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The Global North is a gated community using borders to maintain inequality

As long as borders determine income, unequal and unfair pay won’t budge unless challenged globally

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Martin Olsen/Unsplash

Global South workers often earn a fifth or less than people in the Global North. The average annual income per person in Norway (US$95,520), Ireland (US$79,730), the United States (US$76,770), and Australia are (US$60,840). For comparison, in Mexico (US$10,820), Thailand (US$7,230), Ghana (US$2,380), and Afghanistan (US$380) incomes are much lower. Even considering the local costs of living, there are massive differences in purchasing power that mean large portions of the Global South live in inhumane conditions.

This is the place-of-birth income gap. Like the gender pay gap, it should be challenged as unacceptable and dismantled.

Borders play a key role in facilitating this sort of wage discrimination by effectively prohibiting poorer people and Global South citizens from travelling to the fortress Global North. Border policies allow people from the UK, US, Canada, Europe, and Australia to travel where they like, while refugees and economic migrants from the Global South face an inflexible, and often punishing, system. Such a system actively upholds material inequality and an unfair global division of labour.

The Global South is the designated low-wage, high exploitation, resource looting region. It's where factory work and "dirty" risky work is concentrated, while technology, intellectual labour, and services are concentrated in the Global North. Discriminatory borders facilitate non-reciprocal freedom, where companies like Zara (Spain) and H&M (Sweden) made 4.1 billion euros and US$22 billion in 2023 by freely exploiting Bangladeshi garment workers and often not paying the minimum wage of US$113per month, while Bangladeshi citizens are not free to travel to Spain or Sweden. That leaves them no choice but to stay where they are and work for low wages.

The poor are fenced in, or must risk their lives and safety to travel without documents and work without formal permission. Mexicans and Central Americans sometimes make it to the gated community of the US, only for the global division of labour to continue, as they work doing manual labour or cleaning for less money. Some 10 million undocumented migrants in the US are paid roughly half of what white people in the US are paid, just because of where they were born. If Mexicans had the same right to travel, migrate, and work in the US as US citizens have in Mexico, they couldn't so easily be exploited.

Likewise, without these border policies, US transnationals like General Motors would find it harder to justify setting up in Mexico in order to pay assembly line workers in Mexico just 7,694 pesos (US$450) per month while paying US workers doing the same work US$6,400 per month.

The right to be okay

This wage discrimination, or Global Apartheid as economist Lant Pritchett defines it, is a major contributor to Global South poverty. It is sustained by a racist entitlement towards people from Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East wanting to live with material dignity, and migrating to do so.

The Global North functions through a gated community mentality that goes beyond wage gaps to working conditions, human rights, and environmental rights. This belief system rests on the lie that walls and borders provide protection and safety by limiting quality housing, clean streets, and general well-being to a minority, while locking everyone else out.

US and European companies have workplace safety rules and environmental rules that they uphold in their headquartered countries, while happily violating them in countries like Mexico. For example, in the Santiago River Basin in western Mexico, European companies like Continental, Siemens, ZF and Voit, Nestlé, DSM, and Nutreco ignore waste dumping regulations and scientific studies have confirmed 1,090 pollutants in the river.

Border logic sustains that it is reasonable for someone to move from one US state to another because they prefer hotter or colder weather, but it isn't okay for Hondurans who have lost their homes to climate-change induced hurricanes, to migrate to the US (even though the Global North is responsible for 92% of greenhouse gas emissions).

What would happen if there were no passport discrimination?

If everyone, no matter their country of birth, were able to migrate freely, refugees would be able to access safety and care more easily and there would be less wage inequality. Beyond the very important fact that people suffering extreme human rights violations and exploitation would have a better chance at well being, studies have shown time and again that material living standards would increase across the board. Free global labour mobility would roughly double gross world product.

While migrants moving from a low to high-income country experience an average 15-fold increase in income, a doubling of education enrolment rates and a 16-fold reduction in child mortality, those migrants also increase the demand for goods and services, in turn generating a greater demand for labour in their new country.

Even more, open borders would help decrease prejudice, insularity, and general stress and trauma. When only a minority of people have access to basic rights, society as a whole becomes stressed and vulnerable. On the other hand, if every human were housed and able to access health care and dignified working conditions, everyone - including those who already had those privileges - would feel safer, calmer, more open, and even joyful. And in a world like that, fewer people would be forced to migrate.


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