The opening of the contest to see who will be the next Unite general secretary has led to an interesting look at the current state of the Left. It seems the idea that freedom of movement is kosher while freedom of capital is bad extends way beyond Corbyn and his inner circle. This problem here is that this is a very, very silly position to take up.
I can see where it comes from. Globalism creates winners and losers and the Left wants to have a go at this. Yet it does not want to stigmatise immigrants, or indeed, admit any downsides to immigration itself for fear of appearing xenophobic. So it does this little trick where they say the real problem is free trade, not freedom of movement. The only thing is, it isn’t really true.
For a start, free trade creates more jobs than it destroys. But of course, it will destroy some jobs – again, back to winners and losers. There are more winners as a result of free trade, but there are still losers and the Left – rightly, I might add – wants to try and help them. But they need to face up to the fact that free trade and freedom of movement are just two sides of the same coin. Yes, freedom of capital lets companies move jobs to lower wage countries; but freedom of movement allows cheaper labour to come into the country, often driving down wages. By blinding itself to this, the Left does itself no favours.
Yet the Right are no more correct. Here the idea is that freedom of capital is good but freedom of movement is bad. On this at least, the Left has a point: if capital is allowed to go anywhere it wants, then why can’t people move to where the jobs are? That seems to me to be the only fair thing. Of course, the Right might respond by saying that you’ll then get loads of people from countries with worse off economies than your own. Which leads me to this: then only sign free trade deals with countries that have a similar economic standard to your own, then offer both freedom of capital and labour as a package.
All of the criticisms of the EU that are valid come down to breaking this principle. Had the single currency limited itself to France, Germany, the low countries and the Nordics who wanted in, it wouldn’t have had the problems it has experienced. Greece’s economy isn’t up to being in the same currency as Germany’s without causing problems, as we have seen over the last few years. Had freedom of movement from somewhere such as Poland been thought about in more detail, Brexit might have been avoided.
Free trade inevitably means a loosening of sovereignty, a problem the Right has not come to terms with. Having freedom of movement means having the other parts of free trade as well, something many in the Left cannot deal with. Both arguments are wrong.