Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Posts tagged ‘migration’

The ultimate Brexit machine

Marvin Minsky famously proposed (and Claude Shannon built) what Shannon called the “ultimate machine”, a machine reduced down to its simplest logic, so that its only function, when turned on is to turn itself off. One version is portrayed here:

Brexit is like that machine, except with the variation that the switch is, by design, stuck in the on position. So that it has no purpose at all.

If you recall, Brexit was supposed to solve the problem of unemployment in Middle England: all those East Europeans swarming over the land, devouring jobs. Now we have this:

Home Office officials have privately admitted the department is having problems increasing its immigration staffing levels as part of its Brexit preparations and may have to recruit Polish and other eastern Europeans to help register the 3 million EU nationals in Britain.

So Brexit itself is already making more work than the British can handle without bringing in Eastern Europeans. So once we have Brexit we don’t need Brexit anymore. In fact, once we have Brexit we can’t afford Brexit.

Why can’t they get enough British workers for these excellent jobs registering Europeans?

The Home Office’s difficulties in “enticing staff to move to Sheffield” affect the hub that handles visa applications for work permits, student visas, premium services and family cases.

So they need to look farther afield, to find potential employees who have never heard of Sheffield.

But it’s not just about regional antipathies. It’s also about qualifications. It’s all those migrant farm workers taking jobs that local untrained British people could take. It’s like a Tory version of that Communist-agitator joke:

– After we drive out the East Europeans you will have jobs picking strawberries.

– But I don’t want to pick strawberries.

– ?????

Brexit has manifestly achieved parodic escape velocity.

Polar-bear academics

I have on occasions compared my position, as a statistics professor in Oxford, to that of one of those forlorn polar bears photographed on shrinking ice floes as the Arctic melts around them. In my immediate neighbourhood the ice is still ice: my job looks like the academic profession that I imagined when I started training for it three decades ago. But if you go just a little distance away, either to other UK universities, or even within Oxford to some other disciplines, you see something that looks like a freakish hybrid of the worst features of academia and corporations. I just came upon this disturbing account of the phenomenon by Michael Edwards, a lecturer in music in Edinburgh, now moving to Germany:

Now that I’m constantly being monitored and spending increasing amounts of time justifying what I do instead of doing it, I, like a lot of my colleagues, am taking all of my leave and I’m not answering emails while I’m away. My perception is that, because of the increasingly unattractive working environment, academics are correspondingly increasingly unlikely to put in all of the extra hours organising talks, concerts, and other activities that, let’s be honest, make universities so attractive in the first place, not only for staff and students but for the wider community too. All in all, the good will which holds together UK universities is being stretched beyond breaking point.

I realise that some of these trends are universal, but I believe that Britain is, at least in this pathological respect, exceptional. Seen from the outside, the UK has first-class universities that are the envy of the world, and a mostly hapless industry and business sectors (excepting the finance industry, with its world-leading money-laundering and tax-evasion facilities). A healthy reaction might be to consider what lessons British business could learn from the successful universities. A neurotic nation trapped in pathological mourning for its lost empire instead tries to destroy the universities by forcing them to be more like British business.

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The refugee crisis in an alternate universe

Donald Trump gets into refugees

The Washington Post reports on Donald Trump’s objections to an agreement to take in 1250 mostly Middle Eastern refugees currently in Australian detention sites:

Trump was also skeptical because he did not see a specific advantage the United States would gain by honoring the deal, officials said.

He can’t conceive of a deal whose purpose is to benefit someone else. This reminds me of Monty Python’s Merchant Banker sketch. A humble fellow raising money for charity wanders into the office of a very wealthy and self-centred banker:

Mr Ford: Oh. I wondered whether you’d like to contribute to the orphan’s home. (he rattles the tin)

Banker: Well I don’t want to show my hand too early, but actually here at Slater Nazi we are quite keen to get into orphans, you know, developing market and all that…

Mr Ford: So er, how about a pound?

Banker: A pound. Yes, I see. Now this loan would be secured by the…

Mr Ford: It’s not a loan, sir.

Banker: What?

Mr Ford: It’s not a loan.

Banker: Ah… Look, I think I’d better run this over to our legal department. If you could possibly pop back on Friday…

Mr Ford: Well do you have to do that, couldn’t you just give me the pound?

Banker: Yes, but you see I don’t know what it’s for.

Mr Ford: It’s for the orphans.

 

Banker: Well, I’m awfully sorry I don’t understand. Can you just explain exactly what you want.

Mr Ford: Well, I want you to give me a pound, and then I go away and give it to the orphans.

Banker: Yes?

Mr Ford: Well, that’s it.

Banker: No, no, no, I don’t follow this at all, I mean, I don’t want to seem stupid but it looks to me as though I’m a pound down on the whole deal.

Who are you calling illegal?

So this tweet came from the President of the United States:

The use of the term “illegal immigrants” has long been a point of contention between the right (who like the stigmatisation it implies) and the left (who don’t, and prefer terms like “undocumented immigrants”) in the US. The racist right likes to go further and simply call the people “illegals”.

Whatever the politics or the human considerations, at least it’s not entirely inaccurate when applied to people who crossed the border without proper clearance, or who overstayed their visas. How can anyone think it appropriate to call asylum seekers for whom an agreement has been negotiated by the US president to bring them legally into the country “illegal immigrants”? Except, of course, that for the racist right — of which DJ Trump is a charter member — illegal is not a legal description, but simply a term of aspersion against nonwhite people without large real estate portfolios who cross borders.

Keeping out the riffraff

I was just interested in comparing the conditions for citizenship and annual number of new citizens between the UK and Germany. The UK numbers I found on this government website. Under “Key Facts” the first thing they have to say is

Applications for British citizenship fell by 29% in the year ending June 2015 to 137,406.
There were 112,407 decisions about British citizenship, 40% fewer than in the previous year (188,910). Correspondingly, there were 42% fewer people granted British citizenship (-75,908 to 105,043). This was the lowest annual figure since 2002 (120,121).

It seems like they’re really proud that British citizenship has become so unattractive. The number of people acquiring German citizenship in around the same timeframe was slightly higher — 107,181 according to the Statistisches Bundesamt — which also notes that this represents a slight decrease (1.1%) from the previous year.

The Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel commented on these statistics with concern:

 Deutscher Pass verliert weiter an Attraktivität

Die Zahl der Einbürgerungen in Deutschland ist seit Jahren rückläufig. Das ist ein beschämender Trend.

German passport continues losing its lustre

The number of people acquiring citizenship in Germany has been going down for years. This is an embarrassing trend.

The Statistisches Bundesamt also compares these numbers to the “Einbürgerungspotenzial” — the “potential acquisitions of citizenship” — finding that only about 2% of the available citizen material has been “ausgeschöpft” (made use of).

I might note at this point that the Germans take only 255 euros as a citizenship fee, as opposed to the £1,236 that the British take. (One wonders if the whole Brexit thing is just a scam to get Europeans living here to apply for citizenship. If all 3 million apply, that will be worth nearly £4 billion.

Existence and greatness

I commented before on the home secretary’s announcement of a plan to require companies to report on the number of foreign employees they have. Just to keep an eye on things, of course. Information is a good thing, natch. I missed this quote:

She justified that policy on the following grounds: “The state must draw a sharp line of distinction between those who, as members of the nation, are the foundation and support of its existence and greatness, and those who are domiciled in the state, simply as earners of their livelihood there.”

Far be it from me to boast that I am supporting Britain’s greatness, but surely I am somehow contributing to its existence? They don’t seem to mind taking my taxes, anyway, and they’re awfully keen to get their children into Oxford in order to be taught by domiciled livelihood-earners like me.

Refer madness

Shortly after the EU referendum, someone asked me why the EU referendum was made to allow such an enormous change from a simple majority. After all, many countries have either supermajority threshold for referenda, or requirements that a majority be attained in a majority of regions or states. The answer, of course, is that

  1. The point of this referendum was to settle a conflict between two wings of the Conservative party. This was not an election, but a sporting contest — though sooner or later, in Britain, everything turns into a sporting contest — and it would have been completely unacceptable if both sides did not feel they had a reasonable chance of winning.
  2. There wasn’t any threshold at all. As many have pointed out, this wasn’t a referendum in the normal sense of the word. It was an opinion poll. The relevant law, the European Union Referendum Act 2015, orders only that the question be asked, and describes eligibility for voting. It says nothing about how the result is to be interpreted or enforced. (The most intricate part of the law seems to concern the question of which hereditary aristocrats are eligible to vote.)

There is nothing inevitable about concluding that the UK should withdraw from the EU because 52% voted that way in the referendum. Most democracies would not make it so easy for one group of citizens to deprive another group of citizens of cherished rights — particularly when the groups really are clearly defined social groups, whether age groups or semi-autonomous component nations (Scotland and Northern Ireland).

In principle, there’s a good argument that the government is constitutionally obliged to get clear authorisation from Parliament before pulling the Article 50 trigger. And if they do that, the MPs could reasonably point to the national divisions, or just the lack of an overwhelming majority, as justification for avoiding such wrenching change.

They won’t, though. Because it’s a sport, and nothing is more important to the British than appearing to be “good sports”. They call this “democracy”, and there have been any number of articles from left-wing Remain supporters, arguing that a commitment to democracy requires that they get behind the Brexit project now. The people have spoken, and any other response is an elitist insistence that you know better than the unwashed masses.

Where does that leave us, the foreigners? I am reminded of the work of David Blight and other historians on the “Lost Cause” historiography of the US Civil War. Americans of the North and the South decided to come together in a spirit of reconciliation, requiring that the Northerners agree to look past points of dispute, like the civil rights of African Americans. They — that is, the white people — pretty much all agreed that this was the charitable and democratic thing to do. Similarly, Britons are divided by economic and class differences, but they can all come together in agreement that the real problem is the foreigners. This is something I noticed when I first arrived here.

Things aren’t so bad in Oxford — though we all know people who have at least been menaced in public in the last couple of weeks for speaking a foreign language — and those of us with good professional jobs have a fairly easy out, if we want it, by acquiring UK citizenship. At least, that gets us to the other side of the rope line in terms of formal legal harassment. Elsewhere foreigners have to be thinking imminently about being driven out of places where they have resided for decades, and where they mistakenly thought they were at home.

The day after 

Oxford is full of Europeans, and it seems like everyone is walking around in a daze since the referendum. It’s rare that you hear any other topic of conversation. If anyone has an opinion other than pro-EU they’re not saying, only citing some elderly relatives for possible insights into the psychology of Leave.

I hadn’t anticipated how hurt and angry people would be. Lots of people are talking about leaving. It’s not that anyone is expecting anti-European pogroms, but it makes it suddenly palpable how thoroughly unwelcome foreigners are in this country. I noticed this immediately when I arrived here, so maybe that’s why I’m not so shocked by this result.

Oxford is a xenophobic bubble, in this respect — 70% for Remain — so it’s easy to ignore, if you’re so inclined. Also, many Europeans didn’t really think of themselves as foreigners, which is why this rejection was such an emotional blow. It’s devastating for the university, of course.

I fear that this may turn a lot uglier. I think the British are going to be shocked to discover how much the rest of Europe resents them. It’s like a bad marriage: Europe has been making all kinds of compromises and telling Britain how much they love it to keep the union together. For the sake of the children let us say. The effect was only to heighten the British sense of their own importance. Now that they’ve announced, even though you’ve done everything I asked, I’m still leaving you, because I never loved you, and I never wanted to be married anyway, the British we’ll be surprised to discover how cold and businesslike the Europeans can be, in tojust wanting  be rid of them as quickly as possible. I fear that the unrealistic expectations will give way to fury and escalating rounds of retaliation against the hostages, who are the Europeans living in Britain and the Britons living in Europe.

Rapid growth

A lot of EU citizens who live in Britain are worried that they will be forced out if the UK voters decide next month to withdraw from the EU. The Leave campaign dismisses this, and all concerns that anyone might have about this radical step, as “Project Fear”:

Clearly any EU citizen that is legally here if we come out of the EU would absolutely have the right to remain here. Any other suggestion is just absurd.

Given that the main point of Brexit is to reduce immigration from the Continent, and given that tempers are likely to flare when the fate of said migrants (on both sides) are negotiated, and given that current UK law clearly would not give most of the EU citizens who are here the right to permanent residency, it’s clearly not absurd to worry. To adapt an old saw, even those whom political campaigners are trying to make paranoid, have real reasons to worry.

Well, from the NY Times, here’s some non-evidence:

Rose Carey, the head of immigration at Charles Russell Speechlys, a global law firm based in London, said she had seen an “unprecedented amount” of applications for British citizenship in the last few months.

“Historically, E.U. nationals didn’t really bother applying for a British passport,” she said. “It used to be a couple hundred a year to now five queries a week.”

From a couple of hundred a year to five a week — that’s pretty rapid growth!

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