In the face of an increase in shootings and terrorist attacks, Erdogan’s “cleansing” operations, the Brexit, an on-going refugee crisis and numerous other worrying developments, a post about moral progress might seem entirely out of place. Who would believe that there could be anything like that? Isn’t it obvious that human beings are unable to learn from history, that every hope that the world could become more just and peaceful in the long run is in vain? Don’t the recent developments show clearly that multiculturalism cannot work, that real integration is an illusion, that religious dogmas are stronger than arguments and that humans are unable to change their behaviour so as to stop global warming? Despite all reasons for being sceptical, some philosophers still firmly believe in the possibility for us humans to progress morally. In this post, I argue that we ought not to give up our hopes for a more humane, just and peaceful world, and explore ways in which moral progress could be achieved.
In the current discussions about our duties (of justice) towards refugees, feasibility constraints are often invoked to justify the limits of what can be done: Austria has to close its borders and limit the number of daily asylum applications due to feasibility constraints, the feasibility limit of refugees admitted to the European Union as part of the current resettlement scheme with Turkey is set at 172.000 or mayors of various cities claim that it is not possible for them to shelter refugees.
Following these debates, I often gain the impression that infeasibility claims are invoked far too easily. Hardly ever they are based on feasibility studies and often they seem more of an excuse to shy away from our duties (of justice). At the same time, powerful arguments for the need to account for feasibility constraints when identifying our duties of justice in the non-ideal real world have been put forward in the literature on non-ideal theories of justice: what justice demands from us should not go beyond what we can possibly do. How is it possible to account for feasibility considerations in this later sense, without allowing them to become a cheap excuse in political debate to shy away from our duties of justice towards refugees?
The UK government has recently announced that it is raising the income threshold for non-EU citizens who wish to immigrate to the UK from £20,800 to £35,000. This threshold will apply not just to new immigrants, but also to those who have lived in the UK already for more than five years. It is the contention of this post that this new £35,000 threshold is not just unwise or poorly thought out, but also unjust.
Jesper Pedersen considers this issue with admirable even-handedness, but what if, rather than doing anything akin to sitting on this particular fence, we wanted to vault right over it, and claim – as I do here – that the policy is unjust? What support for making this statement could we muster?
From the 1st April onwards any non-EU immigrant to the UK who does not otherwise have a connection with the country* must earn at least £35,000 by the end of their fifth year here, or otherwise face deportation. This policy is expected to make a small but largely insignificant contribution to lowering net migration numbers.
The commentariat’s verdict has been unequivocally harsh. This discriminatory law, it has been pointed out, will do next to nothing to keep out the kinds of people that draw the ire of the tabloids: unemployed “scroungers” and low-skilled immigrants who, it is claimed, depress the wages of – and take jobs away from – low-skilled British workers.
In a recent article in Politico Magazine, professor in political sciences Valerie Hudson (Texas A&M University) addresses an often neglected consequence of the current migration crisis. As most of the one million migrants from the Middle East and North Africa that arrived in Europe in 2015 are young men, recent mass migration potentially disrupts the gender balance in European countries with liberal migration policies. Although The Economist notices that for big countries, like Germany, the effect of recent immigration on the already existing gender imbalance is negligible, changes in sex ratio might indeed be considerable in countries with less than 10 million citizens, like Sweden, Hungary, Austria and Norway.
More than a million migrants and refugees have crossed European borders in the last year, posing yet another challenge to European unity. There is one thing that really strikes me in the public debate about how to deal with this huge influx: people tend to take it for granted that the legal distinction between “refugees” and “economic migrants” and the differential treatment that goes with it are morally justified. There is a broad consensus that, of course, we have to grant asylum to people fleeing from the horrors of the Syrian civil war, but that we are justified in refusing asylum to people escaping from poverty. But is there a morally relevant difference between taking refuge from poverty and escaping from war? I do not think that there is, and hence believe that the differential treatment of the two groups is unjust.
The legal point of reference for the distinction is the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which, as amended by the 1967 Protocol, defines a refugee as
“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it”.
third-party nationals, are the solution and not the problem. Here are three reasons why Europe needs to further open the borders, rather than further restrict movement.