“How Many Are Enough?”

On our last night in Ireland, I watched a BBC broadcast about the upcoming election in Britain (to be held on May 7), which included interviews of both current prime minister (and Conservative Party leader) David Cameron and his challenger, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband.  One of the hot topics was immigration.  In general, the majority of Brits are completely fed up with the high rate of immigration there.

As a matter of background, with the exception of the tiny nations of The Netherlands and Belgium (both barely more than city-states), the U.K. is the most densely populated nation in Europe, with 683 people per square mile.  The U.K. is almost twice as densely populated as China.  And its population has grown by 8.4% since 2007 – all of it due to immigration.

As it did throughout the world, unemployment soared in Britain during the Great Recession, and it remains elevated today – at 7.2%.  And during times of high unemployment, workers – employed or not – take a dim view of immigrants being brought in to compete for their jobs.  We see the same thing here.  Discussions about immigration are always framed in the context of jobs and the demand for social safety net services.

It seems that Ed Miliband had taken David Cameron to task for his immigration policies.  But the BBC interviewer pointed out that the Labour Party’s immigration policies were just as liberal when they held power.  The interviewer asked Mr. Miliband whether he would actually cut the rate of immigration.  The answer was no.  I was stunned at the interviewer’s response.  He pointed out that the overcrowded U.K. was a nation of 64 million people, and asked, somewhat angrily, “how many are enough?”  “70 million?  75 million?”  His question was met with only a blank stare from Mr. Miliband.  There was no reply.

I never thought I’d live to see the day that a journalist would frame immigration in its proper context and ask how many people are enough.  But, apparently, when you reach the population density of the U.K., overcrowding becomes too much to bear and people begin to ask the question.  If people begin to ask the question, can an honest answer be far behind?  If one developed nation concludes that it has reached its limit, and acts on that conclusion, will it be long before other nations see the benefits of a stable or even shrinking population?  How will our journalists and politicians respond when Brits begin to say that “we wish we’d have done this much sooner?”

I have always maintained that the only effect of immigration – the ONLY effect – is to grow our population.  Immigrants possess no magic elixir for healing the economy.  Immigrants don’t create jobs.  They merely grow the population and the number of jobs grows as a result, though no one notes the fact that the result is proportionally fewer jobs.  Immigrants possess no skills that aren’t already found in abundance among our native population.  Thus, any discussion of immigration that doesn’t begin with its effect on population growth is a completely flawed analysis.

I know, I know, I’m reading too much into this one little interview.  It’s just nice to hear a voice of reason among all of the poppycock and balderdash (as the Brits might call it) that characterize discussions of immigration here in the states.

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One Response to “How Many Are Enough?”

  1. Secular Vegan says:

    A belated reply to this but England on its own has an average population density of over a thousand people per square mile (which is slightly more crowded than the Netherlands, but only because the Dutch have for centuries reclaimed land from the sea). This high population density is partly attributable to historic migration from Scotland, Wales and Ireland to England. The other factors are that because England’s economy is larger than that of the other three countries combined and because it is more ethnically mixed than those other three countries, then it is more attractive to immigrants from outside the British Isles (and I include Ireland in that description).

    Given that the UK and the RoI have common residency, working and voting rights that pre-date either being part of the EEC (now the EU) then you could argue that the *effective* population density should be measured as the arithmetic mean of that across the islands. However, there is nothing to indicate the historic trends of migration might go into reverse. The RoI economy is still stuck in it’s Eurozone-induced post-bubble depression, whilst NI is perpetually politically unstable; and Scotland as you well know is politically drifting apart. The only part of Wales that is economically thriving is its capital city, Cardiff, located less than an hour’s drive from England.

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