Monday, March 31, 2008


Philippe Legrain’s puerile veneration of globalization and free market economics is, for its outrageous simplicity, alluring to some in the same way that Ayn Rand’s uncompromising fantasies drew a cult following. His call for open borders is so boldly brazen that it disarms many of his incredulous audience in the manner that Milton Friedman or Julian Simon did theirs. But a glance at any best sellers’ list will reveal that is typically those who stake out extreme and provocative positions without solid empirical foundation who attract readers and the favour of publishers. While those authors and commentators who are better informed of a broader and deeper knowledge, on the other hand, often lose their market edge because a more balanced account is inherently less exciting.

In fact, in his book review of "Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them", Australian critic Mark O’Connor characterized Philippe Legrain as essentially “ill-read”, “a rhetorician, not a thinker”, who in his euphoric assessment of a world where mobility was unimpeded “ignores inconvenient issues of resources, spaces, greenhouse emissions and environmental degradation.”

Like a tireless door-to-door salesman of a quack remedy that subsequent lab analysis would show to be lethal and fraudulent in its claims, the infamous open-borders advocate, economist and journalist Philippe Legrain knocked on French Canada’s door recently to speak to the biweekly magazine L’actualitie. The message was practically the same one he has given to the Economist, the Guardian, the Financial Times, The Times, Prospect Magazine, to the BBC and many foreign publications.

The pitch is: “Hey Canada (or America, or Australia etc.). Not enough water? Here’s the medicine. Open your borders to limitless millions! Housing costs too high? Open your borders to limitless millions! Almost out of agricultural land? Open your borders to limitless millions! Educational institutions and medical system over-burdened? You guessed it. Open your borders to limitless millions! It’s good for them and good for you too.

Actually Legrain did not say that verbatim, but in so many words. For one thing he has no evident concern or awareness of any ecological consequences from his miracle cure. It is enough for him that bringing down national borders would allegedly double the size of the world economy. The effect of this on greenhouse emissions or biodiversity is simply not on his radar screen. But it is on the radar screen of the Royal Academy of Sciences who according to Monbiot has virtually stated that economic growth will have to be halted if we are to escape that critical two degree rise in global temperatures. Clearly Legrain’s economic utopia would be an environmental dystopia.

When asked by L’Actualitie why we should abolish all borders and open all countries to freedom of movement, Legrain responded with the same line that he had given the New York Times six months before in October. “It is first of all a moral question. We should end this global apartheid by which we set the door wide open for rich and well-educated foreigners but close them for poor ones thereby forcing them to stay in their poverty.” And “ it is also a humanitarian question”, he continues, since according to IMF figures immigrants send $300 billion in remittances to their home countries, “which go straight to the pockets of local people.” But unfortunately he doesn’t appreciate that from the pockets of local people it goes straight back into the pockets of corrupt policemen and officials as bribes. Remittances take the edge off the worst of third world poverty and emigration allows incompetent regimes to export their poor, providing a safety valve so that corruption and overpopulation never gets solved. How many potential Nelson Mandelas and Lech Walesas would be lost to emigration under a global free movement protocol?

I must confess that I find it somewhat galling when an economist of any stripe should protest like Legrain that “it is abhorrent that the rich and the educated are allowed to circulate around the world more or less freely, while the poor are not.” Mr. Legrain should know that there are lots of things that the rich can do with their money that the poor can’t in the marvelous free-market economy that he champions. They all can drive hummers if they want to , for example. Does that mean that, as a matter of equity, every one in Bangladesh should be afforded a hummer? Migration has vast ecological consequence too. If Mr. Legrain wants to vent his closet socialist conscience, why doesn’t he express abhorrence over the low wages that his unskilled immigrants are making everywhere in the developed world?

Legrain would argue that it should be a matter of consistency that governments devoted to the free movement of money and goods should also be committed to the unfettered movement of people. But Harvard economist George J. Borjas would reply that “a conservative position that encourages free trade and restricted immigration is not contradictory. Simply put, importing tomatoes is not the same thing as importing people.”

Thomas Sowell also stated that people are not commodities, as commodities are consumed, while people generate more people, and immigrants impose a cost on the country. In his Canadian interview, Legrain argued that immigrants consume goods and services and generate economic activity, making the U.S. an economic powerhouse. What he did not mention, however, was the 2004 report by the Centre for Immigration Studies that showed that illegal immigrants consumed $10.6 billion more in services than they paid in taxes. Nor did he comment on the 1997 metastudy by the National Research Council that concluded that while immigration raises over-all output, the aggregrate additional net benefit to the U.S. native-born is nugatory—wiped out by taxpayer funded transfer payments to immigrants.

As for Britain, a House of Lords committee reported on April 1st of 2008 that ten years of record immigration has produced virtually no benefits to the country. The report argues that the 6 billion pounds that foreign workers supposedly add to the nation’s wealth each year must be balanced against their use of services like health and education and the growth of the population. The error of conventional government assessments of migrant benefits to economic growth (15-20%), according to Professor David Coleman of Oxford University, is that it has excluded costs from crime, security, race relations and imported ailments like TB. And, according to visiting Professor Richard Pearson of the University of Sussex Centre for Migration Research, “these migrants are likely to be displacing, and reducing the incentive on employers to recruit and train low-skilled, indigenous workers.”

If these are the results of a Labour government that critics say has lost control of the nation’s borders, issued too many work permits and should not have exposed the labour market to Eastern Europe, what would have been the result if they had followed Philippe Legrain’s formula for success and thrown open the borders entirely? One pill makes you sick so you take three or four more?

Legrain of course, can no doubt conjure up a study to show wage improvement in the wake of mass immigration, but other studies by more eminent economists like Borjas can counter them. But can’t Philippe Legrain be honest here? Does he really believe that big employers lobby governments for more immigration so that they can raise wage levels? Is that why Bill Gates went to Congress to ask to loosen H-1B visa regulations and raise caps, as a philanthropic measure to improve the wages of IT workers in America? Give us a break, Mr. Legrain. It is as Garrett Hardin said, “immigrant labour pauperizes local labour.” What is most sickening about Legrain’s argument is that he presents it mostly as a cause of social justice for the global poor while it is in fact, really a cause to bring cheap labour to the developed world and improverish its indigenous working class. As socialist Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont observed, five million middle income workers in America have been caught in a vice between out-sourcing and cheap immigrant labour and have dropped into the ranks of poverty during the Bush era. Even more sickening than Legrain’s hypocrisy though has been the collusion of leftists and liberals in it. Imagine if Charles Dickens had teamed up with the Manchester school. Contemporary leftists are not internationalists. They are globalists, unwitting collaborators in the pyramid scam of runaway population growth that cloaks the naked profit motive under the attractive guise of cultural diversity and human rights.

Now for the old chestnut. The one Legrain repeats ad nauseum in counless interviews and essays in reference to several countries. The famous “they do work that locals won’t do” routine. For example, he recently stated in his blog that “with France’s growth slowing, its sclerotic labour market could do with an infusion of foreign blood—of hard-working, enterprising people who are willing to do the jobs that French people can't or won't." There is always an inference that native workers aren’t hard-working, or “enterprising”, and as far as a“sclerotic” labour market in a slow growing France is concerning, there is an alternative translation for that. The workers of France are benefiting from a “tight” labour market in a “stable” economy. As one should know, but many including Legrain apparently don’t, there is no such thing as jobs that Frenchmen, Americans, Canadians or Australians “won’t do”. Merely jobs they are unwillingly to do at the wages offered. The phrase “they do work that locals won’t do” evidences equivalent ignorance to other phrases that have consigned to the lexicographical museum like “I drive better when I’m drunk” or “my wife had it coming.”

Legrain’s open borders recipe , aside from presenting monstrous adjustment problems for recipient countries, would also pose problems for poor countries, one would think. When asked by L’actualitie if they would not be crippled by an exodus of doctors and engineers, Legrain was cavalier and dismissive. Émigré doctors would only meet 12% of current needs if they were forced to return now, so therefore it was better just to assist developing countries in training more doctors. And then what? So they in turn could leave for the First World? Is that Legrain’s vision? India and Africa as a big medical school for the West?

Philippe Legrain is not very re-assuring about terrorism either. Since “99.99% of immigrants aren’t terrorists” then border controls don’t make sense as a deterrent to terrorists. OK, Mr. Legrain, since 99.99% of all air-line passengers aren’t bombers, on any plane that you are boarding, we won’t bother to do any security screening or luggage checks.

It would seem reasonable, would it not, that when toying with the fate of 6.7 billion people and 194 plus countries that before unleashing a sweeping change of Philippe Legrain’s prescription we first test the waters by leaving one or two nations defenceless against incoming hordes. Actually the experiment has already been conducted. Does anybody know how things have working out for Tibet the last little while? How have the ethnic Serbians made out in Kosovo? How did the Poles like their open borders in September of 1939? Must admit, those hard-working enterprising Germans did work that the Poles would not do.

But Legrain doesn’t favour a kind of incremental, phased relaxation of borders, but rather the shock therapy of an immediate global village. His only assurance is, not to worry, when the floodgates are opened, not many folks will actually move. “Since the EU opened its borders to certain East European countries, there has been little emigration.” But surely Mr. Legrain can’t compare the economic disparity between Poland and England with the disparity that exists between England and Bangladesh or Africa. The Mariel flotilla from Cuba presents a more plausible portrait of third world eagerness to seek greener pastures. And if even 5% of the world’s population could move to the United States, it would double their population and bring about an ecological holocaust.

I think it prudent then, despite Legrain’s assurances, to first test the market as it were by granting an unlimited number of visas to all third word economists who wish live and work alongside Mr. Legrain in the UK. With an economist coming out of every manhole cover to bid for jobs as columnists with the Guardian and the Times and so forth, and as commentators on the BBC, Philippe Legrain could test his hypothesis that immigrants raise the wages of local labour.

If this pilot project was pronounced a success and British sovereignty subsequently dissolved, then I could look forward to moving into Legrain’s London flat, with a host of my relatives, who have always fancied living in the great city. Even if it contained only the 76 square metres of space that the average British dwelling does, I am sure Mr. Legrain, as a matter of logical consistency, could have no objection to moving over and making room for us. After all, a man who favours open borders can hardly oppose open houses

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