A young person who was concerned about the problems of the world recently asked the honest question, “Why are we helping the disadvantaged people of other countries when we aren’t helping our own poor?” Many with political agendas consider this a rhetorical question, but this person was posing an honest query. The answer isn’t simple. Why DO we bring refugees here and give them more financial aid than we give our own disadvantaged?
Reason #1: Because We Want To.
Fixing poverty is neither politically “sexy” enough nor easy enough. It doesn’t lend itself to instant media gratification. Every solution you propose will lose you just as many votes as it will gain you. Bringing in a relatively few cute refugee kids that you can do a photo op with is much smarter politics.
#2: Because They Are More Useful.
Especially those coming from Syria. Educated, enlightened, westernized workers are good targets for poor, ignorant fundamentalists. Given a chance, these people will fit into their new countries and begin to contribute very quickly. One report recently suggested that Germany needs 80,000 immigrants a year to keep their population stable. Whether they come as immigrants or refugees makes very little difference, so if the Germans can get some good workers and some great international PR at the same time, so much the better.
To be cynical, the refugee system also functions as an economic natural selection process. You bring in a bunch of foreigners and wait a while. The good ones will become useful, tax paying citizens, and the dross will sink to the bottom and become the poor. Which is probably why the Western European countries have ethnic ghettos that spawn some of the radical groups causing their problems recently.
Nobody talks much about the other side of this coin, of course. Few people wonder out loud who these refugees really are. Yes, they are action-oriented people who are willing to take huge risks to better themselves. But don’t forget the willingness to take risks. One commentator said, “Paying a crook thousands of dollars for a place on a boat should not entitle a Syrian refugee to a more privileged entry to Europe.” It’s also hardly a recommendation for honesty.
An interesting statistic from Canada. We have an “Immigrant Investor” program that allows people to immigrate if they invest $800,000 in Canada. Recent numbers show that after a few years in Canada, refugees are paying more in income tax than immigrant investors. How can this be? Because the refugees go to work and become employees and pay income tax with only the normal deductions. The rich immigrants bring their money into the country, use it to buy a house in one of the expensive areas of the bigger cities, and continue to work and invest all over the world, paying little in the way of Canadian taxes. Canada cancelled the “Immigrant Investor” program last year because it just didn’t work.
I don’t want to go all Karl Marx on you, but it is pretty well agreed these days that the wealth of developed countries was created on the backs of their colonies under the old system of Imperialism. The Imperialist countries may have changed, but their economic system remains, and we are all beneficiaries. We salve our consciences by helping a few thousand victims, ignoring the millions in similar circumstances.
The UN has several classifications of levels of poverty. The vast majority of Canada’s poor fall in the third level. That’s right. Measured in terms of body mass index, shelter, sanitation, education and health care, as well as less specific ideas such as chance for improvement, pride and hope for the future, there are millions of people in the world who are two levels of magnitude poorer than the poorest of Canadians. So if we bring some of those people to Canada, we will be doing a much greater good than we would helping some of Canada’s poor.
However, it might be suggested that the really, really, poor of the world are so downtrodden and uneducated that they probably don’t have the resources to apply for refugee status, so we will not have the opportunity to help them. We are much more likely to find candidates such as those mentioned in #2, above.
The Grim Historical Picture
In the olden days, the poor nomads of the steppes swept down on the wealthy farmlands of Europe and took the riches they wanted. In the twentieth century, the Communists exhorted the poor to rise up and take back what had been stolen from them. In many cases they were successful, but because their political system was flawed, this helped lead us to our present mess.
Now the poor of the world are again looking at the rich, and it seems they are coming once again to take their share. Instead of coming as conquerors, they just pack their bags and crash the party. Mexicans, Vietnamese, Syrians… the list goes on. And those who think we should go to war as a solution to the problem have to remember that usually a war is creating the problem. The solution would seem to be to help these countries to advance to the point where their poor can raise themselves out of their predicament.
Eradicate the Poor
Which puts us right back to the beginning, because the solution to the refugee crisis is the same as the solution to the poverty crisis in our own countries. What we need to do is solve the problem of the great divide between the rich and the poor. The Communists (check out the Khmer Rouge disaster in Cambodia) proved pretty conclusively that eradicating the rich just created a new cadre of rich. Eradicating the poor through education, opportunity, and acceptance means a permanent lifting of their condition, as the relatively high status of the poor in Canada demonstrates.
So it seems that accepting the few who have the gumption to escape their prison is not truly a humanitarian action after all. It is more likely to be a self-serving excuse for not solving the real problem, which exists in our own countries and around the world. As a solution, it is like putting a band-aid on an ulcer. It looks better, but it does nothing.
So the answer to the young lady’s question? We do it because it makes us feel better, but in the long run, it doesn’t really do much good.
Sorry. Maybe your generation can come up with some better solutions. Sooner or later it’s going to become your problem. The fact that you’re thinking about it already gives me some hope.