Immigration Industry tacks into the wind
Dan Dare on Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I’ve had this piece on the back burner for a little while now, waiting for the main protagonist to re-surface and provide a little topical interest. However, except for a cameo appearance on BBC Radio 4 earlier this month Philippe Legrain appears to have gone incommunicado. It seems he’s writing a new book, supposedly nothing to do with immigration this time, so there wouldn’t seem to be reason to dilly-dally any further.
Philippe Legrain is one of the most prolific and indeed prominent immigration promoters operating in Europe today, and his increasing public prominence is something which everyone who would prefer that Europe remains European should be aware of and alert to the danger that he represents.
Philippe Legrain is one of the most prolific and indeed prominent immigration promoters operating in Europe today, and his increasing public prominence is something which everyone who would prefer that Europe remains European should be aware of and alert to the danger that he represents.
My reason for singling him out for attention is not so much his present status as an Industry luminary, considerable as that is, but rather as a leading indicator of the way in which I perceive the Immigration Industry to be repositioning its public messaging for the new and uncharted post-meltdown waters.
According to the liner notes of his 2006 book Immigrants – Your Country Needs Them, Legrain is “… a British economist, journalist and writer. Previously trade and economics correspondent for the Economist and special adviser to the director-general of the WTO, he is the author of Open World: The Truth About Globalization, and has written for the Financial Times, the New Republic, and Foreign Policy, among other publications.”
His website and blog provide further biographical detail (although Legrain has a British passport, that appears to be his only claim to any local connection), as well as links to his many articles and media appearances, and is well worth spending some time there to get a clearer understanding of the way which the argument for ‘Open Borders’ (a euphemism for mass immigration from the Third World) is mutating and is becoming reconfigured in response to recent (successful) efforts to refute government propaganda about the economic benefits of immigration, as well as the new economic realities which are not conducive, to say the least, to arguments calling for further mass immigration for labour purposes.
The rate at which Legrain’s argument for mass immigration is mutating is quite apparent from the change of emphasis now evident in his writings and speaking compared to when he was framing his Open Borders case for his book. In the book – published little more than two years ago – Legrain focuses largely on the economic arguments pro and contra, such that the US edition carries the following tribute from the Economist on its front cover: “Mr. Legrain has assembled powerful evidence to undermine the economic arguments against immigration.”
In the aftermath of the Lords Committee report which fatally torpedoes those arguments [see below] that’s probably one endorsement that the Economist’s editors might now wish to retract given the opportunity.
Legrain himself has, in the meantime, rather overtly changed tack. His more recent paeans to Open Borders have tended to continue to pay lip service to economic aspects, however, now he prefers instead to focus on what is presumably felt to be firmer ground: the humanitarian rationale for migration, as well as the benefits of the diversity and the cultural enrichment that only migrants are considered capable of providing.
One of Mr. Legrain’s more recent missives in this vein is this contribution to the “Migrant Voice” project on OpenDemocracy.net, in which he proposes what he terms as an alternative ‘win-win’ scenario.
I’ve taken the liberty of abbreviating and recasting Legrain’s piece to frame his case in a more thematic manner than in the article. When the argument is distilled to its essentials, as in the following, it clearly demonstrates the effort being made to move the debate away from a morally-neutral discussion of economic benefits to one which focuses on the ‘softer’, more humanist aspects of the immigration question.
The clear if unstated intent in this new approach being to construct a value-loaded narrative in which anyone disagreeing with it, and the Open Borders manifesto in particular, can be monochromatically denounced as a ‘bad person’. This is where, it seems to me, that the frontline in the immigration war is now being drawn, and it is the terrain upon which we must become increasingly accustomed to campaigning.
But first, let’s survey the state of of the art as it pertains to the Economic Argument.
THE ECONOMIC ARGUMENT (per Philippe Legrain)
… Immigration controls also do great damage to the British economy - and opening our borders would bring huge economic benefits. After all, the United States didn’t do too badly when millions of poor European migrants arrived in the late 19th and early 20th century.
… Opening our doors to the Poles and other workers from the new EU accession states has given the economy a new lease of life. … Many are doing jobs that British people no longer want: as the head of any retirement home can attest, suitable British candidates do not apply. And [the] new immigrants … have made the economy more dynamic, enabling it to grow faster for longer without running into inflationary bottlenecks.
And that’s really the sum total of Legrain’s present-day (as opposed to his 2006-vintage) argument for the economic benefits of immigration.
I think we can consider that this pro-forma genuflection towards ‘huge economic benefits’ as well as the forlorn attempt to draw a parallel between 19th century industrializing America and 21st century post-industrial Europe indicate that Legrain has now given up on this one.
The economic argument has been holed below the waterline and, although it may still be instructive to review how that came about, following that we can then quickly move on to consider the other, non-economic strands to Legrain’s overall argument.
The Economic Case: For – In review
In 2002, the Home Office published a research paper entitled The Migrant Population in the UK: Fiscal Effects (pdf). This is the notorious report that, with the aid of a series of rather dodgy assumptions, reached the tentative conclusion that migrants contribute £2.5 billion more to the Exchequer in taxes annually than they consume in public services.
Various New Labour personalities latched onto this figure as a key prop for their pro-immigration utterances, notwithstanding the many hedges and caveats that accompanied the original report. Needless to say the report was roundly criticised and comprehensively debunked, not least by the ‘watchdog’ group Migration Watch UK and it is never mentioned by Labour politicians or other immigration enthusiasts these days.
In 2005 the self-styled ‘progressive’ think-tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) issued an expanded update of the original Home Office report, Immigrants contribute more to the public purse than UK-born. This publication, although relying on the same underlying methodology, attempts to answer the criticisms that were directed towards the original and, in the process, restore some credibility to the government’s claims for the economic (fiscal) benefits of immigration.
Even though it was also widely promoted in the mainstream press (as in The Guardian) for example, it proved to be only a partial success. Tellingly the IPPR report represents the last attempt to date by the British government to spin a positive economic argument based on quantifiable data as opposed to platitudinous anecdote.
The Economic Case: Against – in review
The IPPR report soon found itself under similar critical scrutiny by, amongst others, Migration Watch UK (MWUK).
In August 2006 MWUK issued a Briefing Paper with their own analysis of the Home Office and IPPR reports. Needless to say MWUK were very soon able to put their finger on fundamental flaws in both efforts and were able to convincingly claim that “…The Home Office and IPPR studies of the fiscal contribution of migrants made a serious error in selecting the basis for their calculation. This crucially affected the outcome.”
Suffice to say that neither the government nor IPPR have since made any effort to answer MWUK’s conclusions.
The economic case for immigration received a further battering in the form of a report from the Economic Affairs Committee of the House of Lords, which soundly debunked the prevailing wisdom that immigration delivers significant economic benefits to the country as a whole (as opposed to discrete segments of society such as employers of foreign nannies).
In fact, the government’s own evidence submitted to the Lords committee finally admitted that, in terms of GDP per capita, migration brings ‘miniscule’ benefits to Britain.
Philippe Legrain’s own ‘rebuttal’ of the HoL report in the Guardian is typically long on the usual rhetoric but short on verifiable data. Rather than attempting to refute the actual economic data which underpins the report’s conclusion, Legrain relies instead on another proforma recitation of essentially unquantifiable and subjective ‘benefits’ such as the ‘flexibility’, ‘adaptability’, ‘dynamism’ and ‘competitiveness’ which migrants are said to confer on the host society.
Through his inability to bring any quantitative data into play, Legrain effectively signals the abandonment of the economic argument for migration, just as the UK government itself has done. A subsequent ignominious CiF outing created a firestorm of hostile commentary and two weeks later drew a stinging rebuke from Andrew Green of Migration Watch UK - We do not lie about migration.
The following added on September 24, 2009 at 12:57AM
Now that the economic argument has been accorded the last rites, we can now proceed to consider the remainder of the case which Legrain presents for continued immigration. This can be summarised as follows:
1. The Humanitarian strand
2. The Cultural strand
3. The Diversity strand
2. The Cultural strand
3. The Diversity strand
I’ll be putting forward Legrain’s propositions in support of each, together with the arguments against, in subsequent comments below. At this stage it appears that the last of the three will require the closest attention.
There is actually another common strand to the immigration refrain that Legrain has chosen to omit from his Open Britain proposal, although he does cover it some detail in his book. It is somewhat related to the economic argument and is often cited by less sophisticated members of the industry as one of the key beneficial outcomes of a liberal immigration policy. That is the proposition that immigration provides a magic silver-bullet solution to the ‘demographic crisis’ that is said to be looming in countries where the birthrate has fallen below replacement levels.
Immigration, so the story goes, is the only sure-fire way in which the support ratio (between the working and non-working populations) can be maintained. Only through the admission of hordes of fecund immigrants (aka third worlders) can we be certain of getting our old-age pensions paid and of leading a comfortable life in our declining years.
Whenever this argument arises in an internet discussion on immigration, as it almost always will, I have found that the most effective way to stop it is to ask the arguer to read David Coleman’s classic paper ‘Replacement Migration’, or why everyone’s going to have to live in Korea; A fable for our times from the United Nations and then to return with their refutation of it. Nobody has ever come back.
I’m pretty sure that Legrain will also be familiar with Coleman, even he though he neglects to mention him in his book. Legrain does start off his discussion (in the book) with a little of his trademark snake-oil peddling perhaps to snare the unwary browser:
But then, after several more pages of inconclusive waffle, he finally has to come clean and acknowledge that:
…[I]mmigration could in principle help mitigate the looming pensions crisis in some countries. For instance, if Germany, where a shrinking workforce has to support a growing pensioner population, attracts millions of young, foreign-educated immigrants over the next few decades, this could deliver a one-off boost to public finances that eases the tax burden on natives, especially if the immigrants are primarily highly skilled high earners. Moreover, by increasing the number of future taxpayers, thereby spreading government debt over a wider base, immigrants automatically reduce the individual burden on native taxpayers. [p 154]
… In order to offset the ageing of the population - that is, to keep the dependency ratio stable at its 1995 level- huge numbers of immigrants would be needed:
- Britain would need 60 million, or 1.1 million a year;
- France 94 million, or 1.7 million a year;
- Italy 120 million, or 2.2 million a year;
- Germany 188 million, or 3.4 million a year;
- The EU as a whole 701 million, or 12.7 million a year;
- The USA 593 million, or 10.8 million a year.Such vast numbers are simply impossible to achieve. They would imply soaring populations, most of whom would be post-1995 migrants and their descendants: a population of 136 million people, 59 per cent of them recent migrants, in Britain; 187 million (68 per cent) in France; 194 million (79 per cent) in Italy; 299 million (80 per cent) in Germany; 1.2 billion (75 per cent) in the EU; and 1.1 billion (73 per cent) in the US. It will not happen - and it should not happen. It would, in any case, be only a temporary fix, since migrants grow old too. [p 158]
Quite clearly, Legrain recognises that ‘replacement migration’ is a non-starter, and this is why he ends his discussion in an uncharacteristically sheepish fashion, merely noting that letting in ‘some’ of the billion or so additional potential workers from poor countries would ‘make eminent sense’ [p 160].
On then to the next strand.
THE HUMANITARIAN ARGUMENT - An Appeal to Fairness
… why shouldn’t people also be allowed to cross national borders in search of a better job, to be with the ones they love, to live in a society where women enjoy greater equality and where one can be openly gay, to learn English, to get a taste of British life and culture, or simply to experience somewhere different?
Those of us lucky enough to have been born in a rich country such as Britain take for granted that we can move around the world more or less as we please. … Why, then, do we seek to deny this right to others?
Our efforts to keep poor people out while the rich and the educated circulate increasingly freely are a form of global apartheid. They are not only morally wrong; they are economically stupid and politically short-sighted.
In one sense this may be the strongest card that Legrain has to play since, on the face of it, anyone opposing the humanitarian proposition runs the risk of being labeled as selfish, xenophobic, racist and un-Christian to boot. So we need to work hard to counter this challenge without falling into the trap that has been set.
The argument rests of course on the premise that national borders and even nation-states themselves are obsolete, and of no significance or importance in the globalised One World Society that Legrain evidently deems both desirable and inevitable.
Unfortunately for him, however, even the liberal intelligentsia who might be expected to fall into lock-step agreement are themselves deeply divided on that point.
David Goodhart, for example, the impeccably liberal editor of the ‘progressive’ journal Prospect has cogently argued for the relevance of the nation-state, the exclusiveness of citizenship and the need for national boundaries – with the implicit requirement for controls on migration – in his recent essay on Progressive Nationalism]:
… The second progressive dilemma or tension arises in relation to the nation state itself. The left has historically struggled for a ‘universal’ notion of equal national citizenship that is blind to wealth, status, gender and, more recently, race and ethnicity, and one that promotes a high degree of sharing and engagement with our fellow citizens. Yet this idea of citizenship is not universal at all; it stops at our borders. Nations have boundaries. Citizenship must include and exclude.
Notwithstanding the much greater international interconnectedness of modern life, we continue to favour our fellow national citizens over those of other countries – consider the fact that we spend 25 times more each year on the NHS than on development aid. This does not mean, contrary to Monbiot, that we regard British people as morally superior to Congolese people. Nor does it mean that we have no obligations towards humanity as a whole, and especially towards the citizens of former colonial countries that we exploited in the past.
But those obligations do not require us to sacrifice the traditions and coherence of our own societies or to offer British citizenship to anyone who wants it – we should express our solidarity with those in poor countries mainly through aid, fair trade rules and a just asylum system. These things represent only a fraction of the mutuality expressed in the political, legal, economic and welfare rights and duties which bind us to our fellow national citizens – but they are not insignificant.
Moreover, it is quite possible to imagine a world of cooperating nation states successfully addressing, over time, today’s global imbalances in wealth and power. In fact, it is easier to imagine cooperating nation states achieving this goal in roughly their current form than as post-national entities that have abolished themselves in favour of a mirage of global citizenship or government. A government’s first priority must be to its own citizens.
Understanding well the fatal consequences for the welfare state implicit in Legrain’s dogmatically libertarian Open Borders stance, Goodhart goes on to administer the progressive coup de grâce:
… The uncomfortable truth to many progressives – and something which the explicit universalism of the Human Rights Act sometimes blurs – is that the modern nation state is based not on a universalist liberalism but on a contractual idea of club membership. This is neither arbitrary nor necessarily based on prejudice.
If we offered the national rights we enjoy to the rest of humanity – through, for example, having no immigration controls at all – they would quickly become worthless, especially those welfare rights with a financial cost attached that progressives value so highly.
This succinctly highlights the essential absurdity implicit in Legrain’s worldview; the potential numbers likely to want to take advantage of his Open Borders concept to settle in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, were there no restrictions placed on their entry, would be bound to overwhelm the ability of any host society to accommodate them.
Legrain’s grand scheme would merely result in mega-slums like present-day Bombay, Lagos and Manila sprouting up all around Europe. We would merely end up impoverishing ourselves without necessarily ameliorating the circumstances of those who have moved in to join us.
It seems curious that Legrain, as a graduate of the LSE, appears to be unacquainted with former Professor of Economics Ezra Mishan and his famous essay Popular Economic Fallacies Regarding Immigration
If the welfare of the inhabitants of the third world is a pressing concern, as Legrain insists it should be for us, it would be far more rational to do as Goodhart suggests, and to express our humanitarian concern through development aid to be used locally rather than requiring the third world poor to transport themselves to the west, with all the disruption and social conflict that that would entail.
It should also be noted that the supposed ability of white people to move around the world and to settle more or less anywhere at will is largely a figment of Legrain’s imagination. It would be as difficult for an Englishman to migrate to India or Pakistan and take up permanent residence there as it is for an Indian or a Pakistani to settle in Britain, probably even more so in truth.
Anyone who has visited China in recent years will be well aware of the multiple hoops that need to jumped through merely to obtain a tourist visa. In Alien Nation Peter Brimelow amusingly recounts his predictably unproductive encounters as a prospective migrant with the Chinese, Mexican, Filipino, Indian and several other consulates representing the countries that send the bulk of migrants to the US (search on “Turnabout is fair play, isn’t it?”).
The Imperative of Universal Human Rights
Freedom of movement is a fundamental human right. Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which marks its 60th anniversary this year, states that: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own” - and what is the right to leave a country if one cannot enter another?
Well that’s correct, I suppose on the face of it. Legrain highlights an apparent anomaly in the UDHR but then fails to think it through.
Then, as now, the decision whether or not to admit an individual alien remains the prerogative of sovereign nation-states, even though all western liberal democracies have shied away from properly exercising that prerogative in recent years.
What Legrain does not state, although I’m sure he understands, is that the UDHR was intended to be a companion piece to the UN Convention on Refugees. The right of exit under one is reciprocated by the right of entry (for genuine refugees) under the other. Neither legal instrument was intended to stand alone, nor were they ever designed to cope with international economic migration on the present scale.
So yes, Legrain is correct. New international legislation is required, but not legislation designed to open the floodgates and facilitate yet more international migration.
The Altruistic Argument
A humanitarian crisis, with thousands dying each year trying to reach Europe and thousands more detained; the soaring financial burden of border controls and bureaucracy; a criminalised people-smuggling industry; an ever-expanding shadow economy, where illegal migrants are vulnerable to exploitation.
Greater openness would not just be good for Britain, it would also help the poor. Migrants from poor countries can earn wages many times higher in rich ones, and the money they send home - some $300 billion a year officially, perhaps the same again informally - dwarfs the $100 billion that Western governments give in aid.
Ultimately, the debate about immigration is about whether we want to live in a fairer and freer world - and a more open, dynamic and progressive society.
Having reached the inevitable conclusion that appeals to economic self-interest are doomed to failure, since nobody is buying that line anymore, Legrain is now reduced to guilt-mongering and emotive moralising. If we turn our backs on the teeming billions in the third world, he is saying, and resolve to let nature take its course, we are being callous and inhuman.
It’s all very reminiscent of the sanctimonious blather which spouts forth from the likes of St. Bob of Geldof and The Blessed Bonio every time their publicity machinery flags it’s time for an image refresh and wheel out the ‘Feed the World’ bandwagon on its third or fourth set of retreads. Give us a bloody break, enough already!
He may have a point about remittances, however. I’m sure they do more good for ordinary people than the aid funds that pass through official channels, much of which ends up in the Swiss accounts of third-world kleptocrats or in the pockets of the local Mercedes-Benz importers.
The next strand is rather brief, perhaps reflecting Legrain’s lack of interest in or knowledge of cultural matters, or perhaps indicating that the alleged benefits are nothing to write home about. Probably both.
THE CULTURAL ENRICHMENT ARGUMENT
[Social and Cultural benefits arising therefrom]
Philippe Legrain – … in cities such as London, people who have grown up in a multicultural society find it not only normal but desirable to live with people of different backgrounds, with diversity not something to be tolerated but something to be cherished.
The social benefits of diversity are huge, as anyone with a colleague, friend, relative or partner of foreign descent knows.
Immigration broadens the diversity of cultural experiences available in Britain: whether it is eating curry or Vietnamese food, listening to reggae or samba music, or practising tai-chi and Buddhist meditation. This mingling of cultures leads to distinctive innovations: British-Indian food such as chicken tikka masala as well as Asian fusion food; hip hop and R&B; new holistic therapies that blend Eastern and Western influences; writers of mixed heritage such as Salman Rushdie and Zadie Smith.
In contrast to his declamatory statement that the benefits are ‘huge’, Legrain’s inventory of social and cultural benefits is tiny, a particularly thin gruel consisting of the usual trite litany trotted out ad nauseum by immigration enthusiasts: ethnic restaurants, etc.
He also commits the usual fallacy that, in order for the transmission of a cultural artifact to occur, it is necessary for somebody to physically and permanently move from its place of origin to the place where that artifact will be experienced.
If that were the case, symphony orchestras in China would need to be permanently manned by Germans or Austrians, and pizza parlours in India by Italians. Performances of Shakespeare in Indonesia would be impossible to mount without the physical presence of British actors and, according to Legrain’s logic, nobody anywhere in the third world should ever contemplate experiencing Balzac on the grounds that he spent his entire life in France.
But what is so striking about Legrain’s argument, aside from its predictable triviality, is its conspicuous asymmetry, an irony to which Legrain appears blithely oblivious.
We have passed on to them the English language and received the unreadable Salman Rushdie and the insufferably parochial Zadie Smith in return. Chicken tikka marsala serves to reciprocate for the gift of parliamentary democracy and the Common Law, reggae and samba music are to be considered a Fair Trade swap for Mozart and the Beatles.
Legrain had made such a bollocks of his argument for the social and cultural benefits of immigration that I took a look at the book to see if he had more to say there. Sure enough, there are plenty of references in the index to “cultural benefits of immigration”, so I decided to look them up.
The great majority consist of often unsubstantiated pronouncements of the type ‘…immigration brings cultural diversity which in turn results in economic benefits like blah blah blah…’, which reflects Legrain’s over-riding economic focus in 2006.
We will pick up the diversity theme and its alleged benefits again later, however in terms of cultural benefits per se in even a peripheral sense, the only positive benefits that Legrain enumerates concern the London dance-club scene (p 118) and the multicultural nature of the present-day Arsenal football team (p 123), which Legrain claims to support.
This is quite revealing as an indication of the extent of Legrain’s cultural horizons, which for someone in his mid-30s seem to be remarkably constrained.
His closing comment in the book concerning immigration and culture is as follows:
… More generally, immigration brings us into contact with different cultures and ways of thinking, making our lives more varied and rewarding, broadening our minds and enabling us all to learn from others.
Without labouring the obvious point that those for whom constant cross-cultural interaction is a pressing concern can just as easily in this day and age avail themselves of such experiences through traveling to the source, without the rest of needing to be bothered by unwanted immigrants if we do not wish to, Legrain seems to be completely unselective as to the content and quality of those interactions.
He would probably be unable to discern any difference in cultural worth between London’s annual Afro-Caribbean orgy of crime and violence, ironically billed by its promoters as “Europe’s Greatest Cultural Event” (scroll down for quote) and a visit from the touring company of the Bolshoi Ballet. In fact he probably prefers the former. Philippe Legrain should probably be one of the last people to pay attention to when it comes to cultural matters.
THE MORE DIVERSE THE BETTER ARGUMENT
THE MORE DIVERSE THE BETTER ARGUMENT
Philippe Legrain - (i) Migrants are inherently more capable than the indigenous population
Migration is particularly beneficial because immigrants are a self-selected minority who tend to be young, hard-working and enterprising. Most importantly, migrants’ different perspectives and experiences help spark the new ideas and businesses on which our future prosperity depends.
Twenty-one of Britain’s Nobel-prize winners arrived in the country as refugees. Some 70 of America’s 300 Nobel laureates since 1901 were immigrants. Nearly half of US venture-capital-funded start-ups were co-founded by immigrants. Just look at Silicon Valley: Google, Yahoo! and eBay were all co-founded by immigrants who arrived not as graduates selected by some ingenious points system, but as children.
Newcomers’ contribution is potentially vast - yet inherently unpredictable. Nobody could have guessed, when he arrived in the United States aged 6 as a refugee from the Soviet Union, that Sergey Brin would go on to co-found Google. How many potential Brins does Britain turn away or scare off - and at what cost?
Most receiving countries get those migrants who decide to turn up rather than those who they might otherwise have preferred to invite in. In the case of the US and Europe the great majority of incoming migrants are not, as Legrain suggests, budding founders of the next Intel or Google but rather the impoverished and desperate.
In the case of the US, they are overwhelmingly the relatives of earlier immigrants; only around 15% of all ‘green cards’ are issued to people entering for purposes of employment (and that includes their dependents as well). As immigrant populations grow in other countries the number of third-world entrants through the ‘family reunion’ or ‘family formation’ channels rapidly grows to dwarf all the other categories.
Countries like Australia and Canada believe that their so-called ‘skills-based’ immigration system renders them immune to this phenomenon, but they are not.
In any country where the bulk of the migrant stream originates in the third world, and where such migrants are able to sponsor their extended family members for admission, it is simply a matter of time before the magic of chain migration kicks in.
In the case of Britain, the countries providing the most permanent new residents are, by number India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Iraq, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Somalia. There are likely to be far fewer potential Nobel laureates or captains of industry per capita in such a migrant flow than already exist within the indigenous population. If intellectual ability or inventiveness were the desired outcome, the best policy would be to stimulate the indigenous birthrate.
With respect to Nobel laureates, Legrain’s figures are wrong, at least in the case of the UK. Of 114 British laureates, 23 were born abroad, but only nine of those arrived as refugees. The rest of the ‘foreign-born’ non-refugees include the likes of George Bernard Shaw (Ireland) and Rudyard Kipling (India).
For the US, the overwhelming majority of ‘immigrant’ laureates arrived from Europe; almost none came from the countries which now supply the bulk of migrants: Mexico, India, China, and so on.
To put the probability of missing a potential immigrant genius into some sort of perspective, consider the instance of the Central European Jews who fled to Britain during the 1930s. According to Daniel Snowman in The Hitler Émigrés: The Cultural Impact on Britain of Refugees from Nazism only ‘a small fraction of a small fraction’ of the estimated 55,000 refugees went on to make ‘a powerful impact on the country that had given them refuge’ [p. 319].
His index includes around 500 named individuals, these being presumably those members of this well-educated and cultured migrant group who have made a notable contribution to British life. That implies that less than 1% of Central European Jewish refugees actually made such a contribution.
Given such a low yield from such an outstandingly promising source, does it really make sense to import millions of semi-literate third-worlders in the hope of turning up another Sergei Brin?
Legrain’s remarks about Silicon Valley are shallow, anecdotal and uninformed. He focuses on three companies formed quite recently that have done very well, and which happen to have had recent immigrants have played a role in their formation. But so what? There are hundreds and thousands of other successful enterprises in the tech sector which were created by native-born Americans including one of the most venerable, that formed by Messrs Hewlett and Packard.
In this respect Legrain needs to broaden his perspective to reach an understanding that the origins of the technology sector in California stretch back to the Second World War. Its development and ongoing vigour rest far more upon its continuing role as a part of the military-industrial complex than on the contribution of recent immigrants.
(ii) The more diverse a society becomes the better
Migrants’ collective diversity is also vital. If there are ten people sitting around a table trying to come up with a solution to a problem and they all think alike, those ten heads are no better than one. But if they all think differently, then by bouncing ideas off each other they can solve problems better and faster, as a growing volume of research shows. See, for instance, Scott Page’s “The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies”.
Diversity is also a magnet for talent. Go-getting people are drawn to cities like London because they are exciting and cosmopolitan.
It would have denied entry to most of the people on the Windrush, to Olympic hero Kelly Holmes’s father, and to (Lord) Waheed Ali’s parents ….
Taking the last first, a quick Google on Waheed Ali turns up two possibilities: one is a perpetrator of 7/7 London Underground bombings and the other the first ‘openly gay life peer’, an individual of Indian extraction who was ennobled by Tony Blair for his services to ‘yoof culture’.
We can safely assume it is the latter who is being referred to. Perhaps he was recognised by Blair for his advocacy for legislation to lower the age of consent for homosexual buggery (the legal term for anal intercourse) from 18 to 16? It would be interesting to learn why Legrain feels that ‘Lord’ Ali is someone whose presence in Britain should be lauded.
The Olympic athlete ‘Dame’ Kelly Holmes I’m unsure about, she is reputed to be ‘dual-voltage’ libido-wise but, that aside, there seems to be little point in bringing her up unless, like ‘Lord’ Ali, Legrain feels that she also represents a decadently hedonistic metrosexual milieu within which he himself may feel most comfortable.
As for the legacy of the Empire Windrush, there can be little argument that the great majority of the knife- and gun-crime and much of the other street crime committed in contemporary Britain is directly attributable to various tranches of Afro-Caribbean migrants and their offspring. The Windrush itself has come to symoblise the entry of millions more Afro-Asian migrants and their extended families, a great many of whom are now bringing the entrepreneurial skills that Legrain values so highly to bear as active participants in the criminal gangs that control the trade in hard drugs and in other social pathologies that now blight Britain’s major cities.
But all that aside, let’s move to the main point in contention, that is: more migrants bring greater diversity, and greater diversity brings ‘better solutions’.
Legrain does not elaborate on the sort of problems that his ‘ten persons sitting round a table’ are meant be resolving, or indeed what it is that makes them diverse. Are they diverse in the political sense, that is, do they exhibit a variety of identity-based differences based on race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation and so on, or are they diverse in a functional, cognitive sense, that is, are they all talented, intelligent and qualified individuals who bring with them different but valid approaches to solving difficult problems?
Legrain puts forward Scott Page, an academic at the University of Michigan, as his principal source for the notion that ‘different thinking’ results in faster and better problem solving. He specifically cites Page’s book The Difference which was published in 2007.
However, in typical slippery fashion, Legrain omits to mention Page’s own ambivalence about the value that identity-diversity, as opposed to cognitive-diversity, brings to the business of solving complex problems.
In fact one of the most prominent examples of the diversity that Page argues for in his book has nothing to do with identity diversity at all. It concerns the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA by three people, who were distinguishable not through their identity – all were male heterosexuals of Anglo-Saxon heritage in early middle age, trained in the Western tradition of free scientific enquiry – but rather through their cognitive diversity, one having trained as a zoologist, the second as a physicist, and the third as a molecular biologist.
Page also cites several times the instance of Bletchley Park, the Second World War codebreaking centre where the secrets of the German Enigma machines were uncovered. But here too, the type of diversity in play was strictly cognitive. It was the complex and unpredictable interaction between mathematicians, engineers, classicists, moral philosophers, linguists, philologists, historians and even crossword puzzle setters, not to mention the occasional cryptanalyst, that provided the creative spark.
As Page himself notes “…Let’s be honest, Bletchley Park was hardly a rainbow gathering [p 14]” (Alan Turing’s sexual proclivities notwithstanding.) Incidentally, Page himself can be viewed in action here giving a lecture at the Santa Fe Institute in 2007.
But somehow I don’t think that this is what Legrain has in mind when he pictures his ten diverse people sitting in a room, solving problems, although he might argue that James Watson being a Yank at Cambridge was, at least technically, a ‘migrant’.
The type of diversity that Legrain argues for when pushing Open Borders is obviously identity-diversity. Page actually states several times the obvious point that, for complex problem-solving, identity-diversity by itself is worthless. He acknowledges that, in effect, there is no utility in insisting that every scientific inquiry or product development team include the correct quota of blacks, Asians, females, homosexuals or one-legged Hispanic transgendered lesbians if by so doing there is no relevant improvement in overall group cognitive function.
Page himself is clearly reluctant to make major claims that any significant and quantifiable benefit arises from identity-diversity, and he is far more ambivalent about its intrinsic value than Legrain’s glib puffery of his book would imply. No doubt Legrain was hoping that his readers would be too lazy or too gullible to check it out for themselves. Early on in the book, Page states:
… Of course, difference does not magically translate into benefits.
My claims that diversity produces benefits rest on conditions. These conditions require, among other things, that diversity is relevant - we cannot expect that adding a poet to a medical research team would enable them to find a cure for the common cold.
Further, for diverse groups to function in practice, the people in them must get along. If not, the cognitive differences between them may be little more than disconnected silos of ideas and thoughts. Diversity, like everything else (excepting, of course, moderation), has its limits.
Understanding diversity and leveraging its potential requires a deeper understanding than we currently possess. We won’t get far with compelling anecdotes and metaphors, which in the diversity realm exist in abundance. [p xxivx-xxx]
Page cites a great number of studies of the effects of diversity in the workplace, including a number of surveys that review other studies:
… In a survey of around eighty studies, Katherine Williams and Charles O’Reilly find that crude tests of net benefits show weak empirical support for the Value in Diversity hypothesis, but higher variance in the performance of the diverse groups. One recent attempt to look for direct benefits from identity diversity in large corporations found net benefits to be nonexistent or small in most cases. [p 325]
In summarising the empirical evidence for the benefits of diversity, Page reaches the following conclusion:
… [W]e cannot but come to the conclusion that cognitive diversity improves collective performance. We see strong evidence that collections of people with diverse training perform well.
We also see that the evidence on identity diverse collections - be they countries, cities, or groups - is less clear. However, the increase in the variance of outcomes suggests that we don’t yet know how to manage identity diversity, not that potential benefits don’t exist.
Two important and unsurprising caveats also apply: If diverse collections of people fight over common resources, they will not be as productive. And if they refuse to or lack the ability to communicate with one another, they will also fail to reap benefits. These caveats apply regardless of whether the diversity comes from experience, training, or identity, but they may be most pronounced for identity differences.
To sum up, the benefits of diversity do exist. They’re not huge.
We shouldn’t expect them to be huge. But they’re real, and over time, if we can leverage them, we’ll be far better off. We’ll find better solutions to our problems. We’ll make better predictions. We’ll live in a better place. [p 335]
Given the almost complete absence of anything resembling empirical evidence in his book, it’s a little puzzling that Page should choose to conclude on such a panglossian note.
What he is saying in effect is that we don’t really know whether identity-diversity delivers any real-world benefits, despite the crescendo of establishment propaganda that claims insists otherwise. We think it might have some benefit in some small and as-yet indefinable way, but it’s proven to be so difficult to manage such diverse groups that we haven’t yet figured out how to do it. This despite corporations and government spending untold billions on ‘educating’ their workforces and the public, and installing Diversity Police throughout society at all levels.
I suspect the answer may have more than a little to do with Page’s place of employment and his role as the Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Complex Systems, Political Science, and Economics there.
Scott Page and the University of Michigan.
Scott Page’s association with the University of Michigan didn’t ring any particular bells until I came across the name Patricia Gurin amongst his acknowledgments. Gurin is the author of the eponymous report which played a key role in the case of Grutter vs Bollinger which came before the US Supreme Court in 2003. In its ruling the Court upheld the affirmative action admissions policy of the UM Law School; as noted in the summarization of the case on Wikipedia:
… In the court’s ruling, Justice O’Connor’s majority opinion held that the United States Constitution “does not prohibit the law school’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.” The Court held that the law school’s interest in obtaining a “critical mass” of minority students was indeed a “tailored use.”
In reaching its decision, the court accepted the key argument of the defence (the University) that a diverse student body brought educational benefits. So what did this argument entail, who made it, and what evidence was provided to justify the claim, which the Supreme Court evidently found so persuasive?
The crucial and decisive evidence was presented in an ‘expert report’ written by Patricia Gurin, at the time Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at U of M (the so-called ‘Gurin Report’). The report purports to base its conclusions on empirical data collected over many years, which are said to confirm the existence of what Gurin terms positive ‘learning outcomes’ and ‘democracy outcomes’.
On ‘learning outcomes’, the Gurin report claims that
… The results show strong evidence for the impact of diversity on learning outcomes. Students who had experienced the most diversity in classroom settings and in informal interactions with peers showed the greatest engagement in active thinking processes, growth in intellectual engagement and motivation, and growth in intellectual and academic skills.
While the conclusion on democracy outcomes reads as follows:
… The results strongly support the central role of higher education in helping students to become active citizens and participants in a pluralistic democracy. Students who experienced diversity in classroom settings and in informal interactions showed the most engagement in various forms of citizenship, and the most engagement with people from different races/cultures. They were also the most likely to acknowledge that group differences are compatible with the interests of the broader community.
Since the University’s ‘victory’ in 2003 it has been very much on the defensive as far as the Gurin Report is concerned. In fact, if the official UofM website is any indication, a minor industry has sprung up to deflect criticisms of its admissions policies in general, and to manufacture rebuttals to criticisms of the Gurin Report in particular (scroll down to ‘Responses to Critiques of UofM Research’).
Among the more telling blows, and the ones which appear to have irked Prof. Gurin and her collaborators the most are two reports from the National Association of Scholars. The first one, which sought to demolish the statistical basis for the claims is Junk Mathematics in the Service of Race Preferences (Executive Summary – link for full report), which skewers the Gurin Report by arguing that it is not proven that structural diversity (percent minority students on a campus) has educational benefits.
Gurin provides a lengthy response on the UofM website linked above.
The second report from the NAS is however, as of yet to my knowledge, unanswered by Gurin or anyone else: Have Race-Biased Admissions Improved American Higher Education? A Critique of Patricia Gurin’s Expert Report on the Benefits of Diversity at the University of Michigan, by John Staddon of Duke University.
Prof. Staddon criticizes Patricia Gurin’s methodology and findings as follows:
… Dr. Gurin assessed the effects of racial diversity in college in three different studies by comparing subjective and objective measures from groups of students with varying diversity experiences. But no experiments were done. Gurin did not take groups of white and black individuals, randomly assign them to different college environments and then, years later, assess their situations in life.
All she could do was look at statistical associations between different, largely self-chosen, diversity experiences in college and post-college self-reports and responses to questionnaires. Thus, Gurin’s repeated assertions about “direct and strong effects” of racial diversity in college on various post-college measures confuse statistical association with direct causation.
For example, the mean IQ of whites is greater than that of blacks. Does this mean that skin-color differences cause IQ differences? Of course not.
There is a statistical association between height and grayness of hair: because children are rarely gray-haired, tall people are more likely to be gray. Does this mean that hair color has an effect on height — or the reverse? Again, of course not.
Gurin has found an association between racial diversity in college and various subjective post-college measures. Does this mean the diversity differences caused the post-college differences? No.
In most areas of “hard” science, the story would end there: correlation is not causation, hence Gurin’s results represent conjecture, not proof.
And if that were not damning enough, the coup de grâce is delivered in the form of this presentation from the University of Nevada, which torpedoes any credibility that Gurin (and by extension the Supreme Court), may have still clung to by highlighting the Achilles Heel of the entire project.
That, is the impossibility of establishing a causational link between student diversity and academic achievement when the statistical analysis relies entirely on self-reported outcomes from students, which are totally uncorroborated by any other data.
Despite all the brouhaha and controversy, the University of Michigan subsequently appointed Patricia Gurin as the Nancy Cantor Distinguished University Professor Emerita of Psychology and Women’s Studies, in recognition of her “successful efforts to build a more inclusive and more diverse University; and her visionary leadership.
Wheels within wheels within wheels, or so it would appear.