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Wasted lives

Posted by Helen Tuesday, April 01, 2008 ,

The much-trumpeted though somewhat misunderstood House of Lords Report on the effect immigration has had on the economic life of this country makes some very interesting and highly intelligent points as you would expect from a Select Committee in the Upper House, attacked and undermined though it has been. (Incidentally, I strongly recommend that people should read the whole report or at least the conclusions and recommendations and not rely on the Daily Mail for information.)

While there is evidence that some parts of British society have benefited from immigrants who have taken jobs here on various levels (there can be no doubt that immigrants who merely seek welfare cannot be of any real benefit to a country) others, often children of previous waves of immigrants, have lost out.

What comes across most clearly is that there is little basis for any definite statement to be made because there has been no study done on the subject. For various reasons, I imagine, it would be very difficult to do a thorough study of such a complex issue though their lordships strongly recommend that this should be done.

One particular point is that the influx of immigrants tends to hide certain structural problems in the host country. Thus, cheap labour may well prevent innovation. This is not a new problem. We are still paying for the choice made by those who ran London Transport in the early fifties to bring in cheap labour rather than invest in technical advance.

Moving on from there, the influx of a better qualified, better educated, willing labour force, much of which comes from other EU member states, so there is nothing the government can do about it, as the Report makes it clear, pushes the severe problems we have with our education and training system out of sight and, thus, out of mind.

The problems with a large proportion of the young people brought up and educated in our schools and colleges cannot be solved simply by easier hiring and firing rules. No business wants to keep hiring and firing and few have the capacity to deal with the semi-literate, anumerate, ill-disciplined youngsters so many of our educational establishments seem to produce by the thousand. As long as there are others to take the jobs these people cannot do, the problems can be ignored.

There is yet another problem that is rarely discussed, though it ties in with this blog’s perennial favourite – the regulatory structure. I have been providing a last editorial gloss to a forthcoming Bruges Group pamphlet (I do have a life, honest, it’s just that it seems to have gone AWOL) on the cost of regulation and how the EU makes it worse.

It will be a very interesting paper and I strongly recommend that our readers get hold of it when it is published. There are good examples and excellent arguments as to how the situation we are in has come about as well as the price we have to pay in our freedom disappearing and our economy contracting and becoming considerably less robust because of fear.

William Mason, the author goes through the concept of precautionary principle and how it has become a stumbling block to economic and social existence; he also explains how the European and British sides interact and posits that with many layers in politics there is a competition in regulations. Who will produce more and tighter ones?

Above all, he minces no words about the way the European Union needs regulations for its existence and purpose, that is the integration of the various and different economies of the member states. Regulations in whatever form is the lifeblood of the EU, which has little enough as a basis for its existence.

There is one argument missing, though, and it rarely crops up in any cost/benefit analysis – the wasted lives of people who have to service this Moloch. We all know, thanks to the Taxpayers’ Alliance about the amount various politicians and officials earn and receive in perks at different levels. We hear a great deal about the five-a-day-outreach-workers and the gender-equality-counsellors but this is really the icing on the cake.

The point about the overwhelming and suffocating regulatory structure we live under is that it needs people to administer and service it. Every year it sucks in thousands of young and not so young people, who could be working in the more useful, economically active sectors or professions but who spend their lives within the regulatory structure. The opportunity costs thus become much greater than anything assumed so far.

The need for them grows year by year and this has spread to the educational establishments. Of all the problems we have with our higher education degrees in Media Studies is the least of it. They are not useful but their only harm is in the time and many thousands of pounds wasted.

Bad enough, of course, but not as terrible as some other degrees. Think of the students who have degrees in Social Policy or Social Administration or numerous other subjects of that kind. These are not simply useless or expensive, they are actively harmful.

The point is that with those degrees only the least useful part of the public sector is open to you. You cannot be a teacher or a doctor or a nurse or a prison warder or even a gardener in a public park, let alone go into the wealth-crating private sector. All you can be is an administrator in the regulatory sector.

The more students emerge with these ghastly pseudo-degrees the more jobs are needed for them and the less likely they are to contribute anything useful to our society. They may not be completely illiterate and are, perhaps, tolerably numerate; they certainly know how to dress and behave themselves at work; but as far as employability is concerned they are no better than those youngsters who get turned out of our schools with no qualification or knowledge whatsoever to lead a life of frustration.

The annual loss of many thousands of people who should be doing something useful but are, instead, serving the great god regulation is another high price we are paying and it is one that we may not be able to afford for much longer.