Thursday, 6 October 2016

Philip Cole on Ethics and Migration

Why is it we live in a world of Nation States which give some coalition of their citizens or subjects the right to decide who can and can't migrate and take up residence within their borders?

Economic theory can give us quite a good account of why this should be. Indeed, for all we know, this is also the 'regret minimizing' strategy for humanity. It so happens that Economic arguments can be marshaled, at the margin, to decide on the loosening or tightening laws and procedures concerned with migration. Indeed, there is a specific sort of Jurisprudence- that of Coase, Calabresi and Posner- which can relate these Economic arguments to what Coke called 'the artificial reason' of the Legal system.

What of 'natural reason'- more particularly what might be called Ethics based on 'natural Rights'? Can it give a coherent account of why the World is as it is and likely to remain so, or does it have to turn back in horror from Reality to engage in bogus breast-beating?

Phillip Cole, in an article in the Eurozine, addresses this question. Unfortunately, he appears to be unaware that Britain is a democracy and working class people have votes. Thus they are part of the coalition which decides migration policy. Cole might think it immoral that working class people can be decisive within the relevant coalition. However, he does not actually come out and say so.

Instead he writes- 'Let us accept, for now, the concerns about the impact of immigration on the working class in the United Kingdom. Despite these concerns there are clear moral arguments against using immigration controls as a means of protecting workers from these impacts. 
A clear moral argument against a specific policy action can either impugn the method by which it was done or the act itself. In this case, impugning the method also impugns the right of working class people to be members of a decisive coalition regarding at least one policy action. Impugning the act also impugns the working classes' 'Agency'- its right to act in its own self-interest even if its actions have uncertain results. 
In my view, no clear moral argument obtains because Cole has not produced any argument for why the working class mustn't have Agency.

But can we appeal to some kind of special connection to our workers which justifies us in prioritising them over outsiders? Particular connections and loyalties often push against the universality of ethical principles, and it is not always obvious which should take priority. Some would say that national loyalties have to carry some weight here, and that to insist on the priority of some vague idea of universal ethics is to inhabit a realm of cosmopolitan moral fantasy. The standard example is that there are two children in a burning building and you can only rescue one of them. If I ask you why you rescued this child and left the other to die, and you answer 'because she is my daughter', this reply carries immense weight. Any ethical theory has to make room for this kind of reply. But on the other hand we need to see that you made a tragic choice, not an ethical one, and that we should all be haunted by the child you left behind.
What's more, while family ties are important to many of us, others may reject them for good reason, and in many cases following family loyalty is clearly ethically wrong – if my daughter murdered someone and asked me to conceal her from the legal authorities, for example. Family and other loyalties can sometimes pull us in a particular direction but it is not necessarily the right direction, and universal moral principles help us to see that. Furthermore, the kind of loyalties we (often but not always) find between family members cannot be used as a model for national loyalties. If we return to the burning house and this time your answer to my question is 'because she is English', then not only does this fail to carry the same weight as the previous answer, it may actually strike us as morally repellent. And so we cannot reject the universal pull of moral principles by arguing that ethics begins 'at home' – very often what happens at home is shown to be deeply morally wrong in the light of universal moral principles.


The problem here is that if I save my daughter from a burning building, one reason I do so is coz everyone knows my wife will beat the shite out of me if anything happens to that precious lump of fat. Cole thinks families are composed of moral beings motivated only by love and altruism. They aren't. A guy who doesn't stand up for his wife or daughter will get a reputation as a coward. Nobody will have his back. He will suffer the social death of ostracism.
Human beings have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. They know 'cheap talk' is enough if there is no reciprocal bond. You weep over the kid you couldn't rescue. But, if you failed to rescue your own kid- or that of someone with whom you have a reciprocal bond- you are going to have the shit kicked out of you. The reciprocal bond, to be worth anything, requires a 'costly signal'. There is a 'separating equilibrium'. 'Cheap talk' ethics can pretend there is a pooling equilibrium, but there really isn't.

British soldiers and sailors and diplomats and so on have a duty to save British people. It would be nice if they also rescued non Britishers. But if they don't rescue a Britisher and that fact becomes known, they may face very personal consequences. Why? Well, they live in Britain, their wages are paid by British people, if they don't honor the terms of the relevant 'separating equilibrium' then they will be penalized. Not to do so is 'incentive incompatible'. It will crash the system.

In the short run, of course, things might not work out like that. Thus British soldiers were persecuted for supposed war crimes because the Govt. thought this was the best way to prevent the European Court sticking its oar in. The Govt. acted foolishly. Long term, the unwritten rule has been re-established that no viculum juris, no bond of law, exists such that a British official must treat non Britishers exactly the same as British people for any purpose for which a separating equilibrium exists. Econ. theory predicts this will be the case iff scarcity obtains.

Cole admits that the British working class is justified in demanding stricter controls on migration- even at the price of Brexit. He says-'So while in general immigration, all things being equal, tends to bring economic benefits, there is evidence that people in vulnerable and weak positions can lose out.
But to use immigration controls to address this problem seems odd, because they leave in place the structures of power and inequality that make those groups weak and vulnerable.
Cole thinks that the 'structure of power' which brought in migrants to directly compete with the indigenous working class for congestible or otherwise scarce resources was somehow benign. It wasn't. It answered to the bosses, not the workers. It remains to be seen whether Brexit will actually result in the 'structure of power' genuinely reducing wage competition for the unskilled. However, the depreciation of the currency has by itself had a deterrent effect on migration. It has made it cheaper to make things in this country. There remains a lot of uncertainty as to how things will eventually turn out. Who knows? Perhaps Exchange Controls will be resorted to if the pound goes to parity as a result of fears of a 'Hard Brexit'. If so, controls on Capital, matching those on Labor, can certainly improve the latter's share of National Income according to conventional Economic theory.

 It is not immigration that causes their social position, but their position that makes them vulnerable to competition from new immigrants. If we were seriously concerned about their vulnerability then we would surely address it in the name of social justice, and immigration controls will not help us do that.
No Working Class British person believes that any one is now, or has, in the recent past, been offering 'Social Justice' as opposed to a Credentialised Ponzi Scheme whereby young people get into debt so as to earn worthless degrees and couch-surf till they are in their Forties.
Before the financial crisis, some people bought into the notion that our infrastructure and Social Capital would grow by leaps and bounds thanks to our Visionary Leaders having been the first to throw open the gates to East European immigration. 
I personally love the Polish plumbers and Romanian dentists and so on- they are likely to more than pay their way. The problem is that Merkel suddenly decided that genuine Refugees- of whom there can never be an end- who need massive help to rebuild their lives, should be admitted en masse. Germany might just possibly manage to pick up the tab- they have a demographic problem- but Merkel's insistence that the rest of Europe shoulder an equal burden was simply more than the British people could swallow. One reason is that many migrants will prefer to move to the UK because of English's international standing. Europe, in any case, appears to be imploding.
Immigrants may be participants in a global economic order that creates poverty and hardship for many throughout the world, and some of those who suffer poverty and hardship are in the United Kingdom. But we are all participants in that global economic order and some agents are more powerful and more responsible for the creation of that poverty and hardship than others. To pick out immigrants as somehow the main culprits, such that we are justified in using coercive power against them, seems clearly unfair. This, then, is the key argument the left has to address – immigration controls would seek to protect certain sections of the poor and vulnerable by punishing other sections of the poor and vulnerable, leaving the rest of us untouched and evading the question of who is really responsible for global poverty and hardship, and who, although not responsible, is complicit in it.
Cole thinks the Left has a problem if Working Class people act decisively in their own best interest. Why? Has the Left stopped caring about the standard of living of the less skilled or less wealthy section of the population? Or is it rather the case that Ethics, as propounded by Professors, is wholly irrelevant to mundane reality?

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