Friday, 31 July 2015

Deterrence Can't Work And Is Grossly Unjust: Stand by the Calais Migrants

The language David Cameron uses to describe migrants is certainly dodgy - but it's his logic that is truly vicious and knuckleheaded. 

The migrants attempting the dangerous passage into Britain from Calais are, in the odd world of David Cameron's head, yet further confirmation of how fab our economy is. Why has the "swarm" descended on Calais? "Because Britain has got jobs, it's got a growing economy, it's an incredible place to live," were Cameron's exact words. No need for geopolitics: Britain's just a bloody nice place to be.

The unedifying spectacle of a European politician exploiting human misery in order to pat himself on the back will come as no surprise. The strange thing is the underlying intellectual principle on which this back-slapping appears to be based.

Cameron pledges to do all it takes to save British domestic bliss from the "swarm" - short, that is, of not bombing war-ravaged countries or providing safe haven for fleeing African capital. Direct colonial exploitation may be a thing of the past. Today, Britain's power in the world is military (Cameron would dearly love to bomb Syria, after already helping collapse the Libyan state) and financial (rarely is capital flight from African states like Congo into British controlled tax havens noted as a cause of retarded capital formation and chronic under-development in those countries, but it happens). Both invariably amount to bad news for African nations. Even when we are not there militarily, we are there economically.

Cameron believes he can deter migrants by firing off warning shots in the vein of a startled military commander or a skunk. The belief is as nasty as it is dangerous. Deterrence and deportation cannot work unless they are very extensive, extremely brutal, and permanent. More challengingly for Cameron, they will also be expensive. It is likely the latter that will make the difference. 

It is also rather bold to think one can read off the 'rational' motives of people desperately fleeing for their lives. I can't vouch for how migrants think of the UK, but I don't imagine those leaky, fatally overburdened ships crossing the Mediterranean are full of articulate theories about which European state is softest on in-work benefits.

The point here is staring us in the face. These people need help and we can give it to them. Doing so should not be understood from the position of a cynical economist wary about giving the "swarm" positive ideas about a pile in. That perspective is depressing evidence of the infiltration by rational-self-interest theory of the realm of "humanitarian" policy, to characteristically destructive effect. 

Immanuel Kant once wrote, "Act only so that the maxim of your will can at the same time be made a universal law." When we exploit migrant deaths for political ends, or read the arrival of some as a positive signal to others, we are not only using dehumanising language. We are substantially robbing people of their humanity - that is, of their right to be treated as an absolute end-in-themselves and not as a mere means.

Cameron's argument about deterrence implies partially militarising Britain's borders in order to keep out those people whose countries we are engaged - both actively and passively - in destroying. In such circumstances migration becomes a form not only of self-defence but also of resistance. Stand by the people whose lives are on the line.  

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