Migrant Deaths in the English Channel

Subtitle: Why co-operate in removing an obscenity when you can gain by criticizing a neighbour with whom you already have a quarrel over something else?

From Boris Johnson, one has come to expect Trump-style Twitter posts, rather than mature diplomacy, but although Macron, the French President, observes that Johnson is not taking the issue seriously, he has not yet offered any positive suggestions.

Consistent emigration exceeding immigration suggests something is amiss for people to uproot themselves from their communitites,, but a spike indicates that something is seriously amiss. I fear the remedy is beyond Johnson’s comprehension, but Macron has not shown greater insight. To be fair, the solution must be global, not merely the two nations (not) grappling with it.

Although foreseeable, why has this issue taken governments by surprise? I believe the explanation is the exponential principle. If the growth is slow enough, it can foster a false impression of permanence, whereas in practice the end (of growth) due to the exponential principle comes quite suddenly. Oddly enough, I could not find a straightforward account of the spike in recent annual English Channel crossings, but this link gives the general picture..

Although I describe the arrival of the exponential cut-off as ‘sudden’, that is relative. In growth which is miniscule, and has lasted for many millennia, the full effect of ‘sudden’ can take a century.

The biggest single cause of the migrant crisis is the growth of population in areas which have, ‘suddenly’ become unable to support any increase whatsoever, This point would have arrived anyway, but it has been hastened by capitalist predation, and the early effects of climate breakdown.

A new (world) mind-set appropriate to cope with ecological limits has not yet emerged in the more afluent parts of the world. There, limiting population increase has been identified as a capitalist ploy. That affluent individuals take more per capita, and must be content with less, is a fair point,, but that has misled those still thinking  of haves needing to concede to have-nots does not dispose, as many assume it does, of the fact that if sheer numbers (and per capita consumption) continue to increase, they must eventually overwhelm finite resources.

Due to the exponential principle, the point at which this happens is always relatively sudden, but long experience of apparent normality has not prepared populations, or their politicians, for this crisis.

Conventional minds tend to assume that answers will be found by more technological inventiveness. No doubt such inventions will be useful, but if growth, however gradual, remains the norm, any respites can only be temporary.

In his Book ‘Poverty and Progress’ (1973, Methuen) Richard Wilkinson (later, co-author of The Spirit Level), cites the Siane, a New Guinea tribe with a sone-age culture who solved the exponential crisis in a completely different way. It was in effect a moneyless version of an unconditional basic income (UBI).

This is of course conjecture, but I postulate that the Siane came to the surprising decision to give resources unconditionally having had a near brush with unexpectedly sudden shortages. To give goods unconditionally would in ‘normal’ circumstances encourage individuals to behave badly, especially so if they were suffering from shortages due to over-exploitation.

However. if the environment had just given them a sharp warning of the consequences of over-exploitatiion, this counter-intuitive strategy might just put the tribe back on a sustainable even keel. provided they could adopt a frugal mind set, which seems to be what happened,.

The world as a whole is now at the point reached by the Siane many millennia ago. They did not have a tradition of escaping the crisis by a series of new inventions (though they had invented agriculture – that they were not hunter-gatherers is a clue to their situation, and surprising solution). Nor did they have the convenience of money.

By all means let us take advantage of new ways of making resources go further. but that will not save us. Only accepting that the Earth is finite will do that.

Solving drownings in the English Channel must not be left to Johnson and Macron, but a global UBI could yet save COP26.

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