Last week my fellow columnist Lucy Hodgeon wrote a piece on whether borders have been made redundant by globalisation. It was original, thought-provoking and brilliantly written. I categorically disagree with it.
Borders, in their many forms, are as paramount to modern societies as they have ever been. And the prospect of abolishing them carries with it a plethora of unpleasant consequences.
Firstly, the notion that people have relinquished their indigenous identity in favour of a diffuse, citizen-of-the-world mentality is primarily the reserve of the cosmopolitan elites in global cities like London and Berlin, as well as bi-coastal America. Most citizens outside these globalised bubbles tie themselves to their national identity, and the political, social and cultural norms that identity entails. Simultaneously, all data shows that a majority of immigrants don’t immediately ameliorate into larger society, but choose to reside in areas primarily occupied by fellow travellers from their indigenous communities, for the same reason. The most diverse society in the Western world, the United States, is a case study of this. It is also a case study of how co-existing societies within the same state inevitably experience friction. That friction has defined the American national discourse since its inception, and the election of Donald Trump is merely the latest consequence of it. The demolition of borders will only amplify social abrasion, potentially to a dangerous degree.
On a practical note, a World Passport, such as that proposed by the World Service Authority, would be disastrous for welfare states and developing countries alike. A borderless world would inevitably lead to an exodus from developing countries into developed ones. To an extent, this benefits the latter, but with Europe already on the verge of becoming the world’s most densely populated continent, unchecked immigration carries with it the risk of congestion, resource deficits and socio-political friction. And for every industrious immigrant a developed country receives, a developing country loses one. Brain drain is already a serious issue for many developing countries, and a borderless society would dramatically raise the costs on those who are left behind.
The legal aspect is trickier still, and far more susceptible to exploitation. Because where do these so-called World Citizens pay tax? Do they enjoy the right to access British healthcare as well as Swedish unemployment benefits? Or on the other hand, does a corporation have to abide by French labour laws if its labour force are World Citizens? Such a ‘global passport’ would be God’s gift to profit-maximising capitalists, as they would be liberated from the regulatory restraints and tax burdens of any state they should desire to do business in. The whole concept of citizenship is tied to a series of duties and freedoms, and a ‘global passport’ eradicates accountability. Even in the European Union, the closest resemblance to a borderless society, citizenships and laws are national. Being an EU citizen does not make you a ‘citizen of Europe’. It makes of a citizen of a country that happens to be in the EU.
I say this being the closest thing one can come to global citizen. But I’ll be damned if I ever trade in my Norwegian passport for a World Passport. Because I, like most of us, identify myself as a citizen of my homeland rather than an inhabitant of Planet Earth. With that affiliation comes a rich tapestry of heritage, culture and values, sown over millennia by natives and newcomers alike. And it is inseparable from who I am. Borders protect that identity not from foreigners, but from its absorption into an ambiguous sense of ‘global’ that fathoms everything and stands for nothing.