Philippe Legrain. Immigration: Your country needs them. London. Little, Brown. 2006.
This is an extraordinary book about the beneficial effects of immigration and a plea for a more liberal policy of open borders. More so and of interest to our readers because Legrain’s maternal grandparents left Estonia for California in 1944, fleeing the Red Army. His American mother married a Frenchman and settled in London, that cosmopolitan city of opportunity.
There are negative articles all the time in the media about illegal immigrants in so many countries that they seem to sound like criminals. Legrain is the first author who has the courage to write about the merit of the immigrating masses and by doing so able to explain how the hated aspects of globalisation actually have led to quintupling of the world economy and raising living standards in both rich countries and poor. Looking at Legrain’s ideas from the historical point of view — he is on the right track.
For instance, most historians agree that the seeds of the French Revolution were contained in the stupid act of revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 by Louis XIV, when about half the million Huguenots left France to England, Holland and Prussia. They brought prosperity with their skills to their new countries while the art of glass-cutting was lost to France.
Legrain leans heavily on statistics and the book is at times tedious to read. Thankfully, he provides here and there hard luck, or good luck, stories of individuals in it. Lasso Kourouma’s is one of them whom Spaniards called ‘black shit’. Thousands of Africans like Lasso try to enter Spain through Ceuta, a tiny Spanish enclave on the northernmost tip of Africa. But Spain has ‘erected two six-metre-high barbed-wire fences punctuated by watchtowers and fitted with noise and movement sensors, spotlights and video cameras at the cost of some L200 million’. This has caused terrible suffering to would be migrants. In 2005 Médecins Sans Frontièrs treated 2,544 migrants for violent injuries. Human Rights in Andalusia claimed a death toll of 289 in 2003. The same drama is played out on the Mexican boarder, in Arizona desert and in Italy on a tiny island of Lampedusa.
In the chapter “Why we need the huddled masses” Legrain puts the case of low-skilled migration pointing out that they take no jobs away because they fill the jobs the locals do not want: cleaning toilets, collecting rubbish. He asks: imagine if there were no immigrants, no Ghanaian streetsweepers, and no Turkish shop assistants!
In the chapter “The global talent contest” Legrain can’t stress enough how valuable are the skills of immigrants, their culture, their language, their expertise — all great assets in a globalising world and eliminating poverty. As an example he presents an Indian immigrant to Canada, Harinder Takhar, who became a great entrepreneur and Ontario transport minister.
It is amusing to read that the Australian government goes to absurd lengths to try to select the specific immigrants and has a 700 page, 5-kilo volume classification of 986 occupations. Paradoxically, this hasn’t secured the highest quality. Last year we had in Queensland a medical scandal in Bundaberg Hospital where an incompetent Indian doctor had caused many deaths and people called him Dr Death.
But the most inspiring part in this chapter is the success story of Silicon Valley. This global cluster has brought together the best in high-tech superiority in the US’s. To read about people with loads of energy and intelligence, at a time when climatic doom dominates the media, is simply very exhilarating.
Legrain’s argument about the ageing population in rich countries in need of migration is not valid, because he overlooks the Muslim citizens in France, England, Italy, Germany, etc. who have vast number of births balancing out the growth shortages of original population.
Legrain tries to turn brain drain into a brain gain, but it only works in certain circumstances. For instance, India produces more engineers that it could profitably employ and to dispense with a surplus causes no brain drain. The case of Ethiopia is quite the reverse, because more Ethiopian doctors practise in Chicago than in Ethiopia. The same goes for Ghana. Dr A. Akosa, the head of Ghana’s health, is in despair:
“I have at least nine hospitals that have no doctor at all, and twenty hospitals with only one doctor looking after a whole district of 80,000 to 120,000 people.”
However, there is much merit in short-term immigration when people work in rich countries and remit money home fostering economic growth at home. Much more, the temporary migration helps to transform home countries culturally without threatening the national identity. Most nations are a conglomeration of ethnicities anyhow, and if any of them are recreated then they are made more robust.
Legrain supports Muslim immigration and plays down fears of terrorism. This might be fair enough but Muslim thinking is simply too primitive to pair with modern Europeans or Americans. Many of them are illiterate and only fit in the Old Testament scenario. Unfortunately, it is too late to argue about it when there are 30 million Muslims in Europe. There is hardly room to open the gates and let the huddled masses in. The statistics are against it. Let us symphatise with an angry Frenchman who sees next door a family with three or four wives and 20 kids, earning 50,000 francs a month in social benefits without having to work.
This book will stir up a lot of politicians with its bold message that immigration is a blessing and not a curse. All the economic arguments are compelling, the statistics telling.