The relationship between welfare and immigration

Home comforts: Firuta Vasile's initial request for benefits had been rejected by the local council

You give immigrants a bad name

The influx of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants expected from January 1st 2014 has lately seen Britain’s politicians running round like headless chickens trying to prevent the obvious and predictable results of their previous actions (or inactions). The idea that people from these countries might come to the UK and avail of its generous welfare system has triggered concerns about immigration. Should we not, instead, be worried about welfare?

Classical liberals and many on ‘the right’ more generally would complain if government prevented a person from Bolton taking a job in Southampton. What right would a politician have to interfere in the mutually agreed employment decision of an employee and an employer? But if this is so, why should government have any more right to prevent a person from Juarez or Lahore taking a job in Minneapolis or Sheffield?

Indeed, if the government erected capital controls such as existed in the post war period to stop people shipping their wealth abroad, many on ‘the right’ would decry an act of confiscatory socialism. But why should the freedom of movement be granted to capital and denied to labour?

Immigration is an area of public policy rarely treated coherently. ‘The left’ frequently defend the free movement of labour (recently anyway) but oppose the free movement of capital. From ‘the right’ it is often the opposite. A common opinion, in pubs and taxi cabs at any rate, is that immigrants come here to sponge off our welfare state and take our jobs, a contradictory sentiment often expressed by the same person in the same monologue.

Some immigrants do travel to the UK to gorge themselves in the trough of its lavish welfare state. I wrote last January of Firuta Vasile, a woman who has apparently done little but leech off the British taxpayer since arriving from Romania in 2008.

Indeed, stories on BBC London about the lack of affordable housing in the capital are often illustrated with an interview with an immigrant demanding that more ‘affordable housing’ be made available by the state. But there is probably no shortage of affordable accommodation wherever they came from and the high prices of London are simply a market signal saying: This place is full up.

Immigrants like Ms Vasile give a bad name to the majority who do travel to Britain wanting to work. But, besides that, they are eroding support for the welfare state itself.

For all the noble notions of a brotherhood of man it remains a fact that people, in the main, feel more empathy with those who are more like them than those who aren’t. We generally care more about people who speak our language, dress like us, worship the same God (or none), watch the same TV programmes etc, than we do about people who don’t. This is one reason why the British or American media will devote hours of coverage to the deaths of American children in Newtown but spend little if any time on the Pakistani or Afghan children killed in drone strikes.

Regrettable as it may be, it is a fact of life that our empathy decreases as our differences with the person being empathised with increase.

The effects of this for a welfare state are as obvious as the effects of throwing your doors open while laying on a banquet of benefits. While people might be quite willing to pay towards a system that they believe is going to help people like themselves they will be considerably less willing to pay towards a system that they perceive benefits people who have very little in common with them. As Stuart Soroka writes

“Immigration has the potential to raise powerful challenges to the political legitimacy of the welfare state. Immigration can unsettle the historical conceptions of community, which define those who are ‘us’, recognized members of existing networks of rights and obligation, and those who are ‘strangers’ or ‘others’ whose needs seem less compelling. According to many commentators, the growing presence of newcomers, especially ethnically distinct newcomers, may erode the sense of social solidarity on which welfare states are constructed”

Or, as Milton Freidman put it: “You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state”. The mass immigration overseen by the Labour government which saw millions enter Britain, 371,000 of whom are claiming benefits, has been one of the major factors in the decline in support for the welfare state in Britain. It has led to the serious consideration of a contributory element to welfare.

The answer is that government has no basis in rights to interfere with migration, but neither does it have a duty to subsidise it. If people want to go and work in Britain or the United States, and they can find employment, they should not be impeded. But if they cannot find employment the government should not hand them taxpayers’ money or goods and services purchased with that money.

There is a choice between immigration and welfare. The irony is that by choosing immigration a government of the left did more to undermine the welfare state than ‘the right’ ever did.

This article originally appeared at The Commentator

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4 thoughts on “The relationship between welfare and immigration

  1. People in Britain should observe the American example.

    The United States has had a, basically undefended, border with Mexico for a very long time – why is it that only in recent decades has mass immigration become an issue?

    One does not have to be cynical to look at such things as the Supreme Court judgement of 1982 (against Texas) that gave “free” (tax payer funded) education to the children of illegal immigrants, and the Emergency Room Act of the mid 1980s that demanded that private hospitals give “free” health care to anyone who turned up at the door of their E.R. And, yes, Food Stamps and all the other welfare programs that (as recently as 1960) did not exist.

    Immigration to a different country (with a different culture and so on) is a big step – not one that people take lightly. But GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION has changed all that.

    Someone can move to the United States and remain a Mexican – there is no need to learn English or anything like that (indeed if someone refuses to deal with someone in Spanish the “anti discrimination” legal actions start). Health care and so on are also provided – by government threats (so no need to worry about such things either).

    So Mexican (and other Latin American) communites grow – it is not real “immigration” at all, it is a movement of a people (as a group) to another country without any intent of become part of that community. That is not immigration – it is invasion.

    Human beings (however much libertarians would wish were not so) are tribal creatures. If an individual Mexican (or family) choose to reject Mexico and adopt the United States that is one thing (that is a choice – and they should be welcomed). But that is NOT the case with the great mass of people who have come – the American flag is not their flag (they do not want it), the Forth of July means nothing to them (they have their own Independence Day – the Mexican one) and so on.

    In the case of the United Kingdom and other European countries it is not in individual Muslims reject Islam and move to the West (that does happen – but rarely). What has happened in much of Europe (including Britain) is the expansion of the Islamic community into new lands.

    That is not libertarian (as their “life style” could not exist without taxpayer support and “anti discrimination” regulations) and it will not have libertarian consquences.

    If, say, California becomes part of Mexico (as it was before 1848) a libertarian could simply say “well let us work for a libertarian Mexico” (although they had better say that in Spanish).

    Fair enough.

    But if areas of Europe (including areas of British cities) become part of the world Islamic community…….

    How can there be a “libertarian Islam”?

    I hope I do not have to explain that none of the above is anything to do with “race”.

    It is a matter of IDEAS – what someone is loyal to.

    If someone moves country (and intends to stay) they should be loyal to the country they are going to – not hold that the land they have moved to is part of their old country (“the war of 1848 was unjust – therefore this is all really Mexico”).

    And an ideology (Islam) that holds that the whole world should be under Islamic law is a problem for libertarianism.

    Some libertarians may wish to say that “Islam is a just a religion – all religous people are dumb”, but many Islamists are actually highly intelligent. And their basic belief system is utterly incompatible with pro liberty ideas.

    • The reason it has become an issue is because there are over 30 million hispanic illegals living in the United States and it is costing BILLIONS and BILLIONS of dollars, the crimes perpetrated are heinous & violent, Mexican drug cartels control 90% of human, drug & weapons trafficking within the US, the gang situation is horrible and outrageous – hispanic gangs outnumber black gangs in member numbers, organized criminal activities, and the level of violence they perpetrate (decapitations, dismemberment, machete killings of women & children, etc.). In 10 years ‘hispanics’ (mostly mexicans) became the largest ‘minority’ group in the U.S. now numbering 55 million or 16% of the population. Prior to the last census the bureau estimated there would be 20 million hispanics.

      Also, it is not only ‘just now’ becoming an issue, it is becoming a major propaganda issue for both the U.S. & the world. Apparently it is ‘mean’ to want to know who is entering the U.S., working illegally, not paying taxes & sending most earned money to another country – where it helps their economy and not ours.

      Schools, hospitals, the welfare system, food stamps, the costs of drunk driving uninsured hispanic illegal motorists. The costs being both financial AND mortal. Illegal Mexicans kill over 4,000 people a year through drunk driving and another 4,000 through murder. There are an estimated 250,000 illegal alien serial sexual predators within the united states at any time. A study of those arrested & convicted reveal the following statistics: 46% kill their victims, the average victim age is ELEVEN, 22% chose their victims because they were physically or mentally disabled, ALL – each and every one – started doing non violent misdemeanor type crimes. The importance of that is the fact that ‘king obama’ has declared even criminals can stay if they are non violent criminals. I wonder what is considered non violent? Drunk driving? Drug dealing? Burglary, theft, welfare fraud, identity theft. It’s absolutely insane.

      ALL that being said, to the author of this article. You are sorely mistaken if you believe a government does not have the right to control immigration. The government is supposed to be an arm for the people, and should protect the citizens with its borders from any and all threats. There is a serious threat to OVER immigration, particularly when it seems purposefully geared to bring the worst, most violent, hateful, criminally minded cultural groups on earth – while law abiding, working people from other countries are denied entry.
      The only people suffering from mass immigration are Europe, Canada/US, Australia & even Russia.
      I guess it never occurred to you to wonder why??

      I don’t want to live in the next Mexico or the next Caliphate. If I did, I would move there. WELL, i would have, except Mexico has one of the most STRICT immigration policies on the planet. People who could be considered a burden financially on Mexico can be deported, non indigenous citizens cannot own seafront property, if you are caught in Mexico after being deported it’s 7 years in prison.

      Give me a break, the hypocrisy stinks to high heaven.

      China is 97% han chinese, Korea is 99.98% korean, Japan-commiserate, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc. NOW let’s talk about the middle east, oh sure you can go there, but depending on where you will either die or you’ll never be allowed to gain citizenship. SAUDI ? You can’t get citizenship there. You can be married for 40 years & your husband dies & if you are not SAUDI born you can be ‘banished’ from the kingdom. Saudi women are not allowed to marry non Saudis (even a Kuwati arab) it is considered ‘mixed race’ & a man has to jump through hoops that can take 10 years, but his wife will never be a citizen.
      AFRICA! Oh I hear it all the time “africa is a country” africa only for blacks, and the 2 places that ever had any whites, well, they’re either already dead or deported or suffering greatly.

      YET you have the audacity to whine about how unfair it is to allow billions of people to swarm over the few places left and screw them up like the rest of the world is already screwed up? With their 1,000% increase in population in a 30 year period? Out of control birthrates, horrible corruption, crime, violence without empathy, murder, rape. I don’t care why, I don’t want to hear how sad it is. My kind, gentle, loving, non violent children should not have to be subjected to that life based on the whims of people who cannot or will not see clearly the big picture.

      If your next door FARM neighbor totally ruined their land and trashed their own house because ‘that’s just the way they are’, abused their kids physically and sexually, killed family members for chastity or witchcraft issues, continued having more and more children and grandchildren then complained they couldn’t grow enough food on their destroyed land & didn’t have enough shelter for their insanely large family, would you then say SURE come on over to my house – let them live there, eat your food, abuse your children, kill your children & destroy your farm? Because that is what your naive ideology has done to entire countries. PLUS you never invite them onto YOUR farm, you make your other neighbors provide instead. That’s the ultimate level of hypocrisy and is dictatorial and fascist.

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