overcrowded Britain

What passes for a kitchen in Hackney

What passes for a kitchen in Hackney

A front page article in the Financial Times (FT) on the 21st November reported that a bunch of “leading economists” had written a letter to the British Chancellor, George Osbourne, urging him to rethink his plans to curb immigration. Mr. Osbourne is planning to limit economic migrants entering the UK from outside the EU and the economists believe that this would be “deeply damaging to the competitiveness of our science and research sectors and the wider economy”.

The UK had 13 years of New Labour during which immigration was used to provide cheap skilled workers to business mitigating the need to properly educate the indigenous workforce. This is obviously not a sustainable policy and will merely store up trouble for the future as British people sit on their arses and let Johnny Foreigner do all the work.

The restrictions to be brought in are for non-EU citizens so British business would still have the entire population of the EU from which to draw its workers. That means the economists believe that the educated percentage of a total population of around 500 million people is not sufficient for the British economy!

What utter tosh!

If 500 million are not enough then why should we believe that a world of 7 billion people is? Perhaps, if we looked hard, we could find an even dafter set of economists who believe that UK business needs the educated population of 10 Earth size planets.

The truth is that large corporations are driven by the need for profit and this means limiting costs. Land and labour are major costs and so it is most efficient for corporations to build mega office complexes and have the entire planet as a pool of potential employees. It’s even more profitable if the workforce are educated at someone else’s expense.

I’m sure the economists are all clever gentlemen but my experience is that bean counters only count beans. By this I mean they only count that which can be counted. However, some resources cannot be quantified and the top of my list is housing. House prices in London have more than tripled in 14 years and are still way over priced as discussed in an article in The Economist in 26th November.

Since a basic tenet of capitalism is that increased demand and fixed supply drives up the price of an asset. The deliberate importing of people into the UK may support corporate profits but it will also provide upward pressure on housing.

Corporations push the idea that capitalism creates wealth for the population and this can sometimes be true. At the moment, in China, capitalism is helping raise many people out of poverty. But read a book like The People Of The Abyss by Jack London and you realise that, at the height of the British Empire, which was powered by capitalism, the lives of the people living in the east end of London were worse than Australian aboriginals on the other side of the world living as hunter-gatherers.

The People Of The Abys shows capitalism at its rawest, un-tempered by socialism or the fears of socialism. It shows that the welfare of a population is not directly related to the profits of business.

Over the past decade or so, while businesses earned fat profits, ordinary people had to endure costs which did not appear on the balance sheets of any businessmen or politician. Unaffordable housing is just one example but the ordinary worker must also endure standing like tinned sardines on Bakerloo Line trains from London Bridge on a Saturday evening. We must sit in traffic jams. We must stand in rush hour queues, not to get on the train, not to get on the platform, not to get on to the escalator but to get into the bloody station!

All this boils down to supply of land and it is possible to argue that the UK should release more land for building to ease congestion and prices. This would be fine were the UK the size of the United States. It isn’t. Open up Google Earth and have a fly over the UK. Most of the land is either farm land or already built upon. There are very few patches of wilderness. Scotland is more thinly populated  and we could just shrug and decide that we will give over the entire UK to human needs. The UK could become the first concrete country.

In 1951 Isaac Asimov published the first of his Foundation series of Science Fiction novels which portrayed a world known as Trantor which was completely covered in metal. The whole planet had been taken up by humans for homes or factories or offices. Food and raw materials were shipped in from other worlds.

I don’t want to live in a country without wilderness. I do not want to live on Trantor!

The pro-immigration lobby scoff and say that it will be centuries before we even approach a situation resembling the planet Trantor. True but then can they give us an indication of when we are going to stop building?

A couple of hundred years ago England was covered in forest and someone argued that we should chop down just this little bit more wilderness and give it over to some landowner to farm. They probably said “…but England is covered in forest, it will be centuries before it is all chopped down….”. They were right; it did take centuries.

But HELLO! here we are centuries later and the forests are gone.

On the 24 November 2011 the BBC reported that annual net migration to the UK hit a record high in 2010 at 252,000 though the figure may have now fallen to something more like 245,000. Growth is often expressed as a percentage but a more enlightening indicator of growth is “doubling period”. i.e. The time it takes for a population to double in size? The UK’s current population stands at about 62 million. If the current population carried on at replacement level and if the population only grew by the current immigration rate then the population would double in about 255 years.

That’s about nine generations if we take a generation as 28 years. By 2265 the UK would have a population of 124,500,000 and our descendants (that’s the grandchildren of our grandchildren’s grandchildren) will look back and wonder what the hell we thought we were doing.

One by one the trees are cut down. Little by little our forests were destroyed. Little by little forest becomes farm. Little by little farms become houses and offices. Little by little we accept smaller seats on buses and no leg room on trains. Little by little we trade space for gadgets. Little by little we are squeezed into chickens runs and little by little the UK becomes grossly overpopulated.

I’m sure that it’s true that adding 10% more workers to London and letting them live like factory hens would make London’s corporations more profitable. Londoners may even acquire more tablet computers and smart phones. Yet our lives would be worse! Already the definition of a kitchen in a flat in Hackney is a line of cupboards down the side of the living room. Just how many times can they divide up these beautiful old houses into smaller and smaller boxes?

The mistake that these economists make is to become totally business centric. Their analysis stops at the profits of business and they fail to follow the process through to ensure that it benefits the population as a whole.

It is notable that the venerable economists who wrote the letter to Mr. Osbourne uttered not a squeak about the corporate profits which are being filched away overseas to avoid paying tax as was reported in the same edition of the FT. Surely that too is “deeply damaging to the competitiveness of our science and research sectors and the wider economy”.

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One thought on “overcrowded Britain

  1. Now you’re talking. It is not in the mission statement of most corporate boards of directors to “help the population”. Or if they do create some bit of fluff claiming so, they are lying. It is supposedly the role of government to keep tabs on the excesses of corporations by enforcing fair regulations on big business. But, the government is increasingly puppeteered by corporate lobbyists. Without them, there are no campaign funds. At least in the US, this is the paradox.

    Another thing to watch out for. All that farmland in the English countryside? Here in Massachusetts, the prettiest tracts of land get gobbled up by home developers. Companies like Pulte and Toll Brothers wine and dine the elderly farming widows and offer them fat checks for their land. They make it hard to resist. It’s up to local governments to provide restrictions, but often they are blindsided and too late to react.

    We need government to do its job of protecting the standards and quality of living of its people. Corporations could not be less interested.

    I hope England stays green. It wouldn’t look good in grey.

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