When we hear the term ‘migrant crisis’ it’s easy to label the situation as hopeless. Politicians offer no sign of a resolution any time soon and it’s impossible to ignore the national mood of mounting callousness and hysteria over fears of mass immigration, both in the US and here in Britain. Despite the tolerance of sympathy of the majority, many conversations in the press are laden with hostility and suspicion and there’s still a wide spread assumption that opening our borders to refugees will ultimately result in a negative impact both culturally and economically.
I decided to spend just a few days tuned into the counter argument that contends the exact opposite effect, one of immigration as an overwhelming improvement to society. And I found that there’s plenty of evidence to back up these bold claims.
In the aftermath of the November terror attacks in Paris, presidential candidates such as Ben Carson, Chris Christie and everyone’s favourite fascist parody Donald Trump were twisting the tragedy to their own benefit, using it to excite the fear that fuels their popularity and demanding that borders be closed to Syrian refugees.
But as Alex Tabarrok, a professor of economics at George Mason University recently pointed out in a piece he wrote for The Atlantic titled ‘The Case For Getting Rid of Borders’, “If the developed world were to take in enough immigrants to enlarge its labour force by a mere one percent, the economic value created would be worth more to the migrants than all of the world’s foreign aid combined. Immigration is the greatest anti-poverty program ever devised.”
For the moment though let’s ignore the fact that admitting refugees is morally the only thing to do and take a look at the facts. 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies (the 500 largest corporations in the U.S.) were founded by migrants or their children, Steve Jobs among the most well-known of these. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that if the West hadn’t had a history of accepting refugees then we might now be living in a world without Apple, Intel, or Ghostbusters. (That’s right, the film’s cinematographer László Kovács was a Hungarian refugee.)
And Tabarrok is not alone in believing that immigration can have an overwhelmingly positive impact. Michael Clemens is an economist who studies global migration. Speaking to Freakonomics on a recent podcast investigating the economic effects of immigration, he said, “Sensible regulation of migration has to take into account the tremendous economic benefits of migration. Migrants bring ideas and new technologies. Migrants bring a diversity of culture that can lead to all kinds of unpredictable economic interactions.”
In other words, the view fed to us by a fearmongering media, that migrants will steal our jobs, harass our people, and become a drain on our services, simply doesn’t hold up because the reality of people movement is far more complex. Migrants do not just take jobs, they also start businesses of their own and employ native workers. And they spend the money they earn in the shops and services of the community. In fact there is no real evidence to suggest that wages of workers in the countries that migrants go to is significantly affected.
It’s true that the kind of numbers we’re seeing fleeing the Middle East right now is enough to overwhelm any one country alone, but this would not be the case if refugees were to be evenly distributed between many countries.
At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund introduced a report showing that an influx of refugees into Europe would not harm its economy, provided there is an EU agreement on distributing migrants evenly across the continent. Lagarde stated, “The current surge in refugees is a challenge with an upside potential. With appropriate policies, this rich source of human capital can be harnessed with benefits for everyone.”
At the moment there is no firm strategy in place to deal with the sheer numbers of Syrians seeking refuge. But the potential exists to turn this catastrophe into a success story, while crucially establishing new homes for those in need. All evidence suggests that the biggest issue we need to overcome is simply that of viewing refugees as a burden they don’t need to be.
Alex Gray is a freelance journalist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of 52 Insights.
Image courtesy of: https://www.flickr.com/photos/syriafreedom/21076377990