Thursday, July 07, 2005

Issues to Examine

I've now decided on two issues I want to take as my first learning projects. Both are fairly important issues on a global scale, and have definite relevance in Ireland. The first is the issue of agricultural subsidies, the second immigration. I'm not sure that's quite the concept I want to address in the second issue, but it's the label used for it at the national level.

Agricultural subsidies have been brought up by the African Union in the material they intend to put to the G8 summit in Gleneagles. They say that subsidies in the US are damaging their export capabilities, and that they want them to be dropped. The US President has said that he'll drop the subsidies if the EU will do the same. This is not expected to happen. New Zealand is repeatedly mentioned in this context, as they dropped all agricultural subsidies a number of years ago, and farming is apparently thriving there now. Anecdotally, almost all farmers in Ireland recieve some level of subsidy.

The questions I initially want to ask to get a complete picture of this issue are: How are agricultural subsidies in the US and the EU awarded? How were they awarded in New Zealand? What are they meant to achieve? Do they currently achieve the aims they set out for? What effects do these subsidies have on the African Union's exports? What effect would dropping the subsidies in the US and the EU have, first in those places, and then worldwide? Is there an ecological effect of the subsidies?

The second issue, immigration, is one that's important in Ireland and the UK now. Ireland recently passed, by an overwhelming majority, an amendment to the Constitution that essentially moved the right to citizenship from those born on Irish soil (including the North) to those whose parents were Irish citizens. This was purportedly to prevent the situation whereby immigrants arrive from other places in the world, quickly have children (possibly arriving while pregnant) and then claim a right to stay as their child is an Irish citizen. In the UK, there are political parties such as the UK Independence Party and the British National Party whose platform is very much concerned with "the immigrant problem".

The questions I intend to look for answers to are: Why do people immigrate? What effect do they have on the places they immigrate to? What effect do they have on the places they emigrate from? What are the arguments used by natives of the destination countries against immigration? What restrictions are currently in place with regard to immigration? What are the aims of these restrictions? Do they achieve the aims they set out with?

I have no doubt that other questions will arise as I look into these ones. The first two that come to mind are: How does it come about that one government figure (the US president) can say that he will drop subsidies across a nation the size of the United States? Assuming that he did say it, and not "subsidies will be dropped", or "every attempt will be made to drop subsidies", or the like. Second, with the immigration laws that currently exist, what is the position of illegal immigrants in Ireland, the UK, the US (where illegal Mexican immigrants seem to be a large group, and Cubans significant) and France (where the group called the sans-papiers are notable)? I'll try to decide as I proceed if these questions are revelant or not.


At Thursday, July 07, 2005 1:57:00 p.m., Anonymous Katherine F. said...

Agricultural subsidies I don't know all that much about, but that said, I do know that one of the ways in which Northern agricultural subsidies affect Southern economies is through "dumping" -- i.e. the sale of subsidised agricultural products at less than cost price. This severely harms native producers who can't even begin to compete. Oxfam have run an ad campaign on the subject recently; you might have seen it. Various celebs having stuff dumped on them. (I have a poster of the Michael Stipe one...)

Immigration (in an international context, best called "migration") is one of my bugbears. Immigration controls cause immense quantities of human suffering, economic and the only substantial reason why they remain in place is that people are afraid of foreigners. On this subject I recommend On Immigration and Refugees by Michael Dummett, who's been working with refugees for 35 years and is also a famous logician (so he knows a crap argument when he sees one) and... argh! There was a really good book I got from the Rathmines library on the subject, and I can see the cover very clearly in my mind, but I'm totally blanking on the title. Sorry. Maybe I'll remember later.

My rough and utterly biased answers to a couple of your questions:

Why do people immigrate?
To get work; to get away from their families; for excitement; because they want to settle down with somebody foreign (see Nina, f'r'instance); to get away from tyranny (although strictly speaking, this is seeking asylum rather than immigration per se).

What effect do they have on the places they immigrate to?
Too variable for a single answer. Many positive effects, some negatives. It all depends on the people migrating and the attitudes of the natives.

What effect do they have on the places they emigrate from?
People migrating from poor countries to rich countries generally send back remittances that have an enormously positive effect on the economy (sometimes exceeding imports). There can be "brain-drain" effects, though, which is very bad as it leaves poor countries deprived of necessary intellectual workers such as doctors and scientists.

Could say much more but don't have time. Maybe later.

At Sunday, July 10, 2005 4:56:00 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Drew

Initially, agricultural subsidies in the EU were awarded according to how much food farmers produced, effectively raising the prices farmers received and increasing production. This made a lot of sense to the generation of politicians that introduced them, who had seen the starvation in Europe in the early post-war years first hand. Since the tail end of the nineties, if I remember the details correctly, they've been awarded according to each farm's mean production over three benchmark years. So it's still in farmers' interests to produce more, but less so, because the marginal return from each new unit produced is not as high.

There is effectively no starvation in the EU, and no serious prospect of it anytime soon, so that aim has been achieved. A secondary political aim, which remains unfortunately important, was to spend the German industrialist's tax money to buy rural France's support for the European project--France was (and remains, though not to the same extent) much more agriculture-oriented than Germany, and the Common Agricultural Policy benefits France much more than Germany.

Were the French to back down, most of the rest of the 15-state old EU would be happy to see the CAP go the way of the Holy Roman Empire. This would have a wrenching impact on rural Ireland, rural France and chunks of Italy and Spain, but it is going to happen at some point, and from Ireland's perspective, it might be as well to do it now while there are other avenues of employment for the people it would affect.

W.r.t. how EU agricultural subsidies affect the African Union's exports, that depends on the crops in question. I don't think Africa will be necessarily more cost-effective at producing milk, beef, and cereals, for example, but I can readily believe they could be at tobacco, olive oil and other less water-intensive crops.

If the EU agricultural subsidies were ended, I believe it would have a net negative ecological impact--I read of huge hog farms and lakes of slurry today in the US, something we don't see in the EU while that sort of scale doesn't give the proportionate advantage it does in those markets in the US.

In the US, agricultural subsidies are effectively in place to buy votes from sparsely-populated states that have an amount of political representation that's very disproportionate to their population. They achieve this aim quite effectively. describes how cotton subsidies affect Brazil and Africa. The Economist, in general, tends to have loads of juicy data on this sort of international question;"agricultural+subsidies" will give you plenty to read up on.

New Zealand's farm subsidies were much like those of the rest of the western world. There were wrenching changes there--a huge proportion of the farming population left the field--and today, as you say, the farming sectore is healthy. However, as a whole, New Zealand isn't necessarily that content with the wider liberalisation measures today, two decades after they were introduced. for some wider background; beware that the Economist is almost the stereotype of the classical liberal in its perspective, so its subjective judgements should be considered with that in mind.

People emigrate, in decreasing order of importance, because they perceive they can more easily get a better standard of living in the destination country, because of political or religious oppression, because of civil war, because they visited the destination country and preferred to stay there for reasons of lifestyle, national character, or because they fell for someone. They tend, often, to have a positive effect on the places they emigrated to--it's not the Cherokee or the Sioux that made the US a world power, rather Germans, Dutch, Ashkenazim, the occasional English or Irish family, and many others--but that's unfortunately not always the case (consider Irish travellers in Britain, the Europeans from the perspective of the Cherokee or the Sioux, the Ashkenazim and Sephardim from the perspective of the Palestinians).

As to the places they emigrated from, there the question is harder. I have a suspicion that the type of immigration control practised by the US, Canada and much of the rest of the West recently--that is, limiting it to those who are highly educated, excluding the unskilled--is more likely to have a net negative effect on the origin countries than that practised in the US at the beginning of the 20th century (effectively, an open-border policy.) Certainly, the British NHS has more trouble keeping a higher standard of service in place for the same amount of expenditure than do France and Germany, and part of this is probably because its doctors can freely go to the US, without having to learn a new language, and earn much more money for much less work. But I can't prove this, and I suspect it's often the case, in these days of easy international travel, that people earn lots of money in rich countries, and go back to where they come from, bringing their expertise with them.

I've never really seen an argument against emigration from the destination perspective that held water, so I can't really do more for you there besides point you towards (Unless it was from a Palestinian perspective--all the British media I've had exposure to seems to be energetically observing taboos against condemnation of our Traveller fellow-countrymen.)

Basically, the restrictions in place are much like the old system for banks deciding who to lend to; the less you need to emigrate, the happier destination countries will be to have you. Doctors, academics, businessmen, dentists--if it's unlikely that you will ever be poor in your country of origin, destination countries think it unlikely that you'll be a burden on the social welfare system of the destination country. These restrictions pretty much do achieve the aims they set out to; anecdotally, however, qualified immigrants find it harder, initially, in Canada than in the US, with problems like the Canadian medical system being reluctant to accept doctors qualified in Croatia, minimal respect given to non-Canadian work experience. But it gets easier after the first hurdle.

I've no real personal, direct, experience with illegal immigrants, nor have I read that much about them, so I can't really help you there. Except to observe that fruit would cost a hell of a lot more in California if the US-Mexico border was more seriously policed.

Aidan Kehoe,


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