Sunday, September 14, 2008

Libertarians and Responsibilities

From the WQ (Summer 2008, page 28):

When government takes over the responsibility from citizens, the citizens can't develop their own values anymore. So when you want people to develop their own values in how to cope with social interactions between people, you have to give them freedom.
-- Hans Monderman, Netherlands traffic engineer

This concept is so simple, even a European government worker can understand it. At least the Europeans offer benefits to all citizens, not just government workers, which creates less resistance to increased taxation. These generous benefits, however, create opposition to immigration, because more people entering a country sap the benefits from existing persons, assuming a stable and finite tax base. America, thus far, has been more open to immigrants, which is responsible for much of its success.

1 comment:

Alison said...

I'm sorry, but I have to comment here; it is difficult for me say nothing.

Resistance to immigration in Europe *outside the EU borders* does not usually stem from health care costs. State health care costs are so integral to our social and economic systems or perhaps so taken for granted, that people don't usually give a second thought to it. And with that, its almost regarded as a cost difficult to negotiate with. Health care is perhaps not moaned to the extent of other perceived frivolous government spending; that is not to say that much financial waste is undertaken here, just people are perhaps more blind to it.

In the UK, when a migrant is going to be deported but needs medical treatment, watch the media (who usually hates immigrants) and the British public go up in arms about returning someone to their home country where they cannot get treatment. This is where most people (with perhaps the exception of BNP) will side with migrants, against the government accusing the likes of "atrocious barbarism". This story of an asylum seeker is just an example: and was in every news outlet (think the medical care ended up being privately funded by Welsh people, she sadly subsequently died).

Within Europe, we do make health care compromises, that is not seen in the States where you are pay. E.g. longer waiting lists (for a hip replacement, you might wait 3 years), and what you can or can have in the form of drugs or treatment is determined by national guidelines. (In the UK this is NICE - ). Whilst this provides some framework for control over your suppliers and your bargaining position, i.e. the drug companies because of your purchasing power.

In Wales, not only is medical care free, but all prescription drugs are free (regardless of income - this is a bit different in England). The policy reasoning for free prescription drugs for all, is that it actually costs more to administer a subsidised system where some people pay (partial costs) and some people do not; its cheaper to just give everyone free drugs than to spend it on a bloated administrative system.

Its very easy to pine about a free health care ideology (and I would not trade the NHS), but it would possibly come as a huge cultural shock to many Americans / the system is not without its faults. Our health care like it or not, is linked to politics and is not just a matter between you - the insurance company - health care provider. If you are able to get a certain drug or not (including those to prolong your life, e.g. breast cancer drugs), is down to NICE / the government; and its not entirely down to your personal autonomy over what you've invested through taxation. Very often what gets NICE priority, is down to the current political climate or what gets media attention (is your disease sexy enough?) If you do take out additional private health care, you end up paying twice (on top of taxation for the NHS). Once you are prescribed some drugs in the private sector you currently *cannot* be seen again as a NHS patient for the same treatment (even for lesser treatments which is available on the NHS). You might have paid for it, etc but mixed treatment isn't welcomed.

Resistance to immigration, is usually down to three factors:

a) Free movement within the EU, an attempt to lock very culturally diverse countries (European countries can in no way be compared to states / federal level in the US). Locking countries in via economic forces was an attempt to stop war in Europe, WW1 and subsequently the extremes of WW2. Whilst we're talking about a 50+ year time frame (since the Treaty of Rome), its very much a small step by step process; to dive in with such culturally diverse countries would mean collapse of an ideology and a repeat of earlier mistakes, cf the Treaty of Versailles, etc.

The EU has to *legally* priortise immigration within its own borders, and within this you get a levelling out of economic systems, via a free movement of goods, people, trade.

When the wall came down for East Germany, you get East Germans dispersing to West Germany (not to the rest of the EU, that couldn't happen until 1992). From 2003 onwards there was a large number of Polish people migrating to the UK (and surprisingly ignoring past migration patterns just to cities - cf. migration to the Highlands of Scotland, remote areas of Wales) due to Poland joining the EU in 2002. The same people are now returning to Poland, because economic conditions in country are now on a more level playing field. The next real migration will probably be from Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia; particularly influxes of Roma peoples (commonly referred to as Gypsies), who comprise of 10% of the population and where poverty is rife.

UK Eastern Europe migration patterns:

Since the UK government does not have any legal control over number of people migrating from inside European Economic area (the European Union plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway); it thus seeks to curb immigration elsewhere. Applications for asylum aside, it has decided to just allow those in where there's a "skills shortage" (for non European economic migrants). The current skills shortage occupation list:

b) Lack of space, or rather population density. In the words of my father who likes physical space, "This country [the UK] is going to sink before long [because it won't be able to hold the number of people]".

The UK is on track to become the highest population in the EU, with a rise in population of 25%, and we certainly do not have the largest land mass. Interestingly, one of the reasons cited for the UK population increase is down to "persistently low fertility", go figure.

Coming into the UK after spending large amounts of time in the States, and it hits how on top of each other houses are here. House prices in the UK have risen 300% in less than a decade, at prices perhaps at least six times plus basic income, young people cannot afford to get onto the housing ladder. Land supply is not infinite. Granted there's other factors (such as the rise in single person households), however there lies policy consideration as to where to house such homes. Building cannot legally take place within green belt areas (for London its just outside the M25), or National Parks; leaving perhaps brown field sites or a major policy rethink.

c) The media. Common denominator everywhere, needing no explanation; except perhaps the media is much more bold here.

Don't take the above to mean as my view, rather observations as to attitudes. Resistance against immigration is ultimately about threats to privilege, maintenance of the status quo, and even where this misconception is misconstrued (immigrants steal our jobs, destablise the economy, etc).

Can free market forces control immigration, without the need for government intervention? The libertarian in you will side with yes, give people credit for intelligence, etc. From experience within Europe, free market forces sees the introduction of a lot of short term migration. Irrespective of government policy, OECD estimates that 20% to 50% of migrants leave their host country within five years.

London as a major economic centre of the world, one quarter of its population is made up of immigrants and is widely acknowledged this is the basis of its success. London as a major trade centre has been made up of a significant immigrant population for centuries; people need to remember this.

History can assist with understanding migration today, and is probably a good way of communicating the now to many. E.g. Wales was once only second to the United States in terms of an influx of immigrants (Wales is not big, its only ~20,000km², so an impressive statistic). Immigration into Wales was due to the coal fields, Cardiff the busiest port in the world, etc. Not only did immigrants provide prosperity when agricultural industries were declining; surprisingly they assisted with the preservation of a minority language, i.e. Welsh. It is widely acknowledged that the Welsh language died in south Wales (due to migration); however since migrants kept Wales economically afloat (non dispersal, curbed emigration), with it aided the language's survival. Compare this to say, Ireland where people left to the US in droves; with it the loss of Gaeilge via assimilation into another country. (Welsh people left Wales too, e.g. they were the highest ethnic group as signatories for the US Declaration of Independence, etc).

Migration control raises some interesting questions. What is the concept of "country"? Why are certain classes of people entitled to privilege? Aren't we all just global citizens, and why are some people more entitled to more resources? Indeed is the concept of private ownership infinite (why do countries / citizens have the right to consume or use, in an unlimited manner), etc?