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2d02 – Everyone should be able to move freely between countries!

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According to the universal declaration of human rights it is a human right to leave your country and to return to it. Does that automatically mean that we should have no restrictions at all? Dirk argues against this idea and Sebastian makes a case for it.

Picture credit: By Jonathan McIntosh – Own work, CC BY 2.5, link.

Episode Transcript

Sebastian – Hello everyone and welcome to our latest edition of, our podcast of debates. I’m Sebastian and my co-host is Dirk. Hi Dirk, I think you’re now the US at the moment and it’s six o’clock in the morning. How are you?

Dirk – I’m doing well, I am wide awake, jetlagged thanks you’re my friend here. How are you doing?

Sebastian – I’m doing fantastically great, I’m happy that at least you have the jet lag on your side because otherwise you are too strong with your arguments for the debate so at least I have this going for me and today we’ll debate on the following question: everyone should have the right to move freely between countries. So before we get into the details of that debate, let’s explain how it will run. First of all, each side will have two minutes to deliver a speech presenting their arguments in favour or against the motion. Then we’ll have three minutes each to respond to the other side’s initial speech and possibly add further arguments to defend our case. And finally, we’ll have one minute each to give closing remarks. Now, in preparation for this podcast, we flipped a coin to decide who from Dirk and myself will advocate for or against the motion. Dirk will be against the motion, and I will be in favour of it. Again the motion is: everyone should have the right to move freely between countries. So Dirk, why don’t we flip a coin now to decide who’s going to start?

Dirk – Alright, let’s do that!

Sebastian – So are you heads and I’m tails and if it’s heads or tails, the person will start the debate.

Dirk – Sounds perfect.

Sebastian – So I’m going to flip a coin here… and it’s heads so you have the pleasure to get started with the debate so whenever you’re ready, you have two minutes with your speech.

Dirk – OK, everyone should have the right to move freely between countries. Doesn’t that sound amazing? I will show with four argument essentially that this may not be the perfect idea to follow through. And the first one is that actually nations are built out of being selective in who is inside and outside. Nations live by the fact that people have common rules, that people feel like being part of a group and that they are together as one people. And by the letting anyone in and out, you kind of dissolve that idea of having nation states and with that you lose many of the things that actually make states successful like people working towards common goals as a society. The second argument is security: if you allow anyone to move freely, people are sometimes dangerous and if everyone moves freely, you have a hard time really controlling that and recent events in Germany, in France, in Spain, all over the world really have shown that over and over again. The third argument is cost. If people move into countries, you have to have a system that helps them finding work, finding a place to stay, and help them if they get sick, all these things and most of these systems depend on a certain amount of money being flown into the system before taking something out. And last, not least, actually states depend on selecting who is in terms of capabilities and skill set and things they can contribute. That are my four arguments, I think they make it very clear that are having everyone moving freely between countries is actually not such a good idea. So now it’s your time: two minutes for the motion.

Sebastian – Two minutes for me, okay. Everyone has the right to leave any country and to return to his country. Where is that coming from, where’s that quote from? It’s from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 13. I repeat: “everyone has the right to leave any country and to return to his country”. So as far as I know, most countries in the world apart maybe from North Korea and a bunch of these places I don’t even know, have all signed this treaty, this declaration. So if I just stand by that principle, well the case is closed: Everyone should have the right. It’s not in practice for a bunch of reasons which I think amount to racism mainly and communitarianism if I can use this new word and I can get into more details about this aspect. But before I get into these arguments and I’ll respond to your arguments in my second part of this debate, I want to give some of my own arguments. One of them stands from a purely ethical and philosophical standpoint. You, Dirk, and I, Sebastian, we’re lucky to be born or at least acquire our European citizenship. We’re just lucky to be there, to be born there. Why not share that luck with the poor Syrian guy or North Korean dude who has just been unlucky to be born and is stuck there because of his citizenship? This is, from a moral perspective, something that bothers me. We’re going to block people purely because they were unlucky. And because we’re lucky, we’re in this case Europeans, and we can freely move pretty much everywhere on the planet, we’re blocking others from that same luck. I’d actually have an argument on this aspect of security as well. In fact, it’s not incompatible to have security in your homeland, or across Europe, by not having necessary checks at the border. You can have security checks, random security checks. It has been proven over and over that having given specific profiling at airports in the US is actually completely ineffective. Finally, studies have shown that migration has always a net positive effect on the local economies. And I’m up with the two minutes so Dirk you have three minutes and I have not had the time to cover anything at all, but I want it, go ahead whenever you want.

Dirk – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: yes, anyone is free to leave the country at any time, to return to their country. It doesn’t say though that any other country has an obligation to take people in. It’s an interesting omission from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It definitely means that we have to consider people that move out of countries but it doesn’t mean that those people necessarily need to be free in their choice where they go to. And that’s even compatible with what you said earlier, that we are just being lucky to be born in the Western world, essentially be privileged, because I’m not saying people should not be allowed to move out of the country. I’m not saying that they should be stuck with wherever they were born in. I’m just say there has to be some system that limits their movements, that controls the movement and make sure that people move to places where they actually are better off, contribute to the group they’re moving to, many things are happening in a controlled manner. And I would be interested to hear in your three minutes what you think contradicts one or the other on that. The other aspect that you didn’t touch on at all by stating that we are just lucky is: there’s a reason that we are lucky. And that reason is we limit the in-and-out flow of goods and people, so we are lucky because we we were born into a place in the world that has access to resources and was fast enough to actually create systems and borders that limited the outflow of these goods and increase the inflow of these goods. If we completely get rid of borders and every kind of everyone can move freely, chances are that things normalise and all of the sudden, we are not that lucky anymore because we have to share with everyone. Now we could say that is in itself something desirable to have, that we share more fairly and broadly, but it also rids us of resources that we can use to actually make things better, resources that we use to build technologies, resources that we can use to really advance science and human rights. All these kind of things actually depend on the smart use of resources that need to accumulate first before spend in other ways. Those were my three minutes.

Sebastian – Thank you, Dirk. So it’s interesting you mention that it’s because we have limited the flow of goods that our nations are prosperous, something to the tune of that, we’re actually the train has been completely the opposite: the flow of goods has become much more liberal and freer. There’s actually almost no limit to the flow of goods within the EU for instance and that has come together with a free flow of talent and people. In fact one comes with the other: if you want to have a free flow of goods, you will have the free flow of people. So I think you’re actually against the trend of what’s going on and as we have seen, and studies show this repeatedly, I can invite you to [read] one of the Harvard business studies that have shown that economic impact in the US, in the EU, have always been positive when you’ve had net migration from wherever. Yes, in some cases, you have corner cases, or exodus from Syria and Libya and it’s not great and it’s not particularly easy to manage the flow, but overall it has a positive impact and normalization doesn’t have to lead towards the bottom. Indeed, these people in fact who emigrate to richer countries provide a lot of money back to their home countries, so it’s not at the detriment of the hosting country, it’s to the benefit of the people of the countries where they’re coming from. In fact, I’ve looked into the studies in more details because there was the fear in the UK that suddenly you’d have an influx of Romanians and Polish people after these two countries joined the EU. And this barely happened. It’s like a very, very small fraction. In fact, over the past 20 years, the proportion of people wanting to stay in the UK has decreased in terms of the duration they want to stay. So let may be very explicit: 25% of the migrants in the UK wanted to stay for less than two years in 1990. That share has gone up to 50%. 50% of the people today will stay less than two years in the UK, so actually even though there’s a bit more migrants in the UK right now, and it’s still a tiny proportion, they actually stay less because maybe they come from studies, for work, they gather up experiences, so overall and again studies have shown that it has a net positive effects. So it’s this fear of the foreigner which is actually fueling this irrational, I would say, argument that we should limit the flow of people. And finally, I’ll just give an analogy: criminal smuggling and illegal immigration happens regardless today and our border controls are everywhere outside of the EU, the Schengen zone, in the US. It is happening anyway regardless, so do we want to let this thing happen regardless or do we want to be a bit more open and realize that it’s actually not damaging. We should instead crack down on illegal smuggling and the corresponding trafficking that is happening.

Dirk – Thanks for your counter-argument and now it’s time for our final statements: one minute to close the debate and I get to start. The general argument that you’re making has one crucial flaw: it’s based on the system where people are not allowed to move freely. So all your studies that you’re citing, while being right looking in our societies and looking into our motion, essentially they are all flawed in the sense that they only look at very limited rule sets and people that are actually not in by choice but because the current laws allow it to. And there’s a reason for that: because it’s not completely free to move goods. We control very tightly in fact what we let move anywhere and we control tightly prices and we control tightly people that move around and that’s one source of our influence, it’s one source of our wealth. Now I’m all for doing romantic experiments, would love to have total freedom. I just still think it’s unrealistic and not such a good idea.

Sebastian – Let’s put things in perspective: 200 million people worldwide are considered migrants. That’s three percent of the world’s population. Three percent is not going to change anything at all in terms of world dynamics and population dynamics. If anything as I said, it does bring benefits overall. It’s pluses and minuses but overall economically a plus to GDP. In fact there’s another study which you can look up: there would the expectation is that if we had free movement of people, it would double the world’s GDP. Double! Double! A hundred percent increase! I was stunned to read this, if we had free movement of people. And that does not mean giving free access to benefits and everything in your given country. We’re talking merely about the movement of people. If they don’t have to jobs in the hosting country, well, they’re going to suffer, it’s gonna be tough and while the likelihood of them coming back to where they come from is also fairly high because they have roots over there. In any case I do believe, I want to have that dream that it’s a beneficial thing for everyone to be able to freely move across countries. Thank you.

Dirk – Thank you, Sebastian and now it’s up to our listeners to think which argument was the strongest and maybe drop us a line on the website on our online forum, in the voting area of the website.

Sebastian – So it’s Please, as Dirk said, don’t hesitate to let us know what better or other arguments we could have used to make a better case for each side and we’ll review the feedback and summarize during our next podcast, So stay tuned! Thank you!

Dirk – Bye!

Sebastian – Bye!

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