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Economist applies logic to a subject often too shrouded in emotion
on 19 March 2017
This is a study by an economist, but written to be accessible to non-economists, of the effects of large-scale immigration into the UK. Paul Collier, grandson of a German immigrant (the family name was originally Hellenschmidt), without being emotionally cold, applies dispassionate logic to a subject on which there is often much passion but too little objectivity.
On most important issues, most people accept there could be points for and against, winners and losers, and consequently a range of reasonable opinions. Immigration to the UK, on the other hand, is often discussed as though there are only 2 possible views, and often that only 1 of these is legitimate, either:
‘Immigration is A GOOD THING and if you say otherwise you’re RACIST and DEMONISING immigrants!’
‘Immigration is OUT OF CONTROL and if you say otherwise you’re PART OF THE OUT OF TOUCH LIBERAL ELITE!’
Only in this polarised, emotive context could the frequently expressed (usually in a self-righteous tone of voice) "My [parent / friend/ domestic help] is an immigrant and they are a fine person!” pass as a proper argument for mass immigration.
Collier, as an economist, requires aggregates and averages to justify a policy, not just anecdotes. He illustrates theories with simple graphs. However, if you are not mathematical, do not fear; there are no difficult sums.
The author spent much of his career studying poverty in the Third World (‘The Bottom Billion’) and his own politics are probably liberal on many issues. However, when evidence justifies, he is willing to reach conclusions some liberals will not like.
E.g. we are often told that immigration is 'A GOOD THING' because migrant trained nurses, engineers, etc.bring useful skills to the UK. However, there has been too little consideration of the cost to the (often poorer) countries they leave of losing trained professionals. There has also been no study of whether the fact it is quicker and cheaper to recruit immigrants already been trained at some other country's expense means that British employers put less time and money into training British workers. Do academics avoid researching this for fear that, in the mainly liberal/left world of academic social science departments, questioning any part of the case for immigration risks unpopularity and career-blighting accusations of racism?
Collier believes diversity and multiculturalism can have benefits but such claims should be tested for evidence and logic. E.g. thousands of immigrants come here precisely because diversity and multiculturalism did not work in their home countries, which they flee to escape ethnic or religious conflicts.
The author believes other academics' published research shows immigration has made the majority of people in Britain slightly more prosperous, but the poorest poorer. Businesses and wealthier households gain because immigrants from the Third World are glad to be able to work for anything above Third World wages,thus helping to keep down the cost of services, while British-born workers who compete more directly with immigrants for jobs and housing find it forces their wages down and their rents up.
The author says that, overall, research shows that for most people the economic benefits or dis-benefits are quite small; the largest long-term economic effect is that land becomes more expensive. [I suspect even this overstates the case for immigration. Academic researchers probably consciously or unconsciously tend to pose questions and interpret ambiguous data in ways that do not upset liberal ‘group think’.]
By applying the disciplined logic of economics to such questions, Paul Collier has produced a useful compliment to the non-economist Ed West’s brilliant book ‘The Diversity Illusion’, which I recommend even more strongly.
Note: First or second generation immigrants often feel that questioning the value of immigration in some way questions the value of them or their families. If anyone reading this feels that way, there is no need to do so. In an honest and sensible debate there ought to be a range of opinions that people may reasonably hold. It ought, say, to be a legitimate point of view to want immigration of thousands but not of millions. It ought to be possible to be grateful that a nice Indian-born doctor treated mother’s heart problem, yet still concerned that our National Health Service as a whole relies too much on recruiting staff from abroad and not enough on training and retaining its own.