There is a lot of focus these days on “building walls”, driven in large part by Trump’s “commitment” to build a wall along the Mexican border. But more broadly it summarises a growing global drift, especially in Europe and the U.S, to nationalism and isolationism, a “movement” that is not only anti-immigration, but also anti-globalisation, and anti-free trade.
This is a most worrying trend that is quickly gaining momentum, and being reflected politically in recent and prospective European and U.S. elections. It was fundamental to the BREXIT vote in the UK, it has been very evident in recent German regional elections, and it is becoming a defining issue in the relative standing of candidates in the forthcoming French and U.S. Presidential election campaigns.
If this “movement” were to become reality it would undo much, if not, all the economic and social progress, even the moral progress, the world has created and enjoyed over many decades. It is a movement born out of ignorance, fear, and xenophobia.
While not without its challenges, imperfections, and sometimes unfortunate consequences, opening up world markets, and dismantling barriers to the freer flow of goods, capital and people, combined with the impact of a host of disruptive technologies, and the development of global institutions and governance, has generally underwritten enormous economic and social progress, raising living standards, reducing poverty, and reducing the risks of global conflicts and wars.
Immigration has been of fundamental importance in all this, with countries like Australia standing as very successful examples of how it is possible to build a prosperous, diverse, and tolerant multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-religious nation.
The recent BREXIT vote was driven overwhelmingly by exaggerated fears about mass migration into the UK, swamping the significant economic advantages of the UK remaining a member of the EU. A UK exit could take years to negotiate, with the cost of a much weaker UK economy, perhaps even a recession, and risking a “disuniting”, with threats that Scotland and Northern Island may wish to exit the UK.
At the same time it will be disruptive to capital and trade flows, with the risk of further “fragmentation” of Europe, as several countries, such as the Netherlands and Denmark, and maybe even France, consider the possibility of also leaving.
The anti-immigration sentiment is now alarmingly strong in Europe, as one country after another starts to “erect walls” against new migrants, at a time when millions are attempting to flee from countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. As noted, the political fallout has already been significant in many European countries
This week President Obama, in his final speech to the UN General Assembly, summarised the issue definitively:
“I do not believe progress is possible if our desire to preserve our identities gives way to an impulse to dehumanize or dominate another group. If our religion leads us to persecute those of another faith, if we jail or beat people who are gay, if our traditions lead us to prevent girls from going to school, if we discriminate on the basis of race or tribe or ethnicity, then the fragile bonds of civilization will fray”.
“The world is too small, we are too packed together, for us to be able to resort to those old ways of thinking”.
“Today, a nation ringed by walls would only imprison itself”.