Tuesday, 28 February 2012


'Formationsflug' by loop_oh
under a CC license
I've been tempted many times to write on the current financial mess the world is in. I am by no means an expert on financial issues, let alone world financial issues, but I sort of feel part of the equation. To be frank, living in Greece today and having spent the last decade or so in the country, I believe that most people in the world think that finances are merely stand alone - but of extreme importance - math formulas, with a vague, not necessarily clear connection to the real world.
Well, yes, there is math involved but - here is the catch - not only. And, yes, they have a huge impact on how the real world works.

I won't go on with this topic, though. Too many people, professionals of all sorts, as well as individuals have reported, analysed, commented, reviewed and - at any rate - written too many words on the issue from many different vantage points. The chances are that they will continue doing that and, also, that I will continue following them up. However, I need to express a question: Do we (mankind) know how wealth and society interact with each other?


I don't mean whether we have socio-economic theories and models available and in practice. That, we do. (and, currently, it is clear that they need a bit of tweaking to keep us on a sustainable path).  I'm wondering whether we know how the various societal elements interact with the wealth-generating mechanisms. I do understand that this is no easy thing; in my mind it sounds a bit like asking for the single, all-inclusive math model that is capable of correlating the reduction in the production of feta-cheese in Greece to the change of the rate of oil exploration in the Arctic circle and quantify the effect of that correlation to the (im)migration of early-career civil engineers from south Chile to Norway. [btw., this is a purely fictitious example!]

I am sure that, as you read these lines, there are scholars around the world that are trying to connect the dots, refining formulas, adapting theories, etc. By the way, immigration is a topic that has been receiving a lot of attention the last few decades. Mathematical models do exist and work on those still continues.

For societal stakeholders the challenge goes above and beyond merely producing a formula that manages to model the phenomena we witness. In fact, with or without such formula the critical question is how to manage change in the most "productive", "civilized" and "sustainable" way. I used quotation marks because, really, those three words have been assigned a wide range of meanings so far. What I'm trying to say is that we need to find out how to use the advantages of any change, regardless of how minor those may be, in order to mitigate, completely negate or even exceed the associated disadvantages.

Immigration is a nice example. Whenever we hear the word, we tend of thinking of working hands with no or little qualifications. Often, the word is associated with discussions on unemployment, violence and crime, burden to the social system, etc. Sometimes, brain-drain gets attention, as well. But, as you imagine, there is an other side, too: increase of the available workforce, widening of the tax-basis, cultural (and other) diversity, strengthening of the intra-societal dialogue potential, expansion of the internal market, enrichment of the skills pool, transfer of innovation, etc. The rule of thumb is that you can't have all the pros without any cons but there have been plenty of examples of countries that managed quite well by receiving and integrating immigrants (the US, Germany and Australia being just a few strong examples), both with low and high skills and qualifications.

Going a bit beyond that, mobility is strongly explored as a way to boost innovation. The Marie Curie Actions (implemented by the European Commission) have led to numerous success stories. Of course, researcher mobility and immigration of the general population are neither synonyms nor equivalents but they do share some common elements.

Some express views where immigration contributes to local communities in the same way that genetic diversity contributes to the survival and expansion of a species (similar thinking has been expressed for cultural diversity). I wouldn't go that far, though. To what I perceive, migration, be it within borders or cross-border, has led to variety in life and has come hand-in-hand with internationalisation (again, a word with more than one faces). If I stick to simple things, the languages with speak, the way we think, the foods we taste, the way we work, the fashion we follow, have been shaped through numerous "exchanges" with groups of people from "somewhere else". That doesn't mean that immigration shouldn't be carefully thought of by the states. But, nevertheless, it can also lead to better thinking, which sometimes is really, really needed...


Anonymous said...

maybe the problem is that although there are no borders for the markets there are for humans,as our economies advance and we start to value each individual for their unique contribution and importance the borders will eclipse.

Anonymous said...

Mobility (and -of course- immigration) is not a uni-dimensional problem. There are financial, social, cultural and political factors to be considered. History has examples of both positive and negative effects of immigration. What we would certainly need, is a much better understanding of the situation.