The Ukip Fallacy
I just watched a video of some lovely Ukip supporters being, well… Ukip supporters.
I was particularly struck by the nice lady who suggested that a French person who has been living and working in the UK for years, should just be forcibly repatriated because “well, yeah, we all go home to our own places”. This (apparently, totally acceptable and not xenophobic at all) standpoint is justified with simple pragmatism: “This country cannot support any more people”.
It is a common view. It is also utterly misconceived.
A country is its people. There is no vague, mythical construct that “supports people”. People support each other. And in a service economy, numbers matter greatly*.
So, if you advocate deporting a couple of million people, it is true enough that you will have fewer people to support. But – and this is the bit of the equation on which Ukip and their supporters are always strangely silent – you will also have fewer people who do the supporting.
The result of such a move boils down to whether the people you wish to deport are overall an asset. Study after study (for instance UCL here, report here, IIEA here, OBR summary here) shows that EU migrants are net contributors. Not only in the UK, but more generally (OECD here). Migrants cost disproportionately less in terms of health, education or social security.
The fatal flaw in the typical Ukip supporter’s logic is in seeing public services as somehow fixed; they are not. They can increase as well as contract and they depend on tax take. The idea that getting rid of contributing migrants will magically free up spaces in schools and beds in hospitals is a nonsense in the medium and long term. As the population and tax take reduce, hospital beds and school spaces will diminish by the equivalent. If the population leaving are net contributors, these services will shrink disproportionately. Getting rid of migrants will make school places scarcer, reduce social housing capacity, make hospital waiting lists longer. It is as simple as that.
Moreover, it could precipitate a grudge match in which Brits living elsewhere in the EU are also ‘repatriated’ – the rise of the xenophobic right wing is sadly not limited to England. The view of migrants into the UK as useless ‘scroungers’, but Brits living abroad as valuable ‘expats’ is nothing other than a romantic post-colonial affectation. It is as real as a turn-of-the-century E.M. Forster novella. The profile of the typical Brit living abroad (Spain, for instance) is very different to the sort of migrant coming to the UK. The data paint a less economically active (and older) person. A sudden and widespread population swap of net contributors for pensioners (300,000 UK pensioners live in Spain alone) would be unmitigated catastrophe for public finances.
Now, it could be that the majority of Ukip support would still, out of cultural dysphoria, opt for a party whose policy boiled down to: we want to be more anglosaxon, even if it means being much poorer. Because, make no mistake, that is what is being proposed.
The Office for Budget Responsibility is under no illusion when it comes to migration. All things being equal, Cameron achieving his goal to bring migrant numbers down to the tens of thousands is a terrible scenario assumption for the national debt. Bringing the number down to zero is disaster, not utopia. The chart below is fairly self-explanatory.
Ukip not only dislike migrants, but they also dislike systems that financially facilitate maternity. With the current absolute reliance on growth and the population bulge of baby-boom pensioners living longer, the UK needs young people desperately to work and contribute. They can either be birthed the old-fashioned way or they can be invited over. Pick one. ‘Neither’ is not an answer. We can’t all be pensioners.
Economic activity flows from people, not from nostalgia and St George’s flags. There is no land of milk and honey waiting on the other side of xenophobia. There is only a dystopia of suspicion, hate, isolationism and abject poverty.
* There may be arguments for returning to a pre-industrial, agrarian society, where the land supports people, or a “steady state” economic model which eschews economic growth, but I very much doubt that is what Ukip has in mind.