How to Have A Racist Conversation About Immigration

Paul Collier’s summarises his book Exodus: How Migration is Changing Our World in his article ‘How to have a sensible conversation about migration’, New Statesman, 21 November, 2013. This is a belated response to it.

The use of the word ”sensible” in any article about immigration rings alarm bells these days. Sirens are further sounded as Collier follows it with a complaint that we haven’t been allowed to have a “serious discussion” about immigration since – wait for it… Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of blood speech” – which he later partially endorses.

Frankly, I can’t be bothered to look at all the “ten blocks”  -with which he elucidates his immigration policy in the NS article – so we shall have to make do with examining a couple that will show that his claim to authority is at best, over stated.

Collier is a serious political scientist who – he claims – is bravely confronting a social science taboo – talking “honestly”(Ding! Ding!) about immigration. Further, his “liberal” friends will be appalled at him for doing so – and to be fair he is probably risking a decline in dinner party invites in Hampstead. Whatsmore in a world where the chairman of Migration Watch gets a peerage he is really sticking his neck out.

Having set up this straw man of a open border consensus he starts building his argument.

In Block 3, Collier outlines one of the unwelcome truths about migrants is their propensity to “cluster” and “not be absorbed” into the “general population”.

The clustering tendencies according to Collier of (im)migrant diasporas – slows absorption. This is bad and is made worse both by larger (uncontrolled) migration – and further excacerabted by multicultural as opposed to assimilative policy (Yes, this article is quite like playing racist-immigration-discourse bingo!). Absorption or assimilation seem to be similar, though one also seems to actas  the cause of the other.

By “absorbing” I take Collier to mean to be evenly distributed socially, economically and geographically evenly across and into the receiving state – not to be a a noticeable blip in any statistical analysis of the Census. Perhaps they are two different aspects of the same thing – with assimilation being the socio-cultural aspect. In any case, Assimilation/Absorption normally means conforming to the dominant (if not majority) culture.

For instance, within the US context this means Anglo-Saxon culture despite many other major populations including those of First Nation and African origin. Top-down assimilation has negative consequences, mainly as one culture is promoted at the cost of less dominant ones. However, I would argue that a more egalitarian assimilative process is possible, but I won’t argue for it here.

To delve slightly deeper into Collier’s mind set, I think we need to look carefully at the language that he deploys. An apposite example is provided within his full length book – Exodus: How Migration is Changing our World. It seems the more culturally different the migrant community are from their hosts, the more problematic their presence within the host society. They bring with them undesirable qualities from their countries/cultures:

“Uncomfortable as it may be . . . migrants bring their culture with them..For example…unsurprisingly, Nigerian immigrants to other societies tend to be untrusting and opportunistic.”1

This quote is telling in a number of ways. It reveals one of Collier’s arguments to be based on questionable assumptions about national character – though to be sure he’s careful to make it societal not racial. They bring not their inferior genes but their inferior governance with them. Collier previous works tells us how it’s the global souths’ corruption that is the source of its economic woes. It also assumes a rather rose tinted view of the population of the receiving country; If only we didn’t leave our borders open, we could still leave our doors unlocked without concern.

There is a further implicit assumption is seemingly being made about the “indigenous” population of receiving countries: That we are all happily assimilated into a otherwise contented general population; there are no other alienated groups within these societies. Ever widening gaps in income levels (for instance in the UK) suggests something rather different2.

Collier goes on to detail how migrants damage their hosts well being:

“Yet diversity also potentially jeopardises co-operation and generosity. Co-operation rests on co-ordination games that support both the provision of public goods and myriad socially enforced conventions. Generosity rests on a widespread sense of mutual regard that supports welfare systems. Both public goods and welfare systems benefit the indigenous poor, which means they are the group most at risk of loss.”

Collier seems to conflate two separate issues here.

1) True, there is some social science research – which suggests that “trust” or “solidarity” is lower in areas of higher diversity (not higher immigration) areas. Though the study by Robert Puttnam’s that Collier bases this assertion on finds that diversity is good for us in the long run and “…an extraordinary achievement of human civilization is our ability to redraw social lines in ways that transcend ancestry.”3 Further, Collier doesn’t acknowledge the results of other studies which don’t support Puttnam’s thesis linking diversity and lack of social capital. For instance, Gesthuizen et al (2004) suggest there is a positive relationship between social capital and diversity within the European context.4

2) Welfare cuts or rationing are carried out by governments not newly arrived migrants. Myths of “benefit tourism” are just that – myths used to justify reduction and withdrawal of social security and are part of a larger narrative which paints most recipients (not just migrants) of welfare as undeserving5.

As for the weakening of social solidarity due to the influx of migrants, its noticeable in articles of this kind that internal migration of rich people into previously economically deprived areas (Gentrification) are not considered despite substantial evidence of it’s impact on homelessness, and displacement.6

Paul Collier’s blocks are not a firm foundation for future migration policy, but rather a crumbing edifice which merely reflect the the unworkable and injust status quo.


1Quoted in “Let the People Go -The problem with strict migration controls”. viewed 11/10.14


3E Pluribus Unum : Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture

Robert D. Putnam* pp161

4 Ethnic Diversity and Social Capital in Europe: Tests of Putnam’s Thesis in European Countries

Maurice Gesthuizen,* Tom van der Meer & Peer Scheepers

5The Dangerous Politics of Immigration Control, Chapter

6: Rowland Atkinson (2004) The evidence on the impact of gentrification: new lessons for the urban renaissance?, International Journal of Housing Policy, 4:1, 107-131

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