In the discussion about how to respond to the refugee crisis, I have come across a new phrase: virtue signalling. Apparently coined by Libby Purves, it involves saying something that has moral appeal but without being founded on any kind of clear thinking. Up till now, when I have read Giles Fraser’s public pronouncements, the phrase ‘vacuous moral reasoning’ has come to mind, but now I have a new phrase to deploy.
Giles’ latest Tweets compare Britain and Germany’s responses to the migrant crisis:
Cameron announces we will take 20,000 Syrian refugees over 5 years. 4,000 a year. Germany taking 800,000. Where is our moral courage?
— Giles Fraser (@giles_fraser) September 7, 2015
Well, let’s take a look shall we, with the assistance of Robert Peston. Peston is as astute in his analysis as ever, and points out some challenging realities for Germany as it looks into the future, courtesy of the European Commission’s projections from its Ageing Report that was published earlier this year.
It projects that Germany’s population will shrink from 81.3 million in 2013 to 70.8 million in 2060, whereas the UK’s will rise from 64.1 million to 80.1 million…
It is probably relevant that the Commission forecasts that the proportion of the German population in 2060 represented by migrants arriving after 2013 would be 9%, compared with 14% in the UK. So Germany would be a lot less multicultural than the UK.
That’s worth hanging on to: Britain is set to have a larger immigrant population than Germany for a very long time to come. This all has massive implications for something that the Church is very familiar with for other reasons: population ageing and the pensions crisis.
As for the dependency ratio, the percentage of those 65 and over compared with those aged between 15 and 64, that is forecast to rise from 32% to a very high 59% in Germany by 2060. Or to put it another way, by 2060 there will be fewer than two Germans under 65 to work and generate taxes to support each German over 65.
Because people are living longer more or less everywhere, the dependency ratio is also set to increase in the UK, but by less – from 27% to 43%. Which still represents a massive increase in the burden on the younger generation of supporting the old, but not as great as in Germany.
So Britain’s population is already rising fast (we are set to become the most populous country in Europe) and Germany’s dependency on young people is going to be much more severe than ours.
Peston stops short of suggesting that this is the reason why Germany is welcoming refugees—but it certainly makes the implications of the decision very different from the implications of welcoming a similar number in Britain. That is why a Europe-wide quote system, which some have suggested, would never be feasible. Any shared European action would have to take into account the different current and future scenarios for different EU members states, and those scenarios vary widely, not least because of past policy and history. But it is also worth noting the relative merits of the two countries’ approach to the issue:
Angela Merkel is creaming off the most economically useful of the asylum seekers, by taking those that have shown the gumption and initiative to risk life and limb by fleeing to Europe. Precedent suggests they will be the ones that find work fastest and impose the least economic burden on Germany or any other host country.
By contrast, David Cameron appears to be doing what many would see as the more morally admirable thing – which is to go to the Syrian camps and invite children and the most vulnerable of refugees to Britain. But this version of living up to what the prime minister calls our moral responsibilities is undeniably more expensive in the short term than giving a welcome to the able-bodied refugees already in Hungary, Greece or Italy, and desperate to come here.
So it is worth reflecting on who is showing the most moral courage.
In a very helpful post on his blog, evangelist J John offers some alliterative advise on engaging with this issue: we need to be involved, intelligent, have integrity and include intercession.
Our compassion should also be intelligent. This is a crisis that needs to be addressed not simply by the heart but by the head. One of the problems of our image-driven world is that it often takes pictures or film to stir people into action but the results of such emotional outpourings may be no more than impassioned speeches that don’t actually achieve much.
I think I will stick with the Evangelist Canon rather than the Loose Canon on this one.
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