Categories
Power Dynamics

Managing the Opposition

Jeremy Corbyn looks set to become Labour Leader and may soon trigger a realignment of the variety show called British parliamentary politics. Don't get me wrong, Jeremy Corbyn was one of the few Labour MPs to take a consistent stand against recent military interventions and oppose the government's love affair with global corporations. I'd certainly agree with him on some other other issues such as the re-nationalisation of railways and energy companies, which are natural monopolies. Yet on other issues such as his steadfast opposition to welfare reform and immigration controls, he may tick all the politically correct boxes and win much kudos among the rhetorical left, but fails to present a coherent alternative that can stand a moment's scrutiny. Corbyn's campaign appeals mainly to emotions and widespread rejection of the kind of corporate politics we've seen from all governments since, well err. 1976 when the then Labour government went cap in hand to the IMF to negotiate a bailout.

I still recall the last time the gullible loony left temporarily held sway in Britain's main opposition party after a decisive defeat in the June 1979 General Election that saw Margaret Thatcher's Tories sweep to power. Unlike real alternatives such as ecologism or communitarianism, the loony or trendy left merely offers a wish list of virtuous policies with little consideration to their holistic viability. With massive job losses and a rising cost of living, in early 1982 Michael Foot's Labour Party, committed to the re-nationalisation of privatised industries, unilateral nuclear disarmament and withdrawal from the EEC, held a healthy lead over the governing Conservatives. Had there been a general election in March 1982, Labour might well have won. I suspect a combination of vested corporate and military interests would have tamed the government's radical agenda. Then in April 1982 Argentina's General Galtieri kindly invaded the Falklands (aka Malvinas) to give the Iron Lady a decisive lead. Michael Foot joined the chorus of engineered public opinion calling a Naval Task Force to liberate 1600 British citizens in windswept islands, some 250 miles from the Argentine coastline (but 10,000 miles from England). The Tory government's monetarist economic policies, far from promoting British workers' interests, furthered those of global corporations who deemed British workers too expensive, too lazy and above all unreliable. It was cheaper for industry to subsidise welfare handouts in the UK than it was to maintain inefficient manufacturing plants. Overnight the public mood changed from one of disaffection with Thatcherite policies to one of nationalistic support for the heroic liberation of some remote Islands, many had never heard of. Four ministers of the former 1974-79 Labour administration left to form the Social Democratic Party in alliance with the Liberal Party. In the end Labour did not do quite as badly as many feared. Michael Foot tried his best to keep Labour grandees such as Dennis Healey and Roy Hattersley (both very much in favour of the EEC, NATO and a nuclear deterrent) on board and tame the more radical elements of the loony left, personified by Tony Benn. Yet with just 27.6% of the popular vote (with a turnout of 72%, so effectively just over 20% of the electorate), Labour sank to its lowest level of popular support since 1918, despite over 3 million unemployed and growing social unrest.

The new Consumer Classes

Labour could not persuade working class voters that their policies were either viable or desirable. Skilled workers no longer wanted to travel by bus from council houses to manual factory jobs with an annual holiday in Blackpool or Clacton, they aspired to enjoy faster cars, home ownership, better-paid office jobs and Mediterranean holidays. Progress for the working classes did not mean lower train fares or more council houses, but the new era of inexpensive consumer gadgets marketed by Maggie's business friends. Under Thatcher, the service sector, especially the toxic financial services industry, blossomed as factories shut and moved abroad. The British working class seemed happy to watch Japanese tellies, drive German cars, buy Italian washing machines and holiday in Spain. Many were left behind, especially a growing underclass of NEETs (Not in Education or Employment) and single mothers. Despite all Thatcher's rhetoric about living within our means and back to basics morality, her premiership saw the further decline of traditional families and the emergence of a hot-air economy where real jobs were increasingly outsourced. Oddly far from downsizing Labour's beloved welfare state, the social security system continued to expand in large part to manage the growing underclasses unable to adapt to the new dynamic but perennially unstable service economy. National governments became powerless to change the fundamental logic of the global market economy. Governments could merely regulate businesses, adjust tax rates, provide infrastructure, incentivise inward investors and ensure some degree of social stability.

The New Left

The political debate no longer focussed on the nature of the global economic system, but how to tame or harness it to our best advantage. Within just a few years the Labour leadership under Neil Kinnock embraced the European Union and gradually dumped commitments for the re-nationalisation of privatised industries or nuclear disarmament. The left turned its focus to social issues. Rather than champion the majority of working class people, the left began to promote the identity politics of various victim groups, whether they were ethnic minorities, single mothers, homosexuals, disability groups and the growing array of disadvantaged individuals who claimed some sort of victim status. Rather than advocate a different model of development, the new left embraced globalisation and planned to regulate corporations to be more environmentally friendly, respect workers' rights and promote their various victim groups in the name of equality and diversity. As the global economy became more tightly interdependent, big business started to co-opt the language of the trendy left. International corporations began to embrace and promote multiculturalism, feminism, LGBT rights and mental health advocacy. All these issues were honed to meet business needs. Multiculturism tended to mean multi-coloured cultural homogenisation. Feminism no longer supported women's rights as women, but coopted women into wage slavery. LGBT rights served not to remove prejudice against sexual minorities, but to change the family as it had emerged in diverse cultures around the world. Mental health advocacy far from making society more tolerant of natural human diversity, imposed a new concept of social normality. Capitalists had not suddenly had an epiphany, with a burning urge to undo all the evils of 500 years of European colonialism and 250 years of industrialisation. Rather their marketing departments had instructed them to embrace the new ethnically diverse and culturally metamorphosing demographics of their expanding consumer markets. Global capitalists genuinely believed their economic model would emancipate not only women, but also the poor of the third world. To do this they needed a new alliance of transnational businesses, governments and non-governmental organisations. Big business now marketed itself as a force for progress and no longer needed to pay lip service to the cultural whims of the old aristocratic and ecclesiastic elites. Indeed, big business much preferred to deal global institutions and bypass national and local governments altogether. They also preferred atomised consumers with new and forever morphing cultural identities to rival national and religious communities with more stable identities, and thus less malleable to the kind of cultural change required in a dynamic consumer society.

Britain's most Radical Government

Just as Thatcher's government was way more radical than Callaghan's more conservative 1970s administration, John Major's cautious stewardship of UK PLC gave way to one of the most disruptive management teams the country may ever see. Rather than undo the Thatcherite revolution, New Labour rebranded it and attracted the support of large swathes of the corporate media. Many Labour supporters welcomed Scottish and Welsh devolution, the minimum wage, working family tax credits and Good Friday Agreement that saw the apparent end to an anachronistic feud between protestants and catholics in Northern Ireland. Though sceptical of Blair from the very outset (I couldn't vote Labour in 1997 because I was still in Italy, but probably would have), I welcomed these developments too. What too few realised was just how fast the world outside was changing and how even these modest reforms in part enabled a much greater transfer of power away from national governments to supranational organisations. Within the context of Federal British Isles, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolution make perfect sense, but soon the UK itself would be a mere region of a wider European and eventually Global superstate. The minimum wage seemed long overdue, but soon became the maximum wage of an overheating service economy that generated hundreds of thousands of low-paid jobs. Working family / child tax credits merely incentivised low wages and, paradoxically, family breakups (as families were redefined). Retail inflation remained deceptively low as property prices began to rise much faster than salaries. By 2006 a typical 3 bedroom house in the outskirts of London cost the equivalent of 10 times the average salary and mortgages, not included n retail inflation, became the largest item in most households' budget. Unsurprisingly the Blair era saw a shift towards the private rent sector as millions of young adults could no longer afford to step on the property ladder, while other mischievous home owners became landlords using convenient buy-to-let schemes.

Yet it was on the international stage that New Labour showed its true colours. Not content with the rebranding of big business as a vehicle of enlightened social change, Blairite spin doctors sought to rebrand military interventionism, which had gotten itself a bit of a bad name during the Vietnam war and post-colonial escapades such as 1956 Franco-British occupation of the Suez Canal. Blair became one of the world's most vocal advocates of a new form of global colonialism, in which an international alliance of progressive countries would intervene against repressive regimes to spread freedom, democracy and free trade. In 1998 a vast majority of Labour MPs, with the support of a large body of public opinion, supported NATO's airstrikes over Kosovo and Serbia. Despite protests from the rebellious fringes (including Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway), the concept of humanitarian wars had been successfully sold, especially as the intervention aimed to save Muslim Kosovars against orthodox Christian Serbs.

While Blair appealed to Britain's lingering patriotism, his entourage didn't really believe in nation states or self-determination at all. Labour had long championed the rights of racial minorities, especially with the influx of immigrants from the British Commonwealth during the 50s, 60s and 70s. However, the indigenous working classes remained sceptical and as most Commonwealth countries gained independence and Britain remodelled itself as a modern West European social democracy, the political consensus shifted towards integration and managed limited migration. Indeed by the early 1980s Britain had negative net migration, which returned to modest migratory surpluses by the late 1980s. By the mid 1990s migratory flows had risen everywhere. The world was on the move, but some destinations were much more appealing than others. Many talented British physicians and engineers preferred better pay in Australia, Saudi Arabia or the United States. State education had also failed to train millions of disadvantaged youngsters for the world of work. While manufacturing had mainly moved abroad, we still needed plumbers, bricklayers, electricians, chefs, nurses, mechanics, carpenters and care assistants. These jobs had failed to capture the imagination of the growing underclass who failed in academic subjects. Indeed employers began to complain about UK school leavers and graduates who lacked even basic literacy and numeracy skills or simply failed to turn up for work. Without any public consultation, New Labour decided first to relax immigration controls (something largely welcomed on the left) and then in 2003 opted not impose transitional work restrictions on the new Eastern members of the European Union. As a result net migration grew from 20-30,000 a year in 1970s, 80s and early 90s to 320,000 a year in 2005. Even this masked the true picture of ethno-cultural transformation, as 650 thousand entered the UK and 330 thousand left with very different groups of people moving either direction. Little has changed since the fall of Gordon Brown's Labour administration in 2010. Under the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition, net migration reflected wider global economic imbalances. The UK population has grown from 58.5 million in 1997 to 65 million now, while in the previous 20 years the population had hardly changed (56 million in 1981). Unsurprisingly, we now have a dire housing shortage and need to import an even greater proportion of raw materials and food. Despite growing concern about the scale and sustainability of these rapid population movements among ordinary British workers, the political classes have continued to argue that migration is good for the economy. The Labour Left may rightly oppose gangmasters and low wages, but they still think mass migration is always a good idea or the best way to tackle global inequality. Jeremy Corbyn may be sceptical of the corporate grip on the European Union, but he embraces the free movement of labour. Yet too few on the left admit the chief beneficiaries of the current waves of mass migration is a global corporate elite who really do not like self-determination in any form. Indeed the current Conservative Government would rather cut workers' rights and downscale the welfare state for all, than protect British jobs.

Having your cake and eating it

In life you sometimes have to make choices. You could stay in bed all day watching Youtube videos or get up and go to work. Both choices have their appeals, especially if the state subsidises your worklessness and you can justify your idleness as a consequence of depression or eating disorders. However, most rational observers agree that despite technological advances, effort and diligence should be rewarded. Likewise, we could choose to cut air traffic and save our countryside from the blight of a new airport or we could continue to fly abroad more regularly, but be prepared to allocate more arable land to new airports. If you want more people to enjoy motoring, then we'll need to build more roads.

If you listen to some on the wishful thinking left, you'd seriously think only rabid right-wingers want us to face these dilemmas. Do we reduce carbon emissions or do we let our population rise to boost our economy? The trendy left does not want to face this dilemma. They believe some magic bullet technology will enable us to have the best of both worlds. We can keep growing our economy, welcoming more newcomers, building more houses, improving transport infrastructure, while leaving plenty of countryside, arable land and only trading fairly with the rest of the world. In the minds of the loony left, pollution and limits to growth are right-wing inventions.

So just for a short summary of Jeremy Corbyn's policies.

  1. Boost the money supply to avoid any cuts in welfare.
  2. Oppose immigration controls.
  3. Grow the economy to pay off debt and accommodate a growing population.
  4. Stop hydraulic fracturing.
  5. Reduce nasty pollution.
  6. Re-open closed coal mines.
  7. Stop resource wars.
  8. Tax global corporations
  9. Develop a high skill economy

Few politicians would disagree openly with the last point, though a global labour market place reduces the need to train local workers and corporate moguls would rather keep the masses relatively unskilled. Moreover, our current comprehensive education system and generous welfare state fail to motivate excellence in our underclasses, while middle and upper classes opt for cushy careers or prefer to migrate to sunnier climes. However, the remaining policies are inconsistent. Unless you are prepared to cut total consumption by stabilising the population and cutting per capita consumption you cannot reduce our dependence on resources imported from war-torn countries. Even much green technology increases our dependence on finite resources. Electric cars require lithium batteries and the world most abundant reserves just happen to lie in Central Asia and especially in Afghanistan. You might think trendy lefties want you cycle to work instead and grow vegetables in your back garden, but not if you can claim to have a special medical condition such as obesity or have to drop off your kids on the way to work in an out-of-town business park. A global labour market requires an increasingly mobile and versatile labour force, which in many practical situation necessitates some form of personalised rapid transport. Last but not least, it defies logic that the loony left expects global corporations to subsidise welfare largesse in the UK. Any attempt to impose higher taxes on multinationals will simply prompt them to migrate for tax purposes or pass on the local tax to local consumers as an additional cost of operating in the UK. If we introduced some form of European corporation tax, then multinationals would move their HQ outside the EU and local governments would have even less control over fiscal policy. Indeed the only way to tax multinationals fairly would be to enforce a global fiscal regime backed up by a global military. However, an independent country could ban multinationals with bad records on environmental protection or workers' rights. However, that would fall foul of the WTO,

If these policies do not seem wacky enough, just consider Jeremy's brother, Piers Corbyn, who has been running a 15-year long crusade against the religion of Global Warming. I have little faith in our corporate elites, but the one consistent strand in all mainstream economic thinking is the need for perpetual growth. The issue at stake is not whether the climate is cooling or warming or whether Sunspots play a role in weather cycles (Scotland has just had its coldest summer for over 50 years), but whether massive human activity on an unprecedented scale can destabilise our delicate ecosystem. Yet another dilemma, the loony left refuses to consider. Amazingly Piers seems very supportive of Jeremy's campaign. However, there is one small influential political cult that would entirely endorse a combined Jeremy + Piers Corbyn manifesto, the Spiked-Online brigade of media-savvy intellectuals. At least they are consistent, they are outspoken techno-optimists and climate change deniers.

Whose interests does Corbynmania really serve?

It doesn't take a genius to realise Jeremy Corbyn's policy platform could never be implemented in its entirety. Most policies would be vetoed by supranational bodies like the EU. In some ways I wish Corbyn's dream of plenty for all could be true. I too would like cheap food and well-paid farmworkers, clean cities, abundant wildlife, clean rivers and efficient inexpensive rapid transportation. However, I also detect a centralising and potentially authoritarian statist streak in Corbyn's agenda, not least his talk about mental health and support for more social workers.

Like or not, big business only agrees with two of Corbyn's policies, more migration and economic growth at all costs. If the main opposition party, albeit a rump Labour Party deprived of Blairites, could oppose even the most feeble attempts to regulate unsustainable people trafficking, the government can pose on the middle ground of public opinion while covertly pursuing an unashamedly globalist agenda. That leaves the settled working classes only with another bunch of climate change deniers in UKIP while the greens back a rebranded Labour party.

The other 3 candidates behave like overgrown school students trying hard to impress their politically correct social studies teacher and gain favour with their classmates. I guess Andy Burnham tries to appeal more to his classmates, while Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper want to get full marks for their Labour leadership project. Only Andy Burnham, in a sop to working class voters, has dared to criticize Labour record on mass migration, but this is probably as credible as similar musings from Tory politicians. All support the EU and free movement of Labour. Yvette Cooper even suggested David Miliband's charity, Rescue International, help with the refugee crisis in Calais. Now, why would a staunch Blairite and supporter of Iraq war (which together with other interventions in Aghanistan, Libya and Syria helped create a much bigger refugee crisis in North Africa and Turkey), be so keen to help refugees? It's like selling double-glazing services to someone whose windows you have just smashed. What matters most to global corporations is to keep the range of acceptable public debate on message, which is simply there is no alternative to the curent globalist model of development and any attempt to regain control over the levers of economic power will be ridiculed and sidelined.

If something sounds too good be true, in my experience it probably is. The loony left cannot change the laws of thermodynamics, but it's up to us on the rational left to suggest coherent alternatives to our current economic system.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Do we really need more economic growth?

 hop  ntil  ou  rop by  anksy

If you want to justify any policy whether it's higher military spending, deregulation of gambling, lower corporation tax or higher levels of immigration to a sceptical public, just claim it's good for the economy. How could any rational human being be against greater prosperity? In today's cultural climate could any political party openly advocate greater poverty, the presumed opposite of a growing economy? Worse still, both left and right-branded mainstream politicians all agree we need to grow our economy. The notional right want to deregulate business so they can boost profits and invest in new more competitive technology, while the rhetorical left wants to inject more virtual cash into the economy so ordinary people can buy more goods. Even the Greens talk of more environmentally sustainable growth. To oppose growth seems tantamount to condemning most people to more misery and extreme hardship.

Here I will argue we have lost sight of what really matters in life, focussing too much on ephimeral techno-fashion and quantitative growth and too little on the long-term happiness, intellectual fulfilment and sustainability of our species. If we are to tackle the great social and environmental challenges of the next century, we need greater stability, yet our collective consumption is growing at a faster rate than ever before.

For the last 30 years, we have witnessed almost non-stop economic growth with only brief periods of economic recession, i.e. negative growth. If we measured our quality of life in purely economic terms, we should be ecstatic because never have so many had so much financial and material wealth. In the last 25 years car ownership has nearly doubled (from 582 million in 1990 to a projected 1202 million last year) as China and India seek to emulate Western Europe. Just 20 years ago most Europeans did not have a personal computer, now most have an Internet-enabled smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop PC. Now most Indians over the age of 16 have a mobile phone. By 2010 India had some 563 million subscribers. Even in remote Tanzanian villages, where most residents live without mains water and electricity supply, many have second-hand mobile phones. In the UK owning a mobile phone has become for all practical purposes a basic human right. Now teenagers compete to have the latest and greatest branded smartphone, usually setting their parents back £20 to £40 a month. If we add to that growing expectations for fashion accessories, holidays abroad, cosmetic surgery and bottled water, it becomes clear that despite some gains in industrial and operational efficiency, we consume much more per capita today than we did just a generation ago. Worse still, as intensive manufacturing has migrated mainly to low-wage regions, we replace consumer products more often. Fridges and washing machines used to last 10 to 20 years. Furniture would be handed down from generation to generation. Now these items are treated like disposables. The rapid pace of technological change has produced mountains of unusable junk for which mission-critical spare sparts are no longer readily available. Any trip to a waste disposal site in the UK will reveal heaps of trashed devices from just 10 years ago. Topping the list of discarded items are inexpensive printers and CRT monitors. Not even charities want these products as it usually costs more to repair them than buy newer alternatives. Lifestyle changes have led more of us to choose ready meals, buy snacks to eat at work, order a pizza online or grab our food from a smorgasbord of fast-food outlets from budget burger bars to upscale organic health food shops. All these trends result in more packaging, more cardboard and plastic with modest quanities of edible matters, often marketed as health food. While paper and plastic can be recycled, it takes energy to sort incompatible materials and transform them into usable objects.

In theory a growing economy will help us offset any real or perceived downsides to business-friendly policies, e.g. proceeds from the gambling industry could be invested in charities that help victims of gambling addiction. By the same logic we could legalise brothels, just as Spain and parts of Germany and Australia, and invest the extra taxes generated to help victims of sexual abuse. However, our establishment's fixation with economic growth does not explain all policy decisions in an increasingly complex and interdependent world. A general trend is to see greater regulation of private lives, while simultaneously deregulating the burgeoning leisure, hospitality and mood-altering industries. Smoking is now banned in most public places, but moves are afoot to decriminalise and commercialise marijuana, while a collusion between the state and big business promote the growing use of psychoactive drugs to regulate mood. One may argue that smoking cessation and substitutes are now much more profitable than cigarettes ever were. Have some naughty fun by all means as long as your pursuit of pleasure is commoditised and thus subject to commercial logic and state control.

Are we happier?

Life is certainly sweeter for many privileged denizens of gated neighbourhoods, leafy suburbs and luxury apartments. They gain all the benefits of a dynamic global economy and yet remain protected from the social upheaval it creates. They can mix with like-minded wealthy young professionals, but still believe their purchasing power helps the less fortunate in society as they dine in nearby restaurants or hire the services of chidlminders, cleaners, plumbers and itinerant tradespeople. Today wealth tends to buy exclusivity more than larger amounts of disposable stuff. One pays more to steer clear of the stress of modern life. If you want to be inundated with in-your-face advertising and ostentatious displays of junk consumerism, you can endlessly wander free of charge through shopping malls and supermarkets the length and breadth of the land. Yet if you want some tranquility away from the madding crowd while remaining within easy commuting distance of a busy city, you will pay extra to live in an exclusive neighbourhood.

Yet in the frenetic rat race that everyone else has to endure, we are trapped in a system that necessitates wasteful mass consumption and only succeeds in generating more envy over superficial branded accessories and artificial bodily enhancements. While real world per capita consumption has risen dramatically, emotional unease, often conceptualised as social anxiety, depression, OCD or other personality disorders, has spread by epidemic proportions. Happiness itself has become a commodity sold in the form of retail therapy, cosmetic surgery or mood-altering medication. We find it harder to enjoy the small pleasures of life and are much more likely to abandon our partners due to a sense of non-fulfilment or perceived economic hardships and/or emotional abuse.

Once our basic needs, such as food, water and shelter, are met and we have the sanitary and medical technology to ensure most of us can survive into old age, further rises in per capita consumption and economic activity have only a marginal effect on overall happiness. By contrast economic inequality, debt-fuelled financial stress and job insecurity, all symptoms of our current growth-obsessed corporate-globalist system, engender envy, anxiety and despair. If you lived in a village where everyone has either a horse or a bicycle before the advent of the Internet and smartphone, you would not fret about your lack of a car, mobile phone or computer, but merely about the relative merits of owning a horse or a bicycle. Until recently much of the world remained blissfully unaware of the true scale of Western consumer culture. It took around 50 years for the kind of happy shopper mentality that flourished briefly in affluent suburban North America in the 1950s and 60s to reach rural Africa, India and South America. In the 1990s two trends led to an acceleration of consumer culture awareness. First, hundreds of millions moved to swelling conurbations and came into regular contact with the wonders of the industrial revolution. Second, wider availability of electric power generators and rapid advances in mobile telephony connected even the remotest backwaters with the rest of the world. To many rural African motor vehicles were mysterious machines that foreign visitors would occasionally use to reach their home settlements. Suddenly they were everywhere alongside advertisements for fashion accessories and technological marvels that promised to transform their lives. The relative stability of subsistence farming, albeit struggling to cope with a growing population (in large part due to modern medicine lowering infant mortality), desertification and climate change, gave way to the instability of overcrowded third world metropolises with a huge levels of inequality. New city dwellers had little choice but to enter the financial economy through street trade, begging, prostitution or burglary. With a massive oversupply of cheap unskilled labour only a minority made the transition to the lower reaches of the middle classes. Most could hope at best for temporary jobs and crumbs from street trade ventures. Yet if we look at the raw statistics, economic growth rates across much of the developing world look very impressive, but hide growing social insecurity.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Bursting at the Seams

Europe faces an unprecedented stream of human traffic from Africa, the Middle East, Southern and Central Asia. As wars rage from Afghanistan to Yemen and Darfur while deserts expand and arable land available for each inhabitant shrinks, this crisis shows few signs of abating. The heart-wrenching scenes of refugees huddling together on makeshift rafts in the middle of the Mediterranean should concern any conscientious human being, but why would anyone go to such extreme lengths to seek economic betterment? Why did this not happen on such a large scale 20 years ago when people in the developing world were arguably even poorer?

Many economists will tell you more people mean more workers, more consumers and best of all more economic growth, all of which are supposed to be good things. Bleeding heart humanitarians will tell you we cannot turn a blind eye to the plight of millions seeking to flee war, persecution and extreme deprivation for the greener pastures of post-industrial high-consumption countries like the UK, Sweden or Australia. Meanwhile many environmentalists prefer to blame greedy corporations and past Western imperialism for the tragic scenes we see unfold before our eyes as migrants struggle to reach the more prosperous corners of Europe.

Yet few seem prepared to admit the real causes of the undeniable social and environmental problems that drive so many to abandon their home regions. Rational debate on this subject is impossible unless we can get our facts right rather than rely on the selective statistics that many powerful lobbies present us. First there are two competing justifications for more mass migration.

  1. More people boost the economy, which in turn creates more happiness and prosperity. If this were true countries like Nigeria and Pakistan would be paradises on earth rather than exporters of human traffic. But given current levels of overconsumption and waste in much of Europe and North America, do we really need to boost our economy to improve our quality of life? What matters isn't the economy, but people's livelihoods dependent on a sustainable work-life balance.
  2. We have an ethical duty to help other human beings in need: I find this argument a lot more appealing and can think of many circumstances where it's absolutely right to help those less fortunate than ourselves if we can. For instance, if you have a spare room, you could let a homeless guy sleep there until he can afford his own accommodation. Would you trust this guy to respect your property and how many other homeless guys are out there? However, with the current migration crisis, we end up helping only those who choose to migrate, leaving behind everyone else who cannot afford to pay people traffickers or just prefer not to leave the devil they know best. So by helping people to emigrate, we promote mass migration as a solution rather than treat it as a symptom of systemic failure. Besides, it's sheer hypocrisy to advocate open-door immigration while living in a gated neighbourhood as many wealthy neoiliberals do. Borders are just a variant of fences and gates between properties. In an ideal world we wouldn't need any protection against intrusion, but it's human nature to envy other people's perceived wealth.

Next, many seem unclear about the extent and long-term consequences of such large movements of people. Were we faced with a limited flow of people due to a temporary natural disaster, it would be much easier just to rise to the challenge of acccommodating everyone.

Many pro-migration charities and NGOs will endlessly recycle claims that more mass migration is just what Europe's ageing population needs. Indeed many businesses too welcome the prospect of an influx of more malleable young workers eager to accept low wages. Meanwhile, opponents of mass migration tend to forget the culpability of our economic system that keeps diverting resources away from poorer regions to non-productive high-consumption regions. The fundamental question that many refuse to answer is why should an IT recruitment consultant from Aldershot earn much more than a sardine-canner from Agadir, especially as the latter actually produces something we need and the former just wants a slice of the someone else's earnings. More important, why should an unemployed Moroccan get nothing, while a jobless Briton can claim generous welfare handouts? Life just ain't fair. Another good question is if the global economy has been steadily growing for the last 20 years, why are so many young people jobless? The real answer lies a phenomenon we tend to call globalisation, with an unprecedented acceleration of technological, social and cultural change. These days few countries are remotely independent or self-sufficient. National economies have become little more than localised regions of a larger global economy. Many global corporations are more powerful than the governments of large countries.

Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, hundreds of millions in the developing world have moved from rural communities to sprawling conurbations. A majority of Sub-Saharan Africans now live in towns and cities, while just 20 years ago most still lived in traditional rural communities as subsistence farmers. Once a rural African has overcome the culture shock of cosmopolitan urban life in their nearest African metropolis, it only takes a small leap of faith to leave the overcrowded shanty-towns and slums of Lagos, Cairo or Mogadishu to seek refuge in a region where nearly everyone gets to enjoy the wonders of our consumer culture and the security of the modern welfare state. All large cities have ostentatious displays of material wealth. You'll see plenty of Mercedes and iPhones in Lagos or Kinshasa, but many more street traders, beggars and sex workers. Unemployment is not an option, without a viable business or a paid job, one has to work full-time to raise funds for basic sustenance. With no land, new city dwellers have no choice but enter the financial economy. Everything from clean potable water to food, transport and lovemaking now has a price. Once people are mentally and emotionally connected via modern telecommunications technology with the wider consumer world, they suddenly feel entitled to a fair share of the action. It hardly matters if a single trademarked iPhone costs more than the annual income of many Subsaharan Africans or if Africa is being raped to meet growing global demand for raw materials required for disposable electronic goods, the mass consumer genie has well and truly popped out of the proverbial bottle. If white welfare claimants from Uppsala or Hull can afford a smartphone, a new pair of Nike sneakers and a holiday in Ibiza, why the hell should a hardworking shoeshine boy from Karachi not be entitled to the same modest luxuries? Welfare subsidies may have been won through decades of workers' struggles, but as most manufacturing and even many office jobs have been outsourced to low-wage economies, it's hard to justify special treatment of the unemployed in countries with traditionally higher living standards, except to prevent social unrest and keep the consumer economy alive and kicking. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, everyday I would read reports of factory closures compensated only by retail expansion. In reality many traditional manual jobs have either been automated or assigned to expendable cheap labour. A flexible economy transforms workers from valued full-time employees into human mere resources who can be hired and fired or self-promoting agents whose contracts can be terminated whenever their services are no longer required. As the pace of technological change quickens, stable jobs have become very much a luxury and well-paid permanent jobs are only available to the highly qualified. Ironically the current wave of mass migration owes much more to Thatcherite business restructuring and outsourcing than it does to the social-democratic mixed economy of the 1960s when most adults of working age either had full-time jobs or were gainfully employed at home in childcare.

Many on the left believe in universalism, at least in theory, i.e. they care as much about the rights and wellbeing of your average Burundian as they do about their next-door neighbours or extended family. If we can accept, say, 1 million migrants from the Middle East and Africa, what about the 1 billion or more we cannot accommodate? Even if we spread the migratory load among other prosperous regions, we'd be hard-pushed to accommodate more than 1% of those who would potentially prefer to enjoy our living standards. Moreover, the UK's population has increased by 6 million in since the year 2000 meaning to sustain our current lifestyle, we need to import more and more resources from the very war-torn regions that millions wish to flee. Often these resources are expropriated indirectly, e.g. A UK-based retailer imports electronic goods from China, who in turn cuts deals with kleptocratic African leaders to gain access to essential raw materials. Most of the pollution and habitat destruction created by retail therapy and wasteful lifestyles is outsourced. Conveniently, the trendy left prefers to blame greedy capitalists and selfish billionaires for all this wanton environmental destruction rather the consumers who buy this junk. Of course, if all 7 billion human beings alive today enjoyed a typical Western European lifestyle, we'd have a good deal more environmental destruction, without significantly boosting efficiency and cutting unnecessary waste, both of which would shrink the very economy that motivated and enabled such rapid technological change in the first place.

How many is too many? If we took universalism to its logical conclusion, then the European Union would merge with all other regional trading blocs to become the Global Union and everyone everywhere would not only enjoy complete freedom of movement, but also universal global welfare and a global minnum wage. Seriously, if big business is global and the wages of non-productive service workers in the UK depend on corporate profits gained by exploiting resources in other countries, why should welfare be restricted to a few nanny-state countries? In case you're wondering, I'm not trying to write the 2020 Green Manifesto. I'm just trying to suggest that if we can barely afford a fair and equitable welfare system in one of the most financially prosperous countries in the world, any move towards a global government will inevitably spread poverty more than prosperity, unless we can ramp up global consumption at least five-fold so your average Pakistani or Ghanaian consumes as much as your average Dane. As I hope to explain soon on the Economic Growth Mantra, most of the world's social and environmental problems are caused by our obsession with economic growth at all costs and by our inability to adapt to an unprecedented rate of technological change. While technology may help us tackle environmental constraints in the long run, but right now we are generating mountains of garbage from obsolete gadgets, toxic chemicals and sprawling road networks just so we can travel to shopping malls or office jobs.

My question to the wishful thinking left is how does accepting a few hundred thousand more refugees help address any of the underlying causes of socio-economic deprivation? More to the point, how does a growing UK economy reliant on resources from the rest of the world, help people in poorer countries? In short it doesn't, it just grows corporate profits and increases demand for fossil fuels to ship goods over here. If we were to pay the real price of our compulsive shopping, then many goods and services would be a lot dearer.

Real green solutions to the migration crisis:

  1. Stop destabilising other countries through direct or indirect military intervention. Wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, the Balkans and Libya as well as arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan or Israel have not only fuelled internecine warfare, but have led millions to flee their home regions. Do not trust any politicians who supported recent wars on spurious humanitarian grounds and now wants us to accommodate refugees from wars they helped foment. The main downside to this approach is much lower revenue for our arms industry.
  2. Replace free trade with fair trade, i.e. only import goods and resources if their production respects a global minimum wage and meets very strict environmental protection standards. This would make many goods much more expensive, but would also remove the primary motivation to move from low-wage regions to high-wage regions. People need to be aware of the true environmental and social impacts of their carefree consumption habits.
  3. Promote greater regional self-sufficiency, by relocalising agriculture and production. Why should Kenya export mange-tout beans to the UK, while many Kenyans starve? Globalisation has led to hyper-specialisation where goods essential for basic human existence are no longer made in many countries. Hyper-specialisation creates hyper-dependence on large transnational corporations. Currently, corporate lobbyists export free trade as a model of development, but once a country relies on imports to feed its people it is subservient to international bankers. Once again, while regional diversification would bring about more sustainable development, it would be very bad for corporate profits and economic growth measured in strictly financial terms.
  4. Cut consumption in the wealthy world. Whether you like it or not, people tend to move regions where per-capita consumption is highest. We need to seriously rebalance the world economy so we pay the real price for the products we consume before we can build a more stable and sustainable future for all. In the short term, that means fewer cars in the wealthy world and a lot less waste. Your mobile phone may have to last 5 to 10 years.
  5. Responsible procreation: If you want to benefit from modern sanitation and medicine so more children survive, you cannot keep having more children than your local environment can sustain. In the past, nature would always keep population in check usually through higher infant mortality, emigration and starvation. Few regions in the world are currently able to accommodate larger populations without drastic changes to lifestyle. As a result of the demographic transition, much of Europe and Asia already has fertility rates at or below population replacement level. However, not only is the global population still destined to peak at 10-11 billion, but per capita consumption is rising much faster. It cannot escape our attention that the countries with the highest emigration rates are also those with the highest birth rates. By promoting sustainable development, i.e. where countries become more rather than less self-sufficient, we can motivate more responsible procreation. If you think that can't be done without coercive Chinese-style one-child policies (which saw the fertility rate fall from 6 babies per woman in 1970 to just 1.66 in 2015), then just look at Italy and Bangladesh, where the birth rate has fallen from 2.4 to 1.4 (Italy) and from a staggering 7.0 to 2.2 (Bangladesh) respectively between 1970 and 2013. We need to think more in terms of the quality of our next generation than quantity. The world may have a growing elderly population, but we will not run out of young people any time soon. However, owing to greater automation of most manual labour, will they have any meaningful jobs?
  6. Easing the burden of migratory flows: If we cannot stop migration in the short-term, without imposing Draconian restrictions on travel that would adversely affect economic activity, we can at least divert as many migrants as possible to regions that have recently experienced large-scale population decline. Many areas of Eastern Europe are full of abandoned dwellings and villages with few young people of working age. This would not be long-term solution and probably not very popular in with the locals (Indeed Hungary has already refused to apply the EU rule that requires it to accommodate all migrants that claim asylum in its territory), but may in the short-term be more cost-effective than cramming more into a few economically hyperactive regions like the South East of England.