Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The New Exodus: The Poor of the World Are on the Move, Eager to Live and Work in Rich Nations. What Are the Consequences-And Can We Ever Have a Sensible Conversation about Immigration?

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The New Exodus: The Poor of the World Are on the Move, Eager to Live and Work in Rich Nations. What Are the Consequences-And Can We Ever Have a Sensible Conversation about Immigration?

Article excerpt

Everyone has an opinion on migration but very few can justify it. I have reached this dismal conclusion in writing a book on the subject. I started the book out of concern about how migration was affecting those left behind in countries of emigration--I have spent my working life studying poor societies--but its scope gradually widened to include the effects on migrants and on the indigenous populations in host societies.

There is a serious technical literature that has studied various aspects of migration but very little of it has found its way into the media; nor has it been fitted together into an analytic whole. Instead, the media have been drowning in advocacy, supported by anecdote, assertion and moralising. As I read and listened, I was struck by the gulf between the strength with which opinions were held and the depth of ignorance on which they managed to remain afloat. I recognised this condition: it was the path to policy-based evidence.

The passion underpinning opinions on migration is fuelled by identities and fears. This is true on both sides of the debate but I will focus on the likely readership of this article--those who think of themselves as liberal intellectuals, my own circle. Among this group, distaste and disdain for opponents of immigration have become differentiating tests of identity. Beneath the vitriol is the fear that any concession to popular prejudice risks unleashing anti-immigrant violence.

Ever since Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech in 1968, serious discussion of migration has been taboo in British social science. I lost count of the number of times I was cautioned while writing my book Exodus not to include anything that could be ammunition for Ukip. In other words, I was told to write yet more policy-based evidence. British migration policy is too important and in too much disarray for this to be defensible.

In defying the advice not to give comfort to Ukip, lam confident that I am not unwittingly unleashing dark forces of latent violence. If indigenous mass violence against immigrants were a serious prospect, I would accept that caution was in order: the academic pulpit should be used responsibly.

Powell's forecast of immigrant numbers was remarkably accurate but his forecast of their social consequences was grotesquely wrong. This is not because of any fortuitous management of British migration (which has been inept beyond the bounds of parody), nor of any unusual strengths in the English character. All high-income societies have developed robust conventions against intergroup violence. This is one of the defining and distinctive characteristics of high-income societies and it is a relatively recent achievement. Many poorer societies have not developed such conventions, as they depressingly demonstrate day by day. This is one reason why these societies remain poor.

As part ofmy research, I have come up with ten building blocks needed for reasoned analysis of migration. Some are straightforward; others are analytically tricky and you will need to chew on them. Indeed--with apologies for a self-serving remark--you will need to read the book.

Block 1 Around 40 per cent of the population of poor countries say that they would emigrate if they could. There is evidence that suggests this figure is not a wild exaggeration of how people would behave. If migration happened on anything approaching this scale, the host societies would suffer substantial reductions in living standards. Hence, in attractive countries, immigration controls are essential.

Block 2 Diasporas accelerate migration. By "diasporas", I mean those immigrants and their descendants who have retained strong links with their home societies, rather than cutting loose and integrating into their host societies. These links cut the costs of migration and so fuel it. As a result, while diasporas are growing, migration is accelerating. Diasporas continue to increase until immigration is matched by the rate at which immigrants and their offspring are absorbed into the general population. …

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