Best Books of 2019: In Defense of Openness


Review of In Defense of Openness: Why Global Freedom Is the Humane Solution to Global Poverty by Bas van der Vossen and Jason Brennan.

Most policy proposals for fighting poverty are zero-sum. The best way to help the poor, the argument goes, is to take from the rich. Van de Vossen and Brennan argue instead for positive-sum policies, which make everyone better off. Why keep the pie the same size, when it could grow instead?

Brennan and van der Vossen offer strong practical arguments for more open policies for trade, immigration, and entrepreneurship. If politics allowed open policies to operate anywhere near full capacity, their economic benefits would be trillions of dollars per year. Think of how much poverty that much new wealth could eradicate around the world.

Openness has more than money on its side. It also has morals. People have the right to make deals with each other, or to move somewhere else if they like, or to have a go at starting a business and making something new. If a third party wants to get in the way and forcibly stop them, decency requires them to have a very strong reason. The burden of proof is on that third party, not on the people who want to buy, sell, move, build, or innovate.

Conservatives and nationalists offer few strong justifications for their restrictive trade and immigration policies. Progressives come off poorly for preferring zero-sum redistribution policies even when positive-sum policies are readily available. Van der Vossen and Brennan argue instead for an open and liberal approach to fighting poverty–liberal in its original, correct sense.