The myths and its choice of words

Checks and Balances, Economy and free migration

Take a look at yourself, Multi-cultural society?

Get going, In a new building

discussion about migration 1

discussion about migration 2

Checks and Balances, Economy and free migration

Economy and migration are closely interlinked. History shows that migration is usually the consequence of major changes in the world economy. And economies are only the better of it. Those who listen to free market economists hear but one thing: free migration is a must, free migration is good for economy.

Examples are easy to find. In discussions about the asylum and immigration policy, sooner or later there will be a reference to the economic impossibility to grant free access to the Dutch society for asylum seekers and immigrants. We simply can not afford to pay for all these facilities, there are no jobs, we already have so many unemployed, and there is simply no perspective for these people. Economic arguments, that may function as a disguise for other motives and usually get few response. This type of reasoning is apparently logical and self-evident, so no further explanation is needed. But how logical is it? One thing is right: there is a relation between migration and economy. Only the relation is different from what is usually thought. Historic studies (1) show that large-scale migration is always the result of major political and economic structural changes. The industrial revolution at the end of the last century, led to a casting out of workforce from the countryside and an enormous demand for labour in the cities. This had the massive migration from the countryside to the cities as consequence. Migration towards America the past twohundred years was directly linked to the enormous build up of capital in that country, which provided a great demand for labour.
Migration always has a cause. Many migration studies show that if possible, people will try to build an existence in their own surroundings, however marginal. Migration does not occur simply because there is a difference in wealth between countries. A special bond with the country of destination is of great importance. People leave either because they are in fear of persecution and violence - asylum seekers who have a right to protection - or because there is a demand for their labour in other parts of the world. Migrants follow the developments of the labour market is one of the lessons to be concluded. A second conclusion is that migration is less an individual choice than it seems. It is a result of large-scale developments that have little to do with individual choices. This shows how ridicule it is to have a policy aimed at discouraging individual immigrants.

Flexible workforce

The post war migration to the Netherlands can be explained in that way. Immigrant workers were recruited by teams of the government, business and industry to come to the Netherlands to work. Studies show that this has had a positive economic result: on balance the arrival of immigrants created more work than that it occupied (2). Studies from the United States show the same results. Whether regarding jobs, tax revenues, government spending or income development, on the long term immigrants have given the economy a firm injection (3).
The past twenty years have shown strong changes in the organisation of the world economy and labour market. These changes have in turn led to the current patterns of migration. The globalisation of economy, influenced by the technological developments, make it possible for companies to benefit from regional and international differences in labour costs, taxes and infrastructure. National governments are increasingly competing to lure companies and investments.
Besides infrastructure and more profitable tax rates, savings are mostly made on labour costs. The words privatisation, deregulation, flexibility and out-contracting in reality are a huge operation to shift the balance. Where companies used to offer a certain amount of security by regular contracts, and the government provided security with social facilities, the risks are now put with the employees.
The thus created labour market demands a specific type of labour: flex workers, temps, one-person companies, and temporal personnel. According to Sarah van Walsum two tendencies can be distinguished (4). On the one hand labour migration takes place through family reunion and building. Companies and the government used to provide all kinds of support, now families and networks have to receive these people within their community, and help them find a way in the instable and fragmented labour market. Here too risk shifting takes place.
The second group of 'ideal' workers are the illegal foreigners. Their totally marginal and ever threatened existence makes them grab every opportunity they get. In reverse they are in no way entitled to facilities. It is a cynical relation of exploitation, which is silently tolerated. Next to the useful economic effect illegal immigrant workers have they are also helpful in pleas for further deregulation. In short: Illegals out, unemployed in. And if the unemployed do not want to, or if they are too expensive or not flexible enough, then that has to be changed. In this way illegal labour functions as a crowbar to adjust the labour relations to the new economic demands.

More migration

The motto of the global world economy is free movement of goods, services and capital. Liberal economists, who are convinced of the beneficial effects of the free market, frequently ventilate their opinions about free movement of persons too (5). Thus free migration. They do not argue for free migration out of moral or ethical principles, but on economic grounds. In the Netherlands, at the beginning of this year (artikel dateren), Ed Lof published a fair example of such a train of thought (6). He argues that it is well possible to organize society in order to receive immigrants. Even more, Lof says, we will need them to break through the rigidness of social dynamics.
Lof signals a number of congruent developments. The population of the Netherlands is aging. An increasing large group of elderly will fervently try to protect their acquired rights and wealth. They hoard their money, as a result there are decreasing investments in production and work, and finally a pensioner's state arises. At the same time the cost of health care will increase and there is a decreasing number of 'actives' that will have to earn the wealth. Ed Lof predicts a jamming economy, which will only increase the gap between rich and poor. A society that is reigned by fear for change, out of spasmodity and polarisation. A social time bomb according to Lof.
Lof als concludes that the high-quality services sector that develops in the West creates a large number of low qualified, flexible jobs for technical and domestic tasks, like cleaning, security and catering. Also the growing differences in income and the deterioration of the welfare system will increase the demand for personal services like domestic aid, medical care and child care.

The alternative that Lof sketches has as keyword dynamics. Rigid rules in the areas of social security, labour and settlement will have to be removed, to spark off the productive potential of the population. What we need, according to Lof, is innovation, renewal and flexibility. Immigrants should therefore not be perceived as temporal workers to help out, in this case because of aging. According to Lof immigrants are a source of growth, vitality and dynamics, with which the rigidness can be broken. The solution is more immigration, so says Lof.
But there are a number of conditions that have to be met. Society has to be organized to receive these immigrants. Besides the economic changes that Lof proposes that make it possible for more people to grab their opportunities, a cultural change is necesarry too. Immigrants have to feel welcome, appreciated and have to be stimulated. They have to get the recognition they deserve. The more opportunities society will offer them, the more they will regard it as their society.

Lof sees the illegal circuit mostly as an expression of the discrepancy between the national, restrictive migration regimes and the factual development of a globally intertwined and flexible labour market.

Conservative to the bone?

The author is not impressed by the reproach that he only sees ill-paid, flexible jobs for immigrants, as an addition to the high-quality services sector. "Nonsense, people have to start somewhere. Often it is shown that after a few generations immigrants have risen on the social ladder. If that doesn't happen then probably there is racism involved, which blocks the opportunities. And that is precisely what I am warning for. A society that only perceives immigrants as a threat, digs its own grave".
The reproach that his liberal model of markets undermines the social security and workers rights, does not move him. "I am an economist and supporter of the liberal free market model. One does not have to see it as a god, or an ideal state, it is simply something you have to use. An increasing effect of the market can perfectly be combined with a thorough social model. But this too requires renewal. The basic income idea is an interesting possibility. There have been quite a number of serious economic studies to that, which prove it could work, both socially and economically. As you see: I'm conservative to the bone". The interesting thing to Lof's plea is that it is motivated from within the dominant liberal discussion. Besides, Lof does not stand alone. Economic calculations of, among others, professor emeritus Wouter Tims show that free migration in the long run benefits the countries of origin, just as with the countries of destination (7). He too adheres to the free market principle. For those who argue for free migration from a leftist conviction an interesting dillema occurs. Pleas for free migration from a leftist angle are almost never economically argumented. The most 'economic' argument is the reference to century long exploitation of the South. From there it is argued that it is only logical and just that people travel after the money that was stolen from them. This however does not answer the question how these people should be offered an economic and social perspective. Besides the danger is in adopting the argument that immigration is embodied by the desire for the riches of the West.
Besides general notes on a worldwide justifiable distribution of wealth and a general idea of the feasability of societies, an economically argumented model that incorporates free migration is not available. There are ideas about a radically different organisation of economy, but these have as disadvantage that they have never been tried out on any scale or have proven to work on a longer term. It is a perspective that is light-years away from the everyday practice and therefore less persuasive.


A plea for free migration can however start from the knowledge that migrants follow the labour market. With the work of liberal economists can be argued that large-scale migration is very much possible within the existing economic relations, and what's more that it is even desirable. The advantage is in breaking in on the political debate from an unexpected angle. Now we can box right wing politicians' ears with their own economic principles. It is a fairly easy method to create confusion, which is still the best way to break open, a closed front.
It is also a plea that can be radicalised relatively easy. A consequent liberal economist will have to admit that the Western practice to protect its own market against products from the South, price agreements between multinationals or the huge movement of goods and finances within multinational companies have nothing in common with a free market, and therefore have to be abolished. That it will also create confusion within our own ranks will have to be taken for granted. Hopefully it can be an encouragement to develop and integrate economic arguments more seriously into pleas for free migration. That could be a fair piece of work for leftist economists and could create coherence between migration and other social questions, which is now often sorely missed.
As long as there is no satisfactory answer formulated to the horribly effective images that support the current dominant migration policy - we can hardly receive all these people in our small country - the advocates of free migration are always a few steps behind.

Jelle van Buren

1 See for example: David M. Kennedy, Can we still afford to be a nation of immigrants? In: The Atlantic Monthly, November 1996; Saskia Sassen, Transnational economies and national migration policies, IMES, Amsterdam 1996
2. Bureau voor Economische Argumentatie (Bureau for Economic Argumentation), de economische betekenis van minderheden voor de arbeidsmarkt, Hoofddorp1994
3. Michael Fix and Jeffrey S.Passel, Immigration and Immigrants, Setting the record straight, Urban Institute, Washington, 1994
4. Sarah van Walsum, Uit moederschoot of vaderland, In: Thomas Spijkerboer en Sarah van Walsum, Grensoverschrijdingen opstellen over vreemdelingen en recht, NCB, Amsterdam 1997
5. See for example publications in free market fanzines as The Economist and The Washington Post
6. Ed Lof, Een nieuwe gouden eeuw, de demografische noodzaak van immigratie, Forum, Utrecht 1998
7. G. Fisher, K. Frohberg, M.A. Keyzer, K.S. Parikh and W. Tims, Hunger: Beyond the reach of the Invisible Hand, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria 1991