Here is a video clip worth watching. It’s American-focused, agreed – but I think that the principle can stretch.

So I’ve been thinking about immigration a lot recently, for a few reasons:

  1. My bedtime reading has suddenly taken a turn in an early-settler/hunter direction (the pioneers spent a lot of time trekking and, apparently, being attacked by lions. I mean – that’s good reading!); and
  2. I am due for an encounter with Home Affairs fairly soon (passport needing to be renewed, temporary resident permit needing to be extended, etc).

This has led to some observations:

  1. The early settlers just arrived. They didn’t stand in a queue at Home Affairs. They didn’t get their passport stamped at the border. They didn’t have exchange control breathing down their necks every time they wanted to leave with some cash (or, in their case, ivory). They just stowed away on a ship from Portsmouth, washed some dishes when they got caught, bargained their way onto a wagon, and started prospecting and/or hunting elephants once they reached Kimberley. And being proper English gentlemen, they’d generally start by getting permission from the local chief (albeit somewhat underhandedly).
  2. They just arrived. I actually cannot imagine being so risk-tolerant that I would leave the motherland and move to a completely foreign environment, with little to no savings, where communication takes place by post, if at all. No banks. No cellphones. No support structure. No one to take care of you if you fall ill. Not even a common tongue. Maybe, if they were lucky, they had a letter of introduction to an acquaintance of an acquaintance of the gentleman that they shared their last whiskey with before leaving London, “a certain Mr Jones of Gokwe town, a missionary of a terribly decent sort”, etc.
  3. They arrived, and with extraordinary capitalist tendencies, proceeded to make their fortunes.

The thing is, as with the early pioneers, immigrants (and immigrant families) are some of the most entrepreneurial people out there. And this should make sense, because:

  1. Entrepreneurs are risk-takers anyway, but when you look at immigrants in particular, it takes an unusually large risk appetite to uproot from the familiar and transplant (often with nothing) into the entirely foreign.
  2. And the risk-taking aside, immigrants face two choices – it’s either be entrepreneurial, or be exploited by those that see the desperation of their circumstance. So there’s not a lot of choice there.

In the United States, 40% of the Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants, or the children of 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.

And yet today, with a host of new immigration laws that have only really come into play in the last five decades, there is complete stifling of what-could-have-been. You have resources in one location, and the potential entrepreneurs sitting on the other side, in a line, waiting for a residence permit. Because “we have to protect our people from losing their jobs.” As though every immigrant is “cheap labour”.

There’s an equal argument to that: those people will lose their jobs anyway. Because industry can outsource, as the waves of First World companies have already done. So by keeping the skills outside, the free hand of capitalism will move itself outside as well.

I just think that strict immigration policy can be very short-sighted. If you want growth and consumers, then you need to let the risk-takers in.

And as for the fear that everyone will just uproot and move to your country – I’d like to point out that, historically, that’s just not what happened. Because, well, most of us see the world as a dangerous place, where it’s safer to just stay home.

Rolling Alpha posts about finance, economics, and sometimes stuff that is only quite loosely related. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, or like my page on Facebook at Or both.