Watt? Human value or market value?

Expats come and go. They don’t integrate, don’t learn Dutch. But they do live in our houses. Oh yeah… And, they’re arrogant. An anthology of what you might hear at a birthday party. As you may have sensed: this isn’t the whole truth of the matter. If it were, your average expat would strongly resemble your Uncle Bob.

We are talking about capital, human capital to be exact. In globalised capitalism, a person’s market value largely determines his/her mobility. A knowledge worker is recruited whereas a refugee appears unannounced on the doorstep. One of them we want, but the other one….

I think that until recently, many people believed in this dichotomy and acted accordingly. Knowledge migrants have value and are welcome, and refugees cost money and we would prefer to keep them out. Fortunately, this sentiment is changing. Knowledge migrants are still very much in demand and are attracted in large numbers. They are essential for companies to develop and consequently for the economy to grow. Refugees come on their own (often triggered by a disaster), but they are not only considered in terms of social and economic costs. No, the inherent human capital that refugees carry with them is increasingly being unlocked. According to the UWV employee insurance agency, 900 Ukrainians have found work in the Netherlands in recent weeks (report on 13 April 2022). Laws and regulations have been bent and adjusted to make this possible. People want to work, they want to contribute and make a difference. And a job is an important component in that.

Human value has to be at the forefront. It helps if the human capital component in it is recognised. Then doors will open, it’s that simple in a capitalist system. Where we still have a way to go is in the principle of equality. Which refugees get which opportunities? Who will we take that extra step for and who will be left standing at the doorstep? I know that international treaties, European and national laws and regulations play a role, but the current time frame makes it crystal clear that we are not yet equipped to offer everyone equal opportunities. That means the human value is not yet the priority! Even in a globalising world, it still matters where you were born.

My hope is that we can get rid of the term ‘human waste’, a concept introduced by the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. He spoke about the fluid society, where there are always people who can’t keep pace. They are the ones who are left behind after selective globalisation has locked up everything of value. This is entirely in line with Manuel Castells, the Spanish sociologist, who indicates that globalisation should be seen as a process of selective inclusion and exclusion of certain areas, products and groups of people.

I believe that the the word ‘waste’ should never be paired with the word ‘human’. Even though waste is increasingly being assigned a value and turned into capital. But again, that’s not about people… If you are thinking: ‘Well Kris, that was an intense column, no fun at all, man!’, that may very well be true. But then there is always Uncle Harry and Aunt Hetty from my previous columns. They came from Belgium to the Netherlands, Aunt Hetty was wanted: they saw human growth capital in her. And Uncle Harry… he was allowed to come along, not because of his human capital, but because of his own intrinsic human value.

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