Not the Right, but the Freedom to Cross Borders


The movement of people across borders is the most important thing that states have historically taken. Fortunately, history of the twentieth century has become a history of movement, and now we should fight as much as possible the attempts to reverse this trend. Not only the British but also some Czechs and, after all, significant groups of people around the world would like to close their labor markets to foreign workers. But it is an extremely expensive mistake.

But let’s not be surprised that freedom of movement bothers people. The narrative of the whole debate is not about freedom, but about the right to travel. Probably not all people should have the right to live wherever they want, but everyone should have the freedom to try it. In other words, if I get a job abroad and rent a flat there, then I do not hurt anyone and there is no reason to worry about me. In Britain, but also in the Czech Republic, we talk loudly mostly about the cases when it is not that easy. People then have irrational but understandable fear that someone will claim something that is theirs.

Issues with Definitions

The whole issue of the debate on freedom of movement across national borders is an old good fight between a right and a freedom. And although it might seem easy, we cannot get the results we want without clear definitions. If I want to live in Britain, I cannot wait with a stretched-out hand for someone to arrange it for me or even favor me. On the other hand, if someone wants to hire me and someone else wants to rent me an apartment and other people are willing to sell their goods and services in that place, what should be the difference between whether I’m a Brit, a Czech or a Filipino? The whole debate is reduced to mere nationalism.

Moreover, the discussion about the labor market is just pure nationalism as well. If we are concerned that increased labor supply by migrants reduces wages, then we should also reject migration from Žatec to Prague. If we do not mind that, then the only difference between the cities inside the country and the cities in between which there is a state border, again, is pure nationalism.

But one more thing is entering the discussion, which more and more people keep emphasizing. In the present welfare state, I would not only be a customer of voluntary exchanges but also the involuntary ones. Many people are therefore afraid that I would start  collecting the state pension, unemployment benefits, and other benefits paid to me by the rightful citizens.

But this is not a reasonable argument. Data show that immigrants are beneficial to the economy. Even if they were hypothetically not and benefited from all sorts of benefits, then we must remember that they do not rely on other citizens’ resources. That’s the welfare state. So, if we dislike the benefits, we should fight against the welfare state money and the state that takes them out of the pockets of its citizens.

Dominik Stroukal
Liberalni Institute