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.

UK politicians’ ignorance towards immigration gives Juncker credit he probably doesn’t deserve

It’s a tough day when you have to agree with Jean-Claude Juncker. After all, I tend not to see eye-to-eye with those who think the European Commission needs “to be an even more political body.”

But today, Juncker came out strong against Cameron’s proposed cap on EU migration to the UK; which is good, important even:

From The Telegraph:

Mr Juncker said: “I am not prepared to change [freedom of movement]. If we are destroying the freedom of movement other freedoms will fall. I am not willing to compromise.”

He said that any attempts to address the issue of the amount of benefits being claimed by foreigners would have to be in line with current EU treaties.

“Member states are free to take the initiatives they want as long as these initiatives are line with the treaties,” Mr Juncker said.

Here’s the problem – I don’t think I do agree with Juncker; in fact, I have a sneaking suspicion he and I hold the opinion that free movement in the EU should remain uncapped for fundamentally different reasons. I, for one, don’t think migration is complimented by mandates to ensure a universal ‘minimum social wage’ throughout the EU.

Rather, I see free movement as an integral and necessary component of UK economic prosperity, not to mention a huge benefit for communities that both migrants and natives come in inhabit.

Yet on this particular topic, Mr Juncker and I have the same end goal. And his commitment to protecting free movement—rejecting Cameron’s migration negotiations—has taken us another step towards a full-blown referendum in 2017. Such a referendum, described in the most positive light, would be an opportunity for Britons to discuss and debate the implications EU regulations have on the UK (the specifics of trade agreements and vacuum cleaner bans are two topics that immediately spring to mind…). But there is a deep worry on the part of pro-immigration advocates such as myself that many will use the referendum to lock migrants out of the UK as best they can.

The majority of Juncker’s policies fall short of promoting freedom and prosperity—but on migration, at least his end goals are right. And until UK politicians (all of them really, Conservatives and Labour across the board) stop trying to halt the overwhelming benefits migrants bring to the UK, I find myself in unfamiliar waters, with Mr Juncker as my ally.

Unsurprising: Migrants give back to new communities (often more so than natives)

Migrants in high-income economies are more inclined to give to charity than native-born citizens, this Gallup poll finds.

Screen shot 2014-10-17 at 12.02.21

[High-income economies are referred to as “the North”/ middle- to low-income economies are referred to as “the South”.]


From 2009-2011, 51% of migrants who moved to developed countries from other developed countries said they donated money to charity, whereas only 44% of native-born citizens claimed to donate. Even long-term immigrants (who had been in their country of residence for over five years) gave more money to charity than natives–an estimated 49%.

Even 34% of migrants moving from low-income countries to high-income countries said they gave money to charity in their new community – a lower percentage than long-term migrants and native-born citizens, but still a significant turn-out, given that most of these migrants will not have an immediate opportunity to earn large, disposable incomes. The poll also found that once migrants get settled, their giving only goes up.

Migrants seem to donate their time and money less when moving from one low-income country to another; though as Gallup points out, the traditional definitions of ‘charity’ cannot always be applied to developing countries, where aid and volunteerism often take place outside formal structures and appear as informal arrangements within communities instead.

It’s no surprise either that the Gallup concludes this:

Migrants’ proclivity toward giving back to their communities can benefit their adopted communities. Policymakers would be wise to find out ways to maintain this inclination to give as long as migrants remain in the country.

This is yet another piece of evidence that illustrates the benefits of immigration for society as a whole. (It also highlights the insanity of Cameron’s recent proposal to curb the number of Eurozone migrants coming to the UK). Not only does the UK need more immigrants “to avoid a massive debt crisis by 2050,” but apparently it needs them for a community morale boost as well.

Why do people oppose immigration?

My Buzzfeed post on immigration generated a bit of traffic yesterday and a bit of disagreement, too. The most common objection to our approach to immigration is that it’s one-dimensional—OK, we might be right about the economics, but c’mon, who really cares? It’s culture that matters. This point was made to me a few times yesterday and there’s definitely something to it.

My first response is that I think people underestimate the public’s ignorance of the economics, and hence the public’s fears about immigration. This poll by Ipsos MORI (I love those guys) asked opponents of immigration what they were worried about—as you can see, their concerns are overwhelmingly about job losses and the like:

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 11.16.10

The top five concerns are all basically to do with economics, with the highest-ranking cultural/social concern getting a measly 4%.

Obviously this isn’t the whole story. People might be lying to avoid seeming “racist”, for example. But in other polls people seem less reserved—last year 27% of young people surveyed said that they don’t trust MuslimsLess than 73% of the population say they’d be quite or totally comfortable with someone of another race becoming Prime Minister, and less than 71% say they’d be quite or totally comfortable with their child marrying someone of a different race. So the ’embarrassment effect’ of seeming a bit racist can’t be that strong, and clearly the ceiling is higher than 4%.

I reckon it’s more likely that people have a bunch of concerns, of which the economic ones seem more salient. Once they’ve mentioned them, they don’t need to add the cultural concerns to the pile. Either that, or we just believe people in the absence of evidence to the contrary.

That’s why I think it’s legitimate to focus on the economics of immigration, even if we concede that the cultural questions are important (and tougher for open borders advocates to answer). Persuading some people that their economic fears are misguided should move the average opinion in the direction of looser controls on the borders.

If we could put the economic arguments to bed we might be able to have a more productive discussion about immigration. If culture’s your problem, then let’s talk about that, but remember that the controls we put on immigrants to protect British culture come with a price tag. Maybe we’d decide that more immigration was culturally manageable if we ditched ideas like multiculturalism and fostered stronger social norms that pressurised immigrants into assimilating into their new country’s culture. I don’t know. (Let’s leave aside my libertarian dislike of using the state to try to shape national culture.)

The point, for me, is this: the economics of immigration does matter a lot to people. Immigration is not either/or—we can take steps towards more open borders without having totally open borders. At the margin, then, persuading people about the economics of immigration should move us in the direction of more open borders. And that, in my view, makes the world a better place.

In which we take to Buzzfeed to bang the drum for open borders

Over at Buzzfeed I’ve written the ASI’s first ‘community post’, with nine reasons people should favour more open borders:

2. Immigrants don’t steal native jobs, they create them

When immigrants take jobs, that’s all some people see. What they don’t see is that immigrants spend the money they earn too. That means that for every job taken by an immigrant worker, she will create another one by buying goods and services with the money she earns. Study after study has found that immigrants don’t ‘steal’ jobs.

The idea that immigrants steal jobs is sometimes called the ‘lump of labour fallacy’, because it mistakenly assumes that there is fixed amount of work to go around. If that were true, women entering the workforce in the mid-20th Century should have created mass unemployment. It didn’t.

It’s quite a fun format, and I was able to include the obligatory Mean Girls gif, so hopefully it’ll get a bit of attention. Now I want to think of other subjects to cover – Which era of Hayekian political philosophy are you?; 10 reasons to privatise the NHS; The Great Recession in 13 kitten gifs. Suggestions in the comments, please…