What if the immigration debate ended but nobody noticed?

There is no difference between the parties now. I know that sounds like the hyperbole of a political try-hard, but I think it’s true. In the early 2000s Labour solved the problem of asylum seekers and it took everyone a long time to realise. At some point in the last few years the problem of European migration was solved and people still haven’t noticed. The rhetoric will vary but the UK’s immigration policies for the next generation are set. Unless the UK leaves Europe we know what immigration policy is going to look like. 


In the early late 1990s, southeastern Europe tore itself apart and refugees started to appear in the UK. Labour passed lots of laws that stripped refugees of their rights. It worked, but Labour get little praise for their achievement.The numbers of asylum seekers in the UK sank from 84,130 in 2003 to under 20,000 from 2009 onwards. The asylum seeker question is settled. They should be prevented from arriving, but if they make it here we don’t let them work, give them the worst housing and £5.23 a day each for food, sanitation and clothing.

Asyum UK

Despite the number of refugees staying high globally, Labour successfully helped the UK dodge its internationally responsibilities towards the world’s refugees. Labour don’t get any thanks from the Tories or Lib Dems but everyone is a Blairite now when it comes to asylum policy. There are no suggestions we weaken sanctions or accept more refugees, the matter is dead. All eyes are on the politics of European migration.

Refugees Global

In 2004 the UK, Ireland and Sweden opened their borders to the A8 ex-communist states, the rest of Europe waited to see what happened. We received not 10,000s of migrants as predicted, but 100,000s. Just as the asylum problem was “solved” a new front opened. Europe, specifically poor Eastern Europe, is the political problem and as John Rentoul points out, there’s very little between the main parties on migration. At Question Time on Thursday Rachel Reeves and Michael Heseltine both banally agreed it had been a mistake to let in the Poles.

Just as the asylum problem was solved and nobody noticed so has the problem of European migration. If in 2017 we vote to leave the European Union then we will see a drop in migration. Much more likely though is us staying in Europe and accession states having their free movement restricted. How this policy will manifest is difficult to predict but each party will follow a similar line. Migration will stay in the low 100,000s because the UK, for all its faults, is much better than most other places and we won’t leave the EU. Asylum Refugees will remain betrayed and politically unimportant and non-EU migrants will remain able to move here for family reasons or if they’re rich, well educated and have a corporate sponsor.

People will keep moaning about immigration, but “Europe and immigration” now means “what do we do with Ukraine and Turkey.” Geopolitically Europe wants them in their sphere of influence but don’t want to deal with over 100 million new European citizens. On immigration the parties are agreed. On geopolitics too they want Turkey and Ukraine to be in the European sphere of influence. Managing this will be a huge challenge but its a very different immigration debate to the one we’ve been having for a decade and a half. That debate is over but I’m not sure anybody has noticed.


The Tories are very good at controlling our border

So are the Labour Party. In fact, the British state is excellent at controlling our border, if you mean keeping people out. They are so secure that word has got around and most people don’t even bother trying to get in. Berghain has a reputation for exclusivity, but it is nothing like as selective as the British state.

One of Parliament’s least pleasant anti-immigrant, anti-science libertarians published this earlier:

Climate change denial aside, the comment on controlling our borders really rankled. Sure, lots of people have moved to the UK in the last decade, but a lot less than would like to. Douglas Carswell is pretty deluded if he thinks it’s only Poles, Bulgarians and Romanians who want to move to the UK.

Gallup conducted a survey in 2007. Doubtless it’s a little out of date now, but it’s still useful. They asked where people would live if they could live anywhere in the world. They constructed a representative data set and worked out how many people worldwide wanted to move where. The US came top, as you’d expect, and the UK came second. [1]


150 million people want to move the US and 45 million want to move the UK. That will be a conservative figure as some people would move the UK were it the only option realistically open to them.

So how many people actually make it into the UK? Well, to be fair I’ll use gross migration and include Brits who are just coming home. Net migration is the common figure, but it subtracts those leaving from the gross figures. I want to use the most upwardly biased figure possible. So, for good measure, I’ll take the gross number from Migration Watch: 503,000 by their reckoning.

45 million people want to move here (conservatively) and (as an upper bound) 503,000 actually did last year . That means every year just 1% of those who want to move the UK actually can and do. This figure isn’t meant to convince anyone who doesn’t already agree, but just so you know, anyone who says the British state can’t control its borders is a fucking idiot, Douglas Carswell included.


[1] If that fills you with dread rather than pride you’re a weirdo.

The Swiss are restricting immigration, but that doesn’t mean immigration restrictions are back

Switzerland just narrowly passed a referendum to restrict immigration. Prior to the 1990s Switzerland operated a quota system and many people could only work in the country for nine months before having to leave. Europeans have long enjoyed the right to live and work in Switzerland but it seems like a return to the old, more restrictive set-up is certain.

Switzerland is one of the most open countries in Europe. As a small manufacturing economy it has to be, it relies on trade, transport links and labour from the rest of Europe. Similarly, as a small country it has to import footballers. Say hello to the new Swiss national squad.


I don’t have any intention to live or work in Switzerland nevertheless I find it sad when a country restricts the right of people to work. and live where and how they want. Its especially galling as the areas with least migration voted most strongly to restrict it. I don’t know much about p values but I know a sloped line when I see one.


There’s also a helpful map if that’s more you thing. The south of the country is Italian speaking and has lower (but still non-negligible) migrant populations. The west (Geneva) and north (Zurich) have lots of foreigners. Those with least experience with migrants voted to reimpose restrictions, those with the most experience voted to continue open European borders.


A similar pattern reproduces itself in the UK. Areas with the fewest migrants are the most likely to wish to see it curtailed. Those with the most neighbours from another country were the least likely to want to see further migration curtailed. The same pattern prevails in the US. If you presume migration is a bad thing this is counterintuitive. If you presume it is a good thing this makes perfect sense. I do have a graph, since you ask, here it is.


This isn’t just a historic thing, even in areas that saw the fastest change in the mid-2000s, the white british population were less likely to want to see immigration reduced. However, as you can see, less restrictionist is still quite restrictionist: more than half of the most sympathetic still want immigration reduced.

That’s from IPSOS-MORI’s excellent paper on perception and immigration. Enough meat there for everyone to find something of interest. Do stop reading my blog and download the pdf, I shan’t be offended. Bryan Caplan thinks more immigration is the answer to anti-migrant sentiment. Tyler Cowen thinks that plan has run its course. I’m not so sure.

A few tens of thousand swiss votes the other way and we would be having a different discussion. Until now Switzerland has been the most immigrant tolerant nation in the world – I don’t count Luxembourg, because, seriously, who does? It may have banned Minarets but it homes 300,000 Kosovan muslims.

Switzerland accepts an immigrant inflow equivalent to 1.5% of its population each year. The UK would have to accept double this number of gross migrants to even come close. Even with restrictions Switzerland is likely to accept levels of migration well above the rich country norm. Good for the Swiss. Three cheers for them, even now.

Prisoners, pensioners, death

What the above, possibly slightly fuzzy, graph shows is that immigrants who arrived over 40 years ago (the second column from the left) are about as anti-immigrant as the Brits are on average (the far left column). This is good news in a way. Since it goes to show that sooner or later immigrants to assimilate. Of course, the bad news is that they end up just like us.

Perhaps slavs are more cosmopolitan than Jamaicans, but this just shows older people become more reactionary as they age and that become tend to become more like their peers. In this country that means being anti-immigrant, even if you’re an immigrant. The cognitive dissonance is worth it to fit in and have something to moan about. I empathise, I really do.

You might realise it, but this segues nicely into the government’s incredible plan to introduce prison sentences of 100 years of more in place of life sentences. The sentences need replacing because the European Court of Human Rights has told them life sentences without parole are no longer legal. To skirt this the Coalition are proposing a technical fix in which nothing changes.

Somebody needs to tell the coalition that being technically right only matters at a pub quiz. I’m not a lawyer, but I have a feeling being technically right will enamour them to the ECtHR in the same way being technically right will enamour you to your family in a Trivial Pursuit game at Christmas.

The link is that people change and people die and that by the time you’ve reached old age there isn’t a lot of the young you left.I’m glad Noah Smith has written this, because I had the same idea, but he’s written it up in a much better way than I ever could. Change is death. I’m not much like I was 10 years ago, and I will probably be as different again in 10 more. He writes that this means that there’s not much to fear in dying one day, because you already have. But this view of the world makes dying in prison all the more terrifying.

The man who dies after decades in prison isn’t the same one who murdered another, because they died long before them. If you’re an old Jamaican immigrant you complain about scroungers to your #hardworking Bulgarian nurse and look silly. Under the coalition’s proposed plans, if you’re a prisoner then your old body and older mind will be locked up for good. I can find no solace or justice in that.

Stop LGBTQ campaigner being deported to Russia

Via Stavvers, who I’m pretty much just going to repost.  Find your MP’s contact details here and use this  model letter as a minimum. It will take you under a minute. Other options follow in Stavvers post:

Irina Putilova is a Russian LGBTQ activist. She fled the country and sought asylum here in the UK because the persecution of queer people and activists in Russia put her in danger.

Unfortunately, UKBA do not want Ira to be safe from imprisonment, from raids and state harassment, from attacks. Yesterday, she was taken to Yarl’s Wood–the detention centre which deported a witness to institutional sexual abuse. She risks deportation within days, and it is very likely that she will be imprisoned indefinitely if she is sent back to Russia.

Ira’s case is complex, and it is thoroughly inappropriate to fast-track sending her back into danger, even by the standard of the skewed and violent rules created by abusive xenophobes.

There are some things you can do which could help Ira and persuade the government not to send a queer person into a situation which could endanger her life. Please share her story, and make sure it is visible. Ask journalists to cover what is happening. You can also write to your MP asking them to make a statement in support of Ira–there’s a model letter here, and you can get your MP’s contact details here. Tomorrow–the 8th–there will be a solidarity demo at 6pm outside the UKBA offices at London Bridge, which you might like to attend.

And finally, remember that what is happening to Ira is sadly far from unusual. The immigration system is racist, and exploits intersecting oppressions. You might like to become active in “No Borders” work to try to end this system once and for all.

No person is illegal. Ira must stay.

People who have died a violent death in UK immigration detention centres

Posted without comment.

People who have died a violent death in UK immigration detention centres (*suicide) Siho Iyugiven (27), 5/10/89*, Kurdish, Harmondsworth Kimpua Nsimba (24), 15/6/90*, Zairean, Harmondsworth Robertas Grabys (49), 24/1/00* Lithuanian, Harmondsworth Mikhail Bognarchuk (42), 31/1/03*, Ukrainian, Haslar Olga Blaskevica (29) 7/5/03, Latvian, Harmondsworth Elmas Ozmico (40) 12/7/03, Kurdish, in hospital from Dover Kabeya Dimuka-Bijoux, 1/5/04, DRC, Haslar Sergey Baranyuk (31) 19/7/04*, Ukrainian, Harmondsworth Tran Quang Tung (35), 23/7/04*, Vietnamese, Dungavel Kenny Peter (24) 7/11/04*, Nigerian, in hosptial from Colnbrook Ramazan Kumluca (18), 27/6/05*, Kurdish, Campsfield Manuel Bravo (35), 15/9/05*, Angolan, Yarl’s Wood Bereket Yohannes (26), 19/1/06*, Eritrean, Harmondsworth Eliud Nguli Nyenze (40), 15/4/10, Kenyan, Oakington Muhammed Shuket (45), 2/7/11, Pakistani, on way to hospital from Colnbrook Brian Dalrymple (35), 31/7/11. Colnbrook Ianos Dragutan, (31), 2/8/11*, Moldovan, Campsfield Khalid Shahzad, (52), 30/3/12, Pakistani, on train from Colnbrook Alois Dvorzac, (84), 10/4/12. Canadian, in hospital from Harmondsworth Prince Kwabena Fosu, (31), 30/10/12, Ghanaian, Harmondsworth Tahir Mehmood, (43), 26/7/13, Pakistani, Pennine STHF Remembering also Joy Gardner (40), 28/7/93, Jamaican, killed by police while being deported Jimmy Mubenga (46), 12/10/11, Angolan, killed by G4S guards on BA flight (via Close Campsfield)

People who have died a violent death in UK immigration detention centres (*suicide)

Siho Iyugiven (27), 5/10/89*, Kurdish, Harmondsworth

Kimpua Nsimba (24), 15/6/90*, Zairean, Harmondsworth

Robertas Grabys (49), 24/1/00* Lithuanian, Harmondsworth

Mikhail Bognarchuk (42), 31/1/03*, Ukrainian, Haslar

Olga Blaskevica (29) 7/5/03, Latvian, Harmondsworth

Elmas Ozmico (40) 12/7/03, Kurdish, in hospital from Dover

Kabeya Dimuka-Bijoux, 1/5/04, DRC, Haslar

Sergey Baranyuk (31) 19/7/04*, Ukrainian, Harmondsworth

Tran Quang Tung (35), 23/7/04*, Vietnamese, Dungavel

Kenny Peter (24) 7/11/04*, Nigerian, in hosptial from Colnbrook

Ramazan Kumluca (18), 27/6/05*, Kurdish, Campsfield

Manuel Bravo (35), 15/9/05*, Angolan, Yarl’s Wood

Bereket Yohannes (26), 19/1/06*, Eritrean, Harmondsworth

Eliud Nguli Nyenze (40), 15/4/10, Kenyan, Oakington

Muhammed Shuket (45), 2/7/11, Pakistani, on way to hospital from Colnbrook

Brian Dalrymple (35), 31/7/11. Colnbrook

Ianos Dragutan, (31), 2/8/11*, Moldovan, Campsfield

Khalid Shahzad, (52), 30/3/12, Pakistani, on train from Colnbrook

Alois Dvorzac, (84), 10/4/12. Canadian, in hospital from Harmondsworth

Prince Kwabena Fosu, (31), 30/10/12, Ghanaian, Harmondsworth

Tahir Mehmood, (43), 26/7/13, Pakistani, Pennine STHF

Remembering also

Joy Gardner (40), 28/7/93, Jamaican, killed by police while being deported

Jimmy Mubenga (46), 12/10/11, Angolan, killed by G4S guards on BA flight

(via Close Campsfield and Alex Marsh)

Here’s how you work out how many Bulgarians and Romanians are coming to the UK next year

bulgaria-romaniaConcluding his piece Tom Harris says “No one any longer believes government estimates of how many are likely to come here anyway.” No wonder when our elected representatives refuse to explain why the government was wrong in the past. Instead of publicising pieces attacking migrants MPs like Tom should be educating the public. Instead it is going to fall to me.

The original sin of the last decade’s immigration debate is that UK governments have purposefully underestimated the number of expected immigrants. This persistent myth acts as a golden thread connecting immigrant bashing in the same way as youcan’teventalkaboutit, flood metaphors and the same persistent negative stereotypes.

In 2004 eight ex-communist states joined the EU. Their democratisation has been one of the crowning achievements of the European project and to the UK’s eternal credit as principled liberal democracy the UK was one of the few countries not to impose immigration restrictions on these A8 countries.

Christian Dustmann was the lead author on the now infamous Home Office report which predicted an average annual net immigration of 5,000-13,000 from these A8 countries. Needless to say the report wasn’t very accurate. It massively underestimated the pent up demand of Poles to search for a better life and poorly predicted the behaviour of other EU states. It did so because it lacked good data. Tom Harris is happy to pretend we still don’t know what’s going to happen, but that’s not true.

According to ONS data, annual net immigration of A8 nationals during 2005-06 was 66,000, more than four times higher than predicted. But according to data from the Worker Registration Scheme that was set up in May 2004, the average annual number of A8 workers registering for employment during 2005-06 was 216,000, almost three times the ONS figure because the ONS excludes people staying for less than a year.

This is what happened. In 2004 73 million Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles, Czechs, Slovakians, Hungarians and Slovenians gained access to the labour markets of the UK, Ireland and Sweden, a combined population of 74 million. Those were the only three countries to open their doors to their new democratic neighbours, something which Dustmann did not anticipate.

Next year the 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians will be allowed access to the combined labour markets of Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Malta, Spain, The Netherlands and the UK, a total of 293 million people.

The average GDP per capita of these counties in 2004 was $8,300, ranging from $6,000 in Latvia to $16,000 in Slovenia. Today Romania’s GDP per capita is $8,000 and Bulgaria is a little poorer at $7,000. The obvious conclusion from these stats will jump out at anyone, January 1st will be a non-event. Half as many people will get access to a labour market four times the size.

Although the UK jobs market is still depressed and in a worse state than Germany’s it is in a better state than southern Europe. A back of the fag packet prediction with much better data and assumptions can get us a realistic picture of what will happen in January. If we had a 200,000 person increase in migration from A8 accession migrants we’ll see an eighth of this.

Conservatives and Labour know they can make hay from immigration. Although they’re both terrified of the public on the subject they know that there are votes in immigration baiting. There’s not much in the numbers and that’s why some in Labour are picking on Roma and David Cameron is reannouncing old immigration policies as new.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that we’ll get between 20,000 and 30,000 more people a year from Romania and Bulgaria coming to work in the UK.  This is a lot less precise but a lot more accurate than anything else you will hear on the topic. Don’t let the scaremongers win on this one.

Why people should just admit they want some foreigners to die

Ben Cobley makes a good point that far too much of the immigration debate focuses on facts when what really matters is how people feel. Earlier this week we had a report published that showed that European migrants paid more in tax than they claimed in benefits. As I said, perhaps uncharitably, on twitter:

Excuse my French, but as Ben says this is about feelings not facts. Precisely no people will change their mind due to this report and precisely no useful arguments were had on twitter as a result. The whole debate could be better framed. It would save Jonathan Portes his health at least if he could just admit that people don’t care about the facts. After all, there’s grist to everyone’s mill here.

Ben points out that between “1995 and 2011, immigrants from non-EEA countries claimed more in benefits than they paid in taxes.” Now this doesn’t surprise me after all a large number of these people will be asylum seekers who were banned from working or are children. We’re straying towards facts here. Which I concede isn’t that useful. But I’ll just conclude that children and those banned from working are likely to be a drain on  the public purse, but not terminally so.

Anyway, Ben is sympathetic to migration but still thinks that with Britain’s population possibly rising by 9.6 million to 73.3 million by 2037 we should be enforcing strict limits on further migrants to give time for existing migrants to integrate. I’m not going to discuss the merits of this plan, I want to talk about how I feel and how I think other people feel.

The status quo is that a small number of migrants are allowed to enter the UK but that most people in the world are kept poor or persecuted. “Most of us do not merely let people starve, but also participate in starving them” as Thomas Pogge says. Undoubtedly, more immigration would help solve this problem. And that’s where my emotional response begins. But most people are unmoved by this argument, in fact they pretend it doesn’t exist.

This apparent callousness is okay. People support policies that cause pain and suffering on a huge scale. That’s normal. All I want is for people to admit it openly. Yes, I think the immigration debate in this country is boring but not because my side call too many people racists (although that’s unhelpful). It is because restrictionists refuse to make the honest argument “this many million people must suffer on my behalf.” 

So I guess that’s how I feel. People support policies that will kill people. Lots of people. I don’t think they’re bad people for wanting that. They’re normal people. I don’t want to go through life thinking 99% of people are evil: why would I bother with politics if humanity was so unredeemably awful? But I’d like to see some admission that there’s a trade off. Some people must die or live in drudgery and cholera so that I can feel a certain way. 

You shouldn’t set policy so that people are expected to behave like superheroes. We can expect someone to pull a drowning girl out of a lake, but not to give up their day job to become a free range lifeguard. The same is true of immigration. Leaving people alone is a heroic act and people feel justifiably odd admitting that. That’s the real reason our debate around immigration involves people shooting facts back at one another. It’s a smoke screen because some things are too horrible to say.

Why the coalition won’t tear itself apart over evidence based policy

It continues. It intensifies! This time its interdepartmental rather than stroppy bloggers attacking IDS. The Foreign Office is getting stuck into Theresa May (alternative). There is a view within the Home Office that there is electoral gold in them thar hills of health tourism and immigrants squeezing local services, but they’re having difficulty turning up any evidence to support their policy. As one government official put it…

..Ms May is frustrated that the evidence she has received “doesn’t fit the Home Office view”, adding: “Theresa wants to go big on impact of immigration on local services and health tourism and the reality is there is very little evidence to demonstrate this. There is a political view from May’s people, but this report has to be evidence-based.”

The evidence she has received doesn’t fit the Home Office view. What a wonderful vignette of official thinking. Anyway, this is all around a report being prepared by the Home Office for the FCO on the negative impact of free movement in European on the UK. Problem is they can’t really find any…

Health tourism is really very small. Figures like from 2% to 0.06% of the NHS budget are bandied about, the official views of the right and left. The first figure is so ludicrous I remain a little convinced that much of the right is engaged in an elaborate performance piece and they’re on the verge of yelling “The Aristocrats!” The other figure might be a bit on the small side but it corresponds to 40,000 people or so, which is at least the right ballpark.

Anyway, the battles between different government departments are fun to watch. Hopefully the FCO will win in this one and the Home Office will have to tone down its rhetoric and adopt slightly less disastrous policies. Luckily we’re at the point where the coalition’s deficit fighting zeal might help poor people.

We’re well below the optimum level of immigration for debt reduction. This is the officialish position as set out by the Office of Budget Responsibility. More immigrants means more workers means more taxpayers means a bigger denominator on the debt to GDP ratio. There’s also the clusterfuck around preventing foreign students studying in the UK as discussed by Paul Sager (Yes! Really!) here. If the FCO can help wear down May’s position then both of these policies could be reversed in the name of fiscal rectitude.

I’m not arguing that there is any coherent pro-evidence based policy putsch in action, just that evidence based policy is a tool of actually existing politics not a new approach to politics.

The Immigration Bill: privatising the police state

As John says, there was never any chance of the Tories being the doyens of civil liberties. Carrying an ID card or being locked up for 42 days is bad enough, but at least Labour weren’t asking Serco or your landlord to do it.

Today’s immigration bill (the eight in 18 years incidentally, it takes a lot of legislative effort to be a soft touch), will make it harder for immigrants to set up home in the UK. Of course, since you can’t actually recognise an immigrant instantly it will make it harder for everyone to set up home in the UK (if you can afford a home, that is).

The Bill empowers jobsworths to check driving licence applicants for immigration status. That means more wasted times for all motorists. The Tories also want to clamp down on “sham” marriages or civil partnership (gays too!). That’s means more forms to fill out for everyone getting married. They’ll also require banks to check against a database of known immigration offenders before opening bank accounts. Want to know the false positive rate? Well think about how often your bank fucks up….Yep.

The Bill will push us ever so slightly further towards a police state. Combined with the new police powers to detain strange looking men potential sex offenders we are heading towards a system where private citizens and companies will be asking you for your papers and the police can control your life for a lot longer than 42 days.

The onslaught against immigration is not only a backdoor to a more generalised oppression. It also forms a vital pillar of the Tories economic policy to fuck up all the countries industries which are not housing and high finance, The suppression of migrants has had an awful impact on universities. Foreign students generate export income, help subsidise UK ones and support our university’s status as international centres of research excellence. Way to go guys!

You all know I care about immigrants, I haven’t even come to how these measures will impact them yet. Surprise! It’s going to affect them badly. I’ll come to them later. At the moment just enjoy the prospect of being asked for your papers so more people can die at our borders.

Update: This is good. The hate is pure:

And this immigration bill really is contemptible. Politics is often a question of signalling and what this bill signals, alas, is that the government prefers the presumption of guilt to the presumption of innocence. It is a bill that turns ordinary Britons into snitches for central government. A bill that will make life more inconvenient for millions of residents while, almost certainly, achieving few, if any of its aims. A bill, most of all, that sends a message that the United Kingdom is a bitter, paranoid, timorous, small-minded kind of country. The kind of country ruled by the kinds of people who spend their days leaving comments on newspaper websites.

The end of growth, open borders, feeling pessimistic

I was thinking about economic growth, as you do, and I got really optimistic about how quickly people’s lives can change for the better, in decades not generations, then I got sad because I’m not sure that will last.

There have been lots of growth miracles. First was the UK, which moved from about zero annual per capita growth to 1% at the start of the 19th century (that’s the real miracle, btw, sod China). Then there was Germany which went to 2% at the end of the nineteenth century. Japan got up to 6% in the middle of the 20th century, Korea got towards 8% a year and at the start of this century China was clocking in at 10%.

The living standards for people living in the UK in 1870 were only marginally less miserable than those alive in 1770. And industrialisation had introduced whole new classes of misery. Incomes had more than doubled over a century, but people were still dirt poor. Generations saw change slowly. In China people see change quickly. The same generation of people is twice as wealthy as they used to be and before they retire they’ll be at least twice as wealthy again.

If this keeps but only a handful countries or so begin real catch up growth each year, in a generation we’ll have no more poverty. Plus those last few people who are in poverty will see their income double every couple of years. I know how good a 5% raise feels, imagine 50% wage growth, which is entirely realistic under the above assumptions. It would suck to be poor so long, but it would be awesome (in the proper sense of the word) to see your world change for the better so rapidly.

On my cycle home, I began to think those assumptions were just wrong. 

Manufacturing drives convergence. There’s very convincing evidence that productivity in manufacturing catches up with first world levels quickly regardless of policy. Services, resource extraction, farming just do not have the same kick to them. This is why our list of miracles features exporters.

Sadly manufacturing employment is declining worldwide. I say sadly, but this is good, because factory work is famously dull, arduous and monotonous. Not that being an office drone is a lot better, but at least its easier to tweet at a desk. Even in China manufacturing jobs are being lost as productivity surges ahead.

It is sad because as manufacturing declines there will be fewer factories in the developing world and this will decrease growth. Employment isn’t the best metric, but a similar trend is visible in value add for manufacturing. We want more services as we get richer. But services don’t help pull people out of poverty.

Added to this is a change in how we manufacture. At the moment clusters of factories in certain locations make stuff and send it to you. 3D printing will disintermediate this process and stuff will be made just where you are. This will lead to more investment in labour-free manufacturing in the west (where the money is) and less investment in transport to the global south (where the cheap labour is).

Where does this leave Africa, which is destined by history to develop last?

It is destined to be the continent most reliant on offering service exports because manufacturing will continue to shrink. India has shown there is a market for overnight service, doing paralegal work and admin while the wealthy west sleeps. But most services and admin need doing while people are awake. This means that due to timezones Africa will have to do business with Europe. A Europe which is going to get a bit richer and a lot older. This is not a recipe for a vibrant export market.

This means that Africa is still fucked, my dream of someone waking up on day a Lesotho farmer and quadrupling their income in a decade is receding. We need to look back to the 19th century. Migration improved more lives in the 19th century than automation did. Moving to where the work was or the land was plentiful was how people got on.

It is fashionable to say that we can have open borders, but not until the poor are richer. We will be flooded. But we may be heading for a world where the poor stay poor because there is no wage we can employ them at that distance. The only option will be to watch them suffer and wring our hands or let them come here and open a nail salon. An easy choice right? They haven’t got a chance. 

Comparing discussion of immigration in the 1970s and mid-2000s: It isn’t pretty

A propos Ralph, I thought it would be timely to post this. I’ve blown the dust off my old, old university laptop and pulled this from the archive for you, Written about 6 years ago, but it holds up pretty well. Sadly.  Views are probably still my own, but I haven’t read the damn thing in years so considered criticism will be welcome. Enjoy:

Continue reading

I’m going to #GiveDirectly to poor people, you should too

Give Directly

Every month I’ll be donating $50 to some of the poorest people in the world. I won’t be visiting them in sandals to build them a school or supporting some egocentric project I think they need. I’ll just be sending money directly to poor people. This sounds great to me.

GiveDirectly find poor households in Kenya and give them money to spend on whatever they think appropriate. A great audit of their work hase been done by Just Giving, who have rated Give Directly their number two charity worldwide. Some bitesize information for you:

  • The average recipient lives on only $0.65 a day and 18% of eligible households report having enough food for tomorrow.
  • 90% of donations donations go into the pockets of the recipients. I say pockets, I mean mobile banking account.
  • 10% of donations is spent on a phenomenally efficient search and payments infrastructure.
  • They use census data to select regions of Kenya with high poverty rates and villages within those regions with low-quality housing and access to an M-Pesa agent. M-Pesa is a mobile payments network operating in Kenya.
  • To identify poor people they find people who live in mud huts. Crude, but both cheap and effective.
  • They take the poor households’ phone numbers of give mobile phones to those who don’t have one.
  • They audit every single recipient to protect against fraud and mistakes.

There are complaints to be made against this form of charitable giving.

By only operating where M-Pesa operate it ignores the very, very poorest. This is fair comment, but I don’t see a way round it. And by operating in this way GiveDirectly are encouraging M-Pesa to expand their network so that eventually these people will be reached.

More fundamentally, Give Directly do nothing to deal with the systematic way poverty is recreated in the developing world. They don’t deal with unfair terms of trade, weak property institutions or immigration controls. That is true, but nobody really knows how to fix those problems. the people who might are currently too poor to do anything about it. A less poor populace is a more politically and economically active populace. Which will go some way towards fixing those problems.

Of course, if you think the main problem poor people have is they are workshy, or fecund, or criminal then this charity isn’t for you. You’re also an arsehole, why are you on my blog? I happen to think the main problem poor people face is a chronic lack of options. Money gives these people options. In surveys undertaken the vast majority spent some money on housing (iron sheeting), nearly half spent money on food, and not insignificant amounts were invested in farm and non-farm businesses.

Finally, the most common criticism is that poor people are irrational. I think the list of spending options above refute that pretty effectively. In fact savings rates for this free money is far higher than saving rates in the developed world. I happen to not mind if a non-zero part of the money donated goes on a big meal, or a party, or on some whisky. This is what I spend my money on. Poor people deserve to have fun too, even if it isn’t a “rational” use of money, they should be the judges.

This charity appeals to my priors. I think people without money need money. I also don’t like bureaucracies. I also don’t like the charitable trend to helping people who are doing alright. These people really are the poorest and they’re helped efficiently. Its scalable too, there are hundred of millions of people they could help in this way, so every pound, dollar or yen you donate will help.

So why don’t you give directly? Link here. There’s an FAQ here and a Just Giving write up and audit.

Free movement for rich white people

Boris might be talking diversionary shit as usual, but the idea that any American, Canadian, Australian, Kiwi etc have to get a visa to live or work in the UK is ridiculous.

It’s sweet that the powers that be don’t want to look racist by offering free movement to all these rich white people but they should. Not just whites obviously, any state with a GDP per capita at a similar level to ours should be granted free movement out of politeness. It’s mostly whites but a few arab and east asian city states would benefit too.

Getting people used to the idea of open borders is an important first step. It’s a pity that this is going to only help people who don’t need helping (irritating visa issues), but this seems like a useful step.

Another North/South Divide in the UK

BRIp_kuCcAAJg3vVia Mark Eaton, via Rick, here is the population growth I linked to earlier. Two things stand out. Growth in the dark blue bits are being driven by immigration (apart from Norn Iron where they’re just very fecund). There’s a massive north/south divide.

You’ll hear a lot more about the first than the second, but the second is a lot more interesting and a lot more worrying.


Replace “trans” with “foreigner” or “woman”

The bus that trans people were thrown under. Joke stolen from Stavvers.

The bus that trans people were thrown under. Joke stolen from Stavvers on twitter.

There’s an important coda to yesterday’s post. The poor and the vulnerable have often gotten ahead only by standing on the heads of those even worse off than themselves.

I’m not union bashing when I say that the growth of real job security post-war was at the cost of immigrants and women. Look at it this way. If it is harder to exit a job it is harder for everyone else to enter one. In a world where most working people are white, british born men that excludes women and immigrants.

There’s a reason that immigrants have been whitewashed out of the history of the labour movement. As Jamie says, it’s because a lot of rather awful things were done to them in the name of the labour movement, deportations were just part of it. We’re all rightly embarrassed, but it’s important to understand why it happened at all.

If you’re strong enough to organise and affect change then you’re probably not the most vulnerable. I’m not saying don’t organise, I’m saying check your privilege. [1] The victories won by the second worst off might help advance the worst off or they might not. It’s entirely situation dependent.

The victories won by the labour movement in the mid-20th century were spectacular. But they weren’t won by the weakest and they didn’t always benefit the most vulnerable, as Anna and Jamie’s pieces highlight. Thinking about this and yesterday’s post, a similar story can be told about the Equal Marriage Act.

Gay and lesbian people (and to a lesser extent bi people) have won a major victory. But trans people are still being discriminated against, despite everyone shouting about how we’ve passed “equal marriage.” That will rankle, and without the momentum of a much larger, more sympathetic, group behind them it will rankle for a lot longer.

For the LGB  bit what’s happening this week signposts the end of tolerance and the beginning of acceptance. David Cameron said (*cough* after me *cough*) that Tories should support gay marriage because its a conservative institution. He’s right. The gays have gone mainstream and this means a lot of trans people are getting left behind. Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident.


[1] I’m a historian, looking for bias in your sources (and your own thinking and writing) is just what you do. Is there even another option? I was shocked to see twitter erupt in displeasure over the phrase “check your privilege.” You have no other choice.

Short on outrage? Hate nuclear power? Like immigrants? Left wing?

Sellafield, the country’s premier nuclear waste dump (where they in fact do a lot of hard work clearing up the dangerous legacy waste from seven decades of research, generation and weapons making) have a new megacontract out:

The £1.1bn Sellafield Infrastructure Strategic Alliance (ISA) was signed in December 2012 and awarded to a joint venture between engineering, design and consultancy firm Arup and construction and regeneration group Morgan Sindall. Delivery of the contract begins in May 2013…The main contractors in this case operate on the basis of three renewable five-year terms.

That’s some serious money. Justifying spending that must require a pretty nuanced communications strategy, eh, Sellafield spokesman Karl Connor?

“The chances are [a firm on a two-year short term contract will] come in and build it, using migrant workers, and then leave when it’s built.  However, if they have a 15 year contract to help us across a wide range of similar pieces of work, they would be more likely to set up an office locally and invest in training local apprentices.”

I’m being a little unfair to Karl, but only a little. I think it’s pretty reprehensible to use anti-migrant sentiment in this way. It’s a cheap shot even if Sellafield are intimately tied to the people living in West Cumbria. It’s also a bit fucking rich considering its a US/British/French consortia running the show at Sellafield.

Q: How do we save Afghan interpreters? A: Nigel Farage

Afghan interpreters and their families who risked their lives working with British forces are now in danger of being denied asylum and being killed by the Taliban. The coalition are processing them on a case-by-case basis greatly increasing the chance that many will be killed before they can make it to safety.

Liberal Conspiracy, The Times, The Guardian, Paddy Ashdown and Avaaz are protesting this but I’m not sure that will work. So, I would like to make a submission to the bloggers’ logically coherent, counterintuitive, and never going to happen, policy institute.

Get Nigel Farage to help them.

The general arguments in favour of helping the Afghan interpreters runs like this:

  • Moral argument: they helped us, because of that their lives are in danger because of Taliban, therefore we should help them.
  • Noble argument: they helped us because we’re better than the Taliban, so we should help them to prove it.
  • Practical argument: they helped us and if we want others to help us in a similar way we should help them in an organised way.

The counterargument officially runs “it is better to deal with these things on a case-by-case basis,” but the real counterarguments runs  “the coalition have set themselves an arbitrary limit on immigration so we can’t let in lots of Afghan interpreters.”

The government is making everyone in the country poorer by stopping students coming here to study. If the cash cow that are Chinese students aren’t safe then what chance do poor Afghan’s have? Especially when the Tories are running from their UKIP/idiot-right faction

While I recommend you sign the Avaaz petition, I’m not sure protests from the usual suspects will work. The problem isn’t that our arguments are weak or that theirs are strong. Quite the opposite. Its that Afghan interpreters aren’t currently on the public radar and immigration is a toxic topic. So what hopes have we got? 

Joanna Lumley helped the Gurkhas for altruistic reasons, but we can’t always rely on altruism. We need to find someone cynical enough to use refugees for political gain, bulletproof on immigration, and who needs to prove they’re not a racist. What we need is Nigel Farage saying “we need to save these heroes”.

It makes sense. It will help detoxify their brand in a completely nationalist way. It’s pro-armed forces, it lauds the UK’s superiority over the Taliban and it involves a relatively small number of migrants. It’s safe for Nigel and its wise for Nigel.

With the disproportionate press coverage UKIP are currently receiving, this would put the issue into the public domain while also removing the political penalty the Tories fear from arranging a settlement for the translators.

Tim, any chance of you passing this on to UKIP’s strategy guys? Never going to happen. But its an idea.

How to get Bangladeshi workers first world safety standards


Move them to the first world. There’s your one sentence answer, but if brevity’s not your thing stick with me.

Obviously, calling for workers globally to have the same safety standards, and yesterday, isn’t a serious proposal. I’d put the “globally unified workplace health and safety” in the same category as “open borders” something that isn’t going to happen, but something useful to endorse and promote because it moves the overton window.

But you rarely find people advocating open borders as a solution to the world’s problems. You even get general good eggs like Martin Wolf arguing the concerns of foreigners should be afforded zero weight when deciding policy at the national level. This is despite the fact that open borders solves most of the world’s problems.

First of all, Bangladesh. Last month’s factory collapse is a tragedy, an ongoing tragedy. While you’ve forgotten about it and moved on with  ECB rate cuts or whatever families are still seeing their relatives’ bodies being pulled from the wreckage, last hopes of survivors being rescued evaporating.

Why would workers put up with such awful conditions? This isn’t, as Matt and Tim argue, that this is their choice and a rational decision, that a life is worth less here than there. The reasons workers suffer under such conditions is because they don’t have another choice. But a set of choices isn’t neutral or natural, it is created.

What creates those conditions? Well at one level grinding rural poverty creates those conditions. As Matt Yglesias points out in a better post, Bangladesh now is poorer than the US was at a comparative level of development. In the US American workers could escape to the (stolen) countryside and set up their own homestead. This practice and the threat of leaving has meant that the US has pretty much always been a high wage country.

This “exit” option is denied to Bangladeshis now. Not because their rural population is high and productivity is poor, as Yglesias implies. Who wants to move to the Bangladeshi countryside other than douchebags on their gap yah? Bangladeshi wages, living conditions, safety standards are held down by immigration controls.

In the 18th and 19th century the threat of exit boosted American workers’ wages whether they left or not. The same is true today. In Lithuania the wages of those left behind by emigrants rose in response as (specifically single male) workers became more likely to leave. Contrary to popular opinion, a world of open borders gives the workers bargaining power. The threat of exit is important and works. Hundreds of years of history proves it.

I said earlier “move them to the first world”, but that’s too simple. I meant “let some of them move to the first world and they’ll do fine, but the conditions of those left behind will also improve because their threats finally become credible.” Those textiles workers  weren’t slaves, but they weren’t free either. Free people don’t make the choice they had to, to go to work that day.


Photo by Photo taken by Sharat Chowdhury. Used under terms and conditions of creative commons license.

The Rt Hon Richard Benyon MP, Parliamentary Under-secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Dear Minister,

Thank you for you letter.

Even though I am no longer your constituent it is nice of you to continue to write to me. Almost exactly two years ago I wrote to you about Refugee and Migrant Justice. I am pleased to know you are still interested in immigration.

I must admit, I was a little, confused by the content of your letter. When I wrote to you I was asking for funding reform for a charity that your government was starving of funds. There were more than 10,000 asylum seekers who could have been affected. They would have effectively been cut off from legal help in navigating the  thicket that is UK immigration law. Last year they were abandoned as Refugee and Migrant Justice closed its doors.

Your letter boasts of how mean you have been to immigrants. Shurely shome mishtake?

I once thought of you as a competent Tory, something in short supply, but it turns out I may have been wrong. It is of course very efficient of you to have a list dedicated to people with “concerns” about immigrations. I do find it slightly amazing you don’t have a separate list for people whose “concerns” regard the conduct of your government.

Turing to your letter, your first point about capping the numbers of non-EU workers allowed to enter the UK interested me a lot. I am happy to see you are proud the Tories have generated such an anaemic recovery that nobody wants to live here. I still do, just, but your letter is certainly giving me pause to consider that too.

Allow me to thank you for letting me know you have “reformed the student visa system.” It is good to know who to blame when my friends are forced out of the country. I’ve just finished my studies at LSE, so like last year it is my friends you will be forcing out. The deportation of people more diligent and intelligent than I is something of which you should be so proud.

I am pleased to hear that your Government is taking steps to cripple one of the UK’s most competitive export industries. Your government’s own Department for Business, Innovation and Skills estimates Higher Education contributes around £8 billion a year. Congratulations on making me poorer in friends and money.

I am impressed by your measure to punish skilled workers who earn less than £35,000 a year  by deporting them. It is certainly a tremendous way to extend your government’s programme to punish people who dare to be working class beyond this country’s shores. How it is to make me better off I am not sure.

Of course merely punishing working class people is not enough, some of those working class people want to breed. Punishing poor people in love by preventing poor people bringing their spouse to the UK is a lovely touch. Again, I am unsure how this is to make me better off.

I don’t want much from an MP. Effectively labelled spreadsheets is pretty low down the list. Not relishing the opportunity to punish people for being poor, in love, or freshly graduated and intelligent are even more fundamental. Perhaps what I find most offputting is that you presume I share your Party’s enthusiasm. More evidence of the Tory Party’s natural arrogance.

I am pleased to say you are no longer my MP Richard, but I do hope this letter finds you well.

Yours sincerely,

Left Outside