Waylaid Dialectic

December 13, 2010

The Secret to Fighting Poverty is Planning

Filed under: Migration — terence @ 5:22 am
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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.

May 20, 2010

Kindness, Cruelty and the Better Polity Through Suffering Theory

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