23 August 2006

Immigration and Liberty

Chris Dillow complains that the debate over East European immigration is carried on entirely in terms of the harm or benefit to Britain, and not of the freedom of the immigrants.

I don't think this criticism is justified. I accept the idea that British government policy should be directed at the welfare of Britons, not of all humanity. This is a basic assumption of the system - it's why the government is elected specifically by British voters. Benefiting foreigners is, all things being equal, desirable, but it's a low priority, as indicated by such things as foreign aid.

Further, anything else would be unstable. Imagine for the sake of argument that allowing large numbers of Poles (or Chinese, or whoever) in is extremely detrimental to Britain. If we allow it anyway on the grounds of liberty, Britain would become weaker, poorer, and so on as a result. The benefit to the immigrants themselves would be limited. Therefore I think it is right that we assume that Poles, whyever they are put on Earth, should only be put in Luton that they might enrich the Brits.

To me, though not to most people, these aren't entirely separate questions. To me, things like liberty and privacy are good because they are generally beneficial, so I am not surprised when principled and pragmatic arguments agree.

Also, the anti-immigrant arguments in this debate are weak enough that I am happy to take them on on their own terms. Half a million Poles sounds like a lot, but I read recently there are almost as many French in Britain. There are better places to be on the dole than Britain - people come to Britain to work. The last round of panic was over the load on local authority services, which doesn't worry me in the slightest, firstly because they are so close to useless anyway that completely destroying them would constitute trivial harm, and secondly that, since the immigrants are working and paying taxes, there should be no problem once the bureaucracy has got its head round how many people there actually are in each area.

Finally, there is the track record of history. The claim that this wave of immigration is going to destroy society might seem plausible, but they always say that, and they always turn out to be wrong. They made as much fuss about the "Boat People", and you can hardly say now with a straight face that we couldn't have taken 10 times as many of them. Ditto Ugandan Asians.

I have the same attitude to Global Warming. People have been saying since the beginning of recorded history that our wealth and greed would cause us to be punished with natural disasters, and they've always been wrong so far. Climate simulation might have a bit more going for it than the "Angry God" model but one can say with one's eyes closed that, as with immigration, whatever rational basis there is for concern is going to get massively exaggerated, because it always does.

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