Migration these days has become a political hot potato. Politicians speak about it from every ideological stance. For sure, for better of for worse, politicians use the issue of migration to enhance their standing among members of their constituencies.
One thing that is clear is that there is no running away from the issue in the 21st century. Constant migration is now the order of the day – and most of it is internal, with millions of people moving from rural to urban areas.
Guy Arnold has tackled this emotive subject quite well in his latest book, Migration: Changing the World. He is a prolific writer who has 50 books to his name. His interests are relations between the global North and South. As such, Arnold has written a book with deep knowledge of why and how people migrate: changing demographics, globalisation and the growth of refugees.
He is a believer in migration, noting: “Migration represents a positive world phenomenon.” For instance, in Western Europe, where there is such a huge hue and cry over immigration – even though the influx is quite small compared to what happens in the developing world – the question that should really be asked about migration is this: how will Western Europe handle the issue of an ageing population?
Arnold notes: “Western countries must face the vital question of whether replacement migration to population decline and population ageing. Replacement migration means the international migration needed both to offset declines in the size of population in the population of working age and to offset the overall ageing of the population.”
Of course, this issue is always at the back of the minds of politicians in Western countries, but they do not voice the “positive phenomenon” enough to allay the fears of their constituents.
Who will care for the elderly in Western societies? Where are the workers going to come from in order to be employed and pay taxes that should provide revenue for governments? These are two serious issues that constantly exercise the minds of Western politicians who are now devising ways to encourage immigration without opening the doors too wide. In the UK, the talk among Conservative Party members of the Coalition government is reducing the numbers of unskilled workers while allowing in “the brightest and the best”. The government's new ''selective'' immigration policy will give preferential treatment to investors, entrepreneurs and world-class artists, dancers, musicians and academics.
So, Arnold is right when he argues that migrants are essential to the advanced countries by filling skills gaps and bolstering ageing and static populations. He contends that the constant flow of people in all directions should be welcomed, arguing that once the need is fully understood among the various constituencies, narrow nationalism will disappear.
For China and developing countries, the movement is mainly from rural to urban areas. Naturally, there are relentless pressures on services as urban populations swell. But, according to Arnold, this will eventually lead to economic development.
The book is an in-depth study of migration, which should be a very handy resource for those seriously interested in the subject.