Moving to Africa was a pivotal moment in my life. I had lived in India all my life, and for almost all of that time, the Indian economy was closed off from the world. Not in the way that the communist countries had been closed off, though; the motivation was primarily economic fear. As one can expect, a closed economy also had an impact on cultural exposure. Barring a steady trickle of Hollywood movies and reports in the print media, there wasn’t much cultural influence from outside coming into India. Sporadically, though, some musical album would make its way in. Things started changing a bit in the late 1970’s, when ABBA and Boney M were big hits – but those were certainly the exception that proved the rule. Our knowledge of music of the West was, ahem, scratchy.

Kenya was different. I found that country to be much better integrated with Western Europe and North America. Cultural practices of the West stood shoulder to shoulder with African ones, particularly as regards music. Eurovision was highly popular. Among the eclectic experiences that I had there was the music of Jean-Michel Jarre. I was introduced to his music in unusual circumstances.

My boss had two sons, and the older of the two was about 11 years old when I went to Africa. Over the next couple of years, we developed a sort of friendship. One day he told me about the music of Jean-Michel Jarre, whom I had never heard of. He gave me a pre-recorded cassette of Jarre’s album titled Revolutions. True to its name, the album contains themes of various revolutions – industrial, computer, and finally, immigration. I liked being familiarized to electronic music, but I liked even more the idea that Jarre considered the movement of people to have reached a point of being called a revolution. He had composed and released this album in 1988. As it turned out, he was prescient on the issue.

Revolutions are inherently messy and painful. They affect a great number of people, and, barring exceptions, often cause a great deal of harm. Regardless of what one thinks of the end results achieved through revolutions, it is in their nature to be disruptive. For me, it was almost an epiphany to realize that the movement of people across the globe was reaching a point of becoming a disruptive force. It was equally startling to know that the person who brought this realization to me was a 13 year old.


Before we begin this discussion, an important point needs to be clarified. There already exists a large body of work, both in the print and screen versions, portraying images of a dystopian future for humankind. While these stories may be good for entertainment, at least for some, and occasionally provide a nugget of insight, the world is unlikely to be in that state of disorder, at least in the short- to middle- term. The reason is that these hypotheses are built on the assumption that events would move in a linear manner, either through humans’ (assumed) inability to perceive the reality around them, or to respond effectively to challenges by changing course. For all its many failings, the human race is at least smart enough to have an idea of any impending doom, and to try to stave it off.

In his novel, In High Places, celebrated author Arthur Hailey pointed out the illogic that usually lies at the basis of dystopian theories. This story of political intrigue is set in Canada, and at one point, the fictional Prime Minister James McCallum Howden points out to another person that when the machine gun was invented, someone made a calculation of how much time it would take to eliminate every human being on the planet. The calculation was based on the rate of fire of the machine gun (2,000 bullets per minute) and the estimated population of the world at the time. PM Howden noted that this calculation was based on a whole bunch of assumptions: that each bullet would hit a human; that each wound would be fatal; that the shooter(s) would have adequate supplies of ammunition; that the gun wouldn’t malfunction; and crucially, that no one would react to the carnage being perpetrated and neutralize the gun or the gunner. In other words, the dystopian hypothesis was based on linear thinking. Unfortunately for such theorizers, life – and human history – doesn’t move in a linear fashion.

If we take a cue from PM Howden, and examine our own theory for any underlying assumptions that don’t comport with reality, we will be able to arrive at a better version of that theory. That version, alas, will be less morbidly alluring – but it can form the basis of a more workable policy.

That theory is:

Part 1: Canada doesn’t need to bring in immigrants anymore.

                Part 2: The statement at Part 1 has been true for many years.

Let us see if and how this theory holds up to scrutiny.


Back in the halcyon days of 1992, the then-new-and-fast-emerging CNN aired a four part documentary titled ‘The People Bomb’. The theme was overpopulation, and its impact on environment. Whatever one thinks of the documentary (the Los Angeles Times criticized it; see note 1), the theme does make us think about the consequences of exploding human population in some parts of the world. Typically, these are among the less prosperous countries. It would be reasonable to assume that for many people there, economic prospects would range from bleak to non-existent. They can stand a chance only if someone from a higher rung leaves for somewhere else. For many of these would-be leavers, the desirable destination is a Western country.

It is interesting to note that right around this period, Canada substantially increased its annual immigration quotas – from about 80,000 immigrants to well over 250,000. Considering that this is the same period during which major international agreements and initiatives such as NAFTA and WTO were finalized, it remains a mystery why Canada should have decided to so drastically increase the immigrant quotas. These initiatives were certain to have an effect known as ‘wage arbitrage’ (the moving of operations to jurisdictions with lower wages); the independent US Presidential candidate Ross Perot spoke extensively and eloquently about this in the election debates in 1992. For policy-makers, it should have been clear as daylight that the Canadian economy was going to require fewer workers (this being slightly offset by the arbitrage in Canada’s favor in relation to the US). Recent studies (in 2019) have shown that immigrants in the recent decades are not doing as well financially as those who immigrated to Canada until 1980. As the saying goes, the surprise is that this is a surprise. In today’s climate, this ‘discovery’ is being spun in racial terms, viz. that these later immigrants aren’t doing well because they aren’t white. That is a wrong conclusion. The reality is that new entrants to the workforce (including Canadian-born who have completed their studies) aren’t doing well because the labor market is oversaturated. The demand for and supply of workers in most categories are in a state of disequilibrium. If one segment of the newly entering workforce happens to be non-white, that is a function of the immigration pattern (Canada ceased to be an attractive immigration destination for Europeans long ago). It also means that a disproportionate percentage of new entrants are non-white. Some – or even many – of them being denied the deserved opportunity is a consequence of a general paucity of opportunities, not of racism. As we shall see next, the technological advances that are afoot only serve to exacerbate the situation.


The short answer is yes – and that it’s a bad thing, in terms of job prospects for humans.

Many people point to the technological developments of the past, and note that each new technology created its own demand for workers. That is certainly true, but the question is whether it holds true now as well. As every prospectus for financial products warns, ‘past performance may not necessarily be an indicator of future returns’. Let us examine how the current wave of technological development differs from past episodes.

In the past, a new product of technology (a) required a human to operate it (including maintenance), and (b) produced conditions that employed more workers of the ‘traditional’ sector. One example of the latter is the ‘traditional’ jobs created at and around a railway station, following the invention of the locomotive engine. Another, more recent example is the proliferation of ‘cyber cafes’ in the early days of the Internet. By contrast, today’s technology increasingly operates itself, and also maintains itself when something goes wrong internally. To the extent that human intervention is required, technology also gives us access to workers in faraway lands that can provide that intervention at a fraction of the local cost. Over time and with experience, that remote intervention is also of the same quality as that provided by local workers. Moreover, the pervasive nature of new technology also ensures that the ‘traditional’ work created by these will also be done through technology rather than humans. Witness the move away, by companies such as Amazon, from postal or courier delivery of packages to delivery using drones. Indeed, it is now possible to envisage an entire operation – industrial, commercial or of a service nature – being carried out exclusively by automated machines that are also capable of coordinating with each other. Only a token human presence is essential, whether for supervision or purely psychological reasons.

Technology can often have a deflationary effect, and in the present case, that effect will likely manifest on the employment scene. Machines are now truly capable of replacing humans.

This concept isn’t new. Over half a century ago, legendary science fiction writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke wrote, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, about a computer named HAL that was so capable of doing everything that an astronaut was required to do that it was treated as another member of the crew. Stephen Baxter, in his massive book ‘Evolution’, has written about machines that do the work as well as reproduce themselves. Michael Creighton has written, in ‘Prey’, about nano-particle based machines that learn from experience. The question is whether these kinds of machines can become a reality soon. Looking at the current trends in technological development, it seems at least as likely as not.


Human beings are a combination of rational and emotional creatures. Irrespective of technological capabilities at their disposal, certain tasks, such as military service, are seen as too sensitive to be entrusted to automated, non-human entities. Pride in cultural traditions keeps certain artisanal producers employed, such as carpet weavers of some regions. Even though these tendencies will stubbornly persist, the employment that they generate can at best be seen as vestiges of a world that once was. Just as currently most people’s interaction with farm animals is at a petting zoo, human employment will be confined to a demarcated area, as more of a curiosity than the way most people live their lives. In terms of producing and providing the goods and services necessary for satisfying human needs and wants, we are close to crossing the threshold of human obsolescence. The overriding question at that point will be: What do we do with the humans?


Many people have supposed that once most work is automated, humans will be free to engage (indulge?) in artistic and other creative pursuits. There are two problems with this: firstly, not all people have creative urges, and secondly, humans derive their sense of self-worth from the work they do, as it allows them to perform a useful function in the society. It is difficult to feel useful to others when most work is done by machines.

As chance would have it, I have experience of living in a society (long since vanished) where work did not occupy as central a place in people’s lives as it does in today’s Canada. There was a lot of dullness to life then, but with today’s communications technology, that does not appear as a likely problem in our future. Our greatest problem will probably be: What to do with the people that are here? Recrimination being a basic part of human nature, someone is certain to bring up the logical next question: Who let them in?


LA Times’ review of CNN’s The People Bomb: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1992-05-02-ca-1073-story.html, retrieved on May 19, 2019.