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By Philippe Legrain 4 COMMENTS

FT commentator Martin Wolf, a man I respect immensely, has written another column questioning the benefits of immigration. I respectfully disagree. You can read his article here.

I have written this letter to the FT in reply:

I have immense respect for Martin Wolf, but his analysis of the economics of immigration leaves a lot to
be desired. The case for freer international labour mobility is
analogous to that for freer trade, which Mr Wolf strongly supports. When
Britons go abroad for surgery, it is considered trade; when foreign
surgeons come here, we call it migration – yet the economic impact of
the operations on the existing UK population is identical.

Moreover, since it is economically desirable for people to move from
Liverpool to London if their labour is in demand, the same surely
applies to those moving from Warsaw or Manila. Mr Wolf – and the Lords
report – also neglect the potentially huge dynamic gains from an open
society. Immigrants’ diverse perspectives and experiences help stimulate
the new ideas and businesses on which our future prosperity depends. The
Lords made no attempt to quantify these (and other) benefits; Britain
still needs a rigorous Stern-style report to do so.

Mr Wolf has previously admitted that his fear that illiberal immigrants
pose a threat to liberal values caused him to change his mind about the
desirability of immigration. He is entitled to that cultural opinion,
but he should not allow it to cloud his normally impeccable economic

Posted 04 Apr 2008 in Blog
  1. TLB says:

    In your fantasy world, how exactly would the U.S. prevent the MexicanGovernment from obtaining even more PoliticalPower inside the U.S.? Or, should we not be concerned about that?
    Also, it would be helpful to know exactly how many years you’ve spent living in the southwestern part of the U.S.

  2. David says:

    Philippe, you say you disagree with Martin’s article, but you don’t address any of the points he makes in your response here. You simply repeat your own arguments in favour of immigration.
    Furthermore, you criticise both the Lords and Mr Wolf for neglecting possible dynamic gains. In fact, neither “neglect” them, they simply point out that they may exist but we don’t know what they are.
    At this stage of the game, it seems to me your task is twofold: Firstly, you would gain credibility if you acknowledged the importance of the social impact of immigration, instead of pretending it doesn’t exist. Secondly, you should be gathering evidence for dynamic gains in order to counter the arguments that current policy is based on inadequate or missing data.
    I’m still open-minded about immigration. I feel I’ve probably gained from it personally, but I’m concerned about the way it may be affecting some sections of the UK population by distorting wages and prices. And there are evidently injustices caused by cultural differences. I don’t hear anyone from the pro-immigration camp addressing those concerns.

  3. Divide and rule says:

    Hi, David. Immigrants have always been used as scapegoats… Why don’t you concentrate on the fact that over 80% of Britain’s wealth is owned by less than 10 per cent of the population? This is the real cause of most of our social and economic problems!

  4. Hi David
    Thanks for your comment. There is a whole chapter in my book about the dynamic gains from diversity, and I also refer you to an excellent book by Scott Page called The Difference, which is recommended on the right sidebar. Robert Winder ‘s Bloody Foreigners also demonstrates the huge contribution immigrants have made to Britain throughout history. But you are right that more UK-specific evidence would be helpful, hence the need for a Stern-style report.

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