“Migration has been politicized before it has been analyzed.” – Paul Collier
In writing this book, Collier seeks to do two things. First, he wants to continue his work analyzing the poorest societies in the world.
Second – and much more interesting – he wants to rescue the immigration debate from Caplanization (or Gmule-ization, if you prefer). Caplanization is the process by which the proponents of a particular policy (in this case unrestricted immigration) argue for it in such a manner than virtually all reasonable people are attracted to the opposite position.
In Collier’s words, the book is:
also a critique of the prevailing opinion among liberal thinkers, a group of which I am a member, that modern Western societies should embrace a postnational future. . . . In the countries in which I work—the multicultural societies of Africa—the adverse consequences of weak national identity are apparent.
Or put differently in another part of the book:
It is short of disastrous that in some European countries around a fifth of the indigenous electorate [that may be an understatement] is wasting its vote on pariah parties because the mainstream parties will not properly debate what these voters regard, rightly or wrongly, as the most important issue facing the country.
The book is an attempt to analyze immigration using economic methods. There are certain aspects of immigration that are beneficial (e.g. efficiency improvements) and there are others that are harmful (e.g. declines in societal trust). At some levels of immigration, the benefits outweigh the harm, whereas at other levels, the harm outweighs the benefit. In other words, the book attempts to subject the immigration debate to marginal analysis.
Collier is attempting to rescue the debate from current tone which is more reminiscent of religious fanaticism than economic analysis. Oddly in this case, it’s the “economists” who generally speak of the issue in religious terms. It’s nearly impossible to state how strange the typical economic view of immigration is.
For example, writing at Marginal(!!!!) Revolution, Professor Cowen notes:
Plunking 500 million or a billion poor individuals in the United States most likely would destroy the goose laying the golden eggs.
As Nick Land notes:
This sentence twists deeper into delirium with every reading. It has to be a candidate for the most insane splinter of sanity in history. (It makes me wonder whether an object the size of Jupiter, consisting of pure neutronium, colliding with Manhattan Island at 90% light speed, would most likely depress property values.)
Clearly, Collier has his work cut out for him.
Collier analyzes the costs and benefits of migration from the perspective of: 1) the migrants; 2) the indigenous population of the host country; and 3) the people left behind in the home country.
To very briefly summarize, he finds that most of the gains from migration go to the migrants themselves. Importantly, it would seem that a good chunk of the economic gain may be offset by psychological losses associated with living in a different “culture” (an incredibly powerful – and poorly defined – force, for Collier).
He finds that migration harms the poorest indigenous people, but benefits the rest. First, he finds that this economic effect is rather small. Second, he notes that this analysis applies only for moderate levels of migration. Theory would suggest that with mass migration, downward wage pressures would get much worse.
Migration harms many of those left behind particularly in the poorest countries. For example, Haiti has “around 130,000 fewer educated workers than it would have without emigration.” I’m far from as convinced as Collier is that Haiti can get much better, but it’s impossible to argue that it’ll ever get much better if all of its most talented citizens leave the country.
Along the way, Collier attempts to rescue the debate from religious language. He repeats that, “rights . . . should not be dissolved by . . . ‘global utility.’” He notes that nations have some basis in fact:
Astonishingly, around 70 percent of the current population of Britain are directly descended in this way from the people who inhabited Britain in the pre-Neolithic times: earlier than 4,000 B.C.
In other words, the idea that we’re all immigrants is retarded. In addition, he notes that “if Romer is correct, what migrants are escaping from, though they may not realize it, is the dysfunctional institutions that as settlers they appear to want to bring with them.” Of course, this admission makes immigrant voting patterns particularly relevant. Finally, “the windfall gains from migration are attributable ultimately to the public capital that has been built by the indigenous population.” This acknowledgement complicates (at a minimum) the idea that everyone deserves access to rich countries.
And his marginal analysis is actually quite compelling. For example, he notes that “the larger the diaspora is, the slower its rate of absorption will be.” A large diaspora also makes for faster rate of migration.
Here’s another totally reasonable statement: “The social consequences of migration depend on how immigrants relate to their host societies.”
For much of this analysis, Collier relies on Putnam. In essence he argues that high levels of immigration – particularly immigration from very diverse societies – will be corrosive to trust. This phenomenon then feeds on itself.
Interestingly, Collier tries to objectify “cultural distance” by measuring degrees of separation between languages of home and host countries. Again, in a totally unsurprising (and unmentionable) finding, cultural distance matters.
Some of his arguments get a bit more speculative. Obviously immigration increases house prices (he cites a figure of 10% in all of Britain, and notes that the number is much higher in the big cities). Does it also reduce company’s willingness to train workers? Does it encourage the indigenous to emigrate (especially from areas with high concentrations of immigrants)? He notes that London lost half its indigenous population since the 1950s.
The gist of the marginal analysis is that, at some point, the effects of immigration become negative. Rich societies will, for a whole host of reasons, start fraying at the seams if immigration goes beyond a certain point. That point is not a theoretical point either. “In total, around 40 percent of the population of poor countries say that they would choose to migrate to rich ones if they could. Even this probably understates what would happen in the absence of financial and legal barriers.” To bolster that last point, Collier has an interesting analysis of the migration of Turkish Cypriots, where the ultimate exodus ended up well above that 40% mark.
Collier also provides some strong arguments against many of the comment arguments for increased immigration. For example:
Economics has developed an unambiguous analysis of how a temporary windfall should be handled: it should be saved. For example, the government could use a temporary increase in revenues from youthful immigration to reduce the public debt. What it should categorically not do is use them to incur new, ongoing obligations for spending, such as pensions. Yet that is what the argument “We need immigrants to counter an aging population” amounts to.
He notes that it will be difficult to compensate the losers from migration because evidence suggests that migration makes welfare less viable. In addition, in a world of unrestricted immigration, higher levels of welfare may attract less-skilled immigrants, thus exacerbating the problem.
To summarize his position, he believes that “the open door may be the short-sighted option [for some developed societies]: an unsustainable economic boom, followed by complex and prolonged social problems.”
He proposes moderate, controlled immigration. The controls would take the form of ceilings (i.e. limits on total immigration), selection (based on skills, culture, etc.), integration (proactive requirements that help immigrations be absorbed into the host society), and legalization (guest worker programs culminating in amnesty).
If you buy Collier’s underlying premises, this seems incredibly reasonable. Though this is not my ideal immigration policy, I think we could certainly have a reasonable debate about it without anyone sounding like they were arguing about angels on pins.
However, for every good thing that Collier says, he says a few weird things too.
Here’s a good one:
The track record of culturally diverse societies is not so encouraging. . . . In most societies for most of history high diversity has been a handicap. Even within modern Europe, the relatively modest cultural difference between Germans and Greeks has stretched to breaking the limited institutional harmonization achieved by the European Union. . . . If social models really are the fundamental determinants of prosperity, the rise of multiculturalism in one part of the world, coincident with its decline elsewhere, could have surprising implications.
In other words, Collier suggests that you should prepare to welcome our new Chinese overlords.
On the other hand:
Since race is correlated with other characteristics, such as poverty, religion, and culture, it remains possible that any limitation on migration based on these criteria is viewed as the Trojan horse for racism. If so, then it is still not possible to have an open debate on migration. I only decided to write this book once I judged that it is indeed now possible to distinguish between the concepts of race, poverty, and culture. Racialism is a belief in genetic differences between races: one for which there is no evidence. Poverty is about income, not genetics: the persistence of mass poverty alongside the technology that can make ordinary people prosperous is the great scandal and challenge of our age. Cultures are not genetically inherited; they are fluid clusters of norms and habits that have material consequences. A refusal to countenance racially based differences in behavior is a manifestation of human decency. A refusal to countenance culturally based differences in behavior would be a manifestation of blinkered denial of the obvious.
This sort of creationistic belief is worrisome. Note that not only does Collier refuse to consider genetics and evolution, he’s disgusted with you if you consider them.
The analysis that results from this (fundamentally religious) belief is a strange one. You’re torn as you read it. On one hand, it’s so obviously retarded. Collier says something like that “chance” is “the fundamental statistical reason” behind the dispersion of income. Really? Really? Is it also the fundamental reason behind distribution of Noble prizes in physics? If not, what happens in between?
On the other hand, one can’t but help admire how much work goes into a system that closes itself off from an obvious explanatory variable. Say what you will about the Ptolemaic system, but in some ways its most striking feature is that it was sometimes correct. You can’t but have a grudging admiration for the work necessary to hold something like that together.
Collier is also honest enough that it becomes apparent that the politically correct explanation isn’t really that politically correct. If evolution must be ignored, a lot of weight must be placed on “culture.” And then, you must soon conclude that a lot of cultures are pretty shitty.
You’re stuck with an explanation that is extremely hostile to cultural relativity: “The cultures—or norms and narratives—of poor societies, along with their institutions and organizations, stand suspected of being the primary cause of their poverty.” If you want to be politically correct, you’re screwed either way, better to just bury your head in the sand.
Collier also has to resurrect nationalism – it’s really the only force that can help with the absorption of migrants. After all, if there’s no nation, there’s nothing to be absorbed into. Put another way, the theory and practice of multiculturalism makes it all worse: “there is now mounting evidence that . . . the children of immigrants are more resistant to adopting the national culture than their parents.”
His view of nationalism is rather odd. He seems to think that every nation can be a “global village” type of nation. This suggestion seems obviously false to me. If every nation is the same, there’s nothing global about anything. Nevertheless, I find the reasoned discussion of nationalism without presumption that someone’s going to start killing the Jews to be appealing.
(I’m a nationalist for pretty much every nation at the smallest possible unit. A Courlandian nationalist, for example. The smaller the unit, the more interesting and easier it is to govern well.
I’ve always thought it telling that nationalistic-fascism took hold only in nations that were trying to cobble together a bunch of real nations into one big nation. That sort of unification is really hard, and unnatural, and in my opinion not really nationalistic – it’s unnatural nationalism, if you will.
By the way, this is why I find white nationalism so unappealing. There’s no nation of “white.” The idea that Italians and Swedes should share a nation is silly. This proposal in Switzerland seems totally reasonable to me, but it would be silly in any more diverse society, even one that was racially homogenous.)
I think Collier ultimately fails in his attempt to have a reasoned discussion on the issue. He’s so afraid that by not staking out the extreme pro-immigration position he’ll be considered a racist that he casts too much dispersion on those who might support his cause and he misses some of the most important arguments against immigration. The pro-unlimited-migration side are “progressives” while the anti-unlimited-immigration side are “xenophobes,” for example.
Another example will help. At one point Collier says:
Somewhere in England an elderly man reverts to the behavior of disaffected teenagers and daubs a slogan on the wall. He writes “England for the English.” The perpetrator is tracked down by the police and rightly prosecuted and convicted: the sentiment is clearly intended as racial abuse.
Note here that Collier is fine with criminalizing speech that is offensive to some unspecified (perhaps not even protected) group.
Yet in another part of the book, Collier notes that when the English tried to define Englishness in a non-racial way (at that point, I guess he forgot his DNA analysis that I quoted above) they relied on ideas like . . . wait for it . . . free speech.
So, if free speech is essentially English and also incompatible or intolerable in a society with significant immigration, something has to give. The entire multicultural viewpoint and associated criminalization of opinion is going to have to change for immigration to accelerate. If it doesn’t we’ll all be thought criminals.
Collier should be applauded for trying to re-frame this debate from the absurd state that it is in. There is indeed a more nuanced view than seeing the whole debate as one between the morally righteous (advocates of unfettered immigration) and the racist (advocates of anything other than unfettered immigration). The applause should be pretty half-hearted though.