In two recent pieces for The Diplomat I have looked at some of the reasons for Australia’s success in suppressing the coronavirus, and how the pandemic may affect Australia’s immigration program. The latter piece focused on Australia’s continued need for migrants, even if the pandemic shifts some of the norms around how states organize themselves. But there is an added element to this that brings us back to the first piece on Australia’s success in coping with the virus: post-pandemic, which states will be attractive to those wishing to migrate and which states will not?
The latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine is dedicated to the question of whether the coronavirus will mean the end of globalization, and there have been a number of other commentaries in outlets from Foreign Affairs to Forbes and the Wall Street Journal all exploring this theme. The coronavirus pandemic comfortably fits into the nativist narrative that a domestic population is vulnerable to nefarious foreign forces, a core element of much anti-globalization and populist sentiment. In this context, the virus can be seen as a pivotal event — alongside Brexit and the election of Donald Trump — in which the “somewheres” will triumph over the “anywheres.”
It is true that states may now conclude that they have been over-reliant on an interconnected global economy to facilitate their needs, and decide they require greater self-sufficiency to build resilience against major shocks like COVID-19. Yet, as I argued previously, Australia lacks the domestic population to be fully self-sufficient, and will therefore be required to remain open to immigration. However, there is another element to this equation that the pandemic may also be creating. Rather than facilitating a decline in the movement of people, it could actually intensify it.
A global pandemic is the kind of seismic event that could make individuals reconsider their options, as well as states. Those with the capabilities to move relatively freely around the world may currently be reconsidering the options they have not just for career advancement, but for their basic well-being. The “anywheres” may be looking for somewhere safer than where they presently are.
In Francis Fukuyama’s two-volume tome — The Origins of Political Order and Political Order and Political Decay — he traces the evolution of human organization in its quest to “get to Denmark.” Here the Scandinavian country is used as a metaphor to represent a society that rejects parochial bonds in favor of a universal humanity; a society that is stable, peaceful, prosperous, and inclusive, with strong ethical standards, a sense of wider responsibility and accountability, and with corruption firmly under control. With the pandemic having a considerable effect on not just how states may organize themselves, but also the things individuals value and seek from governments, actively protecting residents’ health could be added to that list.
The failings of a number of prominent and wealthy countries to limit the impact of the pandemic has been stark. These failings could have innumerable factors, but ultimately the responsibility will fall on their governments, and the political actors who drive them. There have also been countries that have handled the crisis extremely well. After an initial difficult start South Korea has become the standard bearer of the Four T’s: testing, tracking, tracing, and treating. And Taiwan’s quick response has prevented any major outbreak of the virus, despite there usually being over a thousand flights a week between Taiwan and China, the original source of the virus.
Alongside these countries sits Australia and New Zealand, which have both managed to limit the spread of the virus and to keep the numbers of deaths comparatively low (92 deaths in Australia, 19 in New Zealand, as of April 30). Both countries’ governments could be deemed to have passed the test of competence in their handling of the virus. Both were already well on the way “to Denmark” and have now demonstrated they have a keen desire to take the necessary measures to protect the lives of their residents. This would make both seem highly attractive to those who have the option, and perhaps now the inclination, to seek a society that can provide considerable human security.
This is not to say that these countries are without faults. The democratic decay being experienced in some other Western countries — most notably the United States — exists at the edges of the Australian body politic. Roused up elements in the media make daily attempts to pull the governing conservative coalition into their chaotic world; however, these parties are aware of the electoral costs this may generate, and on the whole (although not completely) resist these temptations. Australia’s compulsory voting is generally credited with providing a bulwark against the ideological extremism and hyper-partisan political culture that drives democratic decay and corrodes public trust.
The COVID-19 pandemic is providing an opportunity for states to rethink their role in the societies they govern. The disruption the virus has created provides a key lesson on how states need to consolidate the basic building blocks of governance in order to establish a strong domestic resilience to random shocks. For countries that are also actively seeking to expand their population in order to increase their capabilities, it is these basic building blocks that may now be the most compelling element to expanding their attraction.