Some interesting ideas here from an Irish academic:
“Countries that benefit from Irish emigration should pay a tax to the State in return, sociologist Fr Micheál Mac Gréil SJ has said.
The Jesuit priest, who addressed the annual St Patrick’s Day pilgrimage on Máméan in Connemara’s Maamturk mountains, said current emigration was symptomatic of a free movement of labour that had become an “international scandal”.
Weaker countries like Ireland would “never develop” while there was a “push-pull” factor attracting young people to stronger economies, he said at the weekend.
“The push is the crisis at home, the pull is the opportunity abroad,” which was reflected in an Irish Times survey on emigration on Saturday, Fr Mac Gréil noted.
More than shades of Michael D. Higgins’ presidential attacks on institutions of neoliberal economics here, I reckon. After several years of pointing out the barminess of financial markets to no effect, it’d be interesting if Irish intellectuals took the lead in criticising the broader paradigms of ‘freedom’ which shackles our society to dysfunctional, unsustainable economics. From a humanistic perspective, of course:
“The survey showed 59 per cent of emigrants left by choice, while 41 per cent said they were forced to leave.
Fr Mac Gréil, former professor of sociology at NUI Maynooth, said he did not blame young people for leaving, either by choice or circumstance, and many were “great ambassadors for Ireland”.
“But the reality is that it is a great loss for the country, and it would be better for young Ireland to be on the dole – and be creative – than to be emigrating,” he said.”
That last statement is bound to be controversial, and why not? Certainly an obvious objection is that people can be creative abroad, and indeed the general appearance of things is that those artists and others who wish to succeed in the creative industry need to spread their wings to larger markets. But consider creative in a broader sense, not just producing art or new business ideas - but reshaping the country itself.
Irish conservatism has been perhaps so successful by excluding radicalism not by political means, but economic ones. There are no sealed trains bringing exiles back to foment revolution, only aeroplanes carrying philanthropists and tourists in search of ancestry. Now that we have progressed as a society, leaving only tangled anachronisms of our past insular theocracy, emigrants can come and go from modern Ireland - seeking only jobs and better standards of living abroad (not that Ireland doesn’t still have some of the highest incomes and living standards in the world, they’re just not shared very well). We are the embodiment of globalised neoliberalism; not a nation conquered, but a nation erased…
“Fr Mac Gréil emphasised he was not in favour of a “centralist socialism that curtailed freedom of movement”, as this was to punish individuals for an issue that was “determined by globalisation”.
“When it costs the State an average of €85,000 to educate people to third-level, it is time that host countries paid a tax in return for the benefits accruing,” he said.
By the same token, Ireland should then be prepared to pay a tax to developing countries whose citizens – trained in areas such as medicine – are employed here.”
Unfortunately, judging by the responses on Twitter so far, it’s not an idea that’s likely to gain much acceptance. Understandably, people don’t want to be taxed themselves, as individuals (more so than they already are), for doing something they’ve been trained into believing is their right and choice. And it is, no modern democratic government could undo that liberty. However, it is not a tax concerning the individual as much as it is about the larger transfer of wealth - human capital - between countries. It’s also about trying to address the global inequalities that migration, by draining talent and hope from where it’s most needed, often reinforces. Ultimately, it’s about trying to restructure the economic signals that drive our collective societies in a way that best suits a shared prosperity.
Historically, a simple form of this ‘tax’ existed in the form of remittances, money sent back from wage economies to less developed homelands. The number of people who say they are sending money back is relatively low in the Irish Times survey, probably because those that have left are young, single people or young families, leaving behind parents who are either still employed or retired on steady pensions. Such transfers already exist within families, but from old to young, at home - where the situation is not as much the lack of wealth as lack of jobs. Beyond these shores the emigrants revert to being mobile workers and consumers, allowing others to benefit from the state subsidies that created their skills but which lacked the follow-up (or ideological courage) to utilise them.
Could there be a better, more pusillanimous image of the ‘hollowed-out state’? With the added perversity that the cost of state provision falls increasingly on those who have not emigrated. Emigration is an economic and political problem as well as social one, don’t forget. Of course we can’t solve this by demanding a tax on immigrants from one country - any more than we can curb speculators by introducing in one place a financial transaction tax, which is what this is - a rowback against the free movement of human, rather than financial capital. Not a single solution but a challenging idea.