Dictating Freedom III: What's So Special About These Shapes? Research Time, 29/08/2016

Continued from last post . . . In the context of today’s global economy, the concept of sovereignty and a state's borders are a kind of weird anachronism. 

Borders have immense power. Just ask anyone who's had their refugee application rejected, who are stuck in an Australian detention camp in Nauru, or fear post-Brexit deportation away from life, livelihood, and friends. 

But the macroscopic flows that constitute the seriously crushing power of Earth's economy today pay no attention to borders. One country can’t stop a currency crisis across its whole region just because the mess started in another country’s stock exchange. 

Australian protestors against their government's detention
centres for illegal immigrants.
Yet a government still has the power to control who can live and work legally within its sovereign territory. This is the great contradiction of globalization. The economic relationships and flows throughout the Earth make borders porous at best and useless at worst, and render the concept of sovereignty obsolete. 

I should hesitate before I call this a contradiction. There’s a tendency in marxist thought, for example, to call any such tension between phenomena a contradiction. That tradition has been pretty influential in how we understand economic transformation, at least from a left-wing perspective.

But this talk of contradiction is a mistake. The most important reason why is that the term implies too much logic in the world. There’s no literal contradiction in state border controls co-existing with globalized macroeconomic flows. It’s not a matter of X and not-X. 

It’s better to talk of tensions, destructive conflicts, cross-purposes, and opportunities for one to exploit the other. It's not as if the continued existence of sovereign powers over borders in a state’s arsenal have stopped illegal immigration. 

You can lock them up in camps when you catch them – and it’s easier to catch them when you’re an island state like Australia – but ultimately, you can’t catch them all. The state government can, in the name of protecting its sovereignty, hold unsanctioned migrants back from being able to make legitimate claims for protections and rights. But that doesn’t actually help anyone.

Migrants move because of the same macroeconomic phenomena that structures international trade and communication. Migration is one of those phenomena that constitutes the global patterns of our planet’s economy. 

Instead of somehow forcing them to return to where they came, the denial of rights common to all legal migrants and citizens-by-birth just makes those illicit migrants easier to exploit. Just consider how many Latin American immigrants to the United States are stuck working under the table for shit wages and no protections. Or consider how the non-citizen labour of many Gulf Arab countries constitutes a literal slave class.

Don't think that just because I’m a proud Canadian, I won’t call out our own government’s abuse of migrants. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program is a festering blight on Canadian democracy. 

This program brings foreign workers to Canadian businesses for periods of several years, where they work without access to basic rights. Their employers are literally their patrons, and they live in Canada at their leisure. Its existence prevents countless poor and working class people from being able to immigrate to Canada. 

As my grandparents did. Italian immigrants in the years after the Second World War, who became patriotic Canadians, living the rest of their lives in Montreal. If the TFWP existed in Canada in the 1950s, they would never have been allowed to stay here, and I would never have been born.

Trudeau's popular image is as a "hero of the left," but he
has changed virtually nothing substantial from the
ideologically-driven Harper era of Canadian governance.
Stephen Harper’s government gets credit for the TFWP, but its current form was a product of Jean Chrétien's Liberal government. When he was running for Prime Minister last year, my own party leader refused to answer my public question about the TFWP because the program wasn’t supposed to be part of the official NDP platform. And that added to my reasons to drop support from Tom Mulcair to lead the party.

Justin Trudeau, despite his “sunny ways” public image, has refused to take action to dismantle this sucker-punch to Canadian democracy. People still come to Canada on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, and are still deported forever from Canada according to its rules. It’s hypocritical and discriminatory against the poor, and it must end.

All this because state governments still have the power to define who within their borders gets access to legal protections and the recognition of their claims to rights. Yet not only do the major currents of a globalized economy make state borders ridiculous, even their own history does.

State borders are ultimately contingent – there is nothing necessary about why any given state has the physical shape on the maps that it does. State borders are the end result of centuries of negotiation with neighbouring governments, the fiat of conquering colonial armies, and more generally, war.

Yet we still treat our governments’ powers over our borders as sacrosanct. Understanding how silly borders are is the first step to democratizing them . . . To Be Continued

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