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« Unemployment & Security in China | Main | Plus ça change... »

The Economy & Security

So I may be a little paranloid these days, but in the past couple of days, the news has got me thinking. 

After the holidays, I read the Swedish novelist Henning Mankell's Faceless Killers.  The story opens with the grisly double murder of a retired farmer and his wife in rural Sweden, a case to which the hero of the story, Detective Kurt Wallander, assigns himself.  The situation gets incresingly murky when the wife, just before she dies in the hospital, utters the word "foreign."  News of this gets out and sets a group of right wing anti-immigrationists into action.  They begin to attack a nearby refugee camp, culminating in the assassination of a refugee on the grounds of the camp.  Wallander is then left to solve both murders as Mankell explores the rights of refugees and the anti-immigrant backlash in Sweden in the late 1980s.

So, back to the news.  First, I read about the plight of ruralites in China who had migrated into the industrial centres of the country looking for work.  They had been, for the most part, successful in doing so in recent years.  However, the global economic downturn has hit China hard.  As a result, of the 130 million migrants, 20 million of them, or 15.3%, are out of a job.  That is a massive amount of unemployed workers stuck in these cities and industrial towns, a long way from home.

Next, a group of workers in the United Kingdom were protesting against foreign workers.  Something similar is going on in the United States.  Meanwhile, Canada (amongst other nations) is incensed at the United States because of the recent economic stimulus plan and its "buy American" clauses.  Then there are the layoffs, voluntary retirements, and more as the economy is hammered around the world.

What happens with the kind of xenophobia on display in the UK and US?  What happens if the kind of unemployment, in sheer numbers, that has hit China spreads?  What happens if governments start becoming reactionary and protectionist as the US Congress has?  Does this create a perfect storm?  Do xenophobes begin attacking these foreign workers?  Do these unemployed workers begin rioting and getting violent out of desperation?  Do trade wars begin because governments become protectionist?

What does all this mean for security?  What do we do to prevent a situation like that Hankell creates in Faceless Killers?  This is anecdotal, but in rural New England, you can see desperation start to appear.  You can see it in Montréal as well, as amongst a whole host of other locations.  Lottery sales are up in Québec and New England. 

This is not to say that we're heading for this kind of situation.  But, the xenophobes in the US and the UK could become violent.  It wouldn't be the first time there has been a violent reaction to immigrant workers, especially during a recession.  There is also a long tradition of protest on the part of the unemployed.  And protests can quickly turn violent, as I have learned from experience. 

At the least, I have read a lot about the failing economy in the UK, France, Canada, and the US, and about the plight of workers and consumers (especially the latter in the USA).  But what I don't see much of is a discussion about security, even the basic human securities of the right to shelter and to earn a living.

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