Current levels of displaced people seeking resettlement are estimated by UNHCR to be of the order of 21 million – not 15.2 million as claimed by Berg. Even though this is at something close to a historical low it is still a massive number.
The Berg argument is that only (!) 10,000 refugees are waiting to be admitted to Australia. Of course Australian governments are concerned about a much higher latent demand than 10,000! Gans has an ‘out’ – he conditions his views on the claim that ‘10,000 refugees is the worst-case scenario’. But it isn’t a real ‘out’ at all and – even if it was – Australia is a nation state with the right – as all nations do – to determine who lives here.
I am amazed that Gans and Berg advance a policy that would determine who comprise the people of Australia on the shallow grounds that it provides ‘gains-from-trade’ – because that is what their argument amounts too. Australia is not a competitive, distortion-free economy where having extra people means Pareto gains in the same way as freeing up of international trade in goods. Australia is a distortion-ridden economy with a subsidized health care system, unemployment benefits, pension benefits and free education. This creates the potential for adverse selection in an intake – particularly one which is likely to be poorly educated and unskilled. This is the reason we have quotas and entry criteria such as points tests.
Moreover, Australia does not price congestion and pollution adequately so that taking huge numbers of new migrants can be ‘immiserising’ on environmental grounds. With sound environmental policies – a hypothetical – the optimal population increases.
The distortions in Australian markets provide part of the reason these people target Australia rather than much geographically closer nations to settle in. Why don’t Tamils settle in India or South East Asia? Why is Australia put in the box of being the inevitable ‘solution’ to the consequences of a civil war in Sri Lanka? Is it because we are seen as an affluent, soft touch?
The implied argument of Berg and Gans that Australia should not even ‘pick-and-choose’ but take whoever turns up with a non-selective entry policy – in effect that Australia should become a common property resource of the international community – is offensive and silly. Put it to a popular vote in Australia and it would be rejected by almost all. Australians want to retain controls over who comprises the people of Australia.
People with skills are often paid less than their marginal product because of the existence of skill externalities. In addition bringing in those with skills provides a human capital bonus (‘brain drain’) and has distributional effects that are favorable – mainly impacting on the well-to-do in Australia and providing complementary demands for more unskilled employment – for example migrant doctors employing secretaries and gardeners.
Most Australians would prefer to live in a society which has new members who are primarily skilled and talented. They certainly don’t want radicalized misfits – whether they are the product of an aggressive alien religion or a traumatic conflict – who despise Australia’s tolerant, democratic society and who ultimately can’t get jobs or fit in. We have a peaceful, prosperous democratic society and want to keep it.
Generally the refugee-humanitarian program has not been and should not be a major part of the immigration program. Australia should accept at most 10-12,000 refugee-humanitarian migrants each year given clearly justified needs but not on the basis of queue-jumping.
Proposals for an ‘open door’ immigration policy won’t go anywhere – neither major political party would accept these claims – but the reasons for them being wrong are worth setting out since the last thing we want is a partial retreat on the decisive advance of the Howard years which involved seeking skilled rather than family migrants. Family reunion has never made much sense for people who choose to leave their families and friends to set up life in a new society. If they don’t wish to separate from family then they should not of course emigrate – as an act of goodwill Australia should provide those who turn out to regret their emigration decision with a one-way ticket home. The Hawke-Keating Labor Party has shown in the past that it will pursue the ethnic lobby to gain votes and citizens should be alert to this possibility now.
Immigration policy needs to be based primarily on Australian self-interest with only a limited refugee-humanitarian component that reflects Australia’s size in the international community. Australia is neither a social experiment for those on neither the left who see it as Australia’s responsibility to right the wrongs of the world nor a right-wing free market fantasy that is inevitably involves ignoring national self interest. (870)