Monday, 19 April 2010

Panorama and migration

Vaguely watching this dull Panorama, sensationalised and tabloid as all Parorama documentaries have become, about population pressures in the UK, concentrating, it will not surprise you, on blaming it all on immigrants: "there's a widespread belief that migrants get preferential access to housing...[insert glaring lack of any attempt to actually answer whether this is the case or not]"

But I was struck by the figure of immigration benefiting the UK by "only 60p per person per week" (contrast this with Migration Watch's previous figure of 4p) apparently sourced from this Lords report (although I can't find that specific figure), and contrasted with the 'misleading' government use of the benefit to GDP of immigration.:
The total size of an economy is not an index of prosperity. The focus of analysis should rather be on the effects of immigration on income per head of the resident population.

The report makes an interesting point about how while in the short term migrants fill vacancies in he economy but in the long term the economy proportionately expands (increasing vacancies again). But in emphasising the raw monetary figure of per capita increase in GDP I think it is equally if not more misleading than the government approach. In particular I take issue with their rejection of the argument that a large proportion of the UK population are not of working age, whereas new immigrants are largely young or working age such that they swell the (shrinking) working age population which contributes (proportionately) the majority to the economy and state coffers - so that dividing immigrant contributions over the whole population is unfair because they are largely not addding to the dead wood of the non-working populace (who actually cause most of the costs to the state). The report says:
Arguments in favour of high immigration to defuse the “pensions time bomb” do not stand up to scrutiny as they are based on the unreasonable assumption of a static retirement age as people live longer and ignore the fact that, in time, immigrants too will grow old and draw pensions. Increasing the retirement age, as the Government has done, is the only viable approach to resolving this issue...
 Lord Turner argued that as people live longer, it is reasonable to assume that the extra years of life are divided between working years and retirement so as to keep roughly stable the proportions of life spent working and retired. Under this assumption, half of the projected increase in the dependency ratio disappears, when compared with the simplistic case in which the retirement age stays unchanged.
First of all I'd like to make clear that it is generally considered that for every additional year of life expectancy you can expect at best 6 months of relative health and 6 months of ill-health such that the policy of incrementally increasing the retirement age with life expectancy is basically aiming to work the populace until they are sick and to erode the few years of healthy retirement they might otherwise have expected*. It is also worth noting that immigrants can have a tendency to return to their country of origin after a few years. So while it is true that increasing the working age population will increase the number of retired people eventually (although to a lesser extent in the first generation due to decreased life expectancy compared to the UK population as a whole) it is still more sustainable in the short term than increasing the retirement age until people are being worked right to their death beds (in order to pay for the current older generation's nice early retirements at 60-65yrs old with over 10 yrs of life expectancy). 

In this vein, if we're going to talk about how much immigrants add in 'per capita GDP' we have to compare them to other members of the population - old people or the unemployed for instance - what do they cost in per capita GDP?  Averaging over a homogeneous UK 'indigenous' population is completely misleading because compared to significant proportions of the UK population immigrants use much lower poroportions of national expenditure.  The question should be how many 'indigenous' people does each immigrant support? And 'per capita GDP' can't answer this.

To look at it another way, if we consider a British person who contributes exactly the average per capita GDP to the country, are they having zero effect on the country or a net benefit? According to the 'per capita GDP' measure of economic contribution they are giving nothing to the country - despite working, paying taxes etc. - whereas common sense shows that they are helping to pay for those people who are a net cost to GDP (the economically inactive like the old, the young, the sick, the unemployed).

* Another gift from 'The Most Selfish Generation'

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

BBC distorting the news

This story was widely reported in the news today:
Preventable diseases in children are reaching epidemic proportions that could see a generation dying before their parents, doctors at a leading children's hospital have warned.
But this story is obviously related to this BBC documentary:
With unprecedented access to Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, Panorama meets the kids and the paediatricians treating them, and follows them home in an attempt to uncover the root cause of their problems. Reporter Richard Bilton soon discovers that some of the basic health messages from the doctors are not getting through to the parents.
So either Alder Hey have been sending out press releases to coincide with BBC documentaries or the BBC have done so themselves, either way it is a real distortion of the news agenda for the day to present this story without pointing out the BBC's role - unfortunately this seems to be more and more common. A particularly stark example can be seen when the Today programme interview someone then the news bulletin seconds later reports a throwaway comment (often the result of bizarre questions and extensive badgering all designed to get a specific response) as if it is some groundbreaking announcement (normally quoting it out of context).

So today's health news was dominated by essentially an advert for a BBC documentary. Maybe there was something worth saying but the media really need to be more transparent about what is driving the news agenda. 

Monday, 5 April 2010

Gotta persecute me some Christians

Amusingly partisan documentary on the 'persecution' of Christians. Damn those 'New Atheists', still at it. Of course I have some form, after all, 'ultimately you are either for or against baby Jesus', oh why do I hate the baby Jesus so?
"It is true that a number of muslims have failed to win the right to wear the full veil at work, but even so..."