Saturday, 6 April 2013

Geography Is The Present Day Racism

A lot of people in the UK think that white people should be given UK jobs ahead of black people.  They complain when black people get jobs ahead of white people - and they get taken in by the false propaganda that exclaims black people coming into the country to work is bad for the economy (it isn't).  All that I just said is true, apart from two small details; I said 'white' instead of 'British' and 'black' instead of 'non-British'. I said it because, even today, many people who believe it is wrong to discriminate on the basis of race (a man made concept*) are surprisingly quite happy to discriminate on the basis of geography (another man-made concept). When we look back at some of the shameful acts and beliefs in history (such as stoning, witch-hunts, slavery), we are usually appalled that our ancestors behaved so reprehensibly, and with such ignorance.  Similarly, most of us are appalled at the relative recency of our homophobia and racism.  The underlying point is, I don't see why we should be less appalled at discriminating against someone based on their geography than discriminating against someone based on their race – both strike me as equally absurd, unkind and unjustified.   Furthermore, I feel fairly certain that future generations will have culturally evolved to find discrimination based on geography as reprehensible and ignorant as we of today find discrimination based on race. 

Despite the above, it is incredible how frequently people complain about 'migrants stealing our jobs', and how often they insist that 'British money should be spent in Britain'.  I don't see why a young, unskilled man from Newcastle or Liverpool or London with not much willingness to work should take precedence in the employment market over a young man from Poland or Nigeria who has the right skills, and is willing to work.  And I don't see why a family in Cambodia with not enough food and drinking water should be any less of a concern for us than a family in Newcastle or Liverpool or London living in impoverished conditions - in fact, it seems obvious to me that those in Cambodia (and other countries much poorer than ours) should be more of a concern, because they are the people in the world that need the most help. 

You may be the sort of person who thinks that £7 million of British taxpayers' money spent on a dual carriageway in Norfolk should take precedence over £7 million spent on digging wells to provide drinking water for dying people in Cambodia.  Your logic might be that British people are paying their taxes, so it should thus stand to reason that that money should be spent on British needs.  I don't think that's a good way to think, because if you recall Harsanyi's model, which tests these moral issues most honestly and prudently – his model would show that it's better to stop people dying than it is to improve their journey times on roads. 

But even if I grant you that British taxpayers’ money should be spent on British things, that still doesn’t advance the argument that’s it is ok to discriminate in favour of British people in the employment market, because the taxpayers are not paying wages, employers are (at least they are in the majority of cases we are talking about), and employers are free to employ whoever they want.  A correlative point – and one which many do not get – is that if an employer has found 100 non-British workers who are willing to work for £3 per hour less than his 100 British workers, the nation is better off (as is the global economy), because before the non-British workers began to do the jobs, there were 100 potential workers each being overpaid by £3 per hour.  In a 40 hour week that amounts to a net overpayment of £12,000. 

Ok, I’d guess some people aren’t convinced that paying people £3 per hour less is a good thing.  That’s because they’re not thinking with a proper economic model – they’re probably thinking in emotive terms like ‘minimum wage’ and ‘cheap labour’, and they probably have it drummed into them that high wages means a good economy.  This is wrong on two counts; firstly, it is erroneous to think of a £3 per hour drop as being a net loss – it is no such thing.  It’s a loss if you only think of the cost and ignore the benefit, which amounts to saying, don’t just focus on the employee who is losing £3 per hour, focus too on the employer who just gained £3 per hour.  There is no net loss to the economy, because the employee’s loss is balanced out by the employer’s gain.  And in fact, those higher wage demands that are insisted upon to ‘protect British workers’, actually end up putting the prices of goods and services up even more for everyone else, which amounts to an overall net loss.

But there’s another reason; finding someone who will do the job for less is a good thing for the economy in a similar way to how improving technology is good for the economy (and in most cases it’s a good thing for the person doing the work too – because having accepted the lower wage job, one presumes he did so because the terms offered were an improvement on his situation prior to accepting it).  In fact, not only is finding someone who will do the job for less a good thing for the economy in a similar way to how improving technology is a good thing for the economy - they are more or less the same thing.  Here’s why. 

Suppose you have a car factory in Manchester, and on the staff team you have 3 innovative engineers; Tom, who designs a machine that assembles the engine valves 25% quicker than the current machine; Dick, who synthesises two compounds that vastly improves the engine oil’s ability to clean the engine; and Harry, whose newly constructed equipment can make seatbelt holders at £2.60 per item cheaper than the current equipment.  I think you’ll agree that those three advances have improved the car factory in Manchester.  And having agreed, it stands to reason that if you want to be consistent you are compelled to agree that finding cheaper ways to employ people is also good for the economy, because it’s the same thing.

When we outsource the work attached to call centres, medical data analysis, computer software design, electrical engineering, and so forth, we are doing something very similar to Tom, Dick and Harry’s improvements in the car factory in Manchester.  That’s the wisdom that it seems too many people miss; new business and trading links across the world are good for the world as a whole, just as new technological innovations are good for the world as a whole.  Hopefully in our lifetime we will get to live in a world in which we see the end of discrimination against total strangers because they happen to live in another humanly constructed geographical border.  Economics favours it, and so does human kindness and decency.

* Generally speaking, there is more genetic diversity between a man in Nigeria and a man in Kenya than there is between a man in Nigeria and a man in Belgium, Holland or Spain.  This alone shows the absurdity and man-made wickedness of racism.