Home > Oz Politics > A bit more on population

A bit more on population

April 7th, 2010

Over the fold, a couple more paras on population, which is becoming a very hot issue.

It will be interesting to see how Abbott handles it. As with the parental leave tax, he has run with a populist position, apparently taking no trouble to square it with his business base, which is already causing trouble. Since he was supporting high immigration intakes only a couple of months ago (in the context of an attack on asylum-seekers), it’s hard to see how he can escape charges of opportunism. In fact, it’s hard to think of a major issue (tax, climate change, parental leave, WorkChoices) on which Abbott has not been, in Malcolm Turnbull’s memorable description, a weathervane. I suppose that’s what authenticity means.

It will also be interesting to see how his 9-day, 1000 km cycling/listening tour affects both his substantive position, and his ability to manage the debate[1]. Presumably, touring through rural areas, he’ll find it hard to back away from calls for a cut in immigration, but the Liberals are all over the shop on this.

The government has its own problems. Rudd’s “big Australia” is popular with business and some elite groups, but the case hasn’t been made to the rest of the country and I doubt that it can be. As I say over the page, it would probably be better to make the case for migration at the individual level (why should person X not be allowed to come/stay here) than in terms of aggregates. But if the Libs keep on messing things up, it will be relatively easy for the government to adjust both its rhetoric and his substantive position.

The strongest arguments in favor of high migration are based, not on narrow economic calculations but on a general presumption in favor of freedom. People want to come to Australia because there are jobs for them here, because they would like to join family members or friends, or to escape from repression and poverty.

Refusing to let them in reduces their freedom and the freedom of their Australian relatives, friends and potential employers. Before we take such a decision, we should have good reason to think that the net costs imposed on the community as a whole by increased migration justifies the loss of freedom involved in every individual refusal of admission.

fn1. Personally, it would be good news for me if he can manage it. I’ve been getting into triathlons and similar, nowhere near his Ironman feats, and it would be good to think that this can be done without detracting from the day job.

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  1. April 12th, 2010 at 14:48 | #1

    Ernestine,

    Economists have been making dishonest claims for decades thatpopulation growth will cause our material wellbeing to actually improve rather than causing the precise reverse.

    If it had not been for relentlessness and intensity of this propaganda and the aura of authority and trustworthiness that was constructed be the media around these economists, we would long ago have acted upon what our common sense and intuition as well as the evidence would have told us, and that was that population growth necessarily makes each of us, on average, worse off.

    And this has been compounded by the diseconomies of scale that population growth beyond an optimum population level, long ago exceeded in Australia, entails.

    I would like to know what economic proponents of population growth claim is proof that we are all better off as a result of population growht and what they claim is proof that we will all be even better off if runaway popualtion growth continues.

    Mark O’Connor to feature on “Australia Talks” program on immigration

    On another matter, Mark O’Connor, Australian poet and author of “Overloading Australia” will be a panel guest on Australia Talks after the 6PM news.

    I expect he will tear to tiny shreds any population grwoth proponent game enough to appear on that program with him.

  2. April 12th, 2010 at 15:07 | #2

    Not sure what went wrong with my link to Ernestine Gross’s comment. here it is again.

  3. Fran Barlow
    April 12th, 2010 at 15:10 | #3

    @daggett

    Most of what you say is fair enough. We ought to do these things (1-4) and several others regardless of what we make of increased population. As to 5 — it depends entirely on what you mean. I do agree we ought to have greater urban density and this implies having less personal space and more common space. I’d like to see car pooling and public transport used more extensively. I’d like more common facilities in residential buildings. I’d like the phrase urban sprawl to elicit bemusement. I’d like us transporting fewer gigalitres of water per person per day and that over much shorter distances.

    I have no fixed view about what any individual ought to accept. If people want to pay a premium that reflects the true cost of things to the commons, let them do so.

    You ask if anyone will offer an explicit economic defence of migration. It is no more than obvious that economies of scale can make producing goods cheaper by allowing sunk and even non-marginal recurrent costs to be spread across a greater number of consumers. That could well be true, and if one assumes that one would wish to deliver certain services to people, bringing them here might make more sense than shipping the service. For example, if someone needs specialist medical treatment, does it make more sense to ship the personnel and the equipment to them or ship them to the people? Typically it is the latter. If one wants a community to have clean running water, or a good police service, does it make more sense economically, to transport them to some place where there is clean running water and a good police service or build a pipeline to where they are and bus in police? Again the numbers count.

    Ultimately though economic and social policy ought not to be separated. Economics ought to be a tool for realising good social policy i.e. policy that maximises human wellbeing rather than something in a separate box as your formulation implies. For someone who professes to be critical of neo-liberalism, your dichotomy is rather neo-liberal.

  4. Ernestine Gross
    April 12th, 2010 at 16:17 | #4

    @daggett

    I can’t add much more than what I have said in the post you linked to. In another post in reply to Chris Warren (can’t remember exactly where) I suggested that a distinction should be made between economics and commerce. Commerce counts monetary (accounting) profits. In this framework the basic logic is: more people, greater market, more sales, more profits if we manage well. Similarly, GDP counts the monetary value of market transactions. This applied area of economics (one of many) cannot deal with physical sustainability questions at all. As for Economics, I refer back my previous post. Obviously, I cannot speak on behalf of all economists. However, I can say that verbal arguments as presented by Fran Barlow, while being eloquently expressed, are not to be confused with an economic analysis.

  5. BilB
    April 12th, 2010 at 17:17 | #5

    Dagget, there are no hard and fast rules on population growth. It is entirely situational. If you are on a one tree island and 5 more people arrive that is likely to be disasterous. If you are one person occupying a fertile plain with woods and water then the arrival of 5 more people could be a god send with the distibution of work. Australia in its current state can absorb many millions more people. The reality is that many millions will come in the nest 60 years as global warming takes its toll. Australia’s real problem is catastrophic regional planning. New arrivals are bad for Australia if these people crowd to under opportunitied population centres. However if they become part of a location flexible work force then they become a positive addition. If they bring no skills and and negative social attitudes then they can be a drain on resources. It just depends on who arrives and how/where they are deployed/settled.

    If there were boat loads of qualified medical practitioners arriving it would be interesting to get Abbotts take on that.

  6. paul walter
    April 12th, 2010 at 19:35 | #6

    Precisely, Bil B (and Fran Barlow).
    Fran, how do you come by the notion that Daggett’s ideas are
    “neo liberal”. What “dichotomy”
    are you refering to?
    if you’re suggesting he is putting up a false dichotomy of development OR conservation, I think not.
    He (and I) are just suggesting that we should look before we leap, as to funny plans that seem to have selectively fudged corroborating evidence. Reme,ber, we go down a path of this sort, we cant go back later.
    Gunns , Carbon reduction schemes and the Murray have all proven how quickly power formations will remove scientific and economic apparatus of review, so your intrinsic assumption that progess can made under the cover of effective legislation affording forgrounding of SUSTAINABILITY is challenged by the the facts, at least as far as the above examples are concerned.

  7. paul walter
    April 12th, 2010 at 21:52 | #7

    Dagget, you saw “4 Corners” tonight, onthe health issues involved in Hunter Valley coal mining and the attempts to cover up rather than deal with side effects emanating from these coal”developments”?
    Yet another example, in the past and currently, of the reality of how ecological issues have and continue to be, dealt with by gutless entities like Carmel Tebbut and the NSW government?
    I think 4 Corners gave us a truer picture of “neoliberalism” at work than some offered here as alternatives recently.
    And we are to trust these b…..ds with exponential population growth when they can’t even get the Hunter Valley right, well into 2100, where more Bernie Banton style situations now regularly arising ?

  8. April 12th, 2010 at 22:27 | #8

    @paul walter

    Fran, how do you come by the notion that Daggett’s ideas are
    “neo liberal”.

    Suggesting that there can be an “economic defence” of immigration separate from broader questions of human utility is neo-liberal idea.

  9. paul walter
    April 13th, 2010 at 00:01 | #9

    Sorry Fran, could you elaborate, am not trying to be difficult, but if you could would be greatful.
    Thanx Paul.

  10. April 13th, 2010 at 00:08 | #10

    Fran Barlow

    I guess when I asked for an economic defrence of immigration, I meant in a broader sense which more accurately measures the benefits (or costs) of immigration.

    What has passed for economic defence of immigration have been arguments based on largley meaningless indicators such as the GDP (whether total of per capita).

    Using such measures economists are able to argue absurdly that our real wages have more than doubled since the 1960′s even though two and often more incomes per household, rather than just one are often necessary to make ends meet.

    I had to go out, Paul Walter I will see if I can catch the repeat.

  11. Sam
    April 14th, 2010 at 13:59 | #11

    Another downside to skilled immigration is that it deprives the migrant’s country of much needed labor for itself. In many cases, taxpayers in the originating country paid for the person to be trained in the first place (and at least paid for their primary and secondary education), and are now being deprived of the benefits of their investment. The most troubling case of this is in India, where many people in rural areas die for want of access to doctors who are in Australia.

    I’m not suggesting here that these people shouldn’t be given the right to leave their country, that would be too egregious a violation of their liberty. I do however, think it rather dents Fran’s argument about the morality of a skilled migration program.

  12. April 14th, 2010 at 14:26 | #12

    @Sam

    I’m not suggesting here that these people shouldn’t be given the right to leave their country, that would be too egregious a violation of their liberty. I do however, think it rather dents Fran’s argument about the morality of a skilled migration program.

    This is the bet each way argument, but you don’t get to make it. Either it is ethically defencible for people to take their skills and leave for a better life some place else, or it is not. If as you imply, it is, then plainly, my argument is undented. We merely enable others to exercise their rights. If you want to insist that they can be held at the pleasure of the state, then I will argue with you about that.

  13. April 14th, 2010 at 14:32 | #13

    @paul walter

    Think Paul. A “purely economic” thing implies an economics that has nothing to do with how people live their lives, or the drivers of their choices or the impacts on amenity, but determined by the number oif beans counted only. Very neo-liberal.

  14. Sam
    April 14th, 2010 at 15:52 | #14

    @Fran Barlow ,
    failing to take the most extreme position is not “betting each way.” All I mean is that this consideration belongs on the negative side of the ledger. I think perhaps I have so far been unclear, so let me clarify.

    Countries should not stop free citizens from leaving, irrespective of prior tax-payer funded education. This is because in this case, person freedom concerns outweigh other social considerations. In that sense I think allowing mass emigration is moral, and denying it immoral.

    In comment 38 of the “water water everywhere” post, you said it would “reflect well on us” if Australia increased it’s population to 40 million (through migration) while the world stabilized at 8.5 billion. Throughout the exchange in this debate, you seem to be of the opinion that the right thing for Australia to do is to altruistically take people from the rest of the world, in order to “do our bit” to relieve population stress in other areas. By extension, you also seem to believe that opposing immigration on environmental grounds is selfish and immoral. I don’t want to put words in your mouth so please tell me if I have mis-characterised your views.

    What I have called your argument for the morality of a skilled migration program
    is actually an argument that denying a skilled migration program is immoral. “Look at all those poor overcrowded countries!” you might exclaim. “These nasty Australian environmentalists are trying to stop us easing the pressure and taking the excess population!”

    Bribing Indian doctors to come be cosmetic surgeons in North Sydney while 1.5 million women in rural areas die in childbirth is not moral. We are not selfless when we poach skilled people to come here. Pundits against high levels of skilled migration are often admonished to be less parochial, and look for benefits of immigration accruing to others outside our borders. Very well, but in that case I must ask likewise of you. There are costs as well as benefits, imposed on other people in a migrant’s originating country. This fact puts a dent in your argument for the morality of skilled migration.

  15. April 14th, 2010 at 16:16 | #15

    @Sam

    The gist of your claim is that having a skilled migration program is “poaching” skilled people from other countries — that is stealing their property. That would be unethical, if defencible. Is that your claim? Yes or no?

    Actually, my view favoured an expanded humanitarian immigration program rather than one that was skills-based. I’d favour being part of an international quota system, in which we could perhaps fund places in third countries that lacked the resources to integrate humanitarian refugees. Really, we ought to be at least paying our 0.7% of GDP rather than the 0.5% we are now, assuming we’re counting that properly. So should the US and Japan and other states

    I’d be very happy to have disadvantaged people here and to have them equipped to be useful citizens, even if ultimately they went back to rural India or wherever. Obviously, a humanitarian program wouldn’t exclude doctors, but they probably wouldn’t make it very far up the list in practice. That said, if you are going to admit disadvantaged Indians, one should probably have an expanded bunch of skilled Indians to give them the assistance in their own language they might need.

  16. Sam
    April 14th, 2010 at 17:01 | #16

    @Fran Barlow

    The gist of your claim is that having a skilled migration program is “poaching” skilled people from other countries — that is stealing their property. That would be unethical, if defencible. Is that your claim? Yes or no?

    On balance, I would have to say No, that is not my claim. Everything up to the hyphen is alright but then you have imputed a political position to me that I do not hold. I do think that having a skilled migration program is “poaching” skilled people from other countries, but I do not think countries should consider their citizens to be personal property. In fact, I accord countries per se very few rights. Only the people in them should have rights.

    All I ask is for reciprocity in any debate about immigration’s effects outside our borders. If pro-immigrationists want me to consider environmental benefits in other countries, I want them to concede the existence of economic costs in those same countries. What’s more, it would be possible for the costs in the other country to outweigh benefits and for immigration to still occur. This is because the costs are born by taxpayers, and people deprived of the emigrant’s skill, while the decision is taken by the emigrant alone. Thus, I do not think that the open borders level of immigration represents the socially optimal outcome.

    I agree with you about enlarging the humanitarian program, if restricted to refugees. We could quadruple our refugee program with little effect because the numbers are so small. I don’t agree with resettling people in Australia who are merely poor however. I think foreign aid is a much more efficient way of discharging our moral obligations in that direction. I completely agree that we should raise our charitable donations to 0.7% of GDP, and I think that the extra 0.2% ought to be spent on two things.
    1 Raising female education levels and empowerment in poor countries.
    2 Contraception programs.

    If we did those we would go much further towards relieving population stress than any mass immigration program ever could. If we had any money left over we could put it towards destroying Catholicism.

  17. April 15th, 2010 at 10:42 | #17

    @paul walter (Finally the ‘Reply’ and ‘Quote’ links on the top right of each post have caught my eye.)

    I missed watching the repeat of the 4 Corners documentary on coal in the Hunter valley. Something came up and it slipped my mind. My apologies. I will endeavour to watch “A dirty business” some time soon on the appropriate video on demand page, ideally when the speakers attached to my PC work properly so I don’t have to listen through ear phones.

    It is hard to fully express my disgust at the way our coal is being plundered at an accelerating rate without regard to our environment, our rural land, rural communities, global warming, not to mention future generations from whom this resource is being stolen.

    In fact I tried to raise this issue during the 2009 Queensland state elections when I asked in a survey:

    4. No increase in coal exports: Will you oppose any further increase in the rate of extraction of climate-changing coal? Will you oppose Premier Anna Bligh’s stated intention made in July last year to triple Queensland’s already record levels of coal exports by 2030?
    5. Save the Felton Valley: Will you oppose coal mining in the Felton Valley agricultural region south west of Toowoomba?
    6. Save Bimblebox: Will you oppose the destruction of the Bimblebox nature refuge by a planned massive open-cut coal mine?

    Of course, the ABC and the rest of the newsmedia, who believe that citizens should have no say over such matters at election time or, indeed, any other time, failed to either put those questions, themselves, to any candidate and failed to publicise my survey.

    For their part, the Greens barely raised this issue at the state level and certainly not in Mount Coot-tha, although individual Greens candidates raised this issue at the local level and expressed agreement with me.

    @Sam wrote:

    Bribing Indian doctors to come be cosmetic surgeons in North Sydney while 1.5 million women in rural areas die in childbirth is not moral. We are not selfless when we poach skilled people to come here. Pundits against high levels of skilled migration are often admonished to be less parochial, and look for benefits of immigration accruing to others outside our borders. Very well, but in that case I must ask likewise of you. There are costs as well as benefits, imposed on other people in a migrantu2019s originating country. This fact puts a dent in your argument for the morality of skilled migration.

    This perfectly demonstrates the selfish depravity of political rulers who ‘unapologetically’ (as I think Queensland Premier Anna Bligh once said) recruit skilled people from third world countries to make up for this country’s scandalous failure to train its own workforce.

    As a short term measure to make up for the lack of certain niche skills, it just may be acceptable, but to use immigration over the long term to make up for this country’s failure to provide training opportunities to its own citizens, as has happened over the past decade, with the collusion of all Governments state and Federal, is inexcusable. I might add that the lack of training opportunities also includes for many University graduates and people who have University degrees whose skills are judged by employers not to be ‘current’. Consequently vast numbers of skilled workers, including even many migrants, languish in low-skilled occupations.

    The only way the Rudd Government’s imposition of high immigration, against the clear wishes of the majority and against the evidence makes any sense is to understand how a selfish greedy minority, particularly land speculators, property developers, cheapskate employers, and, of course, people who are directly employed within the immigration industry benefit from this at everyone else’s expense.

    I showed this citing the words of a property speculation guru, first on then again at the start of this discussion.

    I am still waiting for a defender of immigration to acknowledge and respond to this evidence.

    I consider unacceptable in what is supposed to be a democracy this blatant and open disregard by the Rudd Government of both the best interests and expressed will of the majority of this society.

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