Multiculturalism in open markets

Understanding the impact of free markets on multiculturalist societies

, by Konstantin Manyakin

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Multiculturalism in open markets
A migrant stares out the window of a bus in Obrenovac, Serbia, after trying to travel to Belgrade, 17 January 2017 cc

The decline of a national narrative and rise of a multicultural free market

Open borders and the influx of migrants are the consequences of new market friendly policy decisions taken in the 1980s. This change in the policy of multiculturalism was stimulated by the world entering a new economic phase of globalisation, the creation of the single market and precipated by the collapse of the Soviet Union making it possible for transnational corporations to expand across borders while making huge migratory waves possible. This process led Leveau, Mohsen-Finan, and de Wenden to assert that “globalisation means more immigration” [1]. During this period, First World countries allowed Third World nationals to immigrate to them in order to accumulate unlimited profits through the exploitation of their comparatively cheap labour-power; this strategy is a defining feature of neoliberalism. This demand for cheap labour coincided with the implementation of immigration policies which liberalised rules on migration and even eased the process of acquiring citizenship. This is especially true of Belgium, a country which (since the 1980s) has seen swathes of immigrants acquire citizenship through the process naturalisation. This was a reflection of the fact that globalisation had diminished the importance, and role, of the nation state while simultaneously causing Third World nationals to assimilate the culture of their host nation. Indeed, the whole world became a ’global village’ where free migration was driven by transnational corporations. While the open immigration policies of Tony Blair subjected migrants to some identity checks, these checks were not done for the sake of restriction. Rather, they were introduced to weed out migrants who were involved in crime/terrorism [2].

Eventually, neoliberal globalisation adopted the left-wing rhetoric of diversity and tolerance. Initially, neoliberal systems opposed this policy as a social liberal ideology encouraging welfare support for less advantaged immigrants and their children, and at the same time abuses the notion of individual freedom. Nevertheless, globalisation eventually adopted parts of the multicultural doctrine for the sake of doing business with enterprises run by people of different cultural backgrounds and seeking a language of interaction with individuals of different skin colours [3]. Neoliberal multiculturalism also served the purpose of promoting consumerism. White customers, living in Western European states, can buy commodities on a massive scale while they interact with and express tolerance (or indifference) toward a seller who is very likely non-white, wears a distinctive cultural dress, and/or speaks with an accent (Tony Blair’s ’New Labour’ class).

Throughout the stages of economic development, civilians of non-European origin have been treated as an ’underclass’ who have had to deal with fewer employment opportunities, a lower quality of life, and an education which is worse than the education received by the native population. For example, according to Enjah (who interacted with the various diasporas in Belgium) “the vast majority of Moroccans who obtained Belgian citizenship belong to the working class, they work for long hours doing difficult tasks for small salaries. Their situation is precarious. Many are unemployed and live on welfare and spend most of their time in cafes” [4]. Enjah found that members of the Moroccan diaspora were granted citizenship in order to make them be “more positively pictured by the host societies” [5]. Furthermore, the second and third generation of these migrants are still less successful than their native counterparts when it comes to education and employment [6].

Many economists look at multicultural societies as hierarchical rather than equal. They argue that economic agents are “differentiated by income, class, differing tastes of products, work incentives, education attainment, job skills and the like” [7]. Indeed, this universal society is still racially hierarchical, where the rich Western European white ethnic groups have a higher status than other minorities, including white British (English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish), white others, black British and South Asian British in the UK. In France, white Roman Catholic French, sometimes labeled as Gauls, enjoy a more privileged social status than the minorities from the Maghreb, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Vietnam. In Belgium, white Belgians (Walloon and Flemish) see themselves as superior to Congolese, Turkish, and Moroccan minorities. Furthermore, Third Country Nationals (and their descendants) are more vulnerable to economic disasters, such as the global recession of 2008-2015. People of immigrant origin, such as Moroccans, were most heavily impacted by the economic recession as they worked in the areas that were hit the hardest” [8]. Since December 2009 it has become abundantly clear that one of the major responses to the crisis has been cuts to government spending (with particularly sharp reductions in welfare expenditure). Indeed, a cursory glance at the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) illustrates that “after European governments had been forced to bail out systemic banks, the financial crisis was redefined as a crisis of fiscal profligacy, requiring tough and prolonged public austerity” [9]. This reframing of the crisis, and the now ubiquitous obsession of eliminating budget deficits, has led to the adoption of the pro-austerity European Fiscal Compact.

Crash and neoliberal crisis

The most recent crisis has, once again, changed the direction of Europe’s immigration policy. Indeed, the financial crash has led to a de-liberalisation/tightening of the relatively lax measures which characterised the early 2000s. Youth unemployment among nationals, an influx of EU migrants, and “the troubled economy and the intensified discussions leading towards the formation of the European Union also encouraged the growth of the far right movements such as French Front National” [10], which perhaps also played a role in turning politicians away from non-EU residents by declaring that multiculturalism ’has been a failure’. Indeed, the rising popularity of a eurosceptic far-right which propagates takes anti-immigrant policies has had a profound influence on policy-makers. As the global recession hit the European continent toughening economic conditions, rising unemployment, and the impact on welfare caused a growing percentage of nationals to agree with the argument that, overall, immigration must be reduced and managed [11]. In this case, the political struggle has increased and many mainstream parties have begun to adopt anti-immigrant, and even anti-multiculturalist, messages in order to prevent the far right and eurosceptics from gaining votes. Through this method, the Conservative Party was able to win the 2015 UK general election. In addition to this, French conservatives did well in the 2015 local and by-elections as they became aware of how to outmaneuver their populist counterparts. Indeed, both British and French conservatives learnt how to combat the appeal which enabled the Front National and UKIP to win the most seats during the European elections the previous year. Furthermore, economic conditions also shape public opinion on what kind of immigrants are desired. Today, the ideal migrant is “young, highly qualified and skilled in a relevant field or alternatively, an investor with both financial and business capital who is able to create job positions and contribute to the stimulation of the economic growth” [12].

Aside from the global economic crisis, in the near future, immigration policies could be shaped by the impact of modern and innovative technology on the economy. Some German journalists are aware that robots may become potential replacements for both white-collar and blue-collar workers as they can be more effective, more efficiently, and can cost less than employing human beings. Indeed, “some robots in industries like agriculture, such as a self-driven picking machine, take over jobs that would otherwise go to migrant workers” [13]. According to one economic researcher, Bowles, “these new developments could also mitigate immigration by unskilled workers because machines will become cheaper than workers more quickly in rich countries than in poor ones” [14]. This factor is becoming a reality in the near future not only in Germany, but also in Belgium, France and the UK.

Marxists were correct to argue that immigration policies are influenced by the interests of capitalism (which needed non-European migrant labour-power to accumulate surplus value). No matter how effective or socially inclusive multiculturalism really was, these immigrants and their descendants have generally remained poorer than the native populations of their host nations. It is important to recognise that the rules and nature of immigration, and the policies of multiculturalism, have changed throughout the development of the general mode of production. Finally, foreigners are more likely to face exclusion and/or deportation whenever some indicators show that immigration brings more losses, than benefits, for the countries and companies that hire them.


[1] Leveau, R., Mohsen-Finan, K. and de Wenden, C.W. (2002) New European Identity and Citizenship. Page 5. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Limited. [2] Shadid, W.A. and Koningsveld, P.S. (1996) Political Participation and Identities of Muslims in Non Muslim States. Page 210. Kampen: Pharos. [3] Kymlicka, W. (2013) ’Neoliberal Multiculturalism?’ in Hall, P.A. and Lamont, M. (ed.) Social Resilience in the Neo-Liberal Era. pp.107-108. Cambridge University Press. [4,5,8] Ennaji, M. (2014) Muslim Moroccan Migrants in Europe: Transnational Migration in its Multiplicity. Pages 140, 141, and 43] New York: Palgrave Macmillan. [6] Vertovec, S. and Wessendorf, S. (2010) The Multiculturalism Backlash: European discourses, policies and practices. Page 9. New York: Routledge. [7] Braun, H. and Klooss, W. (1995) Multiculturalism in North America and Europe. Page 74. Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier. [9] Hemerijck, A.C. and Vandenbroucke, F. (2012) ’The Welfare State After Great Recession’. 2012 CEPS Conference Room. DOI: 10.1007/s10272-012-0422-y. [10] DeGroat, J. (2001) ’To be French: Franco-Maghrebians and the Commission de la Nationalité’ in Cornwell, G.H. and Stobbard, E.W. (ed.) Global Multiculturalism: Comparative Perspectives on Ethnicity, Race and Nation, page 77. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. [11] Blinder, S. (2014) UK Public Opinion toward Immigration: Overall Attitudes and Level of Concern. Available at: [12] Muchowiecka, L. (2013) ’The End of Multiculturalism? Immigration and Integration in Germany and the United Kingdom’, Student Pulse, Vol. 5, # 6. [13,14] Overdorf, J. (2015) ’Robots, not immigrants, could take half of German jobs’. The Week. February 10. Available at:

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