So it was instructive to read the recent news coming out of Japan. This is a country that has followed a policy of very strict immigration for many years. And it has worked. They have indeed kept out the immigrants. In return they have an average age for their citizens of 47.5 years and that is rising. That is six years higher than the UK and in Tanzanaia the average age is only 17.7.
The consequences are very simple. Japan has an ageing population and not enough young people to care for them. Schools are suffering not because of overcrowding. They are being closed because there aren't enough children in the locality. At the same time old folks homes are bursting at the seams. The population of Japan has dropped by over one million in recent years. The country has a national debt that is in excess of 300% of GNP and it is growing. That is way more than Greece. It has also suffered over 30 years of economic stagnation and is now encountering increasingly efficient competition not just from China but from almost the whole of South East China. Every time the government makes serious efforts to boost the economy it finds that its ageing citizens simply squirrel away the stimulus in the hope that it will give them a safe retirement fund and little happens to improve the economy. Instead the debts get worse.
The evidence from Japan is I think clear and simple. If you want a lot of old people with not enough folks to pay for their care and an economy that was once successful but is now in a serious mess then get rid of immigration.
Immigration brings huge benefits to an economy. Immigrants tend to be young, energetic, ready to take on new challenges and open minded about the future. Study after study consistently shows that a higher proportion of immigrants work than is the case for the rest of the population in their new home and a much smaller proportion of them are ill, drawing benefits or receiving retirement incomes. If you are feckless lazy and interested in living off other people then you have to show a lot of determination and get up and go to travel across a continent and find somewhere new simply in order to live off welfare.
Immigrants tend to bring new cultures into a country and the mix of those cultures tends to increase the creativity of the receiving country. The USA benefitted hugely for years by constantly renewing its population with wave after wave of immigration. It is now the richest large economy in the world.
In the UK we have the benefit of a great number of young doctors and nurses who have come into this country and are an incredibly important factor in enabling us to look out for our senior citizens. Those elderly people are often immensely grateful to the individual immigrant doctor shortly after their successful operation. Yet remarkable numbers of those same elderly people seem to think that immigration is the biggest problem the UK faces. It isn't. New people of working age are an asset.
In a world of huge disparities of income between rich and poor nations there is I fully accept no option other than to maintain immigration controls at the present. Borders do need policing and rules do need to be in place about the size and the scale of immigration.
But let us never forget that when a country turns its back on all immigration and starts to regard all immigrants as a source of problems rather than a source of strength it tends to cause immense damage to the economic and social welfare of everyone in that country.
I am old enough to remember a major scare when the Asians were kicked out of Uganda and arrived in the UK with nothing. The press was full of horror stories for weeks about how the UK was full up and couldn't possibly look after any more immigrants. We were told we had to look after our own. Yet we now find that several of the top employers in the country came into the UK on those planes. The businesses they built up now provide jobs to many of the people who worried about whether we should let them in.
We are now being told that we must pull out of the EU or we'll be swamped by immigration. There is absolutely no truth in this. Indeed if you worry about immigration you'd vote to stay in EU. There are well over a million UK ex pats living in the EU who won't be able to carry on doing so after an exit vote because they need access to health care. Inside the EU they can get that in Spain or France and it is good quality. Outside the EU they lose rights to anything they haven't directly contributed to. So a lot of ailing people would come back to be a burden on the NHS.
Then there is the issue of the camps at Calais. Anyone who believes that we are going to remove those camps and keep out those pesky refugees by pulling out of the EU is going to be badly disappointed by the outcome of an exit vote. Why would France or Belgium maintain camps for Syrian refugees in places like Calais if the UK is out of the EU? Why wouldn't they simply let them on the ferries and leave the UK to sort out any problems on their own soil? The result of an exit would be to increase the number of refugees arriving from the EU massively.
If we really want to tackle the refugee crisis then there are some serious actions that we would take. Firstly we could stop selling arms to regimes such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia who helped to start the problems and are now helping to continue them. Then we could financially support and assist countries like Tunisia which need serious help to avoid becoming another source of chaos and misery and a further increase to the number of desperate refugees. Thirdly we could set up a proper programme of investment in jobs, education, health and homes for people in countries where they currently live in makeshift camps. Why would anyone think that Greece and Italy are capable of looking after and helping millions of refugees without massive help whilst Britain is only capable of closing its borders? Is the Greek economy suddenly magically so strong that it is reasonable to ask this of Greece? Finally the UK ought to take steps to help significantly more than the pathetically small number of 4,000 people a year that we are currently committed to help.
There is also one final reason why we should be doing much more to help out in the current refugee crisis. It is the morally right thing to do. "These" people that so many people say that we can't possibly help are exactly that. They are real people who are suffering through no fault of their own. We can choose to be mean spirited selfish neighbours. Or we can do a lot more to help. It isn't right to watch a picture of a young boy lying dead on a tourist beach and be upset about it for a week or two and then shrug your shoulders and start saying there are too many of "them" and we must focus on our own problems. And the beauty of helping others by allowing a reasonable degree of immigration is that for once morality is its own reward. Almost all economists agree that immigration actually helps the economy of the country that does the right thing. As the Japanese are now finding out the hard way.