The movement of planetary integration which sixty years ago we started calling “globalization” was at work long before we gave it a name. The history of this movement is the history of mankind. Voting with their feet, the act of migrating from point A to point B because of dissatisfaction with the way things are going in point A and the hope of a better life in point B is what humans do. It is what they have always done. The Asians who populated the Americas during and after the ice age, the Jews who fled Egypt and the Huguenots who went eastwards after the Saint-Barthelemy massacres in France were migrants and refugees.
In late 2005, The New York Times columnist Roger Cohen came to Paris to write a piece on the mood in the banlieues, the French capital’s suburbs. There he met a young French entrepreneur of Moroccan descent who had built a business importing memory chips from China. The resulting column, entitled “Young French Muslim finds Feng-Shui in Guang Zhou,” captured brilliantly the emergence of a phenomenon which to this day has gone largely unnoticed: migration as a means of emancipation, until then an overwhelmingly unilateral movement from developing countries to developed ones, had become multilateral. Rachid Ech Chetouani, who like many young French Muslims had spent his entire life in France being called a foreigner, an “Arab,” a Muslim, a thug, transcended those identities when he went eastwards, to a country which then was still referred to as “emerging”. For the very first time, he found himself surrounded by people for whom a French-speaking person from France was... a Frenchman.
Far from being anecdotal, Rachid’s story is that of an increasing number of second- or third generation immigrants tired of being treated as underdogs in the country their parents adopted. Nor is this limited to sons and daughters of migrants. Whether you are a gifted young hairdresser in Leeds, Grenoble or Bremen or flipping a mean burger for eight bucks an hour in Detroit, it is not extraordinarily hard or daring to take a bet on what your professional trajectory will be if you stay where you are. But if you are willing to take those skills to Abu Dhabi, Shenzhen or Jakarta, where trendy burger joints and hipster hair dressing salons are still rather hard to come by, there is quite a fair chance you will be running not one but a few establishments before too long...
Nor is the phenomenon even purely intercontinental. The European refugee crisis is threatening the very fabric of the entire European project, arguably the world’s most daring political adventure since the US came into being. Yet this crisis and the continent’s incapacity to absorb these refugees is in no small part the result of the unwillingness most European countries have shown so far to take on their fair share of refugees, which in turn stems from Europe’s incapacity to create among Europeans the sense of shared identity and solidarity that should bind them together. In other words, Europe’s failure to encourage internal European migration—the single most effective way of building that shared sense of identity—over the years is hindering its capacity to welcome external migrants. Rather than financing agricultural subsidies, shouldn’t European taxpayers’ money be spent in a kind of professional corollary to Erasmus (the EU’s extraordinary successful student exchange program) subsidizing young people to seek jobs in other European countries?
Many in favor of a Brexit are using the refugee crisis as a scarecrow. Angela Merkel has paid a high political price, to be sure, for her firm, welcoming stance towards refugees. Ultimately, she will be remembered as a visionary. First of all, because European countries that have an exclusively negative take on immigration, given their birth rates, will not stop migrants from flowing in. They will simply attract the less productive, dynamic ones. But also because, as the fourth industrial revolution unfolds and robotics and machine intelligence continue to challenge our ability to deal with mass unemployment, a consensus is arising that we need to turn masses of employees into entrepreneurs, which migrants are by nature, just as they are innovators adventurers and hard workers. As they move around, humans learn things which might well prove more valuable in the world we are building than what we are teaching them in schools: how to create jobs rather than get a job.
Young people worldwide, who have been more affected than their elders by the financial crisis, identify with one another more than they ever have in the past. They are the #StarWarsGen: just as no one cares where you are from on Endor or Coruscant in Star Wars, for these kids, being from planet earth is enough information, thank you very much. Because the histories of migration, globalization and urbanization are so closely intertwined, these youth are natural allies for the word’s migrants. Indeed, for many youth these days, the best hope to escape unemployment and inertia is to flock towards cities and embrace nomadism, twenty-first century style. And to become fully the entrepreneurs, innovators and citizens of the world our time so sorely needs in the process.
José Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and a former President of East Timor, is the chairman of the think tank Youthonomics. Felix Marquardt is its executive director & the CEO of mYgration. Maria Rankka is the CEO of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce. Yasmine Åkermark is the co-founder of Tibba, a services bartering marketplace for digital nomads.
Follow José Ramos-Horta on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JoseRamosHorta
Follow Felix Marquardt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/feleaks