The political economy of Europe’s refugee crisis

7 Sep

There has been quite a bit of commentary lately on post-capitalism, or the massive contradictions and unsustainability of predatory casino capitalism. Certainly the evidence of the dysfunctions of capitalism are there for all to see: massive and growing inequality, environmental degradation, the entrenchment of undemocratic regimes, the undercutting of social contracts so that the very purpose of life is reconceptualised into being a consumer, producer, worker, customer and general servant of the market.

Yet we should never underestimate the shape-shifting ability of capitalism. Like the state, another entity whose demise has been erroneously predicted many times, capitalism has been able to adapt to survive. Surely the private sector carried out the ultimate confidence trick in 2008 by having its indebted banks bailed out by public monies? Now, with Europe’s refugee crisis gathering pace, it is possible to see how capitalism will benefit in two quite significant ways.

The first is that the arrival of hundreds of thousands of able and work-hungry migrants will provide more low-cost and quiescent workers for the many sub-optimal and semi-formal jobs that corporations love. These jobs – seasonal delivery drivers, fruit and vegetable pickers, meat packagers – are unglamorous but crucial to how many corporations operate: outsourcing, zero hours contracts, provide your own uniform and insurance, just do the work and shut up. Many of the refugees and migrants who are joining European economies are well educated and trained, yet many are likely to want to keep their heads down until they get settled. They are unlikely to become unionised and to present a list of demands. Many of them – especially those who are undocumented – will operate on the margins of the economy and will simply be engaged in economic survival. They will be an attractive and quiescent pool of cheap labour for corporations. The existence of such a pool will be a very useful weapon in the armoury of corporations should their workforce demand protections to their pay and rights.

The second benefit that the refugee crisis will bring to market-oriented European governments is that it will aid the narrative that public finances are under pressure and that we must expect less from government. Already the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer has been sent out to tour the nation’s media outlets to say that aid budgets need to be rethought, and that monies need to be re-directed to local governments in the UK to help with the refugee issue. Given that this is an era of heavy public spending cuts, it is reasonable to expect that government narratives to justify spending cuts will be tweaked to take account of the costs of the refugee crisis.

The opportunism of markets and market-led governments means that the refugee crisis will actually aid their long-term goals: the further weakening of any notion of workplace benefits beyond pay and the maintenance of a narrative that belts must be further tightened.


One Response to “The political economy of Europe’s refugee crisis”

  1. uolscid 08/09/2015 at 9:52 am #

    Reblogged this on Security, Conflict and International Development (SCID) and commented:
    A postscript to ‘Where is the Diplomacy?’ – perhaps the answer lies, as might be expected, in that less-than-effective responses to insecurity, conflict and other crises are, in fact, effective in meeting other goals (such as creating conditions in which the general public may be more amenable to further cut-backs in public spending and, possibly, strengthened social control mechanisms).

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