This needed to
be said. It does not excuse the way
GMO’s are been stealthed into the market place.
There we must have disclosure and full disclosure.
enthusiasts will try to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We need real science.
I want to see new protocols introduced as early as possible on a township or
watershed basis. This allows a number of
operators to get first dibs on the benefits while eating the risks of
unintended consequences and do this full press over a minimum of five years.
Then if an issue
materializes it can be studied with real world data and next door comparables.
We are still
taking risk but it is geographically contained risk and likely resolvable at a
reasonable cost. It is also likely to drive
the new product into the market sooner because you then have economics as well.
Several weeks ago, Nathanael Johnson at Grist reflected on what he had learned after spending half a
year dissecting all the major claims and counter-claims that dominated the GMO
debate. It was a very thoughtful post with a jarring headline:
What I learned from six months of GMO research: None
of it matters
Many smart people nodded along, which blew my mind,
but also made me realize just how narrowly this discussion has been framed.
(More on that in in a minute.)
In his piece–as he did in his six-month
series–Johnson waxed Solomonic about the pros and cons of crop biotechnology,
The most astonishing thing about the vicious public
brawl over GMOs is that the stakes are so low.
This struck me as astonishing, especially coming
from someone who had just spent six months deeply immersed in biotech research
and application. My own foray into this world has led me to the opposite
conclusion. (The same goes for Amy Harmon.) As I was doodling with a response
to Johnson’s “none of it matters” hand wave, several notable rebuttals poured
forth. The first was from University of Wyoming’s Andrew Kniss,
who made this excellent point:
Next followed Berkley’s Michael Eisen, who felt that
Johnson let GMO opponents off the hook:
What is most disturbing about the GMO debate – and
why it matters – is that the anti-GMO movement at almost every turn rejects
empiricism as a means of understanding the world and making decisions about it.
This matters because the anti-GMO movement shapes
the public discourse. It is their ideology, worldview and claims that set the
terms of the debate. The scientists merely play defense, batting back a torrent
of misinformation and never-ending urban myths (terminators! Indian farmer
suicides!), much in the way that climate scientists are forever rebutting
cherry-picked stats and pseudoscience from climate skeptics. What’s truly
disconcerting about the GMO debate is that influential thought leaders and
public figures have legitimized the anti-empirical voices instead of disavowing
them. (This mostly doesn’t happen in public dialogues involving climate change
or vaccine safety–where the evidence-defiant fringe are marginalized).
Such mainstreaming–how it plays out– is illustrated
in my recent piece in Issues in Science and Technology, which is
about how a popular GMO myth has been credulously accepted, amplified,
and disseminated. To a much larger degree, the endorsement and propagation
of misleading information and outright falsehoods by influential thought
leaders is the elephant in the room that Johnson, Grist and many progressives
dance around. They need to own it, not ignore it, because there are
consequences when influentials play footsies with the fringe, just as there are
consequences when popular talk show hosts give a forum to anecdotal anti-vaccine arguments and phony experts falsely claiming health dangers from GMOs.
Eisen speaks to
why the behavior of GMO opponents matters (my emphasis):
The anti-GMO movement is an anti-empirical
movement. It relies on the rejection of evidence about the risks and benefits
of extant GMOs. And it relies on the rejection of an understanding about
molecular biology. And it’s triumph would be a disaster not just
because we would miss out on future innovations in agriculture – but because
the rejection of GMOs would all but banish the last vestige of empiricism from
political life. The world faces so many challenges now, and we can only solve
them if we believe that the world can be understood by studying it, that we can
think up and generate possible solutions to the challenges we face, and that we
can make rational decisions about which ones to use or not to use. The
anti-GMO movement rejects each piece of this – it rejects decades of research
aimed at understanding molecular biology, it rejects technology as a way to
solve problems and more than anything it rejects our ability to make rational
assessments of risk and value.
Another noteworthy rebuttal to Johnson was penned by Ramez Naam, who
argues that GMOs matter very much for the developing world. Indeed, this is an
aspect of the debate that is largely ignored. I was thrilled to see Naam use
the example of India’s Bt cotton farmers, which really does illustrate the
value of biotechnology for smallholders. (This is something I get into in my
Issues in Science and Technology piece.)
So why does cotton engineered with the
trait matter in the developing world? After all, people don’t eat
cotton! And as smart GMO skeptics like to point out, most biotech crops, like
soybean, corn, and cotton, are commodity cash crops. They don’t feed people.
So here we have an example where GMOs help people
rise out of poverty. The Indian farmers make more money with genetically
modified cotton, which means they have more money to purchase food and clothes
and everyday items that anti-GMO westerners take for granted. That’s not a
hypothetical benefit of GMOs. It’s real. And it matters.
Now there are some, like the anthropologist Glenn
Davis Stone, who take issue with what he derides as the “triumphalist narrative”
of Bt cotton in India. And there are those who, in response, throw up their hands in exasperation. I’ll get
into this quicksand in my next post. (Look for it Monday.) I should also point
out that Johnson has just written a follow-up to his “none of it matters” post, where he
concedes to overgeneralizing. In his latest, Johnson concludes that the symbol
of GMOs has eclipsed the causes it symbolizes. Our urgent needs are to
alleviate poverty, improve the environment, and face the fact that many of us
no longer trust the people who bring us our food. Right now, our political
capital is misspent if we’re only addressing GMOs narrowly without touching
those larger issues.
If Ceres does in fact
have as much water as the Earth, then we have a natural impactor for Venus able
to deliver sufficient water to cool down the hot surface rocks and begin the
oxidation processes that makes life viable.
Even better there may be enough water to saturate the crust itself
fairly quickly and promote the beginnings of plate tectonics.
I do not think though
that we would have to wait for geological time to allow us to use the
planet. The water would almost
immediately absorb the latent heat in the atmosphere and in the process provide
the torrential rain needed to strip heat from the surface crocks
themselves. At least everything would
fall below water’s boiling point quickly including the upper layers of rock.
Once that has happened,
locales near the poles will open up upon which landings can be established and
a base built. Ongoing steaming will
continue to dump heat back into the atmosphere continuously for a long time and
that heat will then be dumped into space or possibly absorbed chemically as
well. The oceans will be long lasting
hot pots for a long time.
We are at least going
to know for sure in early 2015.
Water Detected on
Dwarf Planet Ceres
Jan. 22, 2014: Scientists using the Herschel
space observatory have made the first definitive detection of water vapor on
the largest and roundest object in the asteroid belt, dwarf planet Ceres.
"This is the first time water vapor has
been unequivocally detected on Ceres or any other object in the asteroid belt
and provides proof that Ceres has an icy surface and an atmosphere," said
Michael Küppers of ESA in Spain, lead author of a paper in the journal Nature.
Herschel is a European Space Agency (ESA)
mission with important NASA contributions. Data from the infrared observatory
suggest that plumes of water vapor shoot up from Ceres when portions of its icy
surface warm slightly.
The results come at the right time for NASA's
Dawn mission, which is on its way to Ceres now after spending more than a year
orbiting the large asteroid Vesta. Dawn is scheduled to arrive at Ceres in the
spring of 2015, where it will take the closest look ever at its surface.
"We've got a spacecraft on the way to
Ceres, so we don't have to wait long before getting more context on this
intriguing result, right from the source itself," said Carol Raymond, the
deputy principal investigator for Dawn at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena, Calif. "Dawn will map the geology and chemistry of the surface
in high resolution, revealing the processes that drive the outgassing
For the last century, Ceres was known as the
largest asteroid in our solar system. But in 2006, the International
Astronomical Union, the governing organization responsible for naming planetary
objects, reclassified Ceres as a dwarf planet because of its large size. It is
roughly 590 miles (950 kilometers) in diameter. When it first was spotted in
1801, astronomers thought it was a planet orbiting between Mars and Jupiter.
Later, other cosmic bodies with similar orbits were found, marking the
discovery of our solar system's main belt of asteroids.
Scientists believe Ceres contains rock in its
interior with a thick mantle of ice
that, if melted, would amount to more fresh water than is present on all of
Earth. The materials making up Ceres likely date from the first few million
years of our solar system's existence and accumulated before the planets
This graph shows variability in the intensity of
the water absorption signal detected at Ceres.
Until now, ice had been theorized to exist on
Ceres but had not been detected conclusively. It took Herschel's far-infrared
vision to see, finally, a clear spectral signature of the water vapor. But
Herschel did not see water vapor every time it looked. While the telescope
spied water vapor four different times, on one occasion there was no signature.
Here is what scientists think is happening: when
Ceres swings through the part of its orbit that is closer to the sun, a portion
of its icy surface becomes warm enough to cause water vapor to escape in plumes
at a rate of about 6 kilograms (13 pounds) per second. When Ceres is in the
colder part of its orbit, no water escapes.
The strength of the signal also varied over
hours, weeks and months, because of the water vapor plumes rotating in and out
of Herschel's views as the object spun on its axis. This enabled the scientists
to localize the source of water to two darker spots on the surface of Ceres,
previously seen by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes.
The dark spots might be more likely to outgas because dark material warms
faster than light material. When the Dawn spacecraft arrives at Ceres, it will
be able to investigate these features.
This research is part of the Measurements of 11
Asteroids and Comets Using Herschel (MACH-11) program, which used Herschel to
look at small bodies that have been or will be visited by spacecraft, including
the targets of NASA's previous Deep Impact mission and upcoming Origins
Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer
(OSIRIS-Rex). Laurence O' Rourke of the European Space Agency is the principal
investigator of the MACH-11 program.
Herschel is a European Space Agency mission,
with science instruments provided by consortia of European institutes and with
important participation by NASA. While the observatory stopped making science
observations in April 2013, after running out of liquid coolant, as expected,
scientists continue to analyze its data. NASA's Herschel Project Office is
based at JPL. JPL contributed mission-enabling technology for two of Herschel's
three science instruments. The NASA Herschel Science Center, part of the
Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of
Technology in Pasadena, supports the U.S. astronomical community.
Dawn's mission is managed by JPL for NASA's
Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the
directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center
in Huntsville, Ala. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science.
Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va., designed and built the spacecraft. The
German Aerospace Center, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research,
the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are
international partners on the mission team. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.
Dwarf Planet Ceres – 'A
Game Changer in the Solar System'
the smaller class of planets to be discovered and the closest to Earth. Ceres,
which orbits the Sun in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is a unique
body in the Solar System, bearing many similarities to Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus,
both considered to be potential sources for harboring life.
On Thursday, August 15, Britney Schmidt, science team liaison for the Dawn
Mission, and Julie Castillo-Rogez, planetary scientist from JPL, spoke in
an Google PlusHangout titled 'Ceres: Icy World Revealed?' about the growing excitement
related to the innermost icy body.
"I think of Ceres actually as a game changer in the Solar System,"
Schmidt said. "Ceres is arguably the only one of its kind."
When Ceres was discovered in 1801,
astronomers first classified it as a planet. The massive body traveled between
Mars and Jupiter, where scientists had mathematically predicted a planet should
lie. Further observations revealed that a number of small bodies littered the
region, and Ceres was downgraded to just another asteroid within the asteroid
belt. It wasn't until Pluto was classified as a dwarf planet in 2006 that Ceres was
upgraded to the same level.
Ceres is the most massive body in the asteroid belt, and larger than some of
the icy moons scientists consider ideal for hosting life. It is twice the size
of Enceladus, Saturn's geyser-spouting moon that may hide liquid water
beneath its surface.
other asteroids, the Texas-sized Ceres has a perfectly rounded shape
that hints toward its origins.
"The fact that Ceres is so round tells us that it almost certainly had to
form in the early solar system," Schmidt said. She explained that a later
formation would have created a less rounded shape.
The shape of the dwarf planet, combined with its size and total mass, reveal a
body of incredibly low density.
this dusty, dirty, clay-type surface, we think that Ceres might be icy,"
Schmidt said. "It could potentially have had an ocean at one point in its
"The difference between Ceres and other icy bodies [in the Solar System]
is that it's the closest to the Sun," Castillo-Rogez said.
Less than three times as far as Earth from the Sun, Ceres is close enough to
feel the warmth of the star, allowing ice to melt and reform.
Investigating the interior of the dwarf planet could provide insight into the
early solar system, especially locations where water and other volatiles might
"Ceres is like the gatekeeper to the history of water in the middle solar
system," Schmidt said.
As large as Ceres is, its distance has made it a challenge to study from Earth.
Images taken by the space-based Hubble Space Telescope provided some insight to
its surface, but to be sighted, features could be no larger than 25 kilometers
in diameter. Several round circular spots mar the terrain, features which
Schmidt said could be any one of a number of geologic terrains, including
potentially impact basins or chaos terrains similar to those found on Europa.
The largest of these, named Piazzi in honor of the dwarf planet's discoverer,
has a diameter of about 250 kilometers. If this feature is an impact basin, it
would have been formed by an object approximately 25 km in size.
But for Schmidt, this is another possible indication about the dwarf planet's
"It doesn't mean that Ceres hasn't been hit by something bigger than 25
kilometers," she said."It just means that whatever is going on on
Ceres has totally erased [the topographic signature of that event]."
Ceres may have suffered major impacts, especially during periods of heavy bombardment early in the Solar System's
history. If the surface contained ice, however, those features may have
on Earth have also been able to study the light reflecting from the planet and
read its spectra.
"The spectrum is telling you that water has been involved in the creation
of materials on the surface," Schmidt said.
The spectrum indicates that water is bound up in the material on the surface of
Ceres, forming a clay. Schmidt compared it to the recent talk of minerals found by NASA's Curiosity on the surface of Mars.
"[Water is] literally bathing the surface of Ceres," she said.
In addition, astronomers have found evidence of carbonates, minerals that form
in a process involving water and heat. Carbonates are often produced by living
The original material formed with Ceres has mixed with impacting material over
the last 4.5 billion years, creating what Schmidt calls "this mixture of
water-rich materials that we find on habitable
the Earth and potentially habitable planets like Mars."
Water is considered a necessary ingredient for the evolution of life as we know
it. Planets that may have once contained water, such as Mars, as well as moons
that could contain it today, like Enceladus and
Europa, are all thought to be ideal for hosting or having once hosted
of its size and closeness, Schmidt calls Ceres "arguably more interesting
than some of these icy satellites."
"If it's icy, it had to have an ocean at some point in time," she
Castillo-Rogez compared Earth, Europa, and Ceres, and found that the dwarf
planet bore many similarities to Earth, perhaps more than Jupiter's icy moon.
Both Earth and Ceres use the Sun as a key heat source, while Europa takes its
heat from its tidal interaction with Jupiter. In addition, the surface
temperature of the dwarf planet averages 130 to 200 degrees Kelvin, compared to
Earth's 300 K, while Europa is a frosty 50 to 110
"At least at the equator where the surface is warmer, Ceres could have
preserved a liquid of sorts," Castillo-Rogez said.
Liquid water could exist at other points on the dwarf planet known as cold
traps, shadowed areas where frozen water could remain on the surface. Such icy
puddles have been found on Earth's moon.
"The chemistry, thermal activity, the heat source, and the prospect for
convection within the ice shell are the key ones that make us think that Ceres
could have been habitable at least at some point in its
history," Castillo-Rogez said.
As scientists develop more information about Europa and Enceladus, there has
been a greater call to investigate the two prime sites for life. But Schmidt
and Castillo-Rogez think that Ceres could also be a great boon for astrobiology
and space exploration.
"It's not a difficult environment to investigate," she said."As
we think about the future of landed missions for people and rovers, why not go
Though it would be more challenging to drill into than Europa, which boasts an
icy surface layer, the dwarf planet would make a great site to rove around on.
Schmidt also noted that it could make a great launching point when it comes to
reaching the outer solar system. Its smaller mass would make it easier to land
on—and leave—than Mars, which could make it a good site for manned missions.
"We have such a big planet bias, we have such a bias for things that look
exactly like us," Schmidt said.
"In this kind of special place in the Solar System, we have a very unique
object that might be telling us a lot about what we don't know about building a
Dawn mission launched September 27, 2007. It traveled to the asteroid Vesta,
where it remained in orbit from July 2011 to July 2012 before heading to Ceres.
It is slated to spend five months studying the dwarf planet, though Schmidt
expressed hope that the craft would continue working beyond the nominal
mission, allowing the team to study the icy body even longer.
Castillo-Rogez pointed out that not only will Dawn reach Ceres in 2015, the
European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft will be escorting the comet
Churyumov-Gerasimenko around the Sun that year, while NASA's New Horizons
mission will be reaching Pluto and its moon Charon.
is going to be a great year for icy bodies," Castillo-Rogez said.
"I think when we get to Ceres, it's just going to be an absolute game
changer, a new window into the Solar System that we wouldn't have without going
there," Schmidt said
This sounds like
the atom inside the molecule vibrates establishing a variable absorption option
able to capture incoming photons across a broad spectrum. This is sufficient to produce a useful
chemical effect. Simplistic but a
It is also a
hint that we need to pursue in our efforts to harness light energy with solar
cells. Free atoms inside a crystalline
structure may surprise us.
This is all good
and does not have anything to do with quantum entanglement that I can see but
plenty to do with quantum.
that plants get their energy using quantum entanglement
A recent article in Scientific American suggested
that plants use quantum entanglement in photosynthesis. What can this mean? The
answer is more (and …Read…
The fact that biological systems can exploit quantum
effects is quite astounding. In a way, they're like mini-quantum
computers capable of
scanning all possible options in order to choose the most efficient paths or
solutions. For plants, this means the ability to make the most of the energy they
receive and then deliver that energy from leaves with near perfect efficiency.
But for this to work, plants require the capacity to
work in harmony with the wild, wacky, and extremely small world of quantum
phenomena. The going theory is that plants have light-gathering macromolecules
in their cells that can transfer energy via molecular vibrations — vibrations
that have no equivalents in classical physics. Most of these light-gathering
macromolecules are comprised of chromophores attached to proteins. These
macromolecules carry out the first step of
photosynthesis by capturing sunlight and efficiently transferring the energy.
Previous inquiries suggested that this energy is
transferred in a wave-like manner, but it was a process that could still be
explained by classical physics.
In the new study, however, UCL researchers
identified a specific feature in biological systems that can only be predicted
by quantum physics. The team learned that the energy transfer in the
light-harvesting macromolecules is facilitated by specific vibrational motions
of the chromophores.
"We found that the properties of some of the
chromophore vibrations that assist energy transfer during photosynthesis can
never be described with classical laws, and moreover, this non-classical
behaviour enhances the efficiency of the energy transfer," noted
supervisor and co-author Alexandra Olaya-Castro in a statement.
The vibrations in question are periodic motions of
the atoms within a molecule. It's similar to how an object moves when it's
attached to a spring. Sometimes, the energy of two vibrating chromophores match
the energy difference between the electronic transitions of chromophores. The
result is a coherent exchange of a single quantum of energy.
"When this happens electronic and vibrational
degrees of freedom are jointly and transiently in a superposition of quantum
states, a feature that can never be predicted with classical physics,"
explained study co-author Edward O'Reilly.
In other words, quantum effects improve the
efficiency of plant photosynthesis in a way that classical physics cannot
allow. Which is pretty wild if you ask me.
is nothing much wrong with immigration laws anywhere. They generally meet needs well enough. What they do not do is solve poverty.
It is time to
stop beating around the bush and understand that the simple resort of managing
your currency system can make poverty impossible. I will not address details here because even
doing things right has to be done right.
Watching the abuse applied to micro finance warns us of just how hard
this will be in real terms. It is as if
two thirds of the world’s population wants to be paid off to halt their
Thus is the
mentality of the unjustly secure.
Trafficking: The Other Good Reason to Reform Immigration
Restrictive immigration policies have long been
associated with a variety of economic problems including the diminished
availability of foreign business and scientific talent, the inability to fill
low-skilled agricultural and service jobs typically scorned by legal residents,
and reduced access to the kind of entrepreneurial enthusiasm characteristic of
those willing to risk their futures in another country.
Only recently has it become clear how restrictive
immigration laws also produce harmful social consequences, particularly when it
comes to the age-old scourge of human trafficking—the use of force and fraud to
supply cheap labor and sexual services.
To understand these consequences, it is important to
appreciate just how lucrative a branch of organized crime the modern slave
trade has become. Efficient transportation, technological advances in
both farming and factory work, and advances in communication have all combined
to make the use of forced labor very cheap by historical measures.
Free the Slaves, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit,
has calculated the return on the cost of an enslaved field worker in 1850s
Alabama at just 5 percent, whereas today a trafficked farmhand can yield the
owner anywhere from double digits to 800 percent. Similarly, an
imprisoned prostitute shuttled around the boroughs of New York City in a van by
a driver scheduling appointments on his cell phone can service as many as 40
customers in a single shift. As one researcher coldly but accurately put
it, “People are a good commodity as they do not easily perish, but they can be
transported over long distances and can be re-used and re-sold.”
The result, according to the United Nations Office
on Drugs and Crime, is that 2.5 million victims, approximately 80 percent
female and 50 percent under the age of 18, are being trafficked around the
world at any given time. In 2005 the International Labor Organization in
Geneva, Switzerland, estimated the annual revenues from this “industry” at $32
billion, or $13,000 per victim.
It would undoubtedly surprise many Americans to
learn the extent to which this modern slave trade operates within their own
country. A 2004 study, Hidden Slaves: Forced Labor in the United
States, by Free the Slaves and the Human Rights Center at the University of
California, Berkeley, estimates that “tens of thousands” of women and children
are trafficked nationwide with the largest numbers coming from China, Mexico,
According to the study 46 percent are prostitutes,
27 percent are imprisoned household servants, 10 percent work in agriculture, 5
percent are held in sweatshops, and 4 percent serve against their will in
restaurants and hotels. A May 2012 televised report by the BBC identified
a single town in Mexico, Tenancingo, where 10 percent of the 10,000 residents
are engaged full-time in trafficking teenage girls to work the streets of New
York, Chicago, and other major U.S. cities.
The unexpectedly large size and scope of America’s
slave economy is hidden from policymakers and the public in part by its
criminal nature, but also by a longstanding federal metric that substantially
undercounts victims. The government has traditionally not tallied
imprisoned workers identified in crackdowns of border-smuggling operations or
in raids of sweatshops and brothels, only the relatively small number who
somehow escape their captors and formally apply for assistance.
It is also important to understand the basic
mechanism of human enslavement, which is typically referred to as “debt
bondage.” The victim, almost always from a poor, developing, or
economically unstable country, agrees to repay the trafficker from future earnings
the cost of transport, border-control evasion, and accrued interest in order to
land what is believed to be a legitimate job in a more prosperous part of the
By the time a trafficked laborer discovers the real
work he or she has been imported to perform, it is too late. Amid threats
of violence, uncertainty as to the help local authorities are willing to
provide, possible retribution against loved ones back home, inability to speak
the local language well, and a lack of financial resources, the victim has no
choice but to accept the captor’s unilateral modification of the contract.
Even when brothels, sex tourism operations,
exploitative factories, and farm labor camps are subjected to local law
enforcement crackdowns, the trafficker himself is typically insulated from
prosecution by having set up some of his victims as onsite managers.
According to the Danish Centre against Human Trafficking (DCAHT), most pimps
and forced labor guards rounded up in police raids around the world usually turn
out to have been trafficked themselves.
For all the human misery inflicted by the slave
trade, there was little hard data on the problem beyond the statistics already
cited—until recently, when social scientists in the United States and Germany
began to think that a dispassionate economic perspective might be
helpful. Reasoning that an objective analysis of the market could
conceivably reveal unexpected vulnerabilities in the typical trafficker’s
business plan, they set out to create an unemotional commercial understanding
of slavery, framing what most consider an abhorrent activity in terms of
standard business concepts such as product demand, asset life, aftermarket, and
In 2010, for example, Elizabeth Wheaton, Edward
Schauer, and Thomas Galli created a detailed report for the
journal International Migration, showing how traffickers calculate the
marginal cost of each new person sold into slavery and therefore the optimal
size of a given network. They also described how successful traffickers
in mature markets survive competition by cultivating resale customers.
The first thing such research began to make clear is
the surprisingly large number of subcontractors a trafficker needs to employ:
recruiters on the ground, corrupt officials, smugglers, forgers, pimps and
labor camp enforcers at the back end, and even people to compose advertisements
to lure naive victims with the false hope of legitimate jobs in distant lands.
What economists then began to see is that a trafficker’s
ability to control operating expenses is dependent almost exclusively on
migration patterns. Poor and underdeveloped regions where large numbers
of people are anxiously seeking employment in more prosperous countries with
closed borders give rise to large, efficient smuggling operations that reduce
the trafficker’s transportation expenses. (A smuggler is not necessarily
a trafficker until he is employed by one or branches out into that business
himself.) Economies of scale similarly lower the costs of recruitment and
The most recent example of how migration alters
trafficking patterns involves the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This
may have been a welcome political development, but the resulting chaos in the
satellite counties led to waves of migration, which in turn made trafficking
from Eastern Europe exceptionally profitable. Combined with the formation
of the European Union, which eliminated border checkpoints across much of the
continent, the fall of the Russian empire made it possible to cheaply transport
coerced workers from countries like Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania, and the Ukraine
to almost anywhere in the West.
One result is that sex tourism in Spanish border
towns like La Jonquera is currently booming. According to local
authorities interviewed for a story by New York Times reporter
Suzanne Daley, a disproportionately large percentage of female slaves are lured
from Eastern Europe under the control of a network.
Between Poverty and Closed Borders
Weak legislation in the receiving counties, the poor
quality of law enforcement, and official corruption—all may exacerbate
trafficking, say the Kiel Institute’s Toman Omar Mahmoud and the Free
University of Berlin’s Christoph Trebesch in their study The Economics of
Human Trafficking and Labour Migration, but “it is first and foremost the wish
for a better life abroad that puts millions of people at risk of ending up in
exploitative working conditions.”
“In a nutshell,” they write, “trafficking and
exploitation are the sad but obvious consequences of migration pressure in a
world of closed borders.”
What this conclusion clearly suggests is that that
the most effective way to reduce trafficking would be to undercut the barriers
to employment migration in more affluent nations. Noting that the vast
majority of victims are trapped between a desperate desire to improve their
lives and restrictive immigration policies, Kevin Bales, professor emeritus at
Roehampton University in London and the author of Ending Slavery, argues
that stemming the illegal flow of slaves means “facing up to the economic
demand for people to fill jobs in richer countries.”
Interestingly, this argument dovetails with the
commonsense observations of those fighting slavery on the ground in countries
like Thailand, which is notorious for child prostitution, labor exploitation,
and sexual tourism. The Development and Education Programme for Daughters
and Communities (DEPDC) notes that the Thai government recognizes only nine of
the tribes in the remote highlands. As a result, the other tribes are
disproportionately vulnerable to traffickers because they are treated as if
they were foreigners and officially they have no rights. DEPDC has long
argued that the most effective antidote for human slavery in Southeast Asia
would involve conferring some kind of legal status on would-be workers who are
Halfway across the world in the United Kingdom, the
Adam Smith Society, a market-oriented think tank, has similarly argued that
government efforts to stop the trafficking of bonded labor to meet seasonal
demands in the European supermarket business are a largely a waste of time and
taxpayer money. Instead of passing tougher regulations or hiring more
police to crack down on illegal migrant workers, the society recommends making
employment visas more flexible and easier for foreigners to obtain.
The case for a more lenient immigration policy has
long been based on the sound economic argument that an open employment market
increases productivity, which in turn raises a country’s overall standard of
living. To that we can now append the opportunity to undermine sex and
labor trafficking and thereby begin to end an age-old source of human misery.