Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Immigration issues: Cost-benefit analyses

Public discussion of immigration issues affecting Barbados has been raised since PM David Thompson announced in late May a modified amnesty policy for illegal immigrants who are Caricom nationals. Much of the public discussion has been in the local newspapers; it has also gone on through some of the local blogs, in particular, Barbados Underground. The debate has gone on largely devoid of a clear set of information to help judge the government's policy, including some very basic statistics on the stock and flows of illegal immigrants in and to Barbados. This is despite at least two major public opportunities to do that. The first was a "Down to Brass Tacks" call-in on VOB that featured the permanent secretary and Senator Maxine McClean (now Minister of Foreign Affairs), who was responsible for immigration policy up to November 2008, but had that portfolio transferred to Senator Arnie Walters, who became Minster of of State: Labour and Immigration in the November Cabinet reshuffle. The second was a CBC "The People's Business" programme (hosted by Peter Wickham) dedicated to the issue (again featuring Sen. McClean, not Sen. Walters), shortly after the PM gave a news conference in Guyana, where he addressed some aspects of the new amnesty and critical comments made of it by some fellow Caricom heads of government and the public.

The debate in the newspapers differs notably from that on the blogs. Written comments published by the papers need to be made by persons who identify themselves in a bona fide way (at least name and point of contact); the newspapers also limit what they publish due to space and other considerations. On the blogs, personal bona fides are not needed and many commentators use 'handles' or 'titles' (such as 'livinginbarbados', which I use--and I have commented on these issues), or post as "Anonymous". So commentators' true identities are not known; the extent of duplicate submissions cannot be known by those reading. Some information available to a blog administrator can identify whether a comment comes from the same IP address, but that does not mean the same person is writing comments (it could even be a bank of people in a 'cyber cafe'). Almost all comments submitted are published, and almost instantaneously. So, the quantity of comments does not reflect breadth of opinion; then there is also the matter of quality of comments--on that, I will make no observation. For those who normally only read this blog, I should point out many other blogs do allow profanity, so read with that in mind and try to judge the substance of comments despite the type of language used.

George Brathwaite, a Barbadian PhD student at Newcastle University, has produced a rebuttal to a recent article by Lindsay Holder. Barbados--A cost benefit analysis of immigration. Mr. Holder subsequently made a detailed response to a range of points raised by commentators on the BU blog (see Comments on Cost-Benefit Analysis of Immigration in Barbados) For those who wish to follow the thread of comments on the BU blog, they can go to Lindsay Holder responds for the latest and to Lindsay Holder Continues His Pursuit...). For those interested, Mr. Holder indicated last week  that he has been "invited to make a presentation to one of the Rotary clubs on Tuesday of next week [August 11]. My presentation will be titled, ‘The CARICOM Immigration Issue Recast’, and in that presentation I will blend the economics of integration with the theory of economic development with unlimited supplies of labour to demonstrate that all the grand old talk about full freedom of movement with attendant rights is more myth than reality". That should be tonight and I hope to be in the audience.

I am not a total stranger to cost-benefit analysis (CBA). I used it during my early career as a transport economist/planner, after being taught the subject at University College London in the mid-1970s by its pioneer and one of its most famous exponents, the late Professor Nathaniel Lichfield (who died this March, see Guardian obituary), and doing a limited amount of work with his consultancy firm (Nathaniel Lichfield Associates). I was not a particular fan of CBA, but recognized the attempts to identify the many, often intangible, costs and benefits of economic projects.

Mr. Brathwaite and I are not associates; we were connected indirectly some months ago by the staff of VOB, when they were putting together a panel of person to comment on immigration issues. I offered to post any articles he wished to submit (on this or other issues) and some have appeared previously on this blog. Below is his latest intervention, as originally submitted this morning.



George C. Brathwaite

Our Starting Positions: Does Reflexivity Matter?

Leading critical theorist in international relations, Robert Cox, believes that “theory is always for someone and for some purpose. All theories have a perspective. Perspectives derive from a position in time and space, specifically social and political time and space” (1981, 128). There is no doubt that the sentiment expressed by Cox is a challenge for academics to be open on their biases. This may be achieved through recourse to the application of reflexivity.

Reflexivity may be generally defined as an “awareness of the ways in which the researcher as an individual with a particular social identity and background has an impact on the research process” (Robson 2002 quoted in McGhee et al. 2007, 335). Knowledge provided through reflexivity is integral to explanation due to “limits of objectivity and the provisional nature of knowledge” (Alvesson et al. 2008, 481). Despite there is likelihood that personal values, attributes, and “our biases and perspectives influence interpretation” (Weston et al. 2001, 384) and can bolster insight, the imputing of a researcher into the process ascribes both limitations and advantages over outcomes and explanations (Finlay 2002, 215).

There are some researchers that are riveted in their antecedent outlook. These often propose that reflexivity presents narcissistic and solipsistic abundance into explanations. I do not share such a view and hence it is integral to my critique of LH’s article to alert readers to the fact that I write from the position of being a proud Barbadian and Caribbean citizen. I am inclined to be pro-integrationist, and I am keenly in favour of the fair and equal treatment of people.

My theoretical orientation may best be described as radical social constructivism despite being influenced by post-colonial thought. In contrast, LH bitterly surmises that “if you are biased or prejudiced for whatever reason, including being a political yardfowl, then your comments are going to reflect your prejudice.” I wholeheartedly agree with him; LH brings self-evidence to my written response offered in his earlier article penned by him. As social beings, we all bring some form of bias or prejudice to our engagements.

Ontological Departure

This paper offers a brief and objective critique of an article written by Lindsay Holder titled, ‘Barbados: A Cost Benefit Analysis of Immigration’; and to the subsequent follow-up for which that writer believed it was necessary to offer clarifying comments. The initial article appeared in the print media as well as new media (e.g. via at least two ‘blogs’). From the outset, my perspective fundamentally differs from that of LH in several respects.

My first departure from LH is to some extent based upon a philosophical differentiation that takes our ontological positions into consideration. In the substantive article, Lindsay Holder (LH) began by stating that “there is no one general statement that can be made about the benefits and costs of immigration for a host country.” This would seem an extreme starting point since the whole notion of theorising and economic modelling stands on the premise that certain generalisations are possible in scientific explanations. Indeed, if LH’s intention is to depart from within the rubric of his training in economics I am heartened; but this is not the case as we shall soon see.

It is my contention that LH has abandoned several canons that prevail under all manner of scholarship and paradigmatic influence. His action brings into disrepute both articles for which this critique focuses upon. It is my assertion that the articles are philosophically ungrounded, methodologically prone to accepting a priori sentiment as factual platforms, and technically these articles lack the rigour I have become accustomed to reading on subject areas such as economics, development, and related disciplines.

I am well aware that Thomas Kuhn and Peter Winch both challenge conventional explanations in the social sciences. Kuhn posits that there are ‘coherent traditions’ which constitute shared paradigms themselves dependent upon “the same rules and standards for scientific practice” (1970, 10). “Methods of investigation exemplify conduct carried out according to rules,” with further exactness ordering procedures and “standards of correctness” applicable to research processes (Winch 1956, 26). A scientific community is an “immensely efficient instrument for solving the problems or puzzles that its paradigms define” (Kuhn 1970, 166) albeit, that “given a paradigm, interpretation of data is central to the enterprise that explores it” (1970, 122). So that in relation to LH moving towards some autonomy from his academic community is to be commended as well as it has to be questioned based on the width of his departure.

LH has stated emphatically that “putting together these comments on my CBA article has been cathartic.” I draw from this his need to free himself from the denial that there are motivating factors influencing him to such an extent that he abandons the disciplines of acceptable academic and/or technical writing. LH adds that “it has reinforced the belief that for those of us who seek to comment objectively on national issues, then we must be very familiar with the environment in which we live and also have a firm grasp of the technical issues.” I am supposing here that this also represents his roundabout manner of confessing to his scientific infelicities.

Maybe LH wants to present preconditioned excuses for his lapsed reliance upon figures pulled from the hat that he used to project assumptions for which he built a case in the first instance. As if in a sense of self-gratification, he later asserts that “his later article corroborates the initial analysis in the ‘Barbados – Cost-Benefit Analysis of Immigration’ article.” I believe that there was a genuine attempt to put together sufficient to excite the palate, but somewhere along the lines there were a few personal and unresolved issues that overtook his capacity to be guided by accuracy. LH postulates that “the aggregate analysis … justifies the conclusions of the initial analysis, regardless of whether the figures I used in the earlier analysis were accurate or not.” Not even the most arrogant of academics would close a paper in such dismissive fashion; at least not under normal circumstances. To me it is unfortunate that LH closed with that choice of antipathy.

What General Statements Can Be made on Immigration?

Contrary to LH’s pronouncement about the capacity to generalise in relation to immigration for a host country, global evidence and a Popperian view suggests that we can do just that. This is notwithstanding that it may be necessary to consider peculiarities and anomalies, or with new evidence, throw out those generalisations. We know that immigration affects far more people than just those who are on the move and living away from their countries of birth and/or citizenship. In a report that specifically identifies the Caribbean region it was documented that regardless of “regulative and, at times, rather restrictive measures put in place to control cross-border movements, people have been moving and will continue to move across national borders” (ECLAC 2006, 3).

We also know that immigration has “important social, economic, and political impacts at home and abroad” (Koser 2007, 5). On migration as a whole and as a two-way process, it “can serve as an agent for global interchanges of skill and knowledge as well as economic dynamism and efficiency” (World Economic and Social Survey 2004). Moreover, studies highlighting the economic impact of migration indicate no significant reduction in wage and employment rates among native populations. On the other hand, incoming migrants expand the demand for goods and services, add to gross national production, and generally contribute more to government coffers than they take out (World Economic and Social Survey 2004).

At this point, there is no requirement to provide more evidence that generalisation can be made in respect of migration and in particular immigration. It is suffice however to show that the impacts are not simply to the host country, but the implications are multifaceted and affect multiple actors in the migration process, perhaps more positively than negatively. There are many variables associated with the costs and benefits of immigration policies and practices.

LH’s Cost-Benefit Analysis: Exposing Cracks and Crevices

A cost-benefit analysis identifies only a potential Pareto improvement … although a potential Pareto improvement might be identified, consideration of the actual consequences of the project might lead to it being rejected on grounds of equity” (Beardshaw 1992, 384). In essence, the application of cost-benefit analysis is not the only option for decision-makers and it may not even be plausible to use such in determining policy directions for something as normative as relation to immigration.

The migrant stock in Barbados, defined as all foreign-born persons, is unaccounted for as a valid statistic. While data have been made available by the authorities in Barbados on immigrants, those data have tended to be scattered, incomplete, unreliable, and deficient in many areas. There is a bone of contention in relation to so called ‘influxes’ of CARICOM nationals whereby there has been no aggregation of the figure for Barbados that would suggest the appropriateness of the term influx, although I do accept general patterns of movement showing that over the years, Barbados’ economic growth, standard of living, and the quality of life experienced by its citizens act as a magnet to CARICOM citizens seeking to become economic immigrants into Barbados.

Certainly one point of agreement that I share with LH relates to the fact that “there is an overall indirect cost associated with the presence and employment of large numbers of undocumented immigrants in any country.” How the problem is grappled with may indeed make the significant difference as to the country’s ability to determine and/or check unwanted immigration.

Burdens of additional immigration such as creating pressures on the lower end of the labour market, the strain put on social services inclusive of healthcare, education, and social security are widely dispersed throughout society. However, the benefits are highly concentrated in particular sectors including certain businesses or established social networks of immigrant groups and this may negative any potential gains from immigration.

This means that while taking into consideration demands for immigrant labour, there are distributional effects that must be factored into the equation for a country’s capacity to maintain its levels of socio-economic development. Supposing for example that the claim made by LH’s scenario whereby “in 2007 there were approximately 1,000 individuals who were benefitting from HAART treatment, and about 20% of those individuals were CARICOM immigrants of dubious status,” this in of itself would not represent an alarming statistic. Questions of their input to the society are often unmeasured, and more importantly, what are the economic costs of foregoing treatment of these persons in light of the social interactions that do take place among people regardless of age, race, or nationality?

LH makes another argument based upon his assumptions and model. He suggests that “formal and now legalized competition for jobs and housing could pose problems for bona fide Barbadians, and the competition for housing could result in increases in the price of land.” Under perfect conditions, one may reasonably accept this concern. Nevertheless, there is no ample evidence to suggest that CARICOM citizens immigrating to Barbados have been with any regularity in the habit of purchasing land and house. Indeed, those who come and enter the labour market normally do so, not at the top end, but at middle and lower levels of occupation. Already a situation exists in which the prices of housing and land have escalated due to other variables not attributable to the presence of CARICOM citizens.

While LH speaks to the ‘competition’ that is opened to the laws of demand and supply in labour markets, he loathes to say that generally increased competition through liberalisation of markets have often led to noticeable decreases in unit costs. While positioning his arguments for a case that undocumented migrants would have a sufficient impact “associated with a long-term diminution in the benefits that bona fide Barbadians currently enjoy,” LH has failed to inform his readers of two important factors that can be additional generalisations ceteris paribus.

Firstly that population statistics tend to show that immigration eases the long-term situation in which two problems arise in the context of Barbados. These are that Barbados has an ageing population and the growth rate of the population is not adequate in contradistinction to the social welfare benefits that eventually must be paid out over the long-term as people are living longer lives. On this point the NIS have had to revisit its formulations and adjust pensions and other matters relating to welfare funds such as increasing the age of retirement progressively from 65 to 67.

Secondly, there is a relationship that exists among savings, investment, and expenditure. In the circular flow of income, it is suggested that fluctuations appear over time and these can all in turn be affected by several factors inclusive of marginal growth in transnational economic activities as well as domestic pressures involving savings and consumption. While it is true that remittances from Barbados would represent an outflow, there is little evidence to suggest that these outflows outstrip the contributions that immigrants make to the society in quantifiable terms. What is certain and I am quite able to generalise is that immigrant networks and populations have a greater tendency to take risks and are more likely to take advantage of entrepreneurial opportunities. This is an investment advantage that redounds to the benefit of Barbadian society.

My final area of contention with LH at this preliminary stage of analysis is on the matter of unemployment. I propose a more detailed follow-up despite the baseless starting numbers that LH introduced into his model. LH stated that he was able to “make the inference that the number of CARICOM immigrants in the island at the end of 2007 ranged from 15,000 to 35,000, with the actual number being closer to 30,000.”

Even if we are to accept his ‘Cheapside Market’ observation, and the deduction that the high number of undocumented CARICOM immigrants in Barbados is a real problem (i.e. and I would not be in disagreement with the latter point if only this was substantiated by data collected and distributed in a timely and an efficient manner), it becomes a bit mind-boggling that LH would express a logical connection between his 30, 000 CARICOM nationals living here and the ‘high number of undocumented’ CARICOM immigrants. I am unsure what he is saying and at best I believe there is an error somewhere in his figures.

Notwithstanding this miscalculation, it is his reference to the “importation of unemployment” that throws reason through the window. This is the same very LH who promotes the idea that the bulk of any ‘influx’ of Caribbean nationals occurred in the last eight years. This was at a time during which Barbados experienced the lowest and unprecedented levels of unemployment achieved in the post-independent period, despite LH’s claim of CARICOM immigrants’ school-aged children. It is baffling then that LH would attribute the possible “long-term diminution in the benefits that bona fide Barbadians currently enjoy” on the basis of figures he used that “were based on intuition and were meant to be indicative.”


The indication of most of these figures, assumptions, and analyses speak to me of a ship run aground amidst the tosses and churning of an economic ocean. Whereas a country of Barbados’ repute for upholding, in the most part, reasonably high standards of legal, social, and human rights value, fully understands that neither an immigration policy or a managed migration policy (i.e. these two are inter-related but they are not the same things neither do they address the same underlying rationales for cross-border activities) can operate within the confines of arbitrary statistics, misinformation, and flawed economic models to advance its cause.

I therefore cannot wake up one morning and say to community nationals “you are illegal and you will pose problems for the country in the future; therefore you should leave voluntarily or be removed involuntarily” and expect that my reputation would remain solid if I do not take into consideration the protocols, agreements, and conventions that were voluntarily signed by my country which is a sovereign nation. Indeed, I do this at my peril; and if done, I must always be prepared with substantive evidence to support my defence which would inevitably be called upon.

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