The problem with foreigners

Andrew Kenny | Jul 14, 2019
My free market instincts favour free movement of all people everywhere, but I know this is impractical, and indeed destructive. So, I’d just advocate intelligent, sympathetic, controlled immigration.

A deep loathing of foreigners seems to be innate in people down the ages. It is no doubt natural. We see similar behaviour in all social mammals; just look how your dogs regard other dogs walking past your house. The similarity in anti-foreigner bigotry in all nations and in all times is remarkable. In ancient Greece, the natives called foreigners ‘barbarians’ because they could not understand what they were saying but it sounded like ‘bar-bar’. Three thousand years later and ten thousand kilometres away, black South Africans call foreign black Africans “kwerekwere” because they cannot understand what they are saying but it sounds like “kweri-kweri”.

Immigration is now a hot topic in the United States (US). This is ironic since over 98% of the present population of the US are immigrants, and recent immigrants at that. They arrived fewer than 500 years ago, and displaced, slaughtered and killed with disease the indigenous population (the ‘Red Indians’). The two big parties are already preparing for the presidential election in 2020, with the awful President Trump likely to be opposed by an even more awful Democrat candidate. A recent debate among the leading Democrat candidates was dominated by the immigration question, especially from Mexico. Since Trump won a lot of votes by proposing to get tough on illegal immigrants, the Democrats seem to be competing among themselves to show how much they love all immigrants, legal or illegal. They were unanimous in saying that all illegal immigrants should get free medical care. At least one of them, though, has the solution to the immigration policy.

This is Bernie Sanders, a 77-year-old Democrat firebrand, who gets more radical with age. Sanders is a professed socialist, and wants to make the US socialist. That would stop anybody wanting to come to the US. Capitalism always produces prosperity, high employment and better human welfare, and so working people all around the world always want to move from socialist countries to capitalist ones. This is why people are pouring into the US from Mexico, which has a high degree of state control. Sanders would solve that problem.

Economics can promote either hatred of foreigners or love of foreigners. It is a complicated matter. England’s greatest social rebellion was the ‘Peasant’s Revolt’ in 1381. It had legitimate causes: absurd labour laws, a poll tax, semi-feudal conditions between landowner and tenant, and the horrible cost of the mad 100 Years’ War with France. It had just demands: free labour contracts, scrapping the poll tax, and property rights for all. Unfortunately, it had dreadful methods. A terrible mob from all over south east England marched on London with clubs, axes and knives. They murdered and destroyed. The people they hated most and most sought to kill were bishops, lawyers and foreigners, especially the skilled Flemish textile experts who were bringing much prosperity to London. Yet at other times a love of foreign economic benefit has actually reduced hostility and even prevented war. This happened in the 4th Crusade in 1202, when the Christian businessmen of Venice prevented the Christian Crusaders from invading the Islamic Middle East. This was because they liked the Moslems, with whom they did good business. (They persuaded the Crusaders to attack Christian Constantinople instead.)

In South Africa, we have the strange phenomenon that black South Africans hate black immigrants far more than they hate white immigrants, whom they don’t seem to hate at all. The kwerekwere set up spaza shops in the townships and established a reputation for providing cheaper goods and better service than local enterprises. They seem to be especially hated for serving the locals so well.

A common complaint against immigrants is that ‘they are taking away our jobs’. In the case of wealthy, skilled immigrants, the opposite is true: they bring jobs. But in the case of poor unskilled immigrants – by far the majority here and at the Mexican border – it is true. Black immigrants are prepared to work for less and have the reputation of being better and less troublesome workers. White and other South African employers favour them over locals, which adds to local resentment. In my postbox I continually receive little notes telling me that a ‘Malawian gardener’ is looking for work.

I find it interesting that, in the US, it is considered ‘progressive’ or ‘left-wing’ to allow in as many unskilled immigrants as necessary. This is a bit odd. You could equally well argue that letting them in is ‘reactionary’ or ‘right-wing’ since it puts local workers out of jobs and feeds the greedy capitalists looking to pay as little as possible. This argument does not seem to have occurred either to Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Personally, I can think of no very wonderful immigration policy. My free market instincts favour free movement of all people everywhere but I know this is impractical, and indeed destructive. So, I’d just advocate intelligent, sympathetic, controlled immigration. I’d deport illegal immigrants. I’m sorry I can’t suggest anything more imaginative.

 

Andrew Kenny is a writer, an engineer and a classical liberal. 

 

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the IRR.

 

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