Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is undeniably a happy occasion—not only because the fall of the Wall was good in itself, but because it presaged the collapse of communist tyranny throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. But the history of the Wall also carries some important lessons that we have not fully learned even today—lessons about the nature of communism, but also about the importance of freedom of movement across international boundaries.
In several ways, the Wall and its collapse are fitting symbols of communism. They demonstrate several truths about that system that we would be wise not to lose sight of. First and foremost, Cold War-era Berlin was the most visible demonstration of the superiority of capitalism and democracy over communism and dictatorship. Despite the fact that East Germany had one of the highest standards of living in the Soviet bloc, it had to build a wall to keep its people from fleeing to the capitalist West. By contrast, West Germans and other westerners were free to move to the communist world anytime they wanted. Yet only a tiny handful ever did so. Decisions to “vote with your feet” are often better indicators of peoples’ true preferences than ballot box voting, since foot voters have better incentives to become well-informed about the alternatives before them. Even more powerful evidence is the fact that many East Germans and others fled communism even when doing so meant risking their lives.
Second, the Berlin Wall was an important symbol of the way in which communist governments violated the human right to freedom of movement, one of the most important attributes of a free society. If people are forcibly trapped under the rule of the government in whose territory they happen to be born, they
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