Accepting the minimum truth

The Economist is attempting to square the circle between standing by its globalist principles while minimizing the inevitable political consequences of those principles:

Matteo Salvini, Italy’s hard-right interior minister, deputy prime minister and leader of its Northern League, is surging in the popularity polls. Mr Salvini is likely in due course to become Italy’s leader in large part because of his uncompromising stance on immigration. “People whose only contact with immigrants is with the Filipino servant who takes the dog for a walk in the evening are in favour of immigration, but they have no idea of how immigration is lived in the peripheries,” he said in July.

That, in a nutshell, is the charge made against smug liberals who champion “open borders”. They get all the benefits of large-scale migration from low-wage countries: cheap nannies, Uber drivers, decorators, waiters, sandwich-makers, chambermaids and dog-walkers. But they don’t rely on public housing, tend to have private health-care and often pay for private education so that their children are not brought up in classes where, in some cases, their native tongue is spoken by a minority.

Meanwhile those locals not so fortunate as the cosmopolitan elite (who kid themselves that they deserve their good fortune because they worked hard, ignoring that they started life on third base) often compete with people who will work for less because they are prepared to live in dorms or bedsits, having left their families at home.

It is a crude oversimplification. Economically, migrants are a net plus. European Union migrants in Britain, for example, typically contribute more in taxes and take less in benefits than the natives they ostensibly “compete” with. In global utilitarian terms, the benefits of migration to the migrants themselves are much greater than the downside, if indeed there is one, to the native-born. For the host country, more labour means a bigger economy, so that more money is available to be spent on the schools, hospitals and houses needed to accomodate the newcomers (though in these straitened times the money is often not spent on doing that). The liberal case for more immigration is pretty clear.

The trouble is, many liberal leaders forgot to ask citizens if they wanted large-scale migration from distant lands. And it turns out that a large number of them did not.

What the Economist calls “a crude oversimplification” is the truth. What is actually “a crude oversimplification” that is false is the claim that “economically, migrants are a net plus”. That claim is only viable in certain circumstances, when GDP is substituted for native economic wealth per capita.

In fact, given the way GDP is measured, it is a tautology; moving the entire population of China into the United States would also be a net plus, economically. The Japanese invasion of Manchuria was also a massive net plus, economically. The fundamental error of the Economist is to assume that all economic growth is intrinsically desirable, no matter what the cost.


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