The man who made it OK to talk about immigration

Paul Collier says the worst thing about immigration is that it impoverishes the nations that the migrants come from

16 November 2013

9:00 AM

16 November 2013

9:00 AM

It takes a lot to make the subject of immigration respectable for liberals, at least if you’re pointing out its problematic aspects. But Paul Collier, an Oxford economist specialising in the world’s bottom billion, has, in the 270-odd pages of his new book Exodus, opened up the issue for the left — well, for all comers, actually. Which, for a book suggesting among other things that, left to itself, there is no natural limit to immigration, is quite something.

‘The overwhelming reaction I’ve had,’ he told me, from his Oxford berth at the Centre for the Study of African Economies, ‘is that people thank me for making the subject discussable. I had an email from one man who had been a senior economist at two government departments… and he said that, to his shame, he had been unable to analyse this issue even when he was chairing two committees about it.’

Discussion of immigration has long been taboo among liberals. The subject is conflated with racism and associated fears of inter-ethnic violence. ‘I am concerned to raise the quality of public debate,’ Collier says. ‘There’s been a lot of sloppy and ideological thinking.’

Indeed, when he started on the book, he was warned repeatedly by well-wishers that he shouldn’t, you know, write anything that might start trouble. Though given his benign demeanour and that he sounds like Rowan Williams, it’s hard to think of him as a rabble-rouser. ‘People assumed I was going to be saying what a good thing immigration is and let’s have more of it. That’s the party line.’

So why is Professor Collier in a position to say the unsayable, viz, that while some immigration is good for everyone there is such a thing as too much diversity? One reason is that his approach is broader than that of most pundits. He sees the thing from three perspectives: that of individual migrants (the big winners, he thinks, from immigration); the host community, especially those at the bottom of the pile; and the migrants’ countries of origin.

And it’s this last factor that really exercises him. ‘I started this book from the perspective of what is the impact of all this outward migration from the poorest countries on the poorest countries.’ The effect of that exodus, he thinks, has been disastrous, depriving poor African countries of their brightest and often their most prosperous people — as he says, ‘The poorest can’t afford to leave.’ Indeed, one tough-love approach he favours is that wealthy countries should be generous about granting asylum to those who need it, but should make that asylum time-limited. In other words, once it’s safe for refugees to go home, they should be sent back to help rebuild their conflict-ravaged societies. In fact, one of the confusions he wants to clear up is ‘the failure to distinguish between the idea of helping individuals from poor countries and helping the poor societies themselves’.

That broad approach appeals to both ends of the political spectrum. The professor was rather proud, when I spoke to him, that his book had been favourably reviewed in the Guardian and had, that very day, been given a condensed serialisation in the Mail. Migrants themselves have responded well. ‘I gave a talk at the LSE last week about this,’ he says. ‘It was a big and very favourable audience. But there was a very comical discussion at the end with three young women, one English, the other two Somali. The Englishwoman was terribly bothered by my saying when conflicts are over, refugees should go back. The two young Somali women were saying, yes, of course people should go back.’

An interesting feature of the book is that, as an audit of the benefits and harm of mass migration, it doesn’t obsess about economic outcomes. The professor was unfazed by the findings last week of two studies of migrants to Britain — one showing that those arriving since 2000 had contributed more to public funds than they received back in welfare; the other showing that non-EU (well, non-EEA) arrivals since 1997 had taken more in welfare payments than they’d contributed. In fact he doesn’t really draw conclusions about the economic consequences of migration at all, except to conclude that they’re broadly neutral — though its effects on the availability of things like social housing in high-income countries is another matter.

For him the important consideration isn’t the amount of revenue that migrants add but the effect of large-scale migration on things like trust and generosity in the host society. The issue is whether too much diversity — and he insists he’s talking about culture, not race — takes away our fellow feeling for each other. His broad conclusion is that migration does diminish levels of trust in the host society. Does that affect the indigenous poor more than the middle classes? ‘In the sense that the poor benefit most from generosity, which too much diversity undermines,’ he says, ‘yes.’

He doesn’t shy away from policy recommendations. One is that wealthy countries should be much less generous in their provision for family reunions for migrants; the freedom to bring spouses here only works for indigenous residents because it’s rarely used and it effectively limits the space available for other would-be migrants. Another is that we should be far more generous in admitting students, on the basis that they return and benefit their countries of origin. ‘It’s not just what they learn here; it’s the values they acquire,’ he says. He thinks there are fairly straightforward ways to ensure that the right is not abused: if universities were made financially liable for students who abscond, for instance. A third is that migrants should not be privileged ahead of others by making the decision to get on a boat to Lampedusa. ‘We have to make sure it’s not worth their while to put themselves in the hands of some criminal in Tunisia,’ he says.

But the real effect of his book is that he’s made migration discussable. ‘It was rather moving,’ he said. ‘The other day a man came up to me and said that because of my book it has, for the first time, been possible for him and his sister to discuss this subject. And they’re both bright, well-educated people.’ After decades of Brits skirting uneasily round the subject, it’s probably time we all did.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Exodus, Paul Collier, Allen Lane, £20.

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  • StephanieJCW

    “Paul Collier says the worst thing about immigration is that it impoverishes the nations that the migrants come from”

    So what? Serious question. I don’t understand the argument that states people should be prevented from taking opportunities overseas because their home country needs them. They aren’t individual units of labour resources. They are people. Their home countries should do a better job of persuading them to stay (and I say that as a British immigrant to Australia.)

    • global city

      The point is that if a country is helped to be wealthy then most people won’t want to leave and more importantly won’t HAVE to leave.

      That will take the pressure off numbers, and then those with a wunderlust would be free to move where they please….. you understand?

      Why do you not think that we are being overwhelmed by migrants from prosperous countries? Please, think about that issue thoroughly. Prosperity or the ‘right’ to leave your purposely neglected cesspit?

  • StephanieJCW

    “In other words, once it’s safe for refugees to go home, they should be sent back to help rebuild their conflict-ravaged societies”

    What if they don’t wish to? Why do they have a duty to rebuild their countries? What if they feel a greater affinity and love for their new country?

    What if it takes 20 years for conflict in their home country to end and they have children, families, businesses in the new host country?

    • Trofim


    • Toby Esterházy

      Which can be realised by denying naturalisation/citizenship/national passports or even permanent residence to refugees and their children, thereby making sure that the refugees “know their place”, in ways more than one.

      • StephanieJCW

        “Which can be realised by declaring and registering denunciations and abrogations from the various offensive and repugnant parts of the Refugee Convention, thereby making refugees (of certain nationalities) and their children ineligible for naturalisation/citizenship/national passports or even for permanent residence, and thus making sure that the refugees “know their place”, in ways more than one”

        Of course that could be done. It would be an incredibly c**tish thing to do however and not supported by anybody worthy of the title ‘civilised’ (just look at the types of nations that have such rules.)

        I have no issue with initial temporary protection orders, but if a refugee situation continues indefinitely (because the refugees family is barred from returning home) then it seems mad to have generations denied the right to remain in the only home they have ever know on account of where their parents, grand-parents, great-grandparents were born. At that point just treat them like any other immigrant.

        • Toby Esterházy

          Germany? Japan? The point is, the generous provisions of the Geneva Refugee Convention was never drawn up with non-European refugees in mind.

  • Bonkim

    On the contrary, even if not fleeing wars, hunger, and persecution, people emigrate because their home countries are unable or unwilling to use their talents because of their social and economic organisation and of course by the prospects of better economic life overseas.

    Economic potential difference has been the prime driver for movement of people all through history. What is new?

    Poorly organised nations fail to look after their resources – financial and human.

  • Keith D

    Its a narrow view to focus on the impoverishment of certain countries by migration. Theres no doubt that a talent exodus, eg Polish tradesmen to the UK, or British Engineers to Canada, is of detriment to the economy and wellbeing of the society they left. Particularly if they are replaced by unemployable, overbreeding first cousins who, far from impoverishing their own country, make it a priority to impoverish their new one.

    And by no means just financially.

    • StephanieJCW

      But would you ban those Britons from being able to move to Canada because Britain needs them?

      • Keith D

        Course not.
        That would be hypocritical as I’ve recently returned from a 15 year work period in the States.

        What I would ban is inviting replacements whose sole aim is to destroy our way of life.

        Or indeed our lives themselves. Which is the current situation.

      • Toby Esterházy

        If the situation is dire enough, well, why not? An emigration permit would be required (or a security bond and a guarantor in lieu) when a British passport is applied for. England would probably no longer be in the EU, by then!

      • global city

        If we were moving there in vast numbers I suppose they would think about it!

        For the ‘host community’ it is largely a numbers game. Numbers and cohesion does not add up to racism.

  • zanzamander

    Migration is not just about economics – in fact it has very little to do with it compared to values, cultural baggage and belief systems and the impact that it has on host nations. Migration, especially of the kind we have seen under Labour (and now under Tories) makes the host nation poor while the migrant richer.

    Many of us have been saying everything that the prof. is now saying, but it was his Liberal Lefty Progressive credentials that made the media and politicians sit up and listen. But I don’t think the prof, still spells it out the way he should and is ignoring the “religious migration” issue – the impact of which will be far more reaching and will change everything about us, permanently.

    • Hippograd

      Migration, especially of the kind we have seen under Labour (and now
      under Tories) makes the host nation poor while the migrant richer.

      True, but not everyone in the host nation gets poorer. The people who fund British politics also win, because wages are lowered. This also applies in the US:

      If you look at the huge productivity increases since 1965 and how it was all plundered by the rich through keeping average incomes down with mass immigration, and then imagine the prosperity effect if that added wealth had been passed on to the middle class as discretionary spending over the last fifty years instead, then America today would look like 1950s sci-fi.

      How mass immigration destroys the economy

      Another great advantage of mass immigration is that it has provided an excuse for the creation of a surveillance state. Though who could have foreseen that mass immigration by Muslims would cause problems wherever it takes place, whether Australia, England, Germany, France or Sweden?

      • Keith D

        I agree with the motivations you ascribe to the enablers of mass immigration.

        However, anyone with even a minimum of knowledge about Islam could have foreseen the 1400 year old jihad continuing even after we provided Muslims with shelter and freedom.

        The enablers seem to have thought purely in economic terms. Surely even they, or given their ivory tower shelters, their grandchildren, will be affected by the increasing Islamic utopia affecting us mere proles right now.

        • global city

          You forgot about all of the ideological bollox too.

          Cultural Marxism, multiculturalism as dogma, etc.

          Much more dangerous as proven error will not correct it.

    • global city

      Yes, the self agrandising promotion of migration by Liberals is the cruelest and most callous of strategies for the billions left to rot in those countries.

      If we helped those countries to become productive and properly democratic then we would have the same ‘problem’ with migration from, say, sub Saharan Africa that we have now with migration from the USA!

  • zanzamander

    We don’t need immigrants, what we could do with are migrants.

    Migrants are often young, well educated, they come here on their own (leaving the family behind), they work, get paid and once their work is finished, they go back.

    Immigrants on the other hand are often not well educated, come from villages with their wives and kids in tow, burdened with religious and cultural baggage, do not work, and stay – leaving us the tax payer immediately to look for their upkeep, kids schools, medical bills, language translators and general welfare.

    We may need the former variety but definitely not a single one of the latter.

    Citizenship to any developed world that comes attached with all freedoms and rights should be a privilege not an automatic right. And it certainly shouldn’t be given out like it was going out of fashion.

    • StephanieJCW

      “Migrants are often young, well educated, they come here on their own (leaving the family behind), they work, get paid and once their work is finished, they go back.”

      Or they meet people, settle down, have a family etc.

      If migrants implies temporary and well educated and immigrant implies permanent and poorly educated what on earth are highly skilled Britons who move to Australia called?

      • Oliver

        I’m a school drop out, unskilled, minimum wage earner who migrated from the UK to Asia. Under the above criteria I’m an immigrant but better described as a migrant/expatriate.

        Not because my skin is white and my language English but because there are so few of us. Even where there are many English expatriates there aren’t enough of them to dominate whole areas let alone whole cities. Unskilled expatriates like myself are extremely rare and we lack the solidarity of immigrants from places like Jamaica or Pakistan so tend to disperse into our chosen country and mingle with the indigenous population rather than cling to our brethren and create our own English bubble.

        So I have no problem with the movement of people but people who champion mass immigration would fight tooth and nail to stop mass immigration from the UK or US transforming Africa, Asia or the Middle East. It is hypocritical of them not to feel the same way about mass immigration to the West.

  • zanzamander

    Tariq Ramadan is a Swiss national. He is an Egyptian with close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood which was founded by his grand father. He works tirelessly for Islam and its furtherance in the West. As does Anjem Choudary, who has been recorded telling his followers to claims benefits as part of their struggle to bring sharia law to the UK.

    These two are the direct products of our immigration policies. Do either of them reflect values, culture and belief system of their host countries? How have we benefited from their presence here?

    These are just two examples of many thousands, millions.

    But I am a racist to point this out, I reckon.

  • Hippograd

    But the real effect of his book is that he’s made migration discussable.
    ‘It was rather moving,’ he said. ‘The other day a man came up to me and
    said that because of my book it has, for the first time, been possible
    for him and his sister to discuss this subject. And they’re both bright,
    well-educated people.’ After decades of Brits skirting uneasily round
    the subject, it’s probably time we all did.

    Why have we skirted uneasily around the subject? Because the subject has been made taboo by parliament, the BBC and other treacherous organizations. Immigration has never been wanted or voted for by the majority. It has not benefited the majority. Instead, it has caused huge harm, from destroying free speech to promoting crime to lowering wages. And all of this has been deliberate:

    In many ways [Labour] viewed working-class voters as an obstacle to
    progress. ‘Their commitment to various civil rights, anti-racism, meant
    that often working-class voters… were seen as racist, resistant to
    change, homophobic and generally reactionary. … So in many ways you
    had a terrible situation where a Labour government was hostile to the
    English working class.’

    Miliband ally attacks Labour migration ‘lies’ over 2.2m they let in Britain

  • zanzamander

    So what happens when the immigrant population totally supplants the host?

    Well you have this ridiculous situation where local Pakistani community association in Sheffield is
    running ‘official’ warden street patrols
    with the intention of ‘educating’ the newly arrived Roma population about ‘how to
    behave in England’.


    So that particular part of once an English city is now an extension of Islamabad, as is Tower Hamlets where gays are openly harassed and women must wear burkhas.

    What dies the good professor have to say about these direct consequences of immigration on the host nation?

    • George Orwell Lecture given by Tariq Ramadan in Briatain, now that’s Orwellian.

  • zanzamander

    This argument that immigrants increase productivity by keeping the wages down is absurd at best and total tosh at worst.

    Here’s the thing: In Britain and many Western countries there is such a thing as minimum wage. You must pay this. So the only people who are willing to work below this level are illegal immigrants who are then paid in cash by their employers which they must pay from their undeclared revenue which in turn never gets taxed – benefit to the society – ZERO, result more black economy.

    And if they are paid the minimum wage – where is the advantage? Everybody is then in the same boat. You might as well employ someone from here than someone who has just arrived here with all the problems that go with that. In any case, we’re not even talking about illegal immigrants. That potential time bomb is going to hit US anytime soon when over 20 million(!) illegals will become legal overnight, thanks to Obama.

    Also,it is highly insulting to think that once an immigrant, always an immigrant.

    We should not expect kids of these once destitute migrants to remain in the pitiful condition of their fathers and clean toilets at Heathrow or some crummy B&B like their parents for the rest of their lives. So once they become fully fledged citizens, they should have the benefit of the same working conditions and pay – same as the rest of us.

    So once that happens, where is the productivity gain?

    • global city

      and 80% of commercial activity has nothing to do with corporates. As most of it is internal lowering wages, etc, just suppresses consumer activity in the home market.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    “the worst thing about immigration is that it impoverishes the nations that the migrants come from”
    Funny you should say that, but I`ve long felt Britain`s decline coincided with the time I flew the coop in 1973.
    Jack, Japan Alps

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Britisher pals, you`re keeping the right people out and letting the wrong ones in. Can you imagine anything more insane than declaring war on one particular group, namely Muslins, and then facilitating representatives on that group to settle in large numbers in UK? In fact insane hardly covers in, national suicide would be a better description.
    Jack, Japan Alps

  • Bonkim

    Common sense analysis and some sound conclusions – political policy makers need to take on board.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    If all potential immigrants were prohibited from settling in UK, then logically all Brits residents in UK should be prevented from emigrating. Either by the UK government or under reciprocal agreements with the targeted host countries. You only have to consider Brits with a foreign-born spouse to realise how cruel and unworkable that would be. So essentially it comes down to categories, numbers and quotas.
    Ask a Frenchman if he`s ever considered emigrating; he`ll be shocked. “The food, the wine, the culture…”
    There are push and pull forces present in any emigration decision: Push is disenchantment with the present situation. Pull is what is attracting you to your target host nation or region. When these two forces together become sufficient to overcome your own personal inertia (aka cold feet), it comes down to ways and means.
    So HMG, if you don`t want those free spirited talented Brits to fly the coop, stop making Britain so damn unattractive.
    Jack, Japan Alps

    • Toby Esterházy

      Millions of Franks, Frenchmen or Gauls in London, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Morocco, the Americas, South Africa, La Réunion Island, Mauritius, the Seychelles, Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia and French Polynesia, so your argument falls flat.

  • freethinker14

    Which political party included mass migration in their prospectus? Which political party included joining the EU, not the EEC, in their prospectus?

  • GeorgeWhale

    It’s only timid, cowardly left-liberals who’ve been unable to discuss the disaster of mass immigration. The rest of us have been discussing (and condemning) it for years.

  • NikNik

    BY FAR the BIGGEST issue the UK has at the moment is local employment! YES JOBS FOR US BRITS. UK PLCs have over the last 25 to 30 years been allowed to run down their UK work force (I AM NOT reffering to outsourcing).
    Having opened up an office in a non-EC country the PLC can then ‘cycle’ in (bring in) their cheap non-EC staff via Intra Company Transfer visas. The trick then is to have each non-EC worker in the UK for 51 weeks or less thus avoiding the £40K pa minimum salary requirement. These non-EC workers get paid just £24K pa. The UK government then gives each non-EC worker a 52 week holiday from National Insurance (NI) as long as when they leave the UK they do not return for 12 months.
    The ‘going’ rate for IT staff in the UK, according to David Gauke (Treasury Minister), is £67,600 pa. (Written reply 8 April 2013)

    Those UK IT workers that remain in gainful employment are being UNDERCUT (£68K vs £24K) whilst also having to pay NI – no 52 week NI holiday for them!
    UNEMPLOYED UK IT workers now stand no chance to be able to compete against non-EC workers ‘cycled’ in on £24K and no NI !
    Immigration is the wrong word and its use paints innocent people as some how not wanted or evil.
    We NOW need a proper VISA system and of course a LEVEL PLAYING FIELD for US.

  • Simon Fay

    The man who made it OK to talk about immigration”

    …by casting the issue as harmful to the immigrants’ homelands. Typical. Bit like the hypothetical person reporting a grooming ring because the latter might be desecrating a mosque when abusing its infidel victim there.

  • chan chan

    To Sheffield:

    “Speaking in a loud voice, the bearded man in traditional Pakistani garb gave a short speech…’We want to claim our streets back. Tensions are building here. We need to do something or it will be too late'”

    What an interesting turn of events, no?

  • johnslattery

    Wot? Farage and Robinson, and to a lesser extent Griffin, have shoved aside the taboo. Nobody else. Them, plus reality.
    Most non-scientific academics have shown themselves to be, at best. useful idiots. and at worst naive traitors.

    • global city

      I think you have missed the point.

      Shhhh… don’t repeat it but nothing will have happened as long as the primrose Hill mob had not been given permission to discuss the issue in public society by one of their own. Only a respected leftie academic would have been allowed the space to raise such questions.

      The fact that ‘out’ migration from the poorest places in the world makes that poverty they individually escape from just so much worse for all those left has never been allowed to be raised in polite company, because it crushes to pieces the carefully constructed dogmas they have been fed and taught to repeat for the last 40 years… most importantly that MASS-migrations of people is really bad, for EVERYONE!

  • global city

    The self censorship of the western wannabee flapapperati is the most telling thing in that piece. The least they could have done is suppressed their urge to flap when other, decent minded people had tried to raise the issue, instead of jumping on the denouncement bandwagon, so desperately are they to be SEEN to be so PC or in tune with the zeitgeist, or what ever other shit it is that so terrifies and motivates these cattle!

  • Oliver

    The elephant in the room when it comes to diversity is violent crime. It seems to me that the places with the most diversity also are the most violent and crime afflicted. That is not to say that we can’t all get along even when a certain immigrant population is insular and fails to assimilate.

    Chinese and Jewish communities can be incredibly insular and separate from the host community but they don’t have a history of conflict, grievance and mistrust for the host community.

    I think we make a massive mistake by welcoming large numbers of people who come from communities which either for historical or religious reasons view our society as either incurably racist, inferior or both.

    It matters not if they are right or wrong, it cannot be healthy to have large groups of people who are struggling financially, see themselves as separate from the hosts and victims of the hosts.

    That is a sure fire recipe for crime, violence, racism and terrorism.

  • More tiptoeing around the issues again, they can’t say, we just don’t want them here, that would be too blunt, that would be too waayycciiisssst, so we have to skirt around the issue and say how it impoverishes their own nation.

    It’s a bit like that old joke about not blurting out someone’s cat has died, skirt round the issue, break it to them gently etc.

  • Bob339

    Readers may care to go here and vote:


  • Roy

    The same could be said of Britain itself. The ones with a spark of imagination have emigrated and left the country to the squalor and mismanagement that equals nothing in the entire history of these Islands.

  • PlainOldTruth

    Please stop calling dogmatic statist collectivists who subscribe to corrupt coercive social engineering “theories” by the label “liberal.” These control-freaks are not interested in freedom (the meaning of liberalism). They are interested in coercive control of populations.