Who is immigration for?

Opinion polls show a majority of Europeans to be against large scale immigration. Unfortunately for the majority, the political class has always displayed contempt for public opinion

Do the economic benefits of immigration stand up?
Vincent Cooper
On 18 March 2013 08:25

The conventional wisdom among the mainstream political class in Europe is that non-European immigration to Western Europe has been an economic benefit.

An example of this conventional wisdom was to be heard recently on the BBC programme Any Questions. The Liberal Democrat Evan Harris stated, as if it were an obvious truth, that the National Health Service would be “non-existent if it wasn’t for immigrant doctors propping it up.”

This claim went unchallenged and to great applause from the audience, the usual British response to all soft-left statements. But is there any truth in the claim? Has immigration economically benefited Britain and the rest of Europe?

Some of the most fascinating statistics on this subject are to be found in Christopher Caldwell’s book: Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West.

As Caldwell puts it:

“One of the amazing statistics in the history of European immigration is that the number of foreign residents in Germany rose steadily between 1971 and 2000 – from 3 million to about 7∙5 million – but the number of employed foreigners in the work force did not budge. It stayed rock steady at roughly 2 million people. In 1973, 65% of German immigrants were in the workforce; in 1983, a decade later, only 38% were.”

According to those statistics, the vast majority of immigrants to Germany (mainly Turkish Muslims) did not come to the country to work. Almost 4.5 million immigrants arrived, yet there was no change in the immigrant workforce.

Caldwell claims that this immigration pattern has been replicated across Western Europe. In Britain, for example:

“By 1997, only 12% of immigrants arriving in Britain from what used to be called the ‘New Commonwealth’ (the non-white parts of the former British Empire) were coming for work.”

So 88 percent of New Commonwealth immigrants to Britain did not come to join the labour force. What was happening? After all, if the need for labour was the driving force behind immigration, as both Conservative and Labour supporters of immigration claim, why were the majority of immigrants not in the workforce?

The explanation is that, from its earliest days, the pattern of European immigration has been, first the individual labour immigrant, then the immigrant’s family. Typically, this can be an extended family including the immigrant’s wife and children and dependent grandparents. In Western Europe, labour immigration quickly became immigrant family settlement.

Looked at from a macroeconomic point of view, whatever benefits the individual immigrant worker may have brought to his employer, they were grossly outweighed by the welfare costs of his immigrant family. At a minimum, this would include schooling, medical care and housing benefit, all paid for by the native tax payer.

By the 1960s, the trend of European immigration had little to do with work and everything to do with welfare-driven foreign settlement. Welfare-dependent immigrant families replaced the individual immigrant worker as the main source of immigration, yet the conventional wisdom of the political class remained the same: Europe needs immigrants.

There are some startling examples of this welfare-driven immigration.

Ireland, a country in deep recession with much of its skilled workforce emigrating to Canada and Australia, continues to attract non-European immigrants. The country still has a generous welfare system which acts as a great magnetic pull. For example, over 40 percent of those on taxpayer-funded social housing in north Dublin are foreign born; a fascinating statistic given that the Irish themselves are emigrating.

And welfare-driven immigration is not confined to non-European immigrants.

Welfare differentials between EU states have given Britain more than half a million unemployed EU citizens claiming benefits, with 140,000 never having worked. This figure will very likely increase when Bulgarians and Romanians become eligible next year.

In what way do the British people need this immigration? Why has Europe’s political class tolerated and even encouraged such immigration? There are two reasons, one narrowly economic, one political.

Economically, an increase in population through immigration causes an increase in aggregate demand. This makes the GDP figures look good.

Landlords, for example, get higher rents, often paid for by the taxpayer. Developers dig up more green-belt land to build houses for the huge inflow of immigrants, again much of it financed by the taxpayer.

Businesses sell more cars to fill up the M25, sell more airline journeys, more train journeys, with the consequent need for more road and airport investment; never-ending immigration with never-ending investment opportunities.

But where are the benefits in all this to the native British and other European peoples?

The fact is that most, if not all such immigrant-driven economic activity causes serious negative externalities, with few real benefits to the vast majority of the ordinary people.

In what way, for example, is the tax-financed building of a school in London with over ninety percent non-English-speaking pupils a benefit to local Londoners?

In what way is a doctor’s surgery in Tower Hamlets with nearly 100 percent Bangladeshi patients a benefit to native Londoners?

As the journalist David Goodhart asked in his now famous essay, Discomfort of Strangers: “Why should I pay for them when they are doing things that I wouldn’t do and don’t approve of?”

To ask these questions is not to blame the immigrants. They simply took advantage of an opportunity offered to them.

But it is to ask questions about our Western political institutions and values. It is to question the political class and its systematic ignoring of public opinion.

Did the people of post-war Europe, for example, want immigration from Islamic countries on such a scale that the Princeton University Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis would predict: “Europe will be part of the Arabic west, of the Maghreb.”  

The answer is no. The European peoples never wanted this. Every opinion poll has shown a majority of Europeans to be against large scale immigration. Yet the political class has always displayed a high-minded contempt for public opinion.

The truth is that the subject of immigration has always been something of a sacred cow to the European liberal elite – something not to be decided by democratic opinion. As one European cabinet minister haughtily said, “We live in a borderless world in which our new mission is defending the border, not of our countries but of civility and human rights.”

In other words: to hell with democracy!

The people’s response to this lack of democracy has been to pack up and leave; something the Americans have been practicing for years. Over 620,000 ‘White British’ people have left London in the past decade.

Both the BBC and the New Statesman – while no doubt pleased with the expanding diversity – attempted to spin an alternative explanation for this phenomenon.

‘White flight’ didn’t mean traditional Londoners were dissatisfied with what the political class had done to their city, said the BBC; it was, rather, a “move to the seaside” for affluent whites. But as Sir Andrew Green of MigrationWatch said, “It’s surely obvious that the main reason for white flight is because people are not willing to live in an environment which has changed beyond recognition and against their own wishes.”

Western governments consider themselves to be the guardians of democracy and sit in judgment on the rest of the world. Yet on post-war mass immigration, those same Western governments have calculatedly ignored the wishes of the vast majority of their own people. They have displayed their high-minded contempt for democracy.

Vincent Cooper is a freelance writer

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