Something that most people agree with, but few feel comfortable talking about, is that many differences in circumstances between groups of people are a consequence of differences in culture (defined as shared values and behaviours).
Mongolians were spectacularly good at conquest and pillage during the 13th and 14th centuries, (and spectacularly unsuccessful at sustaining prosperity). Polynesians developed a culture that was phenomenally good at finding and settling new Islands. Innuit can live comfortably in the frozen north- where most other people would not survive a single night
Whether there is a genetic basis for some of these differences is a moot point. The analogy of genes being the hardware, and culture the software, seems apt to me: Some variants of motherboard architecture may better run particular software. But any genetic component of differences in culture must be small considering how easily children take on the characteristics of the culture they're raised in, and that just a few generations of exposure to different ways of doing things can change entire countries (Indians who are 'more English than the English' for example).
But if it's granted that cultural differences exist (and only an extreme ideologue could deny this), then there are consequences for an "open border" policy.
Because it's also undeniable that some countries are much more successful than others at providing their members with a good standard of living and relative freedom from oppression in the world we all now find ourselves in- and that one cause of this is likely to be cultural differences.
Those who don't like the idea that this could be true put up alternative reasons; like that some countries are too small, lack natural resources, have no water, have a bad climate, are plagued by tropical diseases, are too isolated- or conversely, have too many pushy neighbours.
But there are countries with every one of these handicaps, even some countries with many of them, that are conspicuously successful -Singapore and Israel for example, even Luxemburg.
And then there's that omnibus excuse for every failure; colonialism.
But colonialism as a reason for failure begs the question that a Papua New Guinean astutely asked author Jared Diamond; 'why did Europe colonise PNG rather than the other way around'? To which Diamond replied; "Guns Germs and Steel". Which is no answer because it just shifts the question to why Europe rather than Papua New Guinea had guns germs and steel? The answer to this is at least in part cultural: The industrial revolution (steel and guns), and travelling widely, which eventually conferred wider resistance to diseases (as did evidence-based medicine), all of which are cultural phenomenon.
And why doesn't Africa dominate the world now? Africans have had much longer to get their act together than anyone else (modern humans have existed there for nearly 200,000 years, elsewhere for less than 70,000), have every sort of climate, abundant natural resources - and most of our specie's genetic diversity. What can the reason be except that Africans stayed with tribal structures and 'strong man' rule, never developing the merit-based societies and rule of law systems that appear to be necessary for high standards of living in conjunction with relative freedom from oppression? Which also suggests that such systems may be much more delicate flowers than the spread of representative democracies in the 20th century tends to suggest- so well worth nurturing wherever they do happen to bloom.
So those who live in prosperous and successful countries have good reason to be suspicious of people from places with dysfunctional societies and governments that can't provide their citizens with the necessities of life, because some of the reasons for this are likely to be cultural. Taking in too many immigrants (and their cultural baggage) from dysfunctional countries will clearly affect a host country adversely- but how many is too many? On the plus side, emigrants self-select as the smartest and most ambitious and are generally younger and better educated, than the average of their origin country. They will likely be net contributors to the host country, at least for the first generation, and subsequently, if they take up aspects of the host country's culture that have informed its success (work ethic, rule of law, and gender equality for example?).
But this poses a moral dilemma, because these are the people their own country must keep if it is to become a place that people don't want- or need- to emigrate from for a better life.
This is a reason to be wary of open borders as a policy, because if universally applied, all the world's most competent people would coalesce into clusters in just a few places- which is the opposite of the equalitarianism that is the expressed desire of those most vociferously promoting open borders.
But there is an exception, a win-win: Minorities who are persecuted because of their competence (envy is a universal human failing). Historically, Jews from Nazi Germany and other parts of Europe were immediately useful to the countries that took them in, as were Dutch colonialists made unwelcome (not unreasonably) by Indonesia after WW2, and Indians from Amin's Uganda. Currently, Boer farmers in South Africa, and to an extent, ethnic Chinese in places like Malaysia and Indonesia, are unwelcome in their home countries- while being skilled, educated and highly motivated.
But I'm ahead of myself here: an assumption in the above is that maximising prosperity and freedom from oppression are desirable goals even if these boons are not universally available.
Would a world with less inequality be a better place even if this causes the average wealth to be lower?
I don't think that concentrating all wealth (and power) in the hands of just one person is an optimal way to organise a country.
But nor do I think that absolute equality should be mandated, because this would surely result in equally shared misery rather than equally shared prosperity- and to an extent that could make Stalin's USSR, China under Mao and Venezuela today look like paradises. Pol Pot's Cambodia might be the appropriate model for this sort of world.
A fact that only blind ideologues lost in a fog of cognitive dissonance can deny, is that people are differently abled and differently motivated. Hence, outcomes are different for different people even in the absence of discrimination - but there's no sign that this is allowed for at all by your typical social justice warrior, to whom all differences in outcome can ONLY be the result of discrimination, bias and oppression.
But I've slightly digressed: Forcing more than the degree of equality that inherent differences in ability and motivation produce, seems likely to me to make the world a worse place.
As does allowing dictators and their nomenklatura
untrammelled power to take and hold wealth exclusively. Elitist tech monopolies deriving from the marginal cost of extra production being effectively zero for digital products are getting close to this.
An optimum lies somewhere between these extremes; that some level of inequality must be accepted- because the alternatives are worse, and that this applies to countries as well.
In my view, the best world we can have is one in which countries compete against each other to develop cultures that provide their citizens with the best quality of life- an element of which is personal freedom (disqualifying China). Countries that do this well provide a model for others to emulate (Scandinavia for example), but they must constrain immigration to some extent or else they will destroy themselves- and take too many of the people from less successful countries who would otherwise be their strength.
The Guardian does not agree;
But they wouldn't would they!
Peter Lynn, Ashburton New Zealand, November 1 2018