Thursday, 24 September 2015

What does Jonathan Portes know about immigration?

Jonathan Portes is the director of the UK’s National Institute of Economic and Social Research. His first claim in this recent Huffington article (his second para) is that without immigration, Europe faces a declining population, which is supposedly a problem.

My answer to that is that given the damage the human race is doing to the environment, a steady decline in World population for the next fifty years would be positively beneficial! Maybe Portes hasn’t heard of global warming or the greenhouse effect.

Portes also trotts out the old myth that immigrants can help with our aging population. The flaw in that argument is that (surprise surprise) immigrants themselves eventually grow old. Thus immigration is NOT A LONG TERM solution to the aging problem. I dealt with that point in more detail here.

Do let’s “jump start” the economy.

Next, Portes quotes Thomas Piketty, as saying immigration is an "opportunity for Europeans to jump-start the continent's economy."

Gosh. Whoopee. Very important sounding phrase that: “jump-start”. It’s the sort of phrase used by the clueless (e.g. politicians) when trying to advocate X or Y while unable to think of any very specific or intelligent reasons for advocating X or Y.

Immigrants increase the number employed. Yer don’t say!

Third, Portes argues that immigration is beneficial because “it has resulted in a substantial increase in overall employment and hence GDP..”.

Well of course immigration increases “overall employment” (unless every single immigrant does no work and lives on benefits, and not even the BNP or UKIP make that absurd claim).

For the benefit of cerebrally challenged academics, I’ll illustrate that point. If a country accepts one thousand immigrants, the effect is absolutely bound to be an increase in “overall employment” even in the extreme case where only ten of that thousand is willing to work: employment would rise by about ten.

Ergo . . . . wait for it . . . . the fact that immigration increases “overall employment” is not a brilliant argument for immigration. In fact it’s a crass argument.

Economic benefits.

Next, Portes refers to the fact that immigration IN GENERAL to the UK has brought economic benefits in that immigrants’ pay is a bit more than natives, which means they pay more tax than natives. But the basic purpose of the article, to judge by the first two paras was to  argue that the CURRENT and unprecedented flow of migrants (who are mainly from Africa and the Middle East) confers economic benefits on Europe.

But the big problem there is that migrants from those areas are the LEAST skilled and productive. (The most productive immigrants to the UK are from other mainly white / English speaking countries: Canada, Ireland, the US, Australia, etc. The second most productive are from continental Europe.)

In short, there is a sleight of hand there. To put it figuratively, Portes is arguing that because immigrants from the US working in the City of London earn a million a year, that therefor illiterate unskilled people from Africa or the Middle East will also be a bonanza for the UK economy.

And finally, even if immigration does bring a small increase in output per head, what proportion of the population wants the nearest bit of countryside to where they live covered in concrete and houses in exchange for a small increase in output per head? There’s strong opposition to ANY further development of green fields around Durham City, where I live.

What do I say by way of conclusion? The director of the NIESR ought to give us QUALITY stuff. To put it politely, Portes’s ideas on immigration fall a long way short of “quality stuff”.

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