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  • European Spring: Why Our Economies and Politics are in a Mess – and How to Put Them Right

    Britain and the rest of Europe are in a mess. Our economies are failing to deliver higher living standards for most people – and many have lost faith in politicians’ ability to deliver a brighter future, with support for parties like UKIP soaring. Are stagnation, decline and disillusionment inevitable?

    European Spring Front cover banner
  • Aftershock: Reshaping the World Economy After the Crisis — out now

    The financial crisis brought the world to the brink of economic breakdown. But now bankers’ bonuses are back, house prices are rising again and politicians promise recovery – all this while unemployment remains high, debts mount, frictions with China grow and the planet overheats.
    Is this really sustainable – or do we need to change course?

  • Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them

    Immigration divides our globalising world like no other issue. We are being swamped by bogus asylum-seekers and infiltrated by terrorists, our jobs stolen, our benefit system abused, our way of life destroyed – or so we are told. Why are ever-rising numbers of people from poor countries arriving in Europe, North America and Australasia? Can we keep them out? Should we even be trying?

    Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them
Posted 29 Aug 2011 in Blog, Europe, Immigration, The Economist

Headlines from a poll this week suggested nearly half of British people think there are too many immigrants in the UK.

But the findings change when people are presented with the facts.

The average respondent thought 3 in 10 people in the UK are foreign-born.

When told it’s actually 1 in 10, more than twothirds thought this was either “not many” (36%) or “a lot but not too many” (31%). Just 30% thought it was “too many”.

Posted 05 Feb 2011 in Blog, Britain, Immigration
Posted 12 Jan 2011 in Blog, euro, EuroIntelligence

Thought of the day: banks

By Philippe Legrain 1 comment

The debate in the UK about whether to tax bank bonuses (Labour) or balance-sheets (Conservative) is a sideshow.

Both are stopgap measures.

The key issue is that banks need to be broken up on competition grounds so they don’t earn huge profits in the first place.

Posted 11 Jan 2011 in Blog, Britain, Finance
Posted 05 Jan 2011 in Blog, Britain, Public finances, The Guardian

Ireland’s new tax form

By Philippe Legrain 1 comment
Posted 08 Dec 2010 in Blog, Ireland, Uncategorized

I was interviewed on BBC World’s World News Today on 1 December 2010 about whether the EU’s border policy is working, whether Europe really can control its borders, and whether there might be a better approach to immigration instead.

Posted 02 Dec 2010 in Blog, Europe, Immigration, Media

Pat Kenny interviewed me on RTE1′s The Frontline on 29 December 2010 about the EU/IMF “bailout” and Ireland’s banking and debt crisis.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Posted 02 Dec 2010 in Blog, euro, Finance, Ireland, Media

I was interviewed on the BBC World Service’s Business Daily programme about Ireland, the euro and Europe’s banking and sovereign debt crisis. You can listen to the interview here.

Posted 02 Dec 2010 in Blog, euro, Finance, Ireland, Media

In The Times‘ Christmas review of books about money, Oliver Kamm writes:

The Times recommends Aftershock: “The crash of 2007-09 did not turn into a reprise of the 1930s mainly because policymakers had learnt from the mistakes of that era. They rescued the banks, slashed interest rates, and injected money into the economy to support demand. Philippe Legrain, in Aftershock: Reshaping the World Economy After the Crisis (Little, Brown, £12.99), lucidly discusses the policies that have (so far) prevented disaster and the route back to prosperity. Legrain knows his subject and is a commendably clear exponent of economic concepts. He argues, in my view incontrovertibly, that openness to trade and immigration has big welfare benefits.

Thank you.

Posted 27 Nov 2010 in Aftershock, Blog, The Times

I was interviewed on BBC World News on 25 November 2010 by George Alagiah about the euro-zone crisis and whether Portugal and Spain might be affected next.

Posted 25 Nov 2010 in Blog, Debt, euro, Finance, Media, Spain

I was interviewed by Peter Allen on 5 Live Drive on 23 November, following the government’s announcement of the details of its cap on highly skilled foreign workers.

The recording isn’t great and I sound a bit breathless because I was on my mobile phone at the airport, rushing to catch a plane.

Listen to it here

Posted 24 Nov 2010 in Uncategorized

The UK government yesterday announced much tighter restrictions on people from outside the EU who want to come here to work or study.

At at time when the government is relying on the private sector to drive the recovery as the public sector is cut back, and when the education sector is a particularly important export earner, the government is shooting itself in the foot.

Despite all the talk about Britain being “open for business”, it will become a more closed economy and society.

The new measures also betray a nasty double standard.

David Cameron spent a gap year working for Jardine’s in Hong Kong.

Nick Clegg worked as a ski instructor in Austria (before that country joined the EU in 1995).

Jeremy Hunt spent 2 years in Japan teaching English and learning Japanese.

I doubt someone from outside the EU could now do the equivalent in the UK.

In effect, what ministers are saying is that it’s fine for Brits to spend a year abroad working or studying, but outrageous if foreigners want do the same in the UK.

That’s shameful and wrong.

Posted 24 Nov 2010 in Blog, Britain, Immigration

“Los casi 100.000 millones que se piden a la eurozona no son una ayuda, sino un préstamo que habrá que devolver con altos tipos de interés. La factura sale a unos 23.000 euros por irlandés: los ciudadanos tendrán que pagar mucho dinero para salvar a sus bancos y por la pésima gestión del Gobierno”, advirtió a este diario Philippe Legrain.

Read the full article here

Quoted again in El País: Philippe Legrain alerta de que Irlanda “no puede (y no debería) pagar la factura de sus bancos”. “De lo contrario, hay un claro riesgo de crisis social (por los recortes y por el hecho de que muchas hipotecas superan ya el valor de los pisos) y de crisis política, por el pésimo manejo de la crisis, con el Gobierno a los pies de la banca”.

Read the full article here

Posted 22 Nov 2010 in Blog, El País, Ireland

This is a slightly longer version of an article that appeared in the FT.

Euro-phobes can scarcely contain their joy at the Irish crisis – proof positive, in their eyes, of the folly of the single currency. But while the euro-zone certainly needs reform, the notion that the euro is to blame for Ireland’s travails is simplistic.

Even many of the euro’s supporters now regret that in the boom years the single currency permitted huge capital flows from Germany and other surplus countries to Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland and other deficit countries. These imbalances, conventional wisdom has it, are unhealthy – and the EU is drafting new rules to limit them.

Yet enabling capital to flow from one member country to another without exchange-rate risk is a key advantage of the euro. If only this were possible globally, emerging economies would not feel compelled to accumulate huge reserves to protect themselves against crises – instead of being net lenders to rich countries, these fast-growing economies could be net recipients of investment funds. When integrated financial markets work well, they offer investors higher returns, businesses cheaper finance and a better allocation of capital all around.

The problem is not that savings flowed from Germany to Ireland and other economies on Europe’s periphery. It’s that they mostly funded property bubbles rather than productive investment. The blame for that lies with herd-like investors, flawed banks and foolish governments, not the euro. After all, America, Britain, Iceland and other non-euro countries all had huge property bubbles too.

Granted, joining the euro involved slashing interest rates in Ireland – and cheap borrowing helped fuel the property bubble. But at a macro level, the Irish government could have tightened fiscal policy – in effect, run large budget surpluses – to dampen the boom. At a micro level, it could have limited banks’ reckless property lending – through higher and counter-cyclical capital requirements, for instance – rather than encouraging it with tax breaks.

Ireland’s property bubble was particularly big. The value of all the houses in the country quadrupled in the ten years to June 2006 and construction swelled to an eighth of the economy. The price of a typical Dublin house shot up more than fivefold – and has since nearly halved. Such a property crash is inevitably painful. But it need not have led to a sovereign debt crisis. Ireland’s public debt was only 25% of GDP on the eve of the crisis, the lowest in the euro-zone.

The government’s fatal mistake was stepping in to guarantee not just all the depositors of Irish banks but also all their bondholders. Now the bust banks’ huge losses are dragging down the Irish state with them. Had Britain’s recession worsened, the UK government might have ended up in a similar situation.

Only cheap finance from the European Central Bank has kept those bust banks on life support, until now. Outside the euro, Ireland would doubtless have suffered Iceland’s fate: its currency would have crashed and its central bank would have run short of foreign funds to keep its banks afloat. Far from precipitating the crisis, the euro has given Ireland vital breathing space. More’s the pity that the government has failed to make good use of it.

It’s true that, outside the euro, Ireland would doubtless now enjoy a weaker currency. That could boost exports and hence growth. But in very small open economies, devaluations tend to feed through rapidly into inflation, so the competitive boost might not have been that great. In any case, Ireland has already slashed wages and prices to restore competitiveness – in effect, an internal devaluation. And if it wished to cut unit labour costs further, it could reduce its high payroll taxes and replace the revenues with higher VAT or a tax on land values.

Leaving the euro and reintroducing the punt is certainly not a solution, since Ireland would be incapable of repaying its euro-denominated debts in devalued punts. Nor, on its own, is an EU or IMF “bailout” – in fact, a loan at punitively high interest rates. That would merely postpone what is now a  solvency crisis.

Irish taxpayers should not be bled dry to pay off investors – among them, European banks and American hedge funds – who took a punt on lending to Irish banks. Those creditors should take a haircut (or lose their shirts).The way forward is a debt restructuring – a polite word for an orderly default – with the EU and/or IMF providing a bridging loan until Ireland has eliminated its budget deficit. Ironically, it is Germany’s proposal that bondholders should take a haircut in future that has brought matters to a head. It’s such a good idea that it should be implemented now.

Posted 19 Nov 2010 in Blog, euro, Ireland

I spent a fantastic weekend in Kilkenny, at Kilkenomics, Ireland’s first economics (and comedy) festival. Despite (and because of) the crisis, it was a sell-out. Congrats to Richard Cook and David McWilliams for putting on a superb event, hopefully the first of many.

The Irish government now appears to be in talks with the EU about a possible bailout, but politicians don’t want to lose face by accepting help.

Despite the huge housing bubble and now bust, it needn’t have come to this, as I explain in Aftershock: Reshaping the World Economy After the Crisis.

The Irish government had very small debts going in to the crisis.

Its crucial mistake was guaranteeing the creditors of its bust banks.

Now it’s bust too.

An EU/IMF bailout without restructuring the banks’/government debt is not the solution.

Irish taxpayers would be bled dry to pay off investors who took a punt on lending to Irish banks.

Those creditors should take a haircut (or lose their shirts).

The way forward is debt restructuring/default, with either the EU/IMF providing a bridging loan until Ireland has eliminated its budget deficit.

Posted 15 Nov 2010 in Blog, euro, Europe, Finance, Ireland

The US and others seem to believe that China’s currency is the biggest obstacle to the global recovery.

That is highly debatable, as I argued on VoxEU.

In any case, the Chinese renminbi is up 3.1% against the dollar over the past 12 months.

And since inflation is 4.4% in China and only 1.1% in the US, in real terms it is up 6.4%.

Would a faster appreciation really do more good than harm?

Economies cannot adjust painlessly overnight.

Posted 11 Nov 2010 in Blog, China, Currencies, Global Economy
Posted 02 Nov 2010 in Blog, China, Currencies, Global Economy, United States

Ed West says he took time to reply to my earlier post because his “Chinese maid, Yen or Wen or whatever her name is, took ages to clean up my study” – delightful, isn’t he?

He then deliberately misinterpreted my response – or perhaps he’s just stupid? I said it was nonsense to claim that in Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them, I tried to shut down debate by calling opponents of immigration racists. I quoted at length from the book to show that this wasn’t the case. He conveniently ignored this. How can you trust anything that someone so slippery with the truth writes?

His basic argument is that large-scale immigration would transform Europe into Lebanon:

the demographic nature of their country makes it unstable; which makes long-lasting peace and prosperity, the sort we in relatively homogenous and stable countries take for granted, impossible.

This has echoes of Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech.

Perhaps West should get out more: Britain is not ethnically homogenous – and nor is it at war.

If Britain became more diverse, it would look a bit more like London – which is hardly a hellhole.

A weaker version of this argument is that diversity undermines social solidarity. But while research by the political scientist Robert Putnam suggests that in the United States increased diversity correlates with diminished feelings of trust within a community, there is no evidence that this is the case in Europe. In fact, a comprehensive study of 21 countries concludes [see footnote]:

Despite several such findings for US society, in Europe it was not confirmed that rising ethnic diversity or even the rate of influx of foreign citizens had any significant detrimental effects on social cohesion.

West says “the immigration debate is about our vision of society, not economics.” In my view, it is about both – and much else besides.

It is about the choice between a closed, stagnant and reactionary society, and an open, dynamic and progressive one. And in economic terms, it can also bring big benefits.

West claims that these are trifling, and quotes the House of Lords economic affairs committee report to substantiate his argument.

But that report ignores the main economic benefits of immigration, which I discuss at length here.

Briefly, they are three:

  1. Gains from trade. Migration is a form of trade. If you go to France for an operation, it is classified as trade; if a French surgeon comes here, it is migration. If free trade is such a good thing, surely so is free migration.
  2. Greater flexibility. By moving to where the jobs are, migrants make economies more flexible, allowing them to grow faster for longer without sparking inflation. If it is a good thing for people to move from Liverpool to London if their labour is in demand there, surely the same is true of people moving from Lisbon or Lithuania.
  3. Faster productivity growth. As outsiders with a burning drive to succeed, newcomers tend to be more hard-working and entrepreneurial than most. Newcomers of all cultural backgrounds are twice as likely to start a new business as people born in Britain. Both individually and thanks to the increased diversity they bring, they boost innovation and improve problem-solving. Google, Yahoo!, eBay, and many others were all co-founded by immigrants who arrived in the US as children. People with diverse skills, attributes, perspectives and experiences bring something extra to the mix and by interacting with people born in Britain, this generates new ideas and businesses, and hence economic growth that makes us all richer.

Anyone who doubts the economic benefits of migration should ask themselves this: Would London be half as vibrant and successful without a constant influx of hard-working and enterprising people from around the country and around the world?

Last but not least, migration is about freedom, justice and human rights.

West takes issue with the fact that that I have called the current system of immigration controls a form of global apartheid. Yet how is it right that  one class of people – the rich and the educated – can move increasingly freely while the rest are expected to stay put?

Anyone who doesn’t think that this is deeply unjust should put themselves in the shoes of someone less fortunate than themselves. How would you feel if you weren’t able to move freely to seek a better life for yourself and your children?

That is hardly an ignoble aspiration: it is what has driven millions of Britons to settle across the world – in Australia, America, New Zealand, Spain and many other places.


Footnote: Marc Hooge, Tim Reeskens, Dietlind Stolle, and Ann Trappers, Ethnic Diversity, Trust and Ethnocentrism and Europe: A Multilevel Analysis of 21 European Countries, paper presented at the 102nd Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia, 31 August-3 September 2006.

Posted 25 Oct 2010 in Blog, Britain, Immigration

MigrationWatch have posted a pitifully weak response to my criticisms of their education “report”.

1) They defend their use of cumulative figures. They say it is legitimate because the “sole objective” of the study was to calculate “pupil place requirements stemming from net migration since 1998″.

Really? If the sole aim was to calculate the impact on pupil places, they wouldn’t need to calculate cumulative costs at all.

More likely, the use of cumulative costs out of context is to generate shock headlines in tabloid newspapers, which are then reproduced by the BBC and elsewhere, to create the impression that immigrants are a huge burden on British society.

If they weren’t aiming to scare people with figures taken out of context, why didn’t their report indicate projected education spending over that period as a reference point? Why didn’t it mention the taxes and other contributions migrants make to society?

2) They defend their decision to include children with one British parent and one foreign one in their calculations. They say this approach was “implicitly endorsed by the Economic Affairs Committee of the House of Lords”.

As I’ve written loads of times, for instance here,  that report was biased and flawed – not surprisingly since it was chaired (and its conclusions spun) by John Wakeham, a former Tory cabinet minister, who used the report to advance the Conservatives’ anti-immigration position.

In this case, there is no need to go into technical details. MW’s assumption fails the common-sense test. Stop people in the street and ask them whether the deputy prime minister’s kids should be counted as part of the costs of immigration.

3) They quibble with the studies that show that migrants pay more in tax than they receive in benefits and public services.

Again, they refer to the biased and flawed Lords report.

Academic studies that try to estimate the net fiscal contribution that migrants make agree on one thing: if a country with a huge public debt admits migrant workers, native taxpayers benefit. Why? Because the newcomers help pay off the debts accumulated before they arrived. That is precisely the situation Britain is in now.

Even if one assumes that the taxes migrants pay only just cover the benefits and public services they receive, the net cost of educating migrants’ children over 10 or 25 years is not £100bn or £195bn, it is zero, nil, nada, zilch.

Does anyone want to chip in to send Andrew Green back to school?

Posted 19 Oct 2010 in Blog, Britain, Education, Immigration