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Reductio ad absurdum

The British government has just “admitted” that its figures for foreign workers employed in the UK are wrong by more than 30%, or 300,000 people. Of course we don’t know that the new figures are right, either. But it has very satisfactorily illustrated they don’t matter in the slightest.

The Liberal Democrat spokesman is telling the truth when he says: “Getting these figures so wrong further undermines the credibility of the government’s claims to be able to deliver a well-managed system for foreign workers.” But the intent behind his statement is dead wrong. It is none of the government’s business to manage any kind of system for foreign workers, and getting these figures so wrong undermines the credibility of doing so at all.

This sort of thinking is just a version of the lump of labour fallacy. More workers doing more things for other people and supporting themselves means everyone is better off, not that others are deprived of something.

Nor – as the error shows – does government need to know who people are and what they are doing in order to carry on with its other activities untroubled. It just needs to respond to provide services as they are required (and self-supporting individuals don’t really require much). The conceit of planning and censuses is undermined here, too. Demand manages itself.

Meanwhile, in the unreal world, all politicians are piling onto the current bandwagon of jealousy of foreigners. David Cameron has signed on to the idiocy with gusto. The politics of virtual threat will actually be reinforced by the concrete evidence that there is nothing to fear.

“It so much worse than we thought, that absolutely nobody noticed,” they cry. Something must be done! Starting with more counting, more monitoring and more control so that we never fail to notice nothing untoward happening ever again.

21 comments to Reductio ad absurdum

  • James

    Except it’s not quite as simple as that is is now…http://www.civitas.org.uk/pdf/Rowthorn_Immigration.pdf…Guy Herbert, I’m assuming that as your listed as an inhabitant of our fine capital your so used to overcrowding that your probably rather blase about the effects on the rest of the country (or more accurately, the south-east) due to immigration. Somethings are more important than money, such as not paving over large swathes of the countryside with cheap homes designed for the temporary expediency of migrant workers.

  • James

    Except it’s not quite as simple as that is is now…http://www.civitas.org.uk/pdf/Rowthorn_Immigration.pdf…Guy Herbert, I’m assuming that as your listed as an inhabitant of our fine capital your so used to overcrowding that your probably rather blase about the effects on the rest of the country (or more accurately, the south-east) due to immigration. Somethings are more important than money, such as not paving over large swathes of the countryside with cheap homes designed for the temporary expediency of migrant workers.

  • “It so much worse than we thought, that absolutely nobody noticed,” they cry.

    Surely this is:

    “It is so much worse than we would acknowledge, that absolutely nobody in politics wanted to face up to it,”

    The assertion that nothing is wrong so the increase means nothing is not based on fact. Many people know there is a shortage of State-run facilities, yet were slapped down and slandered for being all manner of things.

    The answer, as the previous article has already stated, is to dismantle the State Monopolies and allow the market to meet the needs. Markets, by their definition, have spare capacity or can often create extra capacity rapidly where it is needed. It adapts. State run organisations are both bloated and constipated. Bunged up with “unfriendly bacteria” I suspect.

  • guy herbert

    Many people know there is a shortage of State-run facilities…

    Well I don’t. I’m inclined to think there is an excess.

  • Nick M

    There’s loads of Poles round where I live. I very much doubt they turn up here to sign on the rock and roll (which they can’t) so what’s the problem? Where I used to live, just up the road from me, was a Polish / Iranian grocer and the pickles were most excellent. It was next to the Kurdish sweet shop.

    In anycase it cuts both ways. My sister-in-law lives in Poland.

    Why do I get the impression that our politicos are blaming (non-voting) Johnnie Foreigner for the failures of the NHS etc?

  • michael farris

    “There’s loads of Poles round where I live. I very much doubt they turn up here to sign on the rock and roll (which they can’t)”

    Oh but they can, from Poland’s leading newspaper (link in Polish):

    http://londyn.gazeta.pl/londyn/1,85419,4505767.html

    quick, sloppy translation of first paragraph:

    “Full access to social services are obtained by Poles after working at least a few months in Poland (and making the required contributions to social insurance). Right away after undertaking work in GBritain it is possible to apply for several fundamental services.”

    (with basic information on basic social services and how to ge them with a number links to similar previous stories on specific kinds of social services)

    It should be noted that Working the System is the national sport in Poland, the underlying philosophy is something like “if they’re dumb enough to offer it, don’t be dumb enough to turn it down.”

    True, hardly any Pole goes to the UKonly to draw benefits (just as very few go thinking of a permanent move, it’s a way to get capital in a relative hurry).
    On the other hand, there’s no strong cultural prohibition against working and gaming the system for benefits (often in both countries) at the same time.

  • guy herbert

    … paving over large swathes of the countryside with cheap homes designed for the temporary expediency of migrant workers

    Which is as broad a misdescription of what the policy is as I have ever heard, though I would be very much in favour of property owners being better able to produce new cheap accomodation for migrant workers. As things are, cheap, decent, private rental accommodation in the places foreign workers are (such as London, indeed) is being further regulated and planned out of existence.

    The recent state controlled development of new housing is targeted at subsidising the client-class of “key workers”, i.e. state and local authority employees of certain statuses. Those foreigners predominantly filling service-economy and labouring jobs that it is miraculously impossible to get those in steady unemployment to do, aren’t invited to that party. (Though they may well be permitted to build said developments.)

    On “overcrowding”, I’d note that London’s densest borough, Kensington and Chelsea, is also by some way its richest and most pleasant to live in. It is not a meaningful term but is given the abstract pejorative sense, standing for “possible proximity to people I don’t know and am determined not to like,” epiphanic of the whole false debate.

  • guy herbert

    michael farris,

    …basic information on basic social services…

    … which notably do not include ‘the dole’ – now jobseeker’s allowance or incapacity benefit (the latter of which is being “reformed” again in 2008) except to make it clear you can’t get the former until you’ve worked for a year, so rather reinforcing Nick M’s point.

  • Nick M

    guy,
    Kensington & Chelsea is the densest in London? Wow! That really surprises me. And yes, you’re right, it’s really nice. Your point is well made. I have always objected to the “key workers” thang because I regard myself as doing a job as important as a teacher or nurse – I fix computers and build networks. I am back-stop to the C21st. So are plumbers, electricians, taxi-drivers, joiners and all the rest.

    I have recently rusticated myself out of Manchester and into Cheshire. Mid reckoned that I’d miss the central city more than the suburbs… What he didn’t know was that with a few exceptions central Manchester is almost monotonously mid-rise. 3.5 million people and most of ‘em in Victorian terraces. We Brits are perverse buggers about high-rise.

  • chip

    “More workers doing more things for other people and supporting themselves means everyone is better off, not that others are deprived of something.”

    That may hold true in a less government-run economy. But in the UK, where the state contributes more than half of GDP in most areas of the country, those more people are also using more services.

    The question then becomes are they producing more wealth than they consume.

  • Yes, K&C is dense. If someone tried to build all those beautiful stucco-fronted, 5 or even 6 floor terraces today they would be prevented due to building regs. So the answer is to build a hideous block surrounded by a bleak tundra of broken saplings and dogshit.

  • ” So the answer is to build a hideous block surrounded by a bleak tundra of broken saplings and dogshit.”

    Bravo Sir,Bravo!

    Isn’t reducing immigration to economic terms as inhuman as Marxism?

  • guy herbert

    So are plumbers, electricians, taxi-drivers, joiners and all the rest.

    And waiters, cleaners, fruit-pickers, supermarket cashiers and the rest.

    Some come cheaper than others, some are less skilled than others, but the only ones the modern world would function the same way without are the tax-eaters who parcel out to other tax-eaters.

    Chip’s question is easy to answer. Anyone who is not a tax-eater is almost certainly creating more wealth than they consume. This is the one thing Marx got right: capitalism depends on the buyer of labour getting a surplus from it. Nowadays the state gets its surplus first, however. Unless your net income derives from the state, then someone with motivation to discover the truth thinks you are creating more wealth than the fully tax-burdened cost of your services, or you would be being paid less – or you will be out of a job shortly.

    If you are otherwise self-supporting, you therefore have to use tax-funded state services that cost more than all the tax you pay *and* all the tax that is paid by others on the value of the services they buy from you, before you are yourself a tax-eater. If that weren’t nearly impossible, the state would collapse, because there would be no way to pay for it at all: the working population has to carry everyone else because there is no one else to do so.

    Those who go on about foreign workers “consuming our state services” are pointing at the carthorse dragging a wagonload of muck up the hill and asking why it is being spoilt by having so much muck to help it.

  • Paul Marks

    “more workers means that everyone is better off”.

    Errr no.

    The immigrants may be better off (otherwise they would, logically, go home – if they can). And total G.D.P. may be bigger.

    But this does not mean that “everyone” will be better off – many (if not most) of the existing population of the country may be worse off. Or may not be – it can not be decided a priori.

    From a strictly economic point of view (and ignoring losers among the existing population – for example low skilled workers) immigration may be a “good thing” as long as one assumes that not only is there no Welfare State (no government schools, hospitals and so on) but also that there is no government support for “private enterprise” developments.

    For example, that no drainage and so on will provided by the taxpayers for housing estates (and so on) and that roads in these developments will never be “adopted” by local councils.

    So as long as one assumes that the country is totally different from what it in fact is, a good economic case for immigration can be made.

    Assuming the country to be as it is, things are a lot more complicated, and I would not like to jump either way on the argument.

    From a cultural point of view:

    Here the opponents of mass immigration must, in fairness, face a problem that few of them do face.

    British – English (as mass immigration is largely into England) culture has largely already collapsed – and its collapse has got nothing to do with mass immigration.

    So mass immigration can not be a threat to something, like the local culture, which is either gone or going anyway.

    Of course (as pointed out above) the “developments” around English towns tend to be quite disgusting (for example Northampton used to be a pleasant County Town – now it is a nightmare of developments, and many other towns either have gone or are going the same way).

    But such developments have been going on since World War II – they are not really the result of mass immigration.

    Of course even the “destruction of communities” (the thing most cited by opponents of mass immigration) is not all bad.

    For example, the Harvard academic Putnam (the “Bowling Alone” man) was horrified to discover that the more “diversity” there was in an area the less trust there was – not just between groups, but WITHIN groups as well (and this lack of trust hit the young as well as the old).

    Like a good “liberal” he supported diversity so he sat on his research findings for ten years, and only finally published them with a stern pep talk about how we must all become better people and learn to love each other.

    However, although this lack of trust and community spirit had many negative consequences (rise in crime, collapse of charitable and community activities and so on). It also meant a collapse in confidence in government (this truly horrified the good Harvard Prof).

    From our point of view a collapse in confidence in government is not entirely a bad thing. Lots of isolated, hostile and frightened individuals is unfortunate – but if they are also hostile to taxes and regulations…..

    Anyway a “folk” spirit can become a “volk” spirit – and that is something to be avoided.

  • abc

    From our point of view a collapse in confidence in government is not entirely a bad thing. Lots of isolated, hostile and frightened individuals is unfortunate – but if they are also hostile to taxes and regulations…..

    What you say seems accurate to me. But I don’t think a state of anomie is necessarily a good thing. Perhaps it is if you are a Libertarian idealist. But if, like me, you don’t care for the so-called progress of society then it might well result in my own life becoming even more difficult than it is now. This is the whole problem with political idealism. It disregards the individual and chases a ghost. My own interests are all that matter to me.

  • ian


    such developments have been going on since World War II – they are not really the result of mass immigration.

    They have been going on a hell of a lot longer than that – think of Gillray’s drawing showing the expansion of London or thesepublished in Punch after WWI

  • Sunfish

    Guy Herbert:

    On “overcrowding”, I’d note that London’s densest borough, Kensington and Chelsea, is also by some way its richest and most pleasant to live in. It is not a meaningful term but is given the abstract pejorative sense, standing for “possible proximity to people I don’t know and am determined not to like,” epiphanic of the whole false debate.

    Maybe it’s “I like people, retail. I can’t stand people, wholesale.” That’s how I feel about it, to be honest. It’s easier to feel like an individual when I’m not in an ant farm.

    Ron Brick:

    Isn’t reducing immigration to economic terms as inhuman as Marxism?

    Maybe. On the other hand, in the US migration amounts to well over a million people a year. It’s hard to deal with a million individuals. I suspect that the guy who wrote all that Monkeysphere crap had something there.

    Reference the “key workers” issue: a few cities (really expensive resort towns) in Colorado have to provide city-owned housing to public employees. Cops and firefighters couldn’t afford to live in Vail or Aspen otherwise. The housing shortage, though, is less about planning and more simple economics: every rich liberal prick in Hollywood wants to have a condo in a quaint[1] Colorado ski resort. They have lots of money (or at least good credit and lots of other peoples’ money) to throw at this desire.

    Stack that sort of demand up against a finite supply (God only made so much real estate within 10-15 miles of Asspain/Vail/Breckenridge/etc.) and the price did what prices do in a free market. And so, the people who can get subsidized housing get subsidized housing and the rest commute from Rifle or Basalt or New Castle or Fairplay.

    Aspen also threatened to experiment with rent control. Someone pointed out, though, that the result would be that nobody would build rental housing or offer housing for rent anymore. The AssPains showing the understanding of logic and economics that leftists usually have, it took an act of the state legislature basically banning rent control. (Did that pass? must look it up)

    [1] It’s not “quaint.” It’s an indoor shopping mall turned outdoors. Go to Park Meadows or Flatirons Crossing and break a few windows in the winter, and you get the same effect. “Quaint” describes a mountain town where people actually live there, like Placerville or the places in South Park. “Quaint” isn’t even half of the story about South Park, but that’s another discussion altogether.

  • Paul Marks

    Good point ian – I stand corrected.

    I remember liking the solid Victorian houses of Bolton when I lived there (for a year) – but I did think from time to time….

    “These were wonderful wooded river valleys before the Victorians built these houses, shops and factories”.

    The expanding population had to be housed and employed (and so on) – so good country was lost. At least just north of Bolton is good open country (which the people could walk to – and did [in the 19th century tens of thousands went on a sucessful protest march when there was a threat to the traditional footpaths], and some still do). Still although there are hills, the forests that those hills was protected from the north wind have been lost – because those wooded river valleys were exactly what Bolton expanded over.

    I suppose one objection to more people is that it means more and more developments with no chance of walking out into the country.

    abc

    I fully support community interaction – civil society (as opposed to government) I am NOT an “atomistic individualist” and that is not what libertarianism is about.

    However, I was pointing to a “silver lining” in the growth of “diversity”.

    As people develop a distrust of everything and everyone (which I agree is a BAD thing to develop) at least they develop a distrust of government AS WELL (which is a good thing).

  • MDC

    “This sort of thinking is just a version of the lump of labour fallacy. More workers doing more things for other people and supporting themselves means everyone is better off, not that others are deprived of something.”

    Actually, this is wrong. Since in Britain the government redistributes so much wealth, immigrants have to be paying a certain amount of tax in order for the state to break even. Ultimately the welfare state is incompatible with unlimited immigration. This is why the traditional left (Lib Dems, Labour, etc.) has been so willing to embrace immigration restrictions – the alternative is coming down against welfare. I dont really blame people who would prefer less welfare to, in the knowledge that welfare will never actually be reduced, ask for immigration restrictions on unskilled labourers to put some sort of brake on the spiralling bill they’re liable for.

  • abc

    I fully support community interaction – civil society (as opposed to government) I am NOT an “atomistic individualist” and that is not what libertarianism is about. However, I was pointing to a “silver lining” in the growth of “diversity”.

    Fair enough. I was probably jumping the gun a little bit there.

    But this does not mean that “everyone” will be better off – many (if not most) of the existing population of the country may be worse off. Or may not be – it can not be decided a priori.

    I agree. People tell me that I am better off but I find it quite difficult to see it for myself. Being a software developer I think I’m probably in one of the most globalised industries. Now perhaps jobs have been created somehow or other as a result of opening up to IT workers from India and other places, and I don’t think peoples worst fears have been realised. But as far as I can see salaries have remained fairly static compared to other careers while everything else seems to have gone up in price. Housing has been chopped up by the new wave of developers and landlords riding the crest of the economic wave so that our living spaces have become smaller and less affordable. It looks to me more like some kind of wealth redistribution rather than anything which I profit from personally. The people who I can’t help feeling negative towards are not immigrants but the pro-immigration profiteers and speculators who in one way or another have a vested interest in it and are usually British.

  • Paul Marks

    However, Guy Herbert is correct on the formal economic point.

    If one assumes that there is no Welfare State (and no planning and not hidden subsides for private developers and………. well if one assumes a totally libertarian sitution).

    Then immigration will not just increase the income of the immigrants – it will incease total average income.

    In short – any “losers” (if any) in a country will loose less than the immigrants gain.

    It is a postive sum – not a zero sum, affair.

    One must always remember, of course, that the immigrant is just as much a human being as anyone else.

    Only government interventionism can produce a state of affairs where the “losers” in country lose more than the immigrants gain.

    Sadly we live in country of massive government interventionism.

    So it may (or may not) be the case that many of the existing population lose more by mass immigration than the immigrants gain by comming here.

    Of course many of these things are hard to measure (you are quite right that is not just a matter of money wages).