Waylaid Dialectic

September 21, 2013

Some Numbers on Asylum Seekers

Filed under: Development Philosophy,Migration — terence @ 9:13 am

From an interesting essay by Julian Burnside:

The fact is that boat people do not break any law by coming here the way they do. Over the past 15 years, 90% of them have ultimately been assessed as refugees entitled to our protection. Their arrival rate over the last 12 months has been much higher than the historic average, but even now it represents only four weeks’ ordinary population growth. While an estimated 25,000 boat people arrived in Australia in the 12 months to June 30, 2013, we received 168,685 new permanent migrants and over six million visitors came to our shores in the year ended December 2012. Boat people do not present a demographic problem for Australia.

Spooked by tabloid scare-mongering, both major parties have chosen deterrent policies: treat them harshly, push them off to small, impoverished Pacific neighbours. The low point of this is the recent Coalition promise to bring in the military to deal with the “emergency”.

The spectacular cost of these measures passes without complaint because it is seen as a kind of protection. While it is difficult to separate out the various components of the cost, indefinite detention costs, on average, around A$160,000 per person per year as of 2011-12. The actual cost varies: metropolitan detention is cheapest. It gets more and more expensive as the place of detention is more remote. On current estimates, we will spend about $4 billion each year brutalising people who have committed no offence and have done nothing worse that ask for protection [emphasis mine].

By way of comparison total Australian ODA in 2012 was just over $5.2 billion AUD.

July 23, 2013

The PNG “Solution”

Filed under: Human Rights,Migration — terence @ 11:36 am

Kevin Rudd’s PNG “solution” to asylum seekers who try and reach Australia by boat — sending them to Papua New Guinea — strikes me as profoundly immoral. It is also, as Stephen Howes explains carefully on the development policy centre blog, likely to be – practically speaking – impossible to implement. Nice one Kev.

February 5, 2011

Exploitation and Seasonal Migration

Filed under: Migration — terence @ 7:45 am

A while ago I mentioned the degree of planning that had gone into New Zealand’s seasonal migration scheme – efforts to ensure that benefits for workers were maximised and the risk of exploitation reduced.

While I think the scheme’s a great idea, there is an inherent danger temporary migrant schemes: the migrants are never citizens, can’t vote, don’t have access to politicians (normally), and as temporary visitors may be unaware of legal protections available to them. What’s more they’re usually tied to employers so can’t just up and leave a job they dislike. And so they are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

As I said in my original post, the New Zealand government of the time put in place safeguards with the RSE scheme to try and help prevent such exploitation.

Clearly, even so, exploitation occurs as is evidenced by Carmel Sepuloni’s post on Red Alert (see comments below the post for some more suggested incidents of exploitation).

Like I keep saying: there are no miracle cures in development; not even those beloved by economists.

Still, in this instance, there is an easy enough partial solution to the actual issue. Strengthen the worker protections, and increase funding to those organisations associated with ensuring this sort of stuff doesn’t happen.

It wouldn’t be that hard, although my guess is that, with the farmers’ party in power right now, and with government spending being reduced to pay for tax cuts, and with there being few votes out their to be won by caring for immigrants, these improvements are unlikely to take place.

On a slightly more positive note, it is heartening to see that informal channels have worked at least partially in this case: migrant worker contacts relative (NZ has a large Samoan population), relative contacts MP and MP does something.

December 13, 2010

The Secret to Fighting Poverty is Planning

Filed under: Migration — terence @ 5:22 am
Tags: ,

In a surprising move an AidWatch blogger has come out in favour of statism and planning. Sure the blogger is Laura not Bill, and she apparently doesn’t know this yet, but when she writes about the wonders of New Zealand’s RSE (short term migration scheme) she’s writing about the success of a well planned undertaking.

True, the desire to migrate and the wealth that flows home is a product of the individual desires for betterment of the migrants involved. But the NZ scheme was carefully designed and established by our Department of Labour (with input from the aid programme and others). And a lot of work by government agency staffers has gone into attempting to ensure that the migrants involved aren’t exploited and that opportunities to save are maximised. Similarly, by design and as a result of the types of eligible employment, the migrants are ususally in relatively isolated rural communities with discrete periods of work on offer. So when Laura writes:

The good news doesn’t stop there. The usual fears for or about migrants—that they would be vulnerable to poor treatment, or that they would take advantage of the program to over stay their visas—don’t seem have materialized.

She’s right, but let’s at least give credit where credit’s due on this one — thank you to the planners. (While we’re at it – and this is really a topic for another post — the amount of community planning which went into the selection of participants in the Pacific Countries involved, as well as trying to ensure benefits were spread about, is also something to bear in mind.)

Also, it’s worth noting that this scheme has been relatively unproblematic here in New Zealand because it has been implimented during a period of sustained low unemployement. It’s popular becuase it fills a need and doesn’t displace native workers, but this may not always be the case. One of these days our run of good economic performance will come to an end, and when it does, it’s possible that opposition will rise.

And, finally the scheme is unproblematic because it’s small. Which is a critical point — migration is an incredibly effective development tool for the migrants involved but, lamentably and inescapably, it is unpopular in receiving countries once it becomes large scale. It’s sad to think that the average member of middle-New Zealand is something of a xenophobe, but this is the fact of the matter. Which means that migration isn’t a development magic bullet. It works well for the people who it works for, and we should definitely push for and allow more of it, but there are limits to what it can acheive. There’s no place like home and there’s still no substitute for development back home either.

I’m in favour of migration; I’m in favour of being realistic about what it can acheive too.

August 24, 2010


Ok so I missed Friday but here goes…

The Guardian covers recent criticism of Wilkinson and Pickett’s book the Spirit Level, while the authors have a page devoted to responding to the critiques.

Meanwhile, the British Medical Journal has a meta-review of studies of the impact of inequality on health. Summarised conclusion:

The results suggest a modest adverse effect of income inequality on health, although the population impact might be larger if the association is truly causal. The results also support the threshold effect hypothesis, which posits the existence of a threshold of income inequality beyond which adverse impacts on health begin to emerge.

On the subject of inequality, and following from my earlier post on inequality in Latin America, Arthur Ituassu has an interesting article at OpenDemocracy in which he examines the relationship between Brazil’s falling inequality and its rising democracy.

Speaking of democracy, Dani Rodrik a does good job of summarising the economic case for democracy at Project Syndicate.

And at VoxEu John Gibson and David McKenzie examine the economic consequences of migration, in particular the dreaded brain drain. Their conclusion:

Our findings question both the pessimistic view that high-skilled migration hurts development, and the optimistic view that most countries can benefit to the extent Taiwan, China and India have from trade and investment flows. For most countries, the first-order effects are mostly an individual phenomenon – individuals stand to gain a lot from migration, and the second-order effects on others are small in comparison and seem to at least balance one another out if not also be a net positive. In the absence of compelling evidence for massive externalities from their presence, we argue governments should not be so concerned about high rates of skilled emigration, but focus instead on the basics of providing the policy environment needed to foster growth and innovation at home.

On to aid, and a blast from the past in the form of a 1997 Foreign Affairs review by David Rieff of Michael Maran’s book the ‘Road to Hell’. No surprise to discover that people have been launching polemics at aid for a very long time. Rieff’s review is well worth a read both because, depressingly, many of the issues covered remain with us, but also because its evenhanded on the aid industry, criticising where it’s fallen short but also acknowledging the real dilemmas the aid workers face.

I wrote a while ago on the challenges for aid agencies when it comes to admitting they got it wrong. Meanwhile Johann Hari tries to do this on a personal level.

On Melanesian Politics, Phil Twyford writes of his time as an election observer in Solomon Islands, and in doing so provides a handy summary of Solomons politics.

And finally, Our Word is Our Weapon, one of the first blogs I encountered writing regularly about aid, is back. Or maybe it never went away and I just had the URL wrong? Still mostly only posting links; interesting links mind you…

May 20, 2010

Kindness, Cruelty and the Better Polity Through Suffering Theory

Filed under: Aid,Governance,Migration,Social Justice — terence @ 10:57 am
Tags: , , , ,

Call it ‘Better Polity Through Suffering Theory’. It’s nasty, common and it comes in various forms. On the far left there are those who dismiss the market mitigating effects of social democracy as impediments to real political transformation. People who argue that if we would just stop providing the masses with some security they will eventually rebel, leading to left wing utopia.

The right has it’s own versions. Witness Helen Hughes and Gaurav Sodhi [PDF] arguing against a seasonal migration scheme for Pacific Island workers because it will reduce the impetus for political reform back home. Similarly, opponents of aid sometimes claim that the negative shock of aid withdrawal will lead to pressure for positive political reform.

The common thread in such ‘theories’ (both from left and right) is that you have to be cruel to be kind: deny people benefits now and you will provide the incentive for positive change.

On a society-wide scale this has never struck me as convincing for the simple reason that there are not many examples of countries that have weathered large shocks and become radically better as a result. On the other hand there are plenty of examples of countries that have weathered large shocks either by falling apart or by reverting to authoritarian hyper-nationalism. It’s much easier to break a country (or a community for that matter) than it is to build one. For this reason I’m very wary of any reforms that promise long term gains as a result of short term pain and I’m particularly sceptical of claims that see the pain itself as a tool.

And so, the following really doesn’t surprise me; although I hope it might cause proponents of Better Polity Through Suffering Theory to reconsider their own arguments for a bit.

From VoxEU:

While estimates vary between specifications, we find that roughly a one percentage point decline in growth translates into a one percentage point higher vote share of right-wing or nationalist parties.

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