In the build-up to Brexit the debates were dominated by discussions around immigration. The main argument from the Brexiteers was that immigrants were bad for the economy. This has also been an argument trotted out against refugees; the idea of the migrant/refugee benefits tourist.
Those on the remain side tended to point to how this isn’t true. Migrants and refugees, they argued, are good for the economy. The data tends to corroborate the latter point, with migrants and refugees generally providing net gains to the economy.
Yet to argue for migrants and refugees along economic lines isn’t very progressive. Instead it is a crude, capitalist way of judging people by their economic productivity.
Sikhs for instance were said to contribute around £8 billion to the taxman every year, which is a huge and surprising amount from quite a small community.
However, what do such arguments say about communities who aren’t as economically productive? Do we prevent them from entering the UK but open the borders for communities who are traditionally high contributors to the economy?
Also, what does it mean for white people who aren’t high economic producers? Are they to be kicked out of Britain?
Is this the sort of society we want to live in? A society that does not see colour if it can see money? That isn’t a progressive vision for society.
Such a bottom line view of the world means that there will continue to be marginalised communities, if some communities cannot be as productive as others. A peoples’ worth should never be judged by their economic productivity.
The problem is that the economic argument against migration is, for many, more of a cover for a deeper, racist agenda. The likes of Ukip wrap up their arguments in economic terms when they are simply racist and xenophobic.
Nigel Farage, for instance, when challenged on his flawed economic arguments, commented that he’d rather be poorer with fewer migrants. Farage declared “I think the social side of this matters more than pure market economics.”
Such a statement really gives the game away and shows that it isn’t about the economy, so arguing on economic lines isn’t going to work.
And as noted, even if it did work, it is a very inhumane argument to make that is not without its own problems. Particularly the fact that it reinforces the idea that people need to be economically productive in order to justify their existence.
Instead of arguing for the economic benefits of migration we need to be creating a more holistic counter-narrative revolving around borders and deconstructing ideas of “native” rights. The very notion of an indigenous British community is completely false and falls apart under any scrutiny.
This is why we should never rely on or promote a left wing version of nationalism. Nationalism as an ideology is toxic and will always necessitate the exclusion of a community, either at home or abroad.
This is a longer term project, given how wedded people are to ideas of nationalism and “British values” but in the short term we can challenge the xenophobic language and rhetoric used by those on the right.
Progressives need to be targeting those responsible for the economic crisis – those in the city and a Westminster elite – who ushered in austerity whilst initiating a £500 billion bailout of the banks.
Such a strategy is likely to be more effective than pandering to right wing agendas, which is what Corbyn did with his “fair migration” pledge.
More broadly when initiating a pro-migrant, pro-refugee stance, the arguments need to be made within the context of anti-capitalism.
If we promote migration because of economic benefits we are only reinforcing the logic of capitalism, which is an oppressive economic ideology for almost everyone.
Any progressive narrative on migration would have a criticism of borders at its core and be bound up in a critique of capitalism – an unfair global economic order which causes migration and refugee crises.
Obviously running around saying “free borders” isn’t going to gain political support at the moment, as we’re a long way from that but we can initiate a critique of current anti-migrant rhetoric without reinforcing capitalism and borders.
Those invested in progressive ideals thus need to work hard to promote a new counter-narrative that isn’t reactionary and targets the root causes of Britain’s unfair society; demonstrating that people like Nigel Farage are part of the elite, not men of the people.