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The elite benefit, so it’s becoming a leftish issue

My Times column is on immigration:

It looks as if David Cameron is determined not to
emulate Tony Blair over European immigration. Faced with opinion
polls showing that tightening immigration is top of the list of
concerns that voters want the Prime Minister to negotiate with
Europe, he is going to fight to keep a Romanian and Bulgarian
influx out as Mr Blair did not for Poles in 2004. It is the ideal
ground for him to pick a fight with Brussels.

One reason is that he now has more political cover on the issue
of immigration. It is no longer nearly as “right wing” an issue as
it once was, though popular enough with UKIP voters. Migration as a
political issue seems itself to be migrating across the political
spectrum from right to centre, if not left. Where once any kind of
opposition to immigration was seen by left-wing parties and the BBC
as just a proxy for racism, increasingly it is now a subject for
real debate.

The best example of this is the positive reception that Paul
Collier’s new book Exodus has received from the bien-pensant
Left. Collier has raised worries about immigration with which
left-leaning commentators can sympathise: in particular social
cohesion and the effect on the global poor. He is following a path
pioneered by David Goodhart, whose book The British Dream argued that overzealous
multiculturalism had “reinforced difference instead of promoting a
common life”, putting at risk the welfare state.

Both books make the case that the generosity with which British
citizens are prepared to hand welfare payments to others could be
damaged if Britons no longer think of their neighbours as part of
the same “country”. In effect they are voicing an old-fashioned
nationalism. Collier warns that “while migration does not make
nations obsolete, the acceleration of migration in conjunction with
a policy of multiculturalism might potentially threaten their
viability”. Nations, he points out, have fallen out of favour as
“solutions to collective action problems”. It is not clear how
large an unabsorbed diaspora could get before it weakened “the
mutual regard on which society depends”.

Of course, the diaspora that the British migrants established
around the world, swamping native Americans, Aborigines, Maoris and
French Canadians, created a rather successful sense of
supranational solidarity. Daniel Hannan’s new book How We Invented Freedom and Why it Matters,
published today, tells an extraordinary story about how the values
of “the West” were actually a very peculiar set of Anglosphere
traditions — above all, the notion that the State is the servant,
not the master, of the individual.

He argues that this idea, carried by emigrants from one damp
island to North America and Australasia, is quite distinct from the
top-down traditions of many other European countries. Freedom
survived the mid 20th century by the skin of its teeth, thanks
almost entirely to the Anglosphere. When Boris Johnson says that
the current system of immigration is mad, “cracking down on
Australians and New Zealanders and high-spending Chinese students
and tourists — but completely incapable of dealing with a sizeable
influx from within the EU, some of whom show no sign of wanting to
work”, he is partly echoing the idea that we feel solidarity with
the Anglosphere but not the Eurosphere.

In a thought-provoking article for Wired magazine this month, Balaji
Srinavasan, a Californian entrepreneur and academic, argues that
many people now feel social solidarity with virtual diasporas,
“finding their true peers in the cloud, a remedy for the isolation
imposed by the anonymous apartment complex or the remote rural
location”. He then makes the startling claim that such virtual
diasporas may be about to become real ones, as such people get
drawn together to found some colony of like-minded folk, either
within a country or maybe offshore or on Mars.

That’s a long way off. But it is a reminder that the migration
argument in support of international solidarity is beginning to
sound more like a right-wing one. Libertarian-leaning economists on
the right continue to sing the praises of migration, arguing that
free trade in people is just as valuable as free trade in goods and
services. And the Right’s traditional supporters, the wealthy, are
indeed the main beneficiaries of immigration in the form of
nannies, cleaners, waiters and oncologists.

Perhaps as racial prejudice fades — and the number of white
people who even secretly dislike non-white people merely because
they are non-white must surely be falling with almost every funeral
— a great realignment will become apparent, with migration being
seen increasingly through the lens of what it does to what used to
be called the working class: competition for low-wage jobs, houses,
threats to their culture.

In short, Mr Cameron is right to pick a fight on the length of
time an immigrant must stay before claiming welfare. It plays into
the social cohesion point beloved of the Centre Left. When Collier
says that “it may prove unsustainable to combine rapid migration
with multicultural policies that keep absorption rates low and
welfare systems that are generous”, he’s only rephrasing in
academic lingo what plenty of ordinary people think.

The unprecedented wave of immigration that Britain received
between 1997 and 2010 (about 3.2 million net immigrants) did not
just put pressure on housing and welfare; it also put pressure on
culture. The more that immigrants fail to integrate, either by
sheer numbers or by the encouragement of multiculturalism, the more
resented they will be. What America did so well for so long was to
suck in millions of people from Ireland, Germany, Italy and Africa
but turn them into flag-waving democrats who loved free

As the history of America showed, migration has a tendency to
accelerate because diasporas tend to draw more people after them.
Collier adds that rising incomes in poor countries lead to still
more acceleration, not less, since the very poorest cannot afford
the price of a people-smuggler’s fee, let alone an air fare. The
slave trade excepted, the people who flocked to the United States
were not the poorest of the global poor from rural parts of Asia
and Africa. They were the moderately poor urban masses of Europe.
Likewise, today it is generally the people who have already
migrated from village to city, and scraped together some savings
who come to Britain. Even rising educational standards accelerate
migration by allowing more people to surmount any educational
hurdles in the path of migrants, Collier argues.

So there’s no prospect of immigration pressure easing even
though poor countries are getting rich faster than we are. It’s
obvious that this country cannot have unrestrained migration, and
equally obvious that it cannot have no migration. The question is,
and always will be, how much.

Put Collier’s and Hannan’s books together and you get one clear
recommendation. A country like Britain should do its utmost to pull
in as many talented people from poor countries as it can, turn them
into fans of the Anglosphere tradition of freedom, and send them
back home where they can help enrich and liberate the poor, while
not threatening the livelihoods of poorer people here. In short,
stop making life difficult for foreign students.

By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  rational-optimist  the-times