His comments on Sunday betray an ignorance of basic economics—and a fundamental similarity with Nigel Farageby Oliver Kamm / July 24, 2017 / Leave a comment
Labour has long been host to an unpleasant strain of nativism. It was Harold Wilson’s government that passed the unabashedly discriminatory Commonwealth Immigration Act in 1968, which introduced a requirement to demonstrate a “close connection” with the UK. The party boasted in its 1970 election manifesto of a “rate of immigration under firm control and much lower than in past years.” On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Jeremy Corbyn faithfully echoed such insularity and parochialism in expounding what Labour purports to be a strategy for Brexit.
Asked about immigration policy, Corbyn said: “It would be a managed thing on the basis of the skills required.” And, lest anyone fail to heed the subtext, he added: “What there wouldn’t be is whole-scale importation of underpaid workers from central Europe in order to destroy conditions, particularly in the construction industries.” In short, Labour’s leader believes foreigners are coming over here and taking native-born workers’ jobs and wages, and they must be stopped.
It’s a commonplace observation that Corbyn doesn’t know anything about anything but it’s especially true in economics. Real incomes in Britain have been under sustained pressure since the financial crisis and are falling rapidly now. This has almost literally nothing to do with immigration, however. It’s due in the first instance to Britain’s poor record on productivity and more recently to a spike in inflation due to the sharp post-Brexit depreciation of sterling. At the very low end of the income distribution, immigration may have slightly exacerbated these pressures for some workers. But the notion that Britain suffers from immigration rather than benefiting from it, economically, socially and culturally, is insupportable: it’s demonstrably factually wrong.
If there’s one thing that can be reliably predicted to pressure living standards further, it’s Brexit. The mechanisms are well known to economists, which is why the profession overwhelmingly advised against a vote for Brexit. By erecting barriers to flows of goods, services, investment and labour, Britain’s withdrawal from the EU will divert scarce resources to less productive uses and thereby needlessly constrain the growth of national income. As Labour’s foremost thinkers like Tony Crosland have understood, economic growth makes easier the redistribution of resources and the attainment of…