Immigration: where should the burden of proof lie?

The New Zealand Initiative, the business (and Wellington City Council) funded think-tank, is on record as strongly in favour of allowing high levels of non-citizen immigration.  Indeed, some of their senior staff seem quite strongly influenced by the “open borders” strand of libertarian literature that, in principle at least, favours allowing in almost anyone who wants to come.  But very little of what they have had to say thus far has been very New Zealand specific at all – the presumption seems to be that whatever might be true and valid in some places abroad will also apply here.

The Initiative has indicated that it will shortly (later this month?) be releasing a major report on immigration policy as it applies in New Zealand.  They ran a seminar on a draft of the report late last year and I was no doubt only one of many people who gave them fairly extensive comments on the draft.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been highlighting that there is no modern empirical analysis focused on New Zealand indicating that New Zealanders have benefited, in economic terms, from the large scale non-citizen immigration policy that has been run over the last 25 years or so (as a reminder the net inflow of non-citizens is about three times that in the United States, both in per capita terms).  Champions of large scale immigration to New Zealand –  including well-resourced public agencies like Treasury and MBIE, MBIE-funded academics, and think-tanks/lobby groups like Business NZ and the New Zealand Initiative – all rely either on overseas research about other countries (often much more central ones, like the US or various northern European countries), or relatively simple theoretical arguments about possible gains to New Zealanders.  And mostly they do not seriously engage either with the specifics of the continuing economic underperformance of New Zealand, despite the large scale non-citizen notionally-skills-focused immigration programme, or with the continuing natural resource orientation of this specific economy  My challenge has been along the lines of “show us the evidence”.  After all, if a policy has been run for a quarter of a century, on a relatively large scale, and it really has material economic benefits to New Zealanders as a whole  surely it shouldn’t be too hard to demonstrate those gains?

I had hoped that in the forthcoming report the New Zealand Initiative might take up that challenge and do some New Zealand specific research that would support their enthusiasm for high rates of inward non-citizen immigration.  If they had done so, no doubt there would still be plenty of room for debate –  no one study is ever definitive on any topic –  but at least there would then be a marker out there for sceptics to look at,be challenged by, and be forced to engage with.

But the other day a reader  – who is, I think, generally sceptical of my immigration analysis –  forwarded me a link to a tweet from the Initiative’s head of research, Eric Crampton.

In it, Eric was retweeting something from Erik Berglof, a professor at LSE, who in turn was linking to what proved to be a two year old piece by a Bulgarian sociologist who had (a) asserted that the academic evidence of the impact of immigration (to the UK) was overwhelmingly positive and (b) debunked a few of the dubious claims sometimes made about the impact of immigration in the UK (eg on social housing demand).  There was no  evidence on the wider economic impact advanced at all –  and in fairness to the Bulgarian sociologist, hers was only a two page piece.

But what really struck me was Eric Crampton’s own strong language –  aimed, I assume, at people like me.  We apparently “insist the null hypothesis is that NZ migration is terrible unless proved otherwise” and then “That shouldn’t be the null”.  A lot turns on that second sentence.

I’m quite open to the possibility that large scale immigration to New Zealand might have little or no long-term net economic impact on New Zealanders.  If so, that wouldn’t make such immigration “terrible”, but it would rather undermine the assertions of academics and officials that there are material gains for New Zealanders as a whole –  in MBIE’s terms that our immigration programme is, and has been, a “critical economic enabler” for New Zealand.  If it was all a wash –  and there were no material economic gains or losses for New Zealanders as a whole – we might still keep an immigration programme going if we wanted to offer that opportunity to the immigrants (who clearly expect to benefit or they wouldn’t move) but if New Zealand voters preferred not to do so, economists and officials would have no good reason to gainsay that preference.

My own suspicion is that our immigration programmes –  since World War Two, but particularly in the last quarter century, have been more damaging than that.  I’ve advanced a story –  which hangs together, even if it may not finally be the correct story –  which explains our continuing deterioriation in relative productivity performance in terms of the continuing rapid growth in population (mostly immigration policy driven) into a location with relatively few strong natural economic opportunities, reinforced by the pressure that rapid population growth (in an economy with a modest savings rate) has put on our real interest and exchange rates.  My story has never been that immigration is always and everywhere bad for natives, just that at times it could be, and that modern New Zealand could be one of those times places.  We see enough moribund towns, here and in other settler countries, to realise that where settlers arrive isn’t always where they can generate good returns over the longer-run.

Do I have robust formal empirical evidence for this story?  Well, no, I don’t.  And I don’t have the resources, or technical skills, of our leading government agencies to do such empirical research –  even if there were an easy or obvious way to formulate the test.  I’ve tended to rely on a “competing narratives” approach –  looking for stories that can best explain the various stylised facts of New Zealand’s disappointing long-term economic performance, and assessing how well each of those narratives do.

Eric Crampton proposes that the burden of proof be reversed from the traditional one.  In his story, we should welcome large scale immigration –  probably even larger than we have now –  unless there is clear proof that the immigration programme is harming New Zealanders.  It seems a lot like a concession that the alleged economic gains to New Zealanders can’t easily be shown –  and won’t be shown in the forthcoming Initiative report.  That point alone should be telling –  it defies the repeated rhetoric from politicians, officials, academics etc.

But how reasonable is the argument?  In some markets, and some products, I think it is a quite reasonable approach.  I don’t think we should be banning, or differentially taxing, trade in goods or services without pretty clear evidence of harm to New Zealanders as a whole.  I don’t think we should typically be regulating domestic markets in this, that or the other thing without clear evidence of harm –  and it is a test that is too little applied, at least with any rigour.  But non-citizen immigration is different.

What makes it different?  I think it is the fact that migrants are people, not goods, services (or dollars).  And the two categories are profoundly different.   People aren’t a sofa or a holiday.  People –  immigrants, not holidaymakers – take up residence , and in time become citizens and voters, and that they embody a whole set of institutions/cultural norms etc.  And people from other countries will often have a quite different culture etc from the people already here.   And even if they don’t, the natural resources in a particular location might be limited –  and if natural resources certainly aren’t everything, they aren’t nothing either, especially in remote locations such as this.

None of this is intended as a novel or particularly provocative observation. Norway (and Norwegians) are different than Portugese who are different than Argentineans or Singaporeans, and all of them are different from New Zealanders.  And of course there is plenty of diversity among New Zealanders.  The differences and similarities within and across countries aren’t easy to define, but there have to be some things that bind us together as New Zealanders –  if “New Zealand” is to be any more than some arbitrary administrative boundary such as that between the Wellington City’s southern and eastern wards.   We feel (by revealed preference of our political choices) some obligation to mutual support of fellow New Zealanders in a way that we  don’t feel –  or practice –  for people in Iceland, Ireland or Malta.  It doesn’t mean we think those people are inferior, but they simply aren’t our people.

I suspect every human society ever has maintained boundaries.  Outsiders have never been totally free to join an alternative grouping (whether a national state, or some other), no matter how attractive the alternative might appear.  No doubt there are various reasons for that, but it will include the intuited wisdom that communities with similar values and backgrounds tend to function more efficiently and effectively –  trust, for example, is a key dimension of any well-functioning society, and trust is developed and maintained most easily among those with similar backgrounds and shared experiences.  Yes, market insitutions can reduce to some extent the need to rely on trust, but only to some extent.   If anything, there is probably a “diversity tax”more often than a diversity dividend (and I wrote last year about some suggestive work in that area).

None of this means that effective societies can’t or shouldn’t cope with any newcomers.  But the capacity to absorb newcomers –  especially if from quite different cultures –  and still maintain the trust and intuitive understanding of each other –  is likely to be quite limited: human nature isn’t likely to have suddenly changed in the last few decades after millenia of operating within relatively homogeneous groupings.   If there are really big gains from welcoming lots of newcomers, those gains will offset any diversity costs.  But that brings us back to the question of starting presumptions.   The advocates of New Zealand’s large scale immigration programme simply haven’t been able to show such gains –  whether it was in the 50s and 60s, where the bulk of the immigrants were from the UK, or more recently.  There is a lot of wisdom embedded in established human institutions –  they evolved for a reason, typically a good one. The libertarian conceit is that those institutions, or presumptions, can simply be demolished and all will be fine.  Perhaps it will, but really the burden should be on them –  and their fellow travellers – to show it, including in the case of large scale movements of people.

So perhaps there was a case to be made 30 years ago that we should give large scale immigration from an indiscrimate range of countries a go.  Perhaps there really were large economic benefits to be had for New Zealanders.  And since few people had ever tried the experiment, we’d never know unless we tried.  But we did try, and have gone on doing so for at least 25 years now.  At this point, the onus really should be shifted to the advocates to show that their policy –  historically unusual, unusual in a cross-country context – is really producing benefits for New Zealanders as a whole.

I’ll look forward to the forthcoming Initiative report, and will no doubt comment further when I’ve had a chance to read it.  I was struck however by two observations I’ve seen in the last few days.  The first was the blurb for an old New Yorker article, in a newsletter that came through promoting a collection articles about Barack Obama.

Obama’s aunt told him that his father had never understood that, as she put it, “if everyone is family, no one is family.” Obama found this striking enough so that he repeated it later on in his book, in italics: If everyone is family, no one is family. Universalism is a delusion.

That sounded right, and uncontroversial (perhaps to all except libertarians).  The family analogy isn’t perfect, but it isn’t without value either.

And the second was a piece on Canterbury university lecturer Paul Walker’s blog, with the salutary reminder –  drawing on a piece from Nobel laureate Ronald Coase – about the limitations of empirical economic research, and the tendency of researchers –  and one might no doubt generalise it to analysts more broadly –  to find what they expect or want to find.  In Coase’s words

I remarked earlier on the tendency of economists to get the result their theory tells them to expect. In a talk I gave…. I said that if you torture the data enough, nature will always confess, a saying which, in a somewhat altered form, has taken its place in the statistical literature. Kuhn puts the point more elegantly and makes the process sound more like a seduction: “nature undoubtedly responds to the theoretical predispositions with which she is approached by the measuring scientist.”

It doesn’t mean the work shouldn’t be done, but it is a caution, and a reminder that societies rarely make policy choices, especially about big issues that have the potential to change the character of the society, on the basis of empirical studies.   All too often such studies offer support more than illumination.

Before stopping (for a couple of weeks):

Some readers might be interested in a 1990s piece from the late professor Ranginui Walker on immigration policy from a Maori perspective that a reader sent me the other day.    The nature of what large scale immigration did to the Maori place in New Zealand –  perhaps offering economic benefits but other losses –  still seems too little discussed in the current debate.

And Radio New Zealand on Monday broadcast a prerecorded discussion on some of New Zealand’s economic challenges between me, Ganesh Nana of BERL, and Rod Drury, CEO of Xero.    This was the discussion referred to in a pre-Christmas post on cities , in the context of the relative underperformance of Auckland.

51 thoughts on “Immigration: where should the burden of proof lie?

  1. The comment about the null hypothesis is interesting. The null that immigration has no effect on growth or productivity or etc is correct statistical methodology because the believer in immigration wants to reject it and show that immigration has a positive effect. Otherwise it would be funny.


    • It has null effect because immigration, longer term is largely a replacement policy for kiwis that leave NZ. We have a million migrants to compensate for the million New Zealanders that live overseas.


      • That might be a reasonable argument if the only case for higher immigration were about sheer scale (ie total population), altho even there our population has grown much faster than that of most other advanced countries.

        But the advocates of the immigration policy argue that we are gaining even if we just replace those leaving because we get better and more skilled people, and the productivity spillovers from diversity and international connections with the places (usually poorer) where the migrants came from.

        It is possible those effect are real, but also possible that they are offset (or more than offset) by the other costs of high rates of immigration.

        Liked by 1 person

      • In the past certainly when we had manufacturing and more productive industries that require higher skilled labour. Of course immigration got rather ambitious with getting more highly skilled migrants that we have had PHDs driving cabs. In fact one of brightest individuals I met in a call centre was a nuclear power station engineer 10 years ago.

        However immigration is now pretty much industry focused as they have realised it is not about Immigration setting targets and skills requirements and the type of migrants, it is about industry requirements.


      • Yes, incredulous, not too sure what immigration had in mind 10 years ago when they allowed into NZ under the skills category, a Nuclear Power Station engineer. Of course, this incredibly smart and talented individual ended up working in a call centre.


  2. The relative lack of productivity performance is due to servicing the needs of the 90,000 plus international students and the 2017 record target of 4 million tourists. With Auckland Airport handling 18 million inbound and outbound passengers, Auckland remains one of the most highly visited cities in NZ by tourists, domestic and international travellers. The need for low skilled labour such as chefs, waiters, prostitutes and cleaners will continue to dominate the Auckland workforce. Industry drives the immigration profile. Therefore expect more foreign chefs, foreign waiters, foreign prostitutes and don’t expect kiwis to do the cleaning jobs to dominate the immigration profile.

    The construction industry running at record levels will also require a significant migrant workforce so add that to the list of low skilled migrants.


  3. The only reason Auckland productivity looks weak against the regions is due to a very poor productivity calculator based on people. 10 million cows and all its asssociated wastes, cow dung, nitrate leaching, dirty waterways, contaminated drinking water only generate $10 billion in export sales. Auckland with 1.5 million people generate 30% of NZ GDP which equates to $75 billion in GDP. Therefore there is something wrong with economists productivity measures when it comes down to livestock. You cannot use per capita calculator it is fundamentally wrong.


  4. I guess if the cumulative impact of successive immigration polices has in fact been materially detrimental to the average New Zealander, the direction of policy should have changed via the voting booth (maybe it will this year?). But perhaps any benefits have accrued to those that consumer more labour intensive services and own a house: it just might be this cohort has had a greater representation within the eligible voting population.


    • Sometimes it takes a long time for populations to realise that bad effects misguided policies are having. I’d put our import protection policies after 1938 in that category – even tho the groups who benefited from those policies were quite small (NZ manufacturers and distributors, and to some extent workers in those businesses).

      I’ll actually be a bit surprised if immigration really gets much traction as an issue in this year’s election.


    • People are certainly realising the bad effects of milking 10 million cows and entertaining and accomodating 4 million tourists. Greenpeace have recently raised the ante with advertisements on the adverse effects of the environmental damage due to milking 10 million cows, nitrate leaching. dirty waterways, contaminated drinking water, depletion of the ozone, tons of chemical wash for lice and ticks and massive grasslands where once mighty kauri forests stood.

      Tourists take up accomodation space and contribute towards the lack of housing availability and the dumbing of NZ population to chefs, waiters, prostitutes and cleaners to service this massive $15 billion dollar industry. Air BnB signed up 17,000 residential property within 12 months of launching in NZ for tourist accomodation.

      Not to forget the 115,000 international students that also require servicing, feeding, cleaning up their mess and accomodating. That segment also grows at a rate of 10% a year requiring at least accomodation of 10,000 extra people a year.


  5. I enjoyed Ranginui Walker’s prescient essay. Regarding the diversity tax, over the break I read Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. In it, a left-liberal psychologist studies the difference between liberal and conservative moral frameworks and becomes more conservative himself.

    I am beginning to suspect that in the long run a high immigration society would require a more authoritarian government to run it, which woyld explain Singapore’s position as the preeminent (sole?) immigration driven success story.


  6. Yes, Haidt’s book is very good isn’t it.

    I’m not sure Singapore’s success is immigration driven – I’d see it more as an example of people flocking to a very successful country (as they will sensibly – individually – seek to), with good institutions (and a favourable location). But, yes, the question of whether democracy can really survive in countries with large and very different cultures seems still to be open. Curiously, Israel is perhaps the best example at present – but I’m not optimistic about the long-term survival of Israel itself. It is probably a bit early to tell on S Africa, or some other more recent democracies, incl say NIgeria.


    • Michael
      There has been quite a lot of empirical work (paid by MBIE) on immigration issues over the years. Typically tends to replicate foreign methodologies that I am not overly fond of and typically too come to the conclusion that there is ‘no particular harm’ – when I suspect the approaches would be incapable of identifying any material harm.

      Not to disparage Dave Maree who did much of the work but MBIE did get what they paid for. A different paymaster could well have got different results.


      • Yes there has been work done on some aspects of the issues but even the NZ Initiative is quite open about the fact that there are no empirical studies looking at the overall impact on GDP per capita or productivity.


  7. Historically I was in favour of immigration, and generally thought the more the merrier, as it would enable the country to get some “scale” which I thought would be good. However your comments have made me think that although I might still favour a larger population for NZ, getting there may cause problems, as you have indicated. So I don’t think I would describe myself as sceptical of your analysis, but it may well be that is the way my comments come across (I figure that challenging your comments might lead to some further insight, whereas agreeing would achieve little). BTW, I’m amused, but not offended etc.

    I didn’t read the piece by Erik Berglof in depth, but I did come away with the view that, as you say, it was about social housing etc., not about the impact on the economy. So although Eric Crampton’s tweet should be taken with the appropriate amount of salt for anything on Twitter, I did think it somewhat inaccurate, and not really what anyone would want to be seen representing to the rest of the world as a thorough economic analysis.

    Your comments about people and goods/services had me thinking. From a business perspective, people=labour, and is just another input to business. So from that perspective, people are just the same as goods and services. I’ll ignore the people as customers perspective, and that people are what really matters, in my opinion.

    Recent discussions about immigration, had made me wonder how it was for Maori historically. Hopefully I’ll find time to read the piece you mention. Same goes for the RNZ piece.


    • THanks Lindley. I don’t mind scepticism – at all (and yes, an echo chamber of agreement would be rather boring). One of the benefits of writing about this stuff here is getting alternative perspectives/questions in response. My articulation of my story is now somewhat different – a little richer I like to think – than it was when the blog began a couple of years ago, and part of that is a response to thinking through reader reactions/questions.


  8. First off, I’d like to make clear that I think Michael’s blogging is providing a tremendous service. I disagree with his take on immigration, but that’s a different thing.

    The role of researchers and bloggers is to put up these kinds of interesting cases trialling alternative stories. Michael is doing superb work in that.

    Last November, both Prod Comm and Treasury put out reports that noted, in passing, the potential for immigration to hurt domestic wage growth and employment. But they didn’t really have any evidence that it was happening. That worried me because the best read on this out of the international literature is that any evidence for such effects is weak, and that where effects are found they’re small.

    There seems (to me, but probably not to Micheal) a nascent Wellington beltway view of that immigration, and especially immigration of those with lower skills, has harmful effects on native-born Kiwis unless it can be proven otherwise in New Zealand.

    I think the null that *policy* should work from, in the absence of local evidence, is that “the effect of x” is most likely similar to whatever its effect is elsewhere.

    And so, when I saw, rather late the other night during a bit of insomnia, a tweet by Erik Berglof, ex-Chief Economist at EBRD, Prof at LSE and Director of LSE’s Institute of Global Affairs, giving his view of the general evidence on the effects of immigration, I was inclined to retweet it. Michael is certainly right that the short blog post to which he pointed was hardly a comprehensive review of the international literature, but I wasn’t retweeting it because of the link. I was retweeting for Berglof’s view of the international literature.

    I’ll hold fire on much of the rest for now. Our report will be coming out at the end of the month. Michael will have an early embargoed copy.


    • Agreed, it is good that Michael does allow for counter comments and I do appreciate he has been rather tolerant of my incessant counter views on immigration. Unfortunately individuals like Cam Slater of Whale Oil was rather unforgiving with my support of the plight of Palestinians against a superior power like Isreal. It is rather sad that he would point the finger at McCully for doing his job by voting against further encroachment into disputed territories backed by 14 out of 15 countries on the UN Security Council.


      • Iconoclast, unfortunately your racist attitude discriminates against 25% or a million migrant born residents, many of whom hold kiwi citizenship. Smacks of a perverse attitude of a master race?


      • Ahah – the race card

        Definition of Racism:- prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior

        A consistent theme of your many comments over time is one of superiority above native NZers – te3lling us how and what to do with our country

        The fine print of my comment yesterday is: Someone who hasn’t had the experience growing up in NZ is at a disadvantage at understanding the present in the context of its economic and social history

        Unfettered immigration is destroying the main thing NZ has going for it, and which the tourists come in their droves to experience: the beauty of a country less spoiled by unlimited urban growth. Sometimes “less is more” and one only has to look around the world to see that frequently “more” is not better.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aaah the unfettered immigration card. Replacement or population decline. The effects on housing and the immigration is not due to immigration as it is mainly replacement which just keeps population growing at a snails pace in the longer term. It was only 4 years ago when we were taliking about the 50k that depart our shores each year with net migration running negative. It was only recently that New Zealanders have decided to stay. In the longer term immigration adjusts to get immigration replacement levels.

        The race card is being played via your comments that completely considers any other comments as dirt class comments.

        I point not to immigration but to tourism and international students as the main cause. So you have not been reading my comments. Immigration as an issue is just a racist target.


      • Also I am not aware that that my blue kiwi passport looks any different from your kiwi passport? I have as much invested in this country as you with 2 kiwi born natives as children, but I suppose you consider their comments as native born New Zealanders more relevant than my comments?? Or because they are children of a migrant they too are considered dirt class natives compared to your first class native category?

        Liked by 1 person

  9. On first impressions, I’d generally argue that the basis for the burden of proof falling on the lower immigration policy side is based on an underlying premise that people ought to have freedom of movement in a free society. Presumably you need to make a compelling case to reduce someone’s freedoms.

    I’d disagree with the ‘libertarian conceit’ point though. From my own libertarian perspective, those institutions are critically important, especially those which maintain the freedoms which a libertarian society aims to deliver. The assumption there is that new immigrants would need to conform with those principles and freedoms just like anyone else – even if they find that challenging. And one shouldn’t presume that there aren’t freedom loving people within generally authoritarian societies, and managing immigration rates as a tool to manage the collective views of society seems, well, odd.


    • The most important principle in the debate for me would be Non-maleficence.

      The absence of compelling evidence that high immigration is beneficial for all of New Zealand, Michael’s logically consistent arguments against it, and the lack, so far, of any credible refutation of them, leads me to believe that high immigration falls well below the threshold where we could say it is doing no harm.

      On that basis, I believe the burden of proof is on the “high” side.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Michael has shown plenty of evidence of productivity poverty and he points to the list of low skilled migrants like chefs that currently dominate recent migrants. Therefore the solution as far as he is concerned is simple. Drop the migrant targets to 15k from 50k.

        But the huge leap of faith in that simple conclusion is that government drives the type of migrants and the numbers. But the skilled migrant category list is driven by industry, that’s why successive governments have not been able to change anything. You cannot deny industry what they need to generate an income and profit in the longer term. It’s like telling a hotel business to hire nuclear power engineers rather than chefs. Can you imagine Woodhouse fronting a industry meeting of hoteliers, restaurentiers, retailers that generate $15 billion to the economy and telling them, sorry you can’t have chefs because the government has decided that NZ now wants to be a leader in Space launching technology and therefore they must hire Space rocket engineers to work as chefs?? Or saying yes you can have 1000 engineers but only 2 chefs for the year when industry requires 2 engineers and 1000 chefs? How daft is that?

        Then we get into the Spouse category. How on earth do you tell a New Zealander, that mail order Russian Beauty he met online and married can’t come to NZ? Or that beautiful Chinese student he met and fell in love with and married he can’t keep in NZ? I think there is a human rights violation there somewhere.

        Recently there has been news of 90 year old parents in China being neglected and left to die on their own unable to feed themselves. But with the recent changes that Woodhouse has brought in under pressure from Michaels blogging, ie new migrants cannot bring in parents, are we not supporting the abandonment of parents when we do not allow them into the country to accompany their children?


    • The evidence is very clear. Industry drives the type of migrants. Chefs and low skilled labour dominate the list of migrants demanded by industry. Our top export industries are Tourism $15 billion, Milk $10 billion, Meat $8 billion and International Students $$4.5 billion. It is clear why chefs and low skilled labour dominate immigrations list of top jobs.

      Tourists do not eat local. Sure they will try a hangi at Rotorua but that’s it as far as local cuisine goes.They want their own flavoured food, they want service in their own language and they want prostitues and then someone to clean up their mess. Auckland is considered a low productive city even though it generates 30% of NZ GDP around $75 billion. Auckland Airport handles 18 million inbound and outbound passengers, domestic and international. 2.8 million direct overseas flights fly directly into Auckland. Tourists top destination city is NOT Queenstown. It is Auckland. People need services and top service requires more people, more attention, more time to service a customer. You cannot automate hospitality services as yet. DARPA paid $2 million for a robot that takes an hour to open a door and to carry baggage.


      • It’s fairly obvious that the demand is driven by industry. I very much doubt that Michael has missed that. It’s nonsense to say that governments have done nothing about it when they have been so lax with the skilled migrant categories.

        They have effectively been a subsidy to selected businesses which has distorted the market unfairly, and acted as a brake on the wages and conditions that would have corrected it.

        As an example, consider how hard it would be to find the ~1800 cooks we imported among ~435k expatriate New Zealanders if we paid competitive wages.


      • The big assumption is that there is a margin to pay higher wages. But in reality there is not the margin. NZwages are high. US workers are getting by on US$10 an hour compared to our guys that are asking for a living wage of NZ$20 an hour. A newly qualified NZ accountant will require $70k a year that a migrant would ask for NZ$45k a year. But I am aware of NZ firms outsourcing their accounting work to the Phillipines to gualified accountants that work for NZ$10k a year using the Xero cloud accounting platform. You either hire migrants that pay NZ taxes or you outsource the work to the Phillipines.


      • Andrew Little makes the same mistake in assuming that we can actually train and apprentice locally. In categories like chefs and service personal we cannot train locally. The unique flavours of eastern style cooking or a foreign language is not learned in a few years of training. I have worked in Malaysia and Singapore and I currently manage a team of Asian migrant workers, for say 20 years now and the language skills I cannot even get to grips with at a basic conversational level. Reading skills still practically nil.


  10. Thanks Michael. Having just spent a week in Te Urewera, Dr Walker’s article you linked to gave me much to reflect on. Having not been there for several years it was pleasing to see the “human face” of the 2014 Tuhoe settlement with many of the local Tuhoe people actively involved and engaged in running and managing the park.
    I am often deeply disturbed how most of those who are pro large-scale immigration have little care for it’s impact on Maori. Such proponents usually view immigration as an “economic enabler” and consequently assign the humans involved merely instrumental value. Regardless of one’s view of the treaty of waitangi, if there is one area in which it has not been honoured, by way of not giving Maori significant consultation, it is that of immigration. Whilst large scale immigration may have brought some economic benefits to Maori, I suspect that on the whole, especially when including non-measurable negative social and cultural impacts, most Maori would agree that the large scale immigration of the past 150 or so years has been rather detrimental for them and that to continue on such a course is not in their best interests.


    • Maori is fully represented in all our political parties. If they have a problem they would already have made their concerns known. The current National government has a Maori lady, Paula Bennet as a Deputy Prime Minister. One of National’s key support partners is the Maori Party and at current low polling it appears Maori do not believe they even need their own party.


      • Rather than a negative, Maori would likely view the dilution of Pakeha in NZ population a positive as it also dilutes pakeha majority in government


    • I’m Maori and in the process of emigrating – to Canada – where similar debates are taking place although the current Canadian government has evidently recommitted to immigration (seeking to increase the annual intake from 250,000 to 300,000). Couple of things I can add to this discussion.
      1. I have better professional prospects in Canada (as an academic) but that is not the primary reason for us as a whanau to leave. Essentially we see this as an opportunity to have an adventure as a whanau, and to expose are kids to somewhere very different (currently minus 40 in Saskatoon, our destination). I am locked into employment with an individual employer until I have citizenship and require an invitation by the Provincial government (Saskatchewan in my case).

      I suspect the majority of migrants to NZ are economic but also a significant number (perhaps those from Nth America and Europe) are also motivated by adventure.

      2. I would argue Maori have not benefited from immigration to NZ (but certainly have from emigration to Australia. This political relationship is a vital blow-off valve as approx. 1 in 6 Maori live in Oz). Many Maori my generation consider migration from some countries (the UK in particular) as re-colonisation, and that the relationship between Peoples is enshrined in the Treaty of Waitangi and this is the starting point for the invitation to settle (Ranginui Walkers broad point).

      Having said that, in academia immigrants are important consumers of Maori courses including te reo. Around a third to a half of my postgraduates were international students specifically looking to learn about Maori approaches to environmental management. And yes some are looking for residency.

      As for comments by getgreatstuff, Maori are not fully represented in NZ politics; we do have problems and have made them known (to no or little avail). Ms Bennet is ethnically but not culturally Maori – I have a Chinese great great grandfather but cannot comment on Chinese practices and issues. Ranginui Walkers papers on political representation are still relevant.

      Anyway, good luck with this country! Look after her…


      • Maui D T, it sounds like you are neutral with regards to NZ immigration which is largely my personal perception of Maori views in general. Fair comment there are as yet Maori dissatisfaction with the rate of progress but the representation by Maori in all political parties can’t be denied. Sure there are urban Maori and there are provincial and rural Maori and your needs differ but compare that with Australian aboriginals and you can see how far Maori has progressed in the political and governmental decision levels. It could easily have gone the way of Australia’s political scene.

        Australias constitution already accepts New Zealand as a state of Australia. All NZ needs to do is to decide by referendum to join Australia. The only issue that prevents NZ joining Australia is dropping the Treaty of Waitangi. Therefore it is Maori and the preferential rights of Maori that is the anchor of New Zealand.


      • I’m not sure most Maori are neutral w.r.t. immigration – it is perhaps a question of geography (scale and location). Michael is drawing attention to the lack of evidence that it is a good thing economically – the main argument in support of mass immigration to NZ.

        As for being a State of Australia… yeah. Nah. We have Close Enough Relations. And Maori haven’t progressed political/governmental decision making but have had this power sytematically – violently – stripped away: that’s colonisation.

        But yes perhaps Maori rights are an obstacle to a lot of weird things in the world…


      • Michael Phillip, rather an inane comment. If its any consolation to others reading this, at least this blog lacks the vicious racism I observe in North American blogging on indigenous issues.

        And I read Mr. Reddell’s posts on immigration (and other issues) as an ongoing methodologcal discussion: we simply lack the required data to say the things we say. As an example this country doesn’t collect ethnicity data on its leaving docs and we rely on the Australian Bureau of Statistics for a (good) approximation of how many maori live in Australia. Tahu Kukutai has done some excellent research on this.

        Anyway, our SINP documentation arrived overnight. I’m booking flights for Canada. One-way tickets… E noho ra!


      • Maui D T, have a great trip overseas and have fun. What an adventure. Don’t forget to not be too disgusted with yourself when you do decide to return to NZ after 12 months of being away. After 12 months overseas, on your return I am sorry to inform you that you are now called a permanent and long term migrant. Effectively the day you return to NZ, welcome to the ranking of one of us low skilled, low productive class of people that have forced up the NZD and raised property prices for the locals.

        If you are wondering what I am talking about? The definition of a Permanent and Long Term Migrant that pervades the headline news each day grating on the nerves of the local natives under NZ statistics include Returning New Zealanders that have been away from NZ for more than 12 months.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I wonder if its a problem with the data and the way the data is defined? I don’t hold strong views on immigration either way as I’m not up with the play, but I note the latest issue of the Economist has an interesting article on manufacturing and the way it has changed and developed over time…

    The takeaway is that the data collected and analysed is not necessarily doing a good job of reporting on the sector, such that political statements are a bit off beam… The same underlying theme of growth and jobs applies to immigration and manufacturing… so wonder if there is also a data problem there as well…


    • The confusion that arises with immigration is that NZ statistics defines Permanent and long term migrants to include Resident Migrants, international students, foreign workers, long term tourists and returning New Zealanders away from NZ for more than 12 months. Therefore population growth in NZ and in Auckland tend to be exaggerated and incorrect.

      Census night have proven that population estimates for Auckland can be significantly wrong.


  12. The call for NZ-specific evidence is largely a red herring, since all one would have to work with is a very small amount of time series variation that will be correlated with all sorts of other factors. And any story that immigration is bad because NZ has experienced low productivity growth immediately runs into the much more interesting cross-sectional evidence of Chad Syverson that there has been a significant productivity slowdown “in dozens of countries”, including those with much higher rates of immigration than NZ (e.g., Luxembourg) and those with much lower rates (e.g., Japan).


    • From memory, Michael looked at productivity vs rates and the only comparable country he found for (high) rates was Israel. I have to wonder if the time factor in a cross-sectional study would affect its relevance?


    • Not as big a red herring as the overseas evidence, given the different structure, scale of immigration etc. of those countries covered by overseas studies.

      On my reading of some of the overseas evidence it does not present a very compelling case ( that could reasonably apply to NZ) of the benefits of large scale immigration.

      I will await with interest the interoperation of the foreign evidence that will be cited in the forthcoming New Zealand Initiative study

      Liked by 1 person

      • NZ is a colonised country. Migration at its peak would have been almost 80% of NZ population and would have reached its peak migrant just prior to the NZ Land Wars. Migrant numbers have been in decline ever since now only numbering 25% of NZ population mainly as a replacement policy.


  13. The Dr Ranginui Walker article is cause for much pause and thought

    Democracy as practiced in New Zealand

    It deserves more than a passing byline

    Government Working Party on Immigration recommended to the Minister of Immigration the adoption of a points system for the selection of immigrants with skills and money for business investment in New Zealand. The Minister called meetings with a limited selection of thirteen Maori leaders in Auckland and fourteen in Wellington to consider the report. They were mainly leaders of voluntary organizations. Few represented tribal groups. Although many speakers spoke against the immigration proposals, they were ignored. When the Minister was questioned in Parliament during the debate on the Immigration Amendment Bill, he cited all those in attendance at the Maori meetings as being ‘broadly positive’ towards his immigration scheme. This glossing over of Maori opposition is consistent with the procedure of elites generating policy from above and imposing it on the people below. The Minister’s restricted discourse with Maori leaders after the fact, gave an illusion of democratic consultation. The select committee hearings on the Bill were also a charade. Of the 75 submissions made to the committee, 73 were opposed to the Bill. The two submissions in favour were made by immigration consultants, the people who earned substantial fees from processing immigration papers for clients wanting to get into New Zealand.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. “Ngāti Paoa proposes to start the development at Point England in east Auckland at the end of the year after a deal to buy nearly 12 hectares of the 45 hectare reserve from the government as part of its Treaty settlement.

    But locals feared they would lose precious public space and the development would destroy endangered wildlife, while others complained they had no say in the project.”

    In a surprising twist, the first class natives are being stymied by the 3rd class migrant locals.

    Meauli Seuala, who runs a holiday programme, said the loss of a third of the playing fields meant there would no longer be space to hold the annual Pacific Island church games that attracted thousands of people.

    Tsz Ho, who has lived at Pt England most of his life, said locals would lose green space as the population surged. He started a petition to stop a bill being passed in Parliament enabling Pt England reserve to be turned into housing land.

    Tamaki Estuary wildlife caretaker Shaun Lee said houses would be built on paddocks that were the last nesting place for the endangered dotterel and other estuary birds.


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