New Zealand Initiative on immigration: Part 3 Culture and Identity

Chapter 2 of the New Zealand Initiative’s immigration advocacy report is headed “The New Zealand Way”.  It was a big part of why I’ve been procrastinating in writing about the report.  My focus has tended to be on economic issues –  and thus to be largely indifferent on that count whether the migrants came from Brighton, Bangalore, Beijing, Brisbane or Bogota.  Almost all of my concerns about the economic impact of New Zealand’s immigration programme would remain equally valid if all, or almost all, our immigrants were coming from the United Kingdom –  as was the case for many decades.  Relatively calm and rational debate can, and often does, occur on those sorts of dimensions.  Issues around “national identity”, “national security” etc, the sorts of issues the Initiative tackle in this chapter, are trickier.   I could have chosen to simply ignore this chapter, but they chose to deal with the issues directly, even if (in my view) unsatisfactorily, so it would be a bit wimpish of me to avoid doing so.    But in attempting, perhaps not successfully, to step through some of the minefields, without upsetting too many people unncessarily, this post gets long and discursive.

The Initiative begin their chapter

While many of the concerns New Zealanders have about immigration can be assessed empirically, other concerns strike a deeper chord which evidence cannot prove or disprove – the concern that a large inflow of people from abroad could threaten our national identity.

I’m not sure why they think evidence can’t “prove or disprove” these other concerns, unless they have a particularly narrow conception of what is allowable as “evidence”.

As they rightly point out, there is no single definition of what it means to be a New Zealander.  There are people who are legally New Zealand citizens who may never have visited the country (people born offshore to New Zealand citizens).  And there might some people brought here by their parents as children, who have lived here for decades and never been naturalised.  And although the legal status of someone naturalised yesterday and someone who has never left the country might be formally equal, in practice people in those two groups are likely to be thinking of different things when they label themselves “New Zealanders”.  Gabs Makhlouf and Peter Thiel –  two recipients of pieces of paper labelling them New Zealand citizens, not having met the conventional requirements for citizenship –  are New Zealanders for some purposes, but not for others.

But the fact that there is no single definition of a New Zealander does not mean that there is no New Zealand identity.  And the same could be said of almost any country in the world – representative Dutch people are different from Britons who are different from Italians who are different from Poles.  Of course, there is overlap –  plenty in some cases –  but senses of “how we do things here”, “what we value” etc differ from place to place, often in quite material ways.  And those differences aren’t just incidental (though some may well be); they go to how effectively societies function together –  to, for example, the trust and tacit knowledge that enables people to work effectively together, and feel secure.   There are economic dimensions to this –  trust is an integral part of a well-functioning market economy, and business cultures differ from place to place –  but it isn’t only a matter of economics.  We see the same thing with families –  within the bounds of trust that typically come to exist within well-functioning families, mutually-beneficial or sacrificial actions and transactions will occur that simply wouldn’t occur voluntarily for outsiders.

The Initiative largely skates over all these sorts of considerations.  Instead they pose the issue this way.

The public quite rightly wants reassurance that the kinds of migrants entering New Zealand are going to fit into our society and way of life. From the perspective of the authors (or at least as we aspire it to be), this way of life is characterised by
meritocracy, freedom of association and speech, and equality before law. Within New Zealand, people are free to pursue their beliefs, be they spiritual or corporeal, provided these do not impose on other people’s pursuit of the same.

The authors appear to define New Zealandness by “meritocracy, freedom of association and speech, and equality before the law”.  Perhaps those things do matter to most New Zealanders, but they wouldn’t mark New Zealand out from most other advanced countries.  And yet New Zealanders aren’t Dutch or Norwegian or French or Czech or even Irish or British.  All of those seem like good and prosperous countries, inhabited mostly by good and decent people.  And yet if a million French people moved to New Zealand, or 10 million Britons and French people swapped countries, the recipient countries would be distinctly different as a result.

The New Zealand Initiative just hasn’t come grips with the idea that countries differ from each other in many, perhaps individually small but cumulatively important ways, and that people in those countries value those features.  Not difference for difference’s sake, but simply that the society that has evolved here is different to that in, say, Norway, and that both we and the Norwegians probably rather like it that way –  even with a shared commitment to equality before the law, freedom of speech etc.

I’ve been loath to make the point, but in this context surely the backgrounds of the New Zealand Initiative people must be somewhat relevant.    The Initiative has eight policy/research/analysis staff.  At least five appear to have been adult migrants to New Zealand.  The ones I know are good and able people.  But most people –  even in New Zealand –  aren’t migrants.  And the tendency of someone who has left their own country (temporarily or permanently) and voluntarily migrated, in at least two cases (including the Initiative’s director, and one of the authors of this report) in just the current decade, must be to see things differently than people who are natives of a country.  It isn’t that those perspectives are invalid –  indeed, often they will add something ofconsiderable value – but that they make it difficult to see what is distinctive or tenaciously clung onto about New Zealand (or any other country), which the natives might wish to preserve.  You can’t easily share, or perhaps even identify, a national identity when it isn’t your nation.  The difficulty is compounded when you are based in downtown Wellington (or Auckland), probably interacting mostly with senior bureaucrats, politicians and business leaders.

The Initiative isn’t open slather.

The corollary of this expectation is the system should stop ‘undesirable’ people from moving to New Zealand. Undesirable is a broad term but in this context it means views and actions antithetical [emphasis added] to New Zealand culture. While broad, this definition would not exclude a law abiding person from settling in New Zealand simply because their race, creed or religious views differ from the majority. Our definition focuses instead on extremists who seek to impose their views on society by illegal or forceful means. An undesirable person in this context might be a white supremacist or a Muslim fundamentalist who wanted to move to New Zealand to break the law or incite others to do so.

So long as we vote our culture out of existence the Initiative apparently has no problem.  Process appears to trump substance.  For me, I wouldn’t have wanted a million Afrikaners in the 1980s, even if they were only going to vote for an apartheid system, not breaking the law to do so.  I wouldn’t have wanted a million white US Southerners in the 1960s, even if they were only going to vote for an apartheid system, and not break the law to do so.  And there are plenty of other obvious examples elsewhere –  not necessarily about people bringing an agenda, but bringing a culture and a set of cultural preferences that are different than those that have prevailed here (not even necessarily antithetical, but perhaps orthogonal, or just not that well-aligned).

When governments facilitate the inward migration of large numbers of people –  as ours is every year –  they are changing the local culture in the process.  Now, cultures and sense of national identity are not fixed and immutable things, but cultures also embed the things that the people of that country have come to value and which have produced value.  Those people (“natives”) typically aren’t seeking change for its own sake: the culture is in some sense the code “how we do things here”, that built what people value about the society in which they live.  Whether it is comfortable or not to say so, in the last few centuries, Anglo cultures have tended to be among the most stable, prosperous and free.  So it is far from obvious why should embrace change so enthusiastically, or why we would want to adopt the Initiative’s stance, and only want to exclude those whose views and actions are “antithetical” to our own, or who might want to topple our society illegally.

Perhaps if there were really substantial economic gains to New Zealanders from bringing the huge numbers of non-citizens to live in New Zealand it might be different. At very least, we might face the choice –  give up on some of our culture and sense of national identity in exchange for the economic gains.  In some respects, that was the choice Maori faced when the Europeans came –  a clearly more economically productive set of institutions etc, but on the other hand the progressive marginalisation of their own culture. Through some mix of consent and coercion –  increasingly the latter as the 19th century went on –  the choice was made, and then became effectively irrevocable.   But if there are such large economic gains on the table now, from the sorts of immigration programmes the Initiative has supported, and continues to support, they simply haven’t yet been demonstrated.

There is also a degree of naivete about the Initiative’s take on culture and/or religion (and the two overlap to a considerable extent).  Back in one of the earlier quotes, the Initiative argued that it was fine with people of whatever belief coming, and

Within New Zealand, people are free to pursue their beliefs, be they spiritual or corporeal, provided these do not impose on other people’s pursuit of the same.

They don’t seem to recognise that most people hold to beliefs that they think should influence how society is organised.  Even libertarians do. This is particularly obvious in Islam, which has never had a very strong distinction between ‘state’ and “church’, but it is no less true of Christianity.  Both are evangelistic religions, proclaiming what they believe to be true – and seeing truth as an absolute concept.  Both can, and have, survived at times and in places as minority faiths, but neither has ever been content to believe that its truths are just for its people, and not for export. I’m not so sure it is really much different either for today’s “social justice warriors”, or for libertarians –  whose proposed rule is, essentially, that we should all just leave each other alone (even though this has never been, and never seems likely to be, how human beings have chosen to organise themselves).

I’m not convinced that stable democratic societies can survive that long without a common culture and/or common religion (the two aren’t the same, but they overlap considerably, and necessarily).  It is hard to know.  We don’t have a long track record of democratic states –  a few hundred years at most (even if one doesn’t use universal suffrage as the standard), and then only for a handful of countries.  And the great mass migrations of the pre WW1 era were among countries the shared substantial elements of cultures (at least once the indigenous minorities had been more or less suppressed or numerically overwhelmed).  In the New Zealand or Australia (or Argentina, Uruguay, Chile) cases it was clear cut.  In the United States and Canada less so –  but the immigration was all from predominantly Christian countries, and severe immigration restrictions ended up being imposed when the foreign-born share of the US population was well below the foreign-born share of New Zealand’s population today.

What of today?  Perhaps the New Zealand and Australian stories are reasonably positive.  But the European situation seems rather less so, and that with Muslim minority populations that are typically not as high as 10 per cent of the population.  Sometimes federalism seems to help –  as in Quebec, or in Belgium, or Switzerland.

Democracy involves agreeing to live by a set of common rules, agreed by some sort of majoritarian process.  In almost any state, those rules include procedures for handling those least able to support themselves (whether it was Old Testament gleaning rules, the Poor Law, or the modern welfare system).  In a democracy, the willingness to help and support others is likely to be limited, to a considerable extent, to those with whom one feels a sense of shared identity.  The boundaries aren’t absolute, but revealed preference –  and introspection –  suggests that almost all of us are willing to do much more for our own families, and then perhaps for friends or members of other close communities of interest (neighbourhoods, church groups etc), and then for others in one’s own country, and only then for citizens of the world.  Is it a desirable model? I’m not sure. But it is human one, one that seems fairly ineradicable at a practical level.   Speaking personally, I don’t feel a strong sense of obligation to support someone down on their luck just because they became a New Zealander yesterday.  And I don’t feel a strong sense of obligation to support someone who won’t work to support themselves.  But I’m much more willing to vote my taxes to support those people than I am to support those down on their luck in Birmingham or Bangalore.  It is partly in that sense that “being a New Zealander” matters.  Mostly, humans will sacrifice for those with whom they sense a shared identity –  and generally that isn’t just the Initiative’s line about a shared belief in equality before the law, free speech etc etc (important to me as those things are).

Of course, what unites and divides a “country” or community changes over time.  In the wake of the Reformation, divisions between Protestants and Catholics were sufficiently important to each to make it practically impossible for both groups to co-exist for long in any numbers in the same territory/polity.  And, sure, multi-national multi-faith empires have existed for prolonged periods –  the Ottomans and Habsburgs were two examples – but not as democracies. Prudent repression can maintain stability for a long time.  But it isn’t the sort of regime that Anglo countries (and many others) have wanted to live under.

But the New Zealand Initiative report doesn’t seem to take seriously any of these issues, not even to rebut them.  They take too lightly what it means to maintain a stable democratic society, or even to preserve the interests and values of those who had already formed a commuity here.    I don’t want stoning for adultery, even if it was adopted by democratic preference.  And I don’t want a political system as flawed as Italy’s,even if evolved by law and practice.   We have something very good in New Zealand, and we should nurture and cherish it.  It mightn’t be –  it isn’t –  perfect, but it is ours, and has evolved through our own choices and beliefs.  For me, as a Christian, I’m not even sure how hospitable the country/community any longer is to my sorts of beliefs – the prevalent “religion” here is now secularism, with all its beliefs and priorities and taboos – but we should deal with those challenges as New Zealanders – not having politicians and bureaucrats imposing their preferences on future population composition/structure.

But the New Zealand Initiative report seems to concerned about nothing much more than the risk of terrorism.

A commonly cited concern in the immigration debate is of extremism. The fear of importing extremism through the migration channel is not unreasonable. The bombing of the Brussels Airport in 2016, in which 32 people were killed, or the Bataclan theatre attack in Paris where 90 people were murdered, shows just how real the risk is.

The report devotes several pages to attempting to argue that (a) the risk is small in New Zealand because we do such a good job of integrating immigrants, and (b) that the immigration system isn’t very relevant to this risk anyway.

The point they simply never mention is that in many respects New Zealand has been fortunate.  For all the huge number of migrants we’ve taken over the years, only a rather small proportion have been Muslim.    There is, no doubt, a good reason for failing to mention that, as on the Initiative’s own criteria outlined above, they would not object to large-scale Muslim immigration.

Of course, there is something in what the Initiative says about integration, and it tends to help that although our immigration programme doesn’t bring in very many highly-skilled people, it hasn’t involved a mass migration of unskilled people either (who often find it harder to integrate etc).  But it is an overdone point.  They highlight Germany –  perhaps reflecting the Director’s background –  where integration of Turkish migrants hasn’t worked particularly well over the decades, while barely mentioning the United Kingdom which is generally regarding as having done a much better job, and yet where middle class second generation terrorists and ISIS fighters have been a real and serious threat.  Here is the Guardian’s report on comments just the other day from a leading UK official –  the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation –  that the UK now faces a level of threat not seen since the IRA in the 1970s.  Four Lions was hilarious, but it only made sense in a context where the issue –  the terror threat –  is real.

But the Initiative argues that few terrorists are first generation immigrants, and some come on tourist or student visas (eg the 9/11 attackers) and so the immigration system isn’t to blame, or the source of a solution.  I’d largely agree when it comes to tourists, and perhaps even to students –  although why our government continues to pursue students from Saudi Arabia, at least one of whom subsequently went rogue having become apparently become radicalised in New Zealand, is another question.   But there are no second generation people if there is no first generation immigration of people from countries/religions with backgrounds that create a possibility of that risk.  Of course the numbers are small, and most people –  Islamic or not –  are horrified at the prospect of terrorism, or of their children taking their path.  But no non-citizens have a right to settle in New Zealand, and we can reduce one risk  –  avoiding problems that even Australia faces – by continuing to avoid material Muslim migration.

Having said that, I remain unconvinced that terrorism is the biggest issue.  Terrorists don’t pose a national security risk.  Whatever their cause, they typically kill a modest number of people, in attacks that are shocking at the time, and devastating to those killed.  But they simply don’t threaten the state –  be it France, Belgium, Netherlands, the US, or Europe.  Perhaps what they do is indirectly threaten our freedoms –  the surveillance state has become ever more pervasive, even here in New Zealand, supposedly (and perhaps even practically) in our own interests.

The bigger issue is simply that people from different cultures don’t leave those cultures (and the embedded priors) behind when they move to another country –  even if, in principle, they are moving because of what appeals about the new country.  In small numbers, none of it matters much.  Assimilation typically absorbs the new arrivals.  In large numbers, from quite different cultures, it is something quite different.  A million French people here might offer some good and some bad features.  Same goes for a million Chinese or Filipinos.  But the culture –  the code of how things are done here, here they work here –  is changed in the process.  There is no necessary reason to suppose that those changes are in the interests of the native population.  Perhaps some are, some times.  At one level, I’m still convinced most Maori are economically better off as a result of large scale immigration here in the 19th century.  But others won’t be.  We don’t have a million French people here, or a million Chinese, but we do have 25 per cent or more of the population born abroad, increasingly from a range of countries with whom we have not historically shared a culture.

Is it a problem?  Views will differ, but the Initiative simply doesn’t confront what the large scale immigration they support might mean for the New Zealand of native New Zealanders.  The real issues aren’t about ethnic cuisine, or even buttressing the All Blacks, but about the values and priorities of the new arrivals, and just the ability of a common culture to facilitate life –  economic and otherwise –  together.   There are plenty of advocates of cultural “diversity” and “superdiversity”, but little evidence that such diversity makes countries better for the ordinary native resident.

On which note, I was interested in this piece the other day from the generally pro-immigration Tyler Cowen

The assimilation problem in fact comes from the longstanding native-born Americans, often of more traditional stock.  The country around them has changed rapidly, and they do not assimilate so well to the new realities.  And since they are not self-selected migrants who know they will face hardship, they are not always so inclined to internalize a “suck it up” kind of attitude.  Many complain, others settle into niches of failure or mediocre careers.

In this regard, encouraging the actual arriving immigrants to assimilate better or faster can make the actual assimilation problem worse, because it will change the home culture more rapidly too.

Often, the real impact of immigration is not on wages or electoral outcomes, but it is the assimilation burdens placed on some of the longer-standing traditional natives of the home country.  And the more productive and successful the immigrants are, the more serious these problems may become.

Something to think about.  Especially, perhaps, when as in New Zealand the key advocates of large scale immigration –  be it politicians of both stripes, officials or the New Zealand Initiative –  can’t actually show, whether by formal empirical studies or well-reasoned narrative economic history, that New Zealanders have benefited much, if at all, from the continuing large scale immigration programme.

And for anyone interested, I wrote a short piece on diversity, immigration etc for a forum the Goethe Institute ran in Wellington in 2015.  My text is here.

And now I can get back to the economics –  arguments that apply (or perhaps don’t) whether the immigrants are from Birmingham, Buenos Aires or Beijing.

25 thoughts on “New Zealand Initiative on immigration: Part 3 Culture and Identity

  1. Agreed. A joy to read and definitely it will benefit from re-reading.
    “And the tendency of someone who has left their own country and voluntarily migrated must be to see things differently than people who are natives of a country” – True. And of course this is the benefit of cultural diversity – e.g. my PNG relatives can give most Kiwis useful lessons in caring for a baby.
    Just as fish don’t appreciate water we don’t appreciate our culture. At least not until someone mentions how a woman can walk home safely at night or how the local politicians actually do catch buses and are not exceptional wealthy.
    However you can gain cultural insights by the classic kiwi OE; who needs immigration?


    • “…to those with whom one feels a sense of shared identity. The boundaries aren’t absolute, but revealed preference – and introspection – suggests that almost all of us are willing to do much more for our own families, and then perhaps for friends or members of other close communities of interest (neighbourhoods, church groups etc), and then for others in one’s own country, and only then for citizens of the world.”
      Initial response is a set of concentric circles of identity that strengths as you approach the centre. But just as we identify with family more strongly than with siblings I find I have a much stronger identity with NZ than I do with Auckland where I have spent at least 99.9% of my New Zealand life. That is the basis of my instinctive objection to ATEED with its competition for tourists with the remainder of NZ.


  2. Good Points. Often proponents of our large scale migration programme trumpet the benefits in terms of cultural diversity. Of course this implies that immigrants bring their culture with them. Every culture has its good and bad aspects, and I think there is a risk that some migrants may bring negative cultural traits and increase the prevalence in New Zealand. For example economist George Borjas in his book We Wanted Workers discusses a study of the parking habits of diplomats in New York City. The study shows that diplomats who came from countries with high levels of corruption — Egypt, Senegal, Pakistan, Ivory Coast, and Morocco — were much more likely to park illegally and then ignore their fines. Whereas those from less corrupt countries such as Norway and Australia were less likely to do so. This is just one example of a negative cultural trait that can be imported. Anyone who follows the news in NZ is aware of the relatively large number of cases where recent immigrants from India have been underpaying their staff, evading tax, and committing immigration fraud. Now I’m not saying that only Indians are responsible for this, but if negative traits are more common amongst certain groups, then as those groups migrate to NZ, then those traits can also become more common here.

    There seems to be little evidence for the benefits of immigration. And certainly there is no rigorous research in the NZ context. Like most of NZ political decision making the current policy settings seemed to be based on ideology rather than facts and sound analysis.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “There seems to be little evidence for the benefits of immigration.” Apart, I guess, from the overwhelming international consensus from serious and competent economic studies that immigration is economically beneficial.

      By contrast, there’s essentially no evidence for the proposition that immigration is harmful. Resorting to ideology (“I don’t trust Johnny Foreigner”) rather than facts and evidence is actually a feature of the anti-immigration, Peters-type, crowd.


      • Glancing thru my post I can’t easily see the quote you are referring to, but as you know (from other exchanges elsewhere) my prime focus is on New Zealand, where there is no simply demonstrated evidence of the gains to natives from large scale immigration programmes. As I noted in this post:

        “But if there are such large economic gains on the table now, from the sorts of immigration programmes the Initiative has supported, and continues to support, they simply haven’t yet been demonstrated.”

        I’m quite open to the possibilty of such gains – for a long time I probably just assumes they were there – but the advocates don’t seem able to demonstrate them,. whether thru quantitative empirical studies or well-reasoned narrative economic history. I’d hoped the Initiative’s report would take us further towards demonstrating such gains.

        Meanwhile, as George Borgas noted in his NYT op-ed yesterday, even in the US best estimates for the economic gains to natives from immigration to the US are pretty small (and likely to be accruing to those at the top of the income distribution, probably at modest net cost to those at the bottom.

        Geography and location matter. It isn’t an original insight, but NZ enthusiasts of large scale immigration seem reluctant to grapple with the importance of the issues.

        As for “ideology”, of course it plays a role in everyone’s arguments about the organisation of society – it suffuses the Initiative report for example. But as I noted, tradeoffs can be real. Even if one favoured a relatively homogeneous culture, one might nevertheless welcome some diverse immigration if it could be shown that in that specific time/place that immigration might have substantial net econ benefits to the natives. Advocates simply haven’t made that case – the Initiative seemed reduced to trying to “deduce” then (their word), rather than demonstrate them.


      • What we consider undesirable traits like bribery and corruption can actually be seen as a practical solution to a problem. I attended a community objection meeting held by a business in Otahuhu and Auckland Council with respect to smell control. There were 5 objectors on one side of the table and there were 3 Council Staff and 5 company officials and 2 smell control engineers on the other side of the table. As the business was located in a residential zone, there was a zero smell tolerance.

        This business had to spend $18 million dollars in zero tolerance smell control engineering with bio filters, smell detection units, burners, sealed air conditioned factories etc because 5 neighbouring properties kept complaining about objectionable smells. It was clear to me that the residential property owners wanted a payout from this business employing 300 people and kept objecting year after year. I am pretty sure if the business just bribed each property owner it would have worked out much much cheaper than the $18 million they had to fork out for state of the art smell filter engineering. But because they could not bribe under NZ laws. The cost to do business here in NZ just escalated year after year as they have to run whenever anyone screams it is too smelly today.


      • I’m all for allowing property owners to negotiate, and for a clear assignment of property rights. Nonetheless, the least corrupt countries globally seem on average to be among the wealthiest and most productive.


      • The problem with nuisance payments is where negotiated settlements end and bribery starts.


      • Glenn Boyle if you have some “serious and competent” economic studies that show the economic benefits of immigration to existing NZ citizens please provide some references. Certainly despite the massive immigration programme the government is running the per capita GDP growth is very weak, and we have failed to close the income gap on other advanced economies. Taking into account the strains on infrastructure such as transport, waste water etc and the incredibly unaffordable housing I think the evidence points to the current policy being far from a success. Supporters of the current high levels of immigration are quick to try and shut down debate by accusing opponents of being racists or Winston Peters supporters, yet provide no evidence of their own to support the policy.


  3. Several years ago I was dealing with a young couple with two children as part of my work. They had recently arrived from the UK. l asked them what had prompted them to up sticks and move to the other side of the world. The response; too many immigrants. While the irony may have escaped them the message was clear; they no longer felt at home and comfortable in the country of their birth and that their values were no longer the norm. I guess some would claim they were xenophobic or worse but I didn’t feel they were like that at all.
    We are getting folk leaving Auckland because of genuine concern with the rapid changes in the make up of their neighbourhood. Why has no one asked them if they wanted these changes, they seem like an imposed ideology as Tony has said above.


    • Why has no one asked ….. not an economics question …. therefore of very little interest … however the underlying forces that lead to those life-changing decisions are fundamental to the economics of change


  4. Evidence

    Surprise … Surprise ….no mention of … in depth-study … in our own backyard …
    The Australian Productivity Commission concluded that any benefits from migration to Australia were captured by migrants and there were few if any discernible economic benefits to Australians


    • I have just completed a review of the New Zealand Initiatives economic
      “Alternative facts’: A review of the New Zealand initiatives immigration economics”. Will be available tomorrow at tail

      It does not present a positive picture.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. hmmm, interesting stuff; but I’m not sure immigration policies/actual flows have been ‘imposed’ on NZ natives or that somehow they have been hoodwinked into thinking immigration is a definitive net benefit; would have thought if there was sufficient angst within the voting population that immigration policies were deplorable, it would have gained traction at the voting booth? maybe it will..


  6. ‘hoodwinked”? No, I wouldn’t go anywhere near that far. The policy elites, including political leaders from both sides of the spectrum have convinced themselves there is a material net benefit, and of course they hold the levers of power. The public probably aren’t sure, but when things haven’t gone dramatically awry here (only slowly: the productivity underperformance) and the great and the good are all of one mind, it probably isn’t that surprising that people more or less go along. Depending how the question is framed, one can get quite different answers on public support for NZ immigration policy, but the Initiative do quote some MBIE polling which appeared to show that when the public were told the size of the residence approvals programme, there was a net balance in favour of reducing the flow. On my telling, there is no conspiracy, just some misguided misapplied thinking by the political and bureaucratic elites.


    • I don’t think there is any misguided misapplied thinking. Our politicians are elected on the basis of their public relations skills and the best handshakes and not on their great thinking abilities. Government policy is driven by the the practical workings of our government departments and polls. In the issue of migrants and the type of migrants and skills is practically driven by local industry needs.


      • We try to persuade children of the difference between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’. It is easier for a businessman to get an immigrant than it is to change our society to educate our unskilled underclass.


      • Small business owner Mary Lambie has criticised “absolutely useless” young New Zealand workers – and praised immigrants’ “fabulous” work ethics. “They were useless. Absolutely useless. Particularly young Kiwi men. I’m talking, sort of, under 21. Unreliable, dishonest, lazy.”

        “I never had a problem with any of the immigrants, so what I wanna say is: the immigrants saved the business. They really did, and at the end of the day, I had all Indians in the end, and they were fabulous.”


  7. Very eloquent and thoughtful treatment of a difficult topic, Michael. Your interweaving of knowledge of history, social choice and social capital made the piece a delight to read.

    I migrated to NZ from the US in 1978 – and what I just plain soaked up and thrived in about the cultural difference between my US upbringing NZ introduction was the social and ethnic diversity NZ offered me. A lot had to do with my husband’s (a Kiwi) widely diverse social circle but it was more than that. On reflection, I think it was the (then) egalitarian nature of NZ – NZ’s implementation of capitalist democracy saw little dividing different socioeconomic and/or educational or income ‘classes’ of the people we associated with or the people I worked with – both in town/city and country at the time. I recall that the tea lady and office cleaner was treated with as much respect and camaraderie as anyone else… in fact probably more. There seemed to be a true fondness amongst NZers for the people who did the hard-yard physical labour in the community and their remuneration reflected capitalism-NZ style’s appreciation of that with a proper living wage.

    I can’t help but think it all changed with neoliberalism under Lange/Douglas – and furthered even more so under Bolger/Richardson with the Employment Contracts Act – and that as a society we simply haven’t been able to work our way back out of those negative economic effects.

    Wistful thinking – prompted by your excellent prose.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Getgreatstuff that News Hub link is appalling. Is it now OK to denigrate an entire age group and nationality? I thought that sort of thing was illegal. Bill English is no better with his outrageous drugged up Kiwis nonsense.
    Mary and Bill; you can’t do that.
    Can you imagine the reaction if they had said Indians or Chinese were lazy, dishonest, and absolutely useless druggies. This is getting ridiculous now, the Race Relations outfit have acted on far less serious breaches.
    I worked alongside young Kiwis (20 to 30 Y.O.) when we built our house recently. I was impressed with the work ethic and the culture generally. If anyone was a bit slow they got a good natured tune up from the workmates, they worked with pride and precision in a difficult job. Bunging a sandwich together at Mary Lambie’s takeaway has no comparison.


  9. Excellent commentary Mike.
    I am intrigued by the total intransigence shown by politicians over the issue of immigration and more and more people are wondering why politicians will not front up and discuss immigration honestly.
    The Australian target of 400,000 and I believe the National Party manifesto had a figure of 60,000, seem to be planned in some way rather than plucked out of the air.
    I have my own idea about their origin.
    The lack of discussion with constituents over this and other issues underlines an arrogance that has grown among politicians that have forgotten what they are there for.


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