Immigration: wishful thinking by well-meaning people (4 of 4)

James Wickham10/02/2015

James Wickham: Here the argument is brought to a conclusion, with a full list of references. [Part 1 of these four posts is here]

4. The moral case for immigration
Today in most European countries large scale immigration in its current form probably increases social inequality.

The fiscal arguments for continued large-scale immigration involve enormous social change and heavy resource pressure for at best marginal benefits. Not all European countries face population decline, so in these cases (UK, France, Scandinavia) the demographic arguments are grossly exaggerated.

All too often immigration emerges as the easy option for policy makers unprepared to consider more egalitarian solutions to labour market problems. The social benefits of diversity are probably restricted to specific situations and immigrant groups rather than an automatic consequence of all immigration.

Any ‘objective’ social science justification for mass immigration thus turns out to be very, very debatable. The problem with making a normative argument dependent upon empirical arguments is that if the empirical case collapses, then so too does the normative case. However, some aspects of immigration are too important to be decided by economists or even sociologists…

The shadow of the holocaust still hangs across European immigration policy. Before World War II, at the Evian conference of 1938 virtually all participating states - including above all the UK and the USA - refused to accept more refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. They closed the door and the refugees were murdered. This shame explains our hesitancy at any restrictions on asylum (for example in Germany itself the right to asylum was part of the original Basic Law (Grundgesetz) until modified in 1992).

Today civil violence, war, ethnic cleansing, even genocide happen in countries just outside the European Union. In Syria, Islamic fundamentalists – facilitated by citizens from European countries – are now openly committing genocide.

These conflicts can hardly be ‘solved’ by migration. But when the victims and the refugees beg to be allowed to enter our zone of security and freedom, we should be proudly opening the gates – not because we think the immigrants will make us marginally richer, not because we think their diversity makes our lives more entertaining, but because it is the least that we as human beings can do.

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Professor James Wickham

James Wickham

James Wickham was Jean Monnet Professor of European Labour Market Studies and Professor in Sociology at Trinity College Dublin. He has published widely on employment, transport and migration in Ireland and Europe; he is the author of Gridlock: Dublin’s Transport Crisis and the Future of the City and co-author of New Mobilities in Europe: Polish Migration to Ireland post-2004.  His book Unequal Europe: Social divisions and social cohesion in an old continent analysed the collapse of the European Social Model; his new text book European Societies (Routledge 2020) examines the structures of inequality in contemporary Europe.  He is a former director of TASC. 



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