19 February, 2014

Heaven on Earth

I am grateful to a newly ordained Deacon at our local Church for acting as a catalyst in preaching a sermon in a series on big current issues, dubbed "Should We Welcome All Refugees?" This prompted me to collect my thoughts on the issue and to try to justify them in Christian terms.

The Deacon's line reflected a Christian attitude of pure  goodness of heart in true Good Samaritan spirit. It boiled down to advocating a policy of open borders for all refugees. However, in my view, such a policy would never get off the ground in a democracy like Australia and any government promoting it would quickly find itself out of office.There is little point in advocating an impractical policy which will simply never happen.

My position can be summarised as follows:-
>Australia is quite rightly regarded as a highly desirable place to live. There are literally millions of people who would pass the refugee test, who would like to live here.
>As former Prime Minister, John Howard discovered with his unscripted, spontaneous, 2001 election campaign comment "we should decide who comes to this country and the terms under which they come", has great resonance with Australian voters. And it makes sense. 
>We need to control the flow of refugees if we are to maintain Australian living standards and ensure adequate infrastructure for an ever growing population. Just what the annual intake should be is a legitimate debatable issue. We should be selective (skill wise) and generous with numbers. By world standards we already are.
>Any level of control will lead to the need to establish priorities. Should we give priority to people who have spent years in refugee camps awaiting legitimate "front door" entry or desperate people who can afford to pay people smugglers substantial moneys to secure "back door" entry? To my mind the answer is self evident.
>There is a line in the Australian Anglican Prayer Book which runs "share with justice the resources of the Earth". This strikes a chord with me, albeit with heavy caveats with just how one goes about it. History has many lessons about the need to recognise self interest motivation and the failure of central planning.
>I am greatly encouraged by the number of people (particularly in China) who have been lifted out of disease and poverty in the last quarter century. The world has demonstrated that globalisation and more open markets (trade) can do this and this seems to me to be the best way of sharing global resources.
>We also know that the greatest population growth is in the poorest countries. As poverty and disease are reduced population growth drops. To the point that developed countries like Australia, without immigration, would have declining population.
> I am attracted by the Bjorn Lomborg (The Skeptical Environmentalist) line that rather than spending billions on futile attempts to change the world's climate, we should simply adapt and be putting all of our effort and resources into reducing poverty and disease. In the process we will also put a lid on population growth.
>The logical consequence of this thinking is that, over time, we should do all that we can to improve living conditions in the poorest countries, and as a by-product cap population growth and the flow of refugees from these countries.

The foregoing has heavy environmental overtones. It infers that I believe population growth is a major problem. It certainly is in the under developed world. 

The world is forecast to have total population in excess of 9bn within fifty years. The fact that we have reduced poverty and disease in the face of the enormous population growth of recent decades speaks volumes for the ingenuity of mankind, manifested particularly in agricultural science. (Distribution seems to be a bigger challenge than production). 

It seems to put a lie to the claim that we have caused massive environmental damage, at least in food production resource terms.

There seems to be a quiet confidence that this will continue and the percentage of people and the absolute numbers in poverty will continue to drop, notwithstanding ongoing population growth. Is there some sort of resource limit which cannot be overcome by science? Perhaps not.
I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes-

"This is my long-run forecast in brief:

The material conditions of life will continue to get better for most people, in most countries, most of the time, indefinitely. Within a century or two, all nations and most of humanity will be at or above today's Western living standards.

I also speculate, however, that many people will continue to think and say that the conditions of life are getting worse." (Julian Simon 1932-98).
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