Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Millions of Lives and Whole Cultures in the Subtext

I just read a discussion in the leading German Newspaper Spiegel -- "Immigration Debate: Germany Needs More Foreigners." By Reiner Klingholz. As the title indicates he argues that Germany needs many more foreign immigrants to keep its economy strong. He is arguing against the trend in Europe to worry about the fact that many Muslim immigrants are not being well assimilated into Western cultures and are too often at odds with modern Western democratic principles and freedoms. There is a series of articles that are well worth reading to keep up with immigration issues in Europe.

Debates about pro-natalist and immigration demographic policies can seem very, very dry and irrelevant to most people. Then following the debates real world policies tilt one way or another and people forget that there were important discussions and that the fate of populations, cultures, and nations were being decided. The realities of the demographic effects settle in and if and when they are noticed they are chalked up to some supposed inevitability like the march of progress or globalization, or Malthusian population growth, etc.

One thing that is noteworthy in the Spiegel article is that the author understands that massive immigration will inevitably change national culture but he shrugs it off saying that culture is always changing anyway. I see this argument in the context of different attitudes between those who think in terms of society and those who think in terms of "an economy."

Those who think of and discuss populations as economies have the habit of "externalizing" social and environmental costs using facile phrases, and shove them off on the rest of us to deal with and pay for. They focus on generating "wealth" in a monetary sense, and push most everything else out of focus.

Maybe Germany should import more foreign labor and accept cultural change. I cannot judge that even though I spent a year there. My point here is instead about the economic perspective that focuses on profits and externalizes so many of the human and environmental costs of doing business and shoves them off on to the rest of us without directly asking. I would like to see everything put out on the table in plain sight, and I think we must do that if we are to make scientifically rational decisions.

This sort of thinking in unscientifically focused economic terms went on in the US around the time of the Nixon and especially the Reagan administrations. Legal immigration to the US was opened up without much if any planning for assimilation. Illegal immigration was progressively winked at. Only a few people interested in demography were paying attention, and essentially none of the media. All this only came to the surface in the last several years. Then once there were complaints that reached media attention businesses began to squeal like stuck pigs that they needed what was in effect this cheap labor, but they did not offer to pay the costs to society. Surprise, surprise. Moreover, by then many legal and illegal immigrants had been integrated into US ethnic communities and not unexpectedly saw the issue as defending their own. Too much discussion got sidetracked into issues about racism and ethnic voter trends.

Great influxes of immigrants were also being encouraged more or less in parallel in Europe and for essentially the same reasons as in the US. The basic dynamic was increasing trade competition and efforts to deal with this in the traditional Western way, by seeking cheap labor to cut the costs of production. Meanwhile Japan was doing a terrific job in the trade wars in large part because of efficient management and production, innovation, and by building employee loyalties. They were offering QUALITY and DURABLE products at reasonable prices. Employee savings were helping to grow the Japanese banks into world powers.

By cheap labor, I should clarify that Western economists had for centuries argued that population pressures would produce competition for jobs that would keep wages low. So I say "cheap labor" but it would be more sophisticated to refer to job competition or wage competition. So to create population pressures they recommended pro-natalist policies to increase reproductive rates, but they also recommended immigration. They also recommended excess population not only for cheap labor but on the premise that poor men would have the incentive to become soldiers.

This Spiegel article is an "artifact" of current discussions that stem from the epic demographic events of the 1970s and from the 1980s on. The subtext all has to do with economies geared to cheap labor and with economic thinking that passes off onto society in general the true costs of making business profits. In effect the business community is covertly getting society to subsidize its production costs.The term is "externalizing" which means leaving significant costs out of economic arguments and equations. The general public and even most politicians do not understand this and are in effect fooled into thinking that mathematically rigorous logic is being presented to them. It is simply remarkable how few responsible people will demand a full cost/benefit accounting -- apparently they simply don't understand the importance of knowing all the facts.

If one does get onto them, the next argument is, "well no one can know all the costs, so it is honest to leave them out of our equations." But then it should be noted that no one can know all the benefits either, and maybe none of them for sure. We would have to do our best in both cases.

And WHO benefits and WHO pays the costs? No arm waving about rising waters lifting all ships, please.

Again, I don't know if this writer is right or wrong in the case of Germany. But I do know that Germany and Europe in general face enormous cultural, political, and security problems because of the economic/demographic POLICIES of the last several decades. I wish them good luck.