Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Economics or Justice?

Another report in the Guardian today about the ridiculous cost of detaining asylum seekers for long periods of time in response to a report by the London Detainee Support Group. This is the second big report in as many months (the first being this one by the Iain Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice) that is going big for the economic argument for treating asylum seekers better.

This attitude scares me a little. There are some people about who believe we might win the argument on the economic issue, but what happens next time if we simply can't prove that it will save public money if we treat people with a little respect?

We shouldn't be locking people up for no good reason. We shouldn't have systems that force people into destitution. That's not an issue about money, it's an issue about justice.


Blogger Pete Kingsley said...

This is an intriguing kind of situation for an activist to be in. There was something like a similar case, about the 'securitization of HIV/AIDS'.

As far as I tell, in the early part of this decade, a group of activists and UNAIDS/WHO types tried to recast the HIV pandemic as a security issue. I.e., that as HIV spreads through armies, hollows out institutions in poor countries and generally shreds societies, this will cause more dreaded 'failed states' and instability. Thus, HIV is a 'security issue'. It seems that the idea behind this was that security issues are always the highest priority, therefore this was a strategy that could get a push against HIV more support.

As ideas go, it's not the worst I've ever ever heard. At least it show some savvy about how institutions work and decisions actually are made.

There is of course a cost here, as you suggest. If activists abandon value-driven arguments, and pragmatically use any rhetorical strategy that seems likely to work, then problems are created further down the road. (Development constructing an image of poor people as hopeless and weak for fundraising purposes is another example).

I guess, ultimately, this sort of thing can be useful as a short-term tactic. But as ever, the most effective strategy in politics is to try to re-frame issues in a way that's favourable to your cause.

01 February, 2009 23:27  
Blogger Uncle Petie said...

Doesn't seem to me to be an either/or case here - the point of the economic argument is that it strengthens the moral case, or more precisely that weakens the case against it.

Opponents of asylum seekers rights (and indeed action on HIV) are always trying to paint themselves as hard-headed pragmatists who'd really, really like to help, but feel it's their duty to bring all these idealistic folk back down to earth. That looks less credible when they're arguing against economics.

Can we tot up the money lost on detention and call it the "Richard Littlejohn Tax"?

02 February, 2009 13:34  

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