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Open borders is the mainstream view


10:48 pm - September 9th 2009

by Chris Dillow    


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Philippe Legrain, author of Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them, is on the wireless tonight advocating scrapping immigration controls. What puzzles me, though, is the BBC’s description of this position as iconoclastic.

In truth, Philippe’s position is mainstream. What’s odd and extreme is the argument for immigration controls. Look at this from three perspectives.

1. The invisible hand. Perhaps the dominant strain in liberal thinking is the Smithian-Millian argument that liberty promotes aggregate well-being. Immigration controls are a denial of this. They raise the question. If a freedom as basic as the right to work where one chooses diminishes overall well-being, is there a consequentialist argument for any liberties at all? Of course, you can argue that immigration brings negative externalities. But I’m not at all sure these are any greater than the externalities created by many other market transactions.

An attack on the right of immigrants is an attack on the fundamental argument for a market economy. It’s a radical view.

2. Eugenics. Should we prevent the underclass from having children? The case for doing so is that such children will probably impose costs onto the rest of us. They are disproportionately likely to become criminals, or spend much of their life on benefits.
Most people would regard such an argument, whatever its merits, as extremist. But the argument for restricting immigration on the grounds that migrants impose a net fiscal cost on the rest of us is structurally equivalent to it. Except for one thing – there’s no empirical basis for such an argument against immigration.

3. Existing public attitudes. I spent over 20 years as a migrant worker; I migrated from Leicester to London to find work. Although my accent clearly marked me out as an immigrant, I never once encountered any hostility. I don’t think this was because I was a “good” immigrant, doing a job native cockneys couldn’t do, paying high taxes and making few demands upon public services – because I never heard cockneys oppose immigration into Londoners by lower-paid workers or by people who made heavier use of public services.

If everyone was so tolerate of an immigrant from Leicester, why get het up about one from Latvia?

Nor have I ever heard anyone argue for immigration restrictions into London. Which raises the question. If immigration controls around the M25 are a stupid idea, how can they be a good idea around the British coastline?

There are, of course, rebuttals of these analogies. But how many of them are left if you believe there should be equality between Britons and foreigners?

I write all this not to argue for open borders. Sometimes, unusual, extreme and radical views are correct. I’m just pointing out that the argument for immigration controls is such a view.

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About the author
Chris Dillow is a regular contributor and former City economist, now an economics writer. He is also the author of The End of Politics: New Labour and the Folly of Managerialism. Also at: Stumbling and Mumbling
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Reader comments


Opinion polls seem to suggest it’s a minority position.

OK, you’re just pointing out an argument, but I think your argument on the stupidity of having a London border is kind of a legitimacy of the view that borders are arbitrary, imagined communities (in the sense that Benedict Anderson used the term), and why should the left appeal to them. But by being a migrant from Leicester, emigrating to London, you’re still fully covered by civil society as such, you’re not a homo sacer lost in an otherwise civic realm, you’re not one of the unrecorded. And as such I concur that borders such as the one you comically suggested would be absurd. Call me mainstream if you wish, but it’s not to be applied as a formulation for a leftwing grounds on immigration.

Can we have some articles written by people who

1. know what the words they use mean?

2. have put more than 30 seconds thought into what they write?

Lose the stupid controversialism, please.

Tsk…

Such a ridiculous argument is barely worth commenting on…

Why don’t you try walking down any street in this country and ask people and see what the mainstream view is.

I take it that all the people who’ve argued with this article still live at home with their parents.

“Nor have I ever heard anyone argue for immigration restrictions into London.”

Perhaps not London, but I used to hear some interesting opinions on where Scousers and Brummies ought to live from the good folk of Weymouth.

“I take it that all the people who’ve argued with this article still live at home with their parents.”

No.

“Philippe’s position is mainstream”

Hmm. Well I’ve had this discussion before – people like Sunny’s 2nd favourite troll, Tim Worstall, holds the view that uncontrolled immigration is the correct free marketeer’s position, and I would agree, if we had a free market *and* we had a level playing field. As it stands, the developed world has invested over the centuries to make our countries, generally, better places to live and work than much of the developing world – there is more of a pull to here, than from here, and that’s because we have put work and money in. We have a share. But also, we’re paying more ourselves to be here, for ourselves and our families. Someone diving in now, from the outside, has not paid in. It’s rather like the argument against paying benefits to newcomers, writ large.

Now, once (if) the whole world reaches a more or less level playing field, either working upwards or, as appears more likely given the idiocy around these days, sliding back down, I agree, uncontrolled immigration becomes entirely reasonable; but of course at that point there will be less pressure to move from one place to another.

Now some will argue against my first points that the developed world has been able to develop *because* it exploited the rest, and thus we owe them – to that I’m afraid I say: cobblers. We didn’t, and we don’t.

9. Donut Hinge Party

We’re all aware of the story of Norfolk, which would have degenerated into a pit of incest and genetic throwbacks were it not for the invention of the bicycle

10. Donut Hinge Party

I think the difference is that people from Leicester and people from London were still paying the same taxes to the same government, and subject to the same benefit receipts. We have this, in essence, with the EU, which is always seeking to open its borders – isn’t Israel on the list of potential accession countries, or am I getting confused with the Eurovision song contest?

The example I like to give is football teams. If Arsenal play Man United, then there’ll be supporters on each terrace shouting abuses. However, if self-same players play for England, then those self-same individuals will cleave to Heskey and Rooney regardless of their local team. Although interestingly even sticking Beckham in LA Galaxy can’t make us give a rat’s bollock for US Soccer. Bring in a super European team and we’d be marginalised, but the little contribution we’d bring would lead to a greater understanding of other countries.

The point I’m trying to make is that the sky above you and the TV programmes you watched as children shouldn’t be seen as indicators of commonality or division. The only difference between migrants and natives in the employment sector is that if it all goes tits up for natives then they have a family network to depend upon. If it screw up for migrants, then they can’t afford to get back to their families and either sink into poverty or have to depend on the State, which furthermore serves to create seething resentment from locals.

Of course, we’re due to receive an influx of ex-ex-pats back from Spain, as they realise their medical care is running out, their house won’t realise enough to pay for their care, and that the Big State they ran to avoid is, after all, best at looking after them in their dotage.

11. douglas clark

Perhaps you should all listen to the broadcast with Philippe Legrain. It’s here:

http://feeds.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00mgwhy

For goodness sake don’t fall out with Sir Andrew Green, or you’ll be hearing from his lawyers! Think this is the first time I’ve ever heard that threat being made on air.

soru

Obviously “immigration controls” is mainstream and “open borders” is extremist, in terms of popular support, media positioning etc. but if you think this article is trying to claim otherwise, I think you need to spend more than 30 seconds thinking.

This article highlights contradictions between the “mainstream” position on international migration, and “mainstream” positions on other matters (1, 2 & 3) and plays on the idea that things that contradict mainstream positions are usually regarded as extremist. Can you point out which words are being misused, or which of these contradictions can be seen to be empty after 30 seconds thought?

If we are going to have unlimited immigration then we need to ensure our welfare system is not more generous than any other country in the EU. What is the JSA and housing allowance for unmarried mothers who have never worked in Rumania ? As this country hs debt problem having immigrants undertake jobs which could be done by Britons who stay on welfare does not seem to make economic sense. Many immigrants send their money home. Britons eating curry probably has done more to help Bangladesh than the aid programmes.
As one of Clinton’s economic advisers said ” If there is reincarnation I want to come home as the bond market”- international markets will allow the UK to borrow money bit not a penny more than they are prepared to lend. I tink too many people have forgotten the trauma of the Labour Government going to the IMF to borrow money.

Keeping Britons on welfare will not help to increase our manufacturing capability which we need to rebalance our economy and increase economic development in the former industrial areas.

Are these Leicesteroids given to blowing themselves and others to bits on public transport?

Do they disproportionately fill London prisons?

Are they given to muggings and turf war shootings?

@14, no, and nor are foreign immigrants, you daft fucking bigot.

Why don’t you fucking give up now, Gerry?

We already know what BNP trolls say, you’re not adding anything that hasn’t already been said, so there’s no point in your shite.

On the theme of whether immigrants are more likely to be violent criminals, of one sort or another, than the average “indigenous” UK citizen …. isn’t it likely that the average BNP supporter is more likely to be a violent criminal of one sort or another than the average UK citizen? There’s a reasonable chance that the average BNP supporter is more likely to be a violent criminal than the average immigrant. Gerry, I think you should oppose the BNP on the basis that it’s supporters are more likely to be mindless thugs than the average true son of Albion. Perhaps, in light of point 2. of this blog post, we ought to accompany immigration controls with a sterlisation programme for BNP supporters.

Racist dullards like to say that Liberals refuse to acknowledge the truth that immigrants are more likely to blow themselves up on public transport than indigenous UK citizens. I think that’s a good point. The probabilities of various categories of people doing various things are empirical facts that none of us can have a terribly strong claim to know. If it turned out that immigrants are more likely to blow themselves up on public transport than indigenous UK citizens, I wouldn’t want the whole Liberal world view to collapse. I think we need to find pro-immigration arguments that can handle the possibility that the probability of an immigrant murdering somebody might be 0.000000002 in contrast with the indigenous UK citizen probability of 0.000000001, so the “truths” of racist dullards are neither here nor there.

Fisherboy: Tim Worstall, holds the view that uncontrolled immigration is the correct free marketeer’s position, and I would agree, if we had a free market *and* we had a level playing field.

Oh yeah, that’s why he’s part of the rabidly anti-immigration UKIP party. I love the fact that your getout clause for not supporting something on principle is that we don’t live in a utopia.

You know, we also don’t live in a level playing field where none of the women who go into prostitution are coerced. But in fact many are. You won’t argue for a complete ban on prostitution though will you? Hypocrite Fisher – that’s what you’ve always been and will always remain.
Anyway, can you stop trolling LC like you stopped CIF. Shooting fish in a barrel is getting tedious.

19. Abdul Abulbul Emir

Although my accent clearly marked me out as an immigrant, I never once encountered any hostility

Is it cos you was white Mr Dillow ?

Oh yeah, that’s why he’s part of the rabidly anti-immigration UKIP party. I love the fact that your getout clause for not supporting something on principle is that we don’t live in a utopia.

Well you’d better ask Tim about that hadn’t you? All I’m doing is relaying a conversation we once had.

You know, we also don’t live in a level playing field where none of the women who go into prostitution are coerced. But in fact many are. You won’t argue for a complete ban on prostitution though will you?

Eh? I don’t see any connection – oh and I don’t think many women are coerced by force, most choose it. Don’t see the parallel though. Why don’t you try and explain?

Hypocrite Fisher – that’s what you’ve always been and will always remain

And you Sunny? What is your game anyway? I’m not the only one to point out the frequently illiberal crap you come out with which rather mocks your own title here, and I’m nto the only one to point out that for a radical, you do frequently seem very pro-labour arguments, if not vocally pro-labour itself. And a right old knot your got yourself in on Afghanistan. Got your eye on a shortlist some way down the line eh?

Anyway, can you stop trolling LC like you stopped CIF. Shooting fish in a barrel is getting tedious.

I guess it must be when you can’t hit them.

21. Donut Hinge Party

Are these Leicesteroids given to blowing themselves and others to bits on public transport?

No, surprisingly considering that it’s the first city with a greater ethnic population than white.

Oldham, however, is a different matter. Kick out the Yorkshiremen!

And Luton, for that matter. Get rid of the Southerners!

I disagree, an open borders policy cannot be thought of as the mainstream view unless the majority hold this view. I don’t believe they do, therefore it is not mainstream, but the views of a minority.

This article does make a good point though, that is there is a genuine contradiction between the free movement of workers and restrictions on immigration. That doesn’t mean people can’t believe that they have the right to choose to work where they please, but that others don’t have the right to move to their country, city, neighbourhood in search of work – but they either haven’t connected the 2 and realised that restrictions on immigration are a distortion of the labour market (both where the migrants move into and where they come from) and make about as much sense as restrictions on emigration; or it involves a certain amount of doublethink and self-denial.

Writing articles proclaiming your views to be mainstream when they are not is pointless. What we could do with instead are articles on why your views are right, with well thought-out and constructed articles and evidence to back them up. Just because your opinions are those of the minority does not make them wrong, but you could do a better job of arguing your case.

Why don’t we have emigration controls?

I do find this debate somewhat frustrating. (Not just on here but more widely).

There’s Philippe Legrain arguing open borders on one side and anti-immigration people on the other.
Are Philippe Legrain’s arguments so much better worked out than Andrew Green’s?

The idea of open borders is certainly an intriguing one, (though I don’t get the reference to it being mainstream, as surely it’s a quite radical one).

I’ve heard the open bordrs idea being argued before having been to a few events run by those Spiked-online people. And doing a google search with their name and that of Philippe Legrain, throws up all this:
http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&rlz=1R2RNTN_enGB336&q=spiked-online+Philippe+Legrain&meta=

Being a Libra is maybe why I can follow that argument well enough and would even generally support it, whilst seeing that there might be legitimate (but more conservative) points of view too.

For example, I wonder if the people of Slovenia (now an EU member) would be thrilled at the idea of open borders, and the poor of Bosnia and Kosovo (and Albania even) moving to Slovenia to share in the making of a new kind of Slovenia.

I usually find Chris Dillow reasonable, interesting and persuasive. But this article, like the previous two or three on immigration here at LC, has left me thinking, “who are you trying to persuade?”

Because you ain’t going to persuade the people who are voting or considering voting BNP.

I hesitate to use the phase “ivory tower”, indeed this may be the first time I’ve ever used it, but… …well, look at this bit from Chris (and I don’t mean to pick on him particularly, I’m a fan, honestly):

I spent over 20 years as a migrant worker; I migrated from Leicester to London to find work.

If I remember rightly (and Google seems to confirm it), Chris has degrees from Oxford and Manchester and worked for a number of years in the City in, I imagine, relatively (to unskilled workers, anyway) well paid jobs. Such circumstances won’t lead to people trying to lynch him after blaming him for their problems.

But how many of them are left if you believe there should be equality between Britons and foreigners?

People believe in equality until times are hard…

Surely your not suggesting that liberalism is a product of circumstance ? But hang on, that would explain why it’s mostly a political force in rich, western democracies, and that even within those democracies, it’s largely confined to the middle classes.

But this article, like the previous two or three on immigration here at LC, has left me thinking, “who are you trying to persuade?”

Speaking as a writer of one of those pieces (the best one, obviously ;-)), I am most definitely not trying to convince a would be BNP voter, one article would never do it. What I want to do, and I think Chris too, is move the debate on. Shift the centre ground to somewhere based on evidence and rationality rather than blind prejudice.

The BNP et al are never going to be convince by what they read online, the internet is a place for stranger with strongly held opinions to meet and argue, with no one changing opinions. It’s in the real world where these changes in opinion happen, I only hope to help others argue with the BNP clowns.

This is not a “mainstream” opinion if by mainstream you mean majority held. But “open borders” is not unimaginable, and it melds with all the common themes of 21st Century politics. Polemic is beautiful, and it always annoys the right people, but the “open borders” argument needs to be, and often is, included in discussion and for this reason its not totally unfair to call it “mainstream” when put in context.

‘if you think this article is trying to claim otherwise, I think you need to spend more than 30 seconds thinking. ‘

So what you are saying is that this article is not a stupid advocacy of some naive ‘no borders now’ idea, but a clever implicit criticism of the mainstream idea of globalised free trade?

I read it again, and I suspect you are overthinking it: the author does seem to believe what he says, he is not offering a sarcastically bad idea to to make some other similar idea look bad too.

Chris – I remember reading some of those other articles of yours over on Stumbling and Mumbling, which I enjoy reading as usually your articles are well thought-out, well constructed and you provide an abundance of links to various studies, etc. which back up the points you are attempting to make.

I enjoy your blog. I usually find myself agreeing with you, if not at first then after reading your articles and going through some of the evidence for myself. I am in favour of less restrictions on immigration, for many of the reasons you have pointed out in previous articles.

My criticism concerns only this particular article. I don’t think you are correct to call an open borders policy mainstream and, in any case, I don’t see the purpose of arguing such a point.

Please continue to write more articles though, but of the variety you have linked to in your previous comment.

#28

“Speaking as a writer of one of those pieces (the best one, obviously)”

Oh yeah bosom pals are we, oh yeah I get it, I turn my head for one second and bam, egg in my eye. Yours might be better, but my one is on the “Recently Popular” list on the front page, smirk, now that’s what I call childish!

What a fucking stupid article. You guys are as unhinged as the holocaust deniers believing that your wild no-boarder stance are supported by most people. You guys are so up your own arses eating on your own cack.


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