The idea in a nutshell : Turn the boats around is a stupid policy. Apart from compromising moral obligations, it is economically nonsensical. Immigrants are net positive to the economy. In fact, it’s possible that the reason Germany chose to take in all the immigrants they did in 2015 was because of the forecast economic benefits. There are useful lessons we can learn from Germany in this regard which go beyond immigration.

Turning the boats around compromises moral obligations

Not everyone will know what turning the boats around means. Turning the boats around is the slogan bandied around by Australian politicians in the major two parties and ‘our’ de facto position on refugee immigration.

First of all, turn the boats around is not a good moral position. The departure point for saying it seems close to a ‘manifest destiny’ belief, rather than the more ( to me ) proper ‘Original Position’ / ‘Veil Of Ignorance’ starting point.

Manifest destiny was a belief held in the USA two hundred years ago that good things had happened to the ruling classes because of their special virtues.  When you’re in a nice spot and doing very well relative to others, it must seem natural to believe that you got there by virtue of the things which are special about you. In fact, in many cases, it’s because we were lucky enough not to be born in to an area which descended in to a war zone.

The alternative and in my view more realistic belief is the ‘Original Position’ idea. It is designed to be fair, impartial and just. In this thought experiment, we are asked to imagine ourselves deciding what share of the worlds resources we are provided under a ‘Veil of Ignorance’ – i.e. BEFORE those resources are distributed. In the experiment, you know about the rules of fairness, justice and the economy but you do not know where in the world you will appear. The natural output of this seems to be an equal allocation of basic rights and entitlements.

Immigration is net positive to the economy

Given the extremely varied nature of immigration, the facts about their effect are remarkable clear.

The OECD says that immigrants contribute ‘significantly’ to labour market flexibility. They contribute more in taxes and socially than they take. They contribute to technological progress and boost the working proportion of the population (reduce the dependency rate)

It is simply not true to say, as so many do, and as contributed so fundamentally to Brexit, that they take benefits and don’t contribute (as a whole) Some of these economic effects are even more clear in Australia with commentators saying ‘Australia needs immigration – period’.

Did Germany take so many immigrants in in 2015 because of the economic benefits ?

Germany offered last year to take in 500,000 migrants, not just then but ‘for several years’. The expected cost was going to be in the region of 10 billion Euro.

Importantly, when doing so, Germany has shown foresight in 2 important areas. Their approach has involved identifying the jobs needed in both growing and declining industries within their country and matching the skills that the immigrants they received, had.

Germany has one of the world’s lowest birth rates and a rapidly aging population. Some features of which, including a rising dependency level, Australia shares.

Summing up immigration’s effect on Australia

It is true to say that job migration – for example, the points system used to select ‘worthwhile’ immigrants in Australia – is better than accepting any immigration. I’ve used that myself and am now a citizen. It is also true to say that unmanaged immigration can result in pressure on infrastructure and services, something Australia is already straining to deal with effectively. Finally, benefits from immigration do not always materialise immediately. It takes time to settle, train and provide job experience to those who were previously low skilled.

However, when one of our (Australia’s) most serious issues is an aging population and a likely increase in the dependency ratio, this seems like an area to focus on and develop oversight skills in.

Regrettably, this is another area we are not discussing going in to an Australian election. In my view, if people were introduced to these concepts, they might vote differently on the matter. If they understood even only that migrants actually helped the economy then self interest alone would ensure they would open the borders.

I think most reasonable people (I include Australians) would agree that acting in a way that the UN sees as torture is not something they want to be part of.

Add to that the philosophical arguments to provide people a structure to more justly consider their standpoint and I think few would vote for the current ‘alternatives’ offered by the major parties.

Finally, importantly, we can learn from Germany’s approach. Not only does their mid 2015 announcement that they would let half a million people in set a standard for how we should treat each others. Germany’s practical approach to identifying skills workers have and need and placing them in economies which need them ( within Germany ) will be useful in other contexts.

As I have covered elsewhere, it seems that technological unemployment is likely to be a feature in Australia in the near future. The approach taken by Germany to identifying, upskilling and placing people could assist in managing Australia effectively through that necessary but extremely difficult process.

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