among whom it is unpopular, the citizenry, have the right to vote. Thus migration increasingly presents a crisis that is fundamental to democracy.

“By providing inadvertent cover for the ruling elite’s business interests, the Left risks a significant existential crisis, as more and more ordinary people defect to far-right parties. At this moment of crisis, the stakes are too high to keep getting it wrong.

This article first appeared on the Independent Working Class Association facebook page on the date given above and has been transferred here in August 2019.

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