ABELLO:Breaking our borders



Oscar Abello

It is no coincidence that less division equals more prosperity. Nature knows no such thing as nations.

Plants and animals are free to thrive as far as their peculiar adaptations can take them, and they slowly but surely evolve new adaptations to fit into new places and new conditions – adaptations that continue to seed our imaginations with the improbable possibilities of life.

Nature’s boundless essence has made room for somewhere between five and 15 million plant and animal species now living on this planet.

Human history has hardly lasted longer than a blink of nature’s eye, and within human history itself, the history of civilization is barely a sneeze – though a messy one at that. By many estimates, nations seem to have first appeared about 4,000 years before the birth of Christ. The first nation was Sumer, or Sumeria, located in present-day Iraq.

Suddenly, a river was more than a river, a beach was more than a beach and even mountains were more than mountains. They became borders – the limits of the world’s first nation. For reasons scholars will debate in perpetuity, humanity saw it fit to tattoo the face of the earth with imaginary ink.

One of the earliest ways a nation asserted its earthly presence was by demanding payment from those who wished to cross its borders.

Like proverbial trolls beneath the bridge, conscripted soldiers stood guard at borders on trade routes and collected payment from merchants, peasants and anyone else who passed.

Whatever they collected, be it a percentage of cargo or payment in currency, they sent to the local monarch. A nation needs a government, of course, and a government needs funding. Levying a border tax was the easiest way to collect funds. Soldiers could be executed for failing to obey orders and collect border taxes.

The insatiable appetite for border taxes became an underlying force for imperial expansion. The more territory a nation could claim, the longer boundaries it had from which to collect border taxes, helping to fund the construction of pyramids, hanging gardens, temples and coliseums.

Today’s border taxes exist in three forms. Nations levy tariffs on goods traded between them, and governments typically charge fees for passports, visas and other bureaucratic requirements that allow a person to move freely between nations.

The trolls under the bridge remain as a third form of border taxes – although the bribes paid to soldiers at many of today’s borders do not typically find their way into public coffers.

But nature cannot be ignored.

Real economists do not talk about free trade. They talk about freer trade. Just as force equals mass times acceleration, the freer movement of people and the fruits of their labor are linked to higher living standards, and just as friction throws a wrench into Newton’s equation, border taxes are a wrench in nature’s equation of life.

Nature did not get to be so beautiful by chopping herself into pieces. Therefore, it should not surprise you that the more interconnected humanity becomes, the less suffering there will be. Trade is a tangible measure of our interconnectedness.

Border taxes continue to render their divisive cruelty upon humanity, carving artificial chasms between people who may live close enough to smell each other’s breakfast cooking in the morning. These are the cruelest of border taxes, levied between neighboring nations – most often, between developing economies in the global South.

According to the World Trade Organization, only 9 percent of Africa’s trade is among African nations, and only 25 percent of Latin America’s trade is among Latin American nations. Contrast that with 50 percent of Asia’s trade among Asian nations and 74 percent of Europe’s trade among European nations. Globalization is more local than it sounds.

America’s top trading partner? Canada.

Realizing human potential will not come without suffering. Again, we can turn to nature to learn some of what it takes to improve life. Despite the five to 15 million plant and animal species alive today, that represents at best 2-4 percent of all species that have ever existed on this planet.

Of course, people and nations can rise above such a Darwinian outcome, but that cannot involve perpetuating harmful and artificial chasms between people.

Humanity divided cannot flourish.


Oscar Abello is a senior economics major from Philadelphia, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].