Maybe Borders Aren't the Worst Invention Ever

By Michael Barone

August 30, 2016 6 min read

"Borders are the worst invention ever made by politicians." Those were the words of Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Union's European Commission, at the Alpbach Media Academy last Monday.

Nonsense, most readers will surely think, in numbers going far beyond the legions of Americans dismayed with the choices they face in this year's presidential race. But it's worth thinking a bit more about where Juncker is coming from, and the implications of his statement in what is, in Europe as well as America, a fraught political year.

Literally, Juncker comes from Luxembourg, a 998-square-mile country wedged between France, Germany and Belgium, where he served as prime minister from 1995 to 2013. If you look up Luxembourg in lists of world economic statistics, you'll find it rated No. 2 in gross domestic product per capita.

That's thanks to what Juncker called politicians' worst invention ever, borders. For Luxembourg is a financial haven and headquarters of the world's largest steel company, ArcelorMittal. Without their borders and national laws, the 576,000 Luxembourgers wouldn't be as affluent as they are.

But Juncker, having moved on from a big post in a small nation to the unelected leadership of a league of most European nations, is thinking farther back, to 1914 and 1940, when Luxembourg as well as Belgium and much of France were overrun by German troops in two horrifying world wars. Recalling a warning from former French President Francois Mitterrand, who played an ambiguous part in the second of those wars, Juncker said, "We have to fight against nationalism, we have the duty not to follow populists but to block the avenue of populists."

Such is the faith of the Eurocrats: The EU exists to prevent another war between France and Germany. Never mind that the chance of such a war has been zero since 1945, 71 years ago. Never mind that Hitler did not respect borders, but erased them.

Juncker was denouncing Austria and other nations for erecting border controls to keep out Muslim refugees. Evidently he believes that World War III will somehow break out if they are kept out.

In a similar vein, Hillary Clinton opposes deportation of the bulk of the 11 million illegal immigrants in this country who haven't been convicted of felonies. That would put out a welcome mat to millions of other potential migrants who might come here in violation of U.S. laws. And curiously, Donald Trump has pivoted to suggesting he might not deport all that many illegals either.

Denigration of borders is an example of what Nico Colchester in a famous 1988 Economist leader (editorial, in Britspeak) called sogginess. The opposite was crunchiness. "Crunchy systems are those in which small changes have big effects leaving those affected by them in no doubt whether they are up or down," Colchester wrote. "Sogginess is comfortable uncertainty."

Borders are crunchy, or ought to be. But those inclined to sogginess don't like them that way. Wouldn't refugees from Syria — or young men from Libya or Bangladesh or Eritrea or Honduras — be better off in Europe or the United States than where they are? If so, then why should we let a dotted line on a map stand in their way? So let's replace crunchy restrictions with soggy benevolence and let as many come in as they want.

To Jean-Claude Juncker's dismay, European voters are recoiling against this, not least in Germany, whose chancellor Angela Merkel declared open doors to 800,000 newcomers — 1 percent of pre-existing population — in September 2015. Earnest editorialists argued that incoming young men would supply the labor force low-birth-rate Germany needs. None of the great and good figured they wouldn't blend soggily in.

Those prognostications proved wrong. Refugees asked to work say they are guests of Angela Merkel. Despite government and media cover-ups, voters found out that "refugees" have been assaulting women by the thousands and setting off bombs and wielding axes against innocent bystanders.

Borders, it turns out, are not the worst inventions ever made by politicians. They operate most of the time to protect a citizenry that, in Europe and North America, is for the most part productive and tolerant and observant of common moral norms and cultural behaviors. Inviting in unlimited numbers of young men who share none of these traits is generosity turned to sogginess — and is being met with crunchy rejection.

America's plight is less dire than Europe's. But Clinton's sogginess on borders could face crunchy rejection too, depending on what Donald Trump's position turns out to be.

Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.

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