An inexorable flow to richer lands

Aug 14 2011, 02:27 IST
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SummaryThe homely figure of Mrs Gillian Duffy hovers over the issue of migration—in the UK, certainly, but also over all of the rich world.

John Lloyd

The homely figure of Mrs Gillian Duffy hovers over the issue of migration—in the UK, certainly, but also over all of the rich world. Gillian Duffy was the woman who, in the northern town of Rochdale, slipped out to buy bread and met Britain’s prime minister, Gordon Brown, during 2010’s general election.

She told him she was concerned by the scale of eastern European immigration. He said migration in Europe works both ways, changed the subject, said he was glad to meet her, then, ensconced in his Jaguar, grumbled furiously that he should not have met such “a bigoted woman”.

Rupert Murdoch has a long arm: the forgotten microphone which his Sky News Channel had attached to Mr Brown’s lapel was still live and a delighted press corps became privy to the exchange. In minutes, it was global. Mrs Duffy became the patron saint (or sinner) of the migration debate because she and Brown perfectly encapsulate its unusual character. The issue cannot be understood without a grasp of the high and low.

Exceptional People is on the (very) high side. In a detailed, accessible and fluent way, it gives a series of good reasons why we—especially we in the rich countries —should encourage migration. We should do so, first, for ethical reasons: since the majority who are poor and the minority who are comfortable (as well as the sliver who are rich) are so largely by chance, then on what moral grounds do we deny the majority a larger slice of the global pie? As the authors remark, by doing so—through our governments—we act as medieval barons, keeping the peasants in their huts outside our gates. We should do it, too, because history is on its side. From the time when our human ancestors spread beyond the African plains, their wanderings have created a multitude of societies—diverse, extraordinary, unique.

We should do it because it benefits us. US agriculture could not exist and be as productive as it is; the French and German car industries could not be the forces they are; for that matter, the drains of Britain would not be as free flowing as they are were it not for Mexican, North African, Turkish and Polish migrants. Far from taking jobs, migrants create them: an OECD study of 2009 “found that increased immigration is accompanied by commensurate increases in total employment”; and a separate estimate for 1999 found immigrants had contributed

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