Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Britain's sudden and bizarre resentment of migration


All three of Britain's major political parties are joining the loony xenophobic fringe against migration and competing to sound tough about unwanted foreigners and foreignness. I can't really condemn them for that, however, since they seem to be reluctantly acceding to the popular demand for xenophobia reflected the opinion polls and the rise of 'nativist' political parties like UKIP. The successful diffusion of anti-racist social norms in recent decades has constrained the most natural expressions of anti-migrant prejudices. But the contorted arguments being trotted out now about the harm foreigners do to British prosperity, rights, and culture are really just the old bigotry in new clothes.

8 comments:

  1. Howie Berman2 May 2013 23:02

    If England can absorb the Jutes and Jews (I being one) they can take this generation of migrants.
    Seriously, why is migration a more toxic issue in England than in America? Or is it? Can you learn from us?

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    1. Immigration was a partisan political issue in America, and the debate often seemed rather toxic, until very recently when Republicans discovered demography. I used to point and laugh.

      I hadn't realised how quickly anti-immigrant feeling was rising in the UK, building up on the fringes of maintream politics and suddenly turning into a populist rout of all the major political parties from right to left. I can only hope it will recede as quickly.

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  2. Thanks for the very thoughtful post.

    Would you mind elaborating on the economic theory behind the statement:

    "Pounds are claims on the productivity of the British economy. Every pound sent abroad must eventually be spent on British goods and services. What else can pounds be spent on?"

    Do you have any internet links handy that expand on this thought?

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    1. Sure. I think it's quite simple. In our modern fiat currency system, money tokens like pounds are like the plastic tokens that themeparks make you buy. If you walk out at the end of your trip with a huge pile of unused themepark tokens you know that they are worthless plastic because no one outside the park will accept them in exchange for goods and services, unless of course you can find someone who's planning to visit the park and wants to stock up on that 'currency' so he can buy things there. (And, obviously, if the themepark finds that it has a shortage of tokens it will just order more.)

      Likewise, outside the UK British money tokens are worthless unless you can find people who need them to buy British goods and services, either because they're planning to visit the UK or to pay British companies for exports they've ordered. Of course, this is generally done indirectly, through a currency market that brings together all the people who want to swap pounds for Yen or vice versa. But the basic mechanism remains unaltered. When Thais or Poles working in the UK send remittances home they are not 'sucking demand out of the British economy', but swapping claims on the British economy with claims on the Thai/Polish economy with people who want to buy British things. This exchange is dependent on other people wanting to buy British things, otherwise pounds would be worthless. The original workers have thus made themselves poorer and their relatives richer, but not reduced the GDP of Britain. (Of course, one might still say that the shape of the British economy is affected by this, since foreigners with pounds tend to spend them on different things than say housing and restaurant meals in Aberdeen where the original worker lived. But that kind of point would also apply to Tesco, etc)

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  3. Many thanks for an interesting article.

    I'm not sure I understand your elaboration of the following claim: "Every pound sent abroad must eventually be spent on British goods and services."

    Can't pounds sent abroad (say, to America) be converted into the currency used abroad (dollars in this example), and then be spent on goods and services in the foreign country (America). Therefore, 'British money tokens' are not worthless outside the UK unless we can find people who need them to buy British goods. Because of currency conversion, they can be used to buy goods elsewhere.

    Thanks a lot.

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    1. I think I already addressed your example in my previous comment. Read it over again and if it's unclear please tell me how you think currency exchange markets work.

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  4. Sudden and bizarre? Look up Enoch Powell's speech in 1968. Look up the response to it as well. There has been widespread resentment towards immigration in the UK since the 1950's.

    In 100 years time the UK will probably be an Islamic state with Sharia Law. Thanks to the politicians.

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    1. You may be right that it isn't sudden - though the breakthrough to mainstream politics has still taken me by surprise.

      Yet, your own comments amply demonstrate that this phenomenon is not only bizarre (irrational) but also driven by xenophobia (fear of foreignness).

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