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Immigration is not good for you



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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May 30, 2008

LONDON - Governments have their head in the sand about immigration - and this is as true for the U.S. as it is for Western Europe, the Middle East or South Africa.

The riots and horrible street murders in South Africa vividly portray what happens when a country pits a foreign sub-proletariat against a resident proletariat, especially at a time when the economic pie doesn't seem to be expanding fast enough.

The main trouble is that modern capitalist-inclined governments rather like it - immigration keeps down wages. (I'm not talking about the immigration of professionals - and how governments like to mislead the public by often conflating the two!) It provides an underclass who live on the margins of established society. They may not pay income taxes, (although they pay VAT and every other kind of consumer tax) but this is made up for by their willingness to do dirty jobs, night shifts and 'off the books' jobs like cleaners and nannies.

Immigration, in short, is a deflationary economic tool and governments love that.

Hence the constant campaign by governments to resist anti-immigration movements. 'It is good for economic growth' is a constant refrain and in the more multicultural societies government ministers even go so far as to say immigration has brought a welcome dose of the outside world to our shores - everything from restaurants, to 'unknown' fruits and vegetables, to music.

This is fine for the middle and upper classes who only meet immigrants in the restaurants or as the docile live-in maid, but is less than fine for the indigenous working class who rub shoulders with them everyday, in the workplace, on their street, in the schools and increasingly in the jails where immigrants or their children are now over represented.

When governments preach about integration their message is not primarily aimed at the middle classes - who if they see a problem like declining schools quickly whisk their own children off to private education. The message is aimed at their own proletariat who, they say, mustn't complain, must understand it is good for their country and who mustn't fall into racist ways and allow themselves to be misled by demonic leaders.

Governments go out of their way to massage figures on the effects of immigration. The latest felon in this regard is the UK government which has allowed immigration to soar in recent years. A few months ago a committee of the House of Lords firmly rapped the government on the knuckles for hiding the fact that evidence showed that immigrants were lowering the wages of native British (including that of past immigrant generations, particularly their often work-shy adult children).

This report is in line with much current research in America. Moreover, U.S. government reports have showed that immigrants add very little to overall GNP and, indeed, if one looks at GNP per head instead of the gross total it has perhaps contributed to a decline.

Yet American public opinion has been brainwashed over decades about how immigrants have made the economy grow faster than Western Europe's. This is just not true if one looks at the measure that counts - GNP (or income) per head.

There is no reason to think that South African leaders have looked at the matter any differently. Inflation has been a constant worry and the immigrants help with that. South Africa wants to boost its GNP figures so that it looks good to foreign investors. Immigration does that.

But the indigenous working class, much, much poorer than their developed country counterparts, are at the end of their tether. The government may have piped in water and electricity to their slums but if they can only work for subsistence wages in order to compete with the immigrants they feel cheated. They didn't struggle for the liberation from apartheid - a peculiarly South African experience - to have to share their meager bounty with people who arrive from countries where the anti-colonial struggle was relatively easy.

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What is the answer? Keeping immigrants out is not easy. But there are ways of the government favoring their own citizens. First, is to give the resources to massive educational retraining programmes for their own unemployed or poorly employed citizens. This has to be done anyway if the working class is not to tie the hands of their politicians on free trade in a time of accelerating globalisation.

Moreover, increasing the productivity of one's own workers is the best route to lowering inflation and increasing GNP. Second, is to help the major countries of emigration develop their economies at home. When countries that once were big emigration countries developed - as varied as Turkey, Puerto Rico and Ireland - the immigrants voluntarily returned.

It is time overdue for a fair and honest debate on the value of immigration. It is not what it is cracked up to be.


Copyright © 2008 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172
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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
"His is a powerful and comprehensive statement of ways to make the world better.
Is that worth the Nobel Prize?
I say, why not?"


Jonathan Power's 2001 book

Like Water on Stone
The Story of Amnesty International

Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the 40th Anniversary of Amnesty International



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