Sinclair Davidson states at Catallaxy that the decision to appoint a “Minister for Population” amounts to a racist return to an exclusionary white Australia policy. What a foolish post – the claim that the need to set constraints on the level of immigration is ‘racist’ represents a new low for Catallaxy. Davidson quotes Ludwig von Mises on Malthus in an extract that deals with critiquing the ‘iron law of wages’ (this has nothing too do with immigration) and finally closes with the claim that it is restrictive trade union policies that restrict international labour mobility and which therefore unreasonably prevents wages from equalizing internationally. An interesting double-barreled load of codswallop here since the big immigration expansions in Australia were the product of Labor rule – as is occurring at present. Who anyway, wants wages equalized at levels now prevailing in Beijing and Delhi even if they are augmented by small overall economic efficiency gains?
More substantively a policy of regulating population – this means in the absence of pro- or anti-natality policies, regulating immigration - makes sense if we don’t have ideal environmental policies in place. For example, if we don’t congestion price city traffic and if we don’t adequately charge for incremental infrastructure costs including, particularly, over-utilized water resources. It also makes sense if we offer public goods such as a public health scheme or subsidized education. Finally, it makes sense if we are concerned about redistributions of income away from labour to capital.
Even with perfect environmental policies and all public goods being privatized – hopelessly unrealistic assumptions given the state of the Murray Darling Basin and our capital city policies - with an unrestricted immigration intake wages in Australia will approach those of Third World countries who supply the migrants. Yes, there will be ‘gains-from-trade’ but they will all accrue to capital. Having many more people will switch the distribution of income towards land-owners and the asset rich so that, at least, we would need to switch more decisively to taxing capital gains and redistributing the proceeds of such taxes to those who lose out.
The moment then you introduce restrictions on the immigration intake you do have a population policy. I don’t think Davidson grasps this simple point.
It is very unlikely that the environment will be comprehensively priced and that migrants entering Australia will pay for the additional infrastructure their arrival necessitates. Without such pricing however there will be rising urban disamenities as pre-existing external costs are exacerbated. Most of us value the high quality natural environment of cities like Melbourne – we don’t seek to live in a city with 7-8 million people. Generally Australians appreciate the value of living sustainably in a country with a decent environment, with a certain amount of elbow room and with some respect for the natural environment.
To be clear I don’t want to live like Indians or Chinese do in their vast polluted and congested cities. I value the Australian way of life, the natural amenities Australia provides and I wish to preserve it.
Davidson’s foolish contribution follows a similar attack by Stephen King on Bob Birrell over at Core Economics. Birrell’s paper is here. King’s paper is motivated by Birrell’s criticism of earlier Labor plans to increase Australia’s population from 22 million to 36 million in 40 years mainly by immigration. Birrell wrote his piece criticizing the economic and environmental implications of the implied change.
The response of King is pure Dada. To King a sufficient justification for immigration is that migrants liberated Australians from “lamb and potato mash” cuisine. As a contribution to the immigration debate this is laughable but it is also a libel on the meaningful contributions that were made by migrants to the Australian community.
Birrell is about defending Australian values not by by recognizing they are worthy of some intrinsic significance that is worthy of respect. I agree that there is substantial value in the Australian ethos. Those with anti-Australian prejudices denounce racism by a caricatured “evil white Australia” but ignore the bigotry implicit in their own stance.
There is nothing wrong with defending Australian values of democracy, law and order and basic human decency. We don’t have a caste system in Australia, we don’t have a dominant racist ethic, we do have freedom of religion and don’t kill each other in an attempt to attain political ends. Nor do we train children to kill those with differing religious views. These are non-negligible national virtues that should not be taken for granted.
Indeed we have been comprehensively conned by those in the multi-culturalist, guilt lobby who assert that Australia is racist and xenophobic when 40 per cent of our population growth since WW2 is made up of migrants. It is worth emphasising that almost none of the countries of Asia or the Middle East admit any migrants at all – the clatter despite repeated bellyaching about the plight of Palestinian refugees. Try living as a foreign national in Japan or Thailand and you will soon discover what exclusivity is all about.
If previous posts by mine on the topic of immigration are any guide this post too will attract the pro-immigration fanatics who see any type of immigration restriction as a sign of overwhelming national depravity. My counter-claim is that Australia has always operated a selective immigration policy that does not offer entry to anyone who seeks to come here. And that is very definitely a good thing. Those who advocate no immigration restrictions at all – and that is where the contributions of Davidson and King do point – have boxed themselves into a corner with libertarian crazies who ignore the implied environmental costs and the immiseration of Australian workers. Essentially their view that adding more diversity always augments our national advantage indicates a dismissal and perhaps even an implicit hatred of what it means to be an Australian.
There is a legitimate argument over what the size of the Australian immigration intake should be. There is no argument at all for turning over the debate about population size to anti-Australian bigots and libertarian crazies who see any attempt to restrict the size of intakes as racism. (1678)