esmaspäev, november 28, 2005

More Foreign Labor is Not the Solution for Estonia

The picture to your right is of property for sale in Estonia's easternmost city Narva, which is commonly referred to as a "border town" because its inhabitants are primarily Russian-speakers and the area is widely considered to be economically depressed and stereotyped as suffering hardest from common urban problems such as unemployment, HIV infection, alcoholism, et cetera. You can find more real estate opportunities there at

Yet be forewarned. The situation is said to be so dire in Narva that the population has fallen from a peak of 82,000 15 years ago, to 67,000 today and it continues to plummet. There is an idea that somehow the state is responsible for providing the people of Narva with quality infrastructure and moderate lifestyle-supporting employment. But the problem is that the current city of Narva is one big manifestation of the failure of the Soviet economic system, the system that ferried migrant workers across Eurasia to take part in various conceptual industrial projects that never really got off the ground.

The old Narva, before this grand project was initiated, was a modestly sized city of 22,000 in 1939. But that rose to 30,000 in 1959, and then to 58,000 in 1970, and upwards to 74,000 in 1980, and 82,000 in 1990. The city's population quadrupled in 50 years! Yet now it appears to be sliding back to a more comfortable (and realistic) population level that is based on actual economic realities, rather than state-idealized industrial opportunities.

There are other places like this in Estonia - the city of Paldiski stands out as a troubled exclave of migrant Soviet workers, where the population has been at least halved in the fifteen years since the end of the Soviet occupation.

But the greater truth in this example is that the state-planned migration of workers to new locations usually results in these mini-social catastrophes. As old economic orders are replaced by new ones, once-prosperous enclaves become destitute, crime-ridden, and dependent of the state (that got them there in the first place) to provide them with a suitable living standard.

Which brings us to this idea courtesy of The Baltic Times (subscription only):

TALLINN – The government developed a new integration plan that focuses on bringing in immigrant labor, the daily Postimees reported, emphasizing that the linguistic integration of non-Estonians already living in the country will not be neglected.

In connection with the free movement of labor, Population Minister Paul-Eerik Rummo said it was necessary to consider what an increased number of immigrants would mean for Estonia. He added that the country should look beyond national borders.

Although it is legally inaccurate to say so, EU members arriving in the country have to be seen as new immigrants, the population minister said.

It seems that in light of the recent riots in the suburbs of Paris - which were generally between the frustrated and unemployed children of immigrant workers brought to that country for similar purposes, and the state who they blame for their predicament - bringing more laborers to Estonia might in the long term be a bad idea.

It would only worsen the situation Estonia finds itself dealing with in the case of Narva. Take it from an American. Here in the US we have our own Narvas - the remnants of failed economic systems that chose to move people from place to place, then leave them there as the economy shifted to other, more lucrative areas.

We have our Oakland, Californias - where migrant workers from the rural south were brought in to work on Naval installations that have since been closed. Our southern Mississippis - where migrant workers were brought from Africa to work in a long deceased plantation system. Kurat, Eestimaa - take a look at the Americas as whole - and look at the failed states of places like Haiti, where thousands upon thousands of slaves were sent in the 17th and 18th centuries to be employed in long-dead money-making schemes. And Haiti - which was probably sparsely populated by native groups before French capitalists embarked on their particular failed mission, is now a ripe sewer of the bad side of humanity.

The wiser thing for Estonian companies to do in my opinion, is not to take workers in, but to build plants outside of Estonia that are run by Estonian management. So rather than invite the foreign labor into the country - you go to where the foreign labor is. And when there is no need for the labor anymore, you just uproot, and sail elsewhere. It seems like a more practical solution to a labor shortage, than some antiquated form of mass migration

2 kommentaari:

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Labor, Labor: This is a misconcept! This is stone age. Families who come for work only are lost in the future. If they come for the better education of their children or for themselfs then all will benefit, they and the society.

Ott Toomet ütles ...

I think your examples are not so much about immigrants/immigration as about single-plant-settlements, huge plants in contracting industries etc. I don't think problems in Narva are so much related to ethnic composition of population than to industrial composition in the region.

To establish plants around the world -- sure, this is a clever idea. From the economic point of view, you should establish production in China, management in London/New York and R&D in California.

The problem of immigation rises again if you want to do any of these steps e.g. in Estonia. The number of people with suitable qualification is small and you have to look at the wider market in order to find some.