Can France Really Welcome All the World's Poor?

Jeff Deist  |


"We can’t welcome all the misery of the world but we must take our share." This is a maxim whose popularity speaks volumes about our apprehension over poverty and immigration.

This seemingly benevolent vocabulary, however, limits debate. It insists that generous people will welcome more demands on the taxpayer's pocketbooks. The immigrant must be welcomed, they are told. The natives have an obligation of care, which means more and more subsidies in a country where they are also being told to tighten their belts.

But forced solidarity with all of humanity breeds resentment, and supporters of this view forget that solidarity with others flourishes only in the context of elective affinities. That is why the Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek said that, while he was an internationalist in theory, socialism was driving him to become a nationalist in practice.

The "State medical assistance," mainly directed at illegal aliens, is indicative of this trend. Although the total cost does not exceed 1% of the budget of the State, it serves to increase frustration with migrants and the state’s profligacy.

Indeed, an abundant academic literature suggests the existence of a causality between the generosity of social systems and the mistrust of natives toward immigrants. It is therefore not surprising to see the emergence of a movement toward solidarity among natives. Government-imposed charity only works with benefactors who identify with its beneficiaries.

Blaming Europeans for Poverty in the Developing World

Altruistic moralizing is therefore the best way to arouse feelings of bitterness among locals. It leads to assimilate foreigners to a horde of parasites whose fate will be to live off the sweat of the “host” society. The exasperation is all the greater as the injunction made to the Europeans to sacrifice themselves is accompanied by a supposed guilt for the poverty of the third world. The setbacks of Africans continue to be blamed on the colonial past and the opulence of the West. The descendants of settlers are called to account for acts they did not commit. Conversely, the responsibility of the African political elite is ignored while their corruption is the main obstacle to the development of the continent.

You do not have to be an expert in development economics to see the absence of a correlation between the colonial past, poverty, and prosperity. In the 1960s, the per capita GDP of South Korea and that of most countries in sub-Saharan Africa were comparable. But in this case, only Korea has established stable institutions that are compatible with the development of a market economy. Similarly, some of the most prosperous places in the world include former colonies such as Hong Kong and Singapore, whose wealth sometimes surpasses that of the former European colonial powers. These successes, however, are ignored by Third Worlders. They contravene the victimization story to which the former colonies are assigned. They also deny the myth of the Western monopoly of opulence that feeds post-colonial resentment, itself tinged with anti-capitalism.

In spite of the assignment to misery and dependence, there is the promise of development through trade. This path is nevertheless ignored by the political class, for whom the salvation of foreign populations resides in assistance. On the external scene, despite its failures, development aid remains the only horizon of the fight against poverty in the South.

Even African leaders no longer adhere to these solutions, as evidenced by their proposed free trade area. 44 of the 55 member states of the African Union signed an agreement in Kigali on 21 March 2018, to reduce the barriers to trade on the continent.

Limiting the Ability to Work

Western states — including France and Italy — who make the mistake of “welcoming” refugees by denying them the right to work and trade could therefore be inspired by this philosophy. They would promote their social integration, ease the pressure on public finances and abolish the logic of paternalistic repentance that tarnishes the image of these populations whose thirst for entrepreneurship is yet unmatched. Refugees are indeed the first to apply the famous slogan “Trade, not help!” As long as they are allowed to work.

The work of Alexander Betts and Paul Collier, economists at Oxford University, for example, show that refugees prefer to flee UN-run shelters to work in the informal economy as soon as opportunity presents itself in the countries where they are hosted. When they are allowed to work, as in Uganda, they open businesses and employ indigenous people. It is therefore only up to Europeans to reveal the richness concealed by the apparent misfortune of these industrious populations.

This article originally appeared in French at Le Figaro.

"Ferghane Azihari is a freelance journalist and policy analyst based in Paris. He regularly collaborates for libertarian think tanks in France and in the US. His main interests include European Policy, Trade, Competition and International Relations. He belongs to the networks Students for Liberty and Young Voices

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