“Hundreds of thousands of single Muslim men, hundreds of thousands of rejected asylum seekers and an unknown number of illegal residents create the greatest demographic, social, cultural and political problems both in their countries of origin and in the countries of destination in Western Europe, above all in Germany, Austria and Sweden. The effects in their home country are evident. States destroyed by wars and crises, societies permeated by mutual hatred of the respective enemy would need every helpful hand for reconstruction. The creation of functioning economic cycles, indeed the technical prerequisites for them, from the development of energy supply to the school system, will not succeed without a young, agile generation. But it is precisely this generation, the men ahead, who has gone into foreign countries and is bitterly lacking at home; it forms a bridgehead that will trigger subsequent migrations.”
Hannes Hofbauer. Kritik der Migration. Wer profitiert und wer verliert. (Critique of Migration. Who benefits and who loses.) 2018, p. 159
On 20 October 2018, Hannes Hofbauer presented his book “Kritik der Migration. Wer profitiert und wer verliert (Critique of Migration. Who benefits and who loses)” in Switzerland. Following his lecture, Current Concerns conducted the following interview with him.
Current Concerns: Mr Hofbauer, today you presented your new book “Kritik der Migration. Wer profitiert und wer
verliert”. What motivated you to take up this rather explosive topic?
Hannes Hofbauer: This can be traced back to years of experience with the topic of migration: On the one hand, I am convinced – as probably many people are – that migration is an expression of inequality, of great regional inequality – of an inequality that is growing ever stronger worldwide. On the other hand, I have seen that in many liberal milieus – anyhow left-wing milieus – migration is presented as something positive. So I thought to myself, I would like to dedicate myself to this contradiction; I will try to contribute to the awareness there. I’ll have a look at history, and I’ll have a look at the causes, and also at the effects of migration, both in the migrants’ countries of origin and in their countries of destination.
In your book you also described the starting point for your research. What is the state of research on the question of migration?
It struck me that seen from my social-scientific approaches – I am an economic historian – migration actually did not occur at all in research for many decades. Today, social scientists, historians, and political scientists are increasingly concerned with migration. At first glance, I find that interesting, and it probably has to be done. Then, however, there is the observation that is very central in this more recent migration research, which says: “There has always been migration”. I would agree to that, but the more recent migration research implies with this statement that migration is a condition of human life, and that is where our paths separate, the paths of the more recent migration research and my own view of migration, because I am of the opinion that admittedly, migration has always been there, is human, but it is not a condition of human life. I can also underlay this with figures, as I have looked at what has happened since the Second World War, at how many people in the world have to leave their homes every year. You can see that in the 1950s to the 1970s it was about 0.6% of the world’s population and from the 1990s on it was 0.9%. So it is increasing, but that is still far from being proof that migration is a condition of human life; it is rather the opposite: The norm is not the migrant; the norm is the one who stays.
What do you say about EU policy on migration? You spoke of immigration to the EU “by way of asylum”...
I want to go back a little before I get to this immigration by way of asylum. I believe that the European Union, in its enlargement, has pursued a policy that has fueled and incited migration, by leading to a clash of completely different levels of living, working and salary – in the eastern enlargement in 2004 and then again in 2007 with Romania and Bulgaria. The European Union has done nothing to harmonise these levels. As a community and economic union, it has indeed harmonised the economic sphere – one can also speak of a convergence of the economy. In other words, the exchange of goods, the movement of capital and the provision of services have been quasi treated convergently, but not so the social spheres. These areas were left to the national states. The consequence of this was that countries met and clashed, in which wage levels were ten times or – as in Bulgaria – twenty times lower, if we compare them to Germany – where people have completely different life designs. I think that this encouraged mobility and migration. In 2012, the World Bank noted that 20 million people from Eastern Europe had left their homes for the West. Later it even found that this bloodletting of mass migrants has hindered the growth of Eastern European countries by about 7% of their GDP on average.
However, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) did not draw the conclusion that this was a mistake, but rather recommended that the countries in the East should accept migrants from even poorer countries further east, such as Ukraine, Albania or Belarus. That has also happened: In recent years Poland has “imported” over a million Ukrainians for cheap jobs, and so has Slovakia for its automotive industry.
Merkel’s welcome adress opens door for immigration “by way of asylum”
To return to the question of why the European Union finds it so difficult to distinguish between the definitions of asylum and migration – I believe that this is not entirely unintentional either. The European Union opened the asylum door for migrants, at the latest with this move that may not have been triggered by Merkel’s welcome, but was indeed somehow fuelled by it, although it was clear from the outset that the Geneva Convention does not apply to war refugees. The Geneva Convention is intended to protect people who are racially, politically or religiously persecuted, but it cannot protect people fleeing from zones of crisis and war. Nevertheless, the European Union – and above all Germany – acted as if these people were entitled to asylum. Subsequently it was seen that half or even more than half of the people who applied for asylum in Germany have already received a negative asylum decision, and in Austria the figure is as high as 70%. In other words, it was clear from the outset that it was completely absurd to ever want to deal with this mass migration via the asylum question.
But this happened in 2015 with what I call the great migration of Muslims.
What were the consequences of the termination of the Lomé Convention in this context?
Since the year 2000, the European Union has been concluding so-called partnership agreements with African and Caribbean countries. These are bilateral free trade agreements – such as on customs duties – which until then, through the Lomé Convention of 1975, had given various Third World countries the opportunity to protect their markets from European imports, so as to develop their own industry, for example. This has been abolished with these partnership agreements from the years 2000 and following. Since then, free trade has prevailed, and free trade – as we all know – always favours the economically stronger. We now see it in the great dispute between the US and China: China is suddenly the power that advocates free trade, and the US is beginning to take protectionist measures. For the Third World countries in Africa this means that they are now exposed to the overproduced agricultural products from Europe without being able to protect themselves. This destroys agriculture and farmers in these countries and deprives them of their basis of subsistence. This, in turn, means that their sons, or even they themselves, have to set out to find a better life elsewhere.
Do you have a specific example of this?
It all began in Ghana; that was one of the first countries with which such a partnership agreement was concluded. In the poultry market there, for example, 95% of poultry was offered on the local market by local farmers before the agreement between the European Union and Ghana, and only 11% afterwards.
Wars cause migration
You said that Ms Merkel’s welcome address in 2015 and her statement “We can do it” set off a wave of migration, but that the real causes have a much longer history.
I think Merkel’s welcome was just the icing on the cake. The causes of migration for the Muslim world – for many of those millions of people – go farther back. There I am thinking, say, of the wars that the USA in particular started, often with NATO support, sometimes only with a coalition of the willing, as in the case of Iraq, where Germany and France, for example, did not participate. These wars have had extreme consequences in terms of destabilising these countries. I am talking about Iraq from 1991, when the first so-called “Desert Storm” took place, until 2001 with the alleged revenge for 9/11, although there was little evidence. In the meantime, countries like Yemen, Mali and Libya have been covered with wars, and there was also interference in the Syrian civil war. When I think only of countries such as Syria and Iraq, these had actually been stable countries before these interventions took place, at least in the sense that no waves of migration were triggered. And later these countries were completely destabilised, destroyed, territorially fragmented and the people had to set out to flee from the war, because they no longer had a livelihood – these were the actual triggering causes for migration.
In addition, it was precisely during the Syrian civil war that people tried not to flee too far from it, but to stay close to their homeland. Most of them have become “displaced persons” in Syria; as it were, they had to go to other places. Several million went to places outside their country, to Jordan, to Turkey. That remained so for about two years, until these camps, which were administered by the UN, were subsidised less. This in turn has to do with the fact that the USA and other countries have cut their contributions, and then – this was perhaps the triggering effect – came Angela Merkel’s welcome adress, so that the people knew they had the chance to go to Germany or even further north, and so took to the road.
You took a closer look at the Balkan route and made observations. Can you say anything more about that?
Yes, anyone can still watch it on youtube, because these films are available. I myself, for example, was at the Vienna west station and took a look at this misery. Of course that was heartbreaking and really a problem. But there are also youtube films from the Budapest stations, where you can see that about 90 % of the arrivals were young men, very few families or women – only one here or there, almost none at all. And these young men were between about 18 and 25 years old – of course you don’t know what class they came from – but what they made visible was that they were conscripts for the Syrian army. And because they were precisely not in the Syrian army, many of them were, in principle, deserters. This circumstance – men liable to military service who were not in that army that fought against the Islamic state, which was at its height in 2015 – I find this fact understandable for each individual: Who wants to be sent to war? But on the other hand, of course, this poses a structural problem, and one must also ask oneself why the European countries or Germany accepted these men. Here it is also the issue of a geopolitical question: the aim was to weaken the Assad government.
Of course, there was also the intention of acquiring these young people for the European labour market, or at least choosing some of them. I remember a situation where Lithuanian entrepreneurs went to a camp somewhere in Hungary and chose a few thousand Syrians. Well, that was partly rather unsavoury. I think it is important to discuss these things together with the migration issue and not to keep them a secret.
In your opinion, what has so far been going wrong with the discourse on migration?
There are several discourses. For example, a Keynesian discourse that is a bit social democratic. It says: With this mass migration one can solve, i.e. stimulate official demand by creating housing for the migrants, by offering German courses and value courses for the migrants and many other things, thus building up a so-called migration industry. This might also help to counteract or overcome export dips – which are a recurring occurrence.
This Keynesian discourse overlooks the fact that the economic costs for all this would be extremely high. The German economist Konrad Schuler estimates that the German budget will be burdened with 47 billion euros annually in the next four to five years due to this migration in 2015/2016. That is 15 % of the German budget, and of course this affect other places where savings must be made as a result.
Then there is another particular error in the Keynesian discourse: It does not take into account the costs – and this is very, very important to me – which this drain of young people causes in the respective countries. How do you imagine Syria or Afghanistan or African countries can be rebuilt after these economic crises or wars? The Keynesian discourse is therefore a completely Eurocentric one.
Another discourse is the liberal one. It assumes that we need constant migration and also these large Muslim migrations in order to replenish our labour markets and keep them moving. The main argument is that (in Germany, Austria and Switzerland) no local wants to do low work. One can counter this by saying that here we have another question which has to be decided between work and capital: How do you remunerate work that is heavy or low? There are examples where hard work can be paid well. You don’t need cheap foreign workers in waste water works in certain cities like Vienna or for garbage collection in certain communes. There the local workers are not only well paid, but they also have a worthy job that is generally well-recognised. That would be, so to speak, the opposite course of action, and that should be taken.
In your opinion, where could a constructive discourse on the question of migration begin? You spoke of “progressive protectionism”.
I encountered this keyword when I read Colin Hines’ book “Progressive Protectionism”. It is about bringing together an ecological discourse that is, in principle, critical of mobility. The Viennese transport expert Hermann Knoflacher once said: “Mobility reflects a lack of space”. Applied to the question of migration, this means that you have to be critical of migration. This in turn would mean that instead of expanding mobility and migration behaviour – what the UN now wants to enforce in its migration pact at its Marrakech meeting in December – one would rather focus on autocentric development, on import substitution, on fair economic treaties and not on free trade, but instead on resistance to free trade treaties. I also call this a concept of economic subsidiarity, in which paths are made shorter, production chains smaller and where supply chains are not extended – in other words, so ultimately local markets are strengthened against globalism.
Thank you very much, Mr Hofbauer, we wish your book may get the necessary attention. There is an urgent need for this book, and we hope that the discussion on migration will be given the objectivity it needs. •
“In their study published in July 2016, the IMF statisticians took the trouble to quantify the macroeconomic consequences of mass migration for the countries of origin. Her findings reveal the whole absurdity of the structural inequality between East and West and assign the crucial importance to migration. Without migration, according to the IMF, Eastern Europe would have a significantly higher Gross National Product (GNP); specifically: ‘If there had been no emigration between 1995 and 2012, the real GNP would have been 7 per cent higher on average (slightly different from country to country)’.
But it gets worse. According to the IMF study, the monetary remittances of emigrants to their home countries are impairing the local economy. […]
The lack of young and healthy people and thus the disproportionately high proportion of old people in the migrants’ countries of origin also cause exploding costs in the health and pension systems, which the states cannot cover. ‘The departure of some of the youngest and brightest makes Eastern Europe’s catching-up process with advanced countries a major challenge,’ the IMF concludes in diplomatic language.”
(Hofbauer, pp. 211)
“Anyone who finds it morally and politically reprehensible that Bengali seamstresses jammed up in decrepit factories work hard for a pittance for the world market cannot positively connote the constant import of people from the ‘global South’ into the central regions of this world. The outsourcing of jobs to low-wage locations and the mass immigration of uprooted workers to the ‘global North’ are too similar in their structure of exploitation.”
(Hofbauer p. 8)
*Hannes Hofbauer was born in Vienna in 1955. He is an economic and social historian and works as a publicist and publisher. Numerous publications at Promedia Verlag, among others: Verordnete Wahr-heit – Bestrafte Gesinnung. Rechtsprechung als politisches Instrument (Prescribed Truth – Punished Attitude. Jurisdiction as a political instrument, 2011); Slowakei. Der mühsame Weg nach Westen (Slovakia. The ardous road to the West (together with David Noack), 2012); Die Diktatur des Kapitals. Souveränitätsverlust im postdemokratischen Zeitalter (Dictatorship of Capital. Loss of sovereignty in the post-democratic age, 2014, 2nd edition 2015); Feindbild Russland. Geschichte einer Dämonisierung (Enemy image of Russia. History of Demonisation, 2016, 5th Edition 2017); Kritik der Migration. Wer profitiert und wer verliert (Critique of Migration. Who benefits and who loses, 2018)
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