Love and work beyond national barriers
Regular columnist James Knight argues that discriminating against people because of where they are born is absurd, both from a Godly perspective and in terms of what is good for the economy.
If you travel in space far enough away from the earth, it appears as a tiny dot in the far distance. Living here on this planet you know that that tiny dot has over 7 billion people on it, each loved equally and stupendously by God. But you also know that from such a distance, geographical distinctions and national borders fade out into an imperceptible resolution.
That, I think, is a good metaphor for how God loves us - He sees right through the cultural distinctions and the different nationalities and languages, and encourages us to treat each other with love, grace, kindness and compassion irrespective of our gender, ethnicity, skin-colour or place of birth. I think we should bear that in mind as we read on.
A lot of people in the UK think that white people should be given UK jobs ahead of black people. They complain when black people get jobs ahead of white people - and they get taken in by the false propaganda that exclaims black people coming into the country to work is bad for the economy (it isn't). All that I just said is true, apart from two small details: I said 'white' instead of 'British' and 'black' instead of 'non-British'.
I said it because, even today, many people who believe it is wrong to discriminate on the basis of race (a man-made concept*) are surprisingly quite happy to discriminate on the basis of geography (another man-made concept). When we look back at some of the shameful acts and beliefs in history (such as stoning, witch-hunts, slavery), we are usually appalled that our ancestors behaved so reprehensibly, and with such ignorance. Similarly, most of us are appalled at the relative recency of our homophobia and racism.
The underlying point is, I don't see why we should be less appalled at discriminating against someone based on their geography than discriminating against someone based on their race – both strike me as equally absurd, unkind and unjustified. Furthermore, I feel fairly certain that future generations will have culturally evolved to find discrimination based on geography as reprehensible and ignorant as we of today find discrimination based on race.
Despite the above, it is incredible how frequently people complain about 'migrants stealing our jobs', and how often they insist that 'British money should be spent in Britain'. I don't see why a young, unskilled man from Newcastle or Liverpool or London with not much willingness to work should take precedence in the employment market over a young man from Poland or Nigeria who has the right skills, and is willing to work. And I don't see why a family in Cambodia with not enough food and drinking water should be any less of a concern for us than a family in Newcastle or Liverpool or London living in impoverished conditions - in fact, it seems obvious to me that those in Cambodia and other countries much poorer than ours should be more of a concern, because they are the people in the world that need the most help.
You may be the sort of person who thinks that £7 million of British taxpayers' money spent on a dual carriageway in Norfolk should take precedence over £7 million spent on digging wells to provide drinking water for dying people in Cambodia. Your logic might be that British people are paying their taxes, so it should thus stand to reason that that money should be spent on British needs. I don't think that's a good way to think. I feel sure that when it comes to the crunch Jesus would think it's better to stop people dying than it is to improve journey times on roads, because a Christ-centred love cannot be prejudiced in favour of certain types of people - it must love all people equally.
But even if I grant you that British taxpayers’ money should be spent on British things, that still doesn’t advance the argument that it is ok to discriminate in favour of British people in the employment market, because the taxpayers are not paying wages, employers are (at least they are in the majority of the cases we are talking about), and employers are free to employ whoever they want.
A correlative point – and one which many do not get – is that if an employer has found 100 non-British workers who are willing to work for £3 per hour less than his 100 British workers, the nation is better off, as is the global economy, because before the non-British workers began to do the jobs, there were 100 potential workers each being overpaid by £3 per hour. In a 40 hour week that amounts to a net overpayment of £12,000.
Ok, I’d guess some people aren’t convinced that paying people £3 per hour less is a good thing. That’s because they’re not thinking with a proper economic model – they’re probably thinking in emotive terms like ‘minimum wage’ and ‘cheap labour’, and they probably have it drummed into them that high wages means a good economy. This is wrong on two counts: firstly, it is erroneous to think of a £3 per hour drop as being a net loss – it is no such thing. It’s a loss if you only think of the cost and ignore the benefit, which amounts to saying, don’t just focus on the employee who is losing £3 per hour, focus too on the employer who just gained £3 per hour. There is no net loss to the economy, because the employee’s loss is balanced out by the employer’s gain. And in fact, those higher wage demands that are insisted upon to ‘protect British workers’, actually end up putting the price of goods and services up even more for everyone else, which amounts to an overall net loss.
But there’s another reason; finding someone who will do the job for less is a good thing for the economy in a similar way to how improving technology is good for the economy (and in most cases it’s a good thing for the person doing the work too because having accepted the lower wage job, one presumes he did so because the terms offered were an improvement on his situation prior to accepting it). In fact, not only is finding someone who will do the job for less a good thing for the economy in a similar way to how improving technology is a good thing for the economy, they are more or less the same thing. Here’s why…
Suppose you have a car factory in Manchester and on the staff team you have three innovative engineers: Tom who designs a machine that assembles the engine valves 25% quicker than the current machine; Dick who synthesises two compounds that vastly improves the engine oil’s ability to clean the engine; and Harry whose newly constructed equipment can make seatbelt holders at £2.60 per item cheaper than the current equipment. I think you’ll agree that those three advances have improved the car factory in Manchester.
And having agreed, it stands to reason that if you want to be consistent you are compelled to agree that finding cheaper ways to employ people is also good for the economy, because it’s the same thing.
When we outsource the work attached to call centres, medical data analysis, computer software design, electrical engineering, and so forth, we are doing something very similar to Tom, Dick and Harry’s improvements in the car factory in Manchester. That’s the wisdom that it seems too many people miss: new business and trading links across the world are good for the world as a whole, just as new technological innovations are good for the world as a whole. Hopefully in our lifetime we will get to live in a world in which we see the end of discrimination against total strangers because they happen to live in another humanly constructed geographical border. Economics favours it, and so does human kindness and decency.
Until we are able to eradicate geographical discrimination and resist the temptation to turn away someone looking for work (or help) just because they happen to be from Bulgaria or Rumania, we won't have fully grasped what it means to love as Christ did - a love that is unbound by cultural and national barriers - a love that treats everyone in the world with the same measure of grace that Christ showed all of us on the cross.
* Generally speaking, there is more genetic diversity between a man in Nigeria and a man in Kenya than there is between a man in Nigeria and a man in Belgium, Holland or Spain. This alone shows the absurdity and man-made wickedness of racism.
James Knight is a long term contributor to the Network Norwich & Norfolk website and a local government officer based in Norwich.
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Map of the World 1998 by Central Intelligence Agency. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons