Sunday, 9 January 2011

The War on Movement

The politics of fear is more relevant to the current social climate than most people realise: the primary motive for generating panic is that it tends to attract voters to the right wing [1] [2] [3]. This is not a bona fide proof that such panics are unfounded, of course - but it ought make us a little more skeptical.

Let's consider one of the key debates which might, in modern times, be said to separate the left from the right: immigration. I'll focus, for now, on that which current legislation already attempts to restrict.

1. The Illegal Population: There are an (upper-bound) estimated 8,000,000 illegal immigrants in Europe (as of 2007); some 800,000 more joining the population every year [4].

2. Black Markets: there are many of those who still come and work, yet have no rights. They are made to work in unsafe conditions and payed well under the minimum wage; their bosses may fire them on a whim, and leave them homeless and starving, with no legal protection. Further: Those working on the black market do not pay tax; they still take jobs but provide no public revenue.

Many unauthorised Immigrants have to employ criminal gangs of people-smugglers. People smuggling generates $20 billion (£11 billion) pa in USA, a black market second only to drugs [5].

3. The Economic Benefits of Immigration: it is a principle tenet of Smithian capitalism and monetarism (which the critics of immigration are usually quick to defend) that labour-movement between economies must be as free as capital-movement. Less skilled workers are scarcer in affluent countries; immigration is usually to richer countries, providing labor [4] [6] [7].

The weak argument is often advanced that immigrants are "stealing our jobs"; well this is obviously not so. To increase the population is to increase the demand as well as the supply, and thus, create a new job for each one which is taken. In fact, labourers in rich countries tend to be more productive (due to better technology and a richer infrastructure) [4].

The Journal of Development Economics estimated that the world economy could as much as double from completely unrestricted migration* [8]; more recently, World Development estimated the benefits to be around $55.04trillion [9].

4. The Cost of Border Controls: so what does it cost to keep immigrants out? The Spanish city of Ceuta is only 11.5 square miles in area, but the Spanish government has invested an incredible £200million in keeping Morocco out (not that it has worked) [4] [10].

The cost to the migrants themselves is somewhat more grim: United has documented nearly 9,000 deaths caused by Europe's border policies between 1993 and March 2007 [4]. The Economist estimates that around two thousand people drown annually in the Mediterranean, on their way from Africa to Europe [11].

Proponents make unfalsifiable claims: when original predictions about the war on immigration were falsified, George Bush claimed that more money, technology and resources (raising number of border patrollers to 18,000 between 2006 and 2008, and sending 6,000 national guard to the borders in the meantime) were needed. But funding had quintupled (to $3.8 billion) since 1993, and triple the size of the border control, without a noticeable change in illegal immigraton influx.

5. In conclusion, I might say that illegal immigration is indeed a problem, but that the problem is with the illegalisation, not the immigration.


* Between 1892 and 1924, during the period in which it rose to financial superiority, America processed 5,000 migrants per day. Around a third of modern Americans can trace their ancestry to these migrants [5]. Let us also not forget the means by which the other two thirds got there.


[1] New Scientist (2010) - "Stranger danger at heart of racial bias"
[2] David Straker (2010) - "Political conversion?"
[3] A perfect example of using fear to generate conformity is Mr. Cameron's quotation in paragraph 8: MSN News (2010) - "Tories attack 'eccentric' Lib Dems"
[4] Philippe Legrain (2007) - "Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them"
[5] New York Times (13 June 2004) - "By a Back Door to the US"
[6] Noam Chomsky (2006) - "Failed States"
[7] Dan Cryan and Sharon Shatil (2009) - "Introducing Capitalism"
[8] C.Hamilton and J.Whalley (1984) - "Efficiency and distributional implications of global restrictions on labour mobility"
[9] Jonathan W.Moses and Bjorn Letnes (2005) - "The economic costs to international labour restrictions"
[10] World Press - "Ceuta, the border fence of Europe"
[11] The Economist (6 October 2005) - "Decapitating the Snakeheads"


  1. If we are indeed generating a larger sum of debt to keep out illegal immigrants then it costs to allow them to become legal then the solution seems simple. But is it that simple?
    First of all there is a difference between making illegal immigrants legal and turning a blind eye.
    Realistically, only the former will be considered, but i'm open to suggestions:
    The former requires a thorough process that costs money which cannot initially be equalized by the immigrant as a potential tax payer. So an issue that can potentially be resolved by a debt canceled out by our new citizen cannot be achieved until after the process is over and the immigrant has landed a stable income in which to help pay off the money used for the process via taxation.
    As it is now in America we have an increasing problem with public education. It is lacking in some very essential ways and budget cuts along with a decrease in subject diversity are issues to be considered. With such a large potential of new citizens and without the initial funding for education I would imagine we would run into greater funding issues at least initially.

  2. Thanks for writing that up Corey. Once I get my dissertation out the way I'll get onto researching the issues.