Wall the troubles of the world: Why immigration works
Despite our very own unemployment and poverty, we’d do well to turn the influx of foreigners to our advantage
Globalisation used to be all the rage, and for good reason. Cross-border trade, and the accompanying flows of goods and services and capital and people and ideas, seems to have done the world economy the world of good. All the right trends have been upwards, fuelling growth in trade and world GDP. That is until the return of protectionism, until the election of Trump.
Ironically, the success of the US economy is largely attributable to European immigrants, fleeing from persecution in their home countries.
Protectionism and globalisation are clearly counter-forces. Although the effect is initially felt in trade, at some point the divide becomes wide enough to start murmurs of war.
Once the US chose to set aside the nuclear arms treaty, the Russian response was predictable. Never mind nuclear disarmament, Putin announced that Russia would start building previously banned weapons, and certainly wouldn’t be the first to engage on future nuclear arms control. At the limit, this schoolboy playground fight could end up in nuclear war. I doubt it, but the standoff threats are certainly enough to kill cross-border trade. If it comes to that, it really won’t matter who started it, the outcome will be devastating for everyone.
Is it worth the fight? No. Is migrant control such a big deal? Is it going to threaten world peace or economic prosperity? The numbers suggest quite the opposite. In a 2017 study by the population division of the United Nations, migrants comprise only 3.4% of the world population. Remarkably, though, another recent study found that foreign born workers contributed about 10% of annual global GDP – that’s almost a three times multiplier effect which creates jobs, even despite the fact a large proportion of immigrant earnings are repatriated.
The reasons behind this phenomenon seem obvious.
Migrants are desperate to leave their country of origin (usually because it’s a war zone or due to persecution based on race or religion or whatever other affiliation), to find a life for themselves and their children. Nothing will keep them out, least of all a primitive wall. The challenge is to find sensible rules that regulate who comes in, what they’re going to do once they get here, and how long they should be allowed to depend on the social safety net of the host nation.
They want to work. They’re just looking to work in a place where freedom of existence is possible, where some mad person isn’t in charge (you may well ask why they’d want to get into the US). They’re prepared to do the most menial of tasks, at any price (often below the minimum wage of the “host” nation). That’s part of the reason they’re not welcome. The locals don’t like it.
I come down on the side of South Africans first, and charity has to begin at home. But if the net economic impact of selectively allowing (if not inviting) people and skills into the country is going to improve the economy to the point that it creates net employment, then why not?
Anyone watching the Six Nations rugby contests over the weekend couldn’t help notice that the standard of northern hemisphere rugby is way ahead of where it was 10 years ago. What you also couldn’t help noticing is that not all positions in the national sides are filled with players born in the country they’re representing. If you look at Premiership Rugby in the UK, you’ll find a similar mix (with plenty of familiar SA surnames on the roll call) – it’s a professional sport, after all.
There are, of course, rules to qualify for playing under another national flag, and, for sure, there will be locals left out of the national team. Rugby fans are die-hard patriots, make no mistake, but they seem to accept the mix because they want to field the best side, to win the game. Sport has somehow always been able to show us a way through the off-field nonsense. A fair game, may the best side win.
Migrants aren’t going away. We already have our challenges at home, with the influx of foreigners from our less stable and prosperous neighbours. The rate of foreign immigrants is going to increase. We won’t stop it, but perhaps we could manage it, or even turn it into an opportunity. Despite our very own stark inequality, unemployment and poverty, we’d do well to turn the influx of foreigners to our advantage. Playing host to illegal immigrants is simply not an option.
Mark Barnes is CEO of the Post Office. He writes in his personal capacity.