The impacts that the Covid-19 outbreak are having on the modern world will be far-reaching and long lasting.
One of the more significant will be a re-evalaution of what work people do, where and how it is valued, hopefully. And equally hopefully, tech and decentralization will play a central role.
A couple of weeks back, I wrote a piece about how the pinball wizardry being utilized by the current President of the United States in his tactical defense of his 'America first' campaign platform was impacting economic policy including the effect on migration.
Finally, we have to look (briefly) at immigration and people.
A central plank of Trumpian populist doctrine is the need to not just expel illegal immigrants (an imperfect system requiring reform - a topic for another day) but to reduce the inflow of migrants to the educated and the wealthy.
As many parts of the world are discovering, countries rely on migrants to fill many of what were previously considered to be low skill positions - delivery drivers, hospital support staff, cleaners, garbage collectors, farm hands, homehelps and the like - but all now shown to be absolutely essential.
The contradiction....who does the jobs that no-one else wants once you deny migrants access and block them from the entry level positions that are now deemed so important. And beyond that, how do you replace the flow of skilled workers that emerges from the migrant population as they study and become qualified. What will you need to do in terms of soft power or direct foreign aid to replace the remittance income that is lost to the home country when migrants are dissuaded from seeking employment abroad.
From 'The Pinball Wizard of International Trade', link to full article below.
Migration has been around as long as humans have walked upright or approximately 70-50,000 years ago. Only it wasn't called that then, it was known as exploring, or finding food or moving away from an imminent threat such as a flood or other wild animals.
Difference then was that there were very few people around and we hadn't tribalized and drawn borders.
Since then there have been numerous instances of mass human movements, within countries, intra & inter continental and there continue to be. The reasons are many and varied but are mostly, simplistically, understood by a look at the push factor in play - what it is that you're getting away from - and the pull factors related to each - what is potentially better about where you're going.
Of course, the above supposition is based on the move being voluntary and without restriction and history is littered with instances of this not being the case. Every instance of slavery is migration without consent or for a better outcome for the victim would be one major grouping in that category along with every act of religious, economic or political persecution that forced people to flee and seek asylum.
And beyond that you have to overlay the victims of wars and natural disasters who literally have to make a 'life or death' decision. The basic point here is that many migrants, people involved in the process of moving, are not there voluntarily.
Overall, the total numbers are relatively small. There are currently around 250 million international emigrants, people living elsewhere than their home country. that is approximately 3.5% of the global population. And these are spread all over the world and fall into all of the categories and sub-categories that you can permutate from the causes listed above.
For those that are outwith the 'system', the so-called illegals and the refugees including the internally displaced, the policy world in which they live is a mess. This is at a political level and in no way aimed at the brave and dedicated women and men who work tirelessly day in and day out to manage the camps where the mass of these people are forced to live.
So as a general ideal, how about we work to address the wars and conflicts that still rage around the world, end those and allow and assist the people driven out to return home to a better future. The institutions and organisations exist to make this happen and as we've seen that the money is there as well, what is lacking is the political will.
And whilst on the subject, and not wanting to be swamped by concerns regarding the virus, how about we capitalize on the opportunity presented by reduced pollution, a collapse in fossil fuel prices and reductions in travel to redesign power production and put renewed focus and emphasis behind renewable energy sources.....let's decentralize the grip that traditional providers have had on supply for too long. A veritable jobs bonanza on the back of tech innovation.
At the same time, we have the chance to address climate change, less severe weather, less polar melt, less rising sea levels equals less crop failures, less natural disaster deaths and less environmental threat driven migration.
And the two scenarios described above are both based on the same basic premise regarding immigration and that is that the vast majority of people actually don't want to move, that they feel happiest in the country in which they were born and grew up and where there family and friends are. Making those places safe and increasingly viable, sustainable and desirably is a win-win for them.
And whilst we're on a roll, let's finally eradicate slavery. Just sounds like another liberal wishlist item, well maybe but then let's not overlook the fact that sweatshop labour has actually caused the relocation of more 'Western' manufacturing jobs then any single trade agreement. Think mineral & coal mining in Africa and Asia, think prostitution globally.....any and everything that exploits human beings. The jobs don't necessarily disappear they just get charged at the commercial rate and are controlled by the provider.
How does the current Covid-19 issue play into the debate on immigration and what are the potential threats and opportunities?
Where people work and what they do are all under scrutiny. WFH, work from home, is the new mantra. Some of us remember the chaos immediately after 9/11 in 2001 when air traffic was suspended for several weeks. The technology of the day and the bandwidth couldn't provide a sufficiently robust communication infrastructure for business continuity.
That is not the case today. Texting has been around forever and by extension, we now have multiple providers (with differing levels of functionality and privacy etc...see below), so it is possible to meet up online, transfer sizable amounts of data and conduct a huge array of professional and commercial activities online.
The upside here, less travel, less pollution, less stress, less congestion...making life easier for those who need to travel for work or necessity. More time with family and for personal interests and activities all round.
Retailing is being massively impacted and whilst online has boomed, it is still heavily reliant on a physical component for preparation and delivery. We undervalue that (the stories out of Amazon distribution centers were worrying before the virus) and I think we will now value the physical retail experience and the people who provide it more highly having been deprived of it for a while be it haute couture or fast food at the mall...
Likewise, people have discovered how much there is to do online and by exercising a degree of imagination...cookery, gardening, reading, self learning, watching, all kinds of creative activities that will change how we use our leisure time in future have emerged. We might have all cringed at the Peleton Christmas ad in December...well, every dog has it's day and they have been booming in recent weeks.
For leisure & travel, the picture is less clear as to how that will progress, cruise ships have been exposed as floating petri-dish, tax evading care homes where the largely immigrant staff bore the brunt of the infections...adventure travel may see a boost through VR and the like...many airlines will succumb to the financial stress of no passengers for multiple months despite government help and that could be good all round for a world stressed by pollution and the demands of modern travelers. Maybe a return to indigenous and low tech travel and adventure is called for under the circumstances.
With specific reference to the United States, President Trump's most recent Immigration ban was typically conflicted and confusing. At first sight, it was a total ban then became a specific new green card holder ban. May be worth noting that these are people coming to work in the US on a time barred basis, emigrants not necessarily immigrants. It also confused many that whilst pushing to open the economy, he was pushing to close the borders...but there again maybe not!
One major concern must be the future of the DACA debate, the fate of the 8-10 million immigrant children bought to the US by their parents who were illegals. When 26 million people have filed for unemployment in 6 weeks and look unlikely to be back in work immediately the boom goes up, it may just be too easy of an answer to address the lack of jobs to throw these people out of the country...a potentially shocking loss of talent at a time when the US will need it's brightest and best to what is, effectively, a technicality.
There is reason to believe that significant global change will result following what we are going through, a new world order, a new green deal...there are so many variables and so many open questions at a micro and a macro level but can we really expect or strive perpetual economic growth and who does that most benefit in the short & medium term?
We need to focus on sustainability to address environmental and equality issues. We need fairer trade and the lifting of artificial barriers to goods such as food to allow countries in poorer parts of the world to thrive, a lot of this is political but the driver comes from a mindset change and its impact on the political will. If nothing else we have all learnt we can live with less.
Migrants do great things, they build countries (and not just those that can stand on their own feet), they fill huge gaps in the workforce, take entry level jobs that few others want and they bring their culture and their colour....they bring way more than they take. And whilst we're at it, how about we free up cryptocurrency regulation and allow temporary foreign workers to remit funds instantly and at minimal cost to them back to their families in their home countries...take a look, regulator guys...it's a far better system than WU and the rest, but then you already know that!
So let me close with a clumsy plea for everyone to take a step back, see things from others points of view and maybe walk a mile in someone else's shoes. You'll maybe then begin to understand the complexity of this issue and look to drive some of the changes needed to address it.