Sunday, 5 June 2016

Reasons To Remain – Migration

The Punchline

The right to free movement should be a basic human right. Capital moves to wherever in the world it desires in search of profits, and workers should have the same right to search out a better life. Economies can grow without increases in population, but increases in population, including from migration, are a driver of growth, and improvements in living standards.

If You Are In A Rush

  • If the first humans had not migrated from the African plains, we would not be here today.
  • From the earliest times, humans have migrated from one place to another, partly to escape harsh conditions, partly out of natural curiosity and a sense of adventure, partly in search of a better life.
  • That migration has benefited all of us. Not only would we not be here had they not engaged in such adventures, but as humans settled new areas of the globe, they developed the new and varied resources of those areas, which opened up the potential for trade, and an enrichment of the range of products that everyone could enjoy.
  • The point at which such migration is first restricted coincides with a period when human freedom is itself restricted.
  • Under systems of slavery and serfdom, workers were forced to stay in one place, or only to move to where their master dictated.
  • Under feudalism, people were considered to belong to the land, rather than the land belong to the people. They became tied to the land, and the vast majority rarely travelled outside their own village. Such restrictions not only limit human freedom and spirit, they breed parochialism, distrust, fear of outsiders, idiocy, and xenophobia.
  • One of the great freedoms achieved by bourgeois revolutions was to break that tie to the land, and enable free movement of labour. It is only recently that restrictions on such free movement have been imposed.
  • As capital began to run out of labour in the Industrial Revolution, it again sought to prevent workers from emigrating, and continued that even during periods of stagnation, fearful that when activity resumed, it would lack the workers required.
  • At the start of the last century, the drive for immigration restrictions, such as the Aliens Act, of 1905, was more to do with xenophobia, by reactionary elements within the ruling class, and a fear of revolutionary ideas, than any concern that British workers might lose jobs, or that resources might be pressured.
  • In the 1950's, Britain needed additional workers, which it actively sought out in the West Indies, and elsewhere, alongside drawing married women into the workforce.
  • It was again a response to demagogic, and reactionary politicians, like Enoch Powell, which led to the introduction of general immigration controls for the first time, not any need of capital for such controls.
  • The ability for capital to obtain labour-power when required is an important aspect for capital accumulation, and workers should favour such capital accumulation, as in both their short and long-term interests. The free movement of labour not only enables workers to move to where they think the best opportunities exist, but enables the frictions on employment, of the right kinds of workers being available in the wrong places to be remedied.
  • Contrary to the facile claims of the Brexiters, increases in population, including from immigration do not cause a pressure on available jobs and resources. There is no fixed amount of work, or resources that can only be shared out. The amount of available work and resources is itself a function of the size of the population, and number of workers. It is workers and their families that create a demand for goods and services, and thereby provide employment for other workers, in producing goods and services to meet that demand. It is workers, who produce the resources that the population requires to meet their needs, whether it is the production of natural resources such as coal that workers dig from the ground, or resources in the form of houses, schools and hospitals, which workers build, and work in.
  • Throughout history, it has been increases in population that have driven economic growth, and because capitalism always produces more efficiently when it produces on a larger scale, increases in population enable production to be undertaken on a larger scale, to meet the increased demand, and so to produce more efficiently and profitably.
  • Free movement, means that not only can workers move to where they can obtain the best standard of living, whilst working, it also means that they can move to where it is most advantageous for them and for society, when they retire. It makes sense, as happens in the US with many workers retiring to Florida, for older people to retire to better climates, where they will not be so prone to the illnesses that afflict older people brought on by cold and damp weather.

If You Have Time

The right to free movement, to be able to live and work anywhere in the world SHOULD be a basic human right. However, what SHOULD be the case is a moral question, whereas Marxists are concerned not with moral imperatives, but with actual realities. There is no such thing as absolute or inalienable human rights, because all rights are determined by human beings acting in society, and the rights that any society determines are themselves a function of the economic and social relations existing within that society. It is utopian to demand rights, that are beyond what any particular society can guarantee, and dangerously misleading to suggest that rights, which may be morally desirable, are, in fact, absolute rights which exist. As Marx puts it,

“Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.”

No individual can logically stake a legal claim to any part of the Earth's surface, because every other individual can stake an equally valid claim to it. All that any individual can do is to stake a claim of possession over it. In other words to say, I got here first, and now its mine. Rousseau, in The Social Contract, makes this distinction between possession and ownership. If all that exists as a consequence of total freedom, in a state of nature, is possession, then all such possession is contingent upon power and force. If you have merely possession of a piece of land, then if I can organise more force than you, I can replace your possession with my possession.

Property, therefore, can only arise in a system of laws, whereby it is not a matter of mere possession, but of a legal right of ownership. However, as Marx sets out in Capital, there can be no real legal right to land either. The fact that land is repeatedly bought and sold does not mean that anyone has a legal right to it. As Marx says, slaves were regularly bought and sold in market places too, but the fact that someone bought a slave from someone else did not mean they could thereby obtain a legal right to another human being, because the person from whom they bought the slave had no such legal right either.  Yet a property right to land has been established by some powerful individuals and used to restrict free movement.  In the past, workers and socialists organised mass trespasses to challenge the right of the landed aristocracy to prevent them using the land on their estates.  In so far, as the EU establishes a right of free movement across at least part of the Earth's surface, it is a right that we should support.

The first humans moved freely across the globe, and its only because they did so that we exist today. Had the first humans continued to live on the African plains they may have well been wiped out by some natural disaster. The fact that they spread out in a diaspora across the globe, meant that they evolved a range of different characteristics determined by what was most advantageous for the conditions in each area. So, for example, humans, when they migrated into colder northern climates, developed white skins, and blue eyes. These genetic variations in the human race give it strength, whereas continual in breeding of a people contained within a specific area, breeds weakness and idiocy. The same thing can be seen where in breeding takes place within small castes or classes, for example, the aristocracy, and royalty.

When humans began to settle in particular areas, the land was not considered as belonging to the people, but the people to the land. They saw themselves as its custodians. The right to free movement ceases alongside the appropriation of the land by individuals. Slaves and serfs were tied to one place, or to wherever their slave-owner or feudal lord dictated. But, even free peasants tended to be tied to the same village in which they were born. That necessarily led to a very narrow parochial outlook, it meant that all kinds of myths about the wider world could develop, which in turn bred fear, distrust and xenophobia. It also leads to the kind of in breeding and idiocy discussed earlier. Village life, that involves a monotonous routine, day after day, year after year, decade after decade, century after century with very little change itself results in idiocy, because those bound up in it, have no reason to think on a wider scale, to question anything, to innovate and so on. It is what Marx refers to when he and Engels say in The Communist Manifesto,

“The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life.”

One of the achievements of capitalism then was to re-establish this right of free movement, in part because capitalism itself required such free movement to function effectively. That remains true today. It was Maggie Thatcher's boot boy, Norman Tebbit, who told unemployed workers in the 1980's, to “Get on their bike”, and look for work, and of course, as the 1980's TV series, “Auf Wiedersehen Pet”, described, many unemployed workers from the UK and elsewhere, did take advantage of free movement within the EU, to move to jobs in Germany and elsewhere.

But, the bourgeoisie having railed against the activities of the old feudal ruling class, seeks to copy it in many ways, when it has achieved its own dominance. Marx describes in Theories of Surplus Value, the way the bourgeoisie having once denounced the unproductive elements of society, such as the clergy, and state flunkeys itself establishes a state with such unproductive elements as a means of supporting its own rule. The same rights and bourgeois freedoms under which it fought a revolution against the feudal aristocracy, and which it thereby established, it seeks to limit and constrain when they are used against it by the new revolutionary class, the proletariat.

In the early 19th century, as what first appeared as unending supplies of labour-power from the countryside, began to dry up, the industrial capitalists began their own slave trade, shipping workers and their families from workhouses, in all parts of the country, who they bought from agents in those workhouses, sending boat loads of them to northern industrial towns and factories. When a period of economic stagnation set in, with large numbers of workers starving, the employers sought to prevent them emigrating to the United States, fearful that when economic recover came, they would find themselves without an exploitable workforce.

One of those making such a case was the father of Beatrix Potter. Edmund Potter, former President of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce wrote.

“He (the man out of work) may be told the supply of cotton-workers is too large…. and …. must….in fact be reduced by a third, perhaps and then there will be a healthy demand for the remaining two-thirds….Public opinion…urges emigration The master cannot willingly see his labour supply being removed…. Encourage or allow the working power to emigrate, and what of the capitalist? …Take away the cream of the workers and the fixed capital will depreciate in a great degree, and the floating will not be subject itself to a struggle with the short supply of inferior.”

Potter’s letter was referred to as the “Manifesto of the Manufacturers” in the House of Commons. Even The Times which had printed Potter’s letter on 24th March 1863 was prompted to respond unfavourably. 

And, the reason that workers emigrated was clear. In the United States, there was vast amounts of open land. Workers who had emigrated to its East Coast, found that their wages were high, because firms could not retain workers. In a short time, workers saved enough to be able to buy a piece of land, and turn themselves once more into peasant farmers. This right of free movement was more or less taken for granted, as a basic achievement of the bourgeois revolution. Restrictions upon it have been quite recent.

The Aliens Act of 1905, was nothing to do with limiting immigration to prevent unemployment etc. As TUC President James Sexton, said in a speech at the TUC Conference that year in Stoke, it was an “appeal to stupid blind prejudice” to gain votes at the next election. “It is claimed,” he said, “that this Bill will relieve sweated workpeople by prohibiting the introduction of cheap labour from other countries. The political dishonesty of the measure needs no other argument than the fact that while the promoters profess to shut out undesirables from the UK in order to help the British workman here, they rushed a measure through to introduce the most undesirable kind of cheap labour into South Africa.” 

In fact, the Act was aimed at Russian Jews, emigrating to Britain. The background to the Bill would be familiar to anyone today. It was the result of widespread moral panic drummed up by the media of the time. As today, they were aided and abetted not only by right-wing Tory politicians, but also by right-wing extra parliamentary forces. In 1905, that took the form of The British Brothers League, which was formed in 1902, by Captain William Stanley Shaw under the slogan “England for the English”. The aim, as with later fascist organisations, was to create a paramilitary organisation. The Brothers League quickly made alliances with right-wing Tories such as the MP major Evans-Gordon, and Howard Vincent MP. 

In the period after WWII, British capital found itself short of labour-power, even after it had encouraged married women into the workforce, made possible, in part, by the introduction of a range of domestic consumer electronic products, to increase the productivity of domestic labour. It was then led to encourage large scale immigration from the West Indies. The introduction of immigration laws in the early 1960's, were again not prompted by a need to share out jobs, to prevent unemployment – at the time there was full employment – but in response to the support obtained by right-wing racist politicians such as Enoch Powell.

In fact, the idea that immigration has to be controlled to prevent unemployment, or to prevent a strain on resources is economically illiterate. It comes from the same Malthusian heritage that also leads environmentalists to make calls for a limitation of growth, and even controls on population growth. In the early 19th century, Thomas Malthus, who as Marx says was a paid lackey of the landed aristocracy, plagiarised the work from twenty years earlier by James Anderson. In doing so, Malthus deliberately falsified it. Anderson was a Scottish farmer, and he wrote polemic arguing for protection of agriculture against imported corn, because he recognised that it would cause corn prices to fall, and agricultural profits to fall with it.

Malthus, in 1815, plagiarised Anderson's work, and used it to support his theory of population where he claimed that population rose in geometric progression, whereas agricultural production rose only in arithmetic progression. From that he argued that as industrial capital grew, and more and more industrial workers arose, the cost of producing food for them would continually rise, so that workers would then starve. David Ricardo used the idea also as an explanation for the rate of profit to fall, as wages rose to cover these higher food costs. 

But, in fact, Anderson had showed that agricultural production could easily meet the demands of population. What is more, Anderson showed that there was effectively no limit to the extent by which agricultural production could continue to rise year after year, and thereby meet the needs of any conceivable rise in population. Even worse for Malthus, Anderson argued that every past rise in production had been driven by a rise in population. As I wrote a while ago, this was illustrated also by Colin Clark, who showed that it was possible to quite easily support a global population many times greater than its current level.

The idea that there is some fixed amount of work to be shared out or that there is some limited amount of resources to be shared out is complete nonsense. Let us take resources first. James Anderson recognised that even in agriculture, the greatest element in the fertility of the soil was not its natural fertility, but the fertility that was established in it as a result of the application of capital, and its repeated cultivation. That resource of the soil, its ability to produce food for more and more people, is then not something that simply exists to be shared out, but something that is itself created by human activity. The more people involved in that activity of providing this resource of the soil, the greater the resource itself.

If we think of another resource such as coal, yes, it exists naturally in the ground, but its not much of a resource there! To be a resource, it needs to be dug out of the ground and transported to markets. That does not happen magically of its own accord, it requires workers to bring it about, and the more workers there are, the more that can be achieved. The same applies to fish in the sea and rivers that need to be caught. But, the same is true of other kinds of resources. If we think of houses, schools, and hospitals or roads, and rail lines, they do not simply appear from nowhere. They require workers to construct them. Rises in population, whether that rise comes from increased births, or whether it comes from immigration is the basis of providing the very workers that create the resources which everyone requires in order to consume them!

And in the same way, there is not some fixed amount of work that is simply shared out, so that if the population rises, each person has less work, leading to unemployment. That is quite obviously the case, the reason being of the need to consume resources that have been created. Because farmers know that the population tends to rise every year, and that the additional people require food, they plan on increasing their own output so as to sell food to this increased market. In the process of increasing their own output, they need to employ additional workers, they need additional materials and so on, which have to be produced, which in turn requires additional workers. So, all of these additional workers then also have wages to spend, which means that they can buy the additional food that the farmer has produced.

But, Marx shows that, contrary to Malthus, when production increases – and this applies even more in industry – rather than this additional production being more expensive it is cheaper, because capitalism always produces more efficiently when it produces on a larger scale, because it enjoys economies of scale, it can use more bigger, and more efficient machines, and so on. So, rather than being a disadvantage, the increased demand that results from a rising population, whether caused by births or by immigration, by enabling capital to operate on a larger scale, actually reduces the prices of commodities, which can now be produced more efficiently. Just think about agricultural production in the US, which, because it produces food on a gigantic scale, to meet the needs of a large population, can use vast amounts of modern technology to reduce the value of agricultural commodities on an unprecedented scale.

When an immigrant comes into an economy, they need food, shelter, clothing and so on, just as does someone born into that society. That means that jobs are created for a range of other people producing those commodities. The advantage for an economy of an immigrant over someone just born into the society is that the former can also work, and produce commodities that are thrown into the market, whereas the latter cannot, and can only draw commodities out until such time as they are old enough to work. Moreover, every worker, on average, produces a value by their labour, which is greater than the value they take out of the market, as wage goods. So, every additional worker thereby adds to the surplus value produced in society, which means that profits are then produced which can be invested, and thereby increase the output and wealth of the society.

Far from being a drain on resources and the economy, immigrants are vital to the increase of resources produced in an economy, and to the growth of an economy. Workers, as set out in previous posts in this series should be in favour of such economic growth, and the accumulation of capital, because it raises our own living standards in the short term, creates the best conditions for us to advance our own interests, and it creates the productive forces we require for building the socialist society of the future.

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