Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Are we missing the boat?

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News, either via newspaper or television, is just a form of entertainment. Advertisers throng around it to get their own messages across and we blindly follow. A few short weeks ago the news seem to consist almost entirely of incredibly distressing images of the exodus of refugees fleeing war-torn Middle Eastern countries looking for a better life in the more prosperous European Union nations.

No doubt the evacuation continues apace, but we’ve moved on to other headlines like the Chris Cairns trial and the Rugby World Cup. Both occurring in Great Britain where I suspect most of the populous won’t be the slightest bit interested in either event.

For Europe the influx of refugees will either be a feast or a famine. The saying goes that economic growth is essentially productivity combined with workers and when numbers for both are rising steadily, countries prosper. In wealthy countries, like most of those in the European Union, populations are shrinking and in Germany, who has charitably agreed to take hundreds of thousands of the fleeing migrants, the population is predicted to shrink from 81.3 million as of today to around 71 million by 2060. So there may be method in what is perceived to be their generous madness.

In his book, How migration shaped our world, Ian Goldin, the Director of Oxford University’s Martin School says “Migrants are a disproportionately dynamic force globally. Innovative and entrepreneurial, they create a higher-than-average number of patents in many countries and start businesses more frequently than the locals. In the 19th century, a third of the population of Sweden, Ireland and Italy emigrated to America and other countries and the U.S. is the best example of how dynamic a country of immigrants can be.”

New Zealanders in general and Winston Peters in particular seemed reluctant to accept more refugees or immigrants especially if their culture is not akin to ours. Those opposed to bringing in more foreigners imagine a cabal of unskilled refugees being a burden on our social welfare system and lowering wages by their seemingly uncanny ability to live on the smell of an oily rag.

Just last week the managers of Auckland’s Indian restaurant chain Masala were heavily fined for employing migrant workers for long hours at $2.64 an hour, so there is some substance to the fears expressed.

With a shortage of housing in Auckland where most of our new arrivals seemed destined to settle, and the fact that many people in this country are struggling to make ends meet, it is understandable that there is a reluctance to encourage more refugees than the agreed quota.

But migrants could provide a long term economic boom and we certainly need something to kick-start our moribund economy. According to Goldin, if rich nations around the world were to admit enough migrants to expand their labour force by a mere 3%, the world would be $356 billion richer – not only because of the productivity gains in the wealthy countries, but because migrants send so much money back home.

But fear not, none of this debate is ever going to make the prime-time news.

“Apparently one in five people in the world are Chinese. And there are five people in my family, so it must be one of them. It’s either my mum or my dad. Or my older brother Colin. Or my younger brother Ho-Cha-Chu. But I think its Colin.” - Tommy Cooper


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