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March 26, 2013



"One way to combat this instinct, as I've said, is to remind people that immigration is nothing new and is part of our "island story."

The problem of course is that there hasn't been this level of immigration for centuries. Anybody trying to compare the significant demographic changes of the past few decades with immigration of the Huguenots for example just looks as if they're trying to be deceptive.

Frankly I suspect a lot of opposition to immigration is based on fear that the newcomers will vote to change the way the country is. Imagine if, for example, there was a referendum on the monarchy in a few decades and the majority of "indigenous" people voted for its retention and a majority of recent incomers voted for its abolition.


Are you sure the size of the economy is all people are thinking about? Economically good or bad, immigration does seem to make the place rather crowded. And, economically beneficial as she may be, I do sometimes wish the Polish barmaid knew what drink I was ordering, especially when it's right behind her.

Andreas Paterson

One thing that's often missing from this debate is how the benefits of immigration are distributed. The benefits of immigration are generally those that occur in the long run, on aggregate.

I think a lot of people take the question how it affects themselves, right now. From a personal point of view, as a software developer. I'm pretty sure the bosses I've had who've looked at hiring Indian software developers have not had my best interests at heart.

Luis Enrique

Some of your recent posts about rationality are relevant here. Economics doesn't say what ought to be in your utility function. If people are xenophobic and don't like being around large immigrant communities, it's rational for them to oppose immigration. Presumably such people range from out and out racists to people with (possibly mild) preference for interacting with others who share the same cultural norms as them. I really can't see what else can be at the root of opposition of immigration. After all if you are worried about more people in this country being a burden on public services etc. you should oppose indigenous child birth (above replacement rate). I suspect few kippers object to nice middle class white people having large families.


There's a school near me where recently 96% of pupils spoke Urdu as a first language. Try convincing those parents whose children go to that school and who aren't Urdu speakers that successive waves of immigration are good for them.

These kinds of effects resonate far more with the wider population than the economic evidence of the benefit of immigration. They're worried about the impact this has on their children's schooling and the cultural exclusion their children feel.

Johnty Phoreigner

Individuals do not like change, even when that change is net positive. Take for example the grandfather who has been given a new touch screen mobile for his security and safety. The odds are that he will shun this change and it will frustrate him. Sometimes people don't want to swallow the bitter pill, and I doubt there is much sugar coating we can do to make it taste better, even if, like the MMR, it is the essential medicine to protect our future.


"net fiscal benefit" and "economic growth" are too crude a measurement in determining whether immigration is good or bad for any given individual.

So I don't think it's that people don't believe the economics, I think it's that people think economics has relatively little influence on their personal welfare and happiness.

That and a lot of people are simply too ashamed to admit they're simply racist.

As others have said above, it's really not about economics.


"It's that the public just don't believe the economic evidence."

Maybe the economic evidence isn't looking at the right thing.

Seriously, I though economics was supposed to describe people's behaviour, not dictate it or call them stupid if they don't fit the data?

Ralph Musgrave

The evidence is that the most productive immigrants are those from English speaking countries: US, Canada, Ireland, Australia. Plus they have the fewest children.

In contrast, the least productive are Muslims, Somalis, etc plus they have the most children and are the biggest burden on public services, plus they impose language problems on schools. Plus they involve local authorities spending millions on translation. Plus their cultural habits are utterly degenerate: terrorism, trying to kill the authors and cartoonists they don’t like, halal animal cruelty, etc.

If the only immigrants were the former lot, there’d probably be no fuss at all, not even from the BNP.


The problem with saying "well, people are irrational" is that you then have to design a policy that works in reality despite being founded on nonsense. This is impossible, as the nonsense and the reality only ever coincide by chance.

The answer is to design a sensible policy and then sell it with bullshit. Hence, Ed Miliband every so often has to go and spout a load of cock he patently doesn't believe, pleasing the Blairites and causing the professionally betrayed to freak the fuck out, in order to then go away and not formulate an irrational policy.


The economics aren't the issue, if we were looking at the economics we'd be saying "great, skilled immigration of youngish people, with families, to help sort out our demographics issues and pay our pensions, making our governments expenditure easier to finance."

This is all about changes in towns, cities and villages, and their expansion (though it's hardly the only cause of expansion), along with changes of the local culture. It's just that that comes over as narrow minded, so people try to make up scare stories like economics or benefits impacts that sound morally neutral to try to win the argument that way.


But there’s a wider impact of “a small negative effect at the bottom end”. This isn’t a small insular group of which the wider community have no experience. Indeed we’re all at some point low or semi skilled, and for sure, families having to continuously, or for long periods support its lesser skilled members is a common enough experience, is it not? Plus, it’s under the guise of laws designed apparently to necessarily reduce immigrant and migrant access to welfare that everyone’s level of social security has been reduced and continues to be reduced while hideously demeaning ways to measure need and intent are devised and implemented across the board. I’ve seen plenty of real life qualitative evidence to suggest this has wide and sustained negative economic impacts, not least because of the barriers to high quality training it maintains. No, just labelling naysayers irrational is a copout. The economy might enjoy the benefits of a flexible wide area labour market but as thing stand, too many of its workers patently don’t.

Martin Connelly

I agree with Chris - as hard as it might be for an economist to believe, people think about other things also! Culture, tradition, language etc are all affected by immigration and people care about these things. Some people are just plain conservative - like things the way they were.

Michael N Moore

A good non-economist point from Martin. In the US, the real uproar over immigration started when Hispanics began moving into parts of the eastern South, which had never experienced them before. As jobs have shifted away from traditional immigrant ports of entry, the immigrants have gone from cosmopolitan areas to provincial areas. Culture shock ensues.


Njc, you say :
"There's a school near me where recently 96% of pupils spoke Urdu as a first language." Could you name that school? I'm not trying to underplay the significance of schools with lots of non- English speaking pupils, or parents' reasonable concerns. But I am dubious about a school with no Somali, Turkish or Polish pupils, let alone any WASPs. Where is it?

Ralph Musgrave, you say "The evidence is that the most productive immigrants are those from English speaking countries: US, Canada, Ireland, Australia." Might be right, but do you seriously expect large scale immigration from the US, Canada or Australia? Why on earth would they come here? Aussies are all going back, as they can make more money at home. And I think you are a little rose-tinted over Irish immigration, and the local reaction. Don't you remember "no blacks or Irish" signs in windows? And the IRA?

Not sure where any of this leads.


As everyone has said, I'm pretty sure the problem is not that the public don't believe the economic evidence.

If it is a problem.


In any case, these analyses like most economics are simplistic and totally inadequate to base the extended policy implications you so like to burden them with.

Obviously the importation of young skilled and motivated workers is likely to increase short run economic growth.

Does that mean that it will do so over the longer run? Is it a good idea to import skill rather than nurturing it in-house? Is it a good idea to offshore breeding and education?


Would it not be a much more fundamental point that immigration statistics bear no relation whatsoever to reality? For example, foreign students are counted as `immigrants` in the figures despite the fact that they clearly aren`t. And the figures are `counted` by the crude expedient of the mismatch between the number of immigrants and the number of emigrants. So a drop in the number of emigrants makes it look as though the number of immigrants has increased although it clearly hasn`t.


Luke - it's in Watford, in an area where the single biggest ethnic group is of Pakistani heritage. I was told about the "96% Urdu" from a headmistress of another school nearby, from when she used to work there about 5 years ago.


`There's a school near me where recently 96% of pupils spoke Urdu as a first language. Try convincing those parents whose children go to that school and who aren't Urdu speakers that successive waves of immigration are good for them.`

Absolutely by definition therefore the teachers who teach these students (and the admin staff and the cleaners etc.) would be out of a job if all those `immigrant` kids were to go home.

There is a problem with the UK which is that there is not nearly enough immigration. We are an ageing population, people are having few kids, later and later, and we lack the young people to restart economic growth.


"we lack the young people to restart economic growth"

In the meantime a million of the young people currently here are unemployed. Something doesn't compute...


One view of net benefit would be to take into account the expense of rearing and educating people. Here in Canada it costs about $250,000 to raise a child to working age, and a percentage will be disabled or otherwise unsatisfactory (if you are a coldhearted employer and don't care about people as people.)

Now, Canada has a LOT of immigration. it takes in family members and refugees as well as economic migrants, so let's be cold hearted and say only half our immigrants are top quality employment prospects. Even so, last year those immigrants saved Canada $30 billion in child rearing, education and health care costs. Plus, in addition to their inherent value, Canada makes them pay landing fees to immigrate! And they can't become citizens for 7 years, IIRC, so they plump up the country without being politically potent.


`In the meantime a million of the young people currently here are unemployed. Something doesn't compute...`

Yes. We dont have enough immigrants. If there were more immigrants, they would start businesses which would employ British people, they would buy things in British shops which would then expand and hire more people, they would need education and training which would be done by immigrants. I know correlation is not causation, but note that when Britain had full employment more or less there were practically no restrctions on immigration. Almost with mathematical determinism, the more government has `cracked down` on immigration the the higher unemployment has gone. Note as well that countries nowadays that are booming rely heavily on immigration, and Britain has very low immigration rates, comparatively, which is one (not the only) reason its doing to badly, economically. Remember in the 19th century, when Britain went from a 2nd rate to the major industrial power on the planet, there were no immigration restrictions at all.


Oh and just think how much better Israel would be doing if it ditched its immigration policy and stopped people entering the country....(/sarcasm)

Churm Rincewind

Chris and Martin are right. The economic benefits or otherwise of immigration are a limited and frankly inadequate prism. To claim that other concerns are "irrational" is not helpful.

Here's an example. In my own area there's a high proportion of immigrants, including a significant Somali community. They have a strong tradition of FGM (female genital mutilation). As it's now increasingly difficult to get this procedure in the UK, girls of the appropriate age are commonly taken out of our local school to be sent abroad for circumcision (mutilation?).

There's an uneasy local awareness of what's going on. But there's also a general reluctance to actually do anything about it, as it would involve the rather dramatic process of reporting one's neighbours to the police. This is quite apart from being generally excoriated as intolerant or racist as some posters here seem to suggest.

So we don't say anything.

Chris (Dillow) comments "Economically speaking, then, immigration is (net) a good thing. So, what's the problem?"

Well there's one to chew over. But perhaps I'm just being "irrational".


Njc, thanks. But can you actually name the school? If you're worried about BNP or Daily Maill rants,I respect your judgment and i'll back off. But I simply do not believe that there is a primary school in Watford with 96% Urdu speakers. Not English as a first language, possibly, though I don't believe that either.


Chris - "if we were looking at the economics we'd be saying "great, skilled immigration of youngish people, with families, to help sort out our demographics issues and pay our pensions, making our governments expenditure easier to finance.""

Ignoring your remarkable assertion (in the first sentence) that an increase in the labour supply leads to an increase in wages, the trouble is that people aren't fungible, as you seem to believe. The people arriving may not think that their function is to pay the medical expenses of a bunch of old whities and wipe their backsides.

Dave Osler aired a similar fancy a few years back


Whether they'll pay your medical bills in old age depends on what Britain (as was) had in spades - intergenerational solidarity. Will that solidarity still be there in 2050, or whenever it's forecast that you'll become a minority? (Absent some breakthrough I may be gone by then)

john malpas

We fought Napoleon and Hitler to keep out mass immigration.
Any idea why.


`We fought Napoleon and Hitler to keep out mass immigration`.

Actually `we` fought Hitler, amongst other things, because Hitler had some fairly strong views on immigration to Germany. Not as strong as some of the commentators on this thread though! Incidentally, is there some kind of automated script by which the phrase `I am not a racist but` can be automatically inserted at the beginning of most of the comments on this thread? Because it would seem to be necessary for most of the commentators.


"what Britain (as was) had in spades - intergenerational solidarity"

Laban: This is the nub of the argument, I think. From what I see we've been withdrawing all the equity from that particular arrangement for the past fifty years, and turning it into something that looks like growth.

But now it's run out. We've run out of split-able families. So the solution? Get some young people over from abroad... Or, to put it another way, break up families in other countries.

Genius. What could possibly go wrong?

P Wilson

People don't believe economists because they talk rubbish. If we let in an extra 3 million without building houses then rents are forced up, if we already have high unemployment wages are forced down. There is no benefit and the man in the street fully understands that.


Hidari - how much immigration into Britain was there during the Victorian period? Unless I'm mistaken there was a lot of emigration.


Luke - it's Chater Infants School:

Personally I don't find this kind of clustering very surprising, as people like people who are like themselves. Though of course we needed an economist to tell us what we already knew and to put a fancier name on it - Thomas Schelling did this with "Dynamic Models of Segregation"


The view from other side: I am Polish, never wanted live in Polish closed community. But if -especially recently- I wouldn't t fall on their means of support, after 10 years of nonstop working, I would be out on street. For all this time I was treated like s.. at work and that's the most painfully aspect of immigration for me. How do you expect me not to look for way to cut corners?? How do you expect me as an average immigrant to absorp basic knowledge? Can you believe this year I was a first time running in pancake race? I choose this country to live and build up home here. I do not wish to be treated like a person with learning disabilities just because my counterparts don' t comprehend what I am talking about. Oh, she doesn't speak English. She does, just better then you.
Compulsory English and duty of immigrants to take part in community work could improve the situation, where British makes an assumption about me on the base of myths. How would you feel, not being treat like a person???


Hidari: "We dont have enough immigrants. If there were more immigrants, they would start businesses which would employ British people, they would buy things in British shops which would then expand and hire more people, they would need education and training which would be done by immigrants."

There are plenty of people here, British and immigrant alike, some of whom are among the 3 million unemployed who could do this.

Like others, I have no time for much of the rhetoric deployed by the main three parties on this issue. But there seems to be fair amount of false extrapolation coming from the opposite direction as well.

For every Lakshmi Mittal or Russian oligarch, or US investment banker, there's probably 50 immigrants who are working in low paid jobs, the tax receipts of which don't pay for them, much less the JSA/Housing/Council tax of those already here(regardless of nationality) who aren't accessing work. Someone opening a chicken and chip shop and only employing people from his own country of origin doesn't really solve this issue.

I think there's a case to be made for immigration where we have specific skill shortages, a lack of people to do those jobs. I find it hard to believe therefore that working in Pret A Manger or as a cleaner etc require such high level and rare skills that we need to import more people to do those jobs.

more? info...

Well, I guess those who oppose to the good regulations for immigrants are indeed afraid that the more immigrants a country has, the easier the immigrants to dominate in the country's voting system.

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