Sunday, March 02, 2008

Flannery: a consistent environmentalist

News from Adelaide:

RENOWNED scientist and author Tim Flannery has fired a broadside at the State Government's push to attract more migrants to South Australia.

And he said the water crisis made any government's policy of increasing population unsustainable.

He questioned why the Government was bringing professional migrants to the state instead of training SA's unemployed to fill skilled-job vacancies.

"Why is it you would want to bring in more people when there are chronic unemployment problems in parts of Adelaide which must be addressed – (especially) in the northern suburbs towards Elizabeth?" said Prof Flannery, the 2007 Australian of the Year and former SA Museum director.

"In my view there should be more emphasis on helping those who are already there in the state than just bringing more people in."

Prof Flannery, who is principal research scientist at the Australian Museum in Sydney, said the policy of "aggressive population recruitment" had already been tried and failed.

He said the pockets of chronic unemployment – sometimes stretching across three generations – were created by bringing in people to fill jobs in a manufacturing industry which had proved unsustainable, as shown by the closure of the Mitsubishi car plant this month.

"I think South Australians should ask themselves whether that (migration policy) is the right model for the future," he said.

I don't always agree with Tim Flannery. Some of his views on global warming seem overly alarmist to me. Nonetheless, he stands as one environmentalist who is consistent in his views: he believes that human populations are harming the environment and therefore he opposes a rapid increase in the population via mass immigration. He stands too as one member of the elite who thinks in terms of the local population rather than seeking salvation elsewhere.


  1. Flannery's consistency usually involves being wrong all the time (as well as insufferably arrogant).

    While I would normally agree with the view he expresses here, the mere fact that he suggests it gives me doubts about its merits :)

    Though they do say a stopped watch is still right twice a day.

  2. Flannery's argument on this occasion overlooks one important fact.

    That fact is that most people who are unemployed in Ausrralia these days are unemployable. Many of them have drug problems, intellectual disabilities, genuinely don't want to work or can't get on with other people. Training these people to fill our shortages is as futile as using tariffs to increase economic growth.

    Therefore, not importing skilled workers from oversees is economic madness.

  3. Leon, I agree that some of the unemployed are poorly equipped for work.

    In a society which tried to develop through its own resources there would be a concerted effort to fix the problem.

    There wouldn't be such a lax attitude to family breakdown, to drugs or to a developing culture of failure or hopelessness.

    Once, though, you accept the idea that a worker from anywhere in the world will do, then local dysfunction can be overlooked.

    One other point. Open borders is always presented in terms of a gain in skilled workers. It can easily work the other way, though.

    If we are not members of a distinct people forming a nation, then we will not have strong loyalties keeping us to any one country.

    So if England is just a place to live, rather than a homeland for a distinct people, why wouldn't skilled workers there pack their bags for somewhere less crowded and sunnier?

    As it happens, England and Holland seem to be losing their best and brightest in droves. Nor is Australia immune - there is an exodus from Sydney gathering pace - a city which not so long ago was boasting that it was destined to be a creative capital.

  4. Ross Gittins: March 3, 2008
    An inconvenient truth about rising immigration

    "JOHN HOWARD never wanted to talk about his booming immigration program. It seems Kevin Rudd's lot doesn't want to either. Why not? Because it just doesn't fit.

    For Mr Howard, it didn't fit politically. Didn't fit with the xenophobic rhetoric he used to win votes back from Pauline Hanson and to wedge Labor.

    For Mr Rudd, it doesn't fit with any of his professed economic concerns - about inflation, about mortgage stress and about climate change ...

    The third point in Mr Rudd's five-point plan to fight inflation is to "tackle chronic skills shortages", and part of this is to do so through the immigration program. Clearly, the Government believes high levels of skilled migration will help fill vacancies and thus reduce upward pressure on wages.

    That's true as far as it goes. But it overlooks an inconvenient truth: immigration adds more to the demand for labour than to its supply. That's because migrant families add to demand, but only the individuals who work add to supply ..."

  5. Dear Mark,

    I certainly wasn't suggesting that we should abandon those who really struggle to find work. But in relation to drug addiction my experience (not as an addict but observing others) is that the decision to break the habit has to be made by the individual concerned. If they are not prepared to kick it, then noone else can really help them.

    And certainly those who can be trained in areas of shortage should be. Hence why I strongly support the rise of manual arts in secondary schools.

    But with unemployment running so low these days, it must be recognised that such people are in very short supply, for reasons I have already noted. (Hence the current debate over the Non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment) While state and federal governments could have done more (the reserve bank continually warned the Howard government about skills shortages), the need to import some labour is inevitable.

    "If we are not members of a distinct people forming a nation, then we will not have strong loyalties keeping us to any one country."

    See, whilst that may sound plausible in theory, the evidence seems to go the other way. Whilst migration has been increasing in an era of globalisation, Australian nationalism has been on the rise, as evidenced by the surge in popularity of the Australian flag.

    And, in terms of keeping the best and brightest here, most economists have been advocating more expenditure on research and development. A lack of investment in this area has contributed substantially to the 'brain drain', because in the US, our brightest can expect to be paid more and get far better facilities to work with. Essentially, in a global market economy, you have to be prepared to pay for the best if you want the best.

  6. Leon, it's true that there are still popular displays of Australian nationalism, such as at sports events and on ANZAC Day.

    Still, the evidence seems to be that when societies shift from an ethnic to a civic nationalism, people begin to choose where to live based on price and lifestyle considerations.

    Hence people are leaving Sydney due to congestion, the high cost of living, and the attractions of living in smaller coastal towns (or to find a more ethnically homogeneous area to live in).

    Holland and Britain are losing young middle class families. If some high paid research jobs were set up by the state, it might keep a few of them home but not the many tens of thousands now leaving.

  7. Blame babies, not migrants, for Australia's economic and environmental woes
    Joshua Gans, March 5, 2008

    "Let's compare reducing immigration to another policy: promoting childbirth. The other half of our population growth is from babies and we are having more of them. But babies contribute to demand and not to supply (that is, don't work) even more than migrant families. By any measure, they are worse for the economy right now."

    Another world citizen living in Australia.

  8. Migrants v babies
    Joshua Gans, Mar 4 2008

    "But it is population growth that is the bigger issue. And the obvious solution is to curtail the other half of population growth — the so-called natural half."

    So-called natural. Wow. Childbirth is no longer more natural than immigration as a means of population growth/maintenance.

  9. Abandon Skip, thanks for pointing out the comments by Professor Gans.

    It seems that he is going to stick with two irreconcilable political beliefs (high immigration, cutting carbon emissions) no matter what.

    The way he argues strikes me as typical of "Economic Man". The problem, therefore, isn't just specific arguments he makes, but the type of man being produced by our culture (well, at least by economics faculties in our culture).

  10. I'm certainly not familiar with the Dutch situation, so that's sth I can't really comment on.

    I imagine in Australia's its different partly because of our climate, which is generally very good (lucky us!). Most people are happy to live here.

    People deciding where to live based on economic considerations has economic benefits for society as a whole. If Sydney is too crowded and I move out of it, I help make Sydney a little less crowded.

    I don't have a problem with civic nationalism. It's values which are important to me, and most migrants are okay, its just a minority that we seem to have recieved trouble from in recent years.

  11. From a producerist point of view the main reason we have a skilled labour shortage in the West (especially the English-speaking West) is misallocation of labour.

    How many smart, talented people are wasted in high paying unproductive jobs in PR, advertising, non-essential legal services (eg immigration lawyers) real estate, pc university studies, counselling, sports management, non-essential NGOs (think most of the UN) etc, etc.

    Even the police force wouldn't need as many people if society was run along more conservative lines, with greater discipline in schools and homes and lower immigration etc.

    Liberalism isn't just about social excesses, its also about waste and extravagence in all areas of social and economic organisation.