Don’t Trust the Numbers

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

Let’s get the facts right on immigration.

Once again there has been a tragedy in the Mediterranean. A shipwreck off the coast of Libya has killed upwards of 700 people.

Before any other conversation, just imagine the scale of this tragedy. Such carnage has become so common, it quickly moves down on the news feed and is either forgotten or relegated to other ‘third-world issues.’

Yesterday on my FB feed came a very polished presentation from a Trump-supporting (or supported) organization, arguing against immigration.

The argument went as such: “Billions of people around the World live in utter misery and poverty. Even accepting a million migrants a year cannot compete with the savage third world birthrate. Moreover, only the best and brightest migrants leave this squalor, so ‘we’ are effectively stealing the economic future from the world’s most needy. It would be unethical to accept any of these immigrants.

This is exceptionally manipulative. Dressed up in false sympathy, abused statistics and classic jingoism, the argument reeks of polished racism. “It would be wrong of us to help … but not that we wouldn’t want too – it is just too daunting and we need to protect our quality of life.”

So let’s dispel a few of these myths:

  1. Very obviously North America (and the Americas in general) was built upon colonisation and immigration.

  2. Immigrants maintain economic (and social) links to their homes. In Central America for example, up to 25% of the regional economy is remittance-based, therefore the immigrants who often do the northern jobs no-one else wants, have a directly positive influence on both their host economy and home economy!

  3. Wealthy economies earned much of their riches through resource extraction in poorer countries. Post-Colonial economic dependency is a complicated and deeply interconnected issue.

  4. Democracy is far more widespread than even 30 years ago and millions of people are emerging from poverty…

  5. AND, life isn’t as bad the world over as some reactionaries would suggest.

  6. Trade is enormously important to the American economy and isolation was a major cause of the 1929 economic depression – as indeed was the sheltering of greed.

  7. Currently, economic disparities in the US are deeply tied to a gross concentration of wealth and the growing spread between rich and poor. All this ‘blaming’ of minorities and migrants is an obvious distraction from the next banking bubble that is gradually forming.

Forced migration is a tragic reality of a world of political and economic extremes. My views are not radically left-wing, yet the current discourse among Trump supporters , British Nationalists and the European Right have scary parallels with the 1930’s.

Most of us middle-class, working people believe in balanced budgets. I support the free market and I generally support free trade. I also accept climate change has human causes and I think Islam (and elements of Christianity) can be dangerous.

These are moderate positions and we cannot be sucked into a vortex of blame and hate. As if a wall would make any difference to manufacturing in North Carolina. Or somehow in Britain – the classic international trade economy – the right wing wants free trade, but without any of the natural treaty obligations that would accompany real trade deals.

The fact that we live in a world where 700 desperate people drown becomes a detail of the news cycle is deeply disturbing. Collectively we need to address deep structural issues of corruption, economic inequality and perceptions of quality of life.

Returning to Mr. Trump, his name, his brand is global. The largest casino-hotel in Panama bears his name and it is a major crossing point for trafficked prostitutes. His moral consistency is entirely vacant and deeply troubling.

We are better than this. We are better than blaming the most vulnerable for our shortcomings and we are certainly better than talking generally about the rest of the world with so little information or understanding. How embarrassing.

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