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Why Millennials are Overwhelmingly in Favour of Breaking Down Borders

Lilly Birdsong By Lilly Birdsong Published on July 6, 2016

In the wake of Brexit and in the face of similar movements, it's increasingly come to light that young people are overwhelmingly in favour of breaking down borders.  After the Brexit outcome was announced, many young people were even reduced to tears and expressed "Disgust", "Sadness", "Anger", and "Frustration."  So why is it that there is such a difference between the younger generation and the older generation?

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1. Young People Live on the Internet

My major #1 theory on this one is that we are a generation that has grown up online.  I myself am on the older edge of the Millennial generation, so I experienced the birth of the Internet, using dial-up and waiting for 2 minutes for an Internet page to load.  Even me - but especially people younger than me - have grown up in a place where we are so connected to the Internet that it really has an impact on the way we think.  

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When you think about how we connect with people today, we are using social media - Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, the number of social platforms today is exploding and as a result of this we feel more connected with people through Instagram then we do in real life.  90% of Millennials are active on social media, compared to 35% of people 65 and over.  I may be friends with someone that lives in a different country than me, who I've never met face-to-face.  I may be working with colleagues that I've never met before.  I may be following idols, singers, and actors from a different country than the one I live in.  

Borders don't exist online.  Online, I can be friends with anyone, connect with anyone - no matter what your politics are, your religion, where you live, what you eat - I can connect with anyone.  

So if I can work with someone online, be friends with someone online, talk to someone online, but if I want to go see them in person I have to get a visa, then this seems like an archaic concept.

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Living in Japan

2. Young People are More Likely to Move to Work

When on the job hunt, people without families are much more likely to be willing to relocate for a job.  Not only because they don't have the same ties to a place, but also because the idea of moving to a new place can be exciting and a rewarding experience.  Millennials are also more concerned with work-life balance than older generations - and the countries with the best work-life balance may surprise you.  

In my own case, I've lived in Japan, the US, and Canada - and I have friends or family that have worked in just about every region on the Earth including Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America, and the Middle East.  

The biggest fallacy is the idea that immigration is one-way.  That with open immigration you'll see people rushing to live in North America and Europe.  But it goes both ways.  You have many North Americans and Europeans that want to work in Asia, South America, or the Middle East.  

If we look at the example of the UK, we do see a net increase in the number of immigrants vs the number of emigrants.  

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If we look at the example of Canada, there are 9 million Canadians living abroad compared to 36 million in Canada.  With the low birth rate, and the number of Canadians who move abroad, we need immigration in order to maintain a work force that makes any sense.  But we also want the flexibility to live and work where we want.

The other fallacy is that these other countries have a less sophisticated social system and set of government benefits than we do.  It's true that on a country-by-country basis there are many differences, but overall countries end up balancing out.  You see some of the best health care in the world in countries like India and Cuba that practice medical tourism.  There are ways that expats and immigrants can participate in social services in a way that makes sense - by being eligible for local benefits when you're a resident in that country and paying taxes when you work in that country.  

There is no sense in having a large population of illegal immigrants that are not able to contribute.  Better to help them have a legal path where they can pay taxes and give back to the society in which they live.  If you look at Canada, we don't have a large population of illegal immigrants - only about 100,000 people out of the 36 million that live in this country are illegal.  We also have accepted with open arms over 28,000 Syrian refugees this year.

The issues that most people have with immigrants is the integration once they arrive in their destination country.  There is an issue right now due to the volume that we brought into Canada, there haven't been enough services to integrate these individuals who need language training to be eligible to work.  However this is not an issue with immigrants, this is an issue with our own national policies in providing support and it is our job to help them when they get here.  The good news is this is a fixable problem.

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Justin Trudeau at Greek Independence Day Parade in Montreal

3. Young People Have Flexible National Identities

I'm going to take a very personal view on this one, so keep in mind that I'm speaking as a Canadian Millennial living in Montreal, one of the most multi-cultural cities in Canada.  However I think Canada is a perfect example of a country where this is already true, and that with globalization this is going to be increasingly true no matter where you go in the world.

When you meet Montrealers, and you ask them, "What is your nationality?" - the answer often is something like, "I'm Greek-Canadian," or "I'm Italian-Canadian."  Even for young people who were born and raised in Canada, for a lot of us our parents were immigrants and so our ties to our "mother" countries is very strong.  In my case my nationality is a total mix - my mother is British, but grew up in the Caribbean - my father is Dutch, born and grew up in Canada, lives and works in the US.  His father was born in Indonesia.  So that makes me half-Dutch, half-British, and 100% Canadian.  

I had this debate with my sister the other night - she mentioned that she was recently watching a sports match at a pub, and Greece was playing against Canada.  Half the people in the pub were cheering for Greece.  She felt as though if you're living and working in Canada, if you were born in Canada, then you should by definition identify most with Canada and cheer for your home country as Canada.  To me, I said - well, let's think of it on the other side.  When I was living in Japan, I was so clearly "other" - I was a Canadian living in Japan.  If there was a match on between Canada and Japan, I'd cheer for Canada.  I met a guy in Japan who was born in Japan, only ever lived in Japan, but his parents were German.  He was German by nationality and in fact could never become Japanese because in that country they define nationality by blood - so he was and would always be German no matter how long he had lived in Japan.  But he loved Japan, identified strongly with it, and had no desire to move anywhere else.  Who would he cheer for in a sports match?  

Why does it matter?  It's a game.  At the end of the day, it's in us to instill in people a national pride when they live and work in our country.  Or even when they are born in our country.  There are many Canadians that move to the US but still retain their Canadian national identity.  And there are many Canadians that move to the US then get US citizenship and consider themselves American.  And that's okay.

At the end of the day, our identity includes so many things:

  • Where we were born
  • Where we have lived
  • Where our ancestors were born
  • Where our ancestors lived

The biggest fallacy of all is the concept that there is something called "Canadian" which is exclusive.  Being Canadian is inclusive.  This whole country is made up of immigrants - apart from First Nations people who have been here for 12,000 years.  Canadian national identity includes all people who live here, work here, and belong to this Canadian family.  And young people worldwide are increasingly having this inclusive view of identity.

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The Idea of Superiority Over the "Other"

What it all comes down to is that the people who are the most in favour of putting up borders are the ones who want to protect "themselves" from the "other".  

The only reason that the "other" is a scary concept for people is the idea that this "other" is coming to do harm.  To hurt us, to injure us, to steal our jobs.  But overall that concept is based on the idea of superiority over that other.

I reject that.  Fundamentally.

There is no superiority when it comes to people.  We are all human beings.  We all eat, breathe, live, and die.  There is nothing to protect.  There are only opportunities and wasted opportunities.  

The truth is that people don't want things to be equal for everyone.  Because inherently people think about themselves and their family first before thinking about everyone else.  And if all people are equal, then it makes it that much harder to get ahead.  

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Thought Experiment: A Borderless World

Let's take a minute to think about something a little crazy.  What would happen if, one day, we just suddenly decided to tear down all the borders.  To have unmitigated migration.  People could move wherever they want.  They would have to be registered to work where they live, they'd have to pay taxes, but there would be no rejection of migration.  There would be no application to work - only processing your migration on file.

Picture it like this.  I decide that I want to go to live in Korea.  I already have a job I can do online.  I just want to live there so I can experience life in Korea for a few years.  I get on an airplane, I go to Korea, and upon arrival I'm automatically registered to work and my income starts going into Korea's tax system.  At any time I can say, nah, don't like living here - then I can go somewhere else.

What if it were that easy?


My theory is the following.  I think there would be chaos - at first.  There would be a lot of migration.  But with the migration would come new incomes, which would feed back into infrastructure.  There would be an evening out over country lines where countries that had lagged behind on social programs would suddenly face an immense pressure to step up to the plate - or to lose half your workforce and suddenly lose all your income.  I think that's a pretty compelling argument for countries to reform.

After a certain time period - 20 years?  30?  Things would even out, and countries around the world would approach a steady-state solution.  Countries would end up being more equal.  

People would start choosing where they want to live and work based on different factors - not if they could get a permit to work there, but on whether there was a job for you there.  On whether you like their local culture.  Whether you like their food, the weather, the people who live there.  Whether you connect with the landscape.  Whether it's a nice place to live with your pets and your family.  Those barriers being down, it becomes an infinitely more interesting world to live in.

We may not be ready for this.  But we may not ever be ready for it.  That doesn't mean that we shouldn't try, and that we shouldn't keep taking steps in this direction.  The worst thing we can do, philosophically, is to take a step backwards and build a new wall.  Then this whole, wide, interesting, beautiful world we live in becomes a box that we live in surrounded by a wall.  Sure, we can look at pretty pictures online of all the beautiful places in the world, but we can't go there.  That's not the world I want to live in.

    I am a Sci-Fi writer. I love drinking whiskey, hanging out with my 2 cats, and kickboxing. Check out Children of RIVA if you're interested in my work. Oh, and in my spare time I work ... Show More