25 January 2017

How Much is Too Much? – Reflections on Paul Collier’s Exodus

"Austria has also toned down its earlier Pharisaic attacks on Hungary (it could hardly do otherwise since it is now facing the same brickbats from human rights bodies that Hungary did), but the left liberal lobby in the EU continues to try and distract attention from its lamentable performance on this issue by viciously attacking Hungary for demonstrating that the EU emperor had no clothes."


Both the narratives that immigration drives down wages for indigenous workers and that immigration is economically necessary are false. The truth is that moderate migration has economic effects on the indigenous population that in the short and medium term are mar- ginal and most probably positive. Any long term effects are negligible. In contrast, sustained rapid migration would most likely lower the living standards of most of the indigenous population, both through wage effects and through the need to share scarce public capital. So while controls on migration are important to protect living stan- dards, moderate migration is modestly advantageous.

(Paul Collier1)


The right way of posing the diversity question is not whether it is good or bad – the xenophobe versus the “progressive” – but how much is best.

(Paul Collier2)


Migrants, economic migrants, immigrants, emigrants, settlers, colonisers, asylum seekers, refugees even a sub-category of welfare tourists: the taxonomy of migration shows us that this age-old phenomenon is as complex as it is potentially explosive. Many of the above categories overlap: for example, all migrants are necessarily “economic” migrants in search of a better life than the one they have left, even if they may also be refugees and/or asylum seekers. Or take another example: after the Napoleonic Wars, the flood of migrants to the New World were initially referred to as “emigrants”. However the nomenclature underwent a change: as the economic historian James Belich has discovered, by 1830, exactly the same type of migrant was no longer described as an “emigrant” in the press of the day, but as a “settler”. As Paul Collier perceptively notes in this remarkable book, “this change was not innocuous; the two terms imply radically different narratives. Emigrants are, essentially, leaving their society of origin behind them to join a new one. Settlers, in contrast, are bringing their society of origin with them.”3

This observation goes to the heart of the debate about what is arguably the most pressing political issue of our time. The debate has also become toxic, the blame for which Collier lays squarely at the feet of mainstream politicians, who have sought to evade open discussion of immigration, for fear of the topic being hijacked by extremists. Especially in Europe, the racism and fascism of the first half of the twentieth century casts a long shadow, preventing any detailed discussion that is not tinged with the resentment of those who feel they are being manipulated, or infected with the self-righteousness of those who feel their view of the matter is the morally superior one. Collier, a Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Oxford, navigates between these extremes with deft prose, scrupulous use of data, and laudable candour. “While the topic [of immigration] is regularly around the top of voter concerns”, he notes, “the literature on it is either narrow and technical or heavily filtered by advocacy for some strongly held opinion”, and he hopes that “the evidence and arguments” he offers “will open popular discussion of migration policy beyond views that are theatrically polarised and stridently expressed. The issue is too important to stay that way.”4

In five closely argued chapters Collier deals with the drive” factors of migration, its social and economic consequences, winners and losers from migration, and the effect on the countries from which migrants have come (or escaped), finally making some suggestions for framing a migration policy that is “fit for purpose”. Along the way he overturns a number of applecarts, exposes economic self- interest posing as altruism, and gives short shrift to disingenuous politicians or press commentators who either fail to understand, or do not wish to accept, the dynamics of immigration with its positive and negative effects. As the grandson of a German immigrant who was the target of vicious English racism in the First World War, Collier’s credentials are impeccable and he should gain a hearing where others offering similar views might be dismissed. So when he says that he has written “a critique of the prevailing opinion among liberal thinkers, a group of which I am a member, that modern Western societies should embrace a post- national future” we sit up and take notice. His own family is multi-national or indeed “post-national” (he has a Dutch wife brought up in Italy, his son has an American passport, his nephews are Egyptian and their mother is Irish). Yet Collier is unhappy about the loss of national identity in a post-national dispensation, adding what seems to me to be a rather brave comment coming from a liberal academic: “Lifestyles such as that of my family are dependent, and potentially parasitic, on those whose identity remains rooted, thereby providing us with the viable societies among which we choose. In the countries on which I work – the multicultural societies of Africa – the adverse consequences of weak national identity are apparent.”5 What comparison, if any, should we draw between this aperçu and Theresa May’s remark to the Tory Party faithful that “if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere”?

From the beginning the immigration issue has been entangled with moral, political and social ones; as a result, arguments leap from one to the other perspective in an opportunistic manner that generates more heat than light. When the young Austrian Foreign Minister broke with this tradition of obfuscation in a TV discussion by making a simple, clear statement that challenged the innate (but often veiled) liberal orthodoxy, it was met with astonished silence. “We must”, he said, “rid ourselves of the notion that because some countries are poor and others are relatively wealthy, there is an absolute right of persons from the poor countries to move to the rich ones.” On this topic, Collier writes that the perceived moral obligation to help poor people who live in other countries may indeed be partially fulfilled by allowing some of them to move to rich countries, but “the obligation to help the poor cannot imply a generalised obligation to permit free movement of people across borders”.6 There are in any case other ways to help the poor of Africa or wherever (Collier cites the case of Norway with relatively strict rules on immigration but a correspondingly generous aid programme).

The main reason for ruling out an open door policy (and this is a continuing subtext of the book) is the social, economic, political and cultural disruption that may result from a sudden mass influx. It has been estimated that some eight million Africans of the Sub-Sahara would move to Europe if they were able to do so, a very natural wish for people trapped in corrupt, dysfunctional and often violent or failed states. We have already seen small-scale examples of such desperation within Europe itself, for example in Albania in the 1990s, where pretty much every man between the ages of twenty and forty did his best to leave; or in Kosovo, whose young men and women are today voting with their feet. Observers are now speculating that the next such meltdown could occur in Algeria, where the secular dictator is dying and Islamists have already won an election that was set aside. In this case the mass exodus to France, if the state is islamised, would be of secular Algerians, so “islamisation” is by no means the only anxiety of prospective host populations in Europe.

The anxiety may be at “community” level, or at the level of “national identity”. Ironically, as Collier points out, the notion that the community outweighs the importance of the individual is an idea associated with the political Left, while the emphasis on country as a “key unit of organisation for community” is associated with the political Right. The cohesion of either or both may be threatened by diversity” and “multiculturalism”.7 Moreover the danger of conflict between rival religious or ethnic groups amongst the migrants themselves has already reared its head in riots occurring in migrant camps. In view of the likely social and political consequences of looming or actual mass migration, only the most fanatical ideologues of immigration would openly advise that unlimited numbers should be welcomed whatever the cost to the host countries. In practice however, since reporting in the liberal media concentrates almost exclusively on Europe’s humanitarian obligations, not least in order to combat the boulevard press’s hostility to migrants, a balanced view of the matter becomes all but impossible and policy is adjusted ad hoc in response to public pressure, rather than being coherent and strategic.




Since 1945, quotidian world order has substantively rested on the twin pillars of a rules-based system for governments, institutions, trade and finance, and an idealistic rights-based system to govern the treatment of individuals. The former set of rules has begun to fracture because many powerful Neo-Liberal players have felt it more advantageous to “game the system” rather than “play the game”, provoking a voter backlash that liberals disparage as “populism”. Technocratic elites lost much of their credibility in the global financial crisis of 2008. The latter set of rules has become controversial due to the accretive codification of “rights”, coupled with ever broader interpretations of the same by bodies like the European Court of Human Rights. Criminal bankers game the financial system, desperate migrants seek ways of gaming the human rights protocols; the ordinary citizen pays for the crimes of the bankers, who mostly escape sanctions (their firms pay the fines), and watches helpless as migrants brazenly abuse a system which he is financing through his taxes. Where the interests of indigenes and migrants conflict, the enforcement of migrant rights (specifically an over-accommodating attitude to the multiplying demands of Islam’s activists) often seem to prevail. As income inequality grows, the man in the middle increasingly feels that the elite have looked after their own, while any attempt to challenge what is seen as excessive positive discrimination in favour of immigrants, including illegals, is met with finger-wagging abuse from that same elite, which itself does well out of the cheap labour that immigration supplies.

The essence of well-functioning democracy and the free market economy must be that their benefits are spread as widely as possible and not cornered by vested interests. Collier points out that immigrants will need to be protected from economic and social exclusion practised by existing indigene networks if they are to prosper and integrate. This is why anti-discrimination laws exist and are mostly accepted by the majority of indigenes. However such anti-discrimination cannot be enforced without reciprocity from its beneficiaries, and certainly cannot be allowed to become a Trojan Horse for introducing novel discrimination into the host society (for example the dangerous and disingenuous proposal of one of Britain’s stupider archbishops that tenets of shari’a should be incorporated into, or allowed to supplement, English law).

Discussing Jürgen Habermas’s influential theory of moral discourse, James Gordon Finlayson remarks that “the reason that people the world over are quick to assert their human rights may be that rights secure a benefit to the right-holder. Rights put other people under obligations. Yet people are rarely so eager to assert and to fulfil their universal duties towards others.” For this reason Finlayson suspects that there are “systemic and ideological reasons for the growth of human rights discourse. Human rights discourse might itself be an example of the colonisation of the lifeworld, rather than a source of resistance to it.” The lifeworld is Habermas’s term for the “informal and unmarketised domains of social life: family and household, culture, political life outside of organised parties, mass media, voluntary organisations, and so on”.8

The fairly abstruse details of the critique of Habermas’s arguably even more abstruse discourse theory of morality” need not detain us here. The significance of Finlayson’s gloss above is that it highlights a difficulty arising in respect of “universal” human rights precisely in the field of immigration today, and indeed precisely in respect of conflicting “lifeworlds”. The liberal answer to the danger of migrant-orientated Kulturkampf has been partly moral prescription (by stressing that immigrants are rational and moral human beings, just like the rest of us, and therefore the assumption must be that their values are ours), and partly the strategy of “multiculturalism”. The aim should be to engender what Collier calls “mutual regard”, giving rise to the indispensable “trust and cooperation” that is “acquired as part of the functional attitudes that accumulate in a modern prosperous society”. Unfortunately the latter is in short supply in many of the states sending us their migrants. It is wishful thinking to imagine that trust and cooperation, at least as they are required in a modern secular society and a free market economy, are innate skills among those otherwise admired for being hitherto “uncontaminated” by an exploitative western civilisation (“Rousseau was spectacularly wrong”, observes Collier dourly, “the evidence suggests precisely the opposite.”)9 As to multiculturalism, the well-intentioned liberal mantra about “respect for other cultures” often looks like an evasion: should we have respect for a culture that beheads adulterers or sanctions female genital mutilation?10 Migrants”, writes Collier, “are essentially escaping from countries with dysfunctional social models.” Of course, these countries “may be preferable in terms of dignity, humanity, artistic creativity, humour, honour and virtue. But migrants themselves are voting with their feet in favour of the high-income social model. Recognising that poor societies are economically dysfunctional is not a license for condescension toward their people… but it should put us on our guard against the lazier assertions of multiculturalism: if a decent living standard is something to be valued, then on this criterion not all cultures are equal.”11

Collier’s discussion of the good intentions of multiculturalism is extensive, humane and well-considered. If multiculturalism has failed, as most mainstream politicians now seem to believe, it is because it has slowed progress to the goal of integration. Large ethnic diasporas attract large inflows of the same ethnicity, potentially increasing their separateness from the host society. Collier quotes a study by the sociologist Ruud Koopmans showing that integration is slower with multicultural policies. “Multicultural policies have measurable effects such as a reduced aptitude of migrants in the national language, which we know reduces willingness to cooperate in public goods provision and increased spatial segregation. Koopmans also finds that generous welfare systems slow integration by tempting migrants into remaining at the bottom of the social ladder” [because they are anyway accustomed to radically lower living standards].12 Of course there is the opposite picture to this, typically the industry of Asian immigrants in the UK or the one-generational upward mobility of immigrants to America, reflected in the so-called American dream. Yet the plight of Algerians in Parisian suburbs tells a different story. Collier’s point is that the least problematic immigration is one of equilibrium, whereby there are no more newcomers to the diaspora each year than there are leavers through absorption into the host culture. Sudden immigration shocks upset such a balance, besides having an inevitable social impact of pressure on housing, health, education and (in times of recession) welfare.


Regular readers of
The Economist magazine, and to a lesser extent the Financial Times, will be familiar with the idée fixe of those organs that immigration, apparently in almost any shape or size, is both inevitable and desirable; it follows that all opposition to it is more or less reactionary, xenophobic and ignorant. True, the political fall-out from such attitudes has recently compelled the philosopher-kings of their comment columns to subtly alter their perspective (journalists are, of course, never wrong – it is just that the facts have temporarily and mysteriously got on the wrong side of the argument).13 Collier’s even-handed analysis of the economic benefits and disadvantages of immigration ends on a splendidly downbeat note that will likely disappoint fanatics on both sides of the immigration debate: “In the medium term the tendency of immigrants to succeed raises incomes but may squeeze indigenes out of glittering prizes. In the long term any economic effects are trivial. The one clear long-term effect [in a country with limited territory like Britain] is that there is less open space per person.”14 He dismisses the oft quoted need for immigrants to replace the workers lost to retirement as a problem caused by the “ineptitude” and cowardice of politicians, who have failed to raise the pensionable age in line with rising life expectancy. In any case, working migrants have both children and parents, which means that the dependency ratio may not decrease. Indeed a Danish professor has concluded that sustained migration may render Scandinavian levels of welfare unsustainable “because of the higher dependency ratios and lower skill levels of migrants”. Collier is also refreshingly robust in his attitude to businesses that prefer importing ultra-cheap labour to training indigenous workers and paying a decent wage: as he remarks drily, “The divergence of interest between business and citizens should make people sceptical of its pronouncements on migration policy”.15

Some of these conclusions may sound a little glib as I have summarised them, but Collier’s assaults on orthodoxy are respectably underpinned by data and quotations from the relevant studies. He is particularly good on a topic often airbrushed out of pro-immigration arguments, namely the effect of mass migration on the countries that the migrants have left. According to a Gallup Poll, around 40 per cent of the population of poor countries say that they would migrate to rich ones if they could, which, says Collier, probably “understates what would happen in the absence of financial and legal barriers”. Although intra-EU migration was a big issue in the Brexit referendum campaign, this “problem” (if it is one) is largely self-correcting, in that many EU migrants return home if the economy of the host country falters. For example there was actually a net outflow of Spanish migrants from the UK during an economic downturn in the 1990s, though the flow subsequently reversed. Meanwhile Spain itself has become one of the largest net recipients of migrants since joining the EU (including a substantial number of UK pensioners arbitraging the differing price levels of the two countries to maintain or improve their lifestyles at lower cost). The other substantial inflow to Spain is of North African (chiefly Moroccan) immigrants, who, in the event that the economic advantages of living in Spain decline, and unlike UK pensioners, would find it virtually impossible to return home – as Collier puts it “even being unemployed for some years in Spain might be a better option than leaving”.16

While minimal cultural friction between immigrants of European origin and the indigenes of other EU countries should make intra-EU migration minimally problematic for both the host countries and the migrants themselves, the countries of origin among EU members are nevertheless clearly suffering social and economic consequences from the outflow of their most skilled and most highly educated people. In Hungary the most obvious impact is on the health service where high workloads, low pay and harsh or bungled reforms have made it almost inevitable that many newly trained young doctors and surgeons flee abroad, where they feel their skills are properly respected and rewarded. Brain drain is of course not a new phenomenon (Britain has frequently experienced it in regard to America) and the money remitted from well-to-do family members abroad assists the balance of payments of the home country. Yet the effect on morale, on willingness to reform governance, and on civil society, when the brightest, the best, on occasion even the most ethical, leave the home country, should not be underestimated. Moreover the country of migrant origin loses its investment in having educated those who leave, a circumstance that Collier describes as “an inadvertent aid programme to [high income] host countries”.17 The situation may eventually achieve a desirable equilibrium within the EU when and if the poorer countries achieve parity of prosperity with their more prosperous EU partners. On the other hand, the likelihood of this happening as between Third World countries and Europe is vanishingly small. Moreover, as Collier notes, the economic burden of migration is greatest in the poorest countries – “migrants are usually drawn from the better-off in their own countries because the poorest cannot afford the costs of migration”.18




In the final section of his book, Making Migration Policies Fit For Purpose, Collier is again refreshingly frank. He is even-handedly against xenophobic obsessions, virtue-signalling libertarianism and especially “the maximisation of world utility by whatever means”. The situation that has prevailed for too long, whereby governments and the liberal media have suppressed honest discussion of immigration and hurled disingenuous abuse at those seeking such, has hugely contributed to the crisis that western countries are now facing. Mainstream politicians have discovered that large swathes of the electorate have decided that they will no longer tolerate being lied to, patronised and sermonised. Now these leaders are scrambling to repackage their policy proposals in recognition of the new political reality. Austria in particular has done a handbrake turn on the issue by adopting some similar measures to those which she excoriated when Hungary pioneered them. And only a year ago the Vice- Chancellor was saying Austria could take 100,000 immigrants a year. This would mean one million over a decade, but since the humanitarian rules of Europe (not much observed elsewhere) predicate the reunion of families, it could well be more like three or four million – perhaps up to 47 per cent of the Austrian population. Someone has obviously since taught the Vice Chancellor how to count, since Austria now talks of a much lower “cap” on the annual intake of migrants. Austria has also toned down its earlier Pharisaic attacks on Hungary (it could hardly do otherwise since it is now facing the same brickbats from human rights bodies that Hungary did), but the left liberal lobby in the EU continues to try and distract attention from its lamentable performance on this issue by viciously attacking Hungary for demonstrating that the EU emperor had no clothes.

Collier stresses that “all decent societies recognise a duty of rescue, most obviously towards asylum seekers”. Yet he is also clear-eyed about the abuse of humanitarianism by people traffickers and the migrants themselves who, often with the covert assistance of NGOs and the like, have learned to game the system. Boats are provided with enough fuel to chug just beyond the perimeter of (for example, Libya’s) sovereign waters, at which point they send an SOS to be picked up by a European rescue boat. Having destroyed their papers, which would confirm whether or not they are entitled to asylum, the migrants land Europe with a liability enshrined in its own laws. Even when deportation is proved to be a valid legal sanction against such people, a Catch 22 chips in, whereby the homelands of the deportees have to agree to accept them. This many refuse to do, being pleased to have exported their unemployment problem and possible dissidence. The Austrian Foreign Minister expresses his government’s new-found realism on the issue when he says of the current EU policy on migrants that it constitutes “a subsidy for people traffickers”.

A responsible and reasonably fair immigration policy could be devised if the discussion moved on from a perceived stand-off between alleged racism or xenophobia and what Collier calls the “contemptuous refrain from the business and liberal elites, supported by social science academics, that open doors will continue to confer large benefits and are ethically imperative”.19 Personally I think Collier overdoes the “xenophobia” element, for example in the Brexit vote, where many of us Brexiteers voted to return sovereignty to where it belongs rather than to halt all immigration. Subsequent discussions have shown that the desire to take back control of our lawmaking was just as strong a motive for voting “Leave” as was the UKIP focus on immigration. In any case UKIP, the party founded to get us out of the EU, has actually refused cooperation with Marine Le Pen’s Front National on the grounds that the latter is racist.

Be that as it may, it is clear that the liberal establishment, through its stupidity and arrogance, has lost control of the immigration issue. So also has the liberal press, a defeat that has produced a warning from the liberal grandee Timothy Garton Ash about what he calls the “fairness bias”. “You give equal time to unequal arguments without daring to say that, on this or that point, one side has more evidence, or a significantly larger body of expert opinion, than the other.” This may describe the Trump campaign, which proved impervious to fact-checking. On the other hand, given the fact that e.g., economic forecasts mostly turn out to be wrong, correcting the “fairness bias” looks suspiciously like a liberal plan to regain control of the discourse and discredit or exclude points of view it dislikes (and it has in fact been so used in coverage of the climate change debate). In the immigration debate, Collier shows that “facts” can be interpreted quite differently according to what side of the debate you are on and many of those provided by “experts” may prove points within their own selected terms of reference but exclude others that concern people on the ground.

Manipulation of the immigration agenda by the liberal establishment is no longer possible. A government adviser today, unlike one of Tony Blair’s aides, would not venture to say that he hoped to “rub the public’s nose in diversity”. All over Europe the public is beginning to insist that it will determine how much diversity it wants and what form it should take. Also that “multiculturalism”, especially if interpreted as privileging every culture but that of indigenes, should now be abandoned in favour of integration. As Collier puts it in a mordant aside, the liberal establishment, in underplaying or discrediting national identity at home have handed a potent tool to the more extremist right wingers, allowing them to hijack the potent symbol and effective organisational unit of the nation – “There need be no tension between being nationalist and yet antiracist”, he writes.20 This is the hardest lesson of all for today’s liberal intellectuals to swallow; they seem to have forgotten that it was mostly liberal intellectuals who were the greatest nationalists of the 19th century – Mazzini, Simón Bolívar, Sun Yat-sen, Kossuth, to name but a few. Patriotism and the nation state are concepts that make liberals wince when they hear people praise them. “Nations”, says Collier, “are [today] challenged from above both formally by the transfer of power to larger entities such as the European Union and culturally by the emergence of globalised educated elites that mock at national identity. Yet that identity is enormously important as a force for equity.” Some of our leaders and top intellectuals seem determined to learn this profoundly true remark the hard way.



1 Collier, Paul: Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century. London: Penguin Book, 2014, pp. 131-132. Hereafter referred to as Collier op cit.)

2 Collier op cit. p. 254.

3 Collier: op cit. p. 93.

4 Collier op cit. p. 7.

5 Collier op cit. p. 5.

Collier op cit. p.16.

7 Collier op cit. p. 232.

8 Finlayson, Gordon James: Habermas: A Very Short Introduction . Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 51, 88.

9 Collier op cit. p. 64.

10 Significantly, the political party in Britain that most successfully corals the radical Islamist vote is called “Respect.”

11 Collier op cit. p. 35.

12 Collier op cit. p.104.

13 To be fair, The Economist – December 3rd 2016 (albeit in a book review, not an article) now admits that “the Western intelligentsia, snug in its echo-chamber, has done a dismal job of understanding what is going on, either dismissing populists as cranks or demonising them as racists.”

14 Collier op cit.p.123.

15 Collier op cit. pp. 127, 125.

16 Collier op cit. p.130.

17 Collier op cit. p.226. The Orbán government in Hungary has proposed requiring graduates in sensitive fields to work for a set number of years at home before going abroad, or repay the cost of university education.

18 Collier op cit. p.257.

19 Collier op cit. p. 271.

20 Collier op cit. p.241.

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