Instead of a conclusion: back to baby-farming? full text

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In 1729, the Irish clergyman and satirist Jonathan Swift put forward a novel solution to the economic problems of a society being ravaged by British cob- nialism: the poor should turn to ‘baby-farming,’ and earn a living by selling their children as fresh meat to the British landlords (Swift, 1955). Writing in the early 1980s, I suggested that baby-farming had indeed become a widespread practice not just in Ireland but also in many other countries on the periphery of areas of rapid economic growth. The difference was that the human exports sent to the booming industrial economies ofWestern Europe were consumed not as meat on the tables of the bourgeoisie, but as labor power in their facto- ries (Castles et aL, 1984:1). At the beginning of the twenty-first century, we can imagine a new type of ‘transnational baby farming’ as the core of the global migration scenario of the next fifty years. Less-developed countries exduded from the positive aspects ofeconomic globalization would help compensate for the demographic deficits of the rich countries. The scenario would look something like this, . Fertility rates will continue to plummet in rich industrial countries, leading to aging poptilations and shrinking labor forces. Increasing prosperity and improved education will mean that few local people will be available for low-skilled jobs. Certain areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America will suffer exclusion from the mainstream global economy, resulting in deepening poverty conflict and chaos. Fertility and population growth will remain high — despite AIDS and other epidemics. Migration in search of work will appear as the only way out for millions of people.

-Intermediate-level countries will experience uneven forms of industrialization and growth, but large countries like Brazil, Mexico, India and China will still have huge reserves of labor-market entrants. As education systems improve, many of these young workers will have high skill levels, but will be unable to find work at home.

-The rich countries will collaborate with each other and put pressure on the rest ofthe world to tighten restrictions on migration, especially of the low-skilled. Rigorous surveillance measures using new technologies will raise the human costs of migration, leading to thousands ofdeaths in the oceans, mountains and deserts which migrants try to traverse. But enough people will get through to encourage others to

-Rich countries and NIcS will use unskilled migrants as the labor force for 3-D jobs, and, increasingly, for aged care. Some such workers will be brought in through contract labor systems which deny them basic rights, while many others will be illegal migrants or asylum seekers.

-The education systems of the intermediate countries will provide skilled workers of all kinds for the rich countries.

-In addition, since the populations of rich countries will have virtually ceased to reproduce, immigrants from intermediate countries — carefully selected on the basis of economic, cultural and cultural criteria which serve as surrogates for race — will be allowed to settle, form families and replenish the population.

Like all distopias, this one is unlikely to come to pass in such a radical form — although it is based on real current trends. The main force undermining it, as in the past, will be the human agency of millions of migrants, as well as other members of both sending and receiving communities, Transnational communities resulting from migration will, through thousands of micro-straw- gies, seek security and humane conditions for their members, By doing this, they will probably become a major flictor undermining the plans ofthe mighty The future will probably be as messy as the past, and all predictions are likely to be wrong, but one thing is clear: there is no return to the neat idea of dosed- off nation-states with homogenous national communities.