The West’s cruelty to migrants will only become more inhumane. Don’t Let The Nightmare Peddlers Win | Mohsin Hamid

IIn the United States, Republican governors in Texas, Florida and Arizona are busing and flying migrants from their states to states run by Democrats. In the UK, the government plans to deport migrants to detention centers in Rwanda, an authoritarian country 4,000 miles south, which only a generation ago experienced one of the worst genocides in history recent human.

In one wealthy country after another, migrants are turned into a spectacle, both for domestic political advantage and to deter other migrants from attempting to come.

These deterrence efforts are unlikely to work. Thousands of migrants are already robbed, raped and murdered every year as they attempt to flee countries where conditions have become intolerable. They are willing to sacrifice their physical safety and all of their financial resources for the chance – not even the probability, but just the chance – of a better life.

As the climate crisis devastates communities, these migrant movements are almost certain to increase dramatically. In Pakistan, where I write these words, 30 million people are currently displaced by catastrophic floods that have inundated a third of the country.

To stop the migrants, it will be necessary to kill them, torture them, starve them. It will not be enough to let them drown as their boats and rafts capsize, or die of thirst in the desert. If the countries of destination really want to stop the arrivals, they will have to become monstrous. The rise of fascist politicians in the wealthy West is a sign that this choice is beginning to take shape. Human rights, equality, democracy: these are not shared values ​​but rather obstacles to overcome in order to win the war on migrants.

It is therefore not in their dissuasive effect but in their internal political signaling that the current acts of showcasing migrants are the most significant. And this signal is simple: we, the true people, rise up against these usurpers, these foreigners; those who oppose us are not just hypocrites, they are enemies within, and they must be defeated, whatever the cost.

It’s a powerful message. It transforms vulnerable migrants – people fleeing hunger and violence, who have arrived precariously in a place where they have few rights and only ask for human decency – into blind marauders, objects of fear and anger, capable of arousing the sympathy of none other than hypocrites and traitors. And it’s a message that resonates across the West, from Sweden to Italy, from Hungary to France, from Britain to America.

Human rights protesters demonstrate in London in June. Photography: Andy Rain/EPA

In an era of climate change and reverse migration flows (reversed in the sense that they are in the opposite direction to the north-south flows of the era of colonization that preceded them), the economic and political models of the status quo can’t hold. And they don’t hold. On the right, the new offer is one of nationalism, xenophobia and rampant inequality – but an inequality in which autonomous groups will enjoy superiority over victimized external groups.

This model has a powerful appeal that dates back centuries. He enjoyed white support in the enslaving American South and European support in the colonized Global South, and he continues to enjoy support today – and not just in the West. In its defensive form, it is the model of “inequality is fine, as long as it protects us from the bad guys below”. Expressed as an aspiration rather than a warning, it is: “our greatness is worth the price of blood”.

On the left, there has been a struggle to find an equally powerful response. “Fascism is bad” may sound like enough, but it depends on voters who believe the alternative is actually fascism (or that fascism is actually bad), and a large number of voters are unconvinced. The left fights for coherence because, basically, it agrees with the right.

The left, too, fears that migrants will harm native-born workers. And that leads the left into a trap. Western welfare states were built on the twin foundations of economic growth and large worker-to-retiree ratios. In today’s aging Western societies, the ratio of workers to retirees is shrinking. Meanwhile, mountains of teetering debt make it impossible to spur growth through additional leverage, and our planet’s carrying capacity limits the ability to spur growth through the extraction of ever greater amounts of natural resources. With insufficient manpower, the agenda of the left threatens to collapse.

Right now, interest rates are rising in the West for the express purpose of increasing unemployment – ​​and therefore reducing inflation. What does it mean? This means that too many workers are not the West’s problem. A shortage of workers – and a chronic underinvestment in workers – is. Western working class wages have not stagnated because factories have moved overseas, or because foreign workers have moved west.

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Cousins, one from Venezuela and one from Houston, are meeting in San Antonio, Texas this month. Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

Western working-class wages have stagnated because huge profits from moving factories and employing migrant workers have been allowed to accumulate in the hands of a tiny wealthy minority instead of being plowed back into Western workers, communities, utilities and infrastructure. Migrants are not an economic threat. No, migrants are the best opportunity the West currently has to create an economic surplus that could finance public goods. The economic threat has been – and remains – rampant inequality stemming from the excessive accumulation of wealth by too few people.

Right-wing politics don’t need migrants because they don’t need growth. It is quite possible, for a time, to grab an ever larger slice of a stagnant or shrinking pie. Leftist politics, on the other hand, demand a growing cake so it can be shared more fairly without making too many people less well off.

The policies of the left demand sustainable growth, and sustainable growth – given debt levels, environmental and demographic constraints – requires migrants. The challenge for the left, therefore, is to reduce friction between native-born and migrant workers, between majorities and minorities, and to think creatively about how to achieve this. This may seem like a losing task, given the hardening of attitudes.

But if the arrival of migrants coincides with investments in schools, the opening of factories, shops and offices, and the regeneration of half-abandoned communities – in other words, if migrants are associated with more of opportunities for the working class, rather than less – perhaps attitudes could change. Reducing friction will certainly not be easy, but it is essential to try.

Migrants flying to Martha’s Vineyard, despicable and dehumanizing as they are, should remind us that there is indeed a connection between unprecedented concentrations of wealth and the rise of fascist politicians in the West. The plan to fly migrants to Rwanda, the site of a recent genocide, should remind us that the escalation of violence against migrants is indeed on the political path that we currently seem determined to follow.

There is another way, however. We can recognize that the balance between labor and capital has shifted too far in favor of capital, that the time has come to re-emphasize the vital role of labor and that migrants are arriving in aging rich countries and deeply in debt desperate to contribute and work.

Migrants deserve our support not just as human beings in need, but as the West’s last best hope, before the nightmares peddled by nightmare peddlers become reality.

Mohsin Hamid is the author of five novels, including The Last White Man

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