When a BBC Question Time audience member asked “Who will make our coffee in Pret?” she sincerely believed herself to be making an argument in favour of open borders and globalism.
Her question is valid. Who would make the coffee in Pret? In London last summer I ate at a couple of Pret A Mangers (for those unfamiliar, Pret is a popular British coffee and sandwich chain), and after seeing the Question Time clip I recalled noting at the time a dearth of London accents in the stores. Not only at Prets; an absence of white Londoners was the norm in all the coffee shops and fast food restaurants I patronised.
Not content with having caused a swell of murmured disapprovals in the audience the woman doubled down: “You’re not going to get English people to take those jobs.” On this point she is correct. But why? Why are there, relatively speaking, hardly any white Londoners serving coffee in Pret or flipping burgers at McDonald’s?
With mass migration to the west everything works in a cycle. Poor migrants arrive from places like Bangladesh, Nigeria and El Salvador, perhaps without as much as a high school diploma. They work in menial jobs. Maybe daughter Gita is bright and hardworking and goes to university and the family crawls out of the underclass. She becomes a doctor. Now who makes Gita’s coffee? Immigrants of course, and the cycle continues. If the family isn’t so lucky and Gita doesn’t go to medical school, sociologists put the family’s poverty down to racism. And so it goes on; a conveyor belt of homesick atomised souls from across the planet arriving in dreary western cities (all cities are dreary when you’re poor) to do jobs the natives are too good for, even while native long-term unemployment is considerable.
The Question Time clip reminded me of a piece I read at the New York Times describing the life of a Congolese refugee in Columbus, Ohio.
I got to write a piece for this great @NYTmag photo essay about modern working class Americans and their jobs https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/magazine/the-new-working-class.html …
The Jobs Americans Do
Popular ideas about the working class are woefully out of date. Here are nine people who tell a truer story of what the American work force does today — and will do tomorrow.
Purporting to be a heartwarming example of the American Dream in action it instead came across as nightmarish. His story is as follows. He lives with his wife and eight children and ten colleagues. He takes a bus forty miles every day to a meatpacking factory where he works on a line with men and women from countries like Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Bhutan. He can’t speak English, but via a translator tells the reporter that he works nine hours a day, seven days a week, and gets home at 1am by which time his wife and children are already sleeping. He says that he is “very lucky”, though no person who grew up in America would say that. For Americans, exposure to such conditions births bestsellers like Fast Food Nation, documentaries by Michael Moore and the neo-Marxist fury of Naomi Klein.
Rather than relieving racism, the outcome of mass migration is that westerners begin to subconsciously associate particular jobs with certain races, ethnic groups and nationalities. The Congolese meatpacker makes $11.50 per hour working in Ohio. This is a huge improvement over war-devastated DR Congo where GDP per capita is under $500. At this point the argument is made that the immigrant now has a chance at a “better life”, and that this noble endeavour should supersede all other concerns. But if a person isn’t fleeing the very real danger of war what is it that defines a better life except the acquisition of material goods, the fruits of capitalism, your American-accented kids going on family trips to Lagos and Mogadishu with iPhones and Nike sneakers?
Does anyone think the Congolese man’s eight children—who, if they go to university, will be constantly told they are victims of racism, colonialism and capitalism—will be happy to work in a meatpacking factory? Probably not. Yet someone has to. In London the Sri Lankan coffee shop worker makes multiples of what they might expect to earn in Colombo, but the bankers, art students and fashion editors who buy coffee and never see it served by anyone who looks or sounds like them absorb a subtle message: these are jobs for the Other.
Ultra-homogeneous nations like Japan and South Korea don’t have these problems. Nobody in Japan asks who will serve the coffee because they already know the answer: Japanese people. Japanese people work in coffee shops and fast food restaurants and meatpacking factories. And because everyone is Japanese, avaricious business owners can’t exploit the world’s destitute while making them feel lucky about it. Nobody in Japan subconsciously thinks “that’s a job for Africans or Central Americans,” because Japanese people do all the jobs.
If every foreign worker did indeed disappear overnight from Britain the result would obviously be chaos, but it would be temporary chaos. It’s not that British people possess some genetic defect that causes them to come out in a rash if they have to do menial work. They had no problems sweeping chimneys, working in mines and putting in the hard graft that kickstarted the industrial revolution. But they’ve seen desperate foreigners from the developing world do certain jobs for so long that even the idea of working in certain fields doesn’t occur to them. Far from being a vindication of globalism, saying: “You’re not going to get English people to take those jobs” highlights its failures.
The influx of low-skilled migrants has not enriched London. It hasn’t made London “stronger” in any way that isn’t hopelessly vague. Tokyo and Seoul have very few migrants but nobody would ever describe those cities as weak or lacking in some way. No, as the Question Time audience member showed, mass migration has turned many Londoners into decadent lotus-eaters who sneer at the idea of making coffee for £6.50 per hour, and this creates social division so profoundly damaging it’s barely comprehensible. Add it to the industrial-strength envy weaponised by the left and you have a recipe for disaster. Keep those borders open and it’s only going to get worse.
This article first appeared at Quillette.