All of us take it for granted, but the domestic open-border system that the Framers bequeathed to us is one remarkable achievement. Thanks to the Constitution, people are free to travel all across the country, crossing a multitude of state borders in the process, without having to encounter state border officials demanding to see identification papers. Moreover, people are free to buy goods and services from people in other states — and sell to them — without fear of tariffs, import restrictions, and other protectionist measures.
Since everyone takes this system for granted, hardly anyone worries about migration patterns. Countless numbers of people move from one state to another every day , and no one seems to care. Moreover, no one paces the floor in anxiety over the trade deficits that exist between different states. Life goes on even if lots of people are moving into, say, California, or that people in Virginia are spending more money in Florida than the amount that Floridians are spending in Virginia.
Of course, it didn’t have to be that way. The Framers could have instead provided a system of controlled borders within the United States, similar to the system of controlled borders that the United States vis-a-vis other countries. The Constitution could have delegated to each state government the same powers to control its borders that the federal government wields with respect to international borders.
Suppose that had been the case. Let’s assume, just hypothetically speaking, that the United States has had a domestic system of controlled borders since the inception of the country. Such being the case, all of us what have been born and raised under this system. We wouldn’t have known anything else.
Most everyone would consider it to be totally normal to have state id cards that would have to presented to state officials when crossing the border into each state. Hardly anyone would think twice about complying with visa requests for states that decided to have them. Politicians and mainstream economists would be lamenting the trade deficits between the several states. Protectionist trade barriers would be protecting “infant industries” or even long-established businesses within the state. Everyone would be exhorted to “buy local.”
Now, suppose a libertarian were to show up and say, “Even though we have had a system of controlled borders domestically for more than two centuries, I propose we abolish this system. I recommend that we dismantle all the border control stations, visa requirements, and trade restrictions, and leave people totally free to cross state borders within the United States.”
It is not difficult to imagine the tremendous outcry over such a suggestion:
“Are you crazy? If we adopt a system of open borders, everyone would move to California because it pays the highest welfare in the country. Open borders would also mean that New York City would become even more crowded than it already is because everyone would want to move there too. Open borders would enable drug dealers to go freely from state to state selling drugs. Terrorists would be able to freely cross state lines to commit acts of terrorism. Trade deficits between the several states would plunge many of the states into economic depressions. Thousands of firms would go out of businesses from competition from firms in other states. Thousands of workers would be laid off under a system of open borders. That’s the trouble with you libertarians — you’re just too radical and too impractical! There is just no reason to believe that a domestic system of open borders would work and, anyway, you would never be able convince the American people to adopt such a system.”
Thank goodness the Framers provided for a domestic system of open borders in the Constitution, right? Thank goodness they bequeathed to us the biggest open-border zone in history.