In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

Freer Borders

A recent YouGov-Sunday Times poll reaffirmed adverse perceptions of immigration. 57% of respondents said that immigration has been “bad for Britain’s economy”, and 64% believed it had harmed community relations. Over two-thirds of survey answerers backed tougher rules to reduce immigration, with slightly greater support for restrictions on arrival from outside of the EU. The poll allowed differentiation between separate country classes: 46% said Western European immigration has been beneficial to Britain, and 50% replied Eastern European immigration was deleterious to Britain.

Political distrust is fostered by this issue; when asked what party they most trusted on immigration, 29% said ‘None of them’ and 25% replied the UK Independence Party. According to the Office for National Statistics, immigration has dropped by 81,000 over the last year. The scale of emigration remained consistent, so net immigration plunged from 242,000 to about 153,000 people. Whether a result of this distrust or rational ignorance, only 15% of survey respondents thought the scale of immigration had declined over the last two years, and 59% held it had increased.

The Effects of Immigration

Arguments against immigration usually focus on either economics or culture. The pressure group Migration Watch posited a link between youth unemployment and migration from the eight former Soviet-bloc countries of Eastern Europe, and there have been multiple claims that immigration suppresses wages. The Centre for Economic Performance at LSE found “there is little evidence of an overall negative impact on jobs or wages”. Firstly, this is because demands are not held constant, and each immigrant brings their own desire for goods and services with them. Secondly, immigrants are usually either highly-skilled or lowly-skilled, meaning these new workers complement domestic labour. Both the supply and demand for labour is heterogeneous, so simple job transfers to domestic labour cannot occur. Even if wages were slightly reduced, that is a pecuniary externality, part of the price mechanism which exists in almost all economic decisions.

The correlation between the two variables is actually somewhat weak. (Photo: Spectator)

The correlation between the two variables is actually somewhat weak. (Photo: Spectator)

Similar claims are made on burdens to existing infrastructure and welfare services. Even if immigration was currently overburdening the country’s welfare systems, that would not be a reason to limit it. Immigrants into a country are not necessarily endowed as citizens, and these services can be redesigned to be unavailable to newly-arrived migrants, such as the establishment of a residency criterion or the resurrection of contributory principles.

The last prong concerns culture – the claim that some immigrants are imbued with dysfunction, violence and superstition, and their presence creates a cultural heterogeneity which will undermine present institutions. The rule of law is the core of this country’s political culture, and criminal subcultures are crushed under the slow wheels of justice. Global mass communication means culture is effectively without borders: the importation of ideas and beliefs can occur without the importation of people.

The freedoms of migration are actually two interlocked freedoms: the freedom to emigrate and the freedom to immigrate. I tend to view the argument from an immigrant’s point of view, the largest beneficiary of these policies, and believe we should work towards freer borders.

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3 comments on “Freer Borders

  1. gunnerlukey
    June 10, 2013

    Immigration is crippling the UK, I myself being one of the millions unemployed would completely disagree and say that we should have better restrictions on borders and cut immigration down to almost zero. If there weren’t so many immigrants in the country then there would be jobs for the unemployed British to take? Very basic maths that anyone can understand? The population has increased by 10 million since 1960 when immigration started to really build up speed, afro-caribbean’s coming over in the 50’s and 60’s and lots have followed suit over the years. If we would have controlled it from the beginning we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in, instead Labour being lax on the borders and the same thing will happen in 2014 with the Bulgarians and Romanians if we don’t do something to stop it. Fix the country first before taking in more people we can’t support, there aren’t enough jobs as it is, how will these immigrants come in and find work? They will come in and take less pay driving down the average wage employers will pay making it worse off for the people currently here. We should worry about ourselves first and the ‘rights’ of others second, after all this is our country not anyone else’s, so why let the EU dictate what should and shouldn’t happen?

    • Anthony Masters
      June 10, 2013

      Immigration is not crippling the UK. The economics of immigration are not “very basic maths”. As I explained in the article, immigration increases the demand for labour as well as its supply. Reducing immigration would not mean “jobs for the unemployed British to take”, as immigrant labour complements, rather than competes with, domestic labour.
      It’s difficult to conclude that the immigration of the 1950s and 1960s dragged on the UK economy, as the UK did not have a recession during these periods. The record immigration of the 1990s and the new millennium were also at the same time as one of the longest periods of unbroken economic growth in our nation’s history.
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2009/nov/25/gdp-uk-1948-growth-economy

      My idea for reform is to restrict access to welfare for newly-arrived immigrants, by returning contributory principles to welfare, meaning that taxes would not be supporting these immigrants. If the pecuniary effect on pay is true, then it would also hold for internal migration, but I doubt many people would support special taxation or restrictions barring people moving between cities.
      Finally, the EU is not ‘dictating’ – the country is a signatory to various treaties that establish free movement of people within the EU. Being a signatory to these treaties may be a good or a bad thing, but these rules are certainly not dictates from the EU.

  2. Pingback: On Immigration and Open Borders | In Defence of Liberty

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