There’s nothing to fear in a big Australia

There’s nothing to fear in a big Australia

November 15, 2016 Migrants steal our jobs. Migrants bludge off welfare. So, which is it? Obviously, migrants with jobs aren’t eligible for much welfare and migrants on welfare haven’t been successful in stealing a job. 

But the mounting fear campaign against migration is more than the sum of its parts. Economists have battled for some time to get their numbers straight to prove that migrants add more to the economy than they take. Recently they’ve honed their estimates. 

In a report released by the government in September, the Productivity Commission estimated that, compared to closing our borders completely, Australia’s current migration intake, if sustained, will boost economic output per person by about 7 per cent in 2060 – worth around $7000 each in today’s dollars. 

The Committee for Economic Development of Australia estimated a 5.9 per cent increase per person by 2050. 

The Monash Business School and Economic Society of Australia has released a survey of 30 economists of whom 26 agree or strongly agree with the statement that: “The total benefit of current levels of migration to Australia will outweigh the total costs to Australia’s economy.” 

The net benefits of migration are clear, according to Professor Rodney Maddock of the Monash Business School: “Migrants add about the same amount to the demand for and supply of goods and services in the economy, but the increase in the resulting size of the economy creates new opportunities for us all.” 

Moreover: “Immigrants have made Australia a much more interesting, dynamic and creative society than it was.” 

Professor of econometrics at Monash, Lisa Cameron, says fears about migrants are overblown. “Many people who fear immigration do so on the basis that immigrants take jobs that would otherwise be available for Australians. However, most careful empirical studies of immigration find that the economic growth that accompanies immigration results in modest increases in employment opportunities for the rest of the population.” 

Take your pick of messenger, but the bottom line is clear: the total benefits of Australia’s migration intake to the economy exceed the costs. 

Of course, assumptions matter. To get these economic benefits, Australia must continue to run a program that targets young and skilled migrants. 

And these are averages we’re talking about. It’s true that recent migrants often compete for jobs against low-skilled Australians of longer duration. 

But that’s not an argument for halting migration – but for better targeting resources and training at these groups. 

And, of course, the economy isn’t everything. Our ultimate goal should be to boost the wellbeing of citizens, not the value of their economic production. It matters if income gains are eroded by more time spent sitting in traffic, or having to pay more for a home, which clearly, they have been to some degree. 

Again, however, that’s not an argument for halting migration, but for stepping up our efforts on urban planning and investment in critical infrastructure. We don’t tell children to stop growing because they’re busting out of their pants. We buy them new pants. 

Australians today live in one of the richest and most prosperous nations on earth, uniquely gifted with abundant natural resources and a huge land mass. But as we’ve grown richer, it seems we’ve only growth more protective of our wealth. 

In the end, policymakers and business groups won’t get very far trying to convince Aussies to accept higher immigration to grow “the economy”.

No one ever fought a war to grow the economy. We fight and we live for our ideals. And while economics is important when it comes to deciding the appropriate level of immigration, ideals are important too. 

So let me be clear: we should keep our borders open to as many souls as possible because it’s the right thing to do. 

A core principle of economics is that people should live, as much as possible, unfettered by governments telling them what to do. This is a courtesy that should extend to all global citizens, not just Australians. 

If individuals decide they can best pursue their happiness by moving here and living in the most prosperous and peaceful nation on earth, who are we to deny them? Surely, they are right. 

Who are we, as a nation of recent migrants, to pull up the drawbridge and deny others the same opportunity we have been afforded? 

Who are we to – instead of fixing the congestion problems we face – throw our hands up in the air and say “no more”?

It is not the job of governments to impede the free flow of people. It is the job of government to invest in public assets that the free market wouldn’t otherwise deliver to ease growth constraints and boost wellbeing. 

Some government control of annual migration is necessary helps to smooth large movements and ability to plan adequate infrastructure. But it’s not the job of a politician in Canberra to decide how big Australia should be. 

To live in the most sparsely populated continent on earth and declare ourselves full is mean-spirited, defeatist behaviour of the highest order. 

If people want to come here, unless we have a good reason for stopping them, we shouldn’t. 

In reality, annual decisions about the size of the permanent migrant intake are as much about the size of the pool of people we reject as accept. 

It’s time we asked not “why let them in”, but “why shut them out”?

Migrants do no overall damage to the economy, and, with proper planning, can add immeasurably to the diversity and vibrancy of our culture. 

Any challenges that arise through competition for low-skilled jobs and increased urban congestion pale in comparison to the danger of embracing an anti-immigration, inward-looking and fearful national culture. 

If you truly love Australia, keep our borders free. 

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