Let’s reflect on the rhetoric used by those who oppose greater freedom for people to move back and forth across political borders. Opponents of the freedom to move frequently analogize a nation to a house. “You lock your house, don’t you?” these anti-immigrationists ask—implying that what makes sense for a home makes equally good sense for a nation.
Analogies are useful for analyses, debate, and persuasion. But just as they can enlighten, analogies can also mislead. They must be used, and heard, always with care.
The analogy of a home to a nation is more misleading than helpful. Unlike a home, a nation—at least each nation whose citizens are free—is not a private domain; it does not belong to anyone in the way that a house belongs to its owner. Also unlike in a home, living space within a free country is allocated by market transactions rather than by the conscious, nonmarket decisions of the residents of a house. A person who enters a country and purchases a place to live displaces no one in the way that an intruder into a home would displace a resident from his bed and favorite chair. In addition, of course, every intruder into a home likely intends to inflict some harm on the household’s residents. In contrast, the vast majority of persons who enter a country intend no harm to anyone.