In a CNN special on immigration, Fareed Zakaria chose Canada as the model that he thinks is an example of success.
I want to join the conversation about immigration from a different angle, because while the discussion is fierce from both sides, it is highly ideological, and idealism, as well as emotion, seems to trump facts and logic.
From an economic point of view, the supporters of immigration are clearly in the driving seat when it comes to justifying their position, based on conventional economic theory. Usually, it is the political right that is blessed with an easy to explain position when it comes to economics. On this one, it is in fact the left that has a rare opportunity to shine.
The economic argument for having a robust inflow of immigrants, centers around demand side economics, which is in fact the most relevant side in our economy, despite what people on the right might claim. Demand is the true driver of economic activity. An inflow of immigrants can sustain demand for goods, especially where natural population growth is stunted as is the case in most of the western world. A good example of the benefits to a local economy derived from immigration is
, since the 2008 crisis. Demand for housing remained robust, despite the initial panic of 2008, which I have to admit surprised me, because I expected Canada Canada’s housing market to follow on the path of the . This underlying support, together with healthy government finances, kept US from experiencing the same fate as most of the rest of the western world. Canada
Aside from keeping demand going, it helps keep the population younger, since most who immigrate are young. Immigration also helps harness skills and abilities from other countries, which in today’s economy is crucial.
Alright then, it is settled. Immigration is good for us in the present and for our future!!!
Not so fast!!! There are also some downsides, which are harder to explain, but they are important to identify and deal with. Opponents of immigration struggle to formulate an effective argument against immigration. They try to use simple arguments, because they know from experience that arguments need to be kept simple and digestible. So the arguments they make tend to be weak and easily exposed as false.
The number one argument is that immigrants take jobs from the local population. This is false on many counts. Low skilled workers, who come to work certain jobs, really are taking jobs that not many locals would willingly take, especially given the wages. Take farm workers for instance. It is often back breaking work. I really don’t think there would be many Americans for instance who would be willing to pick melons in the summer heat, for minimum wage. I would pay money to see some fierce opponents of immigrants, such as Lou Dobbs, go and pick melons for a week, and then ask him whether he still thinks that the farm laborers, who worked along side him, took the jobs from Americans. There is of course an argument to be made that perhaps wages would rise if all the foreign farm laborers in a country like US were to be sent home, and then many Americans would be willing to take those jobs. We have to ask ourselves however what the resulting food inflation would do to the economy. As prices would go up drastically, it would cut into the income of the consumer, causing them to cut back on consuming everything else. The result would be catastrophic. We should also remember that an increase in population increases demand for goods and services, which will be met by offering people jobs to produce and sell those goods and services
There are of course many skilled immigrants who come on a student visa, or as skilled workers. On balance, it is hard to argue that these people are a net loss to the economy. Other countries put in the effort to educate them and teach them valuable skills, and then they go ahead and take those abilities somewhere else.
There are other arguments that the political right invokes to oppose immigration, such as: They are a burden on the social safety net. They feed the criminal networks, or create them as they come. The immigration system lets in too many Muslims who want to convert us, impose Sharia law, or behead us. Even the concept that they bring disease with them is often cited, as it was in the famous book “Alien Nation” written by Peter Brimelow. All these arguments are weak in my opinion. They are however in keeping with the desire of the political right to maintain a simple, straight forward argument, which can easily be understood and thus they hope it will catch on. They do not want to fall in the trap of the left, which is most often stuck with positions that require a great deal of analysis and explanation, except for immigration, as I mentioned.
The harder to explain downsides to Immigration:
I want to start by explaining that I do not necessarily want to talk about these negative side-effects of the current immigration trends in an effort to oppose immigration. I was born in
Europe, and I am now a Canadian citizen, so it is not as if I am some sort of nativist, who wants to call for everyone else to stay out. There are nevertheless many negative side-effects that come with the benefits of immigration, and since the pro-immigration left will not discuss this, while the right tends to shy away from anything that is too complex to explain, or contradicts with other aspects of their ideology, these issues have by default been left as orphans in our discourse. I will here address these negative aspects of immigration, which I believe should be talked about, not necessarily in order to promote an anti-immigration culture, but to recognize, be aware and address these problems.
The first aspect I want to discuss is the environmental aspect. Those who read my other works, might have noticed by now that most of what I write is dedicated to sustainability. One of the obvious facts is that as an immigrant comes to a developed country, from an underdeveloped country, that individual’s environmental footprint grows.
To get a sense of this, based on EIA data, someone who moves from
Romania, where I was born, to , on average increases his/her greenhouse gas emissions by almost four fold. Someone coming to the US from India, which is the case with Mr. Fareed Zakaria, will increase his/her emissions by about 15 times, and someone moving to Canada from Kenya will increase his/her emissions by over 50 times. Generally, the same people who support environmental issues also tend to be supportive of immigration. The main economic argument to support immigration is the benefit of gaining more consumers, and keeping the momentum going. Economics is a lot about momentum. Environmentalists however argue that we should consume less. So, as we can see, there is a real conflict of interests, which in typical left wing fashion, people choose to ignore, and pretend it does not exist. This fact can be recognized and used in many ways. We can choose to address it by encouraging more efficiency. We can choose to address it by deciding to lessen the interest of people to move to a country like Canada by addressing the problems that caused people to want to move in the first place, as well as addressing Canada’s economic addiction to immigration and population growth. One thing that should not be done, is to pretend that this issue does not exist. Canada
The next issue I want to address is a social one, which ends up affecting negatively the economy as well as individuals, through the promotion of values that we used to pretend that were unacceptable, yet little by little we came to accept. We think of ourselves as a society based on the principle of meritocracy. In other words, people are taken to their value, based on skill, not on who they are. Nepotism however is increasingly becoming the new acceptable norm, which we re-named as “networking”, and it is very harmful. The reason that immigration is not a positive in this respect, is because in a society where nepotism is king, ethnic based nepotism, which is increasingly prominent as many ethnic communities grow to more significant, and in some cases dominant levels, can serve to institutionalize it, and cause it to create in time, a social system, not unlike the caste system in India.
I have very little to offer in terms of hard data on this issue, because there are few studies done on it. I noticed however in
for instance that ethnic based nepotism in increasingly a prominent aspect of society. Chinese professors for example have a tendency to favor bringing into their research laboratories exclusively Chinese students and staff, to the detriment of the rest. Large communities tend to thrive in these circumstances, while smaller ethnic communities will find it harder to progress, leading to marginalizing of some. The native born Canadian society, with no strong ethnic ties, while prone to nepotism to some extent, based on friendships, does not play at the same level from my observation as some of the large ethnic communities do, leaving them at a net disadvantage. In other words, there will be a place for Chinese students or staff in a lab, or business run by a Canadian born individual with no strong ethnic ties, or someone born in Canada Europe, but we cannot always say that the reverse is true as well.
The harm done to the economy is great indeed, and in the absence of addressing this particular issue, it will get much worse. The net effect from an economic point of view is that we end up under-utilizing the workforce. In
Canada’s case, where immigration flows are currently dominated by a number of Asian countries such as India, China and the , this can eventually lead to a loss of social cohesion, and even conflict. Philippines
The last aspect I want to touch on is connected to the above issue somewhat, in that it is in part a result of
’s nepotism, which is increasingly becoming dominated by ethnicity based nepotism. There are also legal and cultural institutions that play a role. There is a segment of society that ends up taking it from all aspects on this issue, yet it is unpopular to talk about it and come to their defense. Like I said, ethnic based nepotism fills an increasingly large chunk of available positions. Then there is the friendship and kin based nepotism. A large chunk of jobs, especially in government and companies looking to gain contracts with the federal government, are filled based on gender or visible minority status. This all leaves a particular segment of Canada ’s population out in the cold. I am talking about lower to middle class white male Canadians, or recent white males coming from Canada Eastern Europe. They are discriminated against by law. They have little chance to rub elbows with established people who would help them, because they were born in the wrong family, and there is now the increasing trend of ethnic based nepotism, which keeps them out of an increasing number of avenues for a career, given that more and more people of different ethnic backgrounds control those avenues, and they will favor their own. Culturally speaking, there is little sympathy for this group of people. I still remember a conversation I heard between two girls more than a decade ago. They were basically saying that they do not feel all that much sympathy if they hear that a white man has been or is being discriminated against. This may not represent the actual opinion of the majority, but given the fact that they were discussing this in public, without anyone reproaching them for it, tells us just how acceptable it has become.
This discrimination will not show up in statistics, and there is a reason for that. Given
’s economic structure, there are plenty of well paying jobs that are being shunned by large segments of the population. I worked in construction for almost three years in Canada . During all that time, going to dozens of construction sites, I did not see a single Chinese worker. I met only one East Indian worker, who worked for a drywall company. These two ethnic groups combined make up over 10% of Winnipeg ’s population. Winnipeg
From my experience in Winnipeg, I can say that perhaps about 80% of construction workers in that particular town are white males, while they make up only about a quarter of the general population. Native Americans made up the second largest segment in the field. Like I said, these are jobs that pay better than average, thanks to the “dirty job” premium. From a statistical perspective, this actually shows on paper that there may be some wage inequalities and there may be some discrimination in
, in favor of white males. Statistics do not always tell the real story however. Canada
The reality is that many of the people working in this field are content to do so. I do not believe however that it is either fair, or good for
’s economy to limit career avenues for a large segment of the population to jobs that are available to them, only because most other people find it demeaning to get their hands dirty. My three year experience of working in construction also taught me the “surprising” fact that not all white males have a natural aptitude for construction. Same goes for other jobs that pay very well in Canada , but are dirty, and often requires people to forego the opportunity to have a normal family life, such as mining in remote areas. Maybe some of them may have an aptitude for working in diplomacy, but they will never get their foot through the door. Some may have an aptitude for research, but an increasing number of laboratories are run by people who prefer their own ethnic kin. Canada
There are many other things that can go on the list of things that people should know about the negative aspects of
’s immigration system. Fareed Zakaria correctly pointed out that Canada attracts a large number of skilled and educated people through the points system. Most immigrants will tell you however that their skills end up being under-utilized for many years, or even permanently, because while the points system recognizes their skills, the law and the labor market does not. It is true that thanks to demand from a high influx of immigrants, Canada ’s housing market never suffered a downturn. Canadians however earn no more than their neighbors to the south, yet they pay twice as much for housing (average price of houses sold is $375,000, as of May). This leaves many young people unable to start a family, leaving Canada even more dependent on immigration in order to increase its population, or even to keep it from declining. Canadian families are also now more indebted than Americans were in 2007, right before all hell broke loose. Canada
Immigration also has a negative side-effect for many of the countries that provide the immigrants. In the region of Eastern Europe there is a real danger of many countries such as
Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, , suffering a complete demographic collapse. The population of Moldova for instance declined from 23.5 million in 1990, to 19 million in 2011. Immigration is responsible for the most part, because Romania Romania had one of the youngest populations in Europe in 1990, so the ratio of births to deaths only started having a major negative impact in the last five years or so. This is something we have never seen in modern history, so we are not sure what to expect. My guess is that we are looking at a serious danger of major defaults in the region in the next few decades. If the current situation in taught us anything, it would have to be that the global financial system can easily be shaken to its core by even small countries or regions that may face difficulties. The more interconnected we become, the more complex the global economic system becomes, and the danger of systemic risks increases correspondingly. Greece
Countries that do have a positive population growth rate also tend to be countries that have very few people of superior knowledge and skills. Countries like
Pakistan lose their engineers and other skilled people to countries like . Many of them end up driving cabs or delivering pizza for many years, before they manage to get certified to work in their field, if it ever happens for them at all. This means that from a global perspective, we end up under-utilizing the workforce of the “global village”. Canada
A comment Fareed Zakaria tried to make that
is under-populated, and in need of emigrants for that reason, I have to strongly disagree with. It is the world overall which is overpopulated, and study after study has been warning us that this is not sustainable. In the case of Canada , at this point as the population grows, it is in fact leading to urban sprawl, at the expense of farmland and natural habitat. Canada
We could continue digging further, and we would find many other downsides to
’s immigration policy, as I’m also sure that I overlooked many of the positive aspects. The important thing is to remember that we should not shy away from discussing every aspect of it, whether good or bad. When there are negative side-effects, it is important to identify and deal with them, before they deal with us. We have to forget the left/right narrow box that such topics get confined in, because it is harmful, as is the case with every other problem they hijack and use for their political battles. It is our fault that we let ourselves get caught up in it. Canada