The point about visa systems is that they are reciprocal

We don’t do party political partisanship around here so allow us to tip toe very gently through this latest proposal from the Labour Party over visas, tourist taxes and waivers. There’s a significant problem with what is being suggested: the end result will be a tax on British people who decide to go to other countries.

The proposal is the following:

Labour will seek to beef up its pitch to voters on immigration with a pledge to pay for 1,000 extra border guards by imposing a charge on visitors from the US and 55 other countries.

Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary, will criticise other parties for engaging in an “arms race of rhetoric” on the issue, which has been thrust to the centre of political debate by the rise of Ukip.

But she will accept that the opposition “needs to talk more” about public concerns and will say action to restore public confidence that illegal entrants are being caught and dealt with is “vital for a progressive approach”.

Under the proposals, nationals in countries enjoying a “visa waiver” system of fast-track permission to enter the UK will be hit with a charge of around £10 per visit, which the party said would more than cover the £45m cost of the additional staff.

Leave aside what the Tories say about it (roughly speaking, “Yah! Boo! Sucks!” as far as we can see) and leave aside the silliness of such hypothecating of taxes (the amount that we should or desire to spend on one particular thing has absolutely nothing at all, whatsoever, to do with how much we can raise in taxation from either that or any other specific thing. All taxation should be flowing into one pot to be distributed. Think, for a moment, if such a visa tax reduced the number of people arriving legally. Would that reduce our need for more immigration officers to deal with people arriving illegally? Not obviously, but under a hypothecated tax system it would reduce the budget for them).

And consider simply the fact that all visa arrangements are reciprocal. If we demand a visa from the citizens of Dystopia then Dystopia will demand visas from Brits. If we offer a visa waiver scheme for visitors from Utopia then Utopia will offer a visa waiver scheme for Brits going there (Utopia, obviously, being that mythical place where the NHS works).

If we impose a charge on people from 55 countries for a visa waiver then those 55 countries will impose a charge on Brits going to those 55 places. And one more thing: we think we’re right in stating that more Brits go to other places than people from other places come to Britain.

So, the net effect will be a transfer of money from Brits to foreign governments. As more of us will be paying to go to 55 countries than citizens of those 55 countries will be paying to come here.

Making foreign governments richer is a very odd indeed method of increasing revenues to pay for services in the UK.

As at the top there this isn’t party political partisanship. It is instead a call for all politicians to understand Chesterton’s Fence. If you see a fence somewhere you shouldn’t pull it down until you’ve worked out why someone built it in the first place. Only when you’ve understood the original reasons, then ensured that they no longer apply, should you proceed with destruction.

Why do we have visa waiver schemes with no charges? Because visa systems are always reciprocal. We charge them and they will charge us, not obviously to our benefit.

This isn’t about the Labour Party this is about a politician not bothering to think.

Banning Blanc from Britain stifles free speech

Sky sources have learned the so-called pick-up artist Julien Blanc will not be allowed to enter the UK.

The decision to deny Julien Blanc’s entrance into the UK has set the precedent that freedoms of speech and expression can be criminalised, if and when enough people sign a petition.

Blanc’s comments are socially reprehensible and offensive to both men and women, but if we do not respect the rights of the offensive, we start risking the safety of any minority viewpoint.

Those upset by Blanc’s remarks have the opportunity to push back in cultural and social spheres; they do not need to call on the government to ban things they find socially disturbing. Private event businesses can take after EventBrite and deny him platforms, people can boycott his events, and viewers can turn their televisions off when he is on-air voicing his opinions.

The market has ways of listening to the moral needs of its customers, and while it is not a perfect system, it can serve to bankrupt those who are morally reprehensible without criminalising them for non-criminal behaviour.

Surely, we must recognise that there is a fundamental difference between the private sphere taking away one man’s platform to be noticed, and the state taking away every person’s platform to speak freely without threat of punishment or criminalisation.

This ruling should not just be a wake-up call to public hysteria, but also a reminder of how flawed the UK immigration system is. The Home Office can legally deny anyone entrance to the country if their character or opinions are not deemed conducive to the ‘public good’.

This is Big Brother at its worst – ‘protecting’ the people from speech criminals, who are a danger to the moral good; let any who speak out be at the mercy of mob rule, and the Home Office.

Are immigrants dangerous criminals?

Sometimes supporters of strict migration controls criticise my focus on the economics of immigration. They more or less accept that free movement leads to productivity gains, innovation gains, entrepreneurial gains and fiscal gains for the receiving countries, ‘brain gains’ for the migrants’ home countries, and even that it leads to massive welfare gains for the immigrants themselves, but suggest that the non-economic costs of immigration are very large too, and we basically ignore them. 

They have in mind costs like increased crime, reductions in social trust, a decline in democratic support for important institutions like the rule of law and free speech, and the dilution of the native culture. To some extent I believe all of these things are costs of certain kinds of immigration, and may justify certain controls on immigration, but none are reasons to support the immigration controls that we currently have.

In this post I’ll consider how much impact immigrants have on the crime rate. I’ll come back to some of the other points in future posts.

So: crime. Crime only seems to rise in line with certain kinds of immigration, and does so for basically economic reasons. A 2013 study looked at two different waves of immigration to the UK – asylum seekers in the 1990s and early 2000s (mostly from places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia); and immigration from the “A8” countries (Poland, Czech Republic and the six other Eastern European states that joined the EU in 2004). 

The paper looked at crime rates according to areas where these waves of immigrants settled. It found that neither of these waves had any statistically significant impact on the overall rate of violent crime. A8 immigration actually had a small negative impact on crime rates, driven by a reduction in property crime rates. 

On the other hand, asylum seekers did cause a statistically significant rise in property crime, but still a small one. This  equivalent to an increase of 0.7% in property crime rates per 1% percentage point share of the local adult that was asylum seekers. Note that this is a percentage increase to the existing crime rate – if crime rates were already 10% and a new wave of asylum seekers suddenly accounted for 1% of the population, crime rates would rise to 10.07%, not 10.7%.

According to the report’s authors,

“Across all England and Wales [asylum seekers] averaged 0.1% of the local adult population, so the average property crime rate might be 0.07% higher as a result – only around 2% of the average property crime rate of around 2.7%. Of course, some authorities had appreciably more asylum seekers located in the area, though shares larger than 1% of the local population were extremely rare.”

What explains this? There might be because of some inherent difference between, say, Polish and Iraqi people, but violent crime levels were not significantly different (in fact, A8 migrants were slightly worse here than asylum seekers). What may explain the difference is that A8 immigrants were free to work however they wished, whereas asylum seekers are not allowed to seek legal employment. The authors of the 2013 report suggest that this explains why only property crime was higher for asylum seekers.

This data is not broken down by nationality, so it is rather blunt. According to another 2013 paper, arrest rates (which are broken down by nationality) were significantly higher for immigrants than non-immigrants – 2.8 arrests per 1000 for UK nationals and 3.5 arrests per 1000 for non-nationals (excluding immigration-related arrests). However, controlling for age this difference disappears. Having more young people seems to lead to more arrests; in and of itself having more immigrants does not.

Finally, there is the issue of second- and third-generation immigrant groups who cause disproportionately more crime. According to the Metropolitan Police, the majority of men held by police for gun crimes (67%), robberies (59%) and street crimes (54%) in London in 2009-10 were black, even though only 10.6% of London’s population is black. There is no easy explanation for this, and it may be due to a combination of factors that we cannot control – or, indeed, easily change.

The ultimate lesson of all this may be that immigration in general does not have a big impact on crime, but certain immigrant groups might if they do not assimilate culturally. Then again, Eastern Europeans don’t seem to be a problem at all, and they seem to be the ones we’re most concerned about right now. 

My friend Ed West has a point when he says that there is no such thing as an ‘immigrant’ – only an American, a Pole, a Somali, and so on. In the course of my posts on the non-economic impacts of immigration, I will suggest that a compromise position between my libertarian preference for very free movement and Ed’s conservative preference for restrictions. We may yet be able to square the circle of immigration policy.

Minimum wages encourage hostility towards migrants

Having a minimum wage is what makes ‘illegal immigration’ feasible. Most illegal immigrants are unskilled, poorly paid workers; Epstein & Hezler (2013) say that “Minimum wages play an essential role since they put a limit on local workers’ and legal migrants’ wages. Thus, under certain circumstances, the probability of employing illegal workers is increased.” Incidentally, the authors also suggested that one way to reduce illegal immigration would be to increase legal immigration (assuming a constant minimum wage). According to a survey commissioned by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, “Among respondents who want immigration reduced overall, 54% said that they would like reductions either “only” (28%) or “mostly” (26%) among illegal immigrants”.

Illegal immigrants fill a gap for employers who cannot survive by hiring people at or above the minimum wage and who also cannot attract legal residents that are willing to break the law and work for less than minimum wage. Firstly, if there were no minimum wage, then employers would have less incentive to employ illegal immigrants and would, instead, turn to legal residents to offer their labour for these rates. This would simultaneously empower the unemployed with more opportunities to offer their labour, make entrepreneurship increasingly feasible (especially that of the labour-intensive variety) and significantly reduce illegal immigration.

Whether the contempt toward illegal immigrants is from allegations of criminal activity, taking jobs, etc., this has a spill over effect on the perceptions of immigrants in general. There is an oft-documented tendency for people to stereotype and make sweeping generalisations (even if we are subsequently ashamed of doing so). Hence, any negative perceptions of illegal immigrants contribute to the general degradation of legal immigrants’ status in society.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly (depending on who you are), via a combination of both the inflexibility of the labour markets that it contributes toward (and, therefore, of price levels in various other markets) and the controversial illegal immigration that it makes feasible, the minimum wage is one of the greatest barriers to the possibility of free immigration and, therefore, of a world where greater understanding and co-operation between people flourishes.

Would being more like Qatar be a good way of fighting poverty?

Eric Posner and Glen Weyl have a provocative essay in the New Republic this month arguing that massive guest worker schemes could help facilitate large numbers of immigrants from poor countries to come and work in the developed world. Their model is the Gulf States, which have enormous numbers of workers—85% of the population of the United Arab Emirates, for instance, are guest workers:

If the OECD countries copied the migration policies of the GCC countries, they would reduce global inequality by much more than their welfare systems do within their borders. For example, if OECD countries welcomed migrants in proportion to their GDP at the same rate and from the same poor nations as Qatar does, this would reduce global inequality by about twice the amount that eliminating all internal inequality in the OECD countries wouldand by twice the rate that taxes and transfers in these countries reduce global inequality. If they  adopted the same per-citizen rate at which the UAE takes migrants, they could accomplish much more. By taking in the 60 percent of the global population who make less than the bottom five percent in the United States and paying them $5,000 per year, the U.S. and Europe would reduce global inequality by roughly a third.

We citizens of OECD countries take pride in our political and civil rights, and our generous welfare systems. Yet we maintain our high standard of living by giving no rights and trivial money to people who live outside our arbitrary borders. While we fuss over whether we should raise or lower our marginal tax rates, we ignore the plight of the most desperate people in the world. And yet we are surprised that leaders of China and the GCC accuse us of hypocrisy when we criticize their records on human rights.

It’s a controversial idea. These schemes seem to address most of the intractable problems that people have with immigration—these guest workers cannot vote, their children do not become citizens of the states they are born into, and they have to return home after a certain period of time, so they can’t have the negative lasting impact on culture that some people say immigration will lead to.

But, as I and many other visitors to the Gulf have noted, the system feels almost like slavery. Indeed in cases where workers’ passports are confiscated it essentially is slavery. Posner and Weyl are not suggesting this, but their plan would bring the reality of global poverty right up to our doorsteps—provided they know what their lives will be like, we can assume they would be made better off by this, but many people would find actually seeing this kind of deprivation on a daily basis to be unacceptable. But whether we could tolerate this and whether we should tolerate it are two very different questions.