Sunday 9 November 2014

Leaving the EU won't solve our immigration problems

Lots of ridiculous articles around about immigration at the moment. On the one hand we have the Ukipist tendency to want to shut of shop and stop engaging with the world, and then you have the equally stupid Marxist view that we can "simply" open our borders to the whole world without any suggestions as to how this might be achieved.

We're seeing tedious exchanges of migrant numbers and dry economic figures, followed by equally tedious bickering over who's right. Let's start with from the position that nobody is right. On the one hand we have a media whose job it is to make money, which means generating hits which means feeding their reader's own prejudices back to them. So you cobble together a few stats with accompanying pictures of Romanian beggars and then you have a moral panic on your hands which can be marketed and turned into cash money.

Then we get more reasonable studies on the symptoms, and what we find is that these symptoms are eminently solvable. On the one hand you have immigrants who can cut down their expenses by sharing five to a room taking jobs under minimum wage, and on the other a settled community who can't and shouldn't have to compete at that level for work, but are then left worse off by leaving the welfare system and taking work - often impossibly so.

We're seeing a disparity of opportunity here and an unlevel playing field at the bottom of the work ladder. Free market fundamentalists (myself included) would prefer that such an obnoxious and toxic idea never existed, but as a floor price mechanism for addressing the unfair competitive advantage, if properly enforced, can incentivsie work, can generate fair competition and if licensing for houses of multiple occupancy is properly enforced then the economic advantages to coming here to work are significantly reduced. This addresses what is known as the pull factor.

We can also toughen up vagrancy laws so that those who land without having first found accommodation will find that life here is not that pleasant. And let's face it, vagrancy is a huge problem that does have negative externalities, and a distinction needs to be made between the genuinely homeless and the economic migrants who had some choice in the matter.

There are many small measures we can take that would have an enormous effect on the largely overstated symptoms which would soon collapse the moral panics and take the wind out of Ukip's sails. So we have to look at why these laws aren't being enforced. And here's the kicker... it's nothing to do with austerity or council cuts.

HMO law has not been properly enforced for a very long time thanks to the, frankly absurd, statutory obligations placed on councils to house people. If you shut down a HMO where there are twenty people living in one house then that places a burden on councils to find the resources to place them, which usually means an expensive B&B because that it the fullest extent of innovation you can expect from councils.

In effect, councils are in a state of paralysis because proper enforcement of the law then magnifies their troubles. Simply building more houses is the simpleton solution in that supply is quite soon taken up and supply can never quite keep pace with demand.

So there's other aspects we can look at such as the push factor. Many immigrants are escaping war and third world poverty, from places like West Africa, Syria and Huddersfield. In many respects it is our own foreign policy that creates the push of immigration in the first place. In some respects it's our inexplicable need to drop bombs on things and then even bigger follies such as the EU's trade policy which has ruined the economy of West Africa by corruptly appropriating fishing rights and sending industrial seabed hoovers to decimate habitats which sustain inshore fishing and exports.

There is also much we can do with foreign aid as a targeted means of international development, but that would mean having a DfD that was fit for purpose and a coherent foreign policy. These matters are not wholly divorced from the EU but not solely EU matters either. But it is a mistake to believe that we can control immigration, or at least mitigate it without engaging in the wider world and even outside of the EU, our own welfare, trade and labour laws have a great deal more of a negative effect than open borders, and that is what creates the perception of problematic immigration.

Then we have the Rochdale and Rotherhams, which again is a good deal more to do with bureaucratic inertia and institutional paralysis, by and large a consequence of not enough subsidiarity, accountability and democracy.

The EU is a problem but it isn't the whole of the problem, and on balance, EEA zone immigration not only makes us richer but it has also been a huge part of transforming Poland's economy and in turn will do likewise for Bulgaria and Romania as the remittances start flowing and the cultural and trade advantages thereof.

The fantasy fiction of Marxists is every bit as absurd and toxic as Ukip's small minded simpleton approach, and seemingly nobody wants to admit the complexity or even attempt to get to grips with the small things that we can do which would be transformational in a very short time. And why is this? It's simple. Immigration is not at the centre of this debate and it is a proxy for a general disaffection, artificially induced by sensationalist media and opportunistic populist parties.

Our problems are many and multifarious, but I guarantee you the solutions are to be found in very obscure, very dry and distinctly unsexy civic laws. There is no big solution and no single large culprit. To pretend there is as Ukip does is cynical, intellectually dishonest and fatuous. But we'll get our moronic points based quota system, and I will be completely unsurprised at how little difference it makes - and I will still be repeating myself in twenty years time.

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