A surprising truth the Coronavirus might teach us about borders
"Exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis"
The exception proves the rule in cases not excepted
Marcus Tullius Cicero
While the coronavirus disease known as COVID-19 spreads around the world, many people predict that it will slow down or destroy globalization, enforce the concept of nation-states rather than super-national entities like the European Union, and stricter migration laws. If this prediction proves true, then in the nearest future, even those borders which are open now will be closed, and the movement towards open borders will experience an enormous setback. However, let us look at this virus from another angle, and suppose for a second that closing borders is not what it is trying to teach us.
COVID-19 is certainly making us think about protective measures, including the rules for a decrease in travel, social contact, and so on. But Coronavirus, or rather its deadly effects, will not be with humankind forever. The present situation is an exception, and eventually (hopefully sooner rather than later), the epidemic will come to an end. Cicero said: “Exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis” – the exception proves the rule in cases not excepted. He declared that if an exception exists or has to be stated, then this exception proves that there must be some rule to which the case is an exception. When applied to the COVID-19 pandemic, it means that
if during a global force-majeure circumstance closing measures are justified, they are unreasonable during regular times.
In other words, when there is no spread of a deadly disease or war, there is no justified reason whatsoever for humankind not to have open borders. Open borders which allow not only free trade of goods but free trade of labor whereby all countries benefit (see Interview with Professor Bryan Caplan).
The situation with the virus has highlighted some other facts which confirm the pro-open borders argument!
First of all, it is common knowledge that quarantine measures such as limiting freedom of movement (people being asked to stay home, airports closing, travel restrictions) have a tremendous negative effect on the economy of each country. The truth is – the same principle applies to migration restrictions during “normal” times. The difficulty of moving across country borders to a place where one may prefer to use his or her talents also causes adverse effects on the economy! The only difference is - when freedom of movement is reduced only between countries, the impact of it is less visible than when restrictions are levied in every city, town, or village, as it is now.
Secondly, current travel and moving restrictions show us how precious the liberty of movement is. How positive is the feeling of knowing that we can go anywhere we like and not just where the government allows us? Don’t we want to enhance this feeling further during peaceful times?
Finally, the movement restrictions forced on us in different countries are caused not so much by the virus itself, but by the issues of healthcare systems and medical services. For example, the Moscow mayor expressly said that self-isolation measures are aimed to decrease the epidemic peak, so that not too many people get to hospitals at once and medical professionals can provide treatment to all in need. This is an acknowledgment of wrong politics in healthcare services -
government spending on national health was decreased dramatically during the past years and has nothing to do with the argument that closed borders will protect us from epidemics. They won’t.
Viruses don’t recognize borders. But they are also not caused by having open borders. So, I hope that this makes more of us think about the benefits of freedom of movement and not focus so much on the often-unfounded calls for drastic measures. It is only by joint efforts around the world that we will beat this pandemic, and hopefully, discriminatory laws that we’ve had for years!