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.

reykjavik-iceland-xlarge.jpg
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!

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