Michael Fullilove, of the Lowy Institute, last week gave a speech espousing the established (non-radical) centrist view that more immigration to Australia is highly desirable – that migration is an essential step to A Bigger Australia.
I like immigration. In fact, my gut supports something a flea’s dick away from open borders, and my head constantly feels its not being fair dinkum when trying to justify policy much more restrictive than that.
Yet I am utterly unconvinced by the Bigger Australia arguments, of which Fullilove is but one proponent.
I like immigration because of the (modest) benefits to existing Australians, and the (immense) benefits to new Australians.
It is probably the single best way Australian policy can help the welfare of humanity (whether measured in in crude economic metrics like GWP or otherwise), but entails costs that are so modest we’ve had to create a vigourous passtime imagining them on talkback radio and odious comment threads1.
In short, my gut tells me that the freedom and productivity of people can be immensely increased by a free choice to move country, at no net cost to others, then restricting that choice is not just irrational, it is deeply immoral, whatever the practical politics are.
But it does not seem to be welfare of Australians old and new that motivates a Bigger Australia advocate, and least not primarily. Their concerns do not seem to lie with Australians, but an entity called Australia.
Fullilove automatically links a more populous Australia with bigger defence budgets. Big Militaries are something Big Nations Do. He invokes the weight a Bigger Australia can have at international summits, and that a bigger force of DFAT bureacrats is needed for the Bigger Australia to throw its bigger bulk around.
We seem to be coming to the similar policies in radically different ways.
I always see Australia as a collection of people, current and future, living their lives and engaging with the world. Part of this involves granting responsibilities to a state, because there are some things states are good at. But this is but one part of Australia. Immigration provides benefits to both current and future Australians, and it is because Australians benefit, that Australia that they collectively make up is better. In this view Australia is greater than China, because Australians live better.
The Australia of invoked by Bigger Australia advocates is the state. More people grant more power for representatives of the Australian state when speaking to representatives of other states. This Australia only engages internationally through diplomats, other engagements like trade, culture and romance may occur, but they are not Australia engaging. In this view Australia is lesser than China, because China’s representatives have more capacity to make others cower.
Are we coming from different, but undeclared and unexamined philosophical foundations?
I guess I absorbed, conciously or not, an English speaking tradition through Locke, Hobbes, Smith, Mills, Bentham and Rawls. People matter, states exist to serve them in some tasks.
But does that mean that a sizable part of orthodox centrism, of which Fullilove is but a part, has absorbed the thought of Hegel and others in Koenigsburg? The state is the highest representation of the will of the people – its acts are their acts and by serving it they serve themselves?
How on earth could this occur? How on earth did it become conventional wisdom that migration was good, not necessarily for the good it does for people, but to boost the government in G20 pissing contests?
We are rapidly approaching the centenary of the August Madness of 1914, yet National Greatness has entered centrist wisdom as an unexamined Good Thing again.
1 and were our planning policy less gerontocratically anti-housing, the costs would be lower still.