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How to make a good argument (leaving the EU) sound bad

I thought Nigel Farage trounced Nick Clegg in the second of the two televised debates about Europe a few weeks ago. When he sticks to that subject, he’s an excellent proponent of the argument. But when he brings Romanians into it, when he smears an entire nation to make the case against immigration, he’s clearly doing the cause more harm than good. You can sense more moderate voters recoiling every time he strays into this territory. It’s as if the Ukip leader is confirming the caricature of Euroscepticism that the BBC, the FT, the Independent and the Guardian have been trying to paint for the past 30 years – the Eurosceptic as swivel-eyed loon, as Little Englander, as closet racist. People like me have always claimed that’s a straw man. But Nigel Farage is that straw man.

- Toby Young

There are other examples I can think of where a good argument – such as leaving a bureaucratic superstate – can be spoiled if those who argue for it seem to be, well, just not very pleasant people. Yes I know, one should not be distracted by that sort of shallow thing, etc, etc. The last few weeks I have heard a lot of stuff from UKIP fans about how, no matter how bloody ghastly many UKIP people are, and how crummy some of its views are, that it is still a force for good, pushing debate, etc. The trouble is that I think it does matter, a lot, if people form associations in their minds about a group and if that group helps to reinforce that association. In my view, Farage’s focus on what he claims are the negative effects of immigration, and his invocation of the idea that foreigners are taking “our” jobs etc (the lump of labour fallacy) has done damage. He should have been far more optimistic and positive about why leaving the EU is a good thing, rather than confirm the biases of those who all too easily dismiss the anti-EU case as being narrow and stupid. A shame.

39 comments to How to make a good argument (leaving the EU) sound bad

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    In the specific case of EU immigration the “our jobs” fallacy is not a fallacy, it’s a fact.

    English is the lingua-franca of the world. Most Europeans speak it as a second language. They gain much more by learning English than a Brit would by learning Latvian for example. Thus the capacity for labour to move to Britain is much greater than the capacity for labour to move from Britain. A tide of cheap semi-skilled labour has made unskilled British teenagers essentially unemployable. It is now almost impossible to get a job with any sorts of prospects without running off and getting (at taxpayers expense and while incurring debt) essentially unneeded qualifications. I don’t have any easy solutions for this problem, but it is a problem.

    While I’m nominally in favour of completely open borders, given the labour and benefits law in Britain I’m not so sure it is a good idea without making a lot of other changes first

  • Mr Ed

    Indeed, UKIP’s message should be taken from a beer advert ‘No Nonsense’, everything from what we might expect of them e.g. foreign convicted rapists not being deported on account of their right to a family life to dismantling the wasteful MoD and a load of quangos, no agitprop on motorway sign boards ‘don’t drink and drive’ ‘check your fuel’ ‘take a break’ and so on, as well as saying, ‘we believe in leaving the EU and joining the World‘.

    I do not know whether the current strategy is a cynical political calculation or simply what drives the man or a combination.

  • Alex

    I agree. I have just gone out and voted and I voted for UKIP. However, especially as a member of UKIP, I strongly dislike the incessant references to Romanians and Bulgarians by the party. My partner works with a lot of immigrants, from EU member states and otherwise, and she has been largely impressed by them: for the most part they come to work not to beg (or claim benefits) or steal. As you say, it is decidedly unhelpful to the case against the EU to smear such people.

  • Alex

    JV – I thought of making some of the points you make but Johnathan is largely correct. A lot of young English people are unemployable because they believe that they deserve a well-paid job without having to work hard or earn the opportunity. Such people would be unemployable with or without the competition from European migrants. However European migrants do have some unfair advantages – for instance it is true that many come and return to their country of origin once they have earned enough, although many more stay than the pro-EU camp like to admit.

    Ultimately meaningful growth in the economy – becoming more widely competitive in the world market – is the only means of ensuring high employment rates. Disruptive technologies are coming that will raise unemployment further still unless we begin to compete in more meaningful ways.

  • Mr Ed

    I think that JV has nailed a point that escapes some theoretically minded libertarians, that in the real world, you have to take the world as it is and not as some Rothbardian fantasy land where economic principles can be applied as if people were fungible units, and, as the Kerryman (never) said, ‘I wouldn’t start from here‘.

    Ultimately, we live in a political and politicised environment where people have to be persuaded firstly to take an interest, and then to understand why any particular position would be a good thing. I have to say that having voted today, I have not heard anything about what any party would propose in Europe, all I have heard is a remarkably strong ‘groupthink’ message that UKIP is bad, from across the political spectrum from the Conservatives to the SWP, all of a few Ångströms across, which tells you that they have no message of their own.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Alex it is very easy to pin youth unemployment on shiftlessness. It is part of the problem for sure, but there are also a great many young people who want to work but cannot because even checkout operators need either experience or an NC in Retail (I’ve actually seen a sign saying this).

    If open borders were combined with the introduction of a single flat tax, the abandonment of business rates, corporation tax, health and safety law, NI contributions etc. etc. and all of the many barriers to entry for those wishing to found a business – then sure it might be a good thing. But in the climate where these things exist, cheap immigration does not (to quote “W”) “make the pie higher”, it just distributes the slices to other people.

    The role of government should be to create a fertile climate for opportunity. I’m not sure stuffing the UK with Romanian fruit-pickers contributes to this goal, at least not as things currently stand.

  • SC

    But if we’re talking about the real world, well, there’s not much the government can ever do about immigration. Even if we leave the EU, we’ll want to join the EEA, and a requirement of that is the free movement of people. There will still be some things that the government could do to tighten up immigration, but most of it is here to stay. So proposed solutions to UK youth unemployment that involve preventing immigration are just pie-in-the-sky.

  • Paul Marks

    Quite so J.P. – for example one of the people at the park where I work is Romanian, what harm is this lady doing by working here?

    Of course Nigel F. would say “I was talking about Romanian crime gangs” – but unless he is stupid he must have known how the answer to the “group of Romanian men moving in next door” would be received.

    A lot of the “UKIP is racist” stuff is disinformation and agitprop (often backed with the money of taxpayers).

    However, UKIP does walk right into the traps – they make it easy for the establishment to demonise them.

    Still we will see how the voting goes.

  • James Strong

    I voted UKIP today.
    I hope they will broaden their message between now and the General Election. Uncontrolled immigration is a problem, libertarian open borders are a pink and fluffy fantasy only, but there are other major issues too. And UKIP’s answers are closer to what I want to see than any others’ answers at the moment.

  • monoi

    If the priority is providing jobs to, it appears, a large quantity of unskilled british youth, the problem lies more with the system that was not able to get them skilled in the 1st place, than with immigrants.

    As an immigration policy would be run by the state, I am not quite sure why one would expect the state to do any better than it does on education.

    Even longer queues at borders for us to show our passports to some useless “border agency” parasites will probably be the only difference.

    Laatly, it seems that unemployment is trending down in spite of all those immigrants, so causation and correlation come to mind.

    That said, I will vote UKIP. I do not like their current emphasis but behind that, they have liberal policies and they are not the bastards that think they are entitled to rule over us.

    Oh, and I am an immigrant for 25 years. I dare say I contributed more in taxes than the average brit in that time. And still do.

  • boxty

    Monoi,

    You received more than you ever gave in taxes. You had no right to it. They gave it to you. So don’t be so condescending.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    If the priority is providing jobs to, it appears, a large quantity of unskilled british youth, the problem lies more with the system that was not able to get them skilled in the 1st place, than with immigrants.

    You act as though the baseline skill level required in employment is a constant. It isn’t. The barrier for entry into even low level careers has been continually raised, to the point that a degree is expected even for jobs that only earn the UK average wage. The amount of qualifications wanted for most jobs is now, by any fair definition, unreasonable. British 17 year olds are no more “unskilled” than any other country’s – but they have to compete with Eastern Europeans with degrees for jobs stacking shelves at Tescos.

    While for most people immigration is not a big problem, I don’t think it can be questioned that it seriously contributes to youth unemployment.

  • monoi

    You act just as though skill level is a constant.

    As it happens, I know a fair few of those “degree rich” eastern europeans who came here as au pairs. Small sample of about 10/12.

    A couple had degrees which they finished back at home after spending a couple of years here, and are working there.

    All the rest found jobs here, not based on degrees but on a positive attitude to work. Be it working in a meat packing plant or a nursery. Some went back, some stayed. One boyfriend who stayed with us for 6 months used to leave at 6am to find labourer’s jobs, not speaking english.

    By the way, for years the mantra was not the lack of degrees of the british youth, but the fact that the eastern european would turn up for work in the morning.

    Not forgetting the fact that there are more “degreed” people now than ever.

    So spare me the bs.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Spare me the smug attitude.

    A migrant who is willing to travel 100s of miles across Europe in search of work tends to rate highly on motivation? Colour me astonished.

    Just because such people tend to be highly motivated does not mean that all British young people are lazy and accordingly deserve to be thrown on the scrap heap. It is not uncommon for young people to not know their arse from their elbow on leaving school, or to need some coaching in work ethic.

    What is uncommon is that in Britain, we seem to have given up even attempting to do so. Middle class children go to uni and then onto some paper shuffling job. Lower class children, for the most part, go on benefits and stay there.

    And time and time again, the only response I see to this is people displaying their “inclusive” credentials by talking about how good the Eastern European work ethic is…

  • Matra

    when he smears an entire nation to make the case against immigration, he’s clearly doing the cause more harm than good.

    Actually frustration with immigration seems to be the main reason for the rise of Ukip as that’s something ordinary people can see negatively affecting their lives.

    It’s as if the Ukip leader is confirming the caricature of Euroscepticism that the BBC, the FT, the Independent and the Guardian have been trying to paint for the past 30 years

    I think more people are starting to see that the media represent the ruling class and therefore are enemies. Alas, one can never underestimate the English (especially middle class) need for respectability even to the point of hurting their own interests. It will be interesting to see if the ruling class smear campaign had much of an impact.

    one of the people at the park where I work is Romanian, what harm is this lady doing by working here?

    Sentimental liberal pap. One woman on her own is probably not harming anyone but large numbers of people who identify their group interests as distinct from those of the locals are obviously a problem – unless, of course, one either hates the locals or relishes divide and rule politics.

    I am an immigrant for 25 years. I dare say I contributed more in taxes than the average brit in that time. And still do.

    And perhaps you have made more in the UK than you would have done in your home country thanks to previous generations of Brits who helped create a country worth moving to in the first place. Yet 25 years later you feel the need to point out that you pay more taxes than the typical Brit. A bit of an us versus them mentality there. No amount paid in taxes can make up for a more divisive society.

  • John K

    Paul:

    If you read EUReferendum.com you will learn that Farage is not a particularly nice or clever man, though he does have a facility to communicate with ordinary people which quite eludes the likes of Nick Clegg or Ed Miliband. Farage’s main failing seems to be a culture of cronyism in UKIP at the expense of more talented people whom he sees as potential rivals. Under Farage UKIP has failed to grapple with the mechanics of a plan to leave the EU with minimum disruption to trade, a significant failing in a party whose raison d’etre is to leave the EU. And of course, with regard to “Romanians”, the real problem is the “Roma”, but perhaps it is well Farage did not go there with his size 12 boots.

    Having said all that, I still voted UKIP because I want Britain to leave the EU, and because I despise the clone-like yes men who populate our three so-called main parties.

  • Alex

    Alex it is very easy to pin youth unemployment on shiftlessness. It is part of the problem for sure, but there are also a great many young people who want to work but cannot because even checkout operators need either experience or an NC in Retail (I’ve actually seen a sign saying this).

    Actually JV I am not attempting to pin youth unemployment on any one issue. I’ve worked for the DWP in the past and I’ve also spent some time unemployed. I know both sides of the story, if you like. To solve my unemployment issue I started my own business. It was and is hard work. A great deal of the past 10 years I’ve earned less than minimum wage. I was determined not to claim benefits though.

    The reason why a large number of young people in Britain stay unemployable is because they have a mentality of “deserve” as in “I deserve a free university education” and “I deserve a job that pays well”. People starting from such a premise lack the capacity to recognize that if their skills are not in demand they need to learn new skills. They also resent being told that they have to start at the bottom figuring that their “education” or some other quality they think they have means they “deserve” to start in a better position. Minimum wage is part of the problem, immigration certainly does have an effect but stopping all immigration is not the cure all that some think it will be.

    If open borders were combined with the introduction of a single flat tax, the abandonment of business rates, corporation tax, health and safety law, NI contributions etc. etc. and all of the many barriers to entry for those wishing to found a business – then sure it might be a good thing. But in the climate where these things exist, cheap immigration does not (to quote “W”) “make the pie higher”, it just distributes the slices to other people.

    I agree. So we must work toward the introduction of such policies. Flat tax has been a UKIP policy for some years. I vote UKIP for various reasons: it annoys the technocratic elite, I believe they could hardly do a worse job than Labour or the Conservatives and most importantly it is the party that actually has some libertarian thinking that actually stands candidates in my ward. I don’t vote for them to endorse the nationalistic policies. In other words UKIP is less wrong than the rest. Persuading UKIP to abandon the wrong-headed irrational parts of their thinking would be a very good thing.

    The role of government should be to create a fertile climate for opportunity.

    I disagree. The role of government is defence of the realm and not a lot more than that. I want government to get out of the business of ‘creating’ – it gives it the mandate to regulate.

    I’m not sure stuffing the UK with Romanian fruit-pickers contributes to this goal, at least not as things currently stand.

    To attempt to crystallize my point, then: I am not sure that barring the Romanian fruit-pickers from coming legally* would have any positive effect at all. UKIP’s emphasis on anti-immigration rhetoric surely costs us more votes than it gains (and has undesirable PR side-effects). Perhaps UKIP did make a breakthrough due to anti-immigration policies. I am not saying it should necessarily abandon those policies just not emphasize them to the extent it does. That is why I agree with JP’s post.

    * especially bearing in mind they’ll just come illegally.

  • James

    especially bearing in mind they’ll just come illegally.

    Why exactly should this be the case? A reasonable effort can and should be made to guard borders, and to deport illegal migrants. All of which is somewhat easier for an island nation. This is as much about justice for those immigrants who play by the rules of the legal system as it is the natives who’re concerned about mass immigration.

  • Not just about niceness. Farage has some liberal instincts but there are some proper jumped up authoritarians in UKIP. They wouldn’t be bothered by a much more expansive police state so long as it was controlled by the right sort of Brits. I wouldnt want to leave the EU just to end up being ruled by people like them.

  • Mr Ed

    Here’s a musical tribute to some East Europeans who took jobs in the UK, as fighter pilots in WW2.

  • george

    what about the lump of houses fallacy?

  • The Wobbly Guy

    China has 1 billion people. India has another billion.

    I’m sure if their most talented 1% wants to work in the UK (that’s 20 million people), you guys will welcome them with open arms even if you get displaced from your own job. Hey, you just weren’t skilled or talented or motivated enough to work longer hours for a lesser wage.

  • Regional

    I live in a regional city and the influx of Chinese/Indian/Philippino/African workers is quite noticeable, all my neighbour are ‘Forreners’ and they’re a big improvement on the usual Bogans who had the Wallopers and Ambos visit their homes on a regular basis.

  • Here in the south east of the UK, I can echo Regional in that my very quiet new Polish neighbour is a great improvement on the previous tenant who, while not technically a bogan nevertheless had ambos and wallopers visit regularly, as well as assorted drunks and ner-do-wells.

  • Bob

    I agree, mostly. I made a conscious effort to downgrade my libertarian purity level in 2010, as I was getting nowhere convincing anyone I hadn’t already convinced. I started calling myself a pragmatic libertarian, and decided that getting us out of the EU before it became irreversible without resort to violence was the single thing I might be able to help achieve, in some tiny way. I started by voting UKIP in a mostly “none of the above” sort of way. Then listening to UKIP. Didn’t like an awful lot of it, but more than I did with the others. But then I went to some local UKIP meetings and heard (a) what was attracting people to it (mostly hatred of “the establishment”, but quite a few tradesmen competed in to poverty by eastern Europeans who ignore the (crappy) rulebook on things like minimum wage and being housed two to a room in a building owned by their boss, but who (unlike locals) get away with it), and (b) how much the party really really annoyed the same set of people I really really like annoying. :-) That got me hooked enough to join. Got to chat with Batten a few times, though never Farage. From there the addiction took hold via leafleting and canvassing until I found myself standing at a SW London council desk at 4am last night watching bits of paper with my name and “X”s next to it being counted. OK, I lost heavily. The ward is about as safe Labour as it gets. But I came 4th, beating all three of the strongly pro-EU local Tories by quite a margin and beating the sole LibDem by a factor of 3. And I went home as the sun rose, feeling good. Once we’re out of the EU, I can go back to worrying about what kind of idiots are residing in Westminster at the time. If we are out, they will have been “useful idiots”…

  • the other rob

    @ The Wobbly Guy – One might presume that a single country cornering the market on the most talented 1% of a large part of the world’s population would result in such a massive creation of wealth that everybody there would find themselves much better off.

    In fact, now that you mention it, the USA has approximately ten times the population of the UK. I wonder how we might go about recruiting the top 10%…

  • Julie near Chicago

    Mr. Ed, May 22 at 12:32 p.m.:

    “Ultimately, we live in a political and politicised environment where people have to be persuaded firstly to take an interest, and then to understand why any particular position would be a good thing.”

    Give that man a cigar!

  • John Mann

    I agree with Johnathan.

    UKIP seemed to be going out of their way to lose my vote this time.

    By odd coincidence, on election day, I ran into an old friend that I had not seen for years. He is from Romania, but now living and working in the UK. He was a most generous host when I visited him in Romania on a number of occasions. Later that day I was speaking to another old friend (British), who regarded the rise of UKIP as dangerous and scary. I didn’t argue.

    I assume that Nigel Farage is not a xenophobe – so why does he go out of his way to sound like one?

    I did, in the end, vote for UKIP – but it was a close run thing. Yes, UKIP are pretty bad. But they do have one or two saving graces, which is more than can be said for the other parties.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    JV’s initial comment should not be allowed to go without challenge since such a argument could be used against any economic exchange involving people with different skills.

    If Latvians come to England and learn English, the total number of English speakers rises, and hence, a newer market is built. Good. The market for selling goods and services in the English speaking world rises. So my point about the lump of labour fallacy being a fallacy stands. Farage only sees foreigners as a threat, not as a new potential resource and market. And that’s exactly the issue I am writing about here.

    Another argument worth bashing is the idea that markets are only positive-sum if all sides have exactly the same level of resources at their disposal when they take part, or only if there is equal ease of access. People use this argument to stop “unfair” competition, blocking “dumping” if cheap goods, etc. the same fallacy is at work in complaints about foreign labour. But if someone comes to my country and is “unfairly” cheap because he or she hasn’t had to shoulder various regulatory costs, I hire that person and have more to spend/invest on other things than I would otherwise have had, and others can benefit from exchange with me as a result. The overall division of labour in an economy deepens, and the total pie expands. What’s the problem?

    Another reason for objecting to JV’s argument is that, because there are, as he argues, distortions from the State, we cannot have free movement of labour so other reforms (unspecified) need to be enacted first before the freedom can be allowed. The problem with that argument is that it is a perfect excuse for inaction. Take the case for legalising all drugs; I have heard some so-called free marketeers argue that this cannot happen until lots of other changes, including the end of the Welfare State, happen. In other words, it ain’t going to happen. I am increasingly of the view that freedom should be promoted wherever it can be without waiting for the perfect kind of soil. Even the arrival of lots of motivated, hard-working immigrants is, I would argue, a force that undermines the post-WW2 Welfare State, and that is a good thing.

    We have to start from where we are, and that means that pushing for freedoms even if the side-effects are not always to our liking. Freedom tends, overall, to be self-reinforcing. Folk get a taste for it.

    (Edited for original typos and added some more thoughts.)

  • James

    Even the arrival of lots of motivated, hard-working immigrants is, I would argue, a force that undermines the post-WW2 Welfare State, and that is a good thing.

    I’d argue the opposite: the arrival of lots of immigrants will tend to mean more votes for overtly leftist parties (to the extent that said immigrants have voting rights) and hence more support for the post-WWII welfare state. I remember linking a few weeks ago to a CityAM poll of Polish voters in the UK which showed exactly this – with disproportionately favourable support from them for Labour and the Lib Dems in comparison with the rest of the population.

    I don’t want to read too much into one poll obviously, but the same phenomenon is evident in America, both in respect to Hispanic mass migration – any sign of Karl Rove’s “naturally conservative” Hispanics moving in a more rightish/libertarian voting direction? Nope – and with intra-state white migration: all those idiots who decide that the economy kinda sucks in California, so they’ll move to Arizona. Where they carry on voting for the same kind of politicians who screwed up California.

    Most migrants seem to be pretty poor at making logical choices about politics, based on their life experience.

  • James

    *inter-state, not intra-state.

  • Pardone

    Most British people are disdainful of immigrants and merely tolerate them. Interaction is minimal. There’s little love between the immigrants and the Brits. The British, and especially the English, are, like the Japanese, an island nation and thus have an innate distrust of foreigners that is buried deep into the collective psyche.

  • Margarita

    It sounds as though many writers here would dearly like UKIP to be more liberal and have found Farage’s focus on immigration disturbing. Having voted for them in the past on the basis of EU withdrawal, I couldn’t this time – the anti Romanian comments were just too much. I would have been betraying the wonderful lodgers who have been sharing my home these last few years. Their work ethic and attitudes are impeccable. (Often working 12 hour days, sometimes even 18.) Recent changes in their status were welcomed by them, they want to be fully legal.

    I endorse Jonathan’s observation that all competition (however ‘unfair’) results in overall economic progress. The Romanian builder I hire because he is cheaper than his British counterpart means I will have more money to spend on someone else’s products – perhaps even English. Is it tough on the potential English builder? None of them would have business but for the Romanians’ rent. The market has increased and we have all benefited.

    I think we should have open door policy as long as it is clear that there would be no benefits of any kind for migrants, no welfare, no social security, no NHS and they must pay their own way – market rates of course. Idealistic perhaps, but we have no right to close doors until the perfect state is achieved. We are all migrants, it just depends how far back you go. Meanwhile, is it worth trying to get UKIP back on track – fighting the real fight against a European superstate than the bogus one of migration?

  • Pardone

    The market has increased and we have all benefited.

    That is a deceitful lie.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Most British people are disdainful of immigrants and merely tolerate them. Interaction is minimal. There’s little love between the immigrants and the Brits. The British, and especially the English, are, like the Japanese, an island nation and thus have an innate distrust of foreigners that is buried deep into the collective psyche.

    Writes Pardone. You are projecting; you might barely tolerate anyone who does not look like you or sound like you, but I have been told by plenty of immigrants and children of immigrants that compared with many parts of the world, the UK is a pretty relaxed country.

    When immigrants entered the US in past decades, for example, the US economy continued to grow as the country benefited from people able to pursue their lives in more freedom than at home (such as such shitholes like Czarist Russia or southern Italy); immigrants are often younger than the host population, and more motivated to succeed. (The Vietnamese boat people are a classic case.) So far from being a “deceitful lie”, the point that immigration tends to be a net benefit economically stands. When people are motivated to better their condition by free exchange, how can it be otherwise. Adam Smith worked this out 250-plus years ago.

    In any event, your comments clear mark you down as a thoroughly blinkered bigot, so there’s not much point in taking you seriously. I wish you ill. My response is directed at more intelligent people who might still be following this thread.

  • Mr Ed

    I distinctly recall in 1990 being told, unpromtped, by an Algerian Berber studying in the UK that his parents, on visiting him in England, were amazed at the friendliness of the locals after trips to France. Anecdotal but it struck me as interesting.

    However, JP you appear to be eliding ”welfare’” immigrants with genuine refugees like the Boat People, who fled for their lives, and no one is applying methodological individualism to the question of what is the net effect of X migtrating to country Y. A Picardian Frenchman going to Wallonia (or even Flanders) might be almost indistinguishable from the locals, whereas an Englishman in North Korea might experience a severe culture shock. The ‘benefits’ (whose benefits may I ask) will depend on the impact of the indivdual, the brain surgeon killer-cannibal – negative, the binman volunteer medic positive (in broad terms).

  • Margarita

    ‘Deceitful lie’ is simply abuse, not an argument. A lie must be deliberate and I have no intention of deceiving. There is compelling evidence to show that migrants contribute significantly to their host culture, as Johnathan has commendably demonstrated also – thank you.

    As for the point that Brits hate migrants – well, there are bigots anywhere. If your experience ‘Pardone’, is confined to such people, that is most unfortunate for you. But I have found, like many other migrants, that most English people are remarkably tolerant, particularly of responsible, hardworking newcomers. Of course, they resent foreigners on benefits, but that is the fault of our welfare system, not of the migrants themselves. Asylum seekers for example, are actually barred from working legally – a disgraceful situation.

    Mr Ed’s comments are interesting – those I understood. Do we need to apply ‘methodological individualism’ (whatever that is) to the issue? Surely one should not have to determine the impact of any particular migrant if the work he is engaged in is entirely due to free exchange of labour? A bin man (or fruit-picker, cleaner or car washer) still contributes to the host economy however humbly, if the salary they earn derives from profits; the work they do contributes to more profits – for their employer (or they would not have been hired) and the income they spend stimulates other businesses. A win-win situation. Brain surgeons are just an added bonus. (Killer cannibals??!) My point stands – the market benefits from any working migrant.

  • Mr Ed

    Margarita,

    Methodological individualism is looking at economic questions from the point of view of the individual, and by extension, immigration is considered in aggregates, rather than the individual units it occurs by. How can I say (never mind measure) the net gain/disbenefit of an immigrant without asking ‘who, exactly, do you mean?’?

    There is a wider dimension than the purely economic to any debate on immigration, hence a brain surgeon (private) may be a benefit to the receiving country on emigrating, as might a General Practitioner, but not if he were Harold Shipman. Economic arguments about benefits cannot be the be all and end all. For a ludicrous but illustrative example, what benefit would 100,000 Americans be to Liechtenstein if they decided to abolish the monarchy, make English the language and introduce Baseball, even if they happened to be more productive than the Liechtensteiners? Liechtenstein would be no more in reality, and nasty statist American habits and lawyers might start making a mini New York State in the Alps.

  • Margarita

    Thank you for explaining methodological individualism Mr Ed. Though I’m not convinced (yet) of its merits. Surely there is a principle here – either people are free to move across borders or they are not. How can each individual case be judged? And who is the supreme authority that will do the judging? Your case of the Americans in Liechtenstein illustrates this problem. Clearly you would be against the influx of said Americans but that only reveals your preferences – does that give you the right to stop them? I agree it was a ludicrous example – they won’t want to go. May I suggest that it is possible the market – economic interests prevents just this scenario. As a small country Liechtenstein is likely to be fully owned already. Where would 100,000 Americans live? It’s doubtful there is any wilderness left for the taking, so they must displace existing occupants. A few locals may well sell their homes to the Yanks but most will not. In any case, it’s the property owners of Liechtenstein who will make the decision, nothing you or I say.

    “Wider dimensions than the purely economic to any debate on immigration” you say? What other criteria is just – for all concerned? Let us consider humanitarian considerations. ‘Political migrants’ who would be tortured or killed if they remained in their own country. We sympathise, but how much? Unless they have jobs and homes to go to, they cannot demand asylum. Who will pay for them? Once you exclude tax payers (and I presume you do) then only economic considerations are left. Those who wish to give political asylum must be prepared to pay for their ‘guests’. No one else should pay for them. This if often forgotten when people recoil in horror at ‘free migration’. Of course it’s not actually free – nothing is. It does all boil down to economics in the end.