The European Union is built on a number of principles based around fairness and the encouragement of cooperation between nations. Equality is central to the philosophy behind this. As is so often the case with the law and politics it is subject to continual change as precedents are set in courts and legislation is finessed by the legislatures of various countries and of the Union as a whole. As is so often the case with the workings of mice and men, nothing seems to work quite right the first time.
Equality is important to Europe largely due to the fact that Europe has been largely under the influence of Christianity for well over a millennium. Combine this with an inbuilt sense of fairness shared by all humanity and the aims of the Union and we end up with an aim for Union legislation that is important enough to create massive disturbance to the economic balance in some countries. The idea of discarding equality and delivering preferential or prejudicial treatment to different members of society is more politically daring than the idea of simply brushing our hands of the whole idea of Europe and drawing a curtain on further involvement with the Union. This is why UKIP and other parties with similar philosophies have grown so much more influential in recent years.
Immigration is a large target for enmity of newspapers and the disaffected. There are continual complaints that jobs are being taken by immigrants from poorer countries. There are even complaints that the same immigrants seem to also be claiming all our benefits at the same time. Naturally they are an unfair target designed to distract the public from the far greater causes of economic problems within our country. Most people are fully cognisant of the fact that immigrants provide the country with a dedicated workforce and contribute to a lot of our overseas dealings to the overall benefit of our economy. The greater diversity of our population is beneficial on so many levels from natives of Europe developing tastes for products we can export to fresh DNA entering the genetic makeup of English people.
A far larger problem than immigrants coming into the country is the level of employment amongst those who are native to England. A very small percentage of benefit claimants are taking money because they can’t be bothered to work and do not wish to look for a job. A far larger proportion are actively seeking work and are unable to find it. Public figures such as Edwina Currie echo the sentiment of Norman Tebbit that the unemployed need to get on their bike and find work. The unemployed say they are looking for work and they are told they are not looking hard enough; they need to motivate themselves harder. It is in the motivation to find work that the problem is developed. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the effect of ‘equality’ on the motivation of the work seeker.
Workers are largely in agreement that what motivates them to go to work is their pay. If the employer stopped paying them then it would not be long before they would go somewhere else where an employer would pay them. Likewise if they are being paid half the wage of the man next door who is doing exactly the same kind of work then it will not be too long before they start considering changing their affiliation to their neighbour’s employer. This might seem obvious but it is central to the complaint that the unemployed are not motivated to find work. If there is truly equality then there is equality of wage and therefore equality of motivation. It therefore follows that all the unemployed are equally motivated to find work and that they cannot be at fault for not being motivated enough. So where does it go wrong? Why are people who should know better accusing folk of being too lazy to work?
The flaw of the system lies in misunderstanding what equality truly is. There are so many factors to take into account when discussing equality that it can be difficult to develop an understanding of what constitutes equality without putting some deep thought into formulating an answer. Naturally there is no time for most people to put deep thought into anything these days because they are too busy juggling a multitude of tasks to try and out compete everyone else in order to earn enough money to spend it on televisions, cars, horses and whatever else can be found to distract them from putting deep thought into anything. Combine this with a far less rigorous education system focussed on developing vocational skills at low cost in short time and you find that few people really consider equality on more than a very shallow level.
If thought is not put into the subject of equality then it is plainly obvious that £10 in one person’s pocket is equivalent to £10 in any other person’s pocket. £10 will alway have the exact value of £10. Hence it is called £10. If you are thirsty and need a drink then £10 can buy a lot of beverages. Going on the logic that £10 is always worth £10 we have now found a solution to people who cross deserts dying of thirst; simply ensure they have a plentiful supply of ten pound notes and they will easily make it across. Quite obviously there is something very wrong with this logic. The beverage purchasing power of £10 is vastly less satisfying in the middle of the Sahara than it is in the Dog and Duck at last orders.
That is an extreme example but it serves to show that motivation will not always be equal for the same sums of money. I daresay at last orders in the Dog and Duck I could convince some people to do all sorts of ridiculous and embarrassing things in exchange for £10. If I was to try and similarly motivate a man dying of thirst in the middle of the Sahara then I would not be able to repeat what he would probably say to me in response, even though he is plainly in far greater need of a drink.
Likewise when motivating the unemployed in England there is the problem that the purchasing power of £10 in London is substantially less than the purchasing power of £10 in a rural village of Poland. At first this does not seem like too much of a problem until you consider the Polish speaking ability of the average English person. English folk are famous the world over for their language speaking expertise; everyone knows how bad it is. English folk are therefore most likely to wish to spend their wages on buying a house, food and all other products in England rather than rural Poland. A Polish worker on the other hand is far more likely to wish to save his money until he returns to his home country. He will spend some to stay alive in England but he is no idiot, spending all his wages in this expensive country would be stupid when he knows that he will one day most likely be going home and he knows full well how cheap everything is back home.
The equality of wage is therefore not equal when judged by the ultimate spending power of the money the worker takes home. The motivation is therefore unequal according to the same buying power.
So far this is all relatively simple and obvious. Yet this does not seem to have been realised by the majority of crafters of policy. Either that or they are keeping it well under their hats. From here on in it all gets a lot more complicated. Not all English people want to stay in England to spend their wages. Not all immigrants wish to return home. Some immigrants come from countries where they can make great use of the money they earn in the nation where they work; other immigrants come from nations where there is not all that much to buy on the shelves and the governance of the nation does not promote fond thoughts of returning.
Within the country that has an influx of economic migrants the government’s main concern should always be the people within its borders. This does not necessarily mean favouring natives above immigrants but it does mean promoting the best opportunities for those who feel an allegiance to that nation and not demonising those who are restricted to being indigenous. There are a great many hurdles to be countered in making sense of a system of equality that is inherently unequal but possible methods to deal with it would certainly include enabling greater cross border migration for reasons other than simply finding work. If all migration is aimed at finding work then the problem will always exist that natives of countries favourable to paying a good wage will always be disadvantaged. Employers will always be encouraged to pay wages that are not feasible for natives because they will always find employees from poorer nations for whom such wages are feasible. It must be possible to give the native of that country the same spending power as the immigrant and the only way to do that is to ensure that emigration to poorer nations to make use of money seems as logical to the native as immigration to earn the wage seems to the native of the poorer nation.
It seems natural that language education should be heavily promoted in these economically wealthier nations. Television and popular culture should also include far more international offerings. Cross border travel should also be made easier; on an island this is obviously trickier. Inevitably the only way to end the phenomenon of people from poorer nations having the advantage of greater motivation is the eventual equalisation of living standards. As Employers take advantage of the availability of a more affordable work force we will ultimately see living standards dropping in England to match those in the poorer European countries. This will further push the gap between rich and poor. Naturally this is not ideal. A way to prevent this eventuality would be to do whatever is possible to raise the living standards in each of the poorer nations. This is part of the intention of Europe as a single political entity but to leave it up to the evolution of the market is going to create a painful and unenjoyable process for those who will lose out in the early stages of the transformation. In the long run it seems inevitable that this is going to become a greater problem so it seems a good idea that these things need to be dealt with as soon as possible rather than dragging them out. There are probably a great many other devices for resolving the problem but the first hurdle is to develop recognition that equality is far more complex than people seem to think or our governments are prepared to admit.