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By Philippe Legrain 1 COMMENT

Willem Buiter has written an excellent post on why he disagrees with Martin Wolf’s recent column on immigration, and why he agrees with me that freedom of movement is a fundamental human right.

More interestingly, he develops at length how he believes countries should function as "open clubs". While I have quibbles with some of the details of his argument, I think the broad thrust is right. Anyone should be free to move to Britain, but all – those born in this country and those born elsewhere – must abide by the fundamental principles of liberal democracy, such as equality before the law and tolerance of differences.

He concludes with the crucial point about the benefits of a dynamic, open society:

Today the UK, especially in its creative urban centres, is one of the
most ethnically, racially, culturally and religiously diverse countries
in the world. While this creates huge tensions, it also makes it the
most exciting, creative and innovative place on earth. It is
immigration that revived the UK and immigration that will keep it
alive, if the country is confident enough to let it happen. Those who
don’t like what the country has become are, of course, free to leave
and go elsewhere – to join a club more to their liking.

The small-minded and short-sighted House of Lords select committee report gave no weight to this whatsoever in reaching its misguided conclusion that immigration has little or no economic benefit to Britain. 

Posted 07 Apr 2008 in Blog
  1. Stan Ogden says:

    Of the many journalistic ruminations on the Lords’ Report, Martin Wolf’s column in the FT “Four falsehoods on UK immigration” is much the most cogent thus far.
    He sums up the state of play as follows:
    “…The conclusion of this report is simple: from the point of view of existing residents, it is impossible to make compelling arguments in favour of present levels of net immigration. If one is to argue for continuing with them, one must either insist that it is other people’s welfare that counts or commend the benefits of a population that is both substantially larger and substantially more heterogeneous than today’s. These arguments can be made. I challenge the government to make them.”
    A useful analogy for the upcoming titanic struggle between the forces of Immigration Restrictionism and Immigration Enthusiasm might be the Siege of Königsberg, with the former taking on the role of the Red Army, and the latter playing the German Wehrmacht manning the multi-layered defensive ramparts in front of the supposedly impregnable fortress-city.
    In this (hopefully not too overstrained) analogy the outermost ramparts are (were?) formed by the Economic Line, constructed on the principle that the more people that can induced from outside to join in the fray by generating an income, the better off everybody else in the fortress will be. The above communiqué from General Wolf however signals an intention to abandon this line of defence and to make a strategic withdrawal, regrouping on a more defensible position.
    At this point then, intelligence reports based on enemy signals traffic would indicate that a defence in depth is being prepared, based on two further hopefully mutually-reinforcing and unassailable positions. These are, in turn: the Diversity Line, which depends upon the proposition that having a more diverse population heightens the probability of incubating a new Google or eBay. And innermost lies the Altruistic Line, sometimes referred to as the ex-Colonial Cringe Factor. It’s major contribution to the defence of the Enthusiast’s Citadel is the deafening mantra about the unfairness of western countries denying Third World others the opportunity to seek a better standard of living by relocating to the West, even if it means accepting lower standards for themselves. Played incessantly through magaphones across the front lines, its effects can certainly be debilitating even on the most commited attacking force.
    These are not of course the only means which the desperate Defenders of the Faith have at their disposal to harry and confuse their assailants. There is the More-the-Merrier gambit, which runs along these lines: since Manhattan and Hong Kong are super places to live, what would so awful if the whole country looked like that? Then there is the slightly more subtle black propaganda of the Resistance is Futile squad. Globalisation and mass migration are elemental forces that cannot be deflected, so why not just lay back and enjoy it? But, what every defender of a hopeless cause needs to have up his sleeve is a secret weapon, which can be introduced into the battle in extremis, when all else seems otherwise lost. For the defenders of the Immigration Fortress that is, of course, the R-weapon. If all else fails, you can always claim that anyone you disagree with is a racist xenophobe and that should send them packing. Or so the theory goes.

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