The New York Times op-ed headline screamed: Open Up, Europe! Let Migrants In.
Last week, Philippe Legrain, a 41-year-old open-borders economist and former European Commission functionary, called upon Europe to have the “courage” to “allow people to come and go freely.” Legrain does not explain what “come and go freely” means. “Better still, diverse and dynamic newcomers can help spark the new ideas and businesses that would lift Europeans’ living standards,” he declares.
We should at this point shoo delusional Philippe out of the room, but the Times instead gives him a bullhorn and lectern.
What are Europe’s interests — and destiny? The Africans, are they migrants or invaders? What does “refugee” and “asylum seeker” mean? Are they being rescued or is something else going on? “An enclave of stability and wealth in an ocean of violence, Europe has not begun to grapple with the choices ahead,” says the Economist magazine.
Plausible estimates of African migrants to Europe in 2014 range up to 250,000. This year the armadas continue, with horrible, well-reported consequences. As their number rises, from about 60,000 in 2013, and armadas wait offshore to be “rescued” each week, an increasing number of Europeans fear an out-of-control exodus going forward.
Having no clear idea how much force to apply, if any, to slow the flood, European governments and navies hesitate. Yet the European Union’s plans to introduce a quota system to force EU members to share refugee settlement fell apart this month, when they met deep hostility from several nations.
Europe is in a bind. Its civilized, humane, and moral impulses induce charity for the suffering and poor. But if it cannot or does not demand that newcomers — black and Muslim and everyone else — adapt and conform to its laws and culture, then it compromises its own civilization and values.
What’s happening in the southern Mediterranean may be momentous as any intercontinental migration into Iberia and northern Africa during the final centuries of Rome. But what took decades or centuries then now takes weeks, months, or years.
Many migrants are not refugees. Africans from all over the continent, Islamic and not, want to re-settle to the north. They are doing so at a quickening rate than terrifies Europeans but goes unremarked upon, or that is discussed sotto voce, for fear of seeming ethnocentric, racist, unwelcoming, or inhumane.
For decades Africans have done what refined Europeans sheepishly admit is labor “we refuse to do.” France has a long history of exchange with Northern and West Africa, which Paris even today considers within its sphere of influence and mission civilisatrice. The 19th century scramble for the continent and colonial withdrawal after 1945 is fresh in many European minds.
Economic migrants are acutely aware of Europe’s wealth and generosity. Rough, semi-literate young men from fetid, sprawling shantytowns want a better life, as Pope Francis says benevolently from the vast security and wealth of the Tiber.
They want the First World goodies of course: food and water, housing and plumbing, electric lighting and medicine, which are more plentiful and easier to obtain than in dying native lands. What else they want remains a mystery. They show no disposition to become Europeans, adopting new languages, professions, religions, mores, and communities.
Once most African migrants are landed and processed, they have free movement within the entire EU, the 28-state trade zone that stretches from Romania to Sweden. They can traverse the EU and its welfare systems in their own interests. Many denied asylum remain.
The Times editors and economist Legrain count on readers, perhaps shamed by First World privilege, to think Europe’s self-interest is a moral disgrace. They remain absolutely certain the frothy latte and buttery croissants will be there for everybody tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
They should think again. In the 1960s and 1970s, at the dawn of the Green movement, economists paid great attention to Thomas Malthus’s 1798 treatise on population. “Malthus deduced that a war between the powers of human reproduction and the production of food would be perpetual,” William J. Barber said in A History of Economic Thought.
Malthus’s catastrophic possibilities have not come to pass. Paul Ehrlich’s population bomb never went off. In 1968, when Ehrlich’s best-selling book of that title was published, the global population was 4 billion. It is currently 7 billion. It is projected to be some 9 to 11 billion in 2050, which is well within the lifetime of living citizens in North America (currently 500 million) and the EU (currently 800 million).
Thanks to staggering advances in farm productivity and food surpluses in a few food-exporting nations, food aid, above all, in Africa, and the Green Revolution, including GMO, the famines of the past have vanished. Industrial, mechanized agriculture feeds the planet.
The African continent will double in size, reaching 2 billion people by 2045 at current rates, according to a 2011 Economist forecast. These figures alone portend increased migration from already food-dependent sovereignties with high birth rates, decaying infrastructure, and little human capital.
Violence and political chaos go hand in hand with food, water, and energy scarcity. Africa has had more than its share of want — and is likely to have more in the future.
African water and food systems are highly unstable and already overtaxed. Emptying aquifers, uncertain wells, overbuilt dams, and fragile irrigation systems place increasing strain on arable land and productivity worldwide, but nowhere more so than Africa, where subsistence agriculture is the rule. Ominous droughts and the specter of climate change add to the dire picture.
Contraception, abortion, and sterilization in Africa are political third rails. Some on the left and right sternly shift the conversation in a heartbeat to the reproductive rights of women of color.
I have no crystal ball about the Africans in Europe. I may be entirely wrong. Their smooth acculturation into continental life may proceed, win-win. They may revitalize the European economy and spark a 21st century multicultural renaissance, as Legrain confects it. Their children may all become stars at Bologna, Freiburg, and the Sorbonne. But I doubt it.
My guess is that having devoted more than half a century to successful, Promethean efforts to expand the human species, or at least to keep it alive, we the world are likely before mid-century to experience some Malthusian reckoning involving finite water, diesel, food, and arable climates. Africa will be its epicenter.
There will be more losers than winners. Few deracinated, desperate Africans on the move, I fear, will put European borders, rules of law, human rights, or communities in front of their own appetites, comfort, and survival.
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