Henry Ergas on Population and Immigration

Henry Ergas has a great piece today in The Australian on population and immigration policy.  He concludes in the following way:

 Overall, there is a compelling case for immigration. But high, sustained population inflows raise issues more troublesome than boosters of a Big Australia recognise. Those issues cannot be wished away, nor papered over with mealy-mouthed insincerities. Until they are properly addressed, our population debate will remain a pitiful sham.

I think many of us would agree that the standard of the population debate has been appalling; I couldn’t make it to the end of Dick Smith’s shrill anti-growth doco.  I decided to do the ironing at the point he was telling us that we wouldn’t be able to feed ourselves in the future.

At the same time, Barry Cohen made a good point the other week when he said:

The bad news is that the advocates of a big Australia have bundled a range of immigration issues – asylum seekers, refugees, cultural integration and economic growth – into one debate and branded opponents as racists, rednecks or worse: Hansonites.  It appears impossible to have a rational discussion about immigration.

My guess is that most Catallaxians would favour the free movement of goods, capital and people.  But as Henry Ergas points out, the welfare state has distorted the flow of people, so instead of entrepreneurial, risk-taking folk given to improve their living standards by moving across the high seas, we now potentially attract migrants by dint of our generous welfare entitlements.  Henry also makes the point that the immigration and population policy needs to be judged by what is in the best interests of those who are here.

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9 Responses to Henry Ergas on Population and Immigration

  1. THR

    The bad news is that the advocates of a big Australia have bundled a range of immigration issues – asylum seekers, refugees, cultural integration and economic growth – into one debate and branded opponents as racists, rednecks or worse: Hansonites. It appears impossible to have a rational discussion about immigration.

    Barry Cohen has it wrong, once again. It’s the anti-immigration brigade who have conflated all the above issues, which is why both major parties are pretending that asylum seeker policy has something to do with ‘sustainability’ or overall population.

    He’s also wrong on the ‘small Australia’ front. Most of the small Australia, anti-immigrant people are either ignorant, and reflexively xenophobic, population cranks (i.e. Dick Smith and his fears of eleventy-million Australians depleting the nation’s vegemite) and crypto-fascists who finally have a semi-respectable veneer for their prejudices. The first group should be persuaded with rational debate; the other two should be dismissed entirely.

  2. Peter Patton

    Once more THR stuns us with his sociological insights gained from his all white middle coterie in inner Melbourne. Unfortunately, once more, he will not be able to tell us who these people are.

    anti-immigrant people are either ignorant, and reflexively xenophobic, population cranks (i.e. Dick Smith and his fears of eleventy-million Australians depleting the nation’s vegemite) and crypto-fascists who finally have a semi-respectable veneer for their prejudices.

  3. THR

    I’ve told you fairly precisely who these people are, Patton. The first group are the many people who believe (incorrectly) that ‘we’ are being ‘swamped’ with immigrants/boat people etc., and that we therefore need to become Fortress Australia. Many such people argue in good faith, but have given little thought as to how the country addressed skills shortage or an aging population, and simply want better infrastructure and services in many cases.

    The second group are the cranks – Dick Smith, the LaRouchites, and elements of the environmental movement who, unfortunately, are not ‘watermelons’.

    The final group can be found in abundance on the blogosphere, in Australia and across the world. Do I need to link through to specific examples, or have you mastered that google search thingy yet?

  4. Ev630

    “so instead of entrepreneurial, risk-taking folk given to improve their living standards by moving across the high seas, we now potentially attract migrants by dint of our generous welfare entitlements.”

    That’s the problem. You’re making a case for discrimination, and the shrill loonies in the Greens and elsewhere (people like THR) demand that anyone be allowed to enter. They don’t discriminate, except against conservative, rational voices.

  5. THR

    Rubbish. Nobody is seriously campaigning for open borders, and nobody has provided any evidence that newcomers to Australia were attracted principally as a result of welfare policies. (New migrants and non-citizens are not eligible for a range of social welfare entitlements in any case).
    The basic facts are that Australia has to admit some asylum seekers (for human rights reasons), and has to take a certain number of immigrants (for economic reasons). A scare-campaign on population is entirely unhelpful, and the use of the words ‘conservative’ and ‘rational’ in the context of immigration is oxymoronic.

  6. jtfsoon

    I don’t think Henry was literally saying that migrants today are only moving here because of the welfare state but that relative to before, the ‘adjustment and integration’ process is being hindered by such entitlements

    Specifically, nothing saps integration more than the welfare state, which can make it optional for migrants to find their way in the local society and labour market. Little wonder the great miracles of migrant absorption occurred in the Australia of the 1950s and 1960s, when income transfers barely existed. And little wonder Europe is now trapped in migrant ghettos and rampant xenophobia.

  7. Ev630

    “A scare-campaign on population is entirely unhelpful, and the use of the words ‘conservative’ and ‘rational’ in the context of immigration is oxymoronic.”

    There you go, discriminating again.

  8. Taylor

    When Ergas says “nothing saps integration more than the welfare state” he’s saying that is the main explanation. I haven’t researched this but that argument doesn’t explain why integration seems worse in Europe than Australia even though welfare provision is similar on both continents.

    There are other explanations that would explain why Australia is better at integration:

    – low economic growth rates in Europe;
    – ease of access to former country (Britain to Pakistan is not a very long flight. France to Algeria or Morocco is nothing);
    – less belief in secularisation (true, the French are an exception);
    – more xenophobic societies in Europe than Australia (Britain has problems with social mobility, Germany has had ideas of citizenship based on “German blood”).

    These factors are important because they’re probably protecting Australia from a lot of the problems that are apparent in Europe, even though Australia has the same or better welfare. Specifically:

    – Australian growth rates have been world-class;
    – Australia is a hell of a long distance from just about anywhere;
    – Australians generally aren’t religious and haven’t been for quite a while;
    – Australian social mobility is better and citizenship laws are more sensible.

    I think that calls into question Ergas’s conclusion – by itself his argument wouldn’t be a very useful basis for policy in Australia.

  9. Sidney Smith

    Dick Smith and others involved in this debate ignore facts in plain sight that will make these population concerns pale into insignificance within decades.

    I refer to our growing Islamic population. Islamic leaders have a vision of Australia as an Islamic Caliphate under Shari’a law by as early as 2050. This has been openly proposed on national television as an achievable goal.

    This would mean an end to democracy, and the conversion of the non-Islamic population to Islam, or else the disenfranchisement of dhimmitude for those who do not convert.

    To anyone who thinks it couldn’t happen, I have two points to make. Firstly it is a publicly stated objective of Islam which they believe is achievable. Secondly they reproduce at a much higher rate than the non-Islamic population, and they do not practice abortion. It is only a matter of time until they outnumber the remainder of the population.

    Finally, for the usual unthinking people who will criticize these comments as racist, may I point out that Islam is not a race, but a religion with adherents from every race on earth.

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