Borderless Is Inevitable


The world is shrinking, and some people are upset. Today I read on article on Hacker News “What does a world without Airbnb look like?” which talks about the negative sentiment against long-term tourists in Barcelona, and it corroborated the discussion I saw on the Digital Nomad subreddit yesterday “Cancel Barcelona Trip?”.


When I was a kid, my family moved from China to Canada. The ease of it all seemed normal to me. Make a life in a new country? No big deal. As I grew up, I realized this wasn’t far from the truth for most of the developed world. If you’re in a Western country and dead set on becoming a citizen of another, is it really that hard? Not really.

This is the world we created after World War II. We asked for peace and open borders. Now we’re surprised when people use them?

Venice, drowning in tourists, has started charging them just to enter. Barcelona is kicking out short-term rental. Portugal, once a quiet corner of Europe, is overwhelmed by digital nomads. Local rent prices are skyrocketing, and long-time residents are feeling the squeeze.

But I think this is just the beginning.

Digital Nomads

As remote work becomes ubiquitous, we’re witnessing a global financial arbitrage. A software engineer earning a Silicon Valley salary can live like royalty in Bali. This isn’t a bug; it’s a feature of our interconnected world.

Those local economies, bound by physical constraints and slow legislation, are struggling to keep up, so it’s understandable that they’re look for any quick answers. And the knee-jerk reaction is to resist. But that’s both futile and shortsighted.

Consider the numbers:

These aren’t just tourists; they’re high-skilled, high-income individuals. Rejecting them doesn’t just cut off tourism cash; it creates gray markets and shows an inability to capitalize on a massive economic opportunity.

I believe the obvious play here is to embrace the change. Create policies that welcome global talent while protecting local communities. Tax these high earners and use the money to offset growth pains for locals. Leverage the influx of capital to accelerate industrial and commercial growth. Even get them to naturalize when you can.

Perhaps this is gentrification on a global scale. But I’ve never seen the fight against gentrification win. Last week as I looked across New York for housing and read up the histories of the neighborhoods, it was astounding that an area like Bedford-Stuyvesant was considered “sketchy” even two years ago and now is “completely safe and lovely.” No, this isn’t about displacing locals; it’s about turning the growing pain into opportunities for everyone. The global market is going to move forwards whether or not you like it. Furthermore, the genie of remote work was let out of the lamp by the Covid pandemic. No amount of wishing will put it back in.


For individuals, the message is clear: embrace mobility. Learn new skills. Explore new places. Think globally about your career and life.

For countries and cities: adapt or be left behind. The future belongs to those who can see beyond borders, both literal and figurative.

In startups, we talk about product-market fit. In the global economy, we’re seeing location-talent fit. The world is becoming a marketplace of places, each competing for the best minds and biggest contributors. The countries that figure this out first will thrive. The rest will be left wondering where all the talent went.

Consider this: in the grand scheme of human history, the idea of strict national borders is relatively new. Maybe what we’re seeing now isn’t a radical change, but a return to a more natural state of human movement and settlement.

The future is borderless. And it’s already here.

Discuss on Hacker News

← Back to home