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Ed West says he took time to reply to my earlier post because his “Chinese maid, Yen or Wen or whatever her name is, took ages to clean up my study” – delightful, isn’t he?

He then deliberately misinterpreted my response – or perhaps he’s just stupid? I said it was nonsense to claim that in Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them, I tried to shut down debate by calling opponents of immigration racists. I quoted at length from the book to show that this wasn’t the case. He conveniently ignored this. How can you trust anything that someone so slippery with the truth writes?

His basic argument is that large-scale immigration would transform Europe into Lebanon:

the demographic nature of their country makes it unstable; which makes long-lasting peace and prosperity, the sort we in relatively homogenous and stable countries take for granted, impossible.

This has echoes of Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech.

Perhaps West should get out more: Britain is not ethnically homogenous – and nor is it at war.

If Britain became more diverse, it would look a bit more like London – which is hardly a hellhole.

A weaker version of this argument is that diversity undermines social solidarity. But while research by the political scientist Robert Putnam suggests that in the United States increased diversity correlates with diminished feelings of trust within a community, there is no evidence that this is the case in Europe. In fact, a comprehensive study of 21 countries concludes [see footnote]:

Despite several such findings for US society, in Europe it was not confirmed that rising ethnic diversity or even the rate of influx of foreign citizens had any significant detrimental effects on social cohesion.

West says “the immigration debate is about our vision of society, not economics.” In my view, it is about both – and much else besides.

It is about the choice between a closed, stagnant and reactionary society, and an open, dynamic and progressive one. And in economic terms, it can also bring big benefits.

West claims that these are trifling, and quotes the House of Lords economic affairs committee report to substantiate his argument.

But that report ignores the main economic benefits of immigration, which I discuss at length here.

Briefly, they are three:

  1. Gains from trade. Migration is a form of trade. If you go to France for an operation, it is classified as trade; if a French surgeon comes here, it is migration. If free trade is such a good thing, surely so is free migration.
  2. Greater flexibility. By moving to where the jobs are, migrants make economies more flexible, allowing them to grow faster for longer without sparking inflation. If it is a good thing for people to move from Liverpool to London if their labour is in demand there, surely the same is true of people moving from Lisbon or Lithuania.
  3. Faster productivity growth. As outsiders with a burning drive to succeed, newcomers tend to be more hard-working and entrepreneurial than most. Newcomers of all cultural backgrounds are twice as likely to start a new business as people born in Britain. Both individually and thanks to the increased diversity they bring, they boost innovation and improve problem-solving. Google, Yahoo!, eBay, and many others were all co-founded by immigrants who arrived in the US as children. People with diverse skills, attributes, perspectives and experiences bring something extra to the mix and by interacting with people born in Britain, this generates new ideas and businesses, and hence economic growth that makes us all richer.

Anyone who doubts the economic benefits of migration should ask themselves this: Would London be half as vibrant and successful without a constant influx of hard-working and enterprising people from around the country and around the world?

Last but not least, migration is about freedom, justice and human rights.

West takes issue with the fact that that I have called the current system of immigration controls a form of global apartheid. Yet how is it right that  one class of people – the rich and the educated – can move increasingly freely while the rest are expected to stay put?

Anyone who doesn’t think that this is deeply unjust should put themselves in the shoes of someone less fortunate than themselves. How would you feel if you weren’t able to move freely to seek a better life for yourself and your children?

That is hardly an ignoble aspiration: it is what has driven millions of Britons to settle across the world – in Australia, America, New Zealand, Spain and many other places.

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Footnote: Marc Hooge, Tim Reeskens, Dietlind Stolle, and Ann Trappers, Ethnic Diversity, Trust and Ethnocentrism and Europe: A Multilevel Analysis of 21 European Countries, paper presented at the 102nd Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia, 31 August-3 September 2006.

Posted 25 Oct 2010 in Blog

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