Sunday, August 19, 2007

"Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them"

Philippe Legrain is a journalist and writer. He is the author of Open World: The Truth about Globalisation and many articles about economics, politics and culture.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them, and reported the following:
Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them aims to debunk many of the myths about migration, and show that far from being a threat to everything we hold dear, people who cross national borders to build a better life for themselves and their children generally benefit not just themselves, but also the country they move to.

As I write on page 69 (and the half-paragraph on page 68 that precedes it):

When they are not blaming them for stealing our jobs, critics often portray immigrants as lazy welfare scroungers. If people from poor countries can claim more in welfare benefits in rich countries than they can earn working in poor countries, it is certainly conceivable that this could spur some of them to migrate. But there is no evidence for this, as even critics of immigration such as George Borjas admit: ‘there exists the possibility that welfare attracts persons who otherwise would not have migrated to the United States. Although this is the magnetic effect that comes up most often in the immigration debate, it is also the one for which there is no empirical support.’ It should be clear that if migration is costly and risky, it does not pay to move to a rich country to try to claim comparatively low welfare benefits when you could earn much more by working instead. Would Inmer really leave behind his family and risk his life in order to go on welfare in the US? In any case, migrants are typically not entitled to most welfare benefits in rich countries. And last but not least, even if rich countries were to make it much easier for people in poor countries to come work, and there were signs that this was attracting migrants who were coming simply to claim welfare benefits, governments could restrict the availability of those benefits to citizens or long-term residents. That is precisely what the British government did when it opened the doors to east Europeans from the new EU member states in 2004. As a result, Poles are not entitled to claim £56.20 a week in jobseeker’s allowance, so they must make do with earning at least £200 a week doing a minimum-wage job and most likely much more than that.

Immigrants all have different skills and characteristics, so any claim about them is by definition a generalisation. But even so, I shall make a bold one: immigrants tend to be younger, fitter, more hard-working and more enterprising than local people. Why? Not because foreigners in general are more industrious and adventurous, but because migrants are a self-selected minority. Young people have their whole lives ahead of them and so most to gain from migrating, while the old and the sick are generally not able to do so. While over half of the foreigners in the US – and nearly three-fifths of the immigrants who have arrived since 2000 – are in their twenties or thirties, only a quarter of natives are. Over four-fifths of the East Europeans who have applied to work in Britain since 2004 are aged 18–34.

Is page 69 representative? The writing style and analytical approach are. But of course, reading one page is not a substitute for reading the book as a whole. I hope I have whetted your appetite.
Read the Introduction to Immigrants, and learn more about the book and the author at Philippe Legrain's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue