The State of Kentucky was founded in 1775, the State of Ohio only twelve years later; but twelve years are more in America than half a century in Europe, and at the present day, the population of Ohio exceeds that of Kentucky by two hundred and fifty thousand souls. These opposite consequences of slavery and freedom may readily be understood, and they suffice to explain many of the differences which we notice between the civilization of antiquity and that of our own time.
Upon the left bank of the Ohio labor is confounded with the idea of slavery, upon the right bank it is identified with that of prosperity and improvement; on the one side it is degraded, on the other it is honored; on the former territory no white laborers can be found, for they would be afraid of assimilating themselves to the Negroes; on the latter no one is idle, for the white population extend their activity and intelligence to every kind of employment. Thus the men whose task it is to cultivate the rich soil of Kentucky are ignorant and apathetic; while those who are active and enlightened either do nothing or pass over into Ohio, where they may work without shame.
— Alexis de Tocqueville, from Democracy in America (1840, Everyman’s Library edition, pp.362-363)
According to the ancient Chinese, the goal of a civilized man was to attain virtue. “Virtue” can be defined in various ways in different times and places — it might by measured by the number of cattle one owns, or by the height of one’s castle towers. Virtue might lie in excessive philanthropy, or in martial prowess, or in successfully controlling the females in one’s family. In the modern capitalist West, virtue is often measured by money, either directly as shown by a bank balance, or indirectly by the visible signs of wealth, such as expensive goods, real estate, servants, perquisites, and privileges.
As Tocqueville pointed out, in a society based largely on slavery, engaging in labor is an emphatically non-virtuous activity. A man’s status is measured by how little work he has to do, because work is done by slaves. Thus any free man who has to work for a living occupies a decidedly inferior position. Uncoerced labor becomes dishonorable, and in such societies frivolity, indolence, and inactivity become the norm for anyone who is not a chattel.
This may explain the presence of huge numbers of “guest workers” in the countries of the Persian Gulf. In a normal country, the arrival of all that oil wealth would have bid up the price of local labor and allowed native workers to raise their standard of living while developing the infrastructure in their countries.
But the Arab countries have a long history of slavery, which lasted from Mohammed’s time until the 1960s, and still continues today in many places in an unofficial capacity.
The natives of the region would damage their honor by engaging in so vulgar an activity as paid labor. Hence the ruling classes must bring in a vast labor force of foreigners, who work under near-slave conditions.
And now the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council have come up against the same problem that all societies with mass immigration face: they have a huge number of unassimilated foreigners living among them, and the natives (surprise!) don’t like the newcomers:
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Last month the United Arab Emirates got its own, first-ever comic book superhero, Ajaaj. His mission? To promote national identity in a state overrun by foreigners, where natives could become negligible in 20 years. A cultural melting pot, the seven-member oil-rich Gulf federation stands out as an oasis of prosperity in the troubled Middle East, and Dubai as the jewel in the crown. But for native Emiratis, this glory has come at a price, reports Middle East Online. Foreigners continue flocking in, transforming demographics and prompting some analysts to warn that the indigenous population could end up strangers in their own land.
Enter cartoon hero “Ajaaj”, the brainstorm of Watani, the UAE’s social development program which tapped into pop culture as a way to target both natives and foreigners. An ancient fictional character, “Ajaaj” (which means sandstorm in Arabic), has been recast as a trim, young, Emirati man ready to upstage Western comic book icons. His feats are set in the future, in the UAE in 2020, and he is part of Watan’s efforts to “uphold the national identity and encourage a sense of good citizenship”, said the group’s general coordinator Ahmad Obaid al-Mansuri.
The Arab states are actually in worse shape than Sweden or the Netherlands: in some cases foreigners make up more than half their populations. No wonder the rulers try to make sure that “guest workers” remain powerless, oppressed, atomized, and unorganized.
Here’s the latest from Ansamed:
GCC: Gulf Residents Against Foreign Labour Force
Local population against foreign workforce: the imbalance in some countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has reached such levels that there are calls from many sides to curb the phenomenon by launching processes of ‘nationalisation’ of the labour market. The latest call came from Bahrain’s Labour Minister Majeed Al-Alawi, who proposed a limit of residence of six years for foreign workers.
The proposal, advanced to the representatives of the GCC countries — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman — in view of the next summit which will be held in Doha in December, is hardly new. It has been circulating since 2005 but then, as it does today, finds strong resistance, beginning with that of entrepreneurs. The Chamber of Commerce of Bahrain rebutted the minister, claiming that the measure would create gaps in the qualified labour market with significant repercussions on the economy. That opinion is shared by the big Emirates entrepreneurs, while in the past months Qatar Airways showed its reluctance to a project of nationalisation which in its opinion would end up damaging a healthy competition.
More cautious are the comments of Oman, which despite admitting the feasibility of the proposal subject to careful study, warns against a possible boomerang effect: the investments in education of the personnel would be fruitless if the workers are forced to leave the country.
Out of a total 32,362 million residents in the Gulf countries, the foreign workers number some 7 and a half million. While in some countries like Saudi Arabia the local population prevails (22 million against 3 million foreign workers) in others, regardless if it consists of unskilled workers or professionals, the immigrant labour force accounts for more than half of the population with significant peaks of 83.1% in Kuwait and 97.3% in Dubai.
Despite the imbalance, the Gulf economies cannot yet afford to themselves take up the reins of their professional fate, sector analysts have repeatedly warned. The issue was also raised the Sheikh of Dubai, Mohammad Al Maktoum. At the presentation of the strategic plan for 2015, the governor answered the insistent requests of emiratization, reiterating that the country is not ready yet and that it is still in the stage of investment in the education of the youngest generations which, later, will take care of the economic fate of the emirate.
A position adopted by most of the oil monarchies of the Gulf, whether they like it or not. “The demographic nightmare”, as defined by Abdulkhaled Abdullah, Professor in political sciences at the Emirates University and leader writer of the Gulf News, also has a cultural dimension and is destined not to exhaust itself soon if Abu Dhabi announces projects which need a mass employment of foreign workforce and estimates a population which will reach 3 million in the next decade. But it is once again Bahrain’s minister Al Alawi to suggest a solution which will spark discussions: “Revising the rhythm of the economic development of the entire region,” he proposes,” avoiding projects which need mass low-cost workforce and investing in industries capable of providing jobs to properly educated local workers.”
“Properly educated local workers” — there’s the rub. The locals may be educated, but will they work?
If you’re a gentleman in a slave-based society, work is for slaves, serfs, or helots — it’s not for you.
Hat tip: insubria.