Saved by the surge in immigration
Sending money home for today's armies of migrants revitalizes iconic Western Union
Dec 05, 2007 04:30 AM
NEW YORK TIMES
WASHINGTON–To glimpse how migration is changing the world, consider Western Union, a fixture of American lore that went bankrupt selling telegrams at the dawn of the Internet age but now earns nearly $1 billion a year helping migrants across the globe send money home.
Migration is so central to Western Union that forecasts of border movements drive the company's stock. Its researchers outpace the U.S. Census Bureau in tracking migrant locations. Long synonymous with Morse code, the Colorado-based company now hails migrants as "heroes" and once tried to oust a congressman because of his push for tougher immigration laws.
Last year, migrants from poor countries sent home $300 billion, nearly three times the world's foreign aid budgets combined.
Western Union's dominance casts it in a host of unlikely new roles: as a force in development economics, a player in U.S. immigration debates and a target of contrasting attacks.
Its unparalleled reach gives millions of migrants a safe way to transmit money, and may even increase the amounts sent. But critics have long complained about its fees, which can run from about 4 per cent to 20 per cent or more. And the company's lobbying for immigrant-friendly laws has raised the ire of border protectors.
After settling a damaging lawsuit that accused it of hiding large fees, Western Union set out a few years ago to recast its image, portraying itself as the migrants' trusted friend. It has spent more than $1 billion on marketing, selectively cut prices and charged into U.S. politics, donating to immigrants' rights groups and advocating a path to legalization for illegal immigrants.
The company sponsors hundreds of festivals, concerts and sporting events, from cricket matches for Indians in Dubai to sack races for Jamaicans in Queens, N.Y.
The Western Union agent in Panama, catering to many illegal immigrants from Colombia and elsewhere, put three lawyers on retainer and started a radio call-in show. The lawyers answered questions and scheduled free appointments to get callers legalized.
The Toronto Star is a business first and foremost. If lowering immigration levels were to increase share holder value then the Star staff would be under market and thus editorial pressure to advocate lower immigration levels. But that's not how it is. Newspapers generate most of their revenue from selling reader numbers to advertisers. A newspaper boasts of the number and quality of its readers to potential advertisers desiring to sell them advertising space in between news content.
Part of the price of a newspaper, most of it in fact, is subsidized by revenue generated by advertising dollars. A newspaper cannot survive solely on the price a of newspaper alone. Therefore the greater the population base a newspaper serves the greater the potential for amassing a larger reader base to sell to advertisers and therefore the greater the potential for increased profits and share value.
Advertisements in The Toronto Star also tell us much. Banks, Car Ads, Real Estate, and advertisements for business schools figure regularly on the pages of The Toronto Star. These advertisers benefit from mass immigration and rapid population growth. Real Estate developers need to sell houses to generate a continuous income flow, banks benefit from the increases in issuing mortgages, car dealers need to sell cars, and schools need to generate demand for their courses to command high tuitions. In the meantime farmland is destroyed, green spaces are erased, commute times and distances increase due to increase in cars on the road with a related increase in pollution and waste, and one's academic ambitions are sometimes dashed due to an artificial increase in demand. This doesn't benefit most Canadians however but it does benefit select segments of the business community as well as the colonial, and material, aspirations of immigrant groups.
I highly doubt the socially conscious image of The Toronto Star is true though I do believe the opinions of the writing staff are sincere. After all, they were hired for that reason: to give The Toronto Star a socially conscious image. It doesn't cost The Toronto Star anything to promote mass immigration. Such costs are externalized to the rest of society that has to deal with the attendant problems - financially, culturally, socially - that mass immigration and rapid population growth bring to a country or region. However, the paper stands to reap rewards.
The progressive and social activist image of the Star, defender of human rights and protector of the environment, is all image. It portrays itself as a defender of the environment yet it attacked Gord Miller, Ontario Environment Commissioner, because he accurately linked the decline in the standard of living for southern Ontarians to rapid population growth fulled by mass immigration. This is hypocritical but it is also self serving. The Star cannot allow a decline in mass immigration numbers for fear of stagnant share prices and losses in potential revenue generated by advertisement. It doesn't care about the views of Canadians concerned about what mass immigration is doing to their country. The Star is a business and like any business there is but one ultimate concern: money.