Leavers were right about immigration - by Paul Embery for Unherd

Live footage from the English Channel has once again pushed immigration to the top of the list of concerns amongst swathes of the electorate: urgent action is required to get the crisis under control. Paul Embery examines the issue from an economic perspective and finds his colleagues on the Left in a mutually irreconcilable position.


I highlight two substantive paragraphs below which deserve particular attention.


"It wasn’t so long ago that open borders were championed principally by Trotskyists, anarchists and hyper-liberals. Most mainstream socialists and trade unionists understood that the labour supply was just another market dynamic which, as with all market dynamics, was requiring of regulation, the better to enable governments to plan around employment, welfare, housing and so on.


Nowadays, those of us on the Left who articulate such a position find ourselves in a minority, regularly assailed by colleagues reciting trite slogans such as “Migrants are not to blame!” and “Don’t pander to the racists!”


It is true that such evidence as exists shows the impact of immigration on UK wages overall to be broadly negligible. But this can disguise the more appreciable effects on specific groups of workers and sectors. For example, a 2015 Bank of England study concluded that for every 10 percentage point increase in the proportion of immigrants working in semi-skilled or unskilled jobs, there was a two per cent reduc­tion in pay.


And a 2018 review by the government’s Migration Advisory Committee showed that while the effect of immigration on average wages was small, the impact on wage distribution was more significant, with higher-paid workers gaining and the low-paid losing out.


This is to say nothing of the other deleterious effects of open borders, such as the stunting of productivity and deskilling of the domestic workforce. What, we might ask, is the motivation for employers to invest in new technology or train up a local jobseeker when they can get away with bringing in an off-the-peg foreign worker for a pittance?


Yet when it comes to discussing these realities, there is something of a conspiracy of silence within the labour movement, whose leaders have set their face against any suggestion that open borders comes with downsides. Again, boilerplate sloganising has taken the place of reasoned assessment. Low wages are caused by “rip-off bosses”, they argue, and what we therefore need is better regulation and more trade union organisation in the workplace – arguments which, whatever their merits, overlook the inescapable truth that employers will always be under less pressure to pay higher wages the greater the supply of labour available to them."


The full article can be read here with a link to the original beneath it:



Article for Unherd by Paul Embery - Leavers were right about immigration - 04.08.21
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