Yet again, New Labour’s predilection for spin and misleading statistics has landed the government in trouble. Ministers have long been fond of making the argument for immigration on the basis that it increases the country’s GDP. But as the House of Lords Economics Affairs Committee rightly points out in its new report, adding more people to the population will lead — barring a recession — to a higher GDP. So this is hardly a clinching argument for immigration. After all, the fact that Turkey’s GDP is larger than that of Switzerland scarcely means that the Turks are better off than the Swiss.
The report also concluded that immigration does little for per capita GDP — a far more important statistic. And from the furore surrounding this, one would have thought that the economic case for immigration had been holed below the water line. But a close reading of the report shows that this is not the case. In spite of its calls for stricter controls on immigration — and nobody sane can be opposed to a managed migration system that functions well — the Lords committee has to concede that the rapid flow of workers into the country has kept down the costs of both goods and public services. Without them the economy would have been hit by a double whammy of higher inflation and increased taxes.
This is by no means the only economic argument for immigration. Foreign-born workers are more productive than their British-born counterparts. Immigration also expands the talent pool, allowing greater specialisation and thus efficiency, while the addition of skilled and motivated people to the workforce creates a virtuous cycle as native born workers adapt to keep up. There are also the intangible benefits enjoyed by any open society: communities with static populations are neither innovative nor successful.