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How do we persuade sceptics of the value of immigration?; overcoming the politics of pessimism

Image thanks to Max Pixel

By Philippe Legrain

Openness to immigration is a good thing, as I hope you agree. But how can we persuade moderate sceptics? Presenting rational arguments and evidence is important, but often insufficient.

As part of its excellent Open Future series, The Economist has published an open essay by Philippe Legrain on this topic.

The first part is out today, and the subsequent parts will feature readers’ best comments. So please take a look and add your ideas.

Here are six quick suggestions:

  • Personal stories. People generally relate more to personal stories-such as that of Paulette Wilson, a retired cook who previously worked at the House of Commons, who was wrongly arrested and threatened with deportation by the British government-than to dry statistics.
  • Social contact. Fear of “the other” tends to dissipate when people get to know each other. So getting people to mix more would help.
  • Appeal to emotions. Opponents of immigration whip up fear and hate. As well as appealing to compassion for immigrants, supporters could tap into patriotism, arguing how openness makes a country great.
  • Emphasise what unites us. Diversity is great; so is what people in a particular place have in common.
  • Appeal to other people’s values. Liberal values such as individual freedom and equal rights leave some people cold. But Trump voters may be swayed by stories about immigrants who fought for America; traditionalists may be persuaded by highlighting how Latino immigrants share their family values.
  • Address people’s underlying concerns. As well as pointing out that immigrants aren’t to blame for unemployment, stagnant wages or stretched public services, politicians need to implement policies to address these problems.

Read the essay here.

A big reason why Western politics is in such disarray is voters’ pessimism about the future. According to the Pew Research Center, 60% of Westerners believe today’s children will be “worse off financially than their parents“. Europeans are particularly gloomy. To paraphrase the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, they expect youngsters’ lives to be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish – and long.

When people doubt that progress is possible, they tend to fear change of any kind. Rather than focusing on opportunities, they see threats everywhere and hold on tighter to what they have. Distributional cleavages come to the fore – toxically so when overlaid with identity clashes.

Western politics can become rosier again, but only if politicians first address the root causes of the gloom.

Read Philippe Legrain’s column for Project Syndicate that sets out the big changes needed to foster a politics of liberal and progressive optimism, which is the basis for promoting open economies, open societies and open minds.

As Donald Trump today imposes steel tariffs on the US’s Nato allies on bogus national-security grounds, threatening a trade war not just with China but with Canada and the EU too, Philippe’s March piece for Foreign Policy on what a global trade war would entail is well worth re-reading. Read it here.


In an insight piece for the Centre for European Reform, OPEN fellow Sam Lowe ponders why the EU was willing to discuss financial services in its ill-starred trade negotiations with the US, but refuses to do with the UK.

Our friends at the Center for Global Development in Washington DC have just a launched a new programme on migration and development.

Migration is What You Make It“, an excellent paper by Michael Clemens and colleagues, sets out 7 ways in which policymakers can turn challenges into opportunities.

Facts and figures:

$178 billion: US car imports in 2016, on which President Trump has threatened to impose punitive tariffs of up to 25%. Source: MIT Atlas

25%: the proportion of asylum seekers who arrived in Germany in 2015 who now have a job. On current trends, 50% will be employed in 2020, compared to the overall labour-market participation rate of 61.7% of German residents of employment age. OPEN and Tent’s Step Up report has lots of good ideas for boosting refugee employment faster. Check it out here.


Have a great weekend.


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