The Ranting Kraut

19.3.2006 – 27.9.2010

Irwin Stelzer on UK Immigration

Posted by rantingkraut on August 15, 2007

The Hudson Institute’s Irwin Stelzer comments on Immigration in today’s telegraph and while he raises some valid issues, he ignores others and seems oblivious to the contradictions and omissions in his argument.

Stelzer bases his argument on the costs of immigration: increased pressure on housing, social services etc. These are well known and, as I might as well clarify from the onset, discussing these costs and comparing them to the benefits is of cause a sensible thing to do –even though some may think it is racist.

Early on in his article, Stelzer seems confused about who gains and looses from immigration. He states that among the winners is “the general population” while “the broad section of society that bears the social costs of immigrants” is a looser from immigration. Somehow the former seems very similar to the latter, so what this argument reduces to is that there are costs and benefits from immigration to the general population –but we all new that, didn’t we?

Stelzer also bemoans the “skills shortages resulting from the under-performing education system and labour shortages created by a benefits system that makes work unattractive…” and then takes up the case of “native workers whose wages are depressed by lower-paid immigrants”.

Clearly, if there is a shortage of labour, and skilled labour in particular, then those who still work in the relevant segments of the labour market earn scarcity rents: they can charge higher wages due to a lack of competition. Equally clearly, these rents will be eroded by immigration. If Stelzer thinks that the lack of skills and labour shortages are a problem that should be solved then he wants those scarcity rents to be eroded. He may well prefer to achieve this result through a reform of the welfare and education system, both of which will take time, but the end result for native workers would be the same, and according to Stelzer’s own argument it is on the whole desirable.

Stelzer then has four suggestions to solve the problem:

1. He calls on the government to live up to its proposals for a border-control force. This could make a difference if the problem really is that illegal entry is too easy.

2. Stelzer correctly hints that a welfare system is unsustainable if it makes immigration for the main purpose of accessing benefits attractive. He then goes on to suggest that “the costs of any special medical education and other needs should be borne by the employers who sought the work permits.”

The costs of medical care and state education are already met by tax payers and employers as well as legal immigrants pay tax and national insurance. So why shouldn’t they access health care and education like anybody else? It is not clear what special needs Stelzer has in mind or why employers or the state should make provisions for them beyond what is provided to the population at large.

The state provision of translators is one related issue which has recently received attention, and this issue also helps to clarify the problem: if anyone -immigrant, tourist or whoever- chooses not to learn the national language then surely they should bear the cost that comes with that choice.

3. Stelzer argues that illegal residents should be deported. As a direct consequence of illegality, termination of such a residence should be uncontroversial in the majority of cases. What is puzzling though is Stelzer’s suggestion that those seeking a work permit should waive their right to appeal deportation decisions. If people really intend to stay in the UK clandestinely, does he really think they will be bothered by that signature –if they initially obtain a permit to start with? Does it make sense to have an appeals process in the first place if the prospective beneficiaries are then barred from using it?

4. Finally, Stelzer argues that employers should bid for work permits in an auction to determine the market value of immigration. He does not say how the number of permits to be auctioned off should be determined in the first place. Once the number of work permits is arbitrarily fixed, the auction result would of course provide a measure of the market value of this limited number of permits in the same way that auctioning trade quota licenses gives a market valuation of quota rents.

What this auction would not do is address the cost-benefit problem associated with immigration. The auction would raise money, but there is no reason to expect that this would cover the cost of immigration. So long as the number of permits is arbitrarily fixed there is also nothing to tell us that there couldn’t be a further net economic benefit from additional immigration.

With regards to the European Union, Stelzer concedes that his proposals would probably conflict with EU rules but that conforming to these rules would be ‘inopportune’ at present. Stelzer clearly doesn’t seem to know much about the EU or EU migration pattern for that matter.

First of all, violating rules on migration –or trade for that matter—would not be a question of electoral strategy or political tact. The EU treaties in their current form limit national sovereignty in these matters so long as the UK remains a member of either the EU or the EEA. Leaving the EU would be an option –possibly a sensible one—but it would be a big change, not a minor policy adjustment that can be implemented casually and quickly.

The main source of EU immigration to Britain by far is Poland [1]. This immigration is often credited with alleviating shortages of unskilled labour and some skilled crafts professions (think of the proverbial Polish plumber). If there was nevertheless a desire to restrict this particular migratory flow, temporary restrictions on migration from Poland as from other new EU member countries could be applied until 2009 under the given transition rules.

Migration with old EU members is a different story altogether. First of all, the migratory flows are on a much smaller scale. Second, the movement is not a one-way issue here: plenty of British citizens have relocated to Spain and Portugal –putting pressure on the housing markets there—and more UK citizens were resident in e.g. Germany or the Netherlands than Dutch or German citizens in Britain in 1997 (source).

If migration with old EU members were halted or partially reversed, it would therefore not be immediately obvious what the net results on the resident population in Britain would be.

Stelzer also addresses the Multiculturalism issue, albeit briefly, but fails to identify the core of the problem. Is the main problem really that there is no legal requirement to learn English and study English history for migrants? Or is it that the state, tax payers and employers are expected bear the costs associated with cultural idiosyncrasies?

I opined above that anyone choosing not to learn the national language should do so at their own cost. Why shouldn’t the same principle apply to other lifestyle choices? If you care to follow a religion that demands unusual prayer times, peculiar forms of dress or extravagant dietary regimes, then surely all this should be regarded as the believer’s private problem, not as a social need. And surely this rule should apply equally to British citizens and immigrants.

As for housing, Stelzer doesn’t say much on the issue, yet this –and pensions—are the really interesting are far more complex aspects of the immigration debate.

See also: Tim Worstall

[1] Poland was also the second largest source of overall immigration in 2004/2005 after India and before China (Source: “International Migration, Migrants entering or leaving the United Kingdom and England and Wales, 2005” Office for National Statistics, London, p.xv, Series MN no.32, ISSN 0140-900X).


One Response to “Irwin Stelzer on UK Immigration”

  1. Mr. Angry said

    In the past couple of years immigration has become ridiculous. London looks more like India or Pakistan than the English capital. This has to stop. The immigrants come here to Britain, bleed us dry, steal our jobs and send their wages back to their own country. That’s great for our economy, eh? We’re fast losing our identity which the men fought for in the last war. THE INCOMERS ARE HOSTILE AND WON’T INTEGRATE. I’m heading for the BNP.

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