Friday, October 7, 2011

Picking Up Good Migrations: 30 Days of Blogging, Day 2

I enjoy multiculturalism. Having people of different nationalities and cultures surrounding me makes me more comfortable, interested, and quite frankly, happier. I love the fact that immigration to the United States allows me to enjoy a nice plate of chicken vindaloo right here in Chicagoland, prepared by an Indian. In fact, I'm such a fan of chicken vindaloo (particularly its name, as one Divyan Panchal can attest), that I could happily eat it just about every day, regardless of where I am in the world and what sort of people are around me. And I discovered this heavenly dish all thanks to multiculturalism brought on by the migration of people from other parts of the world (in this case, India) into the US.

I'm currently reading a pretty interesting book entitled Reflections On the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West. The author presents some very interesting information, and makes a number of good insights, but overall he's definitely far, far too conservative for my liking, in that he seems to be of the all-too-common and all-too-idiotic school of thought that Islam is a violent and sinister religion, and one which intends on colonizing or outright overthrowing Europe as we know it by sending millions of immigrants into its cities.

As incorrect as I believe that view to be, there are some very interesting nuggets of wisdom within the pages of this book. Most shocking to me was the following:

"In Belgium, the relatively well-established Moroccan-Belgian community has a birthrate two and a half times higher than the native Belgian one. In Brussels, where a quarter of the residents are foreign citizens, the seven most common given boy's names were Mohamed, Adam, Rayan, Ayoub, Mehdi, Amine, and Hamza"

What? The most common boy's name given in Brussels, BELGIUM, is... Mohamed?!? So what exactly can we take from this? First off, as the author alluded to, this information is a little bit misleading. The fact that immigrants in Brussels are having far, far more children than native Belgians obviously allows them to name more children, and thus we have a somewhat misleading view on the population breakdown at this point and time. That is, immigrants (i.e. Muslims) are having more children on average than native Belgians, and therefore have a disproportionately large influence on statistics compiled regarding baby names, at least compared to their total population.

However, this does not change the fact that, in the coming decades, the many many more children of immigrants being born now will eventually be adults. Consequently, Brussels (and, indeed, Europe in general) will see an increase in the number of foreigners in two ways--increased migration, and higher population growth/birth rates by those already in Europe.

This leads us to beg the question--is this influx of foreigners into Europe (it should also be noted that similar things are happening with Hispanics in the United States, Chinese and other groups in Australia, etc.) a good thing, or a bad thing? Or to take the question even one step further in terms of generalization, is cultural diversity a good thing or a bad thing?

For anyone that knows me at all, my answer to this should be obvious--of course it is a good thing. For someone such as myself who is simply fascinated by every type of person from every culture, this is a pretty great phenomenon. I've noticed recently that the population of Asians (both Chinese and Indians) in my neighborhood has been increasing pretty rapidly. It's the coolest freaking thing ever. I love being able to get decent Indian, Korean, Chinese, or Ethiopian food within a half hour of my house. I love the fact that I can turn on the TV on a weekend afternoon and have the Rugby World Cup on one channel, Tottenham v. Arsenal on another, and baseball on another (an event which actually took place last weekend). And for the love of God, I love seeing semi-trucks traveling US highways with Chinese writing on their sides. But ignoring my preexisting sympathy towards multiculturalism, let's look at this from an objective standpoint. Certainly in a Western context, immigration and the inevitable side effect of multiculturalism has its drawbacks, such as the liability of having a large part of your population speak a foreign language, having children of immigrants act as something of a drain on state funds in some cases, and in Europe's case, having immigrants largely be of another, completely different religion.

However, immigration (particularly in Europe) also addresses a significant issue--the declining birthrates of Europeans. Europe is already aging at a very fast pace, and without immigration, this would lead to an immense strain on the labor markets of various countries. Without sufficient people to do jobs, there would be an enormous host of problems, particularly in the "Welfare States of Europe", not the least of which being the fact that millions of Europeans have worked their entire lives while contributing to pension plans (Social Security in the US would be quite similar). When the population as a whole ages, there is a lot more money being taken out of the pension system (by increasing retirees) than is being put in (which is being exacerbated by less births, i.e. less young laborers entering the job market and paying taxes into the system). Therefore, the entire system would pretty much break down.

Obviously, I've greatly oversimplified the issue of migrations in terms of pros/cons and their effect on Europe, but in the interest of time (and the fact that I don't really know what I'm talking about), that's about all the political/argumentative shpeal I feel like writing. Now let's talk about what this means to you, me, and Thomas Friedman's Aunt Bev (anyone who got that reference, I owe you a beer! Email me the genesis of that reference, and I will absolutely buy you one the next time I see you).

Immigration, and the resulting multiculturalism, is absolutely not a passing trend. As I mentioned in my last post, information travels really, really fast today. The world is therefore obviously much "smaller", and people are finding it easier and more convenient to relocate now than ever before. Take myself as an example--I'm moving to Shenzhen, China, in less than a month. I was looking at online job boards the other day, and there were literally dozens of jobs located in/near Shenzhen that I was qualified for. Had I wanted to do this 100 years ago (screw it, even 25 years ago!), I would have been going into Shenzhen blind, without being able to arrange anything beforehand (on that note, had I wanted to move to Shenzhen 100 years ago, or even 25 years ago, it wouldn't have really been there, as its population in 1980 was like 300,000. Today it's 12 million. Go figure). I have no evidence to support this idea, but I assume that the ease of information acquisition observed today will increase (substantially) the amount of migration we witness. Furthermore, I believe that economies will rise and fall far more quickly, and there will be much more economic volatility, as a result of this increased availability of information. This idea is somewhat supported by the fact that in recent years, I've observed far more violent swings in the Dow than I did in say, the late 1990's-mid 2000's (or at least that's what I've perceived. I could be completely wrong, but I really didn't feel like doing an analysis of like the standard deviation of returns on the Dow dating from the 1990's until yesterday). One could argue that this is due to the recession we're currently in, but I think it's also somewhat an indication of the nature of the new economy--inefficiencies will be discovered and exploited at a far, far faster rate today than they would have been in years' past, and consequently volatility should increase due to intensified competition. Or something like that. Anyway, this will likely lead to larger migrations as economic opportunities appear and disappear at a faster rate than they have before.

Furthermore, migrations are certainly going to continue, if not accelerate, due to climate change. More on this in a later post (possibly tomorrow), but think about the number of people living within a handful of miles of the coast. Many of them may very well be displaced in the coming decades. Arguably many of these people will be in-country migrants (i.e. not contributing to multiculturalism), but I'd imagine a fair percentage may just relocate abroad.

ANYWAY--so clearly, immigration/migration and the consequential multiculturalism are not going away. Rather, they're increasing. So how does this affect you? Well, if you're like me, you'll probably think this is like the coolest thing ever. More interesting and unique people surrounding you? Wider choices in food and entertainment? An increasingly global perspective on things? Sign me up! For the everyday person, if you have an open mind and a good sense of humor (valuable when trying to communicate with someone that speaks not a word of English), I'd imagine you enjoy multiculturalism nearly as much as I do! In the coming decades, I assume that a greater degree of cultural awareness will be necessary as our societies become more diverse, but for people growing up in the information age, where we have so many ideas presented to us at such young ages, I assume this will be pretty easy to manage. Granted, there will be people (and lots of them) that try to resist the cultural changes that will be occurring around them. These people are at a huge disadvantage. Their close-mindedness and resistance to change will ultimately make life more difficult and uncomfortable for them.

As for me, I'll be pretty darned pleased the day that I can sit with some close friends and watch cricket on one channel, soccer on another, baseball on a third, and perhaps something like Bollywood or Hong Kong cinema on another, all the while sitting in a beach bar in Southern Thailand relishing in our ability to pick up and move there as foreigners.

And of course, I'll be the one bringing the chicken vindaloo from the Indian restaurant down the street in Thailand, run by proper Indian immigrants brought there in part by the economic opportunities of today.

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