Thinking Outside the Border Box
The aid dollars pour out to assist those whose lives have been devastated by the tsunami. Millions of dollars will help provide food, clean water, medicine, and soon shelter and rebuilding infrastructure and businesses.
It is expensive to bring all this to those who have suffered from nature’s unexpected assault. I wonder if it might be less expensive to invite some of those now suffering without enough food or shelter to share our food and shelter in the developed world. Hundreds of thousands around the world would be willing to share with those unfortunate souls we see on television each evening.
The first offers of shelter would probably come from hundreds of thousands of Indonesians, Thais, Sri Lankans, and Indians who now live in Europe and the Americas. Perhaps the airfare is too expensive for such a mission. But more likely it is the mountains of bureaucratic regulations and inertia that block this particular freedom of association. Tens or hundreds of thousands among those suffering might wish to escape the horror around them and spend weeks or months recuperating in the west.
It is astonishing to have world leaders announce solemnly on the news that they have never in their lives seen such scope and scale of destruction. Then they board their airplanes and helicopters and fly off to comfort and security.
Without some kind of recognition for a freedom of movement, millions around the world are less able to escape bad weather and bad government. According to the UN in 2002, some 22.3 million refugees and “internally displaced people live in 120 countries. These refugees lived encamped around the world, supervised, according to the U.N., by a staff of 5,000.
So now millions more are added to this sad list. People who instead of being “internally displaced,” by conflicts in their countries, have suffered a conflict with nature that “displaced” their entire material world and for many their entire families.
The UN, US, assorted NGOs and militaries can ship tons of emergency aid in, but they could as easily transport thousands out. Past emergencies in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan have been tragic for Africans, but have brought hundreds of thousands to America to recover and return, or to build new lives here (sending millions of decentralized aid dollars to friends and relatives back home). And they send more than dollars back. They send letters, books, emails, and phone calls back to friends and relatives. Their first-hand stories and experiences are America’s best ambassadors to the world.
Occasional injustices are reported back home too, but the vast majority of immigrant experiences in America are positive. Americans born are more sensitive to hardship. We have nothing to compare it to. Those from Africa are puzzled at what most Americans think of as poverty and injustice.
And that is the second great benefit of helping disaster victims first-hand in our homes rather than just through our checkbooks. Effective charity can serve the giver as much or more as the receiver. Americans have so much extra space in our homes, extra food in our kitchens (and extra pounds too).
President Bush has proposed a guest worker program to help deal with current illegal immigration issues. I am not sure what the late economist Julian Simon would say to the Bush plan. He published many articles and books on the economics of immigration. I think he would favor letting more people come to American to work.
I am more confident that Julian would favor allowing thousands among the millions devastated by the tsunami to come to America and to Europe to heal their bodies and minds and to begin the rebuilding of their lives.
There is no reason why, in the twenty-first century, that so many should live in shanty-towns on the seashore, should live on a dollar or two a day, should fish in the open ocean in prehistoric wood sailboats. A few months in America and Europe would open their eyes, as it has for so many millions of earlier visitors and immigrants. Once people experience first-hand what is possible in an open society, they will forever question their lives under repressive customs and governments.
The reform movements in Kenya, Sudan, and other African countries in the 1980s and 1990s were launched by young men and women who returned home after some years in England or America. They saw with their own eyes that they could live free and prosper. That they could start companies and create wealth. For them it seemed inexcusable that these freedoms could not be enjoyed in their homelands. So they returned home to explain, persuade, argue, and if necessary, fight for African versions of free and open societies.
If tens or hundreds of thousands could escape their impoverished countries (and now devastated neighborhoods) for a few months or years, they would bring ideas, associations, and capital back with them and help open their homelands to the modern world.
[comments welcome… this is a first and fast draft.]