Borders: An end to the nation state?

What are national borders other than barriers to keep others out?  Only the Communist countries have ever erected barriers to keep people in.

The European refugee crisis that concerns tens of thousands, shortly to be hundreds of thousands and, soon after, millions of displaced individuals from Syria, Libya, Lebanon and elsewhere demonstrates the significance of borders.

The chosen route of the majority of migrants, via Greece, Serbia, Hungary, Austria to Germany, has put a significant burden on the infrastructure of the various countries along the way. Hungary, as the first country of the European Union that would host the itinerants, not only has obligations to its own inhabitants, but more especially, it has treaty obligations to the remainder of the EU to keep the invasion at bay.

Every country has, of course, international law obligations to accommodate refugees. The question then is whether all of these migrants, many of whom have refused to be identified, can claim refugee status under the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees, which governs such matters. A television (RT) broadcast on 21 September 2015, reported on the choice that many migrants make. Twin Syrian brothers, aged 20, decided differently. The one to go, for a better life in Europe, and the other to stay because Syria is “the best country in the world”.

Choices of this kind eliminate, by definition, any suggestion that the twin who decides to go could be categorised as a refugee. Another example from the same programme tells of a lawyer who has offered a service to would-be migrants on the method by which success is most likely. The route, and the cost of each of the numerous stages is graphically illustrated. The advice is then given not to be detained in any of the southern European countries, but to proceed directly to Germany, “where the money is”. Are the individuals who participate in this programme refugees or opportunistic migrants?

Many give heart rending accounts of genuine suffering and fear for survival and, no doubt, many of these would qualify for refugee status. It is impossible not to feel compassion for the infants and their helpless mothers who have borne great hardship in the quest for a safer and an improved life. There must be a fault somewhere. The question is, where does the fault lie?

Great fault can be found in the conduct of the United States and its NATO allies in their misdirected quest for regime change in Libya and, subsequently, Syria. The collective intervention was the primary cause for the success of the terrorist organisation ISIL, the product of a rebel group that the US, in its determination to depose President Bashar al Assad, had previously armed and supported.

But the fault is more fundamental. The fault lies with the erection of national borders and the jingoistic determination to keep to itself the earthly largesse bestowed by the accident of birth.

Maybe the invasion of that bastion of self-satisfied privilege heralds the beginning of the process of the systematic destruction of national borders which, notwithstanding great apprehension, could herald an era of the most felicitous outcomes.

It is thought that national borders are an immutable fact of life, and so they have been throughout recent recorded history. They are the product of the creation of the modern nation states. These began as recently as 1648. Due to their scale they have been the cause of greater, more intense, and more universal warfare than the world had ever before encountered.

The nation state has also conferred an extraordinary privilege upon various select groups whose individual contribution to their fabulous well-being has often been non-existent. On the other side have been those whose fortune bestowed nothing but deprivation and hardship. It was inevitable, of course, that the deprived would seek a similar benefit to those who had erected borders to keep them out. All that was required was a catalyst. In the present European crisis that catalyst was provided by the US and its NATO allies.

Inequality is a fact of nature and nature is not to be defied. However nature does not guarantee an inequality of outcomes. That might be remedied by circumstance and a committed effort. It is probable that the surge of migrants includes many opportunists who seek only a better life at the expense of others. It is also probable that within their numbers there are ISIL terrorists who intend to wreak havoc and destruction. Also, there will be genuine cases of hardship and persecution as well as those who intend to exercise their skills and talents in an environment more congenial to their employment. These are the problems that the borders now confront.

A perennial problem for the economist is how to address the distortions that inevitably arise when half the elements required for productive enterprise are universally transferrable and the other half not. Capital and innovation can go wherever it chooses. Labour and land, not. Land is, of course, fixed but has in any case become far less significant to the productive process. Labour, however, remains as significant as ever despite the self-satisfied mantra recited by assured Americans: “we think, they sweat”. So their belief is that the world labours for the benefit of this elect group of thinkers.

Americans will discover, in time, that they are not the only thinkers and that the economy does not consist only of financial transactions. They have already discovered that if production is outsourced to China, the means of production will inevitably follow.

If labour is to become mobile, as capital and innovation have been, that will certainly cause great disruption to existing norms and institutions. In the case of the EU, borders will fail and the failure will herald a far more fundamental change than did the advent of the Schengen treaty of 1985. It is probable that the EU itself will fail as will some of the states within the EU. For the first time the European states will discover the true meaning of competition within the labour market. Soon they will also discover the unaffordability of many of their social programmes which will be unfitted to the requirements of the interlopers. Socialism will fail, finally and irretrievably.

The irony is that socialism will fail because labour will have become more internationally mobile. This is another example that demonstrates how the interests of those on whose behalf politicians claim to speak are not served. The interlopers will inevitably promote a free market in labour since their survival will depend upon it.

The apprehension that “everybody” from impoverished countries would rush to reach the shores of America, Canada, Europe or Australia is misplaced. Great numbers of individuals have far more interest in ancestral abode, religion or heritage and tradition than they have in becoming a Canadian or an Australian. Consider the Syrian twin who regards Syria as the best country in the world.

Another issue is the fates of the failed and failing states that are the result of the invasion into Europe. What will likely replace them? One likelihood is that local communities will begin to take control of their own affairs. Water, electricity and food will be the first imperative. Cooperation between adjoining communities will occur and thus create the impetus for a nascent city- or regional state. The small and relevant community will likely replace the gigantic and unmanageable nation state. Cooperation will be essential to success and therefore internal borders will also cease to exist. Labour will be free to move, as it chooses, from one city or region to the next, the only motivation the best advantage of the individual.

The effects upon the various nation states will differ according to the circumstances of the invasions. Locality, relative wealth and poverty of adjoining states, the permeability of borders and a host of other considerations will affect the outcomes. What is certain however is that the present invasion of Europe is not nearly over. In fact, it has just begun.

Author: Rex van Schalkwyk is a former judge of the Supreme Court of South Africa and author of numerous articles and three books. This article may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author. The views expressed in the article are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Free Market Foundation.


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