The chain of future conflict, part 2

See part 1 here.

A ship carrying Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka has landed on the shores of my hometown in Canada. Some of them may be members of the Tamil Tigers, but there are hundreds of men, women and children on board.

This event is not an isolated incident. First, it is not the first boatload of Tamil refugees to wash up on Canada’s shores since the end of the civil war last year. Second, it is not the first boatload of refugees from the wartorn world to appear in the rich world. This ship is part of a trend that we would be foolish to ignore or misread.

When originally outlining the chain of future conflict, I posited the following pattern.

* Climate change and other environmental damage will put pressure on and destroy local environments in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.
* People will be forced to move to other countries to survive.
* Barriers to immigration will rise.
* Those who are kept out will fight with the elites over scarce resources.
* Those who make it into other countries will be looked upon as wretched and unable to integrate.
* The incidence of war among those whose environments are threatened, whether or not they migrate, will increase.
* A new kind of refugee, the Environmental Refugee, will emerge.

The refugee boat trend is slightly different, as it is not related to environmental change but conventional war. War and conflict have not abated in our brave new world and are not ready to end any time soon. As a result, more refugees will appear on the shores of the rich world.

The immediate reaction is to raise barriers to immigration. The US border with Mexico, for instance, which is fighting a terrible drug war, is the object of a debate on whether to erect an enormous fence to keep Mexicans out. The Canadian government’s approach to the Sri Lankan refugees has so far been somewhat more compassionate: letting them alight in Canada and then determining if they should be sent back or not.

This approach may be the most realistic, at least at the moment. However, should refugee numbers increase, it might become wishful thinking. Criminalising refugees tends not to decrease numbers of refugees but increase the amount of violence employed in both bringing them in and sending them back. Sending Canada’s navy to intercept today’s boats costs money. If too many boats come, which is the fear, more naval vessels will be dispatched to stop them. At some point that I will let economists estimate, it could cost more money to stop people coming in than to let them in.

Moreover, criminal syndicates are heavily involved in human trafficking and their income and power increases when a market is prohibited. If there is demand, someone will fill it; if the act is illegal, it will continue but in the form of crime.

The current course may be politically and economically realistic at present, but if trends continue we will need new policies and attitudes to survive the possible nightmares of the future. Putting more effort into ending war and environmental destruction is one possibility. More intercultural education and integration is another. Criminalising everything we find unpleasant is not.

If you want to help Haiti, open the border

The unfortunate nation of Haiti has still not recovered from the earthquake it suffered six months ago today. It has the marginal good luck of remaining in the news, albeit somewhere between stories of cats getting caught up trees. Many people have pledged their twenty dollars or what have you. However, if we are serious about helping Haitian people, we should let them leave.

Beside the over 200,000 dead and 300,000 injured in the quake, some one million people were left homeless. Haiti’s president Rene Preval said in the aftermath, “wipe away your tears to rebuild Haiti”; and the world said, Yes, we shall rebuild Haiti. Governments who have pledged aid to Haiti are behind in their commitments. The US government has delivered 2% of the aid it promised. Rebuilding, apparently, is not at the top of Barack’s priorities.

But perhaps rebuilding is not the solution for a failed state. Should we rebuild it so the same corrupt people can remain in power? So that deforestation can continue–if there are, indeed, any trees left? So that structural poverty and rampant crime are allowed to flourish? Surely “rebuilding” should mean “recreating”.

One easier and cheaper way to solve Haiti’s problems is to let its people come to the rich world. There are two compelling reasons to think this solution is worth considering. First, for the self-interested, immigration is a great way to increase wealth and economic power wherever it is introduced. According to estimates cited in the book Let Their People Come by Lant Pritchett and the Center for Global Development, full liberalisation of global labour markets, enabling all the world’s workers to migrate to where they can be most efficiently employed, would result in an incredible $40t in world GDP gains. The money is available to whichever country is willing to let people through. It is also a huge boon to the developing world. Remittances, money sent home by migrant workers, totaled some $300b in 2006. Manuel Orozco, an expert on remittances, estimates that 30% of Haiti’s economic wealth comes in the form of remittances. Given that the money is sent to individuals to spend as they see fit, the benefits of remittances far outweigh those of development aid and loans to corrupt governments.

Second, criminalising immigration has proven extremely problematic in the short term. Turning away asylum seekers and economic refugees could lead to more disastrous and widespread conflict, which would, if it grew along with barriers to immigration, spill over into the anti-immigrant rich world. Never mind the Culture Wars; trying to prevent all immigration would mean more of the real kind.

The merciful, logical and even self-interested course for the rich world to take for Haiti or any disaster-struck zone is not to restack the rubble but to let people, rich and poor, come to their countries and begin new lives.

Climate Change, Migration, War: the chain of future conflict

The changing of local environmental conditions has affected groups around the world. For instance, in some cases, there are more floods; in other places, more drought. Climate change has become a major political issue but it is still difficult to know what problems it will cause in the longer term. My question is, how might climate change lead to conflict?

At the moment, environmental change is indeed causing and exacerbating conflict. The Sahel Belt of the Sahara Desert has been prone to intense violence, with little sign of improvement. Global warming may be a major cause. Reports (such as this one) are emerging that show that, even when economies improve and states democratise, the consequences of an increase in temperature, such as less water to go round, are having disastrous consequences. I believe things will get worse before they get better.

Future conflict is likely to take the following pattern.

  • Climate change and other environmental damage will put pressure on and destroy local environments in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.
  • People will be forced to move to other countries to survive.
  • Barriers to immigration will rise.
  • Those who are kept out will fight with the elites over scarce resources.
  • Those who make it into other countries will be looked upon as wretched and unable to integrate.
  • The incidence of war among those whose environments are threatened, whether or not they migrate, will increase.
  • A new kind of refugee, the Environmental Refugee, will emerge.

Most of these things are already happening, which is why we must take drastic measures. The obvious one, the one which most people seem to espouse, is to end climate change. However, there are still many political barriers to taking the steps that need to be taken to make the cuts in greenhouse gases necessary and besides, it may be too late to halt and reverse climate change before it halts and reverses us.

My preferred solution is to remove barriers to migration. Though also politically unpalatable, it is the most realistic way to help people without abandoning them to their fate. If this latter idea appeals, it may help to ask oneself if creating a fortress to keep immigrants out has actually worked anywhere. Majorities in Europe and the United States are against lowering the barriers to immigration but they have no good ideas on preventing immigration. It is not a question of whether we want to keep them out, but whether we can. Either we could throw money down a bottomless pit to prevent immigration or we could work out better policies that fit the chain of future conflict.

Because immigration often causes conflict between locals and newcomers, we also need smart integration policies. Everyone should be educated together, learning each other’s ideas, learning to work together, learning to respect each other. I go into details on this subject in my book, Why Interculturalism Will Work.

By being aware of a possible dark future, we can make it brighter. Ending climate change is a worthy goal, and more realistic immigration and integration policies can help us break the chain of avoidable violence.