In 1981, when researchers of the University of Michigan conducted the first World Values Survey, they were surprised to find that a nation’s happiness was not determined by its material well-being. Back then, Nigerians were as happy as West Germans. But now, thirty-five years later, the situation has changed. According to the latest surveys, in most places people are as happy as their GDP would suggest. What happened in between was that Nigerians got TV sets and later the internet, which made it possible for young Africans to see how Europeans live and what their schools and hospitals look like. Globalization has made the world a village, but this village lives under a dictatorship – the dictatorship of global comparisons. People do not compare their lives with those of their neighbours any more. They compare themselves with the most prosperous inhabitants of the planet.
In this connected world of ours, migration is the new revolution – not the twentieth-century revolution of the masses, but a twenty-first-century exit-driven revolution enacted by individuals and families and inspired not by pictures of the future painted by ideologues but by Google Maps’ photos of life on the other side of the border. This new revolution does not require political movements or political leaders to succeed. So we should not be surprised if, for many of the wretched of the earth, crossing the EU’s border is more attractive than any utopia. For a growing number of people, the idea of change means changing the country they live in rather than the government they live under.