The Guardian: The part of Brexit everyone’s been avoiding is finally here: immigration

The migration committee has made its mind up on free movement. Now does Theresa May listen to angry leavers, or business?
18 September, 2018


‘Immigration has been oddly sidelined as an issue so far in the Brexit negotiations.’ Photograph: Peter Nicholls/AP

Commentary by Francois Crépeau: Myths and fantasies are being slowly eroded, but, unfortunately, the show must go on!”

By: Gaby Hinsliff

Brexit was never really about immigration.

Or so liberal leavers fall over themselves to claim, at least. They can’t bear the idea of being associated with a racist backlash and so they insist it was really all about sovereignty; that all those inflammatory posters of dark-skinned migrants queuing at European borders and the cynical scaremongering about Turkey didn’t really have any bearing on the result, and that all they really wanted was just a fairer and more open system in which people could come to Britain more easily from Commonwealth countries.

Even Nigel Farage sounded as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth on the radio this morning, insisting all he ever wanted was control of our borders and equal opportunities for Indians to come here just as Romanians once did.

So it will be interesting to see what happens now the migration advisory committee has taken leavers at their word. Its long-awaited report on immigration after Brexit concludes, as expected, that once we leave the EU free movement should end, although it notes drily that that may leave us in the position of scrapping it “just as public concern falls about the migration flows that result from it”, and that both the benefits and the supposed negative impacts of it have been over-egged.

You can’t help wondering where its chart coolly summing up the facts – no evidence that EU migration has reduced wages or job opportunities for Britons on average, although some possible impact on the young and lower-skilled; some evidence that migration has pushed up house prices but also confirmation that migrants pay more in taxes than they take in benefits – was during the hysteria of the referendum debate.

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BBC: Nauru refugees: The island where children have given up on life

Suicide attempts and horrifying acts of self-harm are drawing fresh attention to the suffering of refugee children on Nauru, in what is being described as a "mental health crisis".
6 September, 2018


Commentary by Francois Crépeau: “Australia has adopted a policy which utterly violates the human rights of all human beings concerned. Cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is prohibited, and children must be treated according to the principle of “best interests of the child”, to name only a few international human rights law standards at stake here. Adopting a policy that treats harshly some individuals (who have incidentally committed no crime) in order to deter others from a particular behaviour is a violation of the fundamental principle of individualisation in the human rights doctrine, itself based on Kant’s categorical imperative (“Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”). Australian authorities will not avoid moral, political and legal condemnation for such an outrageous treatment of children, for the welfare of whom they are responsible.”

The tiny island nation, site of Australia’s controversial offshore processing centre, has long been plagued with allegations of human rights abuses.

But a series of damning media reports recently has also highlighted a rapidly deteriorating situation for young people.

“We are starting to see suicidal behaviour in children as young as eight and 10 years old,” says Louise Newman, professor of psychiatry at the University of Melbourne who works with families and children on the island.

“It’s absolutely a crisis.”

Australia intercepts all asylum seekers and refugees who try to reach its shores by boat. It insists they will never be able to resettle in Australia, so over the years has sent many to privately run “processing centres” it funds on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea.

Groups working with families on Nauru paint a brutal picture of life for children on the island. Many have lived most of their life in detention, with no idea of what their future will be.

The trauma they have endured, coupled with poor – and often dangerous conditions – contribute to a sense of hopelessness.

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The New York Times: Companies Say Trump Is Hurting Business by Limiting Legal Immigration

6 September, 2018 Verma, a software developer from India, is moving to Toronto after 12 years in Iowa. He said he had grown frustrated waiting for a green card. Credit: Kathryn Gamble for The New York Times.

Commentary by Francois Crépeau:The business community is finally making the case that the economy needs facilitated mobility, not more red tape. It is good that this influential community – too often hesitant to take a political stand on a toxic policy issue which could damage their brand – is voicing complaints against the nationalist populist border closure agenda. Hopefully, it will have been heard by the politicians who will take over after the current nationalist populist experiment will have failed on so many issues.”

By Nelson D. Schwartz and Steve Lohr

The Trump administration is using the country’s vast and nearly opaque immigration bureaucracy to constrict the flow of foreign workers into the United States by throwing up new roadblocks to limit legal arrivals.

The government is denying more work visas, asking applicants to provide additional information and delaying approvals more frequently than just a year earlier. Hospitals, hotels, technology companies and other businesses say they are now struggling to fill jobs with the foreign workers they need.

With foreign hires missing, the employees who remain are being forced to pick up the slack. Seasonal industries like hotels and landscaping are having to turn down customers or provide fewer services. Corporate executives worry about the long-term impact of losing talented engineers and programmers to countries like Canada that are laying out the welcome mat for skilled foreigners.

To read the full article, please click here.

The Economist: Lessons for the EU from the Austro-Hungarian Empire

What Europe can learn from the collapse of the Habsburg empire a century ago
31 August, 2018


Commentary by Francois Crépeau:Respect for human rights and diversity is not a given, but a daily construct, resting on the strength of standards, the resilience of institutions and the courage of individuals. Providing an effective protection for the human rights of all, and making palpable that equality and non-discrimination are key principles upon which our society is built, are probably the best answer to nationalist populism. This means investing much more in the institutions that help people access their rights, such as the judiciary, national human rights institutions, ombudspersons, labour inspectors, social workers… Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the way Global North States are headed.”

A GOLDEN late-summer light filters through the windows of the Café Landtmann. Bow-tied waiters move among towering hot-house plants. Officials huddle around a table. They are fretting about fragmentation: Europe’s north is peeling away from its south; easterners feel like second-class citizens; outside powers are trying to divide and rule. This might be a scene from the final days of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918. In fact it is today, 100 years later. For once more the spectre of European fragmentation haunts Vienna.

It haunts other capitals, too. In Berlin, Angela Merkel urges her ministers to read “The Sleepwalkers”, an account of the political failures that led to the first world war. Political Brussels is rediscovering Stefan Zweig’s tales of post-Habsburg Austria. In Rome a populist government is preparing to battle the EU institutions over budget rules and to seed a new nationalist block in the European Parliament. Emmanuel Macron, France’s liberal hope, is losing his sheen; his proposals for euro-zone reform have been diluted. Autocracy is gaining ground in Warsaw and Budapest. Meanwhile China, Russia, Turkey and America are interfering ever more in European affairs. The geopolitical centrifuge is spinning European states away from each other, like dancers at a ball.

Vienna is the pivot. Austria is two months into its six-month presidency of the EU Council under Sebastian Kurz, the darling of the continent’s conservatives. To his critics he has cosied up to the far right by bringing them into his government, and indulged Islamophobia. To his fans, he is the smooth diplomat staking out a middle ground between liberalism and nationalism and building bridges between east and west. He will host Europe’s leaders in Salzburg on September 20th and get them talking about the things pulling Europe apart: Brexit, the next EU budget, trade and immigration. “We need to get everyone on board again,” says Alexander Schallenberg, the co-ordinator of Austria’s presidency.

It is also in Vienna that the memories of the old Habsburg multinational order reside. “Our history shows how quickly things can change for the worse,” cautions one Austrian intellectual. The empire once run from here had a larger budget and more power than today’s EU, not least its own army and tax-raising powers, but both stand as triumphs of liberalism over nationalism. Ten languages were once spoken in the Habsburg parliament. Following its annexation of Bosnia, the empire was the first western European state to recognise Islam.

Like the EU, the Habsburg empire seemed to suspend history. Germans, Hungarians, Slavs and sizeable Muslim and Jewish populations mingled in cosmopolitan cities like Vienna and Prague, Trieste and Lviv. Paul Lendvai, a Hungarian-Austrian writer born in Budapest in 1929 recalls: “My father always said peace was not having to show your passport.” The old order’s full value became clear only after it collapsed, when the dark energy of them-and-us took hold and the region succumbed to petty hatreds, economic disintegration and the whims of outside powers.

One lesson above all lives on: do not take the loyalty of a multinational block for granted. The Habsburgs charmed their subjects by giving them relative freedom, material benefits and protection under the law from the whims of local barons. “They created a situation where ordinary people could see their own interests in institutions of empire,” explains Pieter Judson, a leading historian of the empire. But when tough times came with the start of the war, he explains, it turned out that these loyalties had been contingent: “The state didn’t provide what it promised to provide. There was no food and no fuel. Men went to the front, women to the factories and children were left on the streets. Loyal nations—the Ukrainians, the Serbs, the Czechs—were persecuted without foundation.” When the empire was dissolved after its defeat, it was not greatly mourned.

Today’s EU is even weaker, fears Mr Judson: built on good living but without deeper roots. His home country, America, is a multinational, federal state that survives on common feeling. “But as an American living in Europe I feel that the stakes of belonging to the EU are not understood at all.”

Hearts and minds

European leaders can learn from the weaknesses of Austria-Hungary. Europe’s citizens today may have no affection for the bureaucracy, but like the subjects of the old empire they will tolerate it for as long as it generates wealth and preserves their freedoms. Yet complex institutions, second-rate European commissioners, wasteful policies like the common agricultural one and incompetent national governments across much of the continent all undermine that goal. To survive, the liberal European order, of which the EU is a pillar, must become leaner and more capable. Margrethe Vestager and Cecilia Malmström, the European commissioners taking on the digital giants and forging massive new trade deals for the union, are two of the better examples.

But the fate of Austria-Hungary also showed that multinational units cannot survive times of hardship without a sense of common purpose. Thanks to the rise of English, budget airlines, the internet and university exchanges, today’s young Europeans live much more “European” lives than previous generations. But politics is not keeping up. Nurturing a clearer European identity is not just a romantic goal; it is the only way to make the project sustainable in the long term, hard though history shows this to be.

So Europe’s leaders must face the balancing act that defeated their Viennese predecessors. They must show the pragmatism needed to keep their union afloat in the short term, while cultivating the vision needed to build common feeling in the long term. Mr Lendvai sums up the landscape: “Social democracy is a shambles; liberals are arguing with each other; Christian Democrats are losing their Christian feeling.” They’d better get their act together, he reckons: “For the ghosts of the past are coming back.”

The Economist: Three post-war liberals strove to establish the meaning of freedom

Berlin, Rawls and Nozick put their faith in the sanctity of the individual
31 August, 2018


ONE definition of a liberal is a person who supports individual rights and opposes arbitrary power. But that does not tell you which rights matter. For example, some campaigners say they want to unshackle transgender people, women and minorities from social norms, hierarchies and language that they see as tyrannical. Their opponents say that this means limiting what individuals do and say, for instance by censoring frank discussions of gender, or forbidding the emulation of minority cultures. Supporters of these kinds of “identity politics” claim to be standing up for rights against unjust power. But their opponents do, too. If both claim to be “liberal”, does the word mean much at all?

The problem is not new. Isaiah Berlin identified the crucial fault line in liberal thought in Oxford in 1958. There are supporters of “negative” liberty, best defined as freedom not to be interfered with. Negative liberties ensure that no person can seize his neighbour’s property by force or that there are no legal restrictions on speech. Then there are backers of “positive” liberty, which empowers individuals to pursue fulfilling, autonomous lives—even when doing so requires interference. Positive liberty might arise when the state educates its citizens. It might even lead the government to ban harmful products, such as usurious loans (for what truly free individual would choose them?).

Berlin spied in positive liberty an intellectual sleight of hand which could be exploited for harm. Born in Riga in 1909, he had lived in Russia during the revolutions of 1917, which gave him a “permanent horror of violence”. In 1920 his family returned to Latvia, and later, after suffering anti-Semitism, went to Britain. As his glittering academic career progressed, Europe was ravaged by Nazism and communism.

Under positive liberty the state is justified in helping people overcome their internal, mental vices. That lets government decide what people really want, regardless of what they say. It can then force this on them in the name of freedom. Fascists and communists usually claim to have found a greater truth, an answer to all ethical questions, which reveals itself to those who are sufficiently adept. Who, then, needs individual choice? The risk of a perversion of liberty is especially great, Berlin argued, if the revealed truth belongs to a group identity, like a class or religion or race.

To reject positive liberty is not to reject all government, but to acknowledge that trade-offs exist between desirable things. What, for example, of the argument that redistributing money to the poor in effect increases their freedom to act? Liberty must not be confused with “the conditions of its exercise”, Berlin replied. “Liberty is liberty, not equality or fairness or justice or culture, or human happiness or a quiet conscience.” Goals are many and contradictory and no government can infallibly pick among them. That is why people must be free to make their own choices about what constitutes good living.

Yet determining the proper sphere of that freedom has been the great challenge all along. One lodestar is the harm principle. Governments should interfere with choices only to prevent harm to others. But this is hardly a sufficient rule with which to exercise power, because there are plenty of harms that liberals typically do permit. An entrepreneur might harm an incumbent businessman by bankrupting him, for example. The most significant attempt of the 20th century to find a stronger boundary between the state and the individual was made by the Harvard philosopher John Rawls in 1971.

Rawls’s “A Theory of Justice” sold over half a million copies, reinvigorated political philosophy and anchored debates between liberals for decades to follow. It posited a thought experiment: the veil of ignorance. Behind the veil, people do not know their talents, class, gender, or even which generation in history they belong to. By thinking about what people would agree to behind the veil, Rawls thought, it is possible to ascertain what is just.

To begin with, Rawls argued, they would enshrine the most extensive scheme of inalienable “basic liberties” that could be offered on equal terms to all. Basic liberties are those rights that are essential for humans to exercise their unique power of moral reasoning. Much as Berlin thought the power to choose between conflicting ideals was fundamental to human existence, so Rawls argued that the capacity to reason gives humanity its worth. Basic liberties thus include those of thought, association and occupation, plus a limited right to hold personal property.

But extensive property rights, allowing unlimited accumulation of wealth, do not feature. Instead, Rawls thought the veil of ignorance yields two principles to regulate markets. First, there must be equality of opportunity for positions of status and wealth. Second, inequalities can be permitted only if they benefit the least well-off—a rule dubbed the “difference principle”. Wealth, if it is to be generated, must trickle all the way down. Only such a rule, Rawls thought, could maintain society as a co-operative venture between willing participants. Even the poorest would know that they were being helped, not hindered, by the success of others. “In justice as fairness”—Rawls’s name for his philosophy— “men agree to share one another’s fate.”

Rawls attributed his book’s success with the public to how it chimed with the political and academic culture, including the civil-rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam war. It demonstrated that left-wing liberalism was not dreamed up by hippies in a cloud of marijuana smoke, but could be rooted in serious philosophy. Today, the veil of ignorance is commonly used to argue for more redistribution.

Ironically, since 1971 the rich world has mostly gone in the opposite direction. Having already built welfare states, governments deregulated markets. Tax rates for the highest earners have fallen, welfare benefits have been squeezed and inequality has risen. True, the poorest may have benefited from the associated growth. But the reformers of the 1980s, most notably Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, were no Rawlsians. They would have found more inspiration in Rawls’s Harvard contemporary: Robert Nozick.

Nozick’s book “Anarchy, State and Utopia”, published in 1974, was an assault on Rawls’s idea of redistributive justice. Whereas Rawls’s liberalism relegates property rights, Nozick’s elevates them. Other forms of liberty, he argued, are excuses for the immoral coercion of individuals. People own their talents. They cannot be compelled to share their fruits.

Nozick questioned whether distributive justice is even coherent. Imagine some distribution of wealth that is deemed to be just. Next suppose that a large number of people each pay 25 cents to watch Wilt Chamberlain, then the top player in the NBA, play basketball. A new distribution would emerge, containing a very rich Mr Chamberlain. In this transition, people would have engaged in purely voluntary exchanges with resources that are properly theirs, if the initial distribution really is just. So what could be the problem with the later one? Liberty, Nozick said, disrupts patterns. Justice cannot demand some preferred distribution of wealth.

His work contributed to a philosophy in favour of small government that was blooming at the time. In 1974 Friedrich Hayek—Thatcher’s favourite thinker—won the Nobel prize in economics. Two years later it went to Milton Friedman. But although the world moved rightward, it did not shift far enough to become Nozickian. “Anarchy, State and Utopia” called for only a minimal, “nightwatchman” state to protect property rights. But vast government spending, taxation and regulation endure. Even America, despite its inequality, probably remains more Rawlsian.

Too much Utopia

Some of Rawls’s fiercest critics have been to his left. Those concerned with racial and gender inequality have often seen his work as a highfalutin irrelevance. Both Rawls and Nozick practised “ideal theory”—hypothesising about what a perfect society looks like, rather than deciding how to fix existing injustices. It is not clear, for example, whether Rawls’s principle of equality of opportunity would permit affirmative action, or any other form of positive discrimination. Rawls wrote in 2001 that the “serious problems arising from existing discrimination and distinctions are not on [justice as fairness’s] agenda.” Nozick acknowledged that his views on property rights would apply only if there had been no injustice in how property had been acquired (such as the use of slaves, or the forced seizure of land).

Rawls was also more concerned with institutions than with day-to-day politics. As a result, on today’s issues his philosophy can fire blanks. For example, feminists often say he did too little to flesh out his views on the family. His main prescription is that interactions between men and women should be voluntary. That is not much help to a movement that is increasingly concerned with social norms that are said to condition individual choices.

Rawlsianism certainly provides little to support identity politics. Today’s left increasingly sees speech as an exercise in power, in which arguments cannot be divorced from the identity of the speaker. On some university campuses conservative speakers who cast doubt on the concepts of patriarchy and white privilege, or who claim that gender norms are not arbitrary, are treated as aggressors whose speech should be prevented. The definition of “mansplaining” is evolving to encompass men expressing any opinion at length, even in writing that nobody is compelled to read. Arguments, it is said, should be rooted in “lived experience”.

This is not how a Rawlsian liberal society is supposed to work. Rawls relied on the notion that humans have a shared, disinterested rationality, which is accessible by thinking about the veil of ignorance, and is strengthened by freedom of speech. If arguments cannot be divorced from identity, and if speech is in fact a battleground on which groups struggle for power, the project is doomed from the outset.

Rawls thought that the stability of the ideal society rests on an “overlapping consensus”. Everyone must be sufficiently committed to pluralism to remain invested in the democratic project, even when their opponents are in power. The polarised politics of America, Britain and elsewhere, in which neither side can tolerate the other’s views, pushes against that ideal.

The more that group identity is elevated above universal values, the greater the threat. In America some on the left describe those who have adopted their views as “woke”. Some fans of Donald Trump—who has taken the Republican party a long way from Nozickian libertarianism—say they have been “red pilled” (a reference to the film “The Matrix”, in which a red pill lets characters realise the true nature of reality). In both cases, the language suggests some hidden wisdom that only the enlightened have discovered. It is not far from there to saying that such a revelation is necessary to be truly free—an argument that Berlin warned is an early step on the path to tyranny.

The good news is that pluralism and truly liberal values remain popular. Many people want to be treated as individuals, not as part of a group; they attend to what is being said, not just to who is saying it. Much hand-wringing about public life reflects the climate on social media and campuses, not society at large. Most students do not subscribe to radical campus leftism. Still, backers of liberal democracy would do well to remember that the great post-war liberals, in one way or another, all emphasised how individuals must be free to resist the oppression of large groups. That, surely, is where liberal thought begins.