Polly Toynbee thinks that immigration is bad for low-skilled British workers:
Globalisation does not apply to the service sector, where 20 million people work. It is a term used to disguise the hard truth that GDP growth is irrelevant to those who don’t share in it. GDP per capita is a meaningless statistic that pretends all wealth is equally shared. Class-blind economics conveniently celebrates growth even when it enriches the well-off at the expense if the low-paid.
Ms Toynbee was writing in response a new Social Market Foundation pamphlet by Conservative MP John Bercow, called Incoming Assets: why Tories should change policy on immigration and asylum. I can’t find the pamphlet online, but you can read his article in the Independent. He says
Ministers must reiterate that economic migration is not a burden but an indispensable feature of a successful trading nation.
I have written the following letter to the Guardian – I have no idea if it will be published:
Polly Tonybee reports a fragile consensus that is emerging across the spectrum of mainstream politics that there would be economic benefits from a more open immigration policy (Of course the wealthy want an immigration free-for-all, October 11, 2005). Ms Toynbee is concerned about the impact on British workers.
In the nineteenth century, well-meaning people tried to protect jobs by resisting the use of machines. The Luddites were wrong: as mechanization replaced manual labour, there was still plenty of work left to do; and we have all shared in the higher standard of living that increased productivity brought about. Migration is no more a threat to jobs than was the introduction of the steam engine. Allowing workers to move to where their skills are valued makes us all richer. This is not just textbook economics: careful studies of the evidence both in the UK and the US find that immigration raises wages of both native and foreign workers.
Even if, despite the evidence to the contrary, the wages of some workers were depressed by migration, it would not follow that we should close our borders. The proper response would be to redistribute the overall benefits so that everyone shares in the rising prosperity that results. Ms Toynbee also ignores the huge benefits to the migrants themselves, and the transformative impact remittances can have on their families at home.
Sometimes we face a quandary about how much we should be willing to sacrifice to help others more in need. On this issue there is no such dilemma: we would be better off ourselves, and we would help the world’s poor, by relaxing restrictions on economic migration.
(I didn’t bother to respond to Ms Toynbee’s idea that globalization does not apply to the service sector: try telling that to call-centre workers, data entry operatives and software engineers competing with companies in India and China. And what about the hospitals offering cosmetic surgery in South Africa?).
If you want more explanation and evidence you might want to take a look at:
- Chris Dillow at Stumbling and Mumbling
who makes many of the same points as my letter – in particular, highlighting the likelihood that wages will increase, not fall, as a result of increased migration.
- This report by the Performance and Innovation Unit
on the social impact of migration – which finds that migration has had positive effects both on growth and on growth per capita. A one per cent increase in the population through migration is associated with an increase in GDP of between 1.25 and 1.5 per cent.
- This Home Office report
on the effects on the local labour market of immigration in the UK, which finds that there is no strong evidence that immigration has any large adverse effects on employment prospects or wages of existing residents.
- This new NBER working paper by Ottaviano and Peri looking at the impact of immigration in the United States, which finds that immigration generates a large positive effect on the average wages of U.S.-born workers. (Hat tip: Tyler Cowen)
- This paper by David Card here at Berkeley, which finds that there is no evidence that immigrants have harmed the opportunities of less educated natives. (Hat tip: Chris Dillow)
And finally: hasn’t John Bercow come a long way in a short time? If I remember rightly, he was once secretary of the Monday Club "Immigration and Repatriation Committee". (Really.) Good for him for having the guts to change his mind.