The Corner

National Security & Defense

Mass Immigration, Nationality, and Supranationalism

I posted some comments yesterday on a Financial Times article by Martin Wolf, the son (as he points out) of immigrants himself,  in which he knocked the (idiotic) idea that mass immigration was somehow the answer to the funding of ageing European welfare states.

My focus yesterday was on the numbers cited by Wolf, but as Wolf points out there is more to the question that just that. And he’s right. They include the arguments of those, whether Davos Liberals such as The Economist, ‘borders-free’ libertarians (a group that bears its fair share of responsibilities for the current tragedy in Sweden) or Chamber of Commerce types (cheered on by their useful idiots in the GOP) always looking for fresh sources of cheap labor.


A few argue that gaps in real wages across the world are the biggest of all economic distortions. Movement of people, they say, should be seen as identical to trade; humanity would benefit from the elimination of barriers. The movement of people might be vast and the impact on high-income economies, with only one-seventh of the world’s population, correspondingly huge. But it would maximise wealth.

But (my emphasis added):

[S]uch cosmopolitanism is incompatible with the organisation of our politics into self-governing territorial jurisdictions. It is incompatible, too, with the right of citizens to decide who may share the benefits of living alongside them.

If countries are entitled to control immigration, the criterion for immigration becomes the benefits to existing citizens and their descendants. Benefits to would-be immigrants, which are the bulk of those generated by migration, count for less.

What then are the benefits of immigration to citizens and their descendants? The arguments divide into those relating to the numbers and, more importantly, those relating to the differing characteristics.

Is it important to increase population? The answer surely is no. Merely increasing the population of a prosperous small country, such as Denmark, would not increase the standard of living of its citizens. But it would impose sizeable investment and congestion costs. The argument for size can only be that it makes defence cheaper.

The argument cannot be from the numbers but from the characteristics of immigrants. So proponents of the benefits of large-scale immigration argue that immigrants are younger, cheaper, better motivated and valuably different. Opponents counter that the young also age, while diversity brings disadvantages as well as advantages.

As I mentioned yesterday, Wolf had explained just how many immigrants it would take to fix what is widely (and I reckon, unnecessarily) seen as the ‘problem’ of an ageing welfare state. The numbers were enormous, and, in my view, extraordinarily hard to reconcile with social cohesion.


What, then, can one say about the economic impact? First, the immigration needed to have big effects, notably on dependency burdens, would be huge. Second, immigration has significant impacts on investment needs (in housing and other infrastructure) and congestion, particularly in already densely populated countries — though these are similar to those caused by natural increase.

Finally, the main beneficiaries are always the immigrants themselves.

Yet migration is not just about economics. Immigrants are people. They bring in families, for example. Over time, large-scale immigration will transform the cultures of recipient countries in complex ways.

Immigrants bring diversity and cultural dynamism. At the same time, as Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling notes, substantial segregation might naturally emerge. People might then live quite separately, without many shared loyalties.

To those steering the EU that latter possibility is, I suspect, feature not bug. Old, national loyalties are seen as standing in the way of the super-state, much as the family, a countervailing loyalty, was perceived as standing  in the way of the early Soviet state or its successors in high-Maoist China or Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

Mass immigration can be a way of breaking that down. I touched on this on a post back in 2013, turning to the leaden prose of the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas for one view of how it was working out:

A dangerous asymmetry has developed because to date the European Union has been sustained and monopolised only by political elites – an asymmetry between the democratic participation of the peoples in what their governments obtain for them on the subjectively remote Brussels stage and the indifference, even apathy, of the citizens of the union regarding the decisions of their parliament in Strasbourg.

 However, this observation does not justify substantialising “the people” or “the nation”. The caricature of national macrosubjects shutting themselves off from each other and blocking any cross-border democratic will-formation has become the preserve of rightwing populism. After half a century of labour immigration, even the European peoples, given their growing ethnic, linguistic, and religious pluralism, can no longer be conceived as culturally homogenous entities.

As I also noted, the supranational bureaucrat (and much more besides) Peter Sutherland was rather more direct in testimony to a sub-committee of the British House of Lords in 2012:

The EU should “do its best to undermine” the “homogeneity” of its member states, the UN’s special representative for migration has said. Peter Sutherland told peers the future prosperity of many EU states depended on them becoming multicultural.

The attempt to connect multiculturalism with ‘future prosperity’ was an obvious absurdity, an attempt to sugarcoat what is both ideological obsession and a raw power play.

And if you want to see what happens to those who step out of line, take a look at the current vilification of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a politician who, for all his undoubted faults, is trying to represent the views of his own people, views that fit very uncomfortably indeed with the orthodoxies of the supranational elite.   


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