09 April 2014

It adds up… just like the way compound interest snowballs over time, small differences in affordable freedoms add up to big advantages and disadvantages. A person with more freedoms has better and better chance of having a good and successful life than a person with less freedoms.

We live in a world where some birth characteristics such as skin color cannot be used legally for discrimination. But other birth characteristics such as nationality can be used, and are used every day for discrimination. Fighting this discrimination everyday takes a lot of effort. Effort that could otherwise be spent on improving quality of life, education, or taking advantage of opportunities. Over time the extra effort adds up.

A foreigner needs to be ten times better than the locals in order to succeed. One time to be competent, and nine times to keep on proving themselves over and over and over, to keep on jumping over beurocratic and societal hurdles. Often the local citizens treat foreigners with the same humanity and compassion that they treat other citizens. However, the legal and beaurocratic system is often designed only with local citizens in mind. The hurdles it presents to foreigners decimate the foreigners output. Often, it takes a lot of extra time, money and effort just to do basic things.

Additionally a foreigner must be ten times more careful not to make a mistake, as mistakes are more costly. Every mistake can jeopardize the foreigner’s status. Such mistakes could be for example minor legal violations, but also errors stemming from the complicatedness of the legal system.

Some would say that this discrimination is due to lower trust towards foreigners. Foreigners and immigrants might have different objectives at hearth than the local citizens. Therefore, they should be trusted less because they simply want to take advantage of the honest hardworking people in country. But… really? Nationality is just a signal that we emit to others, so that they can decide how much to trust us. But such signals are also education, achievement, monetary worth, health, age, languages spoken, sexual orientation, clothing, deeds, emotions etc.

Currently there are regulations how these signals can and can’t be used to discriminate. For example, education and skills can be used to discriminate on hiring for a given position but cannot be used to discriminate the voting power of an individual. Age be used to discriminate voting power, or eligibility to drive a car, or to run for certain government offices, but on the other hand could provide certain protections as well. At their best intentions, such regulations and discriminations aim to provide a more productive, robust and organized society.

Nationality is a discriminator mostly for historical reasons. There are wars around the world now, and there were even more wars in the past. And wars are usually one country fighting against another. There are no wars of old vs young, of people who wear clean clothes versus the dirty people, of the ones who can drive vs the ones who cannot drive. However, there were other conflicts, of rich vs poor, of educated versus uneducated, of old versus new generation. Often times, the stronger the conflict, the stronger the resulting discrimination, as conflicts and lack of trust add to each other, and lack of trust adds to discrimination.

Nationality is the most fierce discriminator. While race has justly been removed from the legal discriminators, nationality still remains. When you are an alien, the presumption of being innocent until proven otherwise doesn’t hold any more. The things that are one is allowed to do are prescribed, and it is unlawful to do stuff beyond what you’re prescribed.

As a foreigner I am paying hostility debt. The depth is accumulated over decades of unfriendly diplomacy, before I was born. Hostility debt is accumulated pretty similar to they way technical debt in software engineering, or pretty much any debt is accumulated. By deciding “Hey, I’m gonna do this thing now because it serves my short term interestes even though it is bad diplomacy/creates unmaintainable code/costs more money than I have in the bank.” To pay it off we have to put money asside, refactor code, or show good will.

The daily payments are tough, but I hope to be able to pay off enough of this debt, at least to the point where my personal balance is zero. But I hope I also have the opportunity to pay forward some of the debt for others. Foreigners can pay historical debt through contributions and through diplomacy and negotiation. Locals can help by supporting legal changes that reduce the handicaps imposed on the foreigners.

I hope debt payments can also add up.

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