Open Borders in Svalbard!

Well north of Iceland there is a island archipelago that is governed by Norway but because of a peculiar treaty it has entirely open borders:

When you land in Longyearbyen, the largest settlement in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, you can step off the plane and just walk away. There’s no passport control, no armed guard retracing your steps, no biometric machine scanning your fingers. Svalbard is as close as you can get to a place with open borders: As long as you can support yourself, you can live there visa-free.

In an excellent piece in The Nation, Atossa Araxia Abrahamian describes the history and what it is like to visit:

Formally, Svalbard—known as Spitsbergen until the 20th century—belongs to Norway, which writes the laws, enforces order, builds infrastructure, and regulates hunting, fishing, and housing. Last year, when a Russian man was caught trying to rob a bank in town, a Norwegian judge sentenced him under Norwegian law to a Norwegian jail. But Norway’s control over Svalbard comes with obligations outlined by an unusual 1920 treaty signed as part of the Versailles negotiations ending World War I.

Written in the aftermath of the war, the Svalbard Treaty is both of and ahead of its time. Its architects stipulated that the territory cannot be used for “warlike” purposes. They included one of the world’s first international conservation agreements, making Norway responsible for the preservation of the surrounding natural environment. The treaty also insists that the state must not tax its citizens more than the minimum needed to keep Svalbard running, which today typically amounts to an 8 percent income tax, well below mainland Norway’s roughly 40 percent.

Most radically, the treaty’s architects held Norway to what’s known as the nondiscrimination principle, which prevents the state from treating non-Norwegians differently from Norwegians. This applies not just to immigration but also to opening businesses, hunting, fishing, and other commercial activities. Other countries could not lay formal claims on Svalbard, but their people and companies would be at no disadvantage.

Some 37 percent of Svalbard’s population is foreign born and there is an abandoned Soviet town with statues of Vladmir Lenin. Tyler will also be pleased to know that there are puffins.

I can’t say that I am tempted to move, but given global climate change it’s good to know that I could.

Hat tip: The Browser.


'which prevents the state from treating non-Norwegians differently from Norwegians'

Possibly, having grown up in Canada, you were unaware of the fact that this basically true of anyone in the U.S., and has been true for centuries. Essentially, there is not a distinction in constitutional protections based on citizenship. That's right, the 2nd Amendment applies equally to non-citizens, for example, though with a catch, as noted - 'Non-citizens have a right to bear arms, even if they are in the country illegally, the Seventh Circuit ruled late in August. The ruling overturns a district court finding that the Second Amendment doesn't protect unauthorized aliens. In so holding, the Seventh created a split with the Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Circuits, all of which have ruled otherwise.

But, there's a catch. While the right to bear arms extends to unauthorized non-citizens in the U.S., the Second Amendment also allows for limits. That includes a federal law banning unauthorized immigrants and nonimmigrant visa holders from possessing firearms, the court concluded.'

(How empty those rights may be is another question, of course.)

This principle very obviously does not apply to immigration in the U.S., though--which is the salient point here.

Also, even what you describe is not the same. The courts have ruled that the default starting position is that rights apply equally to non-citizens, but constitutionally permissible limitations on those rights can be applied unequally via legislation. This would not be consistent with the terms of the Svalbard treaty.

'which is the salient point here'

Of what Prof. Tabarrok wishes to highlight, sure. Of the actual quoted text? Not so much.

'but constitutionally permissible limitations on those rights can be applied unequally via legislation'

You realize this also applies to citizens, right? Felons owning guns, for example.

Svalbard is not allowed to pass a law that says "foreign nationals can't own guns".

Congress is allowed to pass such a law.

Thus the US is not basically the same as Svalbard (even outside the obvious difference of immigration law).

Of course, I am aware of the completely irrelevant fact that Congress is also allowed to pass other laws that relate to other, non-immigrant groups. And I look forward to hearing more irrelevant facts that don't speak to my actual point in the near future.

'And I look forward to hearing more irrelevant facts that don't speak to my actual point in the near future.'

Sorry to disappoint you then.

There are two problems: 1. activists judges making decisions based on their ideology. 2. Congress not enacting or eliminating laws that protect citizens over non-citizens. The choice is clear, vote the fake Americans out of office and impeach activist judges or the U.S. will become another shithole country.

Your are too intelligent and logical for this blog.

Activist judges, independent of their ideology, left or right, are damaging the republic. All judges should strict originalists, otherwise we become a nation of men and not of laws.

If we don't like a law, Congress can change it. If we don't like the Constitution, it can be amended. The one caveat being the question of whether or not we can ammend the Constitution to take away an existing enumerated right, like the second amendment. I don't think that has been done before. I think that would trigger a battle - literally.

Hi, mouse!

Hi mouse you sicko.

I don't think you are bipolar, ocd, or borderline. I think you are a sociopath. A left wing psychopath who thinks he isorally superior, or just superior, but a psychopath.

You don't care, you enjoy it, which characteristic of a psychopath.

The white man who support orange man shoot at brown man are real sociopaths. The red man cries inside.

Are you spanking the monkey while you write this psychopathic bullsh*t?

Lol. He's funnier than you. You get upset too easily.

"Congress is allowed to pass such a law."

Foreign nationals are not "people" by strict interpretation of the Constitution and Bill of Rights?

The strict interpreters have translate "the people" to individuals individually as opposed to an organized people authorized by the people in a militia.

Of course, such interpreters manage to divide persons and in-person based on gender, religion, physical features, thus requiring amendments enumerating the way "person" must be interpreted to include women, those of different faith, appearance.

Original intent was for citizen to be a small portion of all the persons living in the USA territories. The GOP screwed that up in their populist fever in the 14th, but the Supreme Court rolled that back, quickly excluding women, for example, who were critical to giving non-whites the right of citizenship by way of influencing white men in power. But they were screwed again.

Women became actual citizens by men thinking women would vote to keep the US isolationist and out of wars.

It's ironic to me that Mexico has a very clear understanding of person, national, and citizen. As such, your statement would be clearly interpreted there, while in the US, SCOTUS will go through kubuki to get some outcome based on what McConnell wants.

I note that Congress is not authorized to spend money building walls restricting migration, etc or paying an army of ICE agents, which is hardly surprising given the laundry list of reasons for war against the Crown as restrictions on immigration, migration, trade.

Congress was authorized to levy tariffs on trade.

But not authorized to tax or limit migration.

Strict interpreters say Congress can't do Obamacare because it's not enumerated, but when it comes to migration, its crystal clear that it was intended Congress must restrict migration because zero such laws existed for the entity of anyone alive to ratify the Constitution.

Keep in mind, "citizen" was used only in the context of holding office. But not even in reference to voting. Until the 15th amendment, the Supreme Law never required citizenship to vote. Who could vote was left to the States.

But to prevent immigrants becoming president or members of Congress, Congress was authorized to establish a minimum standard for all the unlimited immigrants being part of Congress and President. Note, Senators were never intended to elected by "persons", "people" much less citizens. That was not required until the 17th in 1912. But SCOTUS ensured not elected by women by making its hostility to women voting clear to Federal District judges.

Rule of (white) men, not law, is obviously original intent. And amendments be damned especially when it comes to the intents of those who wrote them. Replayed by the Florida legislature fighting the populist Florida voting rights acts plain language and clear intent.

The militia was not organized. At first there wasn't even an age requirement. It was very loose.

There are excellent accounts in the very readable "Bunker Hill' by Nathaniel Philbrick and "1776" by David McCullough.

Everyone had guns, same guns used by the later Continental Army. Some of the guns were inferior - ancient fowling guns etc - others were Superior to the British Regulars - the Kentucky Long Rifle.

Equipping the army was always a problem and the militia was almost always poorly armed. Even some of the Continental soldiers, paid soldiers, did not have weapons of any kind, even at Trenton.

"Congress was authorized to levy tariffs on trade.

But not authorized to tax or limit migration."

Wrong! Dead wrong!

From the Constitution:

Article 1

Congress shall have the power to ...

Section 8

"To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization ..."

given global climate change
Yeah, right. In 25 years there'll be coconuts and avocados growing in Svalbard.

No, no, that's Shetland. Svalbard will take fifty years.

You from the tropics often neglect to consider that climate change will not increase hours of daylight in the winter. Or decrease them in the summer. And what about fog?

Given that Svalbard is well above the Arctic circle, I don't think Alek's gonna have reason to move there in his lifetime due to climate change.

Even worst-case implausible IPCC numbers call for ... what, 2 degrees C this century in warming?

Svalbard is warmer than Siberia or Greenland's interior or Nunavut because it's an archipelago in the Atlantic, but it's still really, really cold.

The highest average high temperatures I can find are under 50 degrees F, and below freezing 8 months of the year.

Scary Climate Change might wreck Svalbard's unique arctic biosphere etc. etc. whatever, but it won't be a nice place to move to.

"As long as you can support yourself" being the important distinction here.

One surmises that no one is stepping off the plane and immediately demanding they be provided with a wealth of free social services. Not yet, anyway.

Exactly what I was coming to say.

Literally no one (at least no one of any importance) is against people who can support themselves immigrating. If we knew that 100% of immigrants could support themselves, the US would be pro-Open Borders 99 - 1. Of course, that's not how it is - most recent immigrants can't support themselves, so they are a burden when they arrive.

The climate and geography of Svalbard are built-in filters for the social leeches that current leftist immigration policy is elevating.

"Literally no one (at least no one of any importance) is against people who can support themselves immigrating."

If only. It would be a HUGE improvement in our immigration laws if no one needed a visa to work. Alas, as Bernie Sanders might say, that policy is a Koch Brothers thing.

Totally agree. People in the US get livid when someone builds a house in their neighborhood for Americans. Somedays I think that Americans simply hate human beings.

I assume, then, that you oppose the deportation of any immigrants that are working and not receiving welfare because those immigrants are supporting themselves, right?

Economic independence is not enough for more than a handful of people. Culture matters too. E.g., even citizens in the Nordic countries have expressed concerns (and passed laws) about they regard as retrograde attitudes towards women, gays, etc. by a significant portion of Muslims.

+1. We live in a nation, not an office park.

In America we expressed concerns about the retrograde attitudes towards Muslims, Hispanics, Jews, etc. by a significant portion of white nationalist Trumpanzees.


Your bigotry is out in the open, which the "deplorables" can plainly see. Prepare to lose again, and if you win plan for a long battle.

This is not going to be easy.

Places that far north are as different as day and night: in the Summer, it's day all day and night, and in the Winter, it's night all day and night. My dear friend's sister resides on one of the North Isles in the Orkney Islands (it's part of Scotland, but more Scandinavian than Scot). The long days of Summer and long nights of Winter take some getting used to. Indeed, she sometimes gets her days and nights mixed up.

Crazy story, ray.

Yeah if it wasn’t rayward telling us, who would believe such places with their wacky illumination existed?

Given of people arguing global warming will make temperate latitudes great for growing tropical plants, and the poles great for growing wheat and cattle, I'd say at least half of registered Republicans.

Is she applying for the job of Sheep Dyke Warden?

If you leave populated areas you are required to carry a rifle. A polar bear might mistake you for a seal. Mandated open carry, as they would call it in the US.

at least they don't get 30-50 wild hogs

Germany does, but no one feels the least need to let hunters have semi-automatic weaponry.

Just bolt action rifles then?

I think Germans are famous for the shotgun/rifle over/under. Two chances then.

"Can you convince me you know what that term you used even means?"

Just a bit less than a bump stock.

You should go into polar bear country with a single shot rifle. Please post the whole episode on YouTube.

This proves the open borders works in isolated, desolate places where there is a very real chance of being eaten by polar bears.

I'm somewhat skeptical about the generalizability of this finding, though.

"populate America with aggressive bears" 2020

Ahem... "Hello" from Alaska!

A wealthy libertarian right billionaire should astro-turf a new 'environmental' organization with the explicit mission to bring back original predators (like grizzly bears) to ex-urban areas of coastal California, Oregon and Washington.

Plenty of coyotes in Los Angeles! A few mountain lions in the suburbs.

"Oso" is a name that stuck in Orange County. As in Oso Parkway. But sadly the last Oso down there was shot in 1905.

They still have them up in Pasadena.

I've worked near the Mexican boarder. While there aren't any polar bears (there are more bears than you'd think, though), "isolated" and "desolate" are certainly applicable terms. The valleys are tens of miles wide and much longer north/south, and more than once I've been the only person in one of those valleys (as far as I'm aware, anyway).

The USA isn't all cities and farmland. There's a LOT of wide open expanses that have not been, and cannot realistically be, developed.

Then you add in the snakes, including the Mojave Green. Nasty little bugger that shuts down your brain/spine and turns your blood into jelly. Cute snake, but mean. There are other nasty critters (the Joshua Trees deserve special mention as well!), but those are probably the worst.

What a retarded point you make. They obviously don't stay in the isolated, desolate areas. They move to cities and other habitable points.

It's polite, civil discussion like this which makes this a place worth visiting...

Secondly, I can only conclude that you've not been to the Desert Southwest, or if you have you haven't spent much time out there. You'd be surprised how adaptable humans are.

You may be allowed to enter, but you're (semi-famously) not allowed to die in Svalbard! Because of the climate, bodies don't actually decompose so that "when scientists in the ’90s exhumed some of the bodies to study the permafrost phenomenon, they found that in the body of a person who died from the Influenza pandemic of 1918, the same deadly virus was still alive and kicking, perfectly preserved."

That's from . There's a Netflix show about this as well, but the name escapes me.

+1. MR comments are great sometimes.

Indeed. Incredible to learn that something that wasn't alive in 1918 (a virus), suddenly becomes life after being frozen.

Bonus: Link to peer-reviewed journal,

Open borders are good. We should dispense with the charade that these imaginary lines are helpful. Free health care for all and free entry/exit to all as well.

And a pony! Everyone gets a pony!

+1 hahahahaha

That would be a possible solution to the wild horse overcrowding in the West.

I've always wondered about horses in North America. On the one hand, horses were native to the continent. Then about 12,000 years ago humans came and wiped them out. Now we've re-introduced them.

Is that, from an Environmentalist standpoint, a good thing or not? Are we re-introducing a critter to an area where we'd previously removed it, and thereby doing good? Or are we introducing a non-native critter, and thereby doing evil?

(I don't accept those moral judgements; I merely amuse myself by asking those who do these sorts of questions.)

Modern Horse not like Ancient Horse.

6 Millenia of selective breeding to make it adaptable for warfare.

No free education, though? You monster!

But would climate change raise the ocean and submerge Svalbard? In fact, at present the ocean level is higher there because the water is pulled toward the Greenland ice sheets by their gravity; if that ice melted, then the mass would disperse and locally the ocean level would drop.

Of course the effects of the loss of ice mass from Greenland would be offset by the same phenomena from Antarctica.

The total land area is twice the size of Belgium and it's mostly mountainous. The towns are coastal, but the archipelago itself will never be submerged.

It's a perfect heaven for Alex -- even better when you thrown in the Global Warming hoax! -- so naturally, he refuses to go.

Just like all the other crying Hillary voters in 2016, he'll sing the praises of distant lands, openly long for them, claim how awesome it must be to live under such enlightenment... and then just go right back to sitting at home and whining like a child.

Good to see MR comments are still a garbage fire, as always.

"I can’t say that I am tempted to move, but given global climate change it’s good to know that I could."

Just to remind that Minnesota is closer, and it's sort of like Canada without having to live in Canada.

'and it's sort of like Canada without having to live in Canada'

Prof. Tabarrok already knows what Canada is like.

And that is why he isn't there.

As we say up here when someone moves to the US, the IQ of both places just went up.

If that is true, why isn't Canada richer? I'm just asking questions!

In other words it's practically a frontier and if you're stupid, you'll die. You can find free land in Antarctica as well.

Ph.D. in Econ and still hasn't learned category error.

Isn't Svalbard better than seasteading?

This reads like propaganda.

Well, considering that the population of Svalbard is about 3000 people on a goodsize landmass in the Artic Circle I can imagine that Alex's wet dream of open borders for all is not a disaster there. For what its worth, unlike Alex I have actually been there, during December as a matter of fact. Completely pitch black. Although the worlds northern most brewery is also there with a fine collection of beers. It also is true, a gun is required when leaving town due to Polar Bears...

Do Alex and Bryan plan on giving up their tenure to move there?

people say open borders is a quixotic experiment that only those completely insulated from its effects would advocate? nonsense, look at enlightened svalbard! (look from a distance, obviously: our esteemed host would never actually consider moving there)

The geographical equivalent of "Beggars can't be choosers."

At 78 degrees north it would take a lot of global warming to create a viable soil column to support growing nice tomatoes. 60% is glacial ice, 30% is barren rock, 10% has plant. Melt all the ice and you have 90% barren rock! But it's a moderate climate with average summer temps in the high 30's (F). If Alex would read clearly, he would find that unless he already works for one of the mines who will settle him there, he is free to live there if he can find a house (probably cant build one) and can support himself entirely from the money he brings with him. Not so much different than a number of European countries.

Better than living on Mars though.

True. At least you would have some UV protection.

Argh! How will Magic Dirt work if there's no.....dirt?

Terms for welfare (think housing, heat, and food) are not clear if you're not totally disabled.
I don't think the economy has the capacity to absorb 1,000 new immigrants per day like the USA.
What about hordes of unaccompanied minors?
The bottom line is that borders would not remain open if immigrants poured into Svalbard.
The truth is that in Norway (an Scandinavia in general) itself it's very difficult to get citizenship, and Norway pays unwanted immigrants to leave the country.

Another libertarian wet dream that will evaporate as soon as they have to relearn the tragedy of the commons.

I believe Svalbard has extremely restrictive land use laws that make the freedom to migrate there all but meaningless.

First smart comment here. I would love to know more about that, if you have a citation.

Google sez "Mostly all land is owned by the Norwegian ministry of justice and security. Tough luck on getting your hand on any of the few larger areas owned by privates. But there is not that impossible to get a leashold.

The mining company; Store Norske Spitsbergen Kullkompani, is managing the land on their behalf. You can apply for a leashold to the company. Not easy but doable.

Few properties are in private hands, but those who are is sold on the open market. Some small regulation on who can buy cabins and that foreign owners need to be approved by the ministry. When buying a building, you will also take over the leasehold."

There is a second mining company, Artikugol, which is owned by the Russian government and runs the largely Russian-speaking town of Barentsburg. It also owns the now abandoned town of Pyramiden, which has a hotel for tourism.

Maybe that offers our purely hypothetical migrant homesteaders some theoretical alternative possibilities, who knows.

Also see

"At the time of writing, Norway’s biggest property marketplace, lists just one house on Svalbard. The now sold three-bedroom 81m² house was listed for 3.35 million Norwegian kroner, approximately $383,000."

So the trick for open borders to work is to have prices for housing that only the upper-middle classes in first world nations can afford.

The invading hordes from Latin America solve that problem by crowding into small houses.

One small 3 bdrm. house in a nearby city had 40+ "unemployed field workers" from you know where living there. Sadly, the only reason I know about that is a little girl burned to death in a fire caused by a short due to an electric space heater in a illegally converted garage. The owner was prosecuted and found guilty. His punishment included the requirement he sell his house. He did, to his brother. Nothing changes, because it would be racist to enforce building and zoning codes that have a disparate impact on "unemployed field workers".

The student body of the school their kids attend consists of 95% ELLs and gets extra $ per pupil as a result. I talked to a teacher from my kids HS last week who quit my kids school to teach in the ELL school because the school gets more money and she gets a higher salary.

If you think this is bad you are a deplorable racist xenophobe! How dare you raise an objection!

Orange man bad!

We need to go shoot them!

I reckon many people's opinions about open borders would change considerably if the government had the right to immediately deport people if they become sick or homeless or broke, as is the case in Svalbard.

Yes, attitudes would change. I’d become rather more open to the idea.

"The truth is that in Norway (an Scandinavia in general) itself it's very difficult to get citizenship, and Norway pays unwanted immigrants to leave the country."

If only! Norway has very serious debates about deporting people who are proven to have lied on their refugee applications. And this is when it blatantly stares you in the face, like the US blue cities has no election fraud, because election fraud is never investigated.

>which today typically amounts to an 8 percent income tax

Seems like an opportunity for a tax haven. Do you residents get a Norwegian passport? Can corporations locate their E.U. headquarters there?

It's not part of schengen or EEA. To be tax resident there the company must be incorporated there AND income must be derived from local operations such as mining or tourist activities.

Individuals pay 8% tax but Corporate tax rate is 16% on the first million eur then the same as Norway at 28% (not 40% as writer states). An Norwegian oil exploring company tried to set up fake leasing of rigs there about ten years ago and the whole structure was unravelled and past taxes due were collected.

Critically, no properties are avail. The only houses being rebuilt are to replace those taken out by an avalanche. There may be one or two privately owned apartments on the market per year at astronomical prices.

In the only supermarket an apple costs 4 eur and a yogurt 10 eur. Booze is cheap as no duties or VAT.

No hospital.. only a little clinic to patch you together until you can get back to mainland.

Interesting that Svalbard can operate on an 8 percent income tax, while Norway proper requires so much more.

It surprises you that an actual country requires more taxes than an almost empty bunch of rocks?

It does surprise me. Norway's government is basically a trust fund; they probably could get by on 0% tax, with just investment returns if they tightened their belt.

I guess I should expect trolls in a post about Norway.

Yes, it surprises me that Norway supports one group of people in one place via a tax rate so wildly different from the tax rate it requires to support a different group of people in another place. No, I don't think soil composition has anything to do with it.

Try again; tell us what 80% of the aspects of the government of "a real country" might be absent from Svalbard.

That's a reasonable point. It is a big gap. To be fair, Svalbard probably has a wealthy and healthy population by Norwegian standards. So you can get by with a lower tax rate and still fund the basics.

That said, does anyone doubt you couldn't run a high-quality night-watchman state for 10%, at most?

Personally, I thought Iceland was heaven on Earth. If Svalbard is anything like Iceland, it sounds like a lovely place.

...with 2700 people instead of 338,000

More heavenly to you, or less?

When it comes to people, I'm more about quality than quantity. If those 2,700 people are as pleasant as the Icelanders I met, then I'd rate them equally.

But, after some research, I find that Iceland's climate and topography is vastly superior to that of Svalbard, by my own personal metrics at least. I'd still love to visit Svalbard some day.

This blog has become completely tiresome.

A survey of recent posts:

Open borders on a shithole frozen rock can teach us something about immigration to the US or any other part of the world that isn't a frozen shithole rock.

Children's votes should count more than old people's.

A child who doesn't understand tradeoffs traveling on a sailboat is admirable.

The latest random noise masquerading as data proves something.

Some kludgy index changing by a fraction of percent while the underlying factors change over time says something about something else. #inequality

Life lessons and reading lists from a joyless autist. "And no drinking and no drugs should go without saying." No kidding.

A super elitist who revels in shocking the dumb TSA agent/knuckle dragger because he travels with a lot of books.

White guilt and woke virtue signaling. So much signaling.


Adios, Marginal Revolution.

Kling and Caplan don't write as frequently, but when they do, they actually have something interesting to say.

You won't be missed.

Yes he will, if only to have someone point out how inane Alex has become. That’s a service too.

Why do you come here wasting your time with such inanity?

The loss of Armin is a clear sign of the impending end of MR. I have lost count of the number of times Tyler thanked him for correcting errors Tyler made. He has provided insights far more insightful and brilliant than anything reported from Tyler's interviews with prominent people, all of whom are clearly less intelligent and knowledgeable than Armin. This really is the end of MR and the Fall of Western Civilization.

Where does Alex draw any conclusions about immigration to the US from Svalbard? To anyone without blinders this was obviously a somewhat tongue in cheek post about an interesting historical anomaly and place.

If your feelings are too much to handle, then leave. I don't remember a single insightful comment from you. None. Your zero marginal comments won't be missed at all.

Don't go!!!

I think your posts are interesting and provocative. You help challenge the bias.

There are very limited physical routes into Svalbard; Alex clearly imagines you can hop on a plane from Accra or Singapore and enter his visa-less paradise. Well, tough. From "Flying to Svalbard"

"It’s almost practically impossible to get to Svalbard without transiting via Norway. This means that to visit Svalbard, you’ll need to meet the entry requirements for visiting Norway. This applies even if you are only transferring through Oslo Airport."

So much for open borders!

It's a fairly common view among open borders advocates that people who can meet entry requirements for visiting the USA could be allowed to stay as residents. If this is a major objection for critics of open borders, then perhaps you're not as critical of open borders as you think you are.

There's plenty of people I'll have as guests in the house, but don't want them staying, even if they pay rent.

We have at least 22 million of them.

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