The current refugee crisis in Europe has highlighted for me some glaring truths which are consistently and conveniently ignored by most people who argue that Europe should simply open its borders and allow unlimited access to refugees from war and famine and political suppression and torture etc.  While I do not doubt for a moment the sincerity of those who have flooded social media with a tsunami of compassion and welcome, I do wonder if they have ever considered the real consequences if we were to, as one Facebook page’s title puts it, ‘Open the gates, just open the fucking gates!’

I have commented to friends recently that history will judge us very harshly when the account of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries are written.  Europe will, I believe, fare very badly in history’s judgment.  In the first half of 2015 tens of thousands of people, desperate men, women and children, perished in the waters of the Mediterranean as they vainly attempted to gain access to the European Union and the treasures of a life lived within Fortress Europe.  Many thousands more were beaten back by authorities in countries of south east Europe, before the sheer weight of numbers forced a rethink of policy and European governments, led by Germany, agreed to accept hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea.

In the European Union, despite what many protest groups and left leaning political parties would have us believe, we live in unprecedented comfort.  We have access to levels of health care, social supports, education and leisure opportunities that previous generations could only have dreamed of.   The average per capita GDP of EU nations is around $38,000.  Luxembourg tops the EU list at over $92,000, with Romania listed as the poorest EU state at $19,400.  Ireland’s per capita GDP is $46,800, making us the third wealthiest member of the EU, the seventh wealthiest in all of Europe and the sixteenth wealthiest sovereign nation on the planet.  At the bottom of a long list of 198 sovereign nations you will find the Central African Republic, which in 2014 had an estimated per capita GDP of just $600 dollars.  To put that in context, as if it was needed, it is 1.28% of the per capita GDP if Ireland, 1.5% of the EU average and just 3.09% of the GDP of the EU’s poorest member, Romania.  It is a mere 4% of the global per capita GDP average of $15,000.  These are startling numbers.  Thirty per cent of the 198 countries in the world have a per capita GDP of less than $5,000.  Twenty two of the world’s forty wealthiest nations are in Europe, while thirty of the forty poorest countries in the world are in Africa, a continent rich in resources which has been raped, pillaged and plundered by white Europeans for over four hundred years.

Jeremy Corbyn was today elected leader of the British Labour Party, and during his victory speech he said “…poverty is not inevitable.”  Maybe he is right.  Maybe poverty is not inevitable.  Maybe whoever said, all those years ago, that he poor will always be with us, was wrong.  Maybe there is a way that humankind can agree to share equally the resources and wealth of this planet.  However, one hundred thousand years of human history and a couple of hundred years of capitalism would, it seems, provide a convincing argument to the contrary.

Suppose, for a moment, that we could find a way to equally distribute the available wealth and resources of the Earth among its seven billion plus inhabitants.  Suppose that the spirit of Gene Rodenberry, to create a society beyond need, beyond money, was infused into every man, woman and child.  Suppose that every citizen of the planet was seized by an irresistible desire to live by the tenet of Louis Blanc,from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”  How wonderful this would be.  How welcome, if you are one of the many millions living in abject poverty.  Such a redistribution of wealth would see all of humankind living at an average per capita GDP of $15,000.  Imagine the difference this would make to citizens of the Central African Republic, or Somalia, or the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Malawi, Burundi or Liberia, all of whom have a per capita GDP of less than $1,000.  They would see their standard of living increased fifteen-fold.  Their access to health care, education and leisure would soar to undreamed of levels.

This, of course, could not be done unless wealthier countries were prepared to accept a lower standard of living.  The poorest country in the EU, Romania, would see its living standard drop by about 22%.  The European Union would on average have to adjust by over 60%.  In Ireland we would be required to adjust our living standards downwards by almost 70%.  While we are known, mostly to ourselves, as a very charitable nation, I do not believe that our charitable inclination would stretch as far as a 70% reduction in living standards.  Charity is all very well, as long as it is not too, terribly inconvenient.  Giving our loose change to a chugger or supporting an African child with a monthly €15 direct debit makes us feel all warm and fuzzy, but it is not inconvenient.  It costs us almost nothing.  Sacrificing some of our leisure time to volunteer with a homeless charity is very satisfying and makes us believe that we do our best for others before we return to our comfortable lives, but is not very inconvenient.

What about real equality?

What about walking to the shop, in the rain, because our share of global oil does not stretch to a half kilometre dash to Spar?  What about no foreign holidays, ever?  What about not having asparagus in February, or bell peppers and strawberries, and oranges and lemons and fresh grapes and countless other fruits and vegetables all year round?  What about really sharing the wealth?

What we do not seem to realise is, that in order for us to live a wonderful life of two cars in the driveway, fresh fruit and veg all year round, two holidays a year, streaming movies, winter heating at the flick of a switch and a forty hour, five day week, someone else needs to get screwed.  If we want to live in the lap of luxury someone needs to live in grinding poverty.  People surviving in Ireland on €188 weekly social welfare might argue with my use of the word luxury, but I doubt that the 4.7 million citizens of the Central African Republic would.  The simple fact is that when we sit down each evening we are eating someone else’s dinner.  The wealth and resources of the Earth are finite, and we in Ireland are taking over three times our share.  We are eating the cake of the third world while endlessly congratulating ourselves for throwing crumbs to the starving.

It is truly obscene.

And I do not care.

I do not, and I will not, pretend to care.

None of us, with the exception of the very few, truly remarkable individuals, really care.  None of us are prepared to reduce or lifestyles by three quarters in order to create an equal world.  Yes we want the poor and downtrodden of the third world to have three meals a day and a roof over their heads and to live free from oppression.  But we want to maintain our own comfortable lives, too.  Let them have a nice life, but not as nice as ours.  We work hard for all we have; we deserve our comforts and our leisure.  Don’t we?

[GDP per capita figures are from a combination of sources which include the IMF, World Bank and CIA Factbook, and are Per Capita GDP PPP (purchasing power parity).  Figures are quoted in Internatinal Dollars,also known as Geary-Khamis Dollars.  While the actual  figures are open to debate, and as a non-economist I am always open to correction, the basis of the argument would be unchanged by any slight, or even significant, tweaking.]

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