Migration is the hot topic right now and an inevitably contentious one given that England is a small but relatively rich island nation with an unfortunate record on international intervention. Some would have us shut our doors tight and jealously guard a model of economic growth at the expense of the poorest of both this country and the world. The other camp would like to invite the whole world into a Britain of universal social provision. Unfortunately neither of these models is realistic or in any way sustainable. The former interpret economic success only in terms of the rich getting richer and hope that authoritarian measures at home and abroad can keep the dispossessed at bay forever. The latter, on the other hand, shares the delusion that endless growth is desirable and even possible.
A third view, neither austerity nor Keynesianism, is, however, both imaginable and increasingly pertinent. Back in 1973 the economist E.F. Schumacher published a series of essays under the title 'Small is Beautiful'. Tellingly it was subtitled 'a study of economics as if people mattered.' Whilst popular and prophetic of many of the problems we face today it has sadly gone unheeded by our political and economic leaders. As the blurb reads,
"Small is Beautiful looks at the economic structure of the Western world in a revolutionary way. For Dr. Schumacher maintains that Man's current pursuit of profit and progress, which promotes giant organisations and increased specialisation, has in fact resulted in gross economic inefficiency, environmental pollution and inhumane working conditions. Dr Schumacher challenges [this] doctrine... and proposes a system of Intermediate Technology, based on smaller working units, communal ownership and regional workplaces utilising local labour and resources. With the emphasis on the person not the product, Small is Beautiful points the way to a world in which Capital serves Man instead of Man remaining a slave to Capital."Detailed precedents to Small is Beautiful can be read in both the Guild Socialist an Social Credit theories already outlined here and the prescience of Schumacher's environmental outlook should be obvious but is still sadly overlooked by short-sighted politicians and capitalists in favour of token sticking-plaster 'green' measures. Before we ask if migration is good for our economy we should perhaps ask whether our economic system is socially and environmentally sustainable.
We do not begrudge those seeking a better life and we certainly don't 'hate foreigners'. Migration is actually a natural fact of human civilisation, which cannot nor should it be completely stopped. Inter-marriage between social and ethnic groups is perhaps as old as human society itself and the most stable and successful means of assimilating 'outsiders' and ensuring the continued health and survival of the group. Equally, providing shelter to a small number of refugees is a positive measure of our social evolution.
What is not natural, however, is our current economic system which requires huge amounts of imported labour directed toward the accumulation of abstract capital rather than social usefulness. Or to put it another way, the current system serves to further enrich the powerful whilst making the rest of us ever more disempowered. The challenge then is to build an alternative which will serve the human needs and not destroy (through enforced poverty, mass movement of people, climate-change, pollution and the effects of unrewarding and useless over-work) our environment and the social fabric both here and around the world.
International co-operation is desirable, especially with our nearest European neighbours but this should not be on the terms of the European Union which remains an undemocratic, elite, bureaucratic and economically unjust cabal. Equally, international aid to the poorest people of the world is desirable but true compassion must be voluntary and not done by governments to governments. It is in the long-term interest of all to aid non-governmental projects which support sustainable development in the poorer nations as well as our own. Unfortunately, government aid is currently little more than backhand sweeteners for trade deals that benefit only corrupt politicians and businessmen.
This is of course not a quick fix. It will take great efforts and self-analysis but is necessary for the long-term survival of our country and our planet. Just as in the nineteenth century rural populations moved on mass to the newly industrialised cities leaving the countryside poor and barren and the cities overcrowded smoke-filled slums, the same is occurring now on a global scale. The only way we can turn the tide of environmental and social destruction is not by building bigger fences or embracing the benefits of a larger labour pool brings to the neolibral economic system but instead to reinterpret 'progress' and build a New Economics accordingly.
I will finish with this quote by Dr. Schumacher on the task ahead:
"It is my experience that it is rather more difficult to recapture directness and simplicity than to advance in the direction of ever more sophistication and complexity. …it takes a certain flair of real insight to make things simple again. And this insight does not come easily to people who have allowed themselves to become alienated from real, productive work and from the self-balancing system of nature, which never fails to recognize measure and limitation."
Schumacher Center For New Economics