I was alerted by a post by Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell about Jonathan Portes' review of David Goodhart's new book about immigration in the United Kingdom, The British Dream. The title? "An Exercise in Scapegoating".
The problem with Goodhart's book, simply put, is that it doesn't appear to deal with facts.
There are two major problems with contemporary British society, according to David Goodhart in The British Dream, and both are primarily caused by immigration. The first problem is economic: the plight of the white working class, especially the young, and the decline of social mobility. Goodhart argues that low-skilled immigrants have taken jobs from unskilled natives, leaving them languishing on benefits, while high-skilled immigration reduces both the incentives and opportunities for ambitious and talented natives to move up the ladder. Many find this thesis convincing, and it has been accepted as fact by much of the political elite. There is, however, almost no evidence to support it. The second problem is social: the decline of a shared sense of community, local and national, which Goodhart relates to the failure of at least some immigrants to integrate, either ‘physically’ (where they live, who their kids go to school with, what language they speak and so on) or ‘mentally’ (in terms of the degree to which they identify with Britain, or share a common set of values). Some may think this argument has more force, but again, his conclusions far outrun the facts.
I’ll start with the economics. Goodhart gives a fair summary of the current consensus about the effects of immigration on the labour market. It comes in two parts. First, in the medium to long term the ‘lump of labour’ fallacy is just that: it isn’t true that the number of jobs in the economy is fixed, and more jobs for immigrants doesn’t mean fewer for natives. Second, the evidence suggests that in the UK immigration has little or no impact on employment even in the short term; it may drive down wages for the low-skilled, but the effect is small compared to that of other factors (technological change, the national minimum wage and so on). These things are now well established, and Goodhart appears to accept them. So it comes as something of a surprise that he should cite with approval Fraser Nelson’s observation that mass immigration ‘broke the link between more jobs and less dole’[.]
[. . .]
Goodhart cannot escape from his instinctive view that the political economy of immigration is a zero-sum game, even as he accepts that both economic theory and the evidence say no such thing. ‘A disproportionate number of new jobs,’ he writes, ‘seem to have been going to recent immigrants.’ But this is an expression of the ‘lump of labour’ fallacy he elsewhere dismisses. The belief that if immigrants get ‘more’ of something (jobs, education, opportunities, political power), natives (or whites) must get less. This guides his discussion of the local economic impact of immigration in Merton, South-West London: ‘Poor whites [are] doing the worst of the lot.’ Such people have ‘mainly opted out: they seldom vote, and a lot of the younger people are “Neets” – not in employment, education or training.’ It isn’t entirely obvious from Goodhart’s description of Merton why immigration is responsible for this. Do the immigrants displace natives from jobs, schools and polling booths, or do they somehow drag them down? Either way, such facts as there are in this sentence appear to be wrong. Do fewer working-class whites vote in Merton than elsewhere? I’m not aware of the existence of any statistics on local voting by ethnicity or class, but both the Merton constituencies (Mitcham and Morden, and Wimbledon) had a higher than average turnout at the last election, and more than two-thirds of Merton voters are white. As for Neets, the Merton Council report cited by Goodhart found 87 white Neets aged 16-18. Is that a lot? Not really: there are about 2300 whites in the relevant age group. Whether the council’s data are directly comparable with official statistics isn’t certain, but if they are then the chances of a white teenager being Neet are considerably lower in Merton than they are nationally. (The official statistics suggest that Merton’s Neet rates are pretty low.)
More, Goodhart's problems with facts seem to have unsettling inclinations.
Goodhart is of course right that young Brits, especially those not from middle-class backgrounds, are having a pretty hard time. But the question is why. Think about it this way. Suppose you’re poor, young and white: where in the UK don’t you want to be? That’s a subjective question. But from an economic point of view, one might want to consider such criteria as the proportion of young people who don’t get decent GCSEs and the number who are out of work. By those yardsticks, the answers are reasonably clear. Nationally, just under 60 per cent of kids whose first language is English get five good GCSEs including maths and English. There are eight local government districts where that figure dips below 50 per cent: Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Knowsley, Blackpool, Barnsley, Hull, Nottingham and the Isle of Wight. Job prospects for young white school-leavers in these areas are, not surprisingly, poor: the proportion on the dole ranges from 12 to 18 per cent, compared to the national average of about 8 per cent. Yet of these areas, only Nottingham has a substantial non-white or immigrant population. In London, children whose first language is English are somewhat more likely (about 62 per cent) than the national average to get five good GCSEs, despite considerably higher poverty rates. Young whites in London don’t often end up on the dole: only about 5.5 per cent, close to the lowest rates in the country. Things are a little worse in Merton, where GCSE results are about average, and the proportion of young whites claiming benefits is about 6.5 per cent, but that’s still well under the national average.
So, to put it bluntly, if you’re going to be white, British and poor, all the statistical evidence suggests you’d be better off being born in Merton – or anywhere else in London, surrounded by immigrants – than in the mostly white areas where educational outcomes, in particular, are worse. We need to be careful here. Correlation doesn’t imply causation. There are lots of possible explanations for the figures I have given; in particular, the remarkable improvement in London’s schools, especially for more disadvantaged children, over the last decade. And there’s little doubt that the depression of local economies in some Northern cities is responsible for both the high unemployment and relatively low immigration in those places. Econometric analysis suggests that there’s little or no association between high immigration and employment or unemployment rates.
Goodhart [makes] an absurd, some would say offensive, analogy with the US. Talking about Waltham Forest in North-East London, he writes: ‘In America, this is called Sundown Segregation; people mixing during the day but going home to quite separate neighbourhoods.’ ‘Sundown towns’, as the sociologist James Loewen has documented, were places in the US where, before the enactment of civil rights legislation, black people (sometimes in earlier years also Chinese, or Mexicans) were not permitted to remain after dark. I’m not sure which is worse: the irrelevance of this concept to modern Britain; the failure to do the elementary research required to establish the origin of the term; or the ugliness of comparing Waltham Forest to American towns that once displayed signs reading ‘Don’t let the sun set on you, nigger.’
Even worse is Goodhart’s discussion of specific communities where there are very real economic and social problems. I know little about Bradford, so have no firm basis on which to judge his plausible-sounding claims about the Pakistani immigrant experience there: much higher segregation than in London, the dominance of clan politics, the impacts of chain marriage migration etc. A friend in Bradford – a professional, leftish woman of Pakistani origin, working in education – told me that what he has to say is ‘unscientific’, based on ‘cheap anecdotes and quite frankly baloney’. No reason you should take her word for it, so let’s provisionally accept Goodhart’s suggestion that there is a prima facie case that first-cousin marriage is responsible for a higher than average proportion of birth defects among Bradford Pakistanis. He cites some relevant research, but follows it up with assertions which are unsubstantiated, inaccurate and alarmist: ‘Bradford has just opened two more schools for children with Special Educational Needs,’ he writes. ‘On some measures nearly half of all children in the area qualify for special help.’ No source. However, the Department for Education publishes the statistics, and it turns out that in Bradford, the proportion of children who ‘qualify for special help’ is about 21 per cent. Well, 21 per cent is not ‘nearly half’. It is, in fact, only slightly higher than the national average of 20 per cent. And it is significantly lower than in some other, mostly white places. Nationally, the highest figure is 27 per cent, in north-east Lincolnshire. What’s going on? Maybe the locals marry their cousins there too. But I think I’ll restrict myself to saying that this is a complex phenomenon on which I’m no expert. It’s a pity Goodhart didn’t do the same.
David Edgar's Guardian review touches on this.
Many elements of this narrative are questionable. Set against comparable countries, Britain's current immigration level is average: both Germany and France have higher numerical foreign-born populations, and 11 EU countries have immigrant populations which are proportionately higher than ours. It's true that less than half of current immigration comes from the EU, but emigration by non-EU citizens is higher too. As Goodhart acknowledges, more than 70% of current immigrants stay less than five years, because so many of them are students (only half of the headline four million have settled here). Studies of the 2011 census indicate that large cities such as Birmingham and Bradford have seen a decrease in segregation for most ethnic groups; in London, the decrease is particularly notable among Bangladeshis.
The argument that racism is greatly exaggerated doesn't really stand up either. The five-fold increase in the number of racist attacks since the early 90s may be partly due to changing definitions, but the absolute 2011-2012 figure of 47,678 racist incidents in England and Wales, of which 35,816 were recorded by the police as race-hate crimes, is a dramatic figure in itself. Goodhart's argument that press demonisation of immigrants contributes positively to race relations by providing "a psychological safety valve" is clearly self-serving. On pay, a 2008 report to the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that the earnings of Pakistani and Bangladeshi men at the low and middle levels of education were only two thirds of those of similarly qualified white men. On employment, male Chinese graduates are over three-quarters less likely to be employed than their white peers. And while Goodhart acknowledges the results of the so-called "CV tests", revealing that employers are still less likely to employ applicants with ethnic minority names, he justifies the discrepancy on the grounds that such people might prove "a source of tension and embarrassment" in the workplace, as, after all, "people will generally give preference to, and feel more comfortable being around, people they are familiar with". Acting on such attitudes as an employer has, of course, been illegal since the passage of the 1968 Race Relations Act.
[. . .]
Of course Goodhart acknowledges the cultural and (in a selective kind of way) the intellectual contribution of Britain's postwar immigrant communities. But recognising the changes that were brought about not in restaurants or at concerts or universities, but in workplaces and on the streets, through campaigns that were initially resisted by large sections of the host community, challenges the notion of a unified, linear national story. Goodhart's insistence that integration cannot be a "two-way street" and that immigrants "must carry the burden of any adaptation that is necessary" raises the question of what is being adapted to.
Harrowell has written at length about Goodhart's radicalization, here, noting (after a blog post by Portes) Goodhart's own claims that the United Kingdom is being run by people who care more for the benefits of people in Burundi than of people in Birmingham.
Well, we've been warned.