Friday, June 14, 2013

On the problems of David Goodhart on immigration in the United Kingdom

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.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"Hans Rosling: Religions and babies"

I'd like to thank Will Baird for pointing me towards this 2012 TED talk by the Gapminder Foundation's Hans Rosling, examining the question of the relationship between religion and fertility.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Three links on cities as enormously productive, and predictable, social organizations

Cities, as forms of human settlement that are becoming increasingly dominant across the world, have been on my mind recently. I wanted to share with our readers three papers of interest regarding the structure and importance of cities, economically and demographically.

The first paper I came across via via blogger James Nicoll. The 2007 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, "Growth, innovation, scaling, and the pace of life in cities", by Luís M. A. Bettencourt, José Lobo, Dirk Helbing, Christian Kühnert, and Geoffrey B. West, argues for the existence of structured urban hierarchies.

Humanity has just crossed a major landmark in its history with the majority of people now living in cities . The present worldwide trend toward urbanization is intimately related to economic development and to profound changes in social organization, land use, and patterns of human behavior. The demographic scale of these changes is unprecedented and will lead to important but as of yet poorly understood impacts on the global environment. In 2000, >70% of the population in developed countries lived in cities compared with ≈40% in developing countries. Cities occupied a mere 0.3% of the total land area but ≈3% of arable land. By 2030, the urban population of developing countries is expected to more than double to ≈4 billion, with an estimated 3-fold increase in occupancy of land area, whereas in developed countries it may still increase by as much as 20%. Paralleling this global urban expansion, there is the necessity for a sustainability transition toward a stable total human population, together with a rise in living standards and the establishment of long-term balances between human development needs and the planet's environmental limits. Thus, a major challenge worldwide is to understand and predict how changes in social organization and dynamics resulting from urbanization will impact the interactions between nature and society.

The increasing concentration of people in cities presents both opportunities and challenges toward future scenarios of sustainable development. On the one hand, cities make possible economies of scale in infrastructure and facilitate the optimized delivery of social services, such as education, health care, and efficient governance. Other impacts, however, arise because of human adaptation to urban living. They can be direct, resulting from obvious changes in land use [e.g., urban heat island effects and increased green house gas emissions ] or indirect, following from changes in consumption and human behavior, already emphasized in classical work by Simmel and Wirth in urban sociology and by Milgram in psychology. An important result of urbanization is also an increased division of labor and the growth of occupations geared toward innovation and wealth creation. The features common to this set of impacts are that they are open-ended and involve permanent adaptation, whereas their environmental implications are ambivalent, aggravating stresses on natural environments in some cases and creating the conditions for sustainable solutions in others.

These unfolding complex demographic and social trends make it clear that the quantitative understanding of human social organization and dynamics in cities is a major piece of the puzzle toward navigating successfully a transition to sustainability. However, despite much historical evidence that cities are the principal engines of innovation and economic growth, a quantitative, predictive theory for understanding their dynamics and organization and estimating their future trajectory and stability remains elusive. Significant obstacles toward this goal are the immense diversity of human activity and organization and an enormous range of geographic factors. Nevertheless, there is strong evidence of quantitative regularities in the increases in economic opportunities, rates of innovation, and pace of life observed between smaller towns and larger cities.

In this work, we show that the social organization and dynamics relating urbanization to economic development and knowledge creation, among other social activities, are very general and appear as nontrivial quantitative regularities common to all cities, across urban systems. We present an extensive body of empirical evidence showing that important demographic, socioeconomic, and behavioral urban indicators are, on average, scaling functions of city size that are quantitatively consistent across different nations and times [note that the much studied “Zipf's law” for the rank–size distribution of urban populations is just one example of the many scaling relationships presented in this work]. The most thorough evidence at present is for the U.S., where extensive reliable data across a wide variety of indicators span many decades. In addition, we show that other nations, including China and European countries, display particular scaling relationships consistent with those in the U.S.

Via The Atlantic Cities' Emily Badger, meanwhile, I came across "Urban characteristics attributable to density-driven tie formation". Authored by Wei Pan, Gourab Ghoshal, Coco Krumme, Manuel Cebrian, and Alex Pentland, and originally presented in June 2012, the paper makes some interesting claims.

In this paper we propose social tie density (the density of active social ties between city residents) as a key determinant behind the global social structure and flow of information between individuals. Based on this we have described an empirically grounded generative model of social tie density to account for the observed scaling behavior of city indicators as a function of population density.

The model predicts that social tie density scales super-linearly with population density, while naturally accounting for the narrow band of scaling exponents empirically observed across multiple features and different geographies. We note that this is achieved without the need to recourse to parameter tuning or assumptions about modularity, social hierarchies, specialization, or similar social constructs. We therefore suggest that population density, rather than population size per se, is at the root of the extraordinary nature of urban centers. As a single example, metropolitan Tokyo has roughly the same population as Siberia while showing remarkable variance in criminal profile, energy usage, and economic productivity.

We provide empirical evidence based on studies of indicators in European and American cities (both categories representing comparable economic development), demonstrating that density is a superior metric than population size in explaining various urban indicators.

Our argument suggests that the reasons for creating cities are not that different from creating work environments like research institutions. While current technology makes remote communication and collaboration extremely easy and convenient, the importance of packing people physically close within each other is still widely emphasized. We argue that cities are operating under the same principle|as a consequence of proximity and easy face-to-face access between individuals, communication and ultimately productivity is greatly enhanced.

We of course note certain caveats and limitations of our study. The density of social ties is intrinsically a function of the ease of access between residents living in the same city. Consider the example of Beijing in China, which has a very high population density. Due to its traffic jams, Beijing currently is de-facto divided into many smaller cities with limited transportation capacities between them and consequently may not demonstrate a higher social tie density than other cities with a much lower population density. Thus a direct comparison of the model predictions with a similarly dense area such as Manhattan is not feasible.

[. . . ]

A number of theories of urban growth suggest the importance of specialist service industries, or high-value-add workers, as generative models of city development. While our model does not disprove these theories, it provides a plausible and empirically-grounded model that does not require the presence of these special social structures. The other theories must therefore appeal to different sorts of data in order to support their claims. Cities are one of most exceptional and enduring of human inventions. Most great cities are exceptions in their own right: a New Yorker feels out of place in Los Angeles, Paris, or Shanghai. However, this exceptionalism may be more due to our attention to human-scale details than tothe underlying structures. In this paper we have presented a generative theory that accounts for observed scaling in urban growth as a function of social tie density and the diffusion of information across those ties. It is our hope that this provides both a foundation for the commonalities across all cities and a beginning point for which divergence between specifc cities can be explored.

In Badger's interview, Pan suggests that the enormous benefits of urban life start to flatten out once urban areas pass the 40 million mark.

What might this mean? Well, via io9, I came across the April 2012 McKinsey Global Institute report"Urban America: US cities in the global economy", by authors James Manyika, Jaana Remes, Richard Dobbs, Javier Orellana and Fabian Schaer. It makes the claim that the United States is uniquely highly urbanized, and hence uniquely prosperous.

Today, large US cities have more weight in the US economy than do large cities in any other major region. In 2010, 259 large US cities generated almost 85 percent of US GDP. During the same period, large cities in Western Europe accounted for less than 65 percent of the region’s GDP. Among emerging regions, metropolitan China accounted for 78 percent of China’s GDP and the large cities of Latin America contributed 76 percent to regional GDP.

Large US cities have such relative economic weight for two reasons. First, they are home to 80 percent of the population compared with less than 60 percent in Western Europe. Second, they have a relatively high per capita GDP premium. The average per capita GDP of large US cities is almost 35 percent higher than in smaller cities and rural areas; in Western Europe, this premium is about 30 percent.

The relative weight of different regions in the world economy changes when we home in on the economic clout of their large cities. Even though Western Europe’s GDP exceeded that of the United States by nearly 10 percent in 2010, the combined GDP of large US cities exceeds that of large Western European cities by more than 20 percent.

It is America’s cities that explain why the United States continues to enjoy higher per capita GDP than Europe. The higher share of US urbanites—and the fact that they command a larger per capita GDP premium over US smaller towns and rural areas than do their European counterparts—explains three-quarters of the per capita GDP gap between the two economies.

The nation’s largest and well-known megacities of New York, New York, and Los Angeles, California, will continue to prosper. New York is on course to remain the second-largest city by GDP in the world in 2025, and Los Angeles to rise from sixth place today to become the fourth-largest city. But the weight of these megacities in the US economy is not decisive to the overall importance of cities in the United States. London and Paris have a smaller share of the overall Western European population—6 percent, compared with the combined population of the US megacities of 10 percent of the total US population—but they enjoy a significantly higher per capita GDP premium than their US counterparts. Paris and London contribute 9 percent to Western Europe’s overall GDP, compared with the 13 percent contributed by New York and Los Angeles.

Instead, the true vigor of America’s urban economy comes from a broad base of dynamic middleweights and the relatively high per capita GDP they achieve. There are just over 255 middleweight cities in the United States, compared with just over 180 in Europe. And they generate more than 70 percent of US GDP today, compared with just over 50 percent in Western Europe. In fact, the top 28 US middleweights alone contribute more than 35 percent of US GDP. The dynamism of middleweights in the United States is a characteristic of today’s global urban expansion, making them an interesting group to understand for both US and global growth prospects.


I do wonder whether comparing the United States to western Europe was the best thing to do, not least since despite western Europe's integration within the European Union the region's nation-states and their frontiers are still quite relevant. The argument doesn't seem immediately implausible, though, and has obvious implications on regional population balances within the European Union and its various member-states (and between the member-states). Should Europeans, for instance, try to promote increased urbanization and the growth of large cities to compensate for shrinking workforces? What of other world regions?

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Some demographics-related news links

* I was quite surprised by the news, reported by the BBC among others, that the most recent German census revealed that the country's overall population was overestimated by 1.5 million. The whole set of discrepancies between updated estimates for West and East Germany and the 2011 census is described in detail at the website of the Federal Statistical Office of Germany, here, here, and here. It's noteworthy that the biggest overestimate by far occurred among foreigners, whose numbers were overestimated by 1.1 million.

* News from Europe's periphery is generally dire. The Inter Press Service's Zoltán Dujisin argues that Hungary is starting to experience a brain drain of professionals to western Europe, a consequence of deteriorating economic and political conditions. The Portugal News observes the continuing fall in Portuguese birth rates, noting that poverty--not just a lack of funding for families, but absolute shortages of necessities like money and even food--is preventing any possibility of a quick recovery. Reporting from Skopje, Balkan Insight notes that more than a tenth of the population of Macedonia is recorded to have emigrated between 1998 and 2011, Eurostat additionally noting that this does not capture irregular migration. Also from the Balkans, the BBC has a depressing profile of the employment situation for young people in Greece. Where emigration is not a realistic option, volunteering is often the only possibility for young Greeks to do something in the hope that, one day, they might enjoy a salary.

* At New Eastern Europe, Filip Mazurczak writes about demographic policies in the former Communist world, arguing that the discontinuation of perfectly helpful policies like workplace childcare after the end of Communism may have contributed to the collapse of birth rates. Estonia is singled out as one country that has made noteworthy progress, as is Russia. The Baltic Course takes a look at the balance of migration in Estonia. Emigration and immigration have both surged in recent years, with just under eleven thousand people leaving in 2012 and a bit over four thousand immigrating. Finland and United Kingdom are the major destinations for Estonian emigrants, while Finland and Russia are the major sources of immigrants. Estonia is uniquely favoured among the Baltic States in having a migration partner so close at hand in Finland.

* The Daily Mail notes that rural and even exurban areas of the United States are facing population decline and aging, as dismal economies and shrinking opportunities encourage migration to cities.

* The Economist observes the rapid and thorough demographic transformations of Latin America, with sharply falling fertility rates, radically changed gender roles, and the rise of new family forms including cohabitation. The article's conclusion that Latin America risks wasting its demographic dividend if it doesn't transform its educational and pension systems in time to, respectively, maximize the coming generation's human capital and prepare to finance its retirement.

* Also at the Economist, the Buttonwood blog examines Spanish youth unemployment, placing the relative reluctance of young Spanish workers to migrate to Germany (compared to their Greek, Romanian, and Polish counterparts) to the relatively better conditions they experience and argues that youth unemployment estimates wrongly include students and mothers of young children.

* The South China Morning Post notes that in Hong Kong, the ongoing fall in fertility rates now means that one-child families outnumber their two-child counterparts for the first time in the city-state's history. In adjacent Macau, meanwhile, population growth is dominated by immigration, 60% of immigrants coming from China but a quarter from the Philippines and Vietnam.

* Australia's ABC News argues that Australia's much-hyped baby bonus didn't contribute to the uptick in fertility rates in that country, that the recuperation of postponed fertility is a more likely explanation.

* Finally, on the lighter end, the Czech capital of Prague has assigned subway cars to singles and the Hungarian government is setting up dance parties, all in efforts to boost birth rates. The Atlantic's Jordan Weissman wonders, meanwhile, if spending on pets and pet ownership is growing as people of parent age respond to the growing costs of children by switching to less expensive substitutes.