Migrants are the truest believers in capitalism

The right claims the positive aspects of globalisation and distances itself from the difficulties
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The Independent Online

Globalisation has some odd and unpredictable consequences. But one of the oddest and most unpredictable is the gradual and continuing emergence of its greatest enemies. These enemies will not, I'm sure, turn out to be those who protest so ineffectually against globalisation in all its forms. Instead, they are those who are so fanatically in favour of the free market that they cannot admit to the system having any negative effects whatsoever.

Globalisation has some odd and unpredictable consequences. But one of the oddest and most unpredictable is the gradual and continuing emergence of its greatest enemies. These enemies will not, I'm sure, turn out to be those who protest so ineffectually against globalisation in all its forms. Instead, they are those who are so fanatically in favour of the free market that they cannot admit to the system having any negative effects whatsoever.

I was particularly struck by this mindset, so closed and angry, defensive and illogical, when reading an article about global warming – and its total non-existence – in the Daily Mail earlier this year. Full of frothing invective, the piece painted a world in which there was no scientific research that did not seek ideologically motivated findings, and no theoretical model that was not deeply conspiratorial.

The article contended that "global warming is a scam" and offered the reason for the invention of the phenomenon, and its popular political uptake, thus: '... A doctrine which declares that industrialisation and globalisation are the enemies of humanity is a wonderful stick with which weaker Western economies can beat up America and clothe anti-Western self-hatred in ostensibly scientific respectability."

For the many who are in equally vehement denial, the fact that the US Environmental Agency has now concluded that man-made global warming does indeed present a serious threat to the American eco-system is simply more proof of conspiratorial Western-self-hating negativity.

So entrenched is this topsy-turvy view – as opposed to the view that the Mail insists is all-pervasive – that even the authors of the report themselves go no further than to suggest that the US is going to have to "adapt" to climate change. Any suggestion that powerful humans might like to act on their self-knowledge and limit their destructive behaviour is simply so unacceptable that it is not worth making.

But it would seem to me that those who truly believe that globalisation is the best hope for the future of humanity ought to be the most concerned with tackling the side issues that might seriously jeopardise that future. Globalisation, we're assured, is a long-haul fix that will enrich the whole world, given time. Isn't it simply sensible, then, for those who are committed to helping secure this future to err on the side of caution when it comes to environmental matters?

Like Pascal's wager, which contended that it was best to believe in God because there was nothing to be lost if he didn't exist and everything to be gained if he did, limiting carbon dioxide emissions is certainly not going to do any lasting harm and will pretty certainly do massive, lasting good. What is there in this attitude to get so seethingly angry about?

Even more irritating than capitalism's tendency to blank evidence that rains on its parade is the constant harking back to the failure of socialism in order to make empty, unhelpful points. One such position was recently rehearsed in a book review by John Blundell, the general director of the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Mr Blundell is a cheery can-do capitalist of the optimistic type I rather admire, in a limited sort of way. But during a lamentation about the failure of businessmen to come up with sound ideological underpinnings for the global project, all he himself could manage was this: "International migration is a phenomenon that is accelerating.The movement is always from socialist (or kleptocrat) countries towards the capitalist ones. I have never heard a romantic leftie ever explain why immigration is never a problem for state-controlled territories."

I suppose my explanation – that flight from poverty in search of wealth is a prime motivating factor for migrants, so it would be a pretty silly one who decided to move to a country where the search for wealth was not admired – marks me out as an unromantic leftie.

But what I yearn for is romantic righties who are willing to argue that economic migrants are the truest believers in capitalism, the people most willing to take staggering risks in order to be part of it. Instead, in the absence of many globalisers willing to defend the daily evidence of the attractiveness of their beliefs, this job is left to the "romantic lefties".

And it is not an easy job, for, again, the source of the hideous obfuscation surrounding the "problem" of international migration is the failure of capitalism to face up to another of its rather messy by-products. Increasing inequality is just as threatening to social cohesion within capitalist economies as carbon dioxide emissions are to the environmental fabric.

Any sensible economist would have to concede that those countries with the most aggressively expanding economies share the same tendency for inequality to increase, with the same social problems emerging from the tendency. The US and Britain are the most potent examples of the kind of social model capital produces within a nation, and the sort of pull such a model has for the ambitious outsider.

But in a gross political double whammy, those most frightened by rising social exclusion are directed to blame immigration for their woes. So many among the hard-pressed middle-classes, about whom we hear so much, are fulminating because they have to pay their taxes and at the same time shell out for private education, in order to protect their children from being "swamped" by immigrants.

Likewise, some among the respectable working classes are taunted by the idea that those less deserving than them will be helped more by the state, and fearful that their decent efforts will be mocked by the partiality of the dreaded middle-class liberals.

The awful flower of their discontent was seen in Oldham, where the belief that "the Asians get everything" has hardened into an article of faith. But the socially excluded and economic migrants, far from being the great threat to the dreams of capital, are actually a necessary aspect of the easy attainabilty of such dreams.

And that is the root of the increasingly illusory divide between right and left. The right claims responsibility for the positive aspects of globalisation and manages to distance itself from the difficulties. The left battles for the negative aspects to be acknowledged, thereby raising a question mark over the success of the most grand achievements of capitalism in the process.

No wonder the right seems optimistic, while the left seems pessimistic. The political landscape has now been divided up so that the right owns the positive aspects of a single ideology, while the left owns the negative ones. What hope for a real third way when few dependent on votes dare to be the bringer of the bad news that capitalism itself is not always benign?

And what hope for capitalism when its most ardent representatives are so eager to distance themselves from all of its products, except economic growth? Until capitalists are brave enough to admit that environmental despoilation and inequality – cross-border and internal – are aspects of capitalism, and aspects worth paying serious remedial attention to, their great project is fatally compromised. All the sensible left can do is carry on slogging away at the thankless task of being better friends of capitalism than its most aggressive proponents dare to be.

d.orr@independent.co.uk

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