Imagine there was a policy that could reduce global poverty, conserve natural resources and help alleviate the coming retirement crisis, all while also fostering domestic economic growth. You would have to be either misinformed or malicious to oppose this policy, right? Well, this policy exists, and it’s called immigration.
Ironically, “progressive” hero David Suzuki has come out in favour of reducing immigration levels, only to be met with opposition from Conservative Minister of Immigration, Jason Kenney, who defended the value of immigration to Canada.
It wasn’t so long ago that progressives warned that if elected, Conservatives would slam the doors to Canada shut. In fact, they’ve maintained our high levels of immigration — and rightly so. Mr. Suzuki is not only providing poor policy advice, but that advice runs contrary to his stated goals of reducing carbon emissions and fostering global development.
It’s perfectly natural for people to disagree on ends. For instance, some people prefer cultural homogeneity. That is a subjective preference (one that, I’d argue, is unfortunate). But whether policies meet those ends is a purely empirical matter, and immigration restrictions would fail to meet Mr. Suzuki’s own stated goals.
Mr. Suzuki made the bizarre claim that Canada is “full.” Canada is, however, one of the least densely populated countries on earth, and has an abundance of natural resources. While Canada has a total landmass of over 9 million square kilometers, our urbanized areas occupy only 23,000 square kilometers, roughly the size of Israel, or about one third the size of New Brunswick. China, which has a slightly smaller landmass, has a population exceeding 1.35 billion. Canada’s 34 million is practically a rounding error in comparison.
Many environmentalists argue that reducing the global birth rate would be among the most effective methods of reducing pollution. This thought dates back to Thomas Malthus, the original environmental alarmist.
As it happens, one of the most effective ways to reduce birth rates is to allow more immigration. Studies show that immigrants to Canada tend to have fewer children than if they had stayed in their home countries, and second-generation immigrants have even lower fertility levels (comparable to the rest of the population).
If we want to raise as many people as possible out of poverty while minimizing resource use, immigration is a great place to start. After all, developed countries require less energy per dollar of GDP. It takes one third more energy to produce goods in China than in Canada, and nearly three quarters more in Nigeria.
Advanced machinery and information technology are dramatically more energy efficient than low technology manufacturing and distribution. Moreover, immigration can further reduce energy intensity by increasing population density, which can reduce commute distances by populating the gaps between population centres and increase core density in our major cities.
While some might argue that population growth is straining Canada’s water supply, we have the most fresh water per capita on earth, and a greater population means we have a bigger tax base with which to finance improvements to our water distribution and conservation systems.
Places like Texas and Israel, that have far less access to fresh water, are able to provide water through expensive technology such as desalination because they have large populations and a large amount of wealth. Another argument — that urban sprawl is eroding our farmland — neglects the fact that urban areas only cover 0.25 per cent of our landmass.
Immigration has a significant impact on global wealth. A range of studies have estimated that full labour mobility would increase global GDP by between 50 and 150 per cent. Though few would argue for eliminating all immigration restrictions, a mere 10 per cent bump could increase global GDP by between 5 and 15 per cent, most of which would accrue to poor prospective migrants.
Mr. Suzuki, among others, argues that Canada is “plundering southern countries by depriving them of their leaders.” Aside from the obvious point that those who are truly interested in helping to build their countries will stay, and from the inherent unfairness of forcing people to stay and do so, there is another major point being glossed over: immigrants don’t simply forget about their home countries when they emigrate.
Global remittances from immigrants to their home countries exceeds $350 billion annually. Remittances in Africa were $44 per person in 2010, compared to $36 per person in foreign aid. While $44 might sound trivial to us in Canada, those small sums have a major effect in poorer regions, and, unlike foreign aid, it rarely goes directly to military strongmen or otherwise corrupt regimes and questionable NGOs.
Additionally, many foster business ties with their home countries, thus helping to foster economic growth from afar. Social democrats routinely point out that capital knows no national boundaries, yet they conveniently ignore all the upsides.
For those worried about the impact of immigration on domestic workers, studiesdemonstrate that immigrants have little impact on domestic employee wages (similar results in Europe and the United States).
Immigrants often take jobs domestic workers don’t want, and they increase aggregate demand by purchasing housing and investing. In fact, immigrants are disproportionately responsible for business formation, patent applications, and other measures of innovation and productivity. Immigrants are net job creators.
Empirical justification isn’t required when discussing preferences that diverge from the norm, for example stating that one would like to see more trees planted. But claiming that a policy shift will meet a certain end is another thing altogether.
If Mr. Suzuki wishes to stir up divisive debates over how to meet his stated environmental ends, he really should have some empirical backing for his means. Unfortunately for him, the evidence runs in the other direction. Immigration is good for both the environment, and global economic development.