Movers and stayers

A lot of discussion of immigration is framed around the distinction between movers and stayers. Until recently, most of what I’ve seen has framed “stayers” as those who see their economic interests as being threatened by competition from immigrants. To protect themselves, they want to restrict immigration, even if the consequence is to restrict the opportunities for “movers” from their own country. The harm to these “movers-out” is just collateral damage

But lately I’ve been seeing a different account, in which it’s the departure of the movers-out that is causing problems by reducing the supply of workers to provide services to, and pay taxes to support, the stayers (particularly, the old). In economic terms, the obvious solution would be to replace the movers-out with movers-in, but they are of the wrong religion, skin colour and so on, and are therefore rejected. That exacerbates visible economic decline, particularly in terms of the level of economic activity, even when income per person holds up or is sustained by transfer payments. This in turn produces support for Trumpism and its variants.

This story comes up most clearly in relation to Eastern Europe (most notably Hungary) following accession to the EU, but I think it’s applicable to many rural areas in richer countries.

The feelings of the stayers in this story are understandable. They liked things better as they were, and resent changes. But they are hard to defend in moral terms, since keeping things as they were requires massively constraining the rights of others to work, marry and live in the way they wish to.

On this account, there’s also a lot of self-selection going on here. Staying, and demanding that others do so, is a conservative and authoritarian choice, so the stayers will tend to be those in a given population who fit this description. This comes back to the question of why rural voters support conservative parties, even when those parties serve the interests of the urban rich. I’ve seen (but can’t now find) a very old discussion of this point in relation to France, where it’s been relevant ever since 1789. In the US context, it’s being rediscovered right now.

40 thoughts on “Movers and stayers

  1. Analysis like this, alas, is IMHO why we have so many Australians disgruntled with Politics, with media and with academia today. Elitists who don’t have to spend an 1hr+ in traffic to get to and from work and get ripped off with tolls for the exercise. Elitists who generalise and stereotype Australians arguing against high migration rates as racists (often euphemistically inferred). Elitists who continually frame the virtues of high migration through a monolithic economic lens while continually ignoring the effect it has on the average Australian’s quality of life in a holistic analysis.

  2. I agree completely with Troy Prideaux’s comments.

    Not even the religious leaders have something to say about the struggles of the poor/disanvantaged in this country. ‘Success’ at all costs, where success is financial/economic success is the only success, the only interest, and the only acceptable topic of discussion. Hence a good part of australians are compleatly ‘forgotten’ and left to fend for themselves (they are told the lie that if they work hard they’ll make it).

    I am an immigrant myself (refugee). If however I was a poor australian whose ancestors faught (rightly or wrongly) for the country, I would ask myself why I have to share services/resorces with the newly arrived, and sometimes the newly arrived rich. If I was in this situation I may have a low socioeconomic status, and I’d be perfectly justified to think these ‘recist’ thoughts, that is to express my resentment (resentment is a natural feeling after all).

    What else would you advise me to do John, in this situation, where my children and I can’t make ends meet (even though I have a job)?

    It is true that I should not fault the immigrant (and not only because the economist tells me that we need him) as it is not the immigrant’s fault that my government is not taking care of me. But it is the GOVERNMENT that tells me either to fear the immigrant (one way or another) or it tells me nothing, and so I make up my mind with the little ‘knowledge’ that I have.

  3. It is organisation like Smith family that are trying to help australian children living in poverty. Shouldn’t the government do this? Does the government care? It would be a legitimate question to ask why don’t we find a way to share the resouces that we have (forget growth and the economic theories) in a way to lower the inequality between the rich and the poor.

    Does anyone ‘important’ care about the poor children in this country? Do they ever feature in anyone’s analysis (apart as future potential workers, in terms of ‘cost/benefit’ analysis of various kinds). I personally don’t think so. And worst of all is that this is not seen as a problem by the economists, politicians or others.

  4. Books I’ve read that touch on the subject are Jill Kerr Conways “The Road from Coorain” J D Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” and Rick Morton’s “One Hundred Years of Dirt”.

    More recently was Dani Rodik who offers one argument being that the more educated ambitious and adventurous generation move to where the opportunities are greater (cities) leaving behind a somewhat frightened and alienated cohort who are numerically small but have political influence.

    Other arguments are examined but as the author points out, despite the reason or reasons, inequality and insecurity remain the paramount drivers of authoritarian populism.

  5. “In economic terms, the obvious solution would be to replace the movers-out with movers-in… ” – J.Q.

    This is what I have said in advocating ZPG (zero population growth) for Australia. That is (attempt to) set up the equation;

    Net immigrants + Net incoming Refugees + Births – Net emigrants – Deaths = 0.

    Net emigrants is a self-selecting number. Net incoming genuine refugees is number set by world conditions plus adherence to international law and UN conventions. Births and deaths are natural rates albeit they can be somewhat affected by social policy. That leaves net immigrants to be adjusted by government policy, obviously in a somewhat delayed or lagged fashion. Immigrant selection clearly does not need not to be and should not be racially based. A non-racial immigration selection policy is possible. If each component of the equation is not affected by racist policies then the ZPG goal and outcome is logically non-racist, additively speaking.

    A ZPG policy is still nationalist and isolationist in relation to any global population crisis. That has to be admitted. However, on pragmatic grounds some such national policies are necessary assuming the decision to remain a discrete, independent nation. A degree of isolation and exclusion can be considered necessary for survival reasons. Reasoning reductio ad absurdum, we can see that to have 200 million immigrants rapidly flood into Australia would be to ensure the rapid deaths of most current Australians plus most of the 200 million immigrants as well, from food and water shortages if nothing else. Idealists who imagine Australia, as a sparsely populated and arid continent, could have a complete open door immigration policy lack all realism. I am quite certain that none of these unrealistic idealists (if they exist) have a complete open door policy for their own domicile.

  6. To protect themselves, they [stayers] want to restrict immigration, even if the consequence is to restrict the opportunities for “movers” from their own country.

    Since stayers don’t dictate the immigration policies of other countries, they can’t possibly restrict the movers from their own country. Your final paragraph contains the same faulty premise.

    My rural area is very popular with tree changers and we have a significant and well integrated Sudanese community that in my opinion make our area more diverse and interesting than it otherwise would be. But most of us do NOT want more population growth. Even on my own road, a very rare local stand of white box was chopped down for a new house. This type of destruction happens all the time and it is depressing.

    Plenty of my Melbourne dwelling Vietnamese in-laws are not especially conservative but they also oppose Melbourne’s population growth and want to slash immigration.

    I don’t want a larger population and if that means a 10% or whatever drop in my income I would happily accept that trade-off. I live cheaply and already save 30% of my modest income because I can think of nothing to spend it on.

    In terms of the source of immigrants, I note that Australia is half way to a police state because we insist on taking in large number of poorly vetted people from ethno-religious groups that contain a substantial number of folk whose social conservatism is one thousand miles to the right of Tony Abbott and who regard us as inferior and want us to bend to their culture. I’m sick being told that it is racist to talk about this.

  7. “@1 Wow! Did you even read the post? Or is this response automatically triggered by any discussion of migration?”

    I apologise for the misinterpretation John. Yes, my responses are a bit knee-jerk to this subject.

  8. I’m an immigrant and as I hate being a hypocrite myself, I will never be against immigration.

    One of the biggest reasons why many local citizens view temporary or permanent immigrants as a threat to job security and pay level, is the perception that “its hard to compete with them since they are willing to work for lower pay and worse employment conditions, effectively they are stealing our jobs, and/or are acting as a force that lowers our wages etc.”. Note that I don’t disagree with this thinking. In a pool of wage figures, the more lower than average figures gets added to the pool, the lower the average figure is, hence the lower the market wage; similar with working conditions.

    If we can make it so the society provides the same level of pay and workplace conditions to both immigrants (temporary and permanent) and local citizens, then the above argument do not hold. However this is difficult not only due to vested interest which exploits temporary immigrant workers for profit, and we know how difficult is it to combat vested interest from all past election results. It is also hard to enforce such laws and regulations even if they are being put in place, e.g. all the wage theft that’s occurred which the courts later rules the conducts are against the law proves this.

    So I just end up concluding that the phenomenon of Trumpism, or the blame on immigrants for negative effects on job security and pay, is (they are the same thing, just different level) a natural phenomenon of any country that allows foreigners to works. Since the rise of support for anti-immigration statistically correlate with economic downturn, and this seems to be true across the globe, anti-immigration sentiments can only be suppressed by full employment so local citizens don’t care about it.

  9. This post really hit a nerve! Commenters upset by it might want to think a bit more about why a discussion of declining regions in Eastern Europe (and the more widespread phenomenon of rural decline) should make them so defensive.

  10. The “movers / stayers” framing is ambiguous IMO and has different implications for different regions, different cultures, different conditions and different times. Any implied claim that all regions, all peoples, all local cultures etc., should always and in all conditions accept as many voluntary migrants as want to migrate there, would be an untenable claim. Is there a need to think a little more about avoiding ambiguous framing on obvious hot button issues?

  11. It seems that the eastern european countries needing workers are happy with the ‘right kind’ of immigrant and are letting them in (Poland with people from Ukraine, even if not with those from Syria for example). Similarly for a few others. So there does not seem to be a big issue when it comes to what is good for the economy at least in better functioning of these countries (and it seems that the ‘right’ immigrants are overall well treated).

    Some other poorer east european countries (even though undergoing ‘brain drain’, negative migration) on the other hand can’t employ even their own people, and likely have no resources or systems in place to take advantage of immigrants. At least one has zero net change in population.

    I simply have trouble believing that eastern europeans are so incompetent (I know that some have shown themselves to be so on many occasions) that they refuse to take advantage of what is proposed as an easy ’solution’ to their economic troubles (immigrants), even though the political situations in some of these countries have been and will always be a hindrance to their economic progress (unrelated to anti-immigrant sentiment.)
    Again, a person’s reaction to immigrants will depend on their particular experience situation (in eastern Europe like anywhere else).

    From a surway: Eastern Europeans least happy too live among immigrants. “While the East-West divide on the issue across the continent was the starkest, the survey also found considerable differences within countries. Young people — especially the post-Millenial “Gen Z”, richer people and those with higher education were the most likely to welcome migrants.’’

    Not a surprising finding (socio-economic factor I mentioned earlier).

    Here is a paper that looks at the level of anti-immigrant sentiment in a political party in terms of its relationship to (former) communist federalism and most notable ethnic group.

    Here `It shows how rising post-socialist ethnic and national primordialism, closely intertwined with conservative neopatriarchal ideologies, directly affects human rights observance as well as social work education and practice.’’

    There are others who state that anti-immigrant sentiment is not generated by immigration in the first place (USA is/used to be an example).

  12. Has anyone read “The ten types of human” by Dexter Dias? It’s a bit heavy going to read as it deals with a steady stream of diabolical situations, but it classifies some of the cognitive drivers for behaviour. One of the interesting findings discussed in the book is that fear of outsiders based on ethnicity is probably not a core human attribute, but a learned one.

  13. “The “movers / stayers” framing is ambiguous …”

    I agree and I think that this is why some of us failed to address the original opinion (finer details) directly.

  14. I am bound to muddle things up – I can’t think with political categories such as ‘left vs right’, ‘conservative vs progressive’, ‘elites’ vs populists’ and now ‘stayers vs movers’ even though I find these words meaningful in specific contexts – but here I go:

    Hungary. I am not an expert on this country, which I had visited only twice and that was many decades ago. Nevertheless a few words. Hungary’s population has shrunk by about 100,000 people in the very recent past. I don’t know whether this is due to ‘movers’ having moved on or due to stayers having fewer children or a combination of both. Not many other Europeans are particularly skilled in learning Hungarian – a difficult language for non-Hungarians – and therefore don’t want to move in to work. However, Hungarians, like other smaller countries in Europe, are quite clever with foreign languages. For example, during the communist era Hungarians were required to learn one western foreign language and one eastern foreign language. Many chose English and German (this I would call having foresight). This choice gave potential movers an advantage in becoming movers within the EU. I am rather confident in saying the collective memory (a part of culture) of the Hungarian society did not like being ruled by the Ottomans. They have a much greater aversion to Muslims than say the Austrians, who were never occupied by Ottomans. In contrast to Poland, Jewish people were quite well integrated in Hungary (no pogroms) but then they were also well integrated (no discrimination) in Bismarck’s Germany. But the Austrians and the Germans have their ‘extreme right populist party’ now, too. But they are all different.

    IMHO, except for some math econ theoretical models, which are so general as to be useless for daily life, but are powerful analytical aids in critical situations, there is no generally applicable economics. Applied economics does not pay enough attention to the economic and political development path of societies as they interact with each other on an individual as well as institutional level. In short, the history of societies and hence the social and cultural norms on their development paths do matter in an applied context. The EU is indeed a fantastic forum to observe the complexities from these multicultural development paths, essentially among people of the same skin colour.

    Sometimes there are situations where the shift in the political mood seems to be akin to the shift in fashion – skirts down to the ankles and then up above the knee. Who are the political fashion designers?

  15. Ernestine Gross,

    Good points. It is necessary to drill down into the specifics of each situation. One cannot have a blanket rule covering a wide but variegated arena, including cultures, histories and geographies. Cosmopolitan intellectuals (who tend to philosophize on such matters) do not always intimately understand the culture and lived experience of various parochialisms which are rational enough or at least understandable enough within their own settings.

    Colonial emigrants (my forebears for example) were leavers. The Australian Aboriginal peoples were stayers or attempted to be. Morally, stayers are not always wrong. Leavers are not always right. The colonial experience makes that clear. The cosmopolitan elites, who are insulated and immune to most of the effects of immigration, preach (or seem to) endless and open migration. They mainly do this because as capitalists, corporatists and bought politicians they benefit from global labor arbitrage.

    Cosmopolitan intellectuals can see the bigger world system picture re movements of people, but sometimes at the cost of discounting local community and local concerns as outlined above. Pushing fearful or insecure people too hard can push them into the arms of right-wing populists. One may drive for a destination but driving too fast leads to collisions.

    Leavers also have rights but these are relative rights not absolute rights unless they face absolutist measures or effects at home like execution, political imprisonment or starvation (which makes them refugees and asylum seekers not migrants). Voluntary migrants (on that part of what is really a continuous spectrum) do not and should not have any absolute entry rights. Nations and regions have safe and healthy carrying capacities just like individual domiciles.

    The above is my motivated reasoning and I admit it is motivated. That does not mean it is entirely illogical and unjustifiable. Clearly, I come with my own form of parochialism. I was part of the “aristocracy of labor” as an Australian worker. I had high wages (by world standards, not Australian standards) because of the hangovers and advantages of settler colonialism and imperialism. Now, I am part of the “aristocracy of retirees”; the last cohort of “baby boomers” who were able to accrue funds for a self-funded retirement. That won’t happen again as a full world proceeds towards ecological, economic and civilizational collapse. It would take a lot to unpack all this but this post gets too long.

  16. In terms of the source of immigrants, I note that Australia is half way to a police state because we insist on taking in large number of poorly vetted people from ethno-religious groups that contain a substantial number of folk whose social conservatism is one thousand miles to the right of Tony Abbott and who regard us as inferior and want us to bend to their culture.

    That’s not an accurate account, it’s a fabrication.

  17. J-D,
    If you were to read many pages of the wiki article you reference, you come to the following:

    “The Jews of Hungary were fairly well integrated into Hungarian society by the time of the First World War. Class distinction was very significant in Hungary in general, and among the Jewish population in particular. ”

    I only roughly identified one period – Bismarck. I had hoped the words ‘path’ and ‘paths’ in the context of societies signals a time dependence.

  18. Wrong again. Do better next time.


    If my response, next time somebody endorses a fabrication, is ‘Pics or it didn’t happen’, would that constitute an improvement?

  19. I only roughly identified one period – Bismarck.

    You began that sentence with the phrase ‘In contrast to Poland’, which might have been taken as implying a reference to a period when Poland existed as an independent state. For that matter, it’s a more natural reading of a reference to the condition of Jews in Hungary to suppose that it refers to a period when Hungary was a fully independent state, which it wasn’t in Bismarck’s time, or at the time of the First World War.

    If what you meant was that in (I’m guessing now) the period from 1870 to 1914 Jews were well integrated in Hungary and there were no pogroms, then I’m not disposed to contradict you. But if you only meant to refer a particular period of time, it wasn’t clear which period of time.

  20. J-D, You provided a reference. I used it. It happened to contradict your assertion. End of story.

  21. It happened to contradict your assertion.

    My assertion is that my source contradicted the statement that there was no persecution of Jews in Hungary; and that’s true, as the cited source did contradict that statement by referring to seeral instances of persecution of Jews in Hungary, at more than one point in history.

    It is also true that my source referred to one period of history in which Jews were (according to that source) fairly well integrated in Hungary. However, the statement that there was one historical period when Jews were fairly well integrated in Hungary does not contradict the statement that there were, historically, several instances of persecution of Jews in Hungary.

  22. It is a recurrent phenomenon throughout history for minority groups to be targets of discrimination, oppression, and persecution. Groups which have been targetted in this way, at times and in places where they have been minorities (and less commonly also, where other circumstances permit, even when they have been majorities), include Christians, Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Sunnis, Shi’ites, Sikhs, Baha’is, Copts, Anabaptists, Quakers, Ahmadis, whites, blacks, Chinese, Tamils, Twa, Armenians, Kurds, Ndebeles, Hazara, Igbos, Karens, Papuans, Circassians, Moriori, and Romanies. That’s just a partial illustration of how widespread and how diverse the phenomenon is. Invariably, the perpetrators blame the victims, insisting that the discrimination, oppression, and persecution are caused by the behaviour or the characteristics of the targetted group. The fact that this kind of behaviour recurs so much throughout history and around the world, and the fact that accusations against the victims are so commonly advanced in justification, is no evidence that the accusations are true. (It is, of course, possible that some of the accusations are at least partly true in at least some instances, but the frequency of the accusations does not make it any more likely that they are true; the default probability is that the responsibility for hatred lies with the haters, not with the hated.)

  23. “(…) is no evidence that the accusations are true. (…)” And then neither than they are untrue?

    What sort of pointless statement is this? Logicly it is equivalent to the nicer sounding statement “Pigs fly, or pigs don’t fly”.

  24. Immigration provides “gains-from-trade” that are analogous to removing a prohibitive tariff between a society and its new members provided of course that (i) markets work – so you don’t suffer increased congestion, increased water costs etc and (ii) that you are unconcerned about adverse distributional consequences for labour – oh yes there are some who seriously believe that labour demand curves don’t slope downwards or that induced capital inflows will offset any adverse effects of having more workers on the wages paid to locals. I don’t believe the former but have some belief in the importance of capital flow effects.

    Emigrations (movers) have precisely the reverse effects – they reduce the gains accruing to those who stay behind (stayers) by effectively narrowing a range of markets available to the economy. They might improve the adverse impacts of market imperfections and might help redistribute income towards labour. But generally the effects are seen to be adverse if those leaving are the highly skilled so you lose skill externalities “the brain drain effect”.

    The only way out of this latter effect is if the society whose welfare you are measuring is defined to include those who have left. Then, yes, the augmented society of those remaining and those leaving are better off. But unless those leaving compensate those who remain the latter will be worse off.

    If one immigrant replaces one emigrant with the same skills and if the stayers are unconcerned about living in a less culturally homogenous society then the effects presumably do cancel out as you suggest. But if it is those with skills who leave and it is the unskilled who enter then the stayers do lose out. Their opposition to those leaving then makes sense.

  25. Overpopulation is clearly the problem we (Australia) [1] and the whole world face in the near term, not even the long term. Given dwindling resources, limits to growth, overshoot, climate change, sea level rise, the sixth mass extinction etc., Imagining that conventional economics still has anything useful to contribute is simply a position based on a false ontology.

    Read: “Growthism: its ecological, economic and ethical limits” – Herman Daly

    Note 1: Australia is the most arid, habitable continent on earth, with the least and its fresh water systems are already severely stressed by a 25 million people and an unsustainably extractive agriculture – export system.

  26. Overpopulation is clearly the problem we (Australia) and the whole world face in the near term, not even the long term.

    Migration policy can’t solve a problem of global overpopulation,

  27. As Herman Daly puts it:

    “Those of us old enough to remember the Cold War know that it was basically a contest between Socialism and Capitalism to see who could grow faster, and thereby accumulate more wealth and military power. The audience was the uncommitted countries of the world who would supposedly adopt the economic system of the winner of the growth race. What happened? Basically, Socialism collapsed, and Capitalism won by default. The losers (Russia, China, Eastern Europe) got back in the growth race by adopting State Capitalism,
    real-world economicsreview,issue no. 87subscribe for free12and China has become the growth champion. The present system of world growthism, in the broadly capitalist mode, is triumphant. But growthism itself has turned out to be a false god because growth in our finite and entropic world now increases ecological and social costs faster than production benefits, making us poorer, not richer (except for the top few percent). Recognition of this reversal is obscured by the fact that our national accounts (GDP), do not subtract the costs of growth, but effectively add them by counting the expenditures incurred to defend ourselves from the un-subtracted costs of growth. Even more egregiously, GDP counts the consumption of natural capital as income. Growthism is consuming the life support capacity of the biosphere for the benefit of a small minority of the present generation, while shifting the real but uncounted costs on to the poor, future generations, and other species.”

  28. JQ this may reference “a very old discussion of this point in relation to France, where it’s been relevant ever since 1789”. Exceptionally well referenced. France popn 1788 around 27M.

    “Profile of a political migration
    Age of Emigrations and siècle des exilés”

    “The exile of ca. 150,000 French people in the wake of the French Revolution  of 1789 constitutes the first instance of political emigration on a European, if not indeed a global, scale. Émigrés of the French Revolution left their homeland because they eschewed the political development in France or in reaction to the increasing pressure of political exclusion. They dispersed throughout practically all European states from Sweden to Sicily and from Portugal toRussia, as well as to the fledgling United States and to French, British, and Spanish colonial territories. French émigrés even sporadically reached China and India.1”

    1. Jasanoff, Revolutionary Exiles 2010, p. 49.

  29. Of course there is an app for movers andd stayers – this one for retention in Indiana.

    “A new event Friday in Indianapolis will focus on an issue that has weighed on state leaders for decades: how to recruit and retain graduates of Indiana colleges and universities. The Brain Gain Talent Summit will include executives from nearly 40 Hoosier businesses encouraging hundreds of students to stay after graduation. 

    We want to be recruiting — not just retaining our talent, but actually pulling talent in from the outside, as well.””

    “Current college students representing 19 states and six countries are expected to be attend the summit. Oesterle currently serves as chief executive officer of TMap LLC, an Indiana-focused talent attraction startup. ..”


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