By Ryan McMaken, Fundación Internacional Bases
In the context of trade and immigration, borders are often explained as a means of excluding foreign workers. Thinking in a certain way, borders offer an opportunity for states to exclude private actors, such as workers, merchants and entrepreneurs. On the contrary, borders can also serve a much better function, which is found in the fact that they represent the limits of state power. That is, while borders can exclude goods and people, they often exclude other states as well.
For example, the East German border with West Germany represented the boundaries of the former police state, beyond which the Stasi power to kidnap, torture and imprison peaceful people was much more limited than within its native jurisdiction. . The West German border acted by containing the East German state.
Similarly, the borders of Saudi Arabia outline a boundary for the Saudi regime to behead people for witchcraft or for making critical comments about blood-covered dictators known as House Saud.
Even within a single nation-state, borders can exemplify the benefits of decentralization, as in the case of the Nebraska-Colorado border. On one side of the border (that is, in Nebraska), the state police will arrest and jail you for possessing marijuana. They can kill you if you resist. Across the border, the state constitution prohibits police from going after marijuana users. The Colorado border limits Nebraska’s war on drugs.
There are undoubtedly ways for regimes to extend their power even beyond their borders. This can be done by flattering the regimes of neighboring countries (or intimidating them) or through the organs of international parastatal organizations. Or, as in the case of the US and the EU, imposing broader policies on various so-called sovereign states.
However, due to the competitive nature of states, many states will often find it difficult to protect their power in neighboring states and therefore borders represent a very real impediment to state power. This can open the door to greater freedom and even save lives, as certain states impoverish or wage war on their own citizens.
The case of Venezuela
This principle was seen again this week as the Venezuelan regime opened its border with Colombia to allow Venezuelans the opportunity to buy food and other products on the Colombian side of the border. Colombia’s regime is by no means perfect, but for all its problems, it has not reduced its country’s population to desperate poverty amid collapsing economic and social institutions.
So it is quite easy to buy food and supplies in Colombia, while the shelves are empty in Venezuela.
Luckily for Venezuelans, their country is limited by the borders of the nation-states that surround it, and the ability of their regime to arrest small businessmen and shopkeepers for being “class traitors” ends where Colombian territory begins.
It is perhaps not surprising that the Venezuelan border with Colombia has been closed for some time. Apparently, the Venezuelan state believed that there was too much freedom in the border areas, where smugglers and black market operators could use the border with Colombia to circumvent Venezuela’s harsh anti-market laws. Of course, the closed border has only meant that law-abiding citizens were excluded from movement between countries. However, violent criminals operate freely in the area, making the Colombia-Venezuela border region especially dangerous.
Despite all this, the Colombian border has become a lifeline for Venezuelans now that it is a source of basic supplies and food and a partial escape route from a life of deprivation forced on the population by the socialist policies of Nicolás Maduro. and Hugo Chávez.
Luckily for the people of South America (and the world), Venezuela is only a medium-sized state, with a total area only a third larger than Texas. Just imagine how much more misery would be inflicted on a larger population if Venezuela were the size of Brazil or Russia or (worst of all) were a world government.
The fact that Venezuela is physically limited in size and scope relieves those who can benefit from the proximity of the border and those who could trade with foreigners and black market traders.
However, as the AP points out, “proximity” to the border can be defined according to the desperation endured, as illustrated by the fact that some people have traveled ten hours to the border to buy food.
The benefits of decentralization and secession
The physical realities of size and distance once again demonstrate the benefits of political secession and decentralization: those who live just two hours from the border will have more opportunities to buy food than those who live ten hours away. Those who live near the border may also enjoy more opportunities to physically escape from the territory of Venezuela if they have that need.
This situation would improve if there were even more decentralization and the western provinces of Venezuela became independent, effectively moving the border to the east.
Imagine, for example, that the state of Zulia, in western Venezuela, expelled the army and completely opened the border with Colombia. Goods and services would immediately begin to flow into the new free territory of Zulia, and goods would be much more abundant.
But this would not only benefit the people of Zulia. The new reality would also mean that the Venezuelan border would stop at the eastern border of Zulia, making the freedom of the border areas now also more accessible to the neighboring states of Trujillo and Mérida, especially residents in the state of Trujillo, than before. They could have been many hours from the outer border, they could now be only an hour away, thus allowing more people to be able to travel to the border or make more extensive use of black markets or even legal markets outside of the scope of the Venezuelan regime.
Ludwig von Mises understood the benefits of this type of secession step by step, pointing out the possibility of allowing provinces and towns the possibility of becoming independent from one state to join another or remain independent. The larger a state, the more resources it controls and the greater its ability to impose higher costs on those who may try to emigrate or escape from the central state government.
Writing on “self-determination”, Mises pointed out that it is not the nations, but the people, who have a right to self-determination and Mises supported “the right of the inhabitants of every territory to decide on the state to which they want to belong.” In practice, Mises reminds us, this often means breaking states down into smaller pieces: whenever the inhabitants of a specific territory, be it a single town, an entire district or a series of adjacent districts, make it known, through a freely held plebiscite, that they no longer want to remain united to the state to which they belong at that time.
Rather, should they want to form an independent state or to join some other state, their wishes must be respected and fulfilled. It is the only viable and effective way to prevent revolutions and civil and international wars.
Adopting Mises’s plan in this regard would undoubtedly lead to almost immediate relief to many communities currently on the bad side of the Venezuelan border. Unfortunately, the Venezuelan central government (like most national governments) has rarely shown much hesitation when it comes to brutally suppressing “dissidents.” Unless a major ideological shift took place in Venezuela, a local movement like that toward “self-determination” is unlikely to be respected.
More states = More alternatives
In practice, if we are in favor of free choice, freedom of movement and the opportunity to escape authoritarian regimes, the answer lies in the creation of more borders and more states. Although borders can often act to impede the movement of goods and human beings, they can also offer opportunities for greater freedom by limiting the power and reach of existing states.
Furthermore, as smaller states have a more difficult time regulating markets and people beyond their borders, they are more likely to rely on open trade with other states to survive and prosper.
If Venezuela were smaller and had more international neighbors, its people would have more opportunities to interact with areas outside the control of the Venezuelan regime, while having greater opportunities for emigration and trade. In other words, the monopoly enjoyed by the Venezuelan state would be weaker and residents would have more freedom to choose.
The answer is really decentralization, which leads to more alternatives and therefore more freedom.
The answer in practice to any lack of alternatives (ie, lack of “self-determination”) lies not in the immediate abolition of all states (since no one has ever convincingly described how this could be done) but in the division of states. existing in smaller and smaller states.
What Mises describes above refers to formal votes and declarations of independence, but, in practice, the same effects can be obtained through methods such as nullification and local independence, as suggested here by Hans-Hermann Hoppe. And, of course, de facto secession may often be preferable, for practical reasons.
Often times, some doctrinaire and incorrigible anarchists claim that the secession is bad, because it “creates a new state.” However, that is a very simple view, given the realities of planet earth. Unless someone creates a completely new state in international waters or in Antarctica or in outer space, that creation will have to come at the cost of some existing state. So the creation of a new state, for example in Sardinia, would be at the expense of the existing state known as “Italy”. Deprived by the secession of tax revenues and military advantages of the territory, the state that loses territory will necessarily be weakened.
In addition to weakening states, the advantage from the individual’s perspective is therefore that he now has two states to choose from, where only one existed before. The person now has more options to choose from to live where it best suits their personal lifestyle, ideology, religion, ethnic group and more.
With each additional successful secession action, the choices each person has become larger and larger.
If there is something that the people of Venezuela need right now, it is are more alternatives.
Ryan McMaken is a senior editor at the Mises Institute