Liberalising Immigration is a Win-Win scenario

Draconian immigration rules represent the largest restriction on liberty in the UK today. They restrict the personal and economic potential of millions of people and achieve little in return. How to roll back these limits on freedom? Think tanks have a difficult dilemma. They want to build a reputation as radical thinkers, but at the same time propose moderate policies. Early drafts of this essay argued that Britain should be more open to this or that group, but the truth is that both hard-headed economics and human decency demand wholesale liberalisation.

Immigration restrictions curtail our ability to hire, sell to, befriend and marry the people we want to. People understand this – it’s why people view immigration to their local area much more favourably than on the national level. And they have an enormous economic cost.

The ASI’s namesake argued that the division of labour is limited by the extent of the market. Everyone accepts the case for free trade, but that leaves markets incomplete, because non-tradable services (like haircuts) can’t travel across borders. Freeing people to move where they wish would let people go where their talents would be best used. The productivity of someone with an engineering degree – the amount can achieve with their labour – is many times lower in some areas of the developing world than it is in the UK.

The benefits to migrants are best illustrated by the lengths migrants are willing to go to to cross borders. Smugglers charge thousands for passage from Libya to Europe, and the journey is fraught with risk, but hundreds of thousands make the journey anyway. Migration lets people escape poverty, war and authoritarian regimes.

The Mariel Boatlift is an example of this. In 1980, 125000 Cubans fled Castro’s regime, landing in Miami. Their liberation increasing the size of the local labour force by 7% almost overnight. But economists found almost no impact on wages and the labour market.

7% of the UK labour force works out to approximately 2.3m people. The government could auction off permanent residency permits to that many people each year. Such a radical policy would be disruptive. It would have costs, losers as well as winners. But the potential benefits are too colossal to ignore – a Britain where not only workers and jobs but husbands and wives, parents and children, potential pub geezers would not be separated by arbitrary borders.

Theo Clifford is winner of the 18-21 category of the ASI’s ‘Young Writer on Liberty’ competition. You can follow him on @Theo_Clifford, and read his blog at

Economic Nonsense: 41. Immigration is bad for the economy

Many argue that immigration harms the economy.  Some suppose that immigrants are attracted by welfare, and come to live off benefits at the taxpayers’ expense.  Others assert the contradictory claim that “they come here to take our jobs.”  Schrödinger’s immigrant, like his cat, seems to manage two states simultaneously.  Some point to the pressure on services and resources, with immigrant children filling classrooms and their sick taking up hospital beds and lengthening waiting times to see doctors.

The reality is that most immigrants are young and ambitious, coming to better their lives.  They are overwhelmingly fit and looking for work.  Many of the jobs they take up are ones whose low pay and long hours do not appeal to the native population.  Most do not draw benefits or take up hospital space.  In some sectors they help fill skill shortages, and many UK businesses clamour for more educated and talented foreigners to be allowed in.

The work they do adds to our GDP and boosts growth.  The taxes they pay boost our public finances.  Most immigrants have shown some drive in being prepared to move to a new country to improve their lot.  Some have scraped up cash to finance their trip.  Some have taken risks on their journey.  They constitute a huge net plus to the economy, not a minus.  

It is true that in some areas, particularly if they concentrate, they can put pressure on local facilities.  A minority seeks to retain a culture that sits ill alongside the tolerance and liberalism that Britain has developed over its history.  These are indeed problems, but they are ones that can be addressed and dealt with, and some are temporary rather than long-term. 

Immigrants do one more positive thing for the economy.  Most countries in Europe face declining and ageing populations, and will encounter difficulties if there are not enough young people in work and paying taxes to support the elderly with appropriate services.  The UK population is not declining, and it is immigration that is making the difference.  Far from constituting a problem, it is in this case a solution.  

They must be mad, literally mad: to be lucky in one’s opponents

It is easy to take the view that we British defenders of immigration have never had a tougher time being heard over the omnipresent calls for restrictions, policy changes, and–most frequently–an “open and honest debate” on the subject. Issues of immigration and race relations have indeed increased in salience, but I remain bemused by (and somewhat thankful for) the sterility of the debate as it exists today.

Opponents have got to the absurd point of having to pretend that it isn’t immigration that they care about, but migration. To this end, they speak about net migration rather than immigration statistics, and give their pressure groups names like Migration Watch. In my view, this is quite transparently a PR move and nothing else. Migration Watch claim that their goal is ‘balanced migration’, though I doubt they would be delighted if tens of millions of Brits were replaced with immigrants each year. I am entirely willing to be convinced otherwise when the soi-disant migration sceptics urge the government to do everything it can to reduce net migration – including using state power to increase emigration (perhaps subsidies for yet more Brits to move to sunnier climes).

When one’s opponents have to contort themselves in this way, resorting to the specious economics of the so-called lump of labour fallacy (which most good evidence seems to refute), one should be grateful. They are hobbled by their partial adherence to ideas of acceptable discourse set out by those who would see them silenced. They are less likely to be accused of racism while talking about pressure on wages or queues at the GP surgery than about the merits of multiculturalism.

Various arguments against immigration are unheard beneath this cacophony of mistaken economics. Speaking to the sense of insecurity–alienation, even–that some feel in response to the changing character of their communities, these points can be troubling when made with passion. Enoch Powell wasn’t citing the fluctuation of net migration statistics in his Rivers of Blood speech. Neither was Robert Putnam (though not an opponent of immigration per se) in Bowling Alone when he reflected that the more diverse the community

…the less people vote, the less they volunteer, and the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings.

The observation that these arguments aren’t being made is less cause for optimism and more for wariness. For the moment, while our opponents for the most part refrain from basing their arguments on normative claims about the cultural effects of immigration, and focus on claims about economics, we can rebut, present evidence and, I hope, convince some people that they are mistaken. Indeed, when surveyed, people report that they are most concerned about immigrants’ effects on jobs, public services, and wages, rather than culture, so it might follow that they can be convinced otherwise by contradictory evidence.

However, if the point comes when those opposed to liberal immigration policy realise they are abiding by standards which restrict their side and weaken their argument, and stop doing so, those of us who want immigration (and lots of it) should be worried. The other day, Nigel Farage spoke about protecting our ‘Judeo-Christian’ culture, and yesterday of the moral cowardice of Europe: a taste of what we’ve avoided, or of something yet to come?

Farage, ‘improper’ English and his inimical proposal

Attacking people who “cannot speak English properly” with suggestions of unemployment is just the tip of the iceberg of inimical and inhumane anti-foreign and anti-immigrant policies that threaten to lead Britain into socioeconomic retrogression. Farage also claims that “middle management” would be his target in making cuts in the NHS and, though this aspect is justified and welcome, the fact that it’s accompanied by the aforementioned divisive rhetoric reveals the discriminatory sentiment and true roots of his policy suggestions.

Of course, this proposal would only affect the NHS but the danger is that when such sentiments are formally empowered in elections, it will inevitably lead to similar regulations being extended to other spheres and, therefore, also inhibit the private sector’s ability to recruit talented individuals. The Entrepreneurs Network released a report showing how we are already failing international graduate students and, therefore, British businesses: “Although nearly half, 42%, of international students intend to start up their own business following graduation, only 33% of these students, or 14% of the total, want to do so in the UK” – current immigration policy is already unfavourable toward beneficial, legal migration.

Mukand (2012) found that “the globalization of labour could dwarf those from foreign aid or even the liberalization of trade and capital flows. For example, a decision by developed countries to liberalize immigration restrictions by a mere 3% could result in an estimated output gain of more than $150 billion”; simply put, the proposed policy road UKIP is signalling with its anti-immigrant, anti-multicultural and xenophobic rhetoric is poor Economics that will, undoubtedly, make Britain poorer.

The attraction for many Europeans to come here, instead of elsewhere, is to learn English; the best way to learn a foreign language is to speak it and live where it is spoken. A major reason why India has been particularly successful in exporting services is the workforce’s inherent, multilingual capabilities. The only way Britain will be able to compete effectively, develop and exporting more is to have more multilingual people and this will inevitably require native speakers of foreign languages. A hostile environment toward bilingual and multilingual peoples will exacerbate the pre-existing shortage in both the private and public sector (the military, for example, is facing a particularly acute shortage). Furthermore, if people are discouraged from coming to Britain in the first place, it will significantly diminish our cultural capital.

Finally, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the upcoming UK elections are only really relevant for Britain. Just because our economy and our armed forces make up a far smaller proportion of world output and military strength than they did previously does not change the fact that this election’s outcome will have profound, global implications. The whole world is watching closely, as was the case with Scotland’s independence referendum.

Though both Britain and the USA are doing comparatively well (growth, unemployment and all that), Britain has the added attraction of having a welfare state that Europeans (amongst others) love and, therefore, this means that many look here. The increase in migration (both perceived and actual) reflects Britain having fared better (probably also contributed to it having done better) and, thus, people the world over look to British public policy; hence, as the voting public, we have essentially been called upon to be global leaders and good leaders lead by example.

Farage has carefully exploited anti-foreigner rhetoric and UKIP is our (albeit more civilised and less extremist) version of the extremist parties that have gained popularity during these hard times. When we vote anti-foreign, it will encourage those who look to us to reciprocate. Subsequently, trade restrictions and currency wars will intensify alongside a myriad of other protectionist policies and international hostilities (all of which happened in the run-up to WWII).  We need to think carefully about the examples we set and the rhetoric we reward and, what’s equally as important, the rhetoric we keep quiet about.

Free movement and discrimination: the case of football

The more you open markets up, the less discrimination you get on grounds of ‘taste’ (racism). The stuff left over is usually ‘statistical‘ (i.e. where certain groups are different in their average levels of job-relevant criteria). There was already a great paper showing this for the Fantasy Premier League (which I play avidly), but now there’s also one for the real Premiership!

Pierre Deschamps and José de Sousa look at the impact of the 1995 Bosman Ruling on the gap between black and white footballer wages in the English league. They find that when only 20 clubs competed for their skills, black players were underpaid relative to white ones, indicating that owners were able to indulge their preference against non-whites (or indulge their fans’ preferences).

But once the whole of Europe were effectively on an equal footing, blacks became highly mobile and garnered equal pay for their efforts:

This paper assesses the impact of labor mobility on racial discrimination. We present an equilibrium search model that reveals an inverted U-shaped relationship between labor mobility and race-based wage differentials. We explore this relationship empirically with an exogenous mobility shock on the European soccer labor market. The Bosman ruling by the European Court of Justice in 1995 lifted restrictions on soccer player mobility.

Using a panel of all clubs in the English first division from 1981 to 2008, we compare the pre- and post-Bosman ruling market to identify the causal effect of intensified mobility on race-based wage differentials. Consistent with a taste-based explanation, we find evidence that increasing labor market mobility decreases racial discrimination.

The figure below shows how the ‘turnover’ (i.e. churn between clubs) of black English players jumped when European markets opened up. Market freedoms; exit; a sort of ‘voting with their feet’, outperformed voice in bringing equality. And we know from ASI research that this did not harm the English national team.

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This is in line with a lot of what we have been saying recently—markets are a good way to bring about justice!