On Immigration

This post has been translated into Chinese.

I recently received the following question from my contact form. I’ve decided to answer it in public, because similar concerns are woven into the immigration narrative far beyond the UK.

"I work for a women’s refuge, recently a Turkish women can to stay with us. Her attitude is that she is in the UK and therefore the government should look after her and her child. She wants her son to have an English education and therefore she’s owed that from the     government because she has spent two years getting a visa into the country, she has  only been in the country 3 months and has numerous appointments with our healthcare services which she will get for free. She has no ambition to work, no want to put into the system yet wants to be looked after. This kind of attitude infuriates me, as it isn’t an isolated incident.  If you could offer me some advice or a different perspective on how to see this situation from a more inter-being or nicer perspective I'd really appreciate it."

Here we have a compassionate person noticing how she is being invited into a narrative of resentment. She is looking for an alternative, noticing her anger yet also trusting that there must be another way of looking at it.

Basically, the concern here is that foreigners are coming into the UK (and other developed countries) and taking advantage of the social services there, or the employment opportunities. That means less employment, higher taxes, and more stretched social services for those already there. The native residents blame the immigrants for that, and are in turn called racist and xenophobic. But in fact, the tension is an inevitable product of broader circumstances.

The first point to consider is why those immigrants want to leave their home countries behind in the first place, and go through the stress of a two-year visa application process (or taking an illegal boat across the Mediterranean or a tunnel into Texas), leaving behind everything familiar. The reason (if I may be permitted a vast simplification) is that the developed countries (or more accurately, global capital, based in the developed countries), have made life in the poorer countries unlivable for vast numbers of their inhabitants. Neo-liberalism, free trade treaties, austerity, and the global debt regime effectively extract wealth from the less developed countries and transfer it to the more developed. Furthermore, political repression is often necessary to enforce this system, resulting as well in ethnic violence. All of these contribute to make life unlivable for vast numbers of people outside the developed world.

It is quite insane to make life unlivable in another country, and then when people don’t want to live there, to attempt to keep them out by force. Wouldn’t it be better to enact policies that don’t make life unlivable there? Then there wouldn’t be an immigration problem to begin with.

The second point is related: the transfer of wealth to the wealthy from everyone else affects the developed nations too. Financial capital expands at the expense of the poor, the middle class, municipal governments, small businesses, pensions, and government revenues. This creates conditions of endemic scarcity and anxiety that color the perceptions of people like my correspondent. I am sure she would feel less resentful if she hadn’t witnessed three decades now of dwindling social services and growing economic insecurity. Even if she is doing all right personally, many around her are not. The insecurity immerses us all. When economic life screams at us, “There is never enough,” we are not likely to entertain generous impulses toward immigrants,the poor, or anyone in need. When we are secure, we might interpret the Turkish woman’s attitudes differently. Maybe she doesn’t want to work because she is sick, or has many children to take care of, or perhaps a bedridden mother... who knows? Who knows what stories lurk behind the faces of those we judge?

The essence of judgement is, “If I were in her situation, I would do better than she is doing.” But every time when I learn more about another person’s situation, their actions seem more understandable, and I realize, “Yeah, if I were in her shoes, I’d probably do the same thing.”

Of course, racism and xenophobia get in the way of that kind of empathy, because they assign their object into a dehumanized or degraded category of being. It is a mistake, though, to see racism or xenophobia as the root causes of economic injustice. The conditions for resentment and division are built into the economic system that dominates the planet. Racism, ethnic prejudice, and so on enable that system, make it seem justified, but they do not cause it.

If we are truly concerned about immigration, instead of building higher walls and tighter border security, why not make conditions more tolerable in the places being are desperate to leave?

The woman who wrote me the letter above is actually in the same boat, so to speak, as the immigrants. The economic logic that sets her up for resentment is the same logic that drives most immigration. The system perpetuates itself by pitting its victims against each other. These tensions will only increase as the debt pressure intensifies on every level. Blaming the other victims obscures that reality. Sure, there are many people who manage to act on their generous impulses despite the scarcity that surrounds them, but wouldn’t it be better to create a system that embodies and encourages those impulses?

I won’t go into what that system might be here – I wrote a whole book on that. Increasingly, we know what the core of the problem is though. Greece made it obvious if it hadn’t been before. It is debt slavery, the debt that is increasingly controlling the lives of people and the policies of nations.


    • I understand it from both perspectives. Simply everyone wants whats better for there family and will do all they can to get it. Its basic survival. To solve the problem though you need to replace the greedy power hungry few Like Magabbie (excuse the spelling)for example in Africa and basically in act policies and practices to bill these reschemes / dictator ships directly for the costs of takeing care of the unwanted peoples of the world by direct accesss to their hidden wealth/ swiss bank accounts and also confisgate lands within their own boarders to re house and re establish democratic sovereignties and societies for the disadvataged peoples in their own countries. The world can longer afford to allow such entities to abuse religion and ethnic cultural differences as an excuse to drive such huge migrations.
      At the end of the day when you think about it what better way to bring the powerful world economies to their knees than to overload their social welfare systems and energy support infra structures. ( Economic and cultural terrorism of an insidious nature)
      The problem needs to be dealt with at the source bigger walls and more ambulances and life jackets arent going to do it.

  1. I think that you’re reply is a good first step in trying to feel compassion to those that arrive at refugees, but it does read as an entirely personal interpretation of our views of one refugee. The anger that the lady expressed and that many of us may have briefly experienced on such situations, is more about the broader impacts that such needful migrants have. It is commendable to offer such refugees help, but with large swatches of the world under conflict, repression and oppression, your logic would result in welcoming all, which is millions to billions. Sadly, that is simply not possible, and many people see this stream of costly incoming populations as being dangerous for the long-term viability of the UK as being wealthy and “better off” enough to help those in need.
    Therefore I believe that helping the public to understand that such help is happily given but not limitless is the most anger-neutralising method. Then it can be more widely known that we help those that we can and are able, which includes helping native communities to remain safe and provided with support in the same way that charities/NGOs/Aid insist that migrants deserve.

  2. “The reason (if I may be permitted a vast simplification) is that the developed countries (or more accurately, global capital, based in the developed countries), have made life in the poorer countries unlivable for vast numbers of their inhabitants.”
    Bullshit. The fact that we’ve industrialized and built our own wealth doesn’t mean we’re impoverishing anybody. Free trade policies have pulled a billion people out of poverty in China. Western countries aren’t responsible for every bad thing that happens in the world.

    • Yes we are. Our system is built on exploitation. We didn´t “earn” our privilege, our privilege is buildt on colonianism and empirialism.
      And we and our ancestors didn´t just do it to the poor and “underdeveloped” countries, industrialisation wouldn´t be where it is today if we hadn´t had the “chimnney boys” that William Blake wrote so potently about and it wouldn´t be where it is today without a large body of working poor in our OWN countries.

    • The Chinese are still slaves, it is still a communist system.
      I agree that the west should not be responsible for everyone’s woes.
      Colonialisation is long gone. We are an over populated planet, so there are not enough resources to go around. It is a very complicated world that we live in we have to address population, education for women.

  3. Like with every problem it is most efficiently solved by finding a solution for its causes. In the case of immigration, like Eisenstein says in the article, it is to redistribute wealth to all ‘poor’ countries so that people have no motivation for migrating.
    But the biggest problem of immigration is the permanent damage to the cultural diversity of humanity. You cannot sustain this diversity if you allow everyone to go everywhere. Borders are meant to protect that diversity. As the wealthiest of all it is our task to protect this by stopping migration and rebel against the system that causes it (the economic injustice caused by neoliberalism/capitalism). And we must do this quickly before my people and many other European peoples will go extinct for ever. The long term consequences are always more important then the short term ones.

    • I disagree with your comments regarding loss of cultural diversity, for a few reasons:
      Firstly, fear of a loss of cultural diversity implies the belief that some cultures simply shouldn’t be allowed to become diverse, because they are so interesting/unique/wonderful or whatever. OR, a belief that your own culture is so perfect, that it should be frozen into a museum-like state of perpetual non-change. Either way, this fear is self-destructive, (especially in an historically super-diverse place like the UK) as cultures are shown to only survive in situations where they are allowed to evolve and respond to the realities of life.
      Secondly, cultures will always be diverse, no matter how connected we become. There will always be geographic differences, differences in temperature, climate and types of food grown, between different places on Earth. Therefore there will always be different clothing styles, architecture, food, and animals that all come together to influence the culture of any one place. Language itself constantly evolves to respond to all sorts of influences, local and global and it will continue to do so. And people will always identify with their home.
      So loss of cultural diversity is not something to fear, quite the opposite. As the world connects and discovers more about itself, understanding and empathy is built between cultures, and the conditions for racism, zenophobia and war are minimised. We should be aiming for a world in which borders are not required!

      • Ash, thanks for the reply. I think we have a different idea of what diversity really is.
        I define it as the amount of long-term identities that can be sustained on a given land area (cultural carrying capacity). By identities I mean populations that have a common history, language, religion and ‘ways of interacting with each other and their environment’ (lets call it a ‘culture’). When such a culture loses its homogeneity by mixing with external cultures (by immigration for example) this local culture loses its original identity and in the long term the culture will become a hybrid of the local one and the external one. So in this scenario the amount of cultures on a given land remains constant yet the original is replaced by the hybrid one. But the quality has decreased since the hybrid one will be less diverse then the original one (since it is starting to look more then the external one). By quality I mean not superior/inferior but ‘less different’. I believe that every population has the right to sustain its own culture and protect it from external threats. It is also my opinion that a culture must become a permanent foundation where people can hold on onto especially in a time and world where everything changes so quickly. Yes they do change, but let this change be made by the locals themselves, not by replacing the whole population by another (otherwise it would be cultural genocide).
        If I understand you correctly you don’t value a certain culture but you believe that more hybridization and mixing up increases diversity. I think that in the long term this will lead to a world with no cultural diversity at all, even the clothing, etc… will lose its variety because the amount of ‘niches’ will decrease.
        Like in ecology, the amount of different varieties is defined by the number of niches available in the environment. And when each variety of the same niche is allowed to spread in an uncontrolled manner only one variety will survive.
        So now I would like to reply on your two reasons:
        I fear the loss of diversity because every culture has the right to exist as long as it does not damage the neighboring culture (regardless of their origins and capacities).
        Yes, some level of diversity will likely survive but the quality will largely be reduced to a minimum since during each hybridization a part of the original culture is lost and replaced by a less different part (decrease of variety). Not only immigration is the cause of this, globalisation too.
        If you conclude that loss of cultural diversity is something to celebrate then I cannot understand how you can value diversity (and if you cannot value it I don’t see the point of arguing with you :-)). If we respect the borders of these populations we do not have to use primitive cultural protection mechanisms like racism and xenophobia. A world without borders? It could be possible if the wealth is evenly distributed.

  4. First of all, I would like to apologize for my rusty English – I am not a native speaker, but I would like to comment the article nevertheless.
    We are facing the same problem in Germany, since our refugee population will be about 1,2 million by the end of this year, all of them expecting to be looked after, given housing, medical treatment and money for food. The expenses for refugee care will exceed more than 5 billion euro this year.
    It is in fact nothing new to demand improving the situations in the refugees origin countries instead of building higher walls – alas, nobody talks about how to actually do that. In fact, it seems not only hard , but almost impossible to achieve equally balanced lifving conditions everywhere in the world. First of all, it would require to change the repressing governments in the refugees countries that are responsible for exploitation, corruption and poverty of the population, and changing them is, fortunately or unfortunately, beyond the control of the western countries.
    Secondly, I would like to point out that creating equally living conditions everywhere in the world, based on the standard we have in western industrial countries, is simply impossible, due to the planets resources. The fact is that the western industrial countries live upon a standard that is unrealizable if applied to the whole world. An interesting experiment is the carbon footprint calculator. It is a good example to point out how much of the planets resources a country is claiming for itself during a year.
    European Countries have a carbon footprint index around 2,4 -3 , which means, that, in case the whole world would want to live in a way based upon western standards, it would require 2,4 to 3 planets to fulfill our needs (or in other words, we would run out of food and water in April, with nothing left for the rest of year.) Americas carbon footprint is even higher, at 4, whereas other countries, such as the Philippines, have an carbon footprint index of 0,7.
    Creating an equally living standard everywhere in the world would mean massive changes in the wealthy countries, and if I say massive, I mean it. It is not that you simply have to do some more biking and recycling. If you check your own standard on a carbon footprint calculator, you will quickly find out, that, even if, from now on, you would:
    – never eat meat again
    – never consume dairy products anymore
    – never travel by plane, car , train or bus again
    – get rid of your car
    – only eat local food ( sorry: no coffee, no chocolate, no soy, no citrus fruits anymore)
    – only buy second hand clothes
    – not buying furniture, design stuff, clothes, books, computers, smartphones anymore
    – having electricity for only 2 hours daily
    – probably not having computer or internet anymore
    … your carbon footprint index would still be at 1,7, which is 70 % higher than it actually should be in order to be environmentally sustainable for all humans. One can only imagine what kind of massive cuts it would require to reduce western living conditions to reach that level, and the kind of revolt it would cause amongst the inhabitants of its countries.
    What is the solution then? I don´t know.

    • Sara the first step to a solution is to stop seeing ourselves as separate islands or more nearly planets. It is one world we are one species and we all will have to find a common solution that works for everyone or the ship will sink within ten years if not sooner according to some experts. Once we view each person as a potential resource and not just as a consumer and refuse the story that there cannot be enough for everyone then we can get real traction toward practical solutions. How is wealth or value created? By the interaction of human intelligence with gumption. If this is true (and it is) then everyone who is not living up to a plurality of their potential is a lost opportunity for all of us. Their is enough renewable energy and we could harvest more than we need with solar and wind within ten years. With that abundant energy we could purify water for every need. If Texas were packed like the Netherlands all 7billlion+ of us could live there with room to spare. What is then lacking? Effective universal education not just of the seven pounds above the neck but the whole person. When will leaders fix education? Never! We must fix it from the grass roots and not wait for any politician to save us.

      • Chad, I could not agree more. I am not saying that there is not enough for all of us – there would be enough to feed 12-14 billions. All I am saying is that if we are considering our western living standard as „normal“ and want to establish it everywhere in the world, then there is not enough for all of us. There will and have to be changes, or we will go down the drain. I think that these changes will not take place on a voluntary basis, but it will be forced upon us. Mankind is naturally very bad at solving problems when it is not confronted with the consequences right away. Everyone who tried to stick to diet and stay hungry today in order to have lost weight tomorrow knows that. I often have the feeling that the pressing environmental problems such as global warming is, to most of us, nothing but a slightly interesting ongoing crime thriller that does not effect us anymore once we turn off the Tele. It is hard to become aware of the fact that it is really happening to us. It´s too frightening to imagine your life being changed in every perspective- I mean, people cannot even live without their personal car or their TV, which is a minor loss compared to all the things it would take to equal living conditions around the planet. So, I agree with you. I just have no idea on how these changes can be started on a voluntary basis.

    • Why do you think carbon foot print = food? Rampant consumption of goods = resources = exploitation = proverty.
      We have the technologies today to have everyone living a dignified life of plenty, we just don’t have the willingness. And no one runs out of anything in April.

  5. Sara, I have an idea that can work. I was nominated for the TED prize in 2014 but could never get my talk down to 18 minutes since a concept that could save us all is not likely to be short or simple.Instead of fighting entrenched corporations and institutions why not stop knocking our heads against their thick walls and go in a different direction? My plan is to create a non-profit new age corporation that heals, reeducates and nurtures the roots of society and is capable of replicating itself anywhere people live. In the U.S. and in too many other nations nearly half the children are being raised by one ‘adult’. Half of those are in true poverty. If these single parents can find a job it is usually minimum wage. If they pay for daycare they net less than a waitress. I want to start with a co-operative day care in a location that has facilities for rest, recuperation and therapy for the parent and several ‘cottage’ industries that can generate funds to keep things operational. Once the parent is ready to progress, teach them how to take good care of themselves and their children. The facility would have as one of its’ industries a restaurant which would as one function provide nutritious meals for each family and teach cooking and budgeting and other life skills and eventually skills that would help them get real jobs. I have such a facility that is 75% ready to go. If I can get the other 25% through crowd funding we could really start in a matter of weeks. Once we have a working model we would clone it and train people and gather teams to do the same thing anywhere with a nest egg from the first facility. If eventually each center fostered two more every 18 months it could mushroom. If others chose to steal the concept, great! It could work in time to forestall most of the catastrophic tipping points that loom before us. This is super simplified but the core concept is to enable everyone to learn skills and create value even if all they have is a willingness to try. No tuition no fees no diplomas required only life and hope. In the meantime a staff of mostly older semi-volunteers would oversee the day care and provide therapy and training. Rapidly it would metamorphisize into a model charter school for all ages. The only requirement a desire to learn and a willingness to contribute sweat equity. If done in the way I envision it, this better mouse trap would begin to attract even those with other options because the education would be totally relevant and experiential by nature and superior to any Ivy league institution and truely affordable to all.

  6. Cuba provides education (including university), housing, food and healthcare to all citizens and it is hardly a rich country. Not saying Cubans live like Europeans, but it is definitely possible to ensure a dignified, secure life for all without a lot of money. There are other models that even we could adopt to do this better and less costly. I find that people in developing countries are quite clear about the forces that have conspired to deny them their lives and am not surprised that they feel entitled to compensation for their suffering. I know I would if I was in their shoes… 🙂

    • Yes Jodi, with only three levels of function and compensation, Trainee = room and board and tuition in exchange for service hours. Voting member= who gets a percentage of any profits above costs, besides food and room And leader who fill any foreman and or initiator roles and gets two portions of profits for each division. Those who invest capital can get interest (inflation +3%?) on same. But these are just theoretical ideas at this point

  7. Lots of interesting comment. The obvious but never stated issue for me aroud immigration is that all governments and nearly all media, economists etc seem to promote neo-liberal free trade. This in fundamental economic understanding means the free movement of capital, goods, sevices and labour (people). It is unbelievable that this simple fact is never mentioned by the advocates of free trade who then moan at people moving. If profit from peoples’ labours are pulled towards the City of London, Wall St and other financial centres then of course people will move to find them. if we import cheap Turkish T-shirts then why at some deep soul level would people not feel connected to the places of their sale. I do agree that we should as far as possible campaign to ensure that every country has laws to make it a fit place to live and we are not responsible for every problem, Most people do not want to move around the world and lose their kids, parents brothers friends so I think some of the concerns about being overrun are exaggerated. This year 120,000 people have come across the Med to get into Europe but 500 million live in Europe so it is still tiny, I think maybe it is important to say that Germany or the UK cannot be a home for everyone but only at the same time as we honestly explain our history and present circumstances considerable create the conditions. We are very mal-developed in the west, we need to acknowledge that – while we are in the best of times that maybe because we have partied without sensing the ecologial and humanitarin hangover facing us

  8. Hey Charles, thanks for the great read. I enjoyed especially that you are putting an issue of judgment into the larger perspective of artificial scarcity.
    Here is a typo: “make conditions more tolerable in the places being are desperate to leave?”. Can you fix this?

  9. Very well put Charles, this is the point I’ve been trying to make to the Green Party now for the past number of months and trying to get them to incorporate it in the 2016 campaign. The problem of economic injustice seems to be blamed on everything but the money system which so many want to ignore. It seems appropriate, however, for a political party seeking the nation’s highest office to want to make it a top priority as it would help us with so many problems….and key elements of monetary reform, or as I prefer to call it, radical monetary transformation, are already in our platform! Thank you for this piece, I will share it with the Greens who don’t subscribe.

  10. Unfortunately the world is full. the old growth based global economic paradigms are no longer working. At the end of the day it boils down to the laws of physics,especially thermodynamics.
    I recommend a basic primer in Ecosystem Thermodynamics presented by Aiko Huckauf as a starting point to understanding our dilemma and a this video presentation by Tom Murphy.Associate professor of Physics UCSD
    Growth Has An Expiration Date.
    There are no easily palatable solutions to the problems created by a full planet hitting up against resource scarcity and depleted waste sinks..

  11. Though issues around immigration might have led to the situation this woman describes, it doesn’t seem too relevant. Wouldn’t the situation be similar if, say the visitor was your wayward brother who sat on the couch all day playing video games, eating your food, and creating a mess he never cleaned up? I would feel taken advantage of and be angry too. The solution here seems to set firm boundaries and tell the guest to leave if they aren’t met. She is there on your hospitality and that can be revoked at any time. If on the other hand, the refugee is pleasant to be around and participates in cooking and cleaning, I would give her a break on finding a “job” (i.e., tedious, unappreciated labor in trade for little $) and encourage her to take advantage of all the public and private assistance she can. I have a feeling that once she feels that the UK is now her home and not some foreign place where she is dependent on the kindness of strangers, that her feeling about sharing her skills and gifts with others will change.

  12. I’m glad you mentioned Greece, as ironic as it is, because the present crisis in Greece is directly attributable to an unsustainable welfare mentality.

    • Davidab, I’ve heard people say that before, it is the typical response by those looking at the surface, but the problem is debt. When all the money is created as debt then how does one ever get out of debt? You need money to get out of debt but the only way to get money is to go into debt. So then you have to sell your assets, so then you end up homeless in the land of your forefathers. The wealthy bankers create the money basically out of thin air and lend it at interest to put people in debt and since the money for the principle of the loan is created, but the interest is not, then its clear there has to be some losers for others to pay the interest. It is quite a notorious scam. Ben Franklin, Tom Jefferson, Madison and Tom Paine could see it but Hamilton and his rich buddies managed to edge their concerns out of the picture. Ah but with the media, schools etc. today teaching what the bankers want people to believe its just, yeah their lazy moochers so we should take all their stuff. So much easier than studying to understand the system of economic slavery. It will hit US and of course those with no power or voice will be blamed for the economic problem because certainly it couldn’t be by design. Rich people are so much better, smarter and more moral than poor people are, they would never be like Mr. Potter in the movies, goes the conventional wisdom, as they use debt to enslave the world. In short, there is much more to it than an unsustainable welfare mentality.

    • The only thing I don’t agree with that Howards says is that it will hit the US soon. It already has.
      What is an unsustainable welfare mentality? Every person on the planet has an inalienable right to receive everything they need to live a life of dignity.
      We can design how money works, all we (and Greece) needs to do is to choose to make it work for all people, rather than just a few..

      • You are so right Margot, with 23% unemployment and many people losing their homes we are there. Yet it seems some people haven’t noticed or willfully refuse to…along with a lot of other things I suppose.

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