Saturday, June 25, 2016

We have to talk about Immigration

The UK is in the deepest of deep shit over the EU referendum result, for many many reasons, but there is one simple overriding actor in this tragedy: Immigration.

There is a simple Right-Left argument about migration, based on the Right saying "We don't want these foreigners here in our country", and the Left saying "Yes we do, they're fellow humans in need of help".

On top of this emotional reaction there is an economic argument, with the Right saying "They take our benefits, housing, services and jobs" and the Left saying, "They boost to our economy, they keep the NHS going, if services are stretched it is because of under-provision, not immigrant demand".

This was the level at which the debate was carried out in the referendum, and, let's face it, we lost. Almost 52% of the voting public voted for Brexit, and immigration was a very strong factor in their motivation.

We need to think more about our approach to immigration. It is a huge topic, with a long long history, but we have to concentrate on the present situation.

There is a weakness to our argument about the economic contribution made by immigrants, because the young, economically active migrants who are being welcomed will turn into economically inactive senior people, so we will need yet more migrants to look after them.
Also, we should be able to train up our own young people to be doctors and nurses, instead of stealing those produced by other countries.

Next, there is an ecological component to the argument, which goes like this:

"No matter how much we love, like and sympathise with those fleeing war, dictators, poverty and environmental degradation, Britain is a small set of islands, already over its carrying capacity, and at 251 people per sq Km, the third most densely populated country in the EU, after Malta (1306/per sq Km), Netherlands (397), Belgium (352), and just ahead of Germany at 230".

The Left deals with the carrying capacity argument by saying "It isn't the size of the human population, it is the amount they consume that matters, and we in the West consume more than our fair share". Which is true, but only partly true, because it is the case that if everyone on the planet had the best possible, greenest, most sustainable consumption pattern, the human population would still have to stop growing, for the simple reason that it is impossible to grow forever in a finite space.

Hans Rosling has a good point to make, which is that we need to move to a position where everyone in the world has enough. But even Hans Rosling must accept that it is impossible to expand forever into a finite space.

The Left meets any worries about the carrying capacity of the UK by pointing out that migrants would still be consuming in their home countries, they have just changed the location of their consumption. Which is true, up to a point, but in moving from a warm and consumer oriented country to the UK, individuals will probably increase their consumption patterns, if only because they need more domestic heating than they do in a warm country.

The basic ecological facts that we face are this:

First, It is impossible to turn back the tide of human movement that  is taking place at the moment, and it is likely to continue until we address the causes of migration, so we have to accept migration as the new norm.

Second, we must take a long term view, and  should start looking at, and solving, the causes of migration, that is, war, dictatorial and oppressive regimes, poverty, and environmental degradation, including climate change.

Cynics may say that is impossible, we have been trying for decades and look at us. But we haven't really been trying. We have been pretending to try, fiddling and verbalising, but we're not really serious about it. Why? One component of this failure is the dominant right wing meme is "Why should we care about wars and regimes in far away places? Let's put Britain first".

The Right has got to understand that we live in a system where everything is interconnected. If they want to stop immigration, they have got to address conditions across the world, and addressing conditions does not mean dropping bombs on people, it means diagnosing ant treating systemic problems.

The Right needs to understand that the definitive solution to migration is not to withdraw from the EU and seal our borders , because that would need a massive Naval task force in the Channel, picking up boats and returning them to the EU, which would be deeply problematical.

Clearly, the only solution to immigration is to work to address the causes of war. If we did this, the end effect is that we could actually end up living in a happier planet.

So, looking on the bright side, the present migration crisis could be a turning point in human history, where we begin to manage ourselves in a more intelligent way.

Brexit MEP admits Brexit will do little to curb immigration

More on this blog:
Do potential migrants know about the dangers that they face?
Migration: lets get to the cause of the problem 
What causes war
World Population

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