We continue the serialisation of our intervention, The Viable Economy, this time with Chapter 13, “About population and migration”. Population has been a question of some controversy among ecological thinkers and activists. Migration has great topicality with high levels from Europe and the majority world for reasons connected with the problems of social and ecological justice discussed in other chapters, and is exploited by the populist right and other opportunists. We look here at the root causes, proposing practical approaches to address them, neither denying their import nor yielding to simplistic and profoundly unjust policies and proposals. This piece also draws on thinking we previously published in our pamphlet Living Well: Practical Solidarity and Steady State Economics.
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A viable economy requires a stable population in order to live well within planetary limits. In places like Manchester, in the minority world, fertility-based population growth has ceased because women on average have less than two children1. Family size is influenced by mortality rates and economic security. Factors which lead to a fall in family size include being relatively confident you will be looked after if you need support, whether or not you have children to do this and knowing your children are unlikely to die before you.
Currently levels of migration are increasing the size of the population here, although nowhere near as much as in London, or in many far less resourced regions of the world. Current policies focus on controlling the numbers and types of people coming into the country rather than addressing the reasons why people want to move in the first place.
While there will always be a flow of population between areas for very positive reasons which should be warmly welcomed, high levels of migration indicate many people are moving who may prefer to stay in their home country if they can meet their needs. High levels of migration are driven by income inequalities, themselves a result of the free movement of capital (under neoliberal doctrine) and labour (as a means of exerting downward pressure on wages), as well as climate change and wars. And to a lesser, but still significant extent, migration results from persecution be it political, racial, religious or on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The viable alternative
Solidarity is key to ensuring a viable population and migration patterns. This needs to be international, national as well as local.
A viable economy will work on reducing the determinants of migration. Policies should be based on an understanding that the interests of our region are interdependent with the interests of those outside.
Manchester should be a place which values people from outside and celebrates the richness of a diverse and hospitable region. At the same time we should recognise that most people would prefer to stay in their home country if they can see a way to sustain their lives there and live in freedom from conflict and persecution.
If national and international economic equity is increased, migration will fall whether it is from the North East of the UK to Manchester, Manchester to London or Africa to the UK. Similarly if the impact of climate change is kept to the minimum more people will manage to sustain their lives where they are and this will reduce migration. There will be fewer wars in a world where more people can provide for their basic needs, live with greater equity within their societies and between societies and where economies such as ours produces and sells socially useful goods rather than armaments. Well functioning societies here and elsewhere are likely to be more accepting of political, racial, religious and sexual diversity.
Some viable policy ideas
Focus on ensuring conditions in which small families can thrive: low mortality rates and support for people without sufficient income and care needs.
Focus on reducing the determinants of unviable migration by ensuring all policies foster equity between our region and others, good environmental measures which will ensure minimum climate change and do not fuel reasons for migration such as war e.g. arms exports.
Given the role of war and civil conflict as causes of migration, work with the Campaign Against the Arms Trade to encourage transformation of jobs in the arms trade in our region to socially useful production such as renewable energy technology2.
Campaign against global injustices and their causes, from free trade agreements to neo-colonial adventures.