Sunday, December 31, 2006

Rethinking the left: Hamilton on immigration

Here's some good news to end the year on. A leading member of the Australian left, Clive Hamilton, has declared his support for a reduction in immigration.

In an article for the Sydney Morning Herald Hamilton has written that:

1) There are plans to house an extra 1.1 million people in Sydney which will increase congestion and reduce the quality of life.

2) Australia is a dry continent, with settlement concentrated in a narrow green strip along the coast.

3) There is no economic benefit to high immigration. Although high immigration increases gross domestic product the additional income is spread amongst a greater number of people.

4) John Howard is running immigration at record levels (130,000) and plans to increase numbers even further.

Hamilton proposes a zero net migration policy in which the number of people entering Australia roughly matches the number leaving (about 40,000 a year).

He wants this reduced immigration intake to be made up of asylum seekers rather than business migrants. As he puts it:

The immigration program is a response to pressure from big business ... under the business migration visa scheme, the wealthy can effectively buy Australian citizenship ...

Immigration should be aimed at improving the moral capital of the nation rather than our financial stocks. Instead of fast tracking money-obsessed, self-interested business migrants, or overseas students who slip in the back door through visa scams run by dodgy universities, we should welcome more people who have suffered from oppression and have learned the value of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Why would Hamilton put things like this? Hamilton as a left-liberal doesn't share the right-liberal belief that society is best regulated by a profit-driven, self-interested free market ethos. Hamilton doesn't believe that economic interests should be paramount in shaping a society and he has written at length against the idea that material progress alone creates wellbeing.

So Hamilton is being true to his left-liberalism in believing that migration policy should be determined more by moral considerations, or quality of life concerns, rather than demands by the business lobby for a free movement of labour.

Which leads me to a criticism of Hamilton's argument. According to Hamilton, asylum seekers are to be preferred as migrants because they have learned the value of "human rights, democracy and the rule of law".

I doubt if this is the case. A lot of recent refugees are Sudanese or Somalians. According to a report in the Melbourne Age, the Sudanese have trouble even accepting the reality of Australian authority figures, let alone respecting the rule of law. According to Clifton Maberly, an anthropologist in Toowoomba:

They have trouble seeing Australians as real ... Everyone becomes like an actor to them, or a two-dimensional cartoon figure. So when a white woman teacher stands before a class telling them what they should so, or a policeman pulls them over for driving without a licence, it's difficult for them to take such things seriously.

Just this week there was a warning by police in Melbourne about young African men forming gangs and turning to violence and crime:

A growing gangster mentality among young African men is worrying community leaders ... Young African leader Ahmed Dini said some Somali, Sudanese and Eritrean men ... felt disconnected from mainstream society and were either forming or joining ethnic groups for protection and also for a sense of belonging ... some had trained with heavy-duty military weapons while they were serving in militias overseas. Violence is not something new for these young people," he said ... Mr Dini warned that gang and crime-related problems within the African communities would eventually lead to "race riots" similar to those in France if governments continued to ignore the problem.

So being an asylum seeker doesn't mean having a special respect for the rule of law. Furthermore, it's not clear that asylum seekers aren't pursuing their economic interests, just as business migrants are. For instance, Michael at NZ Conservative has reported that half of Christchurch's Somalian refugees have already moved on to Australia. This can't be to find refuge, but is presumably motivated by the higher average incomes here.

Similarly, I'm informed that the next wave of refugees is likely to be Tamils from Sri Lanka. It's true, of course, that there has been conflict in Sri Lanka between Tamils and the majority Sinhalese. If, though, some Tamils are seeking refuge because of this, why not go the very short distance to Tamil Nadu in India? What can explain the long trip to a very foreign country if not an economic motivation?

So I don't agree with Clive Hamilton that asylum seekers are a morally superior option in filling migration places. However, it is significant that someone from inside the political class is proposing to reduce the level of immigration. This is a welcome development and I hope that Hamilton has some influence in winning over a section of the left to his position.


  1. I am not sure how you can be traditionalist and anti-migration at the same time in this country. Not only is Australia a nation of settlers, but the British heritage from which we derive is also one of constant migration. Mr great great grandparents were Germans who migrated to the UK in the early 19th century, and within fifty years were "British" migrants to this great country. Anglo culture, however you want to define it, has a proud history of assimilating and absorbing outsiders into itself.

    The Hamilton article also has a number of failings, which you would be careful to avoid.

    Chiefly, migration can have economic benefits, so long as it is structured so that migrants themselves bear the costs of their decisions rather than the societies to which they migrate. Particularly, the more migrants are different to the accepting population, the more beneficial their presence is. This is because if migrants have the same tastes, skills and experience as the accepting population, they will end up competing in both labour and consumption markets for the same jobs and the same goods and services (thereby driving down wages and driving up inflation for scarce goods like land).

    However the more different migrants are, the less they compete in the same labour markets as prior residents and the more they increase the diversity of goods and services available domestically. Think of the US, although some aspects of Mexican migration are mismamaged, Mexican migration also allows the provision of services by Nannies, Maids and Gardeners that Americans would simply not enjoy without a plentiful supply of cheap labour. Even lowly skilled Americans benefit because they have a competitive advantage speaking English and knowing the culture and can gain work managing and supervising Mexican workers.

    The problem in Australia is that we have migration wrong. We see unskilled economic migration as the great threat when in fact these are the people who would be most willing to assimilate and most thankful for the opportunity to come here. We see skilled economic migration as good, yet from a nation building perspective skilled migrants are the ones least likely to form lasting community ties here. At the same time, the one skilled migration pool that is more likely to assimilate, international students who have just completed their degrees, are told that they have to go home, and prevented from staying in a land they have grown to love.

    Worst of all, to conspicuously demonstrate our "compassion" we take in herdsman and other completely unsuitable types of refugees from places like rural Sudan and Somalia, and put them in welfare ghettos with their first order of business to visit Centrelink. And we wonder why they feel alienated. [A friend worked for a while with a Sudanese church, most of the new refugees have never even had experience of paper money before arriving here, ATMs are like voodoo to these people].

    Migrants should have to support themselves, ordinary working class people should not have to pay for migrants to enjoy our country. That said, as I stare at my overgrown garden, I wish their was someone with a green thumb who I could afford to employ as a Gardener. After all, that's how one of my great grand fathers got here, as a humble gardener who couldn't even speak proper English.

  2. Oh come on Joel. There are several problems with immigration today. Firstly is the whole question of multiculturalism, which has as its basis the concept that it is up to the "existing population" to assimilate to the immigrant rather than the other way around. This is one of the reasons why traditionalists have been pushed to the margins. New immigrants are not encouraged to assimilate, and are certainly not taught about, much less encouraged to value any "British heritage" - constant migration or not!

    There was a country of recent times that sought to have a nice, large pool of labour to do all the mundane jobs at cut price rates. That was South Africa. Unless you want to embark on that particular road, you'd have to accept the consequences of universal franchise. These Somali refugees will get the vote, their children certainly will, and unless they move into this "competition for jobs" you say is least beneficial they will be obvious targets for demagogues to claim their "rights" in a "just redistribution of wealth".

    As for the US, the consequences of Mexican immigration do have some short term benefits that you mention, but have a dark side as well, not least the concept that the US has no right to actually control its own borders! How this will pan out in the longer term is unknown, but a Spanish speaking California estranged from the north east isn't out of the question.

    You quote some of your great great grandparents - as I doubt they all came from Germany. In the early 19th Century the vote was determined by a property qualification, and wasn't an automatic right to be had simply by living somewhere for a few years and repeating some lines to the local council. There was no multiculturalism either. It was accepted in those days that "this is England, and this is how things are". Some wanted universal franchise; some wanted better pay and conditions for workers; but very few wanted to completely overturn British culture and identity, much less use immigrants as the foil to do so. These are fundamental differences between then and now.

    Part of the "debate" (and we're not really having one, not an honest one anyway) should be about what terms immigrants come here. One, in my opinion, is that they should respect the traditions and heritage of the country, and not "take offence" where no offence is intended. In fairness many immigrants are like this, but there are quite a few that aren't - the Grand Mufti is an obvious example, but I could mention a few others.

    Finally, I dispute the concept that the more different immigrants are, the more beneficial they are. Apart from being a gross generalisation, I fail to see how complete ignorance of English is "good" for either the immigrant or society in general. This only encourages people to join a subculture disconnected from the rest of society. There are few jobs around the world that have absolutely no equivalent elsewhere: the herdsman you talk about (clearly very different from "mainstream" Australians - yet you describe them as unsuitable?) may come from a different culture, but their work isn't completely different from a jackeroo in the top end. The only jobs they would have that wouldn't compete with "locals" are for jobs that only service the Somali community, like a specific Somali shop or the like.

    Immigration, like many other things, has advantages and drawbacks, and the relative weighting of these things will change with time. You make it sound as if it is all positive, with no drawbacks, except for the fact that the general population has to pay for it. Yet consider this: the main reason for advocating large non-skilled immigration is to keep down the costs of unskilled labour. This can only have negative effects on the earnings of the working class (since you used this term), and will cost them, even if they aren't actually taxed to support migrants. This is on top of the other features which, however much I and others may dislike them, are part of the paradigm of our time (and I did use that word deliberately). I would also like to point out that the "nation of immigrants" label was used to describe the US, and however much people may admire the US, you can't just interchange "America" for "Australia".

  3. I think 'joel' has a preconception that immigration is a good, and is trying to find rationalizations to support his preference for more immigration. His line of argument, if it can be called that, is familiar to us here in the USA; our open-borders zealots say all the same things, and just as unconvincingly.
    And I would assert that the United States is not a 'nation of immigrants'; my ancestors did not come as immigrants to an existing, established country, but came as colonists and pioneers in a sparsely-populated wilderness. There is an essential difference between them and people who come to attach themselves to an existing, prosperous country. There is even less similarity when you consider that many if not most immigrants of today are coming to receive government support in some form, and are not net contributors to the country.
    As far as America benefiting from low-wage immigrants doing menial jobs, the fact is, these jobs were not going begging before the era of mass immigration. The cheap labor has only driven wages down substantially, and has meant fewer benefits and perquisites for employees, since the immigrants will work for low wages and no benefits. They are making things harder for the lowest-level workers in America.
    America has not, contrary to the myth, always had mass immigration; for long periods of time, we had few immigrants, and prospered without them. The immigrants we did successfully assimilate were mostly European, from compatible cultures. This idea of bringing in non-Western immigrants is a huge social experiment, and such experimentation is decidedly not conservative or traditionalist. At all.

  4. Joel, my starting point is this. It is natural for people to identify with, and place great value on, their own ethnic tradition. This tradition is formed by a group of people sharing a common ancestry, language, religion, culture and history.

    If the Western peoples are not defending the existence of their ethnic traditions today it is because of the liberalism of the Western political class.

    Liberalism tells us that we are human when we are "autonomous" in the sense of determining for ourselves our identity.

    Therefore an inherited ethnic identity loses legitimacy: it comes to be thought of negatively as a restriction on the self-creating individual.

    Furthermore, liberalism poses issues from the point of view of a blank slate, asocial individual, as it is from this condition that individuals may be thought most free to self-determine their own identity.

    So the framework of liberalism, the starting point of how to think about things, excludes from consideration the value placed by individuals on a communal identity.

    The term "conservative" implies a desire to conserve. I don't think there is anything more important to conserve than the existence of your own ethny.

    To do this requires confronting the liberalism which underpins, philosophically, the modernist insistence on diversity and open borders.

  5. Joel, let me respond also to some of your specific claims.

    First, British history is not marked by constant migration and the waves of migration which have occurred have been from related groups of people.

    Let's go though it. The Celts were a northern European tribe who migrated to Britain; then a small number of Romans; then the Anglo-Saxons themselves; then a long period without large-scale migration; then a large number of Danes (themselves related ancestrally to the Anglo-Saxons); then a small number of Normans; then a long period without mass migration; then the Irish in the 1800s.

    It wasn't until after 1945 that the current condition, of large-scale diverse immigration, really began.

    Similarly, up to 1945 most migration to Australia was from the UK.

    In 1947, 90% of Australians were of British & Irish descent (15% of Australians were then Irish Catholic); a further 6% were from other northern European countries; 2% were from southern and eastern Europe; 1% were Jewish; and 1% were Aborigines.

    We shouldn't be surprised at these numbers, as the decision at Federation was to reject the "cheap labour supply" option and to maintain ethnic homogeneity.

  6. Joel, I don't think the Mexican experience has worked out as well as you imagine in the US.

    The willingness of Mexicans to work for lower wages has had a negative impact on other low-skilled workers. For instance, a black American radio host has this to say about the effect of Mexican immigration into south-central Los Angeles:

    "We black Americans are being displaced in Los Angeles. We are being systematically and economically replaced.

    And the next time somebody tells you that the illegals only take jobs that blacks won't do, just remember that WE were doing those jobs before the illegals got here AND in places of the country where there is not yet a problem with illegals, you can STILL get your grass cut, your dinner served, your dishes bussed and your hotel room cleaned.

    Funny how in those places Americans are doing those jobs. We would still be doing them in Los Angeles if it was not for the fact that the illegals will work for $3.00 an hour. Breaking the law by working for less than minimum wage means nothing to somebody who broke the law to get here."

    Joel, I don't like the idea of whites employing some other race to act as nannies, maids, gardeners etc.

    The psychological consequences of this for both parties is unlikely to be very healthy (think paternalism, guilt, resentment, dependence).

    In particular, it's likely to undermine the positive feeling Australians have had of a self-sufficient capability: of being a people who were able to roll up their sleeves and do the work required.

    The "Mexican option" implies that there is work that Australians couldn't or wouldn't do; that we somehow aren't fit for survival on our own.

  7. Perhaps Joel wishes to live as Lord of the Manor, but doesn't have the financial resources of a large estate to back it up. This seems to be the implication of the comment about his overgrown garden.

    Someone escaping poverty in central Africa may be willing to work at it for $3.00 per hour, although I can't see how someone can live in a major Australian city on those rates: $3.00 per hour equates to $180 per week if you work a 60 hour week - and only $120 per week for a 40 hour week. The "real estate boom" has now made those sort of pay rates unrealistic - despite the fact that a John Humphries over at Steve Edward's site has tried to claim we could all have a Somali refugee doing the dishes on $5 per day! It have never been though, apparently, that these people would resent their better off neighbours getting more money from the dole than they’d get working their fingers to the bone. Importing an ethnically distinct “coolie class” is a sure recipe for conflict.

    I am grateful to "Vanishing American" for pointing out a few realities about the American situation, as I didn't feel qualified to make such statements. I always thought the "nation of immigrants" tag in the US was a ideologically loaded term! There is certainly a difference between a settler and an immigrant to a developed and prosperous nation. Australia adopted this mass immigration policy after World War 2 chiefly to "fill an empty continent". This was to aid defence in future wars due to the perennial fear of being over-run. I notice that various immigration advocates occasionally make similar references to aid their point, even as they condemn their opponents for xenophobic hysteria. But how does "if we don't increase immigration then someone will do it for us" sound?

    Speaking of all this, we had the disgusting spectacle of Fraser on the ABC boasting about his "multicultural achievements". He was certainly one of our more damaging "leaders", and made the over rated Whitlam into a martyr.

  8. I am not sure how you can be traditionalist and anti-migration at the same time in this country.

    Being a ‘traditionalist’ refers to accepting certain age old, illiberal truths - truths that remain valid regardless of intellectual trends and sophistry.

    It isn't about sentimentalism, or saying “ I believe in the traditions of the 1960s, therefore I am a traditionalist”.