Those who benefit from migration and globalisation should share the benefits with those bearing the brunt of its effects
The elites have learned their lesson this year, we’re told. “Ahead of Davos”, the Washington Post headlined a report this week, “even the 1% worry about inequality”. That statement is actually unfair. Davos is one of the places where the rise of inequality has been recognised most candidly over the past few years.
The thing is, worrying about inequality doesn’t stop people voting for Ukip, Trump or Brexit. Elites need to put their money where their mouth is and to go from being “committed to improving the state of the world” (the World Economic Forum’s tagline) to actually taking action to improve it. We need new ways to share the proceeds of globalisation more effectively with the people bearing the brunt of its negative effects. If we don’t, we might as well get used to the political ascent of people such as Donald Trump and Nigel Farage and the erosion of democracy they spearhead.
Youthonomics, the thinktank I run, studies the nature of intergenerational inequalities. The single most potent means to reduce inequality we have identified happens to be the oldest and most widely used means of emancipation, empowerment, education and enlightenment out there: migration, the act of going from point A to point B in search of a better life.
These days conversations about migration tend to be driven by self-described “realists” such as the journalist David Goodhart, author of The Road to Somewhere, which looks at the rise of identity politics and attempts to explain it. Proponents of Goodhart’s view would like to see migratory flows adjusted, stopped and sometimes even reversed. The others with the loudest say on migration meanwhile are often apologists, who by virtue of their privilege, don’t have to see or feel the negative effects of immigration up close.
There is indeed something obscene about the self-righteousness of the privileged globalists one finds in Davos, about their lack of granular understanding of the local and their contempt for what binds people to their roots and culture. And it is true that a new divide has taken hold which is superseding the old split between haves and have-nots. I call it flys and fly-nots (tell me how often you fly and I will tell you who you are).
But to go from analysis of this new divide to praise of the narrow-mindedness, poorer education and reactionary thinking to which it leads is misplaced. Goodhart confuses what he would like to see (the comeback of the nation state) with what is actually happening (Brexit and Trump as its swansong).
Most importantly, he fails to see that while the condescending attitudes of liberal, cosmopolitan elites have played a huge role in the rise of populism across Europe and the US, the answer to the world’s most pressing problems will have to be transnational. And further, that one group of people is particularly predisposed to coming up with them. These are the people who are immersed in the local and have a vested interest in ensuring they properly integrate in their societies but who also have a degree of international perspective on the world.
People who have international experience and consciousness of “the other” (because they are “it”) and a thorough understanding of the importance of cultivating one’s roots (because they are often preserving their own while simultaneously trying to grow new ones): migrants.
But the harder question is: how do you reconcile people with migration when they blame migration for their economic and social problems?
Of course, investing in education is key. The convenient division of migrants into two neatly defined categories – refugees, fleeing war, poverty, disease and other forms of tragedy who then come and steal our jobs on the one hand, and expats, privileged professionals who work for banks or large corporations in Singapore on the other – needs to be done away with.
This Manichean view of migration does not properly account for the vast majority of migrants in the world, who fit neither description. Especially as migration is changing – as the world migration report illustrates.
Over the past 20 years, the combined effects of the third industrial revolution and increasingly ubiquitous low-cost travel is leading an ever-growing number of people to embrace a new kind of nomadic lifestyle, profoundly modifying migratory patterns. Many young people, in particular, increasingly identify more strongly with the global realm than with the national one and are conscious that international mobility is their key to prosperity in the 21st century.
But education is the long game; elites need to move now to show they are serious about fighting inequality and anti-immigration sentiment. And in a world increasingly divided into flys and fly-nots, what better way to do that than to tax those who fly the most and spend the most on airfares?
The proceeds of that tax could be invested in economic development, infrastructure projects and schools in the areas that are most economically fragile and which therefore have become most hostile to immigration.
Not practical, not realistic, not doable, you say? Actually, such a tax already exists. It has been levied on airline tickets in a number of countries including the UK, France and Brazil since 2002 and its recipient, the UN agency Unitaid, uses the money to finance the fight against Aids, tuberculosis and malaria.
Instead of patronising leavers, Ukip and Trump voters, let’s levy an additional £5 on every business class ticket sold in the UK and use the proceeds to finance the economic development of the places most severely hit by the negative effects of globalisation.
Felix Marquardt is director of the thinktank Youthonomics and the author of The New Nomad, the Case for Migration