Freedom of Movement in a World of Invisible Borders

Reckoning today from Porto, Portugal…

“Shall we drive up to Braga tomorrow?” asked our wanderlusting travel companion (and fiancé), Anya.

Liberty cannot exist unless certain preconditions are present…and others absent. Freedom of movement is a rather obvious one…the opposite of captivity. Freedom demands an absence of bars and jail cells.

Indeed, it would be a strange brand of freedom where one had to ask permission to go (or to “be”) here or there. Likewise, it would be a strange prison where inmates were free to “come and go as they please.”

Along with freedom of association and freedom of speech, freedom of movement seems rather central to the idea of liberty.

But let’s imagine for a second that, instead of driving to Braga, Anya had suggested flying to, say, Beirut…or Bucharest…or even Brasilia? (These are not infrequent suggestions, by the way.)

Your Australian-born editor needs a visa to visit these places…and many, many more locales besides. Our freedom of movement is, therefore, compromised. It is seen by The State as something “to be granted,” as opposed to unalienable.

Even for Hong Kong, a destination which makes a habit of ranking among the “freest places on earth” on lists that monitor such things (here’s one), individuals who happened to have been born on Terra Australis, through no fault of their own, are required to obtain a visa if they wish to “work, study, get trained, establish or join in any business or to take up residence.” So say the agencies that oversee such things.

In fact, your antipodean editor would have considerable difficulty just leaving this tiny country were his papers not “in order.” Likewise if he stayed too long. We need a valid passport to sit in a cafe in France or to sip a port in Porto…a permission book to move over imagined lines in the sand.

Odd, isn’t it, what passes for freedom these days.

That said, people born Down Under fare much better than most. Pity the poor Colombian, for example, for whom visas are required to visit some 130+ countries around the world. Same for those born in countless other lands.

And what of the people who wish to travel to Australia, those who the various political elites refer to so demeaningly as “boat people”? Why is it that some people enjoy the freedom to live and ply their trade in (keeping with “B” cities) Brisbane, for instance, while others do not? What separates a person born in Burma from one born in Bundaberg?

Is one more deserved of the freedom of movement than the other? Is one person somehow “entitled” to be in a particular place, simply because of an accident of birth? And who is so wise as to decide these matters either way? Who is so arrogant as to assume a freedom they would actively deny other, apparently “lesser” people.

Remember, we’re not talking about private property here. We’re talking about artificial borders, erected by The State, which human beings need to ask “permission” before crossing.

All this is simply to stir a little grey matter, to challenge our Fellow Reckoners to think about what liberty really means. If you’re not free to “come and go as you please,” what does that say about the state of the world?


Joel Bowman
for Markets and Money

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Joel Bowman
Joel Bowman is managing editor of Markets and Money. After completing his degree in media communications and journalism in his home country of Australia, Joel moved to Baltimore to join the Agora Financial team. His keen interest in travel and macroeconomics first took him to New York where he regularly reported from Wall Street, and he now writes from and lives all over the world.

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Earl mardle
Consider however, the difference between the freedom, or otherwise, of the movement of people and the freedom of movement of money. Governments feel no compunction at all about the first, but let them even hint at the second and god help them. (Malaysia excepted) Apparently if money is not free to fly in and pout of any place on earth the entire global economy will collapse, but people need to be restrained at all times. While we would all like a little free money from time to time, it seems that money is always, and everywhere, more free than we… Read more »
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