MARSHALL LAW

Notwithstanding the disappointingly inconclusive end of the Civil War in Syria, the world continues to struggle with a global migrant crisis.  It is tempting to despair that this continuing global crisis is proof that the world has become an awful place full of suffering. However, I would argue that it is both more hopeful and accurate to conclude that we have a global migrant crisis not because the world is so bad, but rather because the unprecedented cumulative benefits of human progress are shared so unevenly around the world.  Of course, this is not a new phenomenon. It has been the case for at least 500 years. but it is only in this generation that the most fundamental of the fruits of that progress have become sufficiently widely distributed that even those living lives of relatively poorer security and fulfillment have the tools that allow them to both know that that is the case and to do something about it.

So the world is faced with a challenge for which there are, broadly speaking, only three possible solutions.  One is to build physical walls around communities of uniform living standards, thereby either keeping in those in less desirable circumstances or keeping migrants from those communities out of the more desirable regions.  It is a tried and true strategy with deep historical roots both in fact (Hadrian’s Wall, the Great Wall of China) and fiction (most recently, the Wall that separated the Seven Kingdoms from the wildlings in Game of Thrones).  Notwithstanding this pedigree, its most recent application (the Berlin Wall) proved, like its fictional counterpart, to be an ultimately ineffective long-term solution to the applicable migration problem.

The second is to make the environment in the more desirable community sufficiently unappealing to those that both have or would be likely to migrate to change the cost/benefit analysis that would have otherwise supported the decision to migrate.  This is an easy strategy to implement.  Foster a xenophobic fervor in the desirable jurisdiction that will support or at least tolerate the passage of laws that will make the migration experience more difficult and dehumanizing and fewer migrants will want to come.  The only problem is that this strategy, like all authoritarian workarounds created to address social programs, are only slightly less effective in brutalizing the sensibilities of the citizens of the more desirable jurisdiction than they are in dissuading migrants.  You have fewer migrants only by making the more desirable jurisdiction less desirable for migrants and citizens alike.

The third solution is by far the most complicated and difficult.  The governments of the more desirable jurisdictions make investments and provide leadership to improve security and create opportunities for advancement in the less desirable jurisdictions.  This is a tall order, but not one without historical precedent.  Post-WWII Western Europe looked not unlike much of Syria today, in both cases courtesy of the carpet bombing on both sides.   The potential for a massive refugee crisis certainly existed.  Given the likely tolerance for greater numbers of European immigrants, one might have expected that the US would have simply opened its borders to migrants to address the humanitarian challenge in the most incremental fashion.  However, the more visionary solution was the Marshall Plan that saw an unprecedented amount of US financial support flow into Europe, including its former enemies Germany and Italy.  The result was not just the prevention of a refugee crisis, but also the creation of an explosion in global economic growth that benefited no one country more than it did the United States.

That is not to say that the challenge facing the developed world in addressing the current refugee crises in each of the Middle East, Africa and Central America can be addressed as seemingly easily as was the reconstruction of Europe under the Marshall Plan.  For one, the US was able and willing to undertake the Marshall Plan on its own.  It would not be reasonable or fair to expect the same in the context of the current crisis.  The co-ordination of equitable participation by all developed nations will be a difficult but necessary element of any such approach to the current refugee crisis.  Secondly, investment by the developed world in the current countries in crisis would carry with it an appearance of new colonialism that would not have been in issue in the context of post-war Europe.  Incorporating the necessary diversity of leadership in any new initiative would further complicate the effort.

It is indeed a daunting task.  But there is no other remotely palatable or promising strategy.

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