The left and migration. Part 2: extrapolating hypothetical scenarios with Iceland and how writing pretentious titles gives me an inflated sense of self-importance

In ‘part 1’, which currently has a dizzying 32 views clocked up, I argued that a substantial number of leftist-environmentalists are deeply contradictory in that they simultaneously bemoan exponential industrial growth but invoke the ‘It boosts the supply side of the economy!’ argument when defending mass immigration. In ‘part 2’, I am going full-UKIP and will be trying to defend the position that sometimes concerns about mass immigration and its effects on the social and cultural dynamics of a country can be justified. I did say sometimes, so please keep your pitchforks firmly in your sheds for now!

I once adhered to the widely-held leftist mantra that anyone worried about unregulated mass immigration must be a racist, so how did I come round to what is essentially a socially conservative viewpoint? After all, I still consider myself on the far-left on most issues. Well, in short, I played the devil’s advocate for so long that I actually ended up convincing myself that my previous stance was wrong. Also, I’m a bit of an attention seeker and so I sometimes arbitrarily decide on a political viewpoint based on what’s most controversial.

But what exactly is my newfound belief? It’s simply that immigration and/or multiculturalism can be beneficial to societies or parts of societies but also, in some instances, harmful.

Let’s start with some hypocrisy from the left; this Guardian article. It talks about how the authorities in Iceland are worried about the explosion in tourist numbers. There are concerns that the influx of foreigners could impact the native culture and that increased visitor numbers are also affecting house prices. The increasing strain on the infrastructure is also discussed. In this piece, it is clearly implied that these changing dynamics are a negative development.

I remember reading this a while ago and what struck me was that the key concerns expressed in the piece were exactly the same issues people typically have with immigration except that in this case- the concerns weren’t being dismissed as xenophobic or racist but being acknowledged sympathetically. So clearly, most people would agree that in some cases protecting cultures by controlling immigration (or tourists!) is a justifiable cause.

There are many other examples of contradictory beliefs regarding immigration. One commonly expressed opinion goes something like this: ‘It’s so embarrassing that there are large communities of British people living in Spain who can’t really speak the language and stick to themselves’ etc. Well, maybe, but why is that a respectable comment but not if it’s targeting immigrant communities in the UK.

Immigration can be beneficial and but there are instances where by any sober assessment, the overall impact is negative. Let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario to think about how immigration can ‘be done’ badly.

Time for Reykjavik to embrace mass immigration? Probably not.

Iceland takes in 20,000 migrant workers from a vastly different culture to work in its smoked fish processing factories (not that I’m one to stereotype!). These workers are all housed in a cheap housing development in the outskirts of Reykjavik. The parents see the native -and completely alien- Icelandic culture as a threat to their identity and so try and install the beliefs and values of their native culture into their children- to protect the world view that they know. Consequently, the second and third generations find it equally -or even more difficult- than their parents to integrate. As jobs in the smoked fish processing factories become automated and disappear, unemployment in the housing developments increases and they subsequently turn into ghettos as crime levels begin to gradually increase. This increases resentment of the migrant population and this leads to a vicious circle of rising social tension and increased alienation of the migrant communities.

Then, let’s say, a new anti-immigration party arises in the simplified hypothetical world that I’ve created. They express similar sentiments in the aforementioned Guardian’s Icelandic tourist-explosion article- though with added concerns about crime. Let’s call them Iceland-First. But I wonder this: would the guardian report the new ‘Iceland-First’ party as populist, reactionary and xenophobic? Or would they report them sympathetically?

In case you’re wondering, the above scenario is based on my understanding of some real-life European examples, but I’ll withhold the details of the countries and groups involved to avoid being flamed!

Admittedly, it’s a rather tendentious thought experiment but what I’m trying to get at is the notion that many on the left can approach immigration from a hugely simplified perspective- that immigration can only ever go well. This is obviously a problematic viewpoint. It’s also true that there are many on the political right who have an equally polarised opinion- that any immigration is always going to end in disaster and that migrants are the root of all social ills.

Immigration can be hugely beneficial economically and culturally, but across Europe, there are examples of both success stories and clear failures. You could try and argue that the failures are always a result of issues with government policy, but I would argue that perhaps sometimes issues lie with the inevitable social tensions resulting from certain types of immigration. Incidentally, this freakonomics podcast was one of the things that really changed the way I viewed immigration- I highly recommend it.

I would love to write more but I’m nearly at 900 words and I know most people are too busy to read lengthy blog posts so I’ll stop now!

The left and migration. Part 1: environmentalists or capitalists?

Migration has for a long time been a hugely contentious issue and Brexit was in large part due to widespread fears over uncontrolled migration from the EU. Ferocious arguments often occur -both online and off- about one of the most emotive political subjects today. Increasingly, the public is split between those that faithfully support the EU’s tenet of ‘freedom of movement’ and those who believe that mass migration is posing  a huge social and economic threat to the United Kingdom.

Personally, I have completely changed my views on the issue but I now find myself with a fairly obscure bundle of beliefs  which seems to displease both sides. I used to hold the generic far-left response: “UKIP is racist, deregulated migration is great!” etc, but now I completely oppose it.

Oppose what exactly, though? I am referring here to mass, uncontrolled migration within the EU- i.e. ‘freedom of movement’. I am not talking about refugees here so if you’re preparing to comment on this please don’t mention them!

The main reason I oppose it is on environmental grounds although there are other important factors which I will write about in the next post.

It all started when I was perusing the comments of an opinion piece about migration on the internet. The article itself was focusing on the supposed economic benefits of mass-migration and the comment that got me thinking went something like this:

“I don’t get it, the left is always whinging about how bad exponential economic growth is for the environment yet they always preach about the economic boost countries get from migration!”

In an instant, the anonymous keyboard warrior behind this argument completely shifted my views- because they were correct, and my own hypocrisy suddenly started resonating clearly.

I consider myself an anti-capitalist. This is mainly because I believe the system of indefinite, exponential growth that capitalism needs to sustain itself is rapidly destroying the Earth. Therefore, in the interest of preserving the planet in a habitable state for future generations, this rapacious system needs to be overthrown- no matter how disruptive to current civilisation this may be.

With that in mind, how logical is it for the left (who are often environmentalists) to invoke the arguments that the economic right commonly make for uncontrolled migration? The argument being that migration increases long term economic growth. What’s the goal? To continue the mad rush for year-on-year growth in a finite system? To try and max out our growth rates before energy and food supplies collapse? How environmentally friendly is that?

Ultimately, having completely open borders is an extremely capitalist dream; for the ruling classes, what could be better than having cheap labour sloshing around the continent, filling up underpaid positions and boosting industry? But somehow, the political left has been duped into thinking that it should be a central tenet of their ideology. What for the capitalist elites is one of the few policies they have left to maintain the impossibility of endless exponential growth has been incorporated into leftwing thinking as a manifestation of classic liberalism; unleashing the floodgates of cheap labour is now equivalent to waving the flag of individual freedom.

Of course, there are many on the left who are just not that concerned about the impending ecological collapse of the Earth- or at least they don’t believe it will actually happen. But for those who claim to be concerned about runaway climate change and the environmental crisis surely it makes sense to oppose policies which boost industrial growth instead of blindly supporting them?

Ultimately, we need to rapidly transition to a zero-growth economy and ideally a negative growth one- if there is to be any chance of averting a cataclysmic shift in the earth’s climatic system. Mass migration and population growth are things that should be opposed as a matter of urgency, surely?