A Guest Essay from Mexico
By Rodrigo Saldaña Guerrero
About half a millennium ago, great travelers led by men like Columbus and Magallanes started weaving around the world a web of connections.
That globalization process started spreading around the world a nation-state model that in the 16th Century was producing remarkable results in a few countries of Western Europe (like England, France, Spain, Portugal and Holland). This model did not do so well in Germany and Italy, and proved frankly disastrous in Yugoslavia, to say nothing of Nigeria and the like.
That exportation inadequacy was only part of the trouble, however. Because the same world process that took the model everywhere tore down the boundaries that made those first nation states up to a certain point self contained units. The logical result of that globalization process would be a world state that would give peaceful political and legal solutions to what was now a set of world problems. We may insist in making those problems fit into national patterns, but it is not surprising that they disregard this stubbornness of ours.
One of the components that makes this situation so difficult to manage is the emergence of unexpected factors and the incredible speed at which they work. Before we really know where we are, we have already moved elsewhere. Looking at the interaction in the world scene of a lot of little known actors, we wonder where all this came from. Who let all these people in? What are they up to?
A rather reasonable approach to clear up all this confusion would seem to be: let’s figure all this out before going further. Trouble is, right now there are not many people that like this approach, and the slowing of things it would imply.
One of the most important lessons to learn to move in this world is: if we want something to happen, someone has to do something to make it happen. If nobody is doing it, it’s very unlikely that it will happen. Many things occur just because there are people that will profit from them, that have an interest in making them happen and are willing and able to do something about it. Even if everybody admits that a change in law is necessary, for instance, it will not come about unless someone lobbies for it.
Beyond Nation States
Can we still have those old fashioned nation states, safe within secure boundaries? No, not if many people are doing things to change that, and nobody is doing much to counteract it. By now, it is probably too late to do something about this. We have to identify the things that are independent from our actions and desires, and start from there. My suggestions are the following:
(a) Demographics. There are trends that will not change for a long time, if ever. Certain populations grow very fast, others tend to decrease. This is going to change the ethnic composition of some states, in a way that might be disturbing to some people (as in the case of Israel).
(b) Migrating workers. This factor is connected with the previous one. While some people look for jobs, others look for workers. Demagogues like French far rightist Le Pen try to obscure this last aspect of the situation, but the fact is that if there are Muslim foreign workers in Western Europe is, in a large measure, because Western Europeans want them there.
Those who keep saying that “now things are really going to be different” and cheap foreign labor is going to stop entering, just do not want to face reality. Years ago a U. S. official assured me that his government was no longer going to be ambivalent about this. Rules would be clear and effective, he said. The ambivalence, of course, has actually worsened.
The people who want cheap labor are not going to give it up, but neither will they defend their position openly. The demagogues who insist that cheap labor takes jobs away from their nationals (even if, as too often happens, the work done by foreigners is not wanted by the nationals) will not fight it to the limit; they just want to win political points.
(c) Migrating jobs. Protectionists often overlook the fact that foreigners may take the jobs of their nationals without leaving their countries. To block corporations doing this would be trying to reverse globalization. This seems both impossible and contradictory (the people who complain about exporting jobs are often ardent advocates of globalization).
The truth is that old style protectionism is no longer viable. The persistence in enforcing it will probably only make the corporations (and the jobs) go away faster. This situation does create complex political and ethical problems.
The executives would like to have it both ways: build sweet relationships with governments at home and abroad, which in effect means deceiving everyone. Once this sort of thing meant benefiting from the high level of one place and paying taxes elsewhere. Globalization means doing that at a far bigger scale, moving at dizzy speed from one situation to another and getting the best deal possible from everybody. This makes for big profits now, while destroying the social fabric that made those good businesses viable. It may look like state-of-the-art corporate government, but is more akin to piracy, in my opinion.
(d) Security. Many states do not seem to have a rational, comprehensive, feasible security policy. Ignoring or minimizing centuries old problems between peoples is more like old fashioned despotism than like government founded on scholarly knowledge. After recent cases like the U. S experience in Vietnam and Iraq, and the Russian one in Afghanistan and Chechnya, intervention in the internal life of countries very different from the ones we know best should be approached very warily.
Big migratory flows in an environment poisoned by terrorist threats present special problems. Just keeping the foreigners out would be nice. Would it be enough? Would it be convenient? Would it be possible? Trying it would create a lot of trouble, and it would very likely fail.
It seems to me that the most sensible solution would be to admit migrant workers that would probably enter any way, in a process that ensured:
1) that most of the people who do enter will do the best possible work for the host country (paying due taxes, among other things).
2) That their movements will be lawful, aboveboard and known to the proper authorities.
3) That they will be supported by the host country in those endeavors (with medical and educational services, help in transition between jobs, for instance) thereby helping them in their services to the society that admitted them.
4) That very few people (like criminals) will try unlawful entrance, and will be much more likely to be detected and thwarted in their intent.
I am perfectly aware that this proposal does not point to a solution of every aspect of this extremely complex problematic. We have been moving in the wrong direction for too long, for one thing. The measures I suggest will leave many people in a limbo; to do something about it will require additional ad hoc adjustments.
As a matter of fact, I suggest that we are in a process of world unification that can not be stopped without disaster, and that will only end well when there is a world state that coordinates the activities of the whole mankind in such a way that everybody finds its development supp
orted and enhanced by the cooperation of everybody else, as it should be in any healthy society.
All this with due respect to the existing subcultures. Bulldozing them would be unfair, dangerous and impoverishing for everybody. Integrating them within a world culture without demolishing them would give all of us cultural instruments of unprecedented wealth and complexity, supporting better than ever everyone’s personal and communal development.