Get Ready for Life Behind Tighter Borders

People and economies are retreating, or being pushed, back behind restricted frontiers.


Australia gets a lot of well-deserved grief for its pandemic police-state policies, but the rest of the world may soon look rather similar in some ways. In particular, that unfortunate country's closed borders may foreshadow a world of reduced travel and trade. Pandemic worries and the fallout from disrupted supply chains and shipping routes threaten to end an era of easy globalized transit as people and economies retreat, or are pushed, back behind restricted frontiers.

"It's been less than a week since the European Union removed the U.S. from its 'safe list' of countries for nonessential travel, and already some of the most-visited of the bloc's 27 member states have reacted by clamping down with additional Covid-19 travel restrictions for Americans," Forbes reported this week.

Most of these countries are admitting visitors from the U.S. (and elsewhere) only if they can show proof of vaccination. Several, including Bulgaria and Sweden, essentially banned entry by many travelers including Americans. While supposedly "temporary" measures implemented until the pandemic passes, whenever that may be, the restrictions evoke earlier warnings that travel may never again be as free as it was before any of us heard of COVID-19.

"We will travel again, but it will not be the same," Andrea Serra of the World Economic Forum and Christine Leong of Accenture warned in May 2020. "New health safety protocols and systems will need to be in place, and these have yet to be defined. As governments and industry plan for recovery in this new context and adapt to changing traveller behaviour, the use of digital identity and biometrics technologies could restore trust while also ensuring a seamless journey."

"Eventually, surveillance technology could assign each passenger a digital identity, with access to anything from geolocation to virus test results or immunity certificates," Annalisa Nash Fernandez, a business and technology strategist, told USA Today last October. Like Serra and Leong, she cautioned that such monitoring will raise disturbing privacy implications.

If you haven't recently been abroad yourself, the new restrictions might delay your experience of the changing world. But Reason's Matt Welch and Liz Wolfe can fill you in on the ordeals that overseas journeys have become. Forget those high-tech predictions for now; governments are predictably implementing existing techniques—badly.

"The net sum of governmental restrictions and requirements on travel adds layer upon layer of time, cost, and anxiety," Welch noted in August after a visit to France.

Surveillance, mandatory health screenings, and tighter rules don't come cheap. That means international travel is likely to be not only bureaucracy-bound, but also more costly, for the foreseeable future. That will likely discourage business travelers who have already grown accustomed to virtual meetings, and divert many others to domestic vacations that don't require the hassle and expense of crossing borders. Tightly monitored, less-mobile populations will, no doubt, suit much of officialdom just fine.

It's not just people that are likely to shy away from borders in the years to come, though. Anybody purchasing a car, shopping for electronics, or buying groceries has first-hand experience in how screwed-up supply chains are right now. Factory shutdowns, port closures, computer chip shortages, along with delayed and expensive international shipping play havoc with the availability of goods and the viability of businesses. That has manufacturers and policymakers rethinking their commitment to a global economy.

"COVID-19 has disrupted global value chains (GVCs)," four economists noted last month for the Center for Economic Policy Research's VoxEU. "Some observers expect firms to respond by abandoning their pursuit of lower production costs in favour of building stronger resilience in production – by reshoring, nearshoring, and/or diversifying sources of production."

The authors, Caroline Freund of the University of California at San Diego, and Aaditya Mattoo, Alen Mulabdic, and Michele Ruta of the World Bank, acknowledged that the economic pressures that encouraged offshoring aren't going anywhere, but they may become secondary to political dictates.

"Governments may not wait for firms to make decisions in response to COVID-19, because of geopolitical concerns as well as a perceived coordination failure – chasing efficiency over resilience may be optimal for one firm in a country but not for all firms if it leads to excessive national dependence on a single source," they added. "The result may be subsidies for reshoring, and tariff hikes to avoid becoming too dependent on any one country."

Basically, globalization has made a wide assortment of goods available at low cost to much of the world, raising the prosperity of billions of people in the process. But it also demonstrated vulnerabilities during a global pandemic accompanied by government-mandated restrictions on economic activity. Those vulnerabilities may be voluntarily addressed by importers and manufacturers who decide they've exposed themselves to excessive risk, but they're also likely to be exploited by nationalists who want to pull economic activities back behind borders.

The data does show increased interest in shifting some production to the United States from overseas because of concerns over pandemic disruptions: "83% of manufacturers are planning to add North American suppliers to their supply chains within a year," finds the 2021 Thomas State of North American Manufacturing Report. But reshoring remains less popular with business than with politicians, including both the Trump and Biden administrations, according to a recent paper. Unfortunately, politicians have the power to compel compliance, and they're not reticent about manipulating economic activity. The result might be greater resilience, but it is also likely to mean less variety and higher costs, given the incentives that encouraged international trade to begin with.

None of this is set in stone, of course. Pandemic-era restrictions could fade away with the virus itself. After a period of hunkering down, perhaps the world will again embrace the travel and trade that enhanced life and drove prosperity in recent decades. But, right now, the signs are pointing to a less-mobile, less-interesting existence. Some people would like us all to stay put and stop wandering around quite so much, and COVID-19 has been a shot in the arm for their efforts.

NEXT: Biden's Total Financial Surveillance

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  1. Enjoyed visiting Bulgaria but never got to see Plevna. Sounds like that may be difficult for the foreseeable future.

  2. Keep in mind that, as with all legislation, these travel restrictions mostly affect law-abiding citizens and are at best a minor inconvenience for the lawless. It’s illegal to bring fentanyl into this country and sell it, somehow that gets done every single day and it ain’t law-abiding citizens doing it..

    1. At this point I wonder how much of the fentanyl in the market is actually the feds intentionally tainting drugs like they used methyl alcohol to kill tens of thousands of people during prohibition.

      1. Why would they need to? I’m sure there’s plenty of that going on already.

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    2. And then there’s all the foreigners who swarm in over our borders to resettle here illegally. American citizens are now second class compared to the illegals.

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  3. Y’all voted for this.

  4. For me, this is actually one of the more concerning developments coming out of COVID for a few reasons.

    If goods and travelers are not crossing borders, eventually it will be armies.

    I have mentioned this before, but this whole border apparatus that is going to be expanded to keep people out of countries can and likely will be turned against its own citizenry (I.e. Australia). At that point, it makes it way more difficult for people to escape an increasingly tyrannical government. Combine this with the financial surveillance article from Welch this morning and it starts to paint a very creepy picture.

    1. Secession is looking better and better everyday.

      1. And how will secession solve closed borders? Say you get your wish. The people rise up and make their own brand new nation of freedom loving people who live according to their own wishes.

        They still won’t be able to travel anywhere and no one from anywhere else will be able to get to them.

        Worse yet, they’ll be hated by everyone and be a target for military intervention (“We can’t allow those disease spreaders to live peacefully by themselves! They must be destroyed!”). You can’t grant yourself freedom. Freedom must be bestowed upon you by others by their lack of action against you.

        1. And how will secession solve closed borders?

          If a newly seceded Democratic Republic of Commifornia wants to open its borders to let in tens of millions of third world peasants, who would be stopping that and why?

        2. And how will secession solve closed borders?

          By placing the decision about borders and trade and immigration within the purview of individual states deciding what is best for them and their people rather than a one-size-fits-all federal model that close and/or opens borders arbitrarily.

    2. I kept saying it back when Trump was campaigning on the issue of building a big, beautiful wall – walls have two sides and what keeps others out can also keep you in.

      1. Yeah, the border wall was going to make it really hard to go to Mexico……

        Did you think before you wrote that shit?

    3. If you’re not already retirement age, I suggest looking into methods to take yourself out with the least amount of pain involved. Best to have that on hand in the event the oppression gets intolerable.

  5. Call them protectionist populists. On the left, these people are currently off the rails about health safety. On the right, they despise open trade. Both groups want to isolate behind secure borders and keep out the external threats.

    1. And in the middle are the lolbertarians, who do not believe in anything except fucking for money and drugs and will be predictably steamrolled while simping for a utopic world that does not and will never exist.

      1. But who will give the best parties?

    2. Despising open trade is non-partisan.

      1. One wide likes their local labor unions with a monopoly and the other likes their crony capitalists.

        1. Crony capitalists love their “open trade”. They traded their manufacturing base to the Chinese for cheap lawn service from South of the border. Win, Juan.

    3. I don’t think the despises open trade just for lols. Trading with nations which do shitty things to its people is bad. The theory that they’ll come around to enlightened principles as soon as they get rich has been debunked. Conservatives also prefer things to be made locally if it’s feasible. The fact that the local government lays a ton of regulations on the local economy just so they can be ignored in a foreign country is not a healthy way to run an economy. Then there’s the whole slavery business…

  6. The United States is a large country with plenty of resources, natural and human, to provide for itself.

    1. Great tracts of land.

    2. That’s pretty much how they got so wealthy, work hard, mind your own business.

  7. Keep bringing manufacturing back and watch America prosper. Enough of the chicom cock suckers.

    1. There’s actually a shitload of manufacturing in America. Manufacturing output is constantly increasing. What has decreased is the number of people employed in manufacturing, since it is becoming increasingly automated. American workers in that sector put out shitloads of product per person, and get paid well for it too.

      What you’re asking for is a return of labor-intensive, low-paid, pre-automated manufacturing like the “golden days” of the 1950s. That’s nothing but bullshit nostalgia. I don’t know about you, but if I was working in manufacturing I’d rather operate a machine than do the repetitive, manual tasks that have been shipped overseas.

      Conservatives lamenting about the loss of manufacturing jobs is like progressives lamenting about the loss of farming jobs. I wouldn’t want to go back to the days when half the population lived on farms because of some stupid sense of nostalgia, nor would I like to see a return of menial, low-paid manufacturing jobs.

      Once again you’re just like the people you hate.

      1. Your fry cook job isn’t manufacturing no matter what the commerce department tells you.

        1. Ha ha. Yeah, I worked in restaurants. Past tense. But if you want to make being a fry cook part of the narrative about me, go for it. It’s not like you can argue against what I actually say. You only argue with strawmen. So add fry cook to your list of ad hominems. I would expect no less. The only thing that would surprise me is you responding to something I actually said.

          1. It’s not like you can argue against what I actually say.

            You mean the straw men you erect?

            1. If strawmen make you erect then I’m afraid that’s a personal problem. Can’t help ya.

              1. I think he means you’re giving the strawmen handjobs for crack. Which I don’t believe for a second.

                I’m sure you’re jacking them off for booze.

      2. Manufacturing output is constantly increasing.

        It’s increasing, but not as much as elsewhere. That’s why in many product categories, you can’t buy American products at all.

        Conservatives lamenting about the loss of manufacturing jobs is like progressives lamenting about the loss of farming jobs.

        Conservatives aren’t lamenting the loss of manufacturing jobs, conservatives are lamenting the loss of manufacturing capacity.

        And if the US became dependent on Chinese food imports, that would be even worse than the US having become dependent on Chinese manufacturing capacity.

        1. Why the hardon for manufacturing? Do services not have value?

          1. Placing bets on four letter symbols, suing people, and getting massages at the local rub and tug is no way to base your economy son.

      3. Yup we should all be investing in Detroit.

  8. the restrictions evoke earlier warnings that travel may never again be as free as it was before any of us heard of COVID-19 Osama BIn Laden.

    Second verse, same as the first.

    1. >>Second verse, same as the first.


  9. Face it. Every year fewer Americans want freedom. By natural inclination, reinforced by political and social conditioning, people crave more security (or the promise of security).

    Freedom is scary, messy, and annoying, and imposes personal responsibility and consequences. Who would want that?

    1. You cannot have diversity and freedom. You must choose one.

  10. At least you can’t say nothing good came out of Covid.

    So now that trade is off the table, what’ll be your new excuse for dumping millions of foreign nationals on us?

  11. “Eventually, surveillance technology could assign each… [person in the world]… a digital identity, with access to anything from geolocation to virus test results or immunity certificates … [to their “state of mind”]”


    1. Bring on the Butlerian Jihad

  12. People and economies are retreating, or being pushed, back behind restricted frontiers.

    Yes, regular Americans will have a harder time traveling.

    But don’t worry: big Democratic donors and the Koch brothers will still get their third world basket cases and their low cost desperate peasants to exploit for financial gain, and the American taxpayer will still be forced to pay for those kinds of migrants.

    1. We have craft beer though!

  13. Closed borders would have prevented 9/11 and it’s aftermath and the entire chinaflu fiasco.

    1. It also would have spared us both Rashida Taliban and Ilhan Omar.

  14. * Unless that border is the U.S.-Mexico border. That border must remain fully permeable to remedy systemic racism, pandemic be damned.

    1. That’s not a border, it’s an “Imaginary Line”

  15. What we need is secure borders. Other countries actually manage that. There is travel, business and controlled immigration. We should try that.

    1. It’s not allowed here. We would need a majority third party to do that. Just settle down, relax, the pain and suffering will all be over soon.

  16. “…country’s closed borders may foreshadow a world of reduced travel and trade.”
    If you don’t open your borders to diseases and illegal immigrants you’re restricting trade.
    Fun fact:
    Most Americans never travel abroad.
    They don’t have to. There’s a world in their own country and they don’t have to put up with the expense of international travel, its inconvenience or assholes – like a lot of Europeans, that don’t appreciate them anyway.

  17. Good article JD… Not something I had been thinking about but something that could make important differences to me. Thanks!

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