Stakeholders of goodwill: neither the "salad bowl" nor the "melting pot"

openDemocracy | August 30, 2011

Meaningful stakeholders in the collective, each becoming reasonable people of goodwill - this is the model for successfully living with the identitarianisms that will otherwise tear our future apart. This applies as much to multi-ethnic Europe as the Gulf States or Singapore.

By Parag Khanna and Aaron Maniam

The tragic shooting rampage and bombing in Norway this summer revealed not only the elevated ethnic tensions which beset once homogenous and placid European nations, but also the fundamental new global reality of multi-cultural and multi-national states. Increasingly, governance of socio-cultural norms is in uncharted territory. As diversity increases, one-time majorities are becoming minorities. If we don’t develop conceptions of what it is to live together in this complicated new world, there is little to stop the continued threat of extremists undermining social stability.

Migration is literally the face of globalisation as it permeates our societies. Just as its forces have required us to re-think sovereignty, we will have to re-define the meaning and practice of citizenship as well.

So far, the response to these facts has been flailing at best, despondent at worst. It was Holland’s growing right-wing movement led by politician Pim Fortuyn that partially inspired Anders Breivik. Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel caused great consternation in Germany when she declared in October 2010 that multi-culturalism had failed. Even Canada, for many the poster child for successful multi-culturalism, is in a state of doubt about its open immigration policy and tolerant political climate.

While some countries may restrict immigration from developing countries, high immigrant birthrates and slow policy changes mean that the ethnic blending taking place around the world is simply a given – however distressing this conclusion might be to the xenophobic right. Close to 15 percent of America’s population now comprises Hispanic immigrants; approximately 15 million Arab-Muslims have settled in the European Union; up to 15 million of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) 60 million residents are of South Asian origin. The total population of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates has surged from just 5 million in 2006 to 8.25 million in 2010—with Emirati nationals now accounting for just 11.5 percent of the population. An estimated one-third of Israel’s population will be made up of Arab Muslims by 2025.

This permanent settling of once minority populations greatly challenges formerly dominant ethno-racial or religio-cultural understandings of citizenship – policies which were tantamount to “ethnic nationalism”. From illegal Latin America immigrants in the U.S. to third generation Turks in Germany, migrants may be in their destination country, but do not always feel like they belong there. Yet most host states will never be able to deport the millions of undocumented migrants within their borders. Whether or not these states grant amnesty to such migrants, they have become part of the fabric of their host societies.

In the face of such a complex reality, strict legal citizenship, as currently understood and practiced, appears too inflexible to accommodate the varieties of attachment that can constitute a broad-based sense of loyalty and belonging in diverse societies. Overwhelming demographic change compels us to find more pragmatic and forward-looking solutions.

Instead of citizenship, such societies must begin to adopt policies that promote two concepts in particular.

The first is stakeholdership. Citizens, non-citizens, guest workers, migrant labourers, expatriates, and other categories of residents that inhabit the same social, economic and political space may all have different status in terms of residency and voting rights, but for the society to succeed, all must feel as if they are stakeholders in its present and future. Are they rewarded for their role in maintaining social order and prosperity? Do they have incentives to contribute to the economy and overall welfare? What expectations do the state and society have of them irrespective of their citizenship status? These are questions associated with stakeholdership—questions to which a growing number of societies must quickly find answers.

Recent surveys suggest that citizens take a stable national identity for granted while contributing little to its development. A 2011 survey by Newsweek found that 40 percent of Americans would fail the national citizenship test questions which immigrants must study to become American. Under the concept of stakeholdership, citizenship would of course not be legally in jeopardy due to ignorance of political facts, but individuals or groups that demonstrate commitment to their desired national identity should be granted it more readily than is presently the case. Citizenship is more about what people are in a limited legal sense; it is conferred rather than earned. Stakeholdership is more about what people do to contribute to the general good.

The second principle focuses on nurturing all stakeholders into reasonable persons of goodwill. In navigating the intricate and often tense relations within diversifying societies, such individuals put reason and pragmatism ahead of primordial identities like race and language. They emphasise shared person-hood over stereotypes, appreciating the reality of the multiple identities and associations that each individual carries within them. Persons of goodwill make genuine efforts to not construe others’ perceptions of their culture and heritage as insults and offenses, just as they will make genuine efforts not to offend others' cultures simply for the sake of asserting their right to do so. In many ways, reasonable persons of goodwill are the bedrock of stakeholdership, providing the motivation and the means for such meaningful involvement in society to take place.

Political leaders today tend to skirt the increasing importance of setting clear expectations of how reasonable stakeholders in and of their state should act irrespective of what they may feel themselves to be. After the July 7, 2005 terrorist bombings in London, then Prime Minister Tony Blair faced the difficult admission that the attacks were carried out by citizens of his own country, even though they were planned half a world away in Pakistan. But in the immediate aftermath he also spoke of a “British way of life,” a unified code that could not bend to communities that would seek to uphold or impose alternative virtual nations within the British state. Citizens and stakeholders alike must also concede a certain allegiance and commitment to the rule of law—or find other homes to which they would rather belong.

Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew stated in an April 2011 interview that the Sino-Indian-Malay city-state is “one society even if not yet one nation.” Despite Singapore’s stunning achievement of first-world prosperity within one generation, he still worries deeply that his policies aimed to force people to inter-mingle in schools, shopping centers and neighbourhoods have yet to penetrate deeply and embed themselves into the population’s culture. The point is that citizenship alone does not compel individuals to feel integrated as stakeholders in a collective. More positive incentives would help ensure that all residents act as reasonable persons of goodwill and as common stakeholders in their collective national future.

Because Singapore is a city-state, it is a microcosm and potential role model for the many major cities where these approaches will be essential tools to maintain loyalty and continuity of residence, as well as attract talent for the long-term.

When the financial crisis struck Dubai, thousands of expatriates were put on notice to depart the emirate because their residency was linked to employment rather than property ownership or other demonstrations of stakeholdership such as children enrolled in local schools or commitments to community organisations. Yet many British, German, and other multinational employees would have chosen—and indeed, had chosen—to make Dubai their de facto permanent home even if they were not citizens. This is a case where stakeholdership should have been prized over citizenship; and where emphasising their reasoned goodwill towards surrounding communities would have helped create both tangible and intangible reasons for them to remain.

Stakeholdership and reasonable persons of goodwill provide policymakers with the conceptual basis for innovating a new approach to governing multi-ethnic immigrant societies. There is a tendency to view the challenges associated with demographic diversity through the prism of welfare, viewing each new migrant as a burden on the state, particularly in Europe where guarantees of universal welfare have been sacrosanct. The right-wing demand has thus been to restrict access by either putting a ring around welfare (limiting access to citizens only) or around the state (restricting immigration altogether).

But a far-sighted view would create incentives for migrants to contribute in services what they cannot in tax receipts. Unemployed migrants could work in low-wage public services, contributing to the upkeep of infrastructure, while higher skilled migrants could contribute to health services, community development programs, and even foreign policy goals through their connections to home. With public debts soaring, there is a pragmatic need to leverage the presence of migrants rather than continuing to view them as a burden.

The stale framework that places societies on a continuum from “salad bowl” to “melting pot” no longer does justice to the complexities of today’s multi-ethnic societies. Instead, the successful states of the future are those that inspire and incentivise people from all walks of life to act as reasonable stakeholders in a common project. This is not an alternative to citizenship, but its next evolutionary phase in a world of multiple identities.

Parag Khanna is a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation and author of How to Run the World. Aaron Maniam is a diversity practitioner in Singapore, including serving as Chairman of the Singapore Indian Development Association’s Youth Club, former president of a group of young Muslim professionals, and a volunteer facilitator with an interfaith dialogue program.

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