On Saturday afternoon, I swilled about the Johannesburg northern suburbs on a float of champagne and freshly-imported Loch Duart salmon sashimi, surrounded by valuable Kentridges and tag-along artists. Because that is how the 1% roll, apparently. And I was there, rolling and reaching and deeply envious of the Kentridges; in a manner that can only be described as “deeply shame-making”*.
*Credit for this phrase belongs to my friend Brandon. Used at his open invitation.
Inevitably, the conversation turned political – because I don’t think that you get to be in Bryanston for any length of time without someone bewailing the crime and the dog-show of current government. Fortunately, there were a lot of lawyers at the table; so with almost a collective contrarian sigh, the complaint was dissected, patronised, and summarily dismissed on its (lack of) merits.
But one thing that everyone at the table seemed content to accept as given: that many of South Africa’s problems start at its porous borders. And that logically, the SA government should have “built a wall”.
Admittedly, I wasn’t going to wade into that argument then and there; because that may have meant missing out on subsequent refills of champagne and salmon (I’m a pragmatist). And also, heated immigration debate with heavily-articulated lawyers is a lot of effort for a lazy afternoon.
But allow me to step back onto my anti-Anti-Immigration soapbox.
Because the casual acceptance of “We should build a wall to keep the immigrants out” has exactly the same tone as:
- “But women are only there to bear children and maintain the house… What use could they possibly have for voting? That’s a man’s job.” or
- “But even Saint Paul says in the Good Book that slaves should be good slaves to their masters. I don’t understand why the negroes should need to have freedom, for goodness sake. And they’re being ungrateful, they are – we already give them everything they need!” or
- “The obvious solution is that we should move the Jews into a special area for their own protection – let’s call it a ghetto.” or
- “Stone the fags because God hates them. It says so in Leviticus.”
Those opinions were once taken as given. It wasn’t a question – it just was.
Today, we take it as given that the land of your birth gives you greater entitlement to that land over someone that was born someplace else. And we also take it as given that any incoming immigrant will be bad for the country.
People – people need to check their citizen privilege at the door.
So Firstly, We Are All Immigrants (except for somewhere in Central Africa)
It’s in our DNA. And if you map our ancestry, you get this (you can read more about our mitochondrial DNA haplogroups here):
Secondly, Immigrants Are Almost Certainly Good For An Economy
Immigrants are born entrepreneurs, because the best entrepreneurs are risk-takers. And when you look at immigrants in particular, just consider how large a risk appetite is required to uproot from the familiar and transplant (often with nothing) into the entirely foreign.
An example: in the United States, 40% of the Fortune 500 companies were founded by first-generation and second-generation immigrants, including: Google, eBay, Huffington Post, Pfizer, Bank of America, Kraft Foods, Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Goldman Sachs, Yahoo!, Intel, News Corp, Verizon and AT&T. 40% versus the 13% of the US population that are immigrants (and it would have been closer to 6% at the time that most of those Fortune 500 companies were founded).
If you check out this clip from the George W. Bush Center (curious, because the Republicans aren’t exactly pro-immigration), you’ll notice that relative to their size, immigrants are the most efficient source of new jobs and new small businesses:
So there’s that.
Thirdly, Elysium isn’t really Science Fiction
Go and watch the “dystopian Matt Damon thriller”, where the wealthy have left Earth to live in a 1%-er paradise while the rest of humanity are left to dreg it out here on Earth.
But that is what immigration control already does. It creates pockets of wealth by keeping the potential competition out.
It’s the reason that a bus driver in Sweden earns so much more than a bus driver in New Delhi: not because the Swedish bus driver is better than the Indian one; but because there are so many more bus drivers in India, and Sweden makes sure that they don’t come to Sweden.
It’s pure Right Wing libertarian-esque hypocrisy. Pro-free markets, competition and less government interference – but anti-immigration because that’s not competition, that’s just government interference with hard-working patriots or whatever.
I’m not sure what you’d call it when you have productive and contributing members of a society being legally locked out of full participation therein, without a voice in the legislation that governs their exclusion – but one could use the word “apartheid” and not be wrong.
For more on this, earlier posts:
- The Cost of Anti-Immigration
- More on Immigration
- Why Bus Drivers In Sweden Earn More Than Bus Drivers In India
- Xenophobia: Confessions Of An Immigrant
Rolling Alpha posts opinions on finance, economics, and the corporate life in general. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rollingalpha.