« The Groan on ICANN. | Main | UK and US Blogging. »

October 11, 2005

Polly on Immigration.

Polly’s latest is on the evils that immigration does to the currently low paid. I have a feeling that there will be at least one gentleman of the left who will disagree. Put very simply, why does the concern about inequality seem to stop at the water’s edge? Why this insistence that we should only be looking at the effects within the nation? Are not those immigrants also our fellow humans, who deserve to share in the wealth and riches available? Should we not be concerned with international inequality as well?

It is impossible to know what level wages might be at or how many unemployed might have been tugged into jobs at higher pay rates had Britain kept its doors shut to new EU citizens until their countries had caught up economically.

There was a perversion of socialism that looked only at those of the country, not internationally. It got rather perverted with grandiose visions of Volk and so on, and usually went by the epithet "national" socialism. I’m sure Polly would be horrified to realise that she’s getting her views on immigration from the same well spring but she is.

Update. Talk Politics has more, including the direct quotations to show the "national" part of Polly’s ideas.

And here is Chris.

October 11, 2005 in Idiotarians | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c2d3e53ef00d834254b0d53ef

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Polly on Immigration.:

» Polly Pot needs a holiday - urgently from Talk Politics
How else can one account for an article in today's Grauniad in which Polly Toynbee starts out by castigating the Tories: First remember those toxic Tory posters. "It's not racist to want to control immigration" was, in true BNP style, plastered acr... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 11, 2005 10:23:01 AM

» The racist pseudo-left from Stumbling and Mumbling
I don't normally indulge in Toynbee-bashing, as others do it so well. But since I've been invited, here goes.Polly claims that migrant workers hold down the pay rate for all other low-paid workers and says:Bercow and Labour hotly assert that [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 11, 2005 11:23:23 AM

Comments

I don't think "gentleman" is quite the word you were looking for.
Unless of course you do irony.

Tim adds: ?? Chris? Whachu mean?

Posted by: Rod the Brit | Oct 11, 2005 11:02:50 AM

That she's a hypocrite on immogration controls is beyond doubt. It's not like forbid importation of semi-skilled workers is even a clever euphemism.

But there are sensible reasons to question the value of low skilled immigration.

Posted by: JohnM | Oct 11, 2005 11:25:44 AM

Ah this is the pinnacle of Polly's economic illiteralism as well as total lack of policy nous. What a complete idiot that woman is.

I can't really be bothered to beat her with the economic arguments for and against immigration. OK, one - there is evidence that points to persistent shortages of workers in certain areas that we must use foreign labour to fill, in an era of labour market tightness (i.e. not many UK jobless people are more willing to come into work to fill these posts). Many of these jobs are low or semi skilled.

One thing she could bang on about, if she had half a brain is to make more effort to help the persistently jobless access the labour market. This will work better than bashing the employers - who would probably prefer less hassle of employing suitable folks living domestically than importing labour.

Altogether - labour markets are imperfect, messy, riven with structural problems. No simple solutions such as closing borders, communistic/nationalistic revolution. Is Polly the new Enoch I wonder?

Polly just wants an excuse to bash the nasty employers, the capitalist pigs. She would obviously much rather have the local Communist or Nationalist commisariat allocate jobs on the basis of patronage, bribery, corruption, etc as in other states where they practice restricted immigration controls and severely impede the actions of the private sector.

Anyhow more importantly, gastronimic news:

US tour - gastronomically magnificent. Chicago is indeed the food city. The burger topped with Fois Gras was memorable and nice. Pulled pork sandwiches, Corned beef sandwiches. Some very greasy with stuff dripping out (gladly, before it got in my arteries). NYC was good too. Memorable deep fried soft crab, sushi and a nice bit of eel.

Maine was great for lobsters and seafood. Had the most delicious tuna california roll which was deep fried in batter, with a creamy wasabi based sauce. Magical.

Posted by: Dr. angry economist | Oct 11, 2005 1:17:53 PM

I agree with Polly, migrant workers hold down the pay rate for all other low-paid workers.
The ‘They do the job that we are unwilling or unable to do’ argument is rubbish.
I don’t believe in pigeon-holing certain jobs as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. If toilet cleaners were offered a 6 figure salary for their undoubtedly worthwhile services, and if solicitors could only command the minimum wage, I think our perspective of which is the good job would shift.
Unfortunately there is not true laissez-faire in choosing a job or career, or being able to change to another one. Age, education, location, and social background all conspire to restrict the choices. A salary is not rewarded for the value of a profession to society or the effort involved, but rather the market scarcity of the skill needed to be in that profession.
Govt policy has flooded the market for certain jobs with immigrants. People who are trapped in these jobs or who genuinely believe in the value of these careers, DO NOT BENEFIT IN ANY WAY; the extra supply of labour serves only to force their wages lower, creates the need for them to work harder in order to keep their job, and to make similar jobs scarcer.
Sure it benefits the people in jobs the next level up, as their service will be cheaper, but don’t spread the lie that theres a benefit to the real front-line workers of society.

Posted by: hsbguzzler | Oct 11, 2005 1:52:19 PM

Sure it benefits the people in jobs the next level up, as their service will be cheaper, but don’t spread the lie that theres a benefit to the real front-line workers of society.

Well, that depends on who you're calling the "real front-line workers of society" and who you're calling "the next level up." See for example this NBER paper. It shows a large positive effect on average real wages and the median real wages of American-born workers from immigration.

There's no doubt that native-born workers with skill levels equal to immigrants suffer. However, one question is how large a percentage that forms, since everybody else benefits.

There's strong evidence that people "the next level up" form the vast majority of the native born workers, whereas the "real front-line workers of society" you refer to whom are hurt are a very small percentage. In any case, when there's such a strong overall gain to society (both to the immigrants and to the vast majority), that makes society richer and means that more can be done to help those who lose out.

Posted by: John Thacker | Oct 11, 2005 5:45:22 PM

John Thacker says "There's no doubt that native-born workers with skill levels equal to immigrants suffer. However, one question is how large a percentage that forms, since everybody else benefits."

Is this true? Everybody else may get cheaper services from the immigrant worker (good), but they also have to pay (from taxes) the state benefits of the local worker who is unemployed (bad).

It is undoubtedly true that many immigrant workers work for salaries that would not allow a native UK worker to support their family. The immigrant worker, however, may have a family abroad that (s)he can support easily on wages considered low in the UK - they are working here to send money home.

Good luck to immigrants who do this - I ca';t blame anyone for supportin their family, but I'm unclear that it is an unquestionable benefit to the UK.

Or can anyone explain otherwise?

Posted by: HJHJ | Oct 11, 2005 10:19:25 PM

HJHJ - The flaw in your reasoning is what is known as "the lump of labour fallacy" - that is, if somebody comes from abroad to do a job, then there will be an extra person on the dole queue. That assumes (incorrectly) that there is only so much work to be done.

The overall level of unemployment does not rise in response to an increase in migration; and so there is no need to "pay the state benefits of the local worker who is unemployed".

Posted by: Owen Barder | Oct 12, 2005 1:53:36 AM

Well I've seen it all now... blinkered economic thinking on the part of those criticising Polly.

Tim quoted the following:

"It is impossible to know what level wages might be at or how many unemployed might have been tugged into jobs at higher pay rates had Britain kept its doors shut to new EU citizens until their countries had caught up economically."

Well that's pretty much bang on. She's perfectly correct - it is impossible to know but economic theory at least suggests that it depressed or lessened the rate of wage growth. And here's another Polly quote that shows she's on top of things in this case:

"Any job can be filled at the right price. [...]

"Try this thought experiment: 43.5% of nurses recruited by the NHS since 1999 come from outside the UK. What if that were banned? The NHS in London would find clever ways to recruit from the city's mass of underqualified boys and girls, single mothers and other non-workers. Recruiters might set up special classes for 14-year-olds interested in nursing, promising work as nursing assistants while they trained, places to live in attractive nurses' homes, starter homes for key-worker families, status and good pay. The offer would be irresistible, and yes, taxes would be higher.

"Other employers would be in hot contest to entice the forgotten people into building, transport and catering. Adam Smith's hidden hand of the market would force the workless into work. It is shocking that 30,000 of the 70,000 workers being employed to start work on transport infrastructure for the Olympics are to be east Europeans, not impoverished Londoners."

Nothing that flies in the face of economics here. Pretty much standard supply/demand and substitution/income economics in fact. What I find so pathetic about some of the arguments in favour of low-skilled immigration is that it helps to fill jobs that "we don't want to do". Well no one wants to do them at the wage being offered, to be more precise. So instead of letting the market work and letting the wage go up for such jobs to the point that it gets filled or that it becomes cheaper to substitute more capital, a fresh wave of immigrants is let in. Ironically, much of the harm is probably be inflicted on previous immigrants. Sure, GDP is increased a bit but GDP/capita is decreased, which is the stat that matters more. More seriously, by taking measures (like mass immigration) to preserve the existence of low-paid and low-skilled work we are impeding the transition to a more capital-intensive economy that utilises more robotics and such.

We can help reduce world inequality by removing trade barriers but letting in a small stream (by global measures) of immigrants isn't going to help the situation much, if at all. Even if the developed world allowed itself to be completely swamped the world situation would still be bad. So the inequality argument holds no water.

In the main I don't even support high-skilled immigration from the developing world as it amounts to poaching human capital that cost a lot for those countries to accumulate (assuming state aid that is). Far better to employ them in place (as in India) and allow the growth to occur there where the investment took place. Again, for reasons such as this I find appeals to global inequality ringing hollow.

Finally, we get into a variant of reductio ad hitlerum - because such and such a group (the BNP, the Nazis, etc.) supports such and such then such and such is wrong. That's no way to argue against something and anyone who uses it should be ashamed of themselves. On that basis we should oppose a healthy lifestyle because Hitler advocated it. If something is wrong it is because it is wrong and not because someone we despise happened to support it. That's really quite a lazy form of discussion.

Tim adds: You are, of course, correct in what you say. But Polly bashing is an addiction that I just can’t shake. Sorry.

Posted by: David P James | Oct 12, 2005 1:54:11 AM

David - Except that the evidence suggests otherwise. See my round-up here.

Posted by: Owen Barder | Oct 12, 2005 1:57:35 AM

Owen,

I made no such assumption that there is only a limited amount of work to be done.

If immigrant labour is in essentially unlimited supply, thus keeping wages in certain occupations at a minimum (i.e. minimum wage) and this minimum wage is insufficent to support local workers and their families (especially when benefits withdrawal limits the financial benefit of working for local labour) then regardless of the expansion of the amount of work available, then the local worker will stay unemployed.

If the whole economy were exposed to the effect of immigrant labour, then I might be inclined to agree with you. However, we all know that there are certain groups (comprising a large proportion of the population) that are not subject to market forces as they are either in the public sector or have nice closed shops in the UK and are not subject to normal competitive pressures or from new labour entering the market. Lawyers are a good example. These groups will benefit from an unlimited supply of labour in other areas as it keeps prices down, while others will lose out - and this is not for free market reasons.

Posted by: HJHJ | Oct 12, 2005 8:25:09 AM

Everyone here is focusing on the purely economic issues, but even the advocates claim only a marginal benefit from low skilled immigration. Chris' page cites three reports, one confirming wage depression, and two denying it. However, in a discussion about low skilled it's strange to have a quote about Polish and Czech electricians, plasterers, bricklayers or carpenters or comments about nurses.

If low skilled immigration is such a boon then why is unemployment so high amongst low skilled second generation immigrants? Why doesn't Chris quote unemployment levels amongst West Indians in London? We often hear rosy optimism about immigrant's children becoming doctors, but the majority of the children of each generation of low skilled immigrants will also be low skilled. For the sake of consistency, we ought to presume that in the future, the children of current entrants will be no more willing to take up "unpopular" jobs than any other indigenous person. We have a problem that prevents people taking up the available work, but rather than tackle this, we perpetuate a vicious circle with no escape in sight.

And don't nobody come back with they have the wrong skills - we are talking low skilled.

The odd thing about this, is the extreme language used by the advocates. Defending (often coloured) Brits against white immigrants might be wrong headed but it's hardy racist. Try the racism of someone who upon finding that a job was too shitty to attract British applicants responds: don't worry, some foreigner will do it for half the pay. I sincerely doubt that this reflects Chris or Owen's thought processes but hey guys, try the Racist Jacket on for a change. Notice how flinging accusations of racism about doesn't help the discussion.

In contrast, skilled immigration not only helps in financial terms, it also has a positive effect in breaking down the stereotype of immigrant failure within all communities. One black Ghanian doctor or solicitor does more to help black advancement than any number of press releases by CRE. It's hard to see how low-skilled immigration can aid social cohesion in the same way.

Posted by: JohnM | Oct 12, 2005 10:48:15 AM

Hmm I just think trying to enforce companies to do something about it or enforcing new immigration policy is arse about tit. What is plain is that some folks in the UK can't compete in the labour market, or don't want to compete given the opportunities on offer.

Can we say we help them access the labour market as much as we perhaps could?

Because they are remote from economic activity or the labour market, supply does not equal demand for low skill jobs.

Trouble is, to reach and help those remotest from the labour market and economic activity becomes more and more expensive on a net exchequer basis. Cheaper to import low skill labour.

Posted by: Dr. angry economist | Oct 12, 2005 1:55:08 PM

The right to work in the UK is a valued asset the state is not auctioning to extract the maximimum benefits for taxpayers.

We need an immigration market, and a short term right to work market.

The money would go towards a citizens dividend.

Posted by: Rob Read | Oct 12, 2005 3:26:12 PM

JohnM may be interested in the study by David Card's paper (which is about the US rather than the UK). It finds that second generation sons and daughters have higher education and wages than the children of natives.

Posted by: Owen Barder | Oct 12, 2005 6:33:33 PM

[Put very simply, why does the concern about inequality seem to stop at the water’s edge? Why this insistence that we should only be looking at the effects within the nation? Are not those immigrants also our fellow humans, who deserve to share in the wealth and riches available? Should we not be concerned with international inequality as well?]

Here's another angry rhetorical question to add to the list; if we've decided it's time to do something for the overseas poor, does it seem fair for the entire burden to fall on low-paid workers? Shouldn't capital-owners pay a share of the cost?

Posted by: dsquared | Oct 12, 2005 7:55:45 PM

"Put very simply, why does the concern about inequality seem to stop at the water’s edge? Why this insistence that we should only be looking at the effects within the nation? Are not those immigrants also our fellow humans, who deserve to share in the wealth and riches available? Should we not be concerned with international inequality as well?"


I don't understand your conflation of humanity with nationality here. If human beings automatically 'deserved' to 'share in the wealth and riches available', the West of Scotland would still have a manufacturing sector. Without one, the gap in life expectancy between a male borne in Glasgow and a male born in Dorset in 2003 has widened to 11 years.

So much for sharing the wealth.

If immigrants deserve to share in wealth, then they have the perfect vehicles for doing so - their own countries. If their societies are less than satisfactory (they prefer tribalist anarchy to democracy and the rule of law/have failed to develop adequate laws to protect the security of capital, contract laws, competition laws, courts, gender equality, etc), then the duty to change the situation lies with them. At home.

Where we do fall down on the job is by our consistent theft from the Third World of its professionals, for no apparent purpose other than to ensure that we can continue with the 1948 dream of free universal healthcare. That's something we could stop straight away.

I can never understand what it is about economists that they seem to think that concepts like 'laws' don't seem to apply to their operations. The reason why concern for inequality should stop at the water's edge is because anything beyond that is really none of our business - the water's edge is the limit of our nation; how other, less satisfactory societies organise their affairs is really none of our concern. Or has mainstream economics now abandoned the idea of the 'nation state' completely? Because if it has, 'patriotism' will need to be jettisoned along with it.

Tim adds: Ah, I didn’t make myself clear. What I meant was, if you believe in ......I don’t , couldn’t give a toss about "inequality". But if you do, it’s very difficult to then want to restrict immigration for the reasons given.

Posted by: The g-Gnome | Oct 12, 2005 8:59:27 PM

Is this true? Everybody else may get cheaper services from the immigrant worker (good), but they also have to pay (from taxes) the state benefits of the local worker who is unemployed (bad).

Well, yes, there are effects in both directions. (The immigrant workers also pay taxes as well.) Numerous papers have shown that in the US it's a net benefit, though, and the children of immigrants tend to be quite well educated.

Of course, things can be different in different places. In particular, the more generous the welfare system of a country is, the greater the potential for people to come just to be on the dole, I suppose. I really can't say what the effect is in some of the Contintental countries-- I'm not as familiar with the empirical studies there.

To some degree I suppose there is a fundamental tension between a generous welfare state and immigration.

Posted by: John Thacker | Oct 12, 2005 10:02:54 PM

John
Not a bit - if you want to be able to afford a generous welfare state, then you want lots of immigrants to raise your incomes and pay taxes to help you pay for it. Studies find that immigrants are on average both good for GDP and net fiscal contributors. More economic migrants is exactly what you need if you want a generous and well-functioning welfare state.

Posted by: Owen Barder | Oct 13, 2005 3:42:31 AM

Owen,

You wrote,

"if you want to be able to afford a generous welfare state, then you want lots of immigrants to raise your incomes and pay taxes to help you pay for it. Studies find that immigrants are on average both good for GDP and net fiscal contributors. More economic migrants is exactly what you need if you want a generous and well-functioning welfare state."

Nonsense. A welfare state requires only two things to operate, welfare providers and welfare recipients. A 'welfare provider' is any person who pays direct or indirect taxes, in other words all of us. The elision from 'welfare state' meaning citizens providing subsistence benefits to fellow citizens in order that they don't starve to 'the state providing everyone with a job' is a subtle but well-worn one - read Ronald Reagan on the tendency of government to grow.

The problem we have now is that the welfare state is too big, not just in the sense that there are too many Brits on the dole, but that the entire British public sector now employs too many people. There is no reasonable way in which we can now retreat from this state of affairs as the medicine required to cure it, good-old fashioned Tory cuts, would be far too painful for the public to handle.

Also, our sainted PLC's have already hollowed out so much of what remains of our productive economy to China and are transferring such a high proportion of the skills base of our middle class to India that the likelihood of there being a middle class in the UK in 15 years has diminished almost to a vanishing point. Never mind, when the big boys have cashed in their options and the last call-centre closes, I'm sure we'll all make a good living doing each others' plumbing - if the Poles haven't got there first...

Immigration works fine as a panacea for all your problems if you're only concerned with things bouncing along the bottom the way they are now. However, if one believes the UK as an entity is worth saving, it's no kind of solution at all. The backbone of any productive society is its middle class. Immigration attacks social mobility, the one element required for a middle class to flourish, like a cancer cell. The vested interests of both left and right say that the status quo is good for us - it's a pity they won't survive the coming inflation shock.

You refer to 'studies find that immigrants are on average both good for GDP and net fiscal contributors' - what studies? Please direct me to these 'studies'.

And since when did we worship GDP, a notoriously broad figure capable of dishonest manipulation, as a meter of national economic well-being? 'GDP' must rank beside 'free trade' and 'growth' as amongst the most-abused expressions in economics.

Posted by: The g-Gnome | Oct 13, 2005 7:40:08 AM

I am in general agreement with the posts by Owen Barder and Chris at Stumbling and Mumbling (see their Trackback links) that there is quite robust evidence that migration has been, overall, an economic positive in both the UK and US. But not all the evidence points one way, and we should avoid being overly dogmatic (see my post for citations).

As to Polly being a racist - I very much doubt that. Populist? Yep. Economically illiterate? Sure. Narrow minded 'Little Englander'? I think so. But racist? Nope.

Posted by: New Economist | Oct 13, 2005 12:26:18 PM


In response to New Economist; we are not talking about whether ‘migration has been overall an economic positive’, that is another argument (though perhaps a similar conclusion).
We are talking about whether migration is benefical to people in low-paid jobs.
The only credible evidence I have seen points only one way - that no it does not benefit the lower paid.

Despite the name calling tags you have bestowed upon Polly, I think this time the only label I would use is ‘unfashionably honest.’

Posted by: hsbguzzler | Oct 13, 2005 3:01:59 PM

Dear Owen:

Studies find that immigrants are on average both good for GDP and net fiscal contributors.

Well, yes, most studies I'm familiar with, yes. But as I said, I'm most familiar with the USA. Hypothetically, a country which offers very generous welfare benefits even to immigrants and allows immigrants to enter easily could have an excess of immigrants who come to live off the dole. I can't rule it out in all cases; it's an empirical question. In general I would suspect that the immigrants, having had the initiative to come to a new country, would be somewhat more likely to work and be net contributors than natives, though. (After all, a high level of welfare can encourage natives to not work too.) That's certainly the case in the USA, and in the one or two UK studies I've seen.

The only credible evidence I have seen points only one way - that no it does not benefit the lower paid.

You failed to read the NBER paper I linked to, then. While the credible evidence does suggest that the effect on relative wages of the lower-skilled to the higher-skilled is negative, depressing the wages of the lower-skilled, there is quite a bit of dispute about the size of the change in relative wages, and equally a dispute about the magnitude of the increase in absolute wages that immigration brings about. The NBER paper I linked to above suggests, as do some other economists, that the rise in average wages is such that it overcomes any drop in relative wages, and thus that even low-skilled workers benefit from immigration. (At the same time, other economic effects have decreased the relative return to low-skilled workers. That wages are ultimately determined by productivity in the long term is related.)

Posted by: John Thacker | Oct 13, 2005 8:32:26 PM

John - I assume your second quotation, and your elegant rebuttal of it, is not aimed at me, but at hsbguzzler? (I have read the NBER paper and I agree with you.)

g-Gnome - you don't approve the welfare state in its current form. That is a different topic. My point was that if you want a generous welfare state, then doing things to expand the economy and obtain more revenues is a good idea. Experience is that immigration is good for the economy and that immigrants are net fiscal contributors.

John (again) - I agree with you that you could in principle devise a system in which immigrants would not be net fiscal contributors. But in both the UK and the US they are.

g-Gnome - you ask to be directed to the studies. There is a list here including a handy-dandy one sentence summary to save you the bother of having to read them all.

New Economist (and others) - I think the question of whether Polly Toynbee is racist is a red herring (and I don't know who is supposed to have accused her of being a racist). However, for a discussion of the ethics of excluding low paid people from abroad, see this post which takes as its starting point a very interesting post by Bryan Caplan.

Owen

Posted by: Owen Barder | Oct 14, 2005 1:33:24 AM

Dear Owen:

Right on both counts. The second quotation was from hsbguzzler. And I agree with you that in both the US and UK immigrants are net fiscal contributors. I'm glad to see that we agree so much.

Since, as you say, it is possible in principle to devise a system in which immigrants would not be fiscal contributors, I do think that it is reasonable to acknowledge the reasonable-sounding, even plausible, but empirically wrong arguments that the opposing side makes, and direct them to the relevant studies, which nearly all (though not all) support our side. Ridicule is not always appropriate for ignorance, after all. (Though I certainly admit that no all who disagree are willing to listen to rational attempts at persuasion.)

Posted by: John Thacker | Oct 14, 2005 5:03:58 AM

Hi John, Ill rise above the fact you see me as 'ignorant'. Contrary to your suspicions I did read the papers, and I do try to read as much evidence as I can before I make what I believe to be a balanced view, but there was zero evidence in the NBER extract, and I have given a more detailed reason for disagreeing with the papers that Owen offered here

Posted by: hsbguzzler | Oct 14, 2005 10:27:40 AM