Immigration has been a divisive topic in Europe lately, and rightly so. With millions of immigrants flowing across European borders (as visualized here) over the course of 2015 it is natural for individuals, many of whom are established tax-payers, to be unsettled by the influx of migrants from vastly different cultures. This is a politically touchy subject and I’ve wanted to discuss it, but I wanted to find a way to frame the argument from both sides. So first I’ll turn to philosophy:
The Repugnant Conclusion Paradox:
Imagine two states of average happiness in two worlds. One world has a low population but an exceptionally high average happiness across individuals. The other has a massive population (relative to world one) but a very low average happiness across the individuals- perhaps just above the lower threshold of self-destruction.
Which is better?
The common sense solution would be world one– low population, high happiness. However, this might be incorrect according to The Repugnant Conclusion. In fact, as long as we can keep growing the population (and subdividing the average happiness) we would end up in a higher aggregate level of happiness in world two– high population, low happiness. The solution is detailed in the link, as well as the following video:
A solution which contrasts starkly with conventional attitudes, and also has implications for political ideologies like Marxism. As well as the open gates immigration policies which have been pursued by some nations.
Could an argument be made against this paradox?
Yes, absolutely. The biggest single argument against this paradox is the notion that the world would exist in a steady state. A key assumption which the paradox relies upon. It is extremely dangerous, I would posit, to transpose this type of thinking onto a modern society. As a theoretical model it is an interesting little exercise but I would argue it falls severely short given the highly complex world which we live in.
I would not want to look at the average levels of happiness as a snapshot (as the paradox posits) but rather at the velocities of the unit happiness over time. It would be instructive to model a society on the policy which pursues the optimal rate of the aforementioned. Furthermore, given the propensity of public sentiment to be mismatched with public policy until the policy bears fruition I would take this as a longer-term average measure and target it as such.
Happiness in itself is a rather challenging problem for economists- it becomes difficult to measure what sorts of policies make people happy. Some might value more freedom and less security, others might value the reverse. In general though, I would argue that a strong economy, more often than not, makes societal happiness more likely to be possible.
With respect to immigration?
Ultimately people will need to educate themselves about immigration, keep their eyes open, and look deeper into the numbers on the windfall tax revenues created by public policy, preferably with a critical mind. Look beyond the headlines. Once again, I’ll defer to Voltaire:
Certainly any one who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices.
And it is worth remembering that no single political party (or movement) has a monopoly on absurdities.