Monday, October 10, 2011

Migrants, jobs and voice

This is based on a comment I made here.

Alabama has recently enacted a law that makes it illegal for illegal migrants to work to support themselves and their families with spillover effects to any migrants who have family members who are illegal migrants:
Many legal Hispanic workers are fleeing the state because their family and friends don't have the proper papers and they fear they will be jailed.
Observing both the US and Australian debates over immigration, it is clear that anti-immigrant sentiment (which this law is pandering to) is primarily a function of two factors:
(1) level of unemployment;
(2) how much sense ordinary citizens have that migration is "under control".

In the US, the solution to the first is for the Federal Reserve to fix by increasing aggregate spending. (Any supply side reforms, however worthy, are unlikely to be anywhere near as effective.) Or, to put it another way, do its job as well as the Reserve Bank of Australia has.

The second is bedevilled by the fact that one side of the debate "wins" if nothing effective is done about illegal immigration while ordinary citizens can only get a sense of having a say if legal policy (the one they get to vote on) matters. In Australia, there was a notable and dramatic drop in anti-immigration sentiment when the then Howard Government ostentatiously cracked down on boat arrivals: this despite the same Government running a high immigration policy and the least "Eurocentric" policy in our history.

(Australia is also the world-champion at "cherry-picking" migrants--it is helpful to be a prosperous, English-speaking island-continent.) The effects and experience of high level of migration vary greatly between different segments of the society: which naturally reflects how one reacts to, and frames, the issues. A certain amount of ongoing sentiment about migration simply flows from this but it also affects how the above factors operate.

By simply labeling any concern by voters that they get a say over migration as "racist", the "open borders" folk generate a comforting sense of moral superiority, completely elide the issue of democratic control and the status of citizenship while profoundly discounting the concerns of those who disproportionately bear the costs of migration. All of which poisons public debate over the issue, (deliberately) obscuring much of what is at stake.

As one would expect, given this, problems are most intense in Europe, since lack of accountability is so built into contemporary European politics.


  1. I read your post mentally striking out "Australia" for "Canada" and you seem to me to be equally right about this.

  2. Thanks, this does not surprise me: BTW I greatly enjoy your posts, even though I often feel like full understanding of them is it a bit like grasping for a fish that is just out of reach.