Last Sunday, David McWilliams published a piece in the Irish Times, wheeling out the familiar argument that immigrants are an unambiguous economic blessing to the host country. The piece is nothing original, those familiar with the politics of immigration elsewhere in Europe and North America will be well-versed in the arguments put forth, making the case that immigrants as an abstract class of people, are at all times and in every era an economic gain. This argument in our modern era mainly comes from America, and as such the article is filled with tropes and clichés that mainly evoke it’s past, so much so that the article headline picture is the Statue of Liberty.
This is nothing unexpected from Ireland’s foremost Neoliberal, David McWilliams being in his 50s would have come of age in the 90’s, during the time of the End of History, when Liberal Internationalist arguments like these became the establishment standard, painted as based not on partisan politics, but as objective, based on data and science.
David’s article paints a picture of an immigrant who is a freedom-loving, tax-paying, job-creating graduate or entrepreneur in the private sector:
“Immigrants make the host country rich. In the US, 40 per cent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by first- or second-generation immigrants. 25% of all Irish start-ups have been founded by foreigners. Immigrants are “job creators” not “job takers”.
A tired old trope well over-used in the English-speaking world. But much of this argument involves pretending all immigrants are the same, and carry the same culture, skills, experience, knowledge, regardless of what part of the world they come from. And that all host countries receiving them are also identical.
But they are not the same. The skills, knowledge, and industriousness of each immigrant will differ in these spheres depending on their country of origin, and the culture they belong to. A Japanese engineer with 20 years of work experience in the private sector will not bring the same skills, knowledge and ability as a 19-year-old man from a war-torn third-world country who has only completed a partial education and does not speak the language of the country he has entered.
Countries with selective immigration policies for skilled workers such as Canada and Australia have had very different economic outcomes from countries with de-facto open border policies such as Sweden and Germany. Lumping all these different types of people as “immigrants” is a lazy generalization. Even within the same country, people’s cultural and economic habits differ drastically based on numerous factors. As the American scholar Thomas Sowell notes in his book Migrations and Culture:
“[D]ifferent groups from different parts of India have by no means all had the same cultural patterns abroad, any more than they have had the same cultural patterns at home. Even in the much smaller area of the British Isles, Scottish and Welsh emigrants have not followed the same occupations or had the same general experiences overseas, any more than in Britain itself. Difference between groups of peoples is the norm in Human Civilisation across time, even in our modern world.
In an effort to paint the Irish as work-shy relative to the immigrant populace domiciled here, McWilliams adduces the following statistics: “Seventy-seven per cent of all immigrants go to work every day, as opposed to just 63 per cent of people born in Ireland. Only 18 per cent of immigrants are not making themselves available for work, as opposed to 24.1 per cent of Irish people“.
Of course, what this does not show is the fact that roughly 11% of Ireland’s population is in retirement, and as immigration and the modern demographic change is a recent phenomenon of the 21st Century and Ireland was previously close to completely homogeneous, we can expect almost all of this to be native born Irish.
And as immigrants are almost never elderly, there is no reason why we should be surprised by the stats cited by David. There would also be an additional amount of Irish people who have long term disabilities and for various reasons cannot work. Those with those same disabilities in foreign countries would be much less likely or unable to emigrate their home country due to their particular condition, so disparity David cites becomes a much more complex story than the one David would like to portray.
Immigrants vs. Refugees
As everyone including David McWilliams knows, the particular bone of contention in Irish immigration politics is our current Asylum Seeker situation. The protests in East Wall, Ballymun, and elsewhere are over the continued historic intake and housing of asylum applicants in Ireland, either fleeing the Ukraine war or applying under International Protection.
The numbers do not inspire much hope. The civil service expect 180k refugees here by the end of 2023. 40% of those who applied under international protection in 2022 applied for asylum with “false or no documentation”. The estimated cost accommodating those with false documentation in 2022 is €141m. 70% are men, which is curious considering that is usually the demographic expected to stay in a time of war. The Irish state is so desperate for any accomodation to house the never ending flow that they are grabbing everything in sight – sports centres, conference facilities, arts, student centres, and schools.
It increasingly feels like the Island itself is one big refugee camp. I’m sure mainstream politicians would be quick to assure me that this is what the Revolutionary generation envisioned. But many interviews with the migrants themselves demonstrate they are coming here because they know it’s an easy system to exploit. And who can blame them when our own government minister Roderic O’Gorman is advertising our asylum system in foreign languages such as Albanian, Arabic and Georgian.
What are we going to pay for this with? It’s not like our financial books are in good shape coming out of the Covid lockdowns. The most recent report from the Department of Finance has revealed that the national debt stood at €226 billion at the end of last year. This means every Irish child born into our country now, is born owing around €44,250 to the Irish State. Which does not even mention the cost of servicing the interest on that Debt, in an age where Interest Rates are again rising across the Western World.
What position are we in to pledge unlimited support to anyone who comes to our shores and says they are a refugee? Where was this response before this asylum surge for our own who are homeless and sleeping on the streets? Why is the response so different when it is *not* our own? After-all, it is our own who pay for all this.
Arguments around the Housing crisis in Ireland can get very abstract and detached quite quickly, so it’s good to look at the state of things in plain English, free of academic jargon, or abstract conceptions devoid of tangible real world examples.
Neither right nor left claims that if their housing solutions are implemented fully, that the housing crisis would go away in the immediate short term. Therefore, we can easily conclude the housing crisis will be with us in the years ahead, probably the entire decade. There is always a finite amount of houses being built or otherwise made available, under any economic plan. Our birth rate is negative, so our population only rises via inward migration. As immigration is a policy choice by our government, and not some force of nature like a hurricane, any significant increase in our population is a choice, made by our government.
Then if we are already in a housing crisis, will be for the long-term future, and have a negative birth rate, why continue to import migrants on a historic scale, when closing them would ease pressure on housing demand and allow native-born Irish an easier shot and finding a place to rent or buy in the meantime?
Open borders and a welfare state cannot co-exist. Even economists who are pro-open borders, such as Milton Friedman, concede this. The primary argument for having a welfare state is a Nationalist one – that we have a greater duty of care and sense of shared interests with our own people. Hence why we obviously do not let the poor of other nations withdraw welfare benefits from our system. However, a lack of checks and a growing view by foreigners that Ireland is an open door and a cash cow completely erodes this.
The English left-wing writer David Goodhart has written showing that as societies increase in their levels of Immigration and become more diverse, the support for a greater welfare state and more social democratic economic policies drops. Less Sweden, and more America. Those on the socialist left should take note of this.
It is also important to note that the Irish left’s main hero James Connelly opposed refugees and low-skill immigration on socialist grounds. Were he to witness today’s Ireland, would Connolly consider the Irish state providing endless free accommodation, medical cards, and other benefits to Algerians, Georgians and Albanian to be in the interests of the Irish working class?
This change in the left wing parties views on immigration, as on other issues such as Trade and the Nation, has occurred in every Western European and North American country. Parties such as the British Labour party have gone from “British Jobs for British Workers” to any criticism of immigration, even illegal-immigration and false asylum claims is racist and immoral. It’s counter-part in our country, the Irish Labour Party, would do well to note the simultaneous collapse of mainstream social democratic parties with the rise of National Populist parties, as no change of party leadership is going to save this party from electoral doom in the long run.
This is clearly seen in the platforms of National Populist parties in Europe, which oppose migrants becoming the main beneficiaries of their welfare state. The centre-left party in Denmark has been of particular note in standing against mass and illegal immigration, seeing the money saved by deterring immigration as a way to better fund their welfare services on Danish-born nationals, coupled with the fact that third-world immigrants do not contribute more than they take in, as shown below by the Economist.
To conclude this piece, I would like to cite other Irish voices on immigration and Economics. The below are two excerpts written in 2015, and 2006, which push against simplistic economic narratives, and also note the more National and Cultural consequences of immigration. Strangely enough, these are also written by David Williams. It is very curious what could have caused such a change of heart, but the below written by David 8 and 17 years ago give a far more balanced and thoughtful break down of Immigration than his most recent write-up on the topic.
“Why immigration is a class issue” – 2015:
“Let’s come to our census on immigration” – 2006: