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Immigration: Everyone's wrong

The Daily Star today has a prominent article stating boldly that UK taxpayers are losing out because of immigration - apparently 80% of immigrants are not net contributors to the budget. This is based on a "Migrationwatch" press release about their briefing paper. Their calculation is that you need to earn £27,000 a year in order to be a net contributor to the economy, and that only 20% of immigrants earn this much. The Daily Star takes this to mean that immigrants are a big drain on the UK economy, but of course that's a completely false inference. Not even Migrationwatch (!) is suggesting that immigrants are taking four times as much as they put in. Rather, they quibble with the government's analysis that migrants ever-so-slightly increase GDP per head, claiming that immigrants ever-so-slightly decrease GDP per head.

The other side of the political spectrum can be just as bad. The Independent had a front-page splash claiming to tell "the truth about immigration" and debunk the negative headlines (22nd Aug issue). Their specific debunkings were unbelievably weaselly: debunking the Daily Mail's "East Europe migrants help take jobless to six-year high" they say, "the number of people in work grew [...] to reach 28.94 million - the highest number of people in work since records began in 1971". But the number of people in work is irrelevant, given the trend of population growth - the percentage of people in work is the important figure. And unfortunately, UK unemployment has indeed been rising over the past couple of years.

The Independent's weaselling is bizarre, especially given there are perfectly good arguments in favour of open immigration. The Guardian put it very well last week: I didn't keep the paper so I can't quote any, but they have an excellent trove of online articles about immigration, far more level-headed than either The Independent or The Daily Star. The Economist is also very nicely level-headed, and its clear presentation of statistics completely outranks all the other newspapers/magazines I've seen. A couple of months ago they presented clear evidence showing that the countries which had welcomed migrants had benefited economically, while the countries which didn't, didn't do so well.

I'm instinctively in favour of a more open immigration policy, partly on moral grounds and partly because of the various evidence which seems to me to show that the Polish immigration, despite involving massively more immigrants than anyone ever expected, has not overall been bad for the country. However, I am worried by the potential for a large pool of unskilled labour to push wages down for manual workers etc, down towards the minimum wage. The Independent weaselled out of this by saying that the annual growth rate in average wages has increased over the past month, but: (a) we need a longer time-span than a month (see this official graph which shows that growth is kind of steady on a more sensible timescale); and (b) we need average wages specifically for manual workers, since larger trends might obscure what's going on in that sector. I don't know where to find those statistics so I can't fill in the details I'm afraid.

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