Alberto Mingardi  

Harold James on globalisation and migrants

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The second domino... Incentives on Set...

Harold James has a piece on the backlash against globalisation and the immigration debate. For James, antipathy for globalisation isn't anything new, but whereas at first it used to be nostalgia for economic nationalism, by now it has morphed into hostility against the free movement of people. Once people opposed goods passing by national boundaries, now we oppose people.

James's article attempts to read the popular mind in Western countries. As opposed to twenty years ago, "Rich-country consumers have become far more comfortable with - even reliant on - foreign products, from constantly upgraded electronics to the cheap 'fast fashion' that has become predominant throughout the advanced economies".

Also, the elites are likely to realise that "the reversal of product globalization is easier than ever, thanks to progress in robotic engineering and the development of processes like 3D printing". So, James argues, it is more difficult to paint globalised trade as a race to the bottom.

James argues that our hostility to migrants has deeper roots than the refugees' crisis. That is nothing new, nor is James alone in pointing at that. But I find interesting his explanation, though I'm not sure I agree.

It is not that Westerners today haven't been exposed to other cultures: they have, and in bigger numbers than ever. But, James writes,

The problem lies in how we travel. Nowadays, we are more likely to have quick, superficial experiences than to immerse ourselves in a culture. But, as modern game theory teaches, a one-time interaction is very different from ongoing contact. If participants know that they are having a unique and finite experience, they have no incentive to build a basis for deeper understanding or cooperation. Continual exchange is needed to foster trust.

(..) Visitors stay within the confines of their pre-planned excursions, meeting only the swindlers offering overpriced trinkets or taxi rides. Locals are hardly appreciative of the massive groups of tourists swarming around their most prized sites. Nobody feels particularly engaged or trusting.


James is kind of nostalgic for the days when tourism meant long stays and deep encounters with vastly different cultures. "Soon after the US entered World War II, Winston Churchill famously decamped to the White House for 24 days, cementing Britain's transatlantic alliance by deepening his relationship with Franklin Roosevelt. That level of familiarity may well be the greatest enemy of today's anti-globalization populists". selfies.jpg

Well, it could be that good things need to take time to mature. But I wonder if we can really expect people to spend that much time in foreign countries, entering into deep contact with others. Modern tourism happens at an unprecedented scale; it is, different than in the past, available by and large to people of all incomes, a good number of whom travel with their families.

James's conclusion is perhaps more modest: "it is possible to imagine settings in which visitors and their hosts interact in a more personal way. Airbnb, for example, can provide a much more engaging experience than a hotel or, worse, a cruise ship". Some people indeed collect experiences and people and friends inasmuch as they 'collect' selfies and pictures with world-famous monuments.

For me, I find this reasoning suggestive, but I always tend to doubt that people are really much into inferring political ideas from their own experience. Sometimes Deirdre McCloskey tells the story of a Marxist colleague of hers, who passionately hates "markets", but is a most skillful market operator in selling antiques and in roaming all sorts of flea markets. I am sure any of us has some friend who pontificates against immigrants as being threats to our society, but is more than glad to make exception for her filippino housemaid, the Chinese girl working at the newspapershop, and the African pizza-maker whom she knows and considers wonderful friends. It'd be great if all of us may have a richer experience of different cultures, I'm not sure it will make us all more tolerant.


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CATEGORIES: International Trade




COMMENTS (4 to date)
Matthew Moore writes:

I think people generally love 'other cultures' when they are far away. They also (mostly) happily welcome migrants, provided they more or less completely adopt their new culture.

It's when the immigrants retain large elements of their own culture that people get concerned. Which, evolutionarily, isn't a big surprise, since culture is the shorthand, the context, that makes the daily life of a community possible.

Maybe what's needed is a meta-culture that governs how to interact with people whose customs you don't know now.

Curt Doolittle writes:

I find this argument somewhat ironic since as an economist one would expect an economic not psychological argument familiar to Marxists.

People reject foreigners when it imposes a cost on them.

Immigration is extremely costly.

How would you price the catholic immigrant cost to the cost of government?

How old you price the Jewish cost to the law, education, tradition, norms, and the civic society.

How would you price the cost of current Muslim immigration to our institutions?

If all you measure is what your instruments can easily measure ( changes in consumption) then how is that a full accounting of costs rather than methodological selection bias?

The greatest cost the west has born that no other civilization has born is truth telling, testimony, common law, natural law and the resulting high trust and economic velocity.

We paid the high cost of non discretionary judgement in all civic matters.

We paid the high cost of prohibiting near breeding.

We paid the high cost of militia service.

We paid the high cost of the absolute nuclear family.

We paid the high cost of hanging one percent of our population every year.

We paid the high cost of delayed marriage and childbirth.

We paid the high cost of creating the civic society that no other could create.

We paid the high cost of suppression of our passions and even our words as well as our deeds.

What has been the cost of the disintegration of the family, of truthfulness, of the civic society, of rule of law, education?

These are the high costs we paid to build the west.

And you would have us suggest that protectionism and hard borders are high costs, ... When look what costs we have born in our losses in exchange for cheaper cars and entertainment. Because that Appears to be the substantial
Body of it..

Curt Doolittle
The Propertarian Institute
Kiev, Ukraine.

[Broken you were real fixed. Please proofread your links by checking them before you post your comments.--Econlib Ed.]

Kgaard writes:

There are so many things you're not allowed to talk about in the immigration debate. One of them is evolutionary biology. So, skipping that discussion, how about a policy proposal:

For every man that immigrates from a country, there must be one fertile, single, attractive woman with an IQ over 105 who immigrates from that same country.

That would help solve part of the problem: imbalance in the supply/demand ratio for attractive women in developed countries in the wake of higher immigration.

This is now a gigantic problem in Sweden, for instance, where the boy/girl ratio among 17-year-olds is 1.17 to 1.

mico writes:

Close exposure to other cultures makes people more informed, not necessarily more favourable.

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