Why do people migrate?


A thoughtful piece by “Dr Bastiat” at Rocochet titled “Western Civilisation: The Invisible Beautiful Miracle That We Ignore” comes to a conclusion that I think is only partly right:

Immigrants don’t come here because we have money. They come here because we have western civilization. It’s wonderful. And everyone knows it. Even the multiculturalists, who put a great deal of effort into maintaining their blissful delusional apparent ignorance on the topic.

I believe that people all over the world are basically the same, but cultures are profoundly different. And immigrants coming here from all over the world, apparently, agree.

The world is not divided into nice places and miserable places because of an unequal distribution of natural resources, or brain power, or arable land. It’s because of an unequal distribution of western civilization. A civilization which we ignore at our own risk.

No disagreement from me about the value of Western Civ, but with respect to Dr Bastiat, he is wrong: most immigrant do come here (whether here is the United States, or Australia or Sweden) because we have money – and they want some too.

A significant minority of migrants – constantly throughout all history, but let’s focus here on the past few centuries in particular: the modern era – have travelled to other countries in search of safety and security. They have been and still are escaping war, civil conflict, persecution (political, religious, ethnic) or indeed any misrule that makes everyday life dangerous or challenging, from the Puritan Pilgrims in search of their Light on the Hill to Syrians escaping their civil strife.

If these are the “push factors”, the fact that the West, more than any other part of the world, offers a generally peaceful and safe life for all is a definite “pull factor”. For a small minority, the pull factor of liberal democracies extends to the deeper and more profound appreciation of life that the West can offer, with its political and civic freedoms, respect for human rights, tolerance, general good government and governance (particularly in relative terms), the lifestyle and the opportunities. These are all political and cultural products of the Western civilisation, and they are in demand by those around the world “yearning to be free” rather than merely safe.

But by far the largest group of migrants are economic migrants, who come from much poorer countries, attracted by the fact that one can find better and/or higher paying jobs in the West, and better opportunities to make money, including through own business and enterprise, or, at the other end of the spectrum, because the welfare state is generous. This majority come or want to come to North America, Europe or Australia with dollar (or Euro) signs in their eyes. There is nothing wrong with economic migration – the desire to better one’s material circumstances is a basic and deeply seated one. No one in their right mind can blame an under-employed peasant from Uganda for wanting to rather be something – anything – else in the West that’s even at its most menial and worst paid will make for a paradise of temporal life compared to their current harsh reality. How many of the developing world’s billions of the poor and the aspiring the West can accommodate and on what condition is another debate entirely.

I don’t believe that most of the economic migrants have much understanding of the West beyond the simplistic – but, again, understandable in relative terms – perception that the streets over here are paved with gold. They don’t particularly know “what makes the West tick”; why it is the way it is and why it is so much wealthier than their own societies. They don’t conceptualise “Western civilisation” or the causal links between it and the prosperity and good life it produces in abundance. This is largely because most economic migrants are poor and poorly educated. This is not their fault, it’s just the common reality of their home countries. We should hardly be surprised, much less judgmental about it, when so many supposedly well educated people in our own countries can’t understand either what’s so special about the West and that Western civ has created the free and affluent society where they can complain about how bad it is to their hearts’ content in relative peace and comfort.

It is precisely because (most) immigrants come here because we have money, and not because we have western civilisation, that the concept of assimilation (or acculturation) has been such an important tool of governments and civil societies in the West to convert immigrants into citizens. Assimilation is many things but in this context it’s essentially the process of teaching immigrants from all sorts of different societies (different to each other and different to the West) about the links between Western civilisation, its beliefs, values and institutions, and the political, social and economic reality around them: peace, security, freedom, democracy, prosperity, education, community and opportunity.

Because of the ideology of multiculturalism, all that is now at risk. Multiculturalism, as a leftist ideology, is built on the scaffolding of relativism: all cultures are equal, equally valid and equally worthy of our respect. This is of course rubbish. If cultures were equal they would be producing equal outcomes for their people. And if that was the case, we would not have immigration at all. That tens of millions do migrate and hundreds of millions want to is the recognition of the fact that all cultures in fact are not equal, and that some are indeed much more successful at generating peace, freedom and prosperity. As I said above, most of the migrants might not have a deep understanding of the cultural mechanisms that produced these widely differing outcomes around the world, but they certainly appreciate these different outcomes and want to partake in them.

What I call hard, ideological multiculturalism (as opposed to soft multiculturalism, espoused by the majority of its supporters, which simply focuses on certain benefits of diversity and espouses good neighbourliness as a private and public virtue) hates Western civilisation in general and specifically the idea that it is better (at the very least in an utilitarian sense) than other cultures and therefore should remain the dominant culture of our societies, no matter what their ethnic make-up might be. Instead, because all cultures are equal, immigrants are discouraged from assimilating and recognising the linkages between the local culture and its benefits they enjoy. Hard multiculturalism is telling the new arrivals that essentially they don’t have to change in any way, that they don’t have to complete the mental immigration as they have completed the physical one: Australia can be just like Sudan or Syria but with more money for everyone.

In fact it can’t be. Australia has more money for everyone precisely because it is Australia, with everything that entails it. If you allow oases of cultures from the developing world to exist inside the host society, their inhabitants won’t become more like the rest of Australia – Australia will become more like the developing world (same goes for North America and Europe). This is something that left wing activists either don’t understand because they don’t understand the links between our culture and its products in the first place or they understand but simply don’t care because if Western civ is the enemy, anything that dilutes it is good. And fortuitously, most migrants, particularly the developing world migrants, come from societies and cultures which are more collectivist, statist and authoritarian than ours, providing a very solid cultural antidote to Western civ, not to mention legions of new voters for the left. It’s ironic that the fact we are a magnet for immigrants can be used as a weapon to batter the very foundations of our success – the things that make us a magnet in the first place. Western civilisation is indeed wonderful and precious – and under constant attack.