Friday, 15 July 2016

Why stopping immigration is good politics but lousy policy


We need immigration. This shouldn't be a matter of argument or dispute, it should be a matter of fact. Without immigration our society - the civilisation too many claim is threatened by migration - withers and dies.

Though demographers have long anticipated the transformation Japan is now facing, the country only now seems to be sobering up to the epic metamorphosis at hand.

Police and firefighters are grappling with the safety hazards of a growing number of vacant buildings. Transportation authorities are discussing which roads and bus lines are worth maintaining and cutting those they can no longer justify. Aging small-business owners and farmers are having trouble finding successors to take over their enterprises. Each year, the nation is shuttering 500 schools.

One of the world's oldest and greatest civilisations, Japan is slipping slowly away. Whole abandoned villages, towns populated almost exclusively by the old, shuttered businesses closed from lack of a workforce. Without new blood Japan will die - not a sudden violent shock but a gradual decline to the point where the assets and value of the nation are devoured by the old. Yet Japan still keeps one of the world's strictest immigration systems:

Abe, however, ruled out any significant change to Japan’s closed-door approach to immigration at the UN general assembly in New York in September.

“It is an issue of demography,” he said. “I would say that before accepting immigrants or refugees, we need to have more activities by women, elderly people and we must raise our birth rate. There are many things that we should do before accepting immigrants.”

This is the demographic equivalent of tilting at windmills or commanding the tide not to come in - yet it is actively promoted as a policy by politicians eager to exploit people's distrust of migrants, a distrust built on race, religion, culture and language:

“Look at nurses, they believe their income will be cut if we let in Filipinos and Indonesians,” said Katsuyuki Yakushiji, a sociologist at Toyo University in Tokyo. “They also say that these people can’t speak Japanese well and that could be risky. Yet, at the same time, they complain about severe overwork and say we need to add nurses.”

Familiar rhetoric to Europeans and now, tragically for an immigrant culture, in the the USA - short-term fears and self-interest are placed above the fact that there aren't enough people to do the jobs we want done. And that it's not just high skills we need but also old-fashioned labour from people willing to kill chickens, clean lavatories and help old people get in and out of bed.

It's great politics - easy pickings - to wind people up about immigration, to claim that it's damaging our culture or society. But it's lousy policy - we need those immigrants for, as Japan shows us, without them the basis of society, the social compact that forms our civilisation, slowly washes away.



Anonymous said...

I agree that in theory immigration is necessary to address a shortage of skilled workers (although some people whose wages have been reduced as a result of people who will work for lower wages might not agree). However living in Bradford, I can see the evidence that in practice more immigrants are not necessarily a benefit for the existing population, unless those immigrants are carefully chosen for their skills and compatibility to the society they are joining (which is obviously not the case at the moment).

Nigel Sedgwick said...

Simon's title is "Why Stopping Immigration is Good Politics but Lousy Policy".

I am just wondering who it is, even the least on the side of common sense, that is proposing to stop immigration?

Surely, like with everything else, there can be too much of it and too little of it.

This too-much-too-little balance is overall and in some particular detailed aspects. This includes benefits (and disbenefits) to those migrating (personal freedom), the recipient countries (mostly economic benefit) and the donating countries (mostly economic disbenefit).

However, we do all seem to have a general view that controlling emigration is a very bad thing. Thus depleting a country by 'brain drain' and financial capital (eg through mass emigration of its of its middle class - and particularly those of family-producing age) is not something we would generally choose to stop by force of legislation, much as it might overall be a badish thing. The world need balance in these things, for each country too; and that is different from "needs to balance"!

Looking at Japan, I wonder how much of their problem is emigration, rather than lack of immigration; there is certainly imbalance. But I believe there is also imbalance between Tokyo/large cities and elsewhere - in which they are not alone as a country.

Is there a contributing factor, I wonder, over the very long term, in transport and other infrastructure - and the choice to concentrate economic development in political centres? Maybe it is those political centres themselves that need to migrate - say after every election.

Best regards

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the only people who benefit from immigration to 'solve' the skills shortage are business owners and government: there wouldn't be a shortage if governments invested in training to anticipate demand instead of which uncontrolled immigration allows government not to invest and businesses to pay less whilst a generation of the young languish on the dole.


Jonathan Bagley said...

Not many would argue that there should be a total halt to immigration, but it must be acknowledge that there was a 500,000 net increase in the UK population last year; much of this was due to immigration and the children of recent immigrants.Immigrant women reproduce at a rate of 3.0 children each compared to 1.7 for UK born women.

If you view a yearly increase of 500,000 as OK, as some do, quoting figures for the proportion of UK land area built on, then I can't argue with you. But, like a giant Ponzi scheme, this rate of increase will have to maintained indefinitely, as there will otherwise always be the the argument that the population is ageing.

My solution would be to go back to the pre 1990s situation where skilled, well paid professionals were allowed permanent resident status if genuine demand was there. I recall that resulted in a few tens of thousands of academics, medics and computer programmers. Other workers were given temporary work visas - agricultural workers just for the picking season. This is how UK citizens spends a year working in Australia, or a few months in the USA.

Having a few more pounds in your pocket must be balanced against access to convenient schools, qualified teachers, medical care, seats on trains, congestion-free travel
unspoilt views etc. etc. I don't have much sympathy with arguments of business, who understandably want cheap labour.