21.10.09

Won't Retire, Can't Migrate

Western governments are so far in debt they are not going to let you retire and they certainly don't want you to migrate. Forget 65, try 70, or perhaps later. They need you to keep working and, unlike your ancestors, you won't be able to escape by migrating to sunnier climes.

From modest origins in Britain in the 1800s, my relatives became mining engineers in Australia, farmers in Rhodesia and followed in the steps of even earlier emigre relatives to Virginia. Today their descendants include hoteliers in South Africa, interior designers in Canada, while more recently, relatives have spread their wings from Brazil, through California to Switzerland.

HIGH TAXATION, MIGRATION CONTROLS


Just think of the contribution to global wealth from such migration but it's hard to escape the conclusion that governments are set against it. With no need for visas, quotas or proof of banks statements, my ancestors, Welsh miners, English merchants, went in search of opportunities.

Today, they'd be stopped at the border. Points systems and visa lotteries filter applicants. Overseas bank accounts (hard to avoid when you work between or have obligations in two or more countries) are investigated for tax avoidance. Money transfers are challenged for laundering. While the European Union removes obstacles to big business, cross border financial activities by individuals are widely presumed to be fraudulent.

The fact that the European Union has promoted a single constitution while failing to protect the rights of individuals is a key reason to oppose the Lisbon Treaty.

WHY MOVE?


Why would anyone want to migrate? For the same reason that governments would like to stop you.

A quick bit of background: The Times' headline put it like this: Government debt ‘nearly three times higher than official figure’.

The true level of UK government debt is equivalent to 157 per cent of national output and nearly three times as large as the £805 billion figure reported by the Office for National Statistics, according to a new book published by a centre-right think tank.

Well, it's the work of a Conservative MP (Brooks Newmark, the Conservative MP for Braintree) and I'd probably accept about half what he defines as debt. PFI is clearly off balance sheet financing. Unfunded public sector pensions? If that's counted, then what about the state pension? That's pay-as-you-go as well. What about loan guarantees to our insolvent banks?

FRAUD BUSTERS' GAME

Already, governments are talking about raising the retirement age while cutting down on benefits, from unemployment to sick leave. This is written up in the press as fighting scroungers but it's also about reducing entitlements.

Local municipalities, police forces, border patrols are all involved in this clampdown on benefit cheats. They seemed to turn a blind eye to cheating British MPs, though, with one claiming £100,000 in expenses to "pay" his girlfriend. That's because the 'fraud busters' have their own game. But let that be. We have even bigger worries.

YOU WORK, YOU LOSE

People might keep working rather than retire, but only if they feel they are working for themselves not in some serf-like bondage to the state.

And this is the problem with the way the government has structured welfare: You work, you lose.

Former investment bank Goldman Sachs offered to the UK government, back in the nineties, to rework the transition from unemployment to work, in order to remove the disincentive whereby a person loses more in benefits than the gain in income. The government dismissed the offer.

The government only KNOWS how to turn the screw.

It will try to do this by hiking taxes, cutting benefits and hammering gullible workers to subsidise the non workers.

Migration controls will be key to this. If they were as lax as they were in the days of my grandparents' grandparents, governments would not be able to raise taxes.

High taxation is a modern invention. It arrived hand-in-hand with migration controls.

THE BANKER AND THE ASYLUM SEEKER

Most people haven’t a clue that international migration controls are not applied to the great and the good. There are all kinds of exemptions, and not just related to money in the bank. Many governments have 'swap' arrangements for the staff of big banks and corporations, excusing them from the 'proofs' that smaller companies or individuals would have to provide in order to let people work or move abroad.

However, the majority of hard working, tax paying individuals, will find themselves in a queue at some foreign immigration office answering probing questions about how they plan to support themselves - struggling to move between countries.

I know, I have done it. And it took me a while to work out why other people in the queue, with not a penny to their name, were excused all these means tests in the name of “asylum”.

Immigration controls are about governments keeping their taxpayers hemmed in. It suits governments very well to have the tabloid newspapers bang on about illegal migration. The restrictions on legal migration are the real issue.

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