Roy Beck’s Gumball Immigration Doesn’t Account for Infrastructure

Roy Beck |

As many have pointed out, Roy Beck’s Gumball Immigration fails to account for several aspects of why people migrate away from their home country–not the least of which is destruction set upon their infrastructure by more affluent nations to which they immigrate.

Since it was filmed seven years ago, Roy Beck’s video about immigration and poverty comes off as a little bit dated. He makes a grand visual analogy with gumballs in order to depict how mass immigration into the U.S. will not solve global poverty, and then argues that people who are devastatingly poor (making $2 a day or less) would have a higher success rate if the brightest individuals weren’t going to the U.S. for opportunities and education. If people stayed in their countries, they could invest their time and intelligence to contribute to that society instead of the U.S.

This ignores the practical realities of colonialism and globalization that have wreaked havoc on different societies across the globe, making infrastructural growth seem like a theory not rooted in reality.

It also ignores the fact that many immigrants continue to help their families and communities after leaving.

Infrastructure development is one hole in Roy Beck's Gumball Immigration.Click To Tweet

Nevertheless, some points that Beck makes about the global poverty epidemic still ring true, given the large scale of the problem and the seemingly insurmountable barriers that need to be broken for people experiencing extreme poverty to find some sort of level playing field.

Poverty is relative, Beck explains, the migrants who come to the U.S. are not the most impoverished people in the world, and are generally thoroughly vetted, thoroughly educated, and we have a stake in accepting them into our country because of the talent that they have.

The American Immigration System is a Meritocracy

To his credit, Beck dispelled the myth that immigrants to the U.S. are migrating in destitute, impoverished masses.  Immigrants are beneficial to the economy in the U.S., and many of them are already educated–some even more so than public school taught Americans. Yet, as a result of our educational failings, an immigrant’s education can be undervalued in the U.S.

In the end, Beck’s main point was that people who immigrate to the U.S. are “abandoning their countrymen” and should instead consider staying in the country where poverty is a problem so that they can then help be a part of the solution, instead of contributing to the advancement of U.S. culture and infrastructure.

This is a great idea. Yet, it assumed that those living in extreme property have the resources to improve their environments at home. The fact that he so causally philosophizes about poverty and the solution to it while using gumballs as an analogy really exemplifies a certain brand of solipsism that is particular to people in the U.S.

People leave their countries because opportunities do not exist there. In many cases, the U.S. and western imperialist tendencies are part of the reason no opportunities exist.

Therefore, beyond making sure they stay in their countries and contribute their talents vs. sending them to the U.S., we also must make sure that they have funding, conducive regulation, and economic infrastructure in their countries of origin.

Colonial Reality

Many countries in Africa have a poor infrastructure, despite the continent’s status as the richest continent on Earth with regard to natural resources. Every major lucrative industry in Africa is owned by foreign investors.

With regard to just the diamond mining industry, the main profiteers are owned by a range businesses from outside of the continent.

Altogether, on the continent of Africa, there are about 20 known diamond mines in operation. Angola hosts three legal mines, though the extent of how many exist in the country is unknown because of war and the success of illegal mining and trade.

The Catoca Diamond Mine in Angola | Konstantin Grave |

Currently, the fourth largest diamond mine the world is in Angola. The Catoca diamond mine is majority foreign-owned: the state mining company holds a bit over a third of the company, with the rest split among Russian and Brazilian holdings as well as the elusive Diamond Finance CY BV Group. The companies rake in billions of dollars from this one mine, while only a fraction of the profits benefit Angola.

It is rare for one company to have sole control over an entire mine. At the same time, of the top ten richest mining companies, zero of them are from Africa.

Mining for Infrastructure not Immigration

Angola is a former Portuguese colony that gained independence just over 40 years ago and has endured a long civil war.

This means that most infrastructures were built under a colonial, extractive wealth system meant to get goods from the interior to the coast for trade and not for interconnecting the country itself.

This also means that what little infrastructure existed was severely damaged or destroyed during the fight for independence, and the subsequent civil war.

And even still, before gaining independence, the country was a colony where citizens were forced to into agricultural labor. As a result, the infrastructure that was in place was not one that was necessarily beneficial to the people living there.

Knowing this, it should not be surprising that Angola’s economy still closely resembles a colonial economy. That is, despite state sovereignty, most of Angola’s trade worthy resources are majority foreign owned.

Of course, Angola still profits off of the mining industry and has the third largest economy in Africa. The country is heavily dependent on petroleum and diamond exports, and 98% of the government’s revenue is reported to be diamond mining-related. At the same time, the country still has an underdeveloped infrastructure.

Though the Angolan government is experiencing relative success based off of the use of their natural resources, there is an obvious imbalance in representation when it comes to big business in Angola. The Angolan government and Angolan businesses only reap a fraction of the profits from their country’s own industries.

More Angolan businesses will hopefully mean more revenue to use for infrastructure development. Where will Angolans learn the business skills they need to take control of their country’s production? Perhaps through immigration?

New Opportunities

It is because of all of the Angolan natural resources that there is still a huge investment potential for the country, despite lacking infrastructure. Investors are taking notice as infrastructure development can be its own cash cow.

Moving away from a colonial economy that is rife with various legal constraints, investors are beginning to take note of the financial benefits to building Angolan infrastructure. In order to truly benefit from their stake in Angola’s oil, diamond, gold industries, it is essential to invest in the infrastructure. In this way, wealth can once again be extracted more efficiently.

Investment in just one aspect of infrastructure will make a huge difference. The hope is that this time around, foreign investment in infrastructure will lead to jobs for Angolans and allow some of the wealth to stay in the country.

The more wealth that stays in the country, the more the salaries and standards of living can increase. Perhaps then fewer citizens will consider migrating to another country for better living opportunities.

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