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Max Dunbar reviews Aftershock in 3:AM magazine

In his essential book Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them, the economist Philippe Legrain demolished the case against migration in both its economic and what he kindly terms its ‘cultural’ form. In that book he also made the argument for freedom of movement of labour to match the freedom of movement of capital. It’s an indispensable text, and Legrain’s is a voice of sanity that is badly needed. In Aftershock he returns to the theme. After the crash instincts tell us to pull up the drawbridge. Surely the devastated British economy can’t continue to absorb yet more foreigners?

Yet we are looking at an international issue through national blinkers. The word ‘immigration,’ Legrain points out, reflects the parochial nature of what passes for debate on this: we assume that everyone in the world wants to live in the UK. Remember the neuralgics over Eastern Europe’s entry into the EU. This was marked by apocalyptic warnings of Britain being stormed by battalions of Polish layabouts and Lithuanian cowboys. About seventy-five million Eastern Europeans became eligible to migrate into the UK. In the end we received about one million, many of whom have gone.

After all, how many people do you know who are willing to completely uproot their lives and settle in another country? Most people live and die within a few miles of the town they grew up in. Yet anti-migration demagogues would have us believe that people all over the developing world weigh up various nations’ welfare states the way British consumers compare prices when buying online.

Immigration, Legrain emphasises, is not a one-way street. There are more British people living abroad than there are foreigners in Britain. He travels to the buzzing British expat community in Shanghai and the buzzing Chinese migrant community in Canada. Often, migration is simply a temporary thing. People work in rich countries for a few years and return when they have saved enough money to start businesses in their homelands.

It will be said that the capitalist crisis makes Legrain’s argument irrelevant: in fact it is more pressing than ever. With a rising pension bill and an understimulated economy we are more in need of bright young workers and entrepreneurs than ever. The child refugee Sergey Brin co-invented Google: how many Brins are we turning away? It would be a mistake of cataclysmic proportions to slam the barriers down – and yet that is what we are doing.

Read the full review here.

Posted 03 Jul 2010 in Blog

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