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June 08, 2010



Think I detect a rather more reasonable tone here than is usually the case when you discuss immigration, which is nice to see, but still the usual logical contortions that are evident whenever you discuss this issue.

Ed Balls' primary responsibility, if he ever becomes PM, will be to British citizens (unless he wins on a utopian internationalist ticket). But even if it were a priority for him to improve living standards in Lithuania there are many ways he could do this that don't come predominantly at the expense of low wage British workers, as is the case with high low skilled immigration.

Interesting that you think a 5% reduction in unskilled wages associated with a 10pp increase in the immigrant workforce is 'small'. What would you consider an intolerable wage reduction for those on very low wages to be? I'm sure they would like to know.

'Immigrants fill jobs that others can’t or won’t do' - very sad to see on this blog this argument about Britons not being willing to do certain jobs. Did we suddenly become too snooty in 1997? And which are the low skilled jobs that non-immigrants can't do?

No, you are not being technocratic. You are just not interested in the welfare of low skilled, low wage Brits, which the right kind of technocrat might well be.

kevin denny

AJ: well said. Maybe its time somebody invested in a passport...or just got out more.

Jo Jordan

Aren't the issues quite different? Picking strawberries in seasonal work, for example, might be quite viable for someone coming over for a working holiday and changing pounds into a weaker currency.

Money earned and SPENT in UK is a different matter. If you have to move to another place to do the work and maintain two homes and the wages don't cover costs.

Workers aren't cans of baked beans to be taken off the shelf at the warehouse and shipped to another shelf. And jobs aren't really shelves for cans to sit on.

The real question is what economic role (rather than job) does a person want to do and what training and experience do they need to acquire and in what order to achieve what they want to achieve.

After all, someone down the road from me heard of a factory that went bust in Poland. He bought it up lock, stock and barrel and carted it back to UK, with workers, and runs it profitably in middle England. That's not the story we usually hear. Now that is his story and his solution.

What is the solution that people want and how do they intend to make it happen. Given that they aren't cans of beans to be moved around at UK at someone else's whim.

When we know what they want, someone can bundle together ideas on a spreadsheet just to get some efficiency from the training dollar (but not to change their plans)and we can get behind their dreams.

It wouldn't be hard to collect these dreams either. Some interactive social media websites would do it. People would change their minds as they hear what other people want but the ideas, and the pattern of ideas that we need to fund them, would come out quite quickly.

Igor Belanov

If people are so bothered about a lack of jobs or downward pressure on unskilled wages, then why haven't they focused on all the women in the economy, or pension-claimants that are still working, or schoolchildren in part-time jobs, or workers commuting from the next town, or other regressive policies. Seems like they're just picking on foreigners to me.

It seems a bit pointless these days asking why politicians never question the free movement of capital.

Igor Belanov

Sorry, perhaps I need to make it clear that I don't advocate restrictions on women working in the economy!


Igor - the UK, like every other country, 'picks on foreigners' in all sorts of ways by your definition. For example we don't generally allow them to use the NHS for free or to be educated in British schools or to vote in the UK.

What characterizes the women, children and pensioners you describe is that they are (presumably) UK citizens, and in every country I know of citizenship confers valuable rights. Maybe it would be nice to live without national borders as citizens only of the world, but we don't and the UK should not go alone in pretending we do.

Fred Kapoor

Good post. The subject is really complex and deep, though. In my opinion, emigration is such an ambivalent phenomenom, it has always existed and it cannot be avoided. It is necessary in some cases and on the other hand it can bring a lot of problems and invonvenients for the governments and therefore for the locals.

Igor Belanov


Do you think that women, pensioners and schoolchildren are diluting the labour market and depressing wages?

If not, then neither are immigrants and you are picking on the foreigners, irrespective of the citizenship arguments you've put forward.


@Igor - only in the sense that British women, children and pensioners are also costly to the NHS. Sure they are, but the NHS is there to serve them.

My argument is not that you should do everything you can to restrict the labour supply in order to keep wages high - that's a crazy idea. Rather my view is that it's legitimate to limit the entry of low skill foreign labour where this has an undesirable impact on the wellbeing of our poorest citizens. Yes, I reckon in the framing of UK policy we should weight the wellbeing of UK citizens higher than foreigners - but that's what we do in pretty much every area of public policy.


Emigration from Lithuania and co. did not raise wages, because theses countries had up 20% of jobless people (Poland). There were some labour shortages - wards of Polish hospital were closing, Romania had problems too
http://www.presseurop.eu/en/content/article/13481-romanias-coming-home and currently it is expected the exodus of Czehc doctors.

Niklas Smith

An interesting post. I have three points to make.

1) You're right that emigration doesn't seem to have a large impact on wages paid in emigrant countries. For example, O'Rourke and Williamson[1] estimated that emigration since 1870 left the Swedish labour force 18.1% smaller in 1910 than it would have been without emigration. They estimated that migration raised urban unskilled wages by 12.8%. But in the period these wages actually rose by 191% (i.e. nearly tripled), so migration only accounted for a very small part of the rise in incomes.

2) In answer to AJ in particular, I understand that the UK government is expected to put the welfare of British citizens first. But that involves weighing any negative effects on unskilled wages against welfare gains to British citizens, for example lower prices or shorter queues (e.g. in dentristry or plumbing) that result from allowing in Polish dentists and plumbers, or indeed nurses. It's also worth noting that economic migrants are by definition willing to work and overwhelmingly young and childless, so they are net contributors to the welfare state (i.e. helping to fund the NHS and state pensions for UK citizens).

3) Chris quite rightly points out that British immigration restrictions are also restrictions on Eastern European emigration. But they would also probably be restrictions on British emigration: after all, if we restricted intra-EU migration why should we expect the other 26 members to still let Britons go to work freely in France or Germany or anywhere else? Given that, according to John Monks, there are usually more British contractors working in other EU countries than Europeans working here[2] (not to mention many British pensioners enjoying the sun in Spain or Bulgaria), how large an income cut for British emigrants forced to return home is acceptable?

[1] Cited in Hatton and Williamson, The Age of Mass Migration, pp. 198-199.

[2] http://www.economist.com/businessfinance/displaystory.cfm?story_id=E1_TPTDTGPS


Seems to me that these anti-immigration people are narrow nationalists adopting left wing sentiments for power.

There's a reason the radical, anti-authoritarian left rejects political boundaries - the problems of the poor and the working class transcend these arbitrary boundaries known as borders.

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