I am an immigrant and we are all to some extent migrants: Mobility and migration in the 21st century

It's been 18 months since I posted to my blog. A lot has happened. The New Year in 2019 feels like an approproate moment to start posting again. Here's a short comment on migration and mobility in contemplation of a recent research report in the IUSSP Newsletter today.


Reading this research report on 21st century mobility and migration patterns prompts me to ask myself whether what we are seeing in the 21st century is 'new', in the sense that human migration and mixing across the Earth's surface have been a 'thing' for more than 100,000 years* already and the reasons for people to move and mix (and move and mix again) have always been as various as the conditions under which people live, and are therefore hugely complex. Indeed, migration is an important part of what it means to be human; if anything, fixed settlement and even the concept of 'family' are probably the 'new' phenomena, given that agriculture is only 10,000 plus years old.

What is perhaps new - at least given our own rather limited time hoizons - is the preparedness and capability to move often, to third and fourth destinations, to view one's current location and life-purpose as a way-point rather than a destination, to move back and forth frequently, to move between multiple residences in different countries and continents, for families to establish more dispersed spatial relationships, and therefore for individual and familial mobility to involve a greater number of journeys and be more complex in their aggregate.

These patterns, I think, are what conservatives in receiving communities in developed countries around the world are finding it hard to acknowledge, understand and accept. This is perhaps because they tend to view (judge?) established settlement and continuous living as a close family unit within a single community as a normative 'good', and departure from those patterns as perhaps a 'bad'. Hence Theresa May's 'citizens of nowhere' speech to the Conservative Party’s annual conference in October 2016.

Over the longer term, the recent increase in the number of migrants is really roughly equivalent to the increase in world population overall, so the proportionate increase isn't large. However, what the authors might point out is that resident European populations have not increased much in recent decades, even declined in some countries. So the increase in migrant numbers, while roughly reflecting overall global population increases, ends up being a significant proportionate increase of incomers for European citizens and governance systems to absorb. Moreover, the authors do emphasise that displaced migrants as a proportion of migrants overall is rising. Tie these to an increasingly individualistic, even libertarian, European society and politics, and resentment or conflict are potential outcomes.

I am an immigrant

My own story is interesting in this respect, I think. I’m a British citizen living in Sheffield for around 20 years and I’m a father in full-time paid employment. On the surface at least, I conform to conservative norms about settlement, community, family and more. However, I’m not just descended from migrants from long ago - I am an immigrant. I was born in Kenya. And I’ve migrated since then; first to the UK, then to Spain, then Japan, then back to the UK. To who knows where next?

When my parents returned to the UK I didn’t. Not because I didn’t go with them, but because I hadn’t lived in the UK in the first place! Britain was a brand new country of residence for me. I didn’t ‘return’. And I didn’t volunteer it, since I was a young child wholly dependent on adults. It would be easy to gloss over the fact that I was at the time effectively a displaced migrant by arguing my parents were British ‘expats’, but I would argue that the difference between my case and those of Syrian or Nicaraguan children migrating to the UK or USA with their parents today is merely one of degree, not of fact.

It is often the case that expats and immigrants are considered different, one intending to return at a later date, the other intending to stay in their destination, raise a family and die. But the story of mobility and migration in the 21st century tells us that these two terms are simplifications, sometimes used careflessly or ignorantly for another set of darker values that are rooted in false notions of original community and blood; which can be understood as at least in part related to race.

For me, what this story - a story that we need reminding is as old as humanity itself - reveals is that we need to acknowledge ourselves as being first and foremost as a part of a single human species, connected with each other and with our ancestors, and living interdependent with other species on Earth together. Our future survival depends on it, and will probably be decided one way or another this century.

*The Out-of-Africa hypothesis puts the beginning of Homo Sapiens’s migration anything from 115,000 to 300,000 years ago. Though recent research shows that we are all, to some extent, descended from archaic humans (Neanderthals & Denisovians etc.) too, who were resident in Europe and Asia at least 500,000 years ago.

Neoliberalism is Dead

And good riddance to it.

A criminal investigation into the fire at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017 is now underway. This can only be the right thing to do. It'll cancel out the problem of delay that an exhaustive public enquiry produces, and the advantages that responsible parties can accrue from such delays.

Like nearly all disasters this one has multiple strands. First, there is the creation of higher and extra risks produced by deregulation. Second, is the issue of cuts to public services in multiple domains, not just in the emergency services that have to respond to the disasters as they occur, but also in the development and enforcement of what little regulation there is left to try to prevent the disaster occurring in the first place. Third is the regular appointment of political overseers for reasons of fealty rather than expertise, which invites cynical exploitation of circumstances in the present which have potentially disastrous outcomes at a future time, when the appointee has already fled the scene. Fourth, is the incentivisation of businesses to cut corners to generate enhanced profits for cynical operators. Fifth, is the negative outcomes that extreme levels of inequality can produce in both lack of access to a decent quality of life and, when even that is not available, lack of voice when risks become obvious. Sixth, is the law of unintended consequences, which is iron-clad where the above five are in full working order and combine together. There are probably more ...

One thing that is starting to emerge (number seven?) also, is the role of the media throughout. The ways in which particular media organisations intervene to drive the processes of deregulation, reductions in public resources, and cynically exploit circumstances for economic and political gain in the UK is scandalous. I hesitate to call for more oversight and regulation, but the idea that four fifths of the UK's national press is owned by people who are ordinarily resident overseas, or who do not even hold British nationality, produces obviously negative outcomes in our society.

But for the devout muslims returning home from midnight prayers, who saw the fire and managed to wake some residents and get them out of the building, the eventual death toll would have been considerably higher, and certainly much higher than the press is currently prepared to report (Lily Allen has been brave enough to challenge the current 'managed' interpretations we are being fed so far).

The overwhelming public reaction to this disaster so far - in addition to the shock, horror and sadness at the fire itself - has been revulsion of the circumstances that have led up to this event, and of some of the media and political responses to it. Is this revulsion indicative of a rejection of neoliberalism and its normative principles, with those being deregulation, unfettered markets, inequality, and more? Maybe so; I hope so.

For the moment we must sympathise and grieve; but the time will come for a public reckoning on this terrible fire and the ideologies and practices it exposes.

Note: This Blog post is an amended and expanded version of a Facebook post which references the Grenfell Tower fire of 14 June.

The Japanese Government's Position on Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation

I don't post nearly enough on this blog, sadly. But in an effort to do more I'm copying over a post I sent to the NBR Japan Forum, just to keep a record of it and invite others to comment, should they wish to do so.

Stop Global Warming (MoE, 2015)

Members interested in the Japanese government's policies with respect to climate change adaptation and mitigation may be interested in the following.

1. National Plan for Adaptation to the Impacts of Climate Change (MoE, 2015).

This document lays out the GOJ position with respect to adaptation measures in the lead-up to the UNFCCC Paris Conference in December 2015.


2. Annual Report on the Environment in Japan (MoE, 2016).

This document gives a brief overview of the post-Paris position with respect to climate change adaptation, which was passed into Japanese law in November 2016. There are other environmental issues covered in the document, but the emphasis is on climate change adaptation.


3. Stop Global Warming: Approach to Mitigation and Adaptation (MoE, 2015).

This document is more for public consumption and gives an overview of the Japanese government's position on climate change mitigation and adaptation. It also presents some information on impacts already being observed in Japan and practical measures already in train for mitigation and adaptation.


The above is just a snapshot of what the GOJ is involved in. The important issue to take home from this are that the GOJ accepts the IPCC AR5 and is mainstreaming adaptation and mitigation into legislation and policy. Other documents show that the GOJ accepts that climate change is causing observable and measurable changes in Japan itself that are already having economic, social and cultural impacts, mostly negative, and that these are likely to accelerate in the future. These include profound changes to agricultural, mountain, forest, hydrological, and marine systems. Observable changes that the GOJ currently cite in its official literature are: beech forest decline, pine-tree decay, and decrease in Alpine flora; eutrophication of freshwater systems and reduction of fish distribution; coral bleaching and northward migration of marine species; and earlier leafing and later autumn foliage in deciduous trees. Reported impacts on human-environmental systems include reduced rice yield and quality; reduced fruit quality (all 47 prefectures); drinking water restrictions, increased groundwater usage, and land subsidence; coastal damage, and inland flood and crop damage; increased mortality (heat-stress and -stroke); increased distribution of disease transmitting mosquitos and bacteria; impacts on economic and cultural life, etc. 

It is important to understand that the most profound changes to Earth systems are being experienced in developing countries, and there is currently less impact on daily life in developed societies. This is because these countries, Japan one of them, have been able to insulate themselves from many of the risks that are currently presenting with a vengeance in developing countries, and they are normally located at latitudes which have thus far experienced the least dramatic environmental change. This is seductive for those people in rich developed countries who, for various reasons, have an interest in believing that climate change poses few risks or challenges, or may even be advantageous.

However, great changes are on the way in Earth systems as climate change progresses, particularly if the 2 degrees C average surface temperature rise that Paris promises not to breach, is in fact breached. And so far things look like that temperature rise will be breached this century. The significant issue in this respect is that, in addition to the direct impacts that come with the rise in average surface temperatures that will continue to occur without effective mitigation, climate change is a known threat multiplier (this is the term used by the US Department of Defense, which assumes climate change to be a significant national security risk). That is to say, climate change increases secondary and tertiary level risks in other domains, such as global political instability that comes with increased inequality, disease, population displacement and property destruction.

The 'choice', if one can use that word, is not between getting one's tootsies wet or a 90m sea level rise in the event of the permafrost releasing stored frozen methane, the former of which requires no adaptation and the latter also, because there is nothing that would save us. In all likelihood what will occur is something in between, which we do have a need and potential to mitigate and adapt to. IPCC AR5 projects a slightly higher sea level rise than AR4, which projects a slightly higher sea level rise than AR3. It is clear that as climate science advances, and dominant elites continue to largely ignore it as 'alarmist', so the prognosis gets worse. Some of the most reputable reports in high quality journals now accept that a 2m+ sea level rise may be possible within the 21st century, which is almost certainly within the projected life expectancy of my daughter.

Unfortunately for all of us, unlike God, climate change does not disappear once one chooses not to believe in it. Whether to 'believe' is immaterial and irrelevant to what is actually occurring. Not believing in anthropogenic climate change is like choosing not to believe in gravity. One can do so, but it is clearly idiotic to make such a choice, and is potentially an act of self-harm. The Japanese government accepts that climate change is occurring and is already mainstreaming adaptation and mitigation. I urge that the rest of us get on with doing the same.

Best wishes,



IPCC AR5 WG1 SPM is available here: http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/

IPCC AR4 WG1 SPM is available here: http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar4/wg1/

WGII and WGIII can be accessed by clicking through on the above pages.

We are all Responsible

One characteristic common to fascist regimes is the tendency for supporters to assert that their loyalty to the leader is stronger than others', through ever more extreme displays and acts of devotion. Leaders pit underlings against each other to construct systems of divide and rule by appealing to their sense of loyalty as well as their overriding ambitions for themselves. Consequently, such regimes are viciously competitive and inherently unstable. Individuals feel driven to constantly monitor their own and others' behaviours and compete against one another to demonstrate loyalty by extremism. Given time this can have disastrous consequences. An example.

The Wannsee Conference that initiated the Holocaust (what the Nazis termed the Final Solution to the Jewish Question) was held in January 1942, nine years after Hitler's rise to power in Germany. Significantly, Hitler was never present at the conference itself. He didn't have to be. The momentum behind the conference was driven by Hitler's underlings competing for his attention and favour by trying to outdo each other in acts of extremism. Convened by Reinhard Heydrich its attendees were below the level of Hitler's inner circle, but who were competing ruthlessly among one another to be elevated to that circle. This competition began in the early days, with Goering, Himmler, Rohm and spread throughout the NSDAP and then the higher echelons of the German government after 1933. Hitler didn't have to do much himself other than to put his cronies in place, set them against each other, and let them get on with the job, occasionally intervening to switch direction - such as when he had Rohm murdered and the SA disbanded. But it began, and was carried forward, by millions of small acts of extremism, each accumulating to give space to bigger and more serious acts, that ended with the destruction of the majority of the European continent.

Few if anyone in Germany in 1933, probably not even Hitler himself, had any inkling at that time that the Holocaust would occur ten years later. In 1933 many Germans thought that the Nazis were rather a joke - a serious and bad joke, but a joke nonetheless - and that their participation in government would be temporary. But they would be proved to be wrong, at the cost of tens of millions of lives.

It takes a long time to take a country to the brink and then beyond it. There are many opportunities along the way for citizens to stop these movements in their tracks and go in another direction. Each individual act either adds to or takes away from the accumulation of acts necessary for these regimes to achieve their worst. And it's not hard to see signs of the potential for a renewed fascism - or something like it - to erupt again, either in the UK or USA at present, but in other places too.

Everyone is responsible for protecting society from fanaticism and extremism. The place to start is to call out those acts that lead in the wrong direction, and to discuss with our fellow citizens what we think is acceptable and where we want our country to go in future. History never repeats itself exactly, so to dismiss the lessons of history on the basis of differences in context is to misunderstand its meaning. And nothing is inevitable. But we need to be reminded occasionally, lest complacency or weakness allow these people to exploit the cracks in our delicate democracies.

Brexit: Is it Worth the Price?

London could stage 14 Olympic Games for the cost of Brexit to the public finances

Brexit is going to cost the British people at least 58 billion pounds, says Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond. Taking figures provided by the Office for Budget Responsibility, Hammond also announced that government borrowing will have to rise as a result of Brexit, by 64 billion pounds.

The final figure, when all is done and dusted, is likely to be very different, however. Given that experts tend to err on the side of caution with their projections, the real cost will probably be higher than the 122 billion pounds calculated thus far.

It’s difficult to comprehend, or imagine, the meaning of huge numbers such as these. Looking at those figures, is Brexit going to be an expense too far, or is it cheap as chips and worth the gamble? 58.7 billion sounds like a lot of money, but, given what Britain spends on infrastructure or public services, or on the EU, is it really?

During the Brexit referendum campaign we heard from the Leave side what they thought the EU cost Britain and how much we as a country might benefit from leaving. They said Britain could benefit to the tune of 350 million pounds a week, and suggested we should spend that money on the NHS – a worthy goal indeed. However, they abandoned that idea shortly after the referendum result was known.

To their discredit, the Remain side didn’t come up with a convincing counter to Leave’s very persuasive meme. All Remain did was argue over how much EU membership really costs. But, looking only at the figures themselves, who can really understand the difference between 16 or 10 billion, for example? So the Remain argument got lost in picky arguments over the details, and they appeared pedantic, negative, and boring. Leave were able to capture the high ground by making the more positive general point.

So, just as Leave were able to make the money we spend on EU membership 'real',and to introduce a bit of balance, I'm going to visualise what Brexit is going to cost the British people with this handy little guide. The figures below are calculated simply by dividing 122 billion by the actual cost of various public ‘goods’, and rounding up or down as appropriate to the nearest sensible number. It’s a fun method of understanding the cost of Brexit more clearly, and a slightly serious contribution to rebalancing the continuing argument over whether, or how, the UK should remain a partner in the European Union.

What could Britain get for the cost of Brexit to the public finances?

So, do you still think Brexit is worth the price?

Trump and Brexit: Or Be Careful What You Wish For - You Might Just Get It!

It is tempting to excuse away the result of yesterday's presidential election and say that racism, misogyny, lies and ignorance won in the United States on 8 November 2016. Granted, some voters may have been emboldened to vote for Trump for those reasons, but I don’t think that’s what happened. Most Americans don't vote out of sheer prejudice; they're far too sensible for that. So why did people vote for Donald Trump?

From the perspective of being a privileged middle-aged white British male in the top quartile of income earners in the UK, it might seem surprising that many women and people from ethnic and other minorities voted for Trump. But I think to stop at surprise, or dismiss it as prejudice, would be to miss the central message that this election delivers, and which found voice earlier this year in the UK too, with the vote to leave the European Union. Indeed, thinking more deeply through these issues may be the key to solving the puzzle of why so many people who should not have voted for Trump or Brexit, against their own rational judgements, did in fact end up doing so. And, in so doing, we might begin to develop a coherent understanding on which to build a new political order fit for the demands of the 21st century.

So what happened yesterday?

Yesterday the American people, like the British who voted for Brexit in June, delivered an enormous kick to the nether regions of their respective countries' established elites, and the conclusion is rather simple – and potentially optimistic – I believe.

Few except Trump and Farage saw it coming, in fact. The media was consistently wrong in its predictions and expectations, clearly biased in favour of the Clinton and Remain campaigns. Pollsters yet again failed to account for so-called ‘shy’ voters. And rationality failed once more to persuade those guided by their feelings and instincts.

In the run-up to the election on 8 November, Hillary Clinton didn’t promise anything substantive to change current living conditions for ordinary Americans. All she promised was more of the same; and what precisely did that mean? Well, to large numbers of ordinary Americans it meant falling living standards and a further widening of wealth inequalities in favour of a tiny fraction of the population. I doubt many Americans were very encouraged by that message, even if their lives have started to improve in recent months.

Yet, in 2008 Barack Obama had offered change. That was why millions of Americans voted for him. He overcame entrenched prejudice because he offered hope and change. But in the intervening period he didn’t change America enough. He had eight years to do so, but throughout six of those he was frustrated by an exceptionally obstructive Republican Congress. Wealth and income inequalities widened and, despite his achievements in health care and preventing a much worse recession occurring as a result of the economic crash, Obama leaves the Presidency without having done the one thing that he promised most of all to do, which was to restore hope for a better future in ordinary people’s lives.

Tens of millions of voters in the USA (the UK too) are disappointed, angry, bitter, and crying out for positive changes in their lives. They feel like they've been left behind by globalisation and, indeed, when one compares their life chances and experiences with those of the one percenters, they certainly have been. And they are still, more than eight years later, desperate to rediscover some hope that their and their families’ lives would improve if they work hard and play by the rules. Clinton didn’t offer them any hope beyond what they already have – which is hardly any at all.

Just as in the UK, in the USA the liberal media was complicit with the political and economic establishment in ignoring the voices of its readers and listeners and preferring the status quo. This is no surprise, given that media owners and executives have themselves benefitted handsomely from global deregulation of ownership. Why would they want to change that? Many have become billionaires because of it. Perversely, though, both Brexit and Trump have shown the media that there are limits to their ability to influence and cajole the electorate in their favour, and that in itself may be to the long term good.

Hence, for the majority of American voters, what a Clinton presidency promised was four more years of a status quo dedicated to more globalisation and deregulation, the maintenance of a corrupt and fractured political system, and the American working and middle classes falling further behind - with the American Dream becoming not just an unattainable mirage, but a sick joke being played on ordinary Americans by the billionaire class.

It's fair to ask, therefore, what have globalisation and deregulation delivered for most ordinary working and middle classed Americans? Well, longer working hours, ever greater work intensity, reduced stability and security, and falling real wages and living standards; while a tiny fraction of the population is given reign to indulge itself in a wealth grab of epic proportions. The result has been a widening of economic inequality and political division such that a series of unbridgeable chasms now separate Americans from one another: men and women; black, Hispanic and white; young and old; college and non-college educated; rural and urban; Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and atheist; and most glaring of all, the fabulously rich and everyone else. It is consequently no exaggeration to suggest that America is now in a pre-revolutionary state.

Like Britain, for example, the American economic and political capitals are inaccessible to most of the rest of the country except as tourists. Few people can afford to live in the centre of London or New York; ordinary people have no effective access to political decision-making any more. The majority of ordinary people feel cut off from the opportunities and means of achieving them that they were once led to expect a democratic and fair society would provide. Is it any wonder that they seek to restore those opportunities by trying to get rid of the people that stand in the way? Clinton didn't stand a chance; though most of us had no more than the vaguest inkling of what was coming. This morning, perhaps thankfully, the situation is a lot clearer.

What did Trump offer instead?

Well, not much of substance. But what he does promise in spades is change, and in the current circumstances that Americans appear to find themselves in, that promise was enough to win the Presidency. After all, it is what Barack Obama offered but could only partially deliver on.

What I think most of Trump’s voters did yesterday was to hold their noses against the stench of his racist and misogynistic remarks, against his bullying and lies, and vote for him anyway; despite those aspects of his character and behaviour – and because for them the alternative was even worse. That’s why so many women and Hispanics voted for him. They didn’t vote for him because he hates women and is racist. They voted for Trump because, despite his bigotry and ignorance, he promises change and Clinton did not – and voters are desperate for change. Horrible though he is, he is the last ditch alternative to a candidate that represents a system of political-economy that is broken and bankrupt. That is what happened yesterday.

Why the optimism?

I am a green socialist. I don’t believe that Donald Trump will make a good President or that he will fulfil even a small fraction of the torrent of vacuous promises he made on the campaign trail. If he manages to drain the political swamp in Washington DC then he will have at least done something. But I think (is it hope?) he will end up being a one term President. He will not improve the economy and is unlikely to reduce inequality substantively. Moreover, what he does promise to do is revive the rust belt states’ fossil fuel and heavy industries in the name of jobs and community. If he does that, then say goodbye to climate change mitigation for the next four years, folks.

Nevertheless, Trump’s election has been a political earthquake for America and the wider world, and for the progressive Left. Ever since Bill Clinton and Tony Blair ascended to command the politics of the western world, the Left has stopped listening to the people that it wishes most of all to represent: the working classes, the vulnerable, and the downtrodden. The Left forgot its Base. In so doing it created a vacuum to be filled by Trump, Farage and Le Pen.

The Left has now an opportunity to rethink and become properly representative and inclusive of the wishes and needs of both ordinary working people and the middle classes who, after decades of declining or stagnant living standards now share a common purpose. That is where the political majority now lies.

And as for ‘big’ ideas to undergird rational policy decisions that produce fair and just outcomes, we now know that globalisation and deregulation do not mean the same thing. It is not only possible to regulate against unfair, discriminatory, and exploitative practices and still be an open and tolerant society – it’s a fundamental requirement.

Donald Trump is not the man to do these things for Americans, and neither is Farage in the UK. Trump is, after all a member of the billionaire class himself, even as he thumbs his nose at his own kind; and Farage was educated at public (private) school and is a former commodities trader in the City. Both are one issue protest candidates whose economic compasses point in the wrong direction for working people over the longer term. Lower taxes will not suddenly make trickle-down economics work, when it hasn’t for the last 40 years. Less business regulation will not suddenly make employers pay their workers higher wages or give them more stable lives, or encourage industry to invest in green and clean technologies. Selective health and education will not suddenly deliver equality of opportunity for all. Governments need to intervene, regulate, and organise to direct public and business decisions in directions that support equality, fairness, stability, opportunity, and prosperity for the majority. To step back from this task has been vividly shown to produce perverse and harmful outcomes on a massive scale. Trump and Brexit are the prima facie evidence for that.

Be careful what you wish for – you might just get it!

And that is the contradiction at the heart of these extraordinary few months that have seen the UK vote to reject membership of the EU, and now the USA to vote for the worst presidential candidate in living memory. In seeking to avoid the status quo Americans really had only one alternative, as did the British when asked whether they wanted to remain in the EU. On both occasions the two sets of voters chose change, because the status quo was too awful to contemplate. However, neither Donald Trump nor Nigel Farage are able or willing to produce the kind of change that voters are so desperate for. Which begs the final question.

If American and British people voted for Trump and Brexit because they want an improvement in their lives, then I think they may be disappointed in the short term. For the long term there are glimmers that the political classes now understand that they face angry and desperate voters, and that deregulation and globalisation, at least in their present guises, are dead concepts. Vast chasms of inequality and division can no longer be tolerated. If the political system as a whole has woken sufficiently to that realisation this morning, and goes on to put in place a social contract and economic structure that delivers progressive and sustainable opportunity for all, then Brexit and the election of Trump may have been worth it.

Why Did I Vote for Britain to Remain in the EU? - Immigration

This morning at 8.45 I voted for Britain to remain in the EU. I've considered many issues and had lots of discussions. I've been involved in plenty of arguments, and even laughed at some jokes and absurdities generated by this once in a generation event. But the main reason that I voted 'Remain' was to do with immigration. Here's why.

In 2001 I returned to the UK to settle down, having spent nine of the previous fourteen years in Japan, culminating in completing the writing up of my PhD at Doshisha University and beginning my first post-PhD academic job teaching at Niigata University. I love living in Japan, but Britain is my home, so I wanted to build my career here, for personal as well as professional reasons. But something extraordinary happened to make things quite complicated; in a nice way.

I fell in love with a wonderful woman from Germany. Indeed, I was fortunate enough that she decided to come to Britain to make a life with me and we got married. We went backwards and forwards to Japan and we had a baby girl who is now my 7 year old cheeky daughter. We're divorced now, but I feel very privileged because I now have the most amazing daughter whom I am so proud of.

Let's take ourselves back and imagine what might have happened if the UK in 2001 had not been a member of the EU, and visa restrictions applying to non-UK non-EU nationals had been similar at that time to the restrictions in place today. It is very likely that my daughter would never have been born, because under those conditions her mother would not have been allowed to settle in the UK. And I am doubly lucky because now I am able to see my daughter whenever I like because her mother lives just ten minutes walk away from me in Sheffield, and remains in the UK partly because of EU regulations on the free movement and settlement of EU nationals within EU space.

I know of many people that have found happiness in their relationships and had children as a result of the free movement of people across borders within the EU. There is a substantial community of international marriages between EU nationals in Sheffield, and I am sure this is matched by other cities in the UK. For me this is the most important issue helping me to decide to vote for Britain to remain at the heart of the EU. You have to understand that I grew up in a society where, just 30 years or so after the end of World War Two, it was routine for people to openly express hatred of German people without embarrassment. Many British people at that time had lived through the war themselves, including my own father and mother, and memories of that tumultuous conflict were still raw. The EU has contributed enormously to changing that atmosphere for the better.

A dense network of personal relationships, and the children that come from them, is the best foundation for creating lasting peace and friendship between nations. More than anything else it is this that prevents countries from harming each other. This was and is the underlying principle of the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and the subsequent development of the EU. It is much more important than trade. In facilitating the free movement of people for this purpose the EU has succeeded spectacularly well. I am proud to say that I have been able to benefit personally, in a very substantial way. I don't exaggerate when I say that, had Britain not been in the EU in 2001, and had present day restrictions on spousal movement been in place at that time, then I would probably not be a father today.

I have many friends who are currently enduring stress and difficulty due to Britain's draconian spousal visa restrictions. I sympathise very greatly and, personally speaking, I think those restrictions are shameful. They are a black mark against Britain's international reputation as a tolerant, civilised and liberal country. However, those restrictions are Made in London, not Brussels; the EU does not require Britain to put those measures in place. No other EU country that I know of has equivalent visa regulations. If Britain leaves the EU when voting in the referendum concludes at 10pm tonight, the restrictions placed on the movement of partners and spouses of British citizens will in all likelihood be made more draconian, not less, as a post-Brexit government puts yet more energy into reducing numbers of migrants.

That is why this morning I voted for Britain to remain in the European Union.

Why You Should Vote to Remain in the EU if You Are Concerned About Immigration from Turkey.


If you're concerned that Turkey may join the EU soon and the UK be forced to accept millions of Turkish migrants, and you want to vote Leave for this reason, then please pause and think for a moment.

If Britain votes Leave and then applies to join either the EEA or EFTA in order to maintain preferential trading relationships with EU countries, then we will have to accept free movement of people from the EU, just as Norway (EEA route) and Swtzerland (EFTA route) do already.

But, we will also relinquish the UK's veto rights in deciding who joins and does not join the EU; which might make it easier for Turkey to join.

So, if you're thinking you will vote Leave in order to keep Turkish migrants out of the UK, then please think again. A vote to leave the EU would make it MORE likely that Turkey will join the EU and the UK will have to accept Turkish migrants, not less likely.

NB: I want to make it abundantly clear here that I do not in any way agree with the sentiments of people wanting to leave the EU for the above reason. I am just pointing out - yet another - obvious inconsistency with their way of thinking.

And by the way, Turkey is already an Associate Member of the EU and has been since 1963, is a member with the UK of NATO and the OSCE, a member of the Council of Europe since 1949, and was a founding member of the OECD in 1961. Geographically Turkey is as much a European country as the UK, perhaps more so since the UK does not have any territory on the continent of Europe, unlike Turkey.

Let's Discuss Austerity and Inequality, not Immigration: Or Why Does the Conservative Remain Campaign not Tell the British People What We Need to Know?

The topic dominating the 23 June EU referendum in the UK has been immigration, and it is threatening to deliver a victory for the Brexit campaign. What saddens and frustrates me is how the Brexit campaign have misled the British public over this issue in particular, and how the Conservative Remain campaign has been so lacklustre such that Britain is drifting towards Brexit.

Brexit are campaigning mainly on the basis of regaining control of Britain's borders and significantly reducing migration, and they are winning support on this issue in particular. However, they don't present the public with a credible case, once we start to look at the data. As I outlined in an earlier blog post, even if a Brexit Britain was able to reduce EU migration by a quarter and non-EU migration did not increase to fill the gap in labour supply, a very BIG IF, population growth rates would only go from 0.7% annually at present to 0.6%. There would no impact on that feeling of Britain being too full of people and unable to cope.

The current feeling among predominantly working class people, who are big supporters of Brexit, of Britain being full is actually due to the impacts of a combination of six years of austerity and steadily widening economic inequality under a neo-liberal economic policy that favours elites. Both of these issues are Made in London, not Brussels. However, the Conservative Remainers are ignoring them and delivering a weak campaign for Remain. Why?

Even as Britain's population grows and the labour force expands, the government is taking active steps to reduce investment in public infrastructure and services in the service of austerity, causing increasing competition for public resources among ordinary people. The OECD recently called for a reversal of this policy, but thus far the government has refused to veer from its flagship policy. Of course, everyone except the very rich living in Britain right now knows that there is less to go around per person, but that is the result of a deliberate policy by the current government to shrink the state and starve the country of public resources. Britain's population has grown more rapidly in the past and we coped with it at that time, why not today?

Added to this is the feeling that the cost of private resources is increasingly out of reach as the rich and professional classes (double professional income households especially) become more wealthy and the gap between them and ordinary people widens. House prices, for example, rise with affordability, pricing out those on lower incomes. Again, this is the outcome of a deliberate and planned policy Made in London to reduce taxes on the rich to encourage mobile capital to come to London. It's worked. There are lots more Russian and Chinese billionaires in London today, but these are not the immigrants that the Brexit campaigners complain about. Their naively hoped for 'trickle down economics' has not occurred as homes and a decent life are increasingly out of reach for ordinary people. This is being driven in part by structural changes in the distribution of wealth and income inequality, particularly in the Southeast of England and in London.

A crucial point once more not being made by the Remain camp is the following. The public finances are in deficit, which means that on average everyone in the UK is taking out more than they put in. But, EU migrants as a group are contributing more than they take out. Which means that British people are even more in the red than the headline figures might indicate. For example, EU migrants don't incur childhood costs as they migrate here as adults etc., they tend to depend less on welfare benefits than British people, and they tend to pay more into the system in income taxes and other contributions. So, simple arithmetic shows that British resident nationals and non-EU migrants are costing the state more than they contribute, and it is EU migrants that are keeping public finances from falling further into the red. These are the people that the Brexit camp would like to prevent coming to the UK.

Ultimately, a much more effective and just method of reducing immigration would be instead to increase investment in British people's skills to fill labour shortages in the NHS etc. and reduce reliance on people born and trained in developing countries. EU migrants are in a small minority in the NHS etc., where most migrants are from former colonies such as India, Pakistan, S Africa etc. These countries have huge public health problems of their own, and could do with not losing their investments in public health training to the UK. In addition, most EU migrants work in the private sector and have a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity than British people, meaning that many are wealth generators, and future employers of British workers.

If a Brexit government were to successfully cut EU migration, we would see UK public finances go deeper into deficit, and see government investment drop and the economy shrink. Any gains from not paying EU dues will be wiped out and then some. It is disingenuous at best, therefore, to claim that Brexit will improve public finances and we will have all this extra money to pay for the gap that withdrawal from EU funding would create. We would all be worse off, it appears, and any UK government controlled by libertarian Brexiteers would be even less inclined to welcome new migrants.

So why doesn't the Conservative Remain camp tell us this?

It's easy, really. The EU Referendum in Britain was a bad idea right from the start, especially for Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, as it turns out, who are leading the Conservative Party's Remain campaign. Cameron and Osborne can't campaign against Brexit using the argument that the main reasons for ordinary people feeling squeezed in their lives is not immigration, but austerity (lack of public investment), and widening inequality (unaffordable homes and summer holidays), since they would be admitting that the central plank of their own economic policy this past six years is the root cause of the deepest rift in British society and culture since at least the 1930s.

So, the big guns of the Remain camp have been spiked and we have a lacklustre campaign from their side, and a drift towards Brexit. Indeed, if Britain does Brexit, then it will be very much Cameron's and Osborne's responsibility because they made themselves hostage to their own economic and fiscal policy.

What we need instead is an honest debate about the impacts of austerity and inequality on British life and how to solve these. The party to lead this debate is, of course, Labour; but they've got their own problems. The result is that Britain doesn't have effective leadership on the Remain side in this referendum, and that may deliver a disastrous result for our country over the long term.

Should Britain Leave the EU to Regain Democratic Control of Our Lives?

Some people in Britain argue that the EU is undemocratic, or that it undermines democracy at the national level, and they use this as reason to want to leave the EU. Here's my take on this question.

The European Parliament has 733 members elected directly by the citizens of the member states. It legislates all EU laws. Importantly, the results of European elections, which take place every five years, are decided by proportional representation. The EU Commission is the executive branch of the EU. Commissioners are all appointed by the heads of governments of the member states. The President of the European Commission is elected by the European Parliament after negotiations between the elected heads of government of the member states. There are three other 'Presidents', who head up the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council of Europe, but the President of the Commission is the titular head and most powerful EU official. He answers to the heads of government of the EU member states. No EU representative has their job as a result of birthright.

The UK Parliament in Westminster is divided into two chambers. The House of Commons has 650 members elected directly by British citizens. Results are decided by a First Past the Post system, which means it is possible for the party with the most number of votes to win fewer seats than the eventual winning party. It also means that smaller parties may win large numbers of votes but gain few seats. The Prime Minister is the head of government and is appointed by the Queen, and is nearly always the leader of the party with the largest number of seats in the House of Commons. There is no direct election for the post of Prime Minister. The second chamber is the House of Lords. It shares the task of making and shaping laws as well as challenging the House of Commons. None of the members of the House of Lords are directly elected by the citizens of the UK. All are either hereditary peerages, or are appointees by the Queen on the recommendation of Prime Ministers past and present. The Queen, of course, is a hereditary monarch and is the Head of State of the UK. She was not elected by anyone.

An important issue is the role of unelected officials. The EU employs about 55,000 unelected officials to administer a population of 508 million people in 28 countries, and the UK government employs approximately 393,000 unelected officials - the Civil Service - to administer a population of 64 million in 1 country (or four countries if you take an alternative view). The EU's unelected officials are selected in a similar way that the UK Civil Service selects its employees; through open and fair competition administered by EPSO, the European Personnel Selection Office. These officials are answerable to the elected members of the European Parliament or the European Commissioners. Similarly, members of the Civil Service in the UK are answerable to Parliament and the government of the day.

So, what does all this mean? Well, my understanding is that the EU is not really less democratic than the UK, and there is validity in arguing that it might be more democratic. For example, the issue of heredity and birthright is not an issue in the EU. The EU administration is, nevertheless, more geographically distant from citizens than the government in Westminster, but I think that it fulfils a vital role in tacking difficulties that national governments would have trouble tackling as effectively. Pollution or climate change, for example, don't respect national borders and need effective international cooperation which the EU can provide.

Moreover, and this is the important issue for me, the great majority of British people consent to Civil Servants - unelected officials - making decisions about our lives every day of the week. I don't see much difference if EU officials are doing the same thing, about issues and problems that are important to us and are additional, or supplementary to what the British government and local authorities also provide on our behalf. In summary, therefore, I don't think remaining in the EU presents Britain and British people with a democratic deficit. If anything, I think it enhances our democracy and provides more in the way of political methods and opportunities for resolving our common concerns. But more on that another time.

Should Britain Leave the EU to Reduce Immigration?

Some people say that Britain is full, that our infrastructure and services can't cope with the extra numbers, and that this rate of growth in the population is unprecedented. They even say that we need to leave the EU to reduce the number of people entering the UK. I have a keen research interest in demography. So, I looked at some data and did some simple calculations. Here's an alternative view.

Between 1831 and 1901 the British population grew at a rate of 1.2 per cent annually, mostly as a consequence of high fertility and the 'epidemiological dividend' where improved survival rates drove mortality lower.

Between 1960 and 2015 UK population growth never rose above 0.8 per cent per year (1962 and 2007-11), was under 0.5 per cent for most of the period, was very slightly negative in 1975-77 and 1982, and is currently (2014/15) at around 0.7 per cent. The inward migration component of Britain's current population growth is about 53 per cent, meaning that 47 per cent of UK population growth is due to natural increase. In 2015 55 per cent of the migration component was due to immigration by EU citizens. So, in 2015 29 per cent of Britain's population growth was due to immigration by EU citizens, and 71 per cent of population growth was due to other causes.

Even if one agrees that immigration needs to be reduced and it could or should be reduced by leaving the EU, the data shows that a decrease of, say, a quarter in EU migration (a BIG decrease) would achieve only a small decrease in overall growth rates of around 0.1 percentage points - meaning that the population would continue to grow at a roughly similar rate. And that is assuming, of course, that non-EU migration would not increase to fill the resulting gap in labour demand.

The Victorians coped well with a higher rate of population increase, investing in infrastructure that survives to this day. Of course there were Malthusians among them, but they were largely ignored. Quality of life improved markedly through this period, which in itself pushed population growth rates higher by reducing mortality. Indeed, many people who complain of present-day population growth look back admiringly, even longingly, at that period as one of the most prosperous, productive and successful in British history.

Why can't we cope with a slower rate of increase than Victorian Britain? Well, first of all, I disagree that we can't cope. However, that feeling of not coping that some people claim to be experiencing is probably due more to governments past and present not investing in the necessary housing and infrastructure, not training enough younger people to fill labour demand (particularly in public services), and instead giving our resources away to the already rich.

Leaving the EU is not the solution. Investment is the solution.

Could Japanese people have enough children to stabilise the country's population?

In an earlier post I discussed why international migration would not and could not stabilise Japan's population, at current rates of fertility. So, now let's look at the other side of the coin - fertility - and see if raising the birth rate could provide the solution that growth-oriented planners wish for.

Below is a 'back of the envelope' method for understanding why Japan can't stabilise its population by simply having more children. Data is taken from the Government of Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Statistics Bureau website. These calculations are indicative only and do not use the methodologies that demographers use to calculate population change.

In 1970 the population of Japan was 104.7 million people. The number of 20 year olds was 2.19 million persons, of whom 1.1 million were female. In that year the Total Fertility Rate (TFR), meaning the average number of children born to each woman in her lifetime, was 2.13 children per woman - which is very slightly above the rate necessary for population reproduction. Here's a little calculation.

If each 20 year old woman alive in 1970 had given birth to 2.13 children in her lifetime, then this cohort would have produced 2.34 million children. Allowing for deaths, infertility, and some outward migration, this translates to a stable population, if it persisted. So far so good.

But it didn't persist. In 1974 Japan began experiencing below replacement fertility, which has continued uninterrupted to this day. This means that every year since 1974 the population has produced fewer children than itself - which translates, eventually, to a shrinking population once tempo effects unwind.

In 1990 the population of 20 year olds was 1.91 million, of whom 932,000 were female. Precisely 20 years after 1970, this shows that the real average fertility rate among those women aged 20 in 1970 was below the 1970 fertility rate. If we assume that every child born to this cohort of women survived and none left Japan before each reached the age of 20, then we can calculate that those women aged 20 in 1970 theoretically reproduced at a rate of 1.72 children per woman. The actual rate of reproduction among this cohort was therefore somewhere between the 1970 TFR of 2.13 and the theoretically lowest TFR of 1.72, allowing for deaths and out-migration. For the sake of argument let's take the mid point between the two of 1.93 children per woman - below replacement.

So, although the 1970 TFR indicated that Japan had a stable population, in actual fact the country had already entered a long period of shrinkage.

Now, if the 1990 cohort of 20 year old women had reproduced at the 1990 TFR they would have given birth to 1.4 million children. However, the population of 20 year olds in 2010 was 1.2 million, a shortfall of 200,000 on the theoretical figure; which means that the 1990 cohort of 20 year olds, like their sisters from 1970, reproduced at a lower rate than the 1990 TFR - at the very least 1.28 children per woman. Using the same methodology for the 1970 cohort, the real rate of reproduction for this cohort was probably 1.34, being the mid point between 1.28 and the headline rate of 1.39 for that year.

Taking the 1970 and 1990 cohort data together, and assuming that both cohorts were typical of long term reproduction trends, we arrive at an interesting conclusion. For at least 40 years Japanese women reproduced at lower rates than real time data was suggesting would happen.

Now, let's come forward to the present. In 2013 the number of 20 year olds in Japan was 1.22 million, of whom 595,000 were female, and the TFR was 1.43. This means that the 2013 cohort of 20 year olds, at 2013 rates of fertility would theoretically produce 851,000 children. However, Japan is experiencing a fertility bounce back; so this generation may produce more children than my calculation suggests. Lets say they produce 1 million children, which would require a TFR among 20 year olds in 2013 of 1.68 children per woman. That's possible, but it's still under half the number of children produced by 20 year olds in 1970, and represents a big rise in the fertility rate from 1.43. And it's still well below the population replacement rate of about 2.1.

So, to repeat another way, if 2013's cohort of women reproduce at a TFR of 1.68 then they would give birth to 1 million children, yet 1990's cohort of 20 year olds produced 1.2 million children at a TFR of 1.34. Here we have an apparent contradiction; a higher fertility rate in 2013 than 1990, yet fewer children being delivered. How can that be? Well, it's because long term low fertility has produced a much smaller cohort of mothers in 2013 than in 1990 so that, even with a higher rate of fertility in 2013, there would still be fewer children being born. And that is indeed what is happening.

So, let's summarise thus far. The number of 20 year old Japanese women in 1970 was 1.1 million and they gave birth to around 1.91 million children at a real rate of approximately 1.93 children each. In 1990 the number of 20 year old women was 932,000, about 170,000 fewer than in 1970, and they gave birth to around 1.2 million, at a real rate of around 1.34 children each. The 2013 cohort of women numbered 595,000 which is 54 per cent of the number of 20 year old women alive in 1970. The headline fertility rate in 1970 was 2.13 and in 2013 it was 1.43. 1.1 million times 2.13 equals 2.34 million. 595,000 times 1.43 equals 851,000. The difference between the theoretical number of births for these cohorts is a shortfall in 2013 of 1.49 million children. The real shortfall is likely to be smaller; perhaps 1.1 million. Nevertheless, this is still a huge number, and represents a drop in the aggregated number of children being born to each cohort of between 40 and 50 per cent since 1970.

OK so far? Now let's try a little numbers game. Let's hypothesize that the 2013 cohort of 20 year olds reproduces at the 1970 TFR. They would then produce 1.28 million children, about 700,000 fewer births than the 1970 age 20 cohort. If in 2013 Japan would have the same number of theoretical births as in 1970, when Japan was more or less reproducing itself, then the TFR would need to be 3.93 children per 20 year old in 2013. The same calculation for 1990 would require a TFR of 2.99.

Even this would not keep Japan at a stable population, because the 1970 total population was 104 million, not the 127 million of today. To reproduce at a rate that keeps the current population stable, 2013's 20 year olds would have to reproduce at a rate higher than 4.0 children per woman; starting tomorrow! Any delay and the fertility rate necessary to keep the population stable would have to rise still further.

The last time that Japan had a TFR of 2.99/3.93 was in 1950/55, and the last time the TFR was higher than 4.0 was during the postwar baby boom prior to 1950; an exceptional time in Japanese history, bearing in mind the huge loss of life during World War Two. Personally, I don't see any chance of Japan being able to raise fertility to levels anywhere near population stabilisation levels.

If international migration cannot help Japan stabilise its population, and neither can an increase in fertility, then what is the prognosis for the future? My answer is simple.

Japan had better get used to having a shrinking population. It's happening right now, it's been going on since 2008, it's accelerating, and it's not going to end soon.


International Migration: Some Lessons from New Zealand

I'm spending a fortnight in New Zealand at the invitation of Professor Natalie Jackson and the National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis (NIDEA) at the University of Waikato. It's been fascinating to learn about the country's demography and it's future challenges, and there are some interesting contrasts and comparisons to be made with Japan and Europe. When looking at all three, what strikes me is the degree of fit between what we think we know about a country and its people, and the underlying story that is there to be uncovered and told.

University of Waikato, New Zealand.

University of Waikato, New Zealand.

I have always thought of New Zealand as a young country, built on immigration and agriculture, and set to expand its society and economy on the basis of this foundation long into the future. Historically it is young, when we compare the history of human settlement there with Europe and Asia. Young New Zealanders are also frequent visitors to Japan and the UK on working holiday visas enjoying their year or two of OE (Overseas Experience). So the impression I had was one of a youthful country full of vitality.

By the same token, media images of Tokyo as a neon-lit crowded, noisy and bustling metropolis give the impression that Japan too is full of youthful vigour. Though I like to think that Europeans are aware that Japan is rapidly ageing and, even, that it has begun to shrink. But do Europeans know that New Zealand is also experiencing some of these phenomena - that it too is an ageing society with depopulating and declining regions?

Globally there are currently 1.6 million people being born every week, and the latest projections for world population growth indicate that there may be around 10-11 billion people alive on Earth by 2100 - the global population is currently about 7.3 billion (Hansford, 2015: 30; Worldometers, 2015). As of today, 15 January 2015, in New Zealand there are 4,559,303 people, with one person being born every 8 minutes and 34 seconds, and one person dying every 18 minutes and 16 seconds. New Zealand is growing also due to international migration, with a net gain of one new resident every 8 minutes and 21 seconds (SNZ, 2015a). Just to remind ourselves, Japan is shrinking due both to an excess of deaths over births, but also because it is currently a net exporter of people to the rest of the world, though its population is huge by comparison, at more than 127.3 million in 2013 (Statistics Bureau, 2015). Indeed, measured by population size Japan remains the 10th largest country in the world.

But New Zealand's overall growth belies some underlying demographic and economic developments which potentially indicate a more complicated future. Auckland is growing rapidly, at around 1.5 per cent per year and is expected to expand from its currently estimated 1.5 million people to nearly 2 million by 2031. This would mean an increase of about 25 per cent over the next 16 years, with Auckland comprising about two fifths of the country's population by then (SNZ, 2015b). Anecdotally, people that I have met while here wonder about the capacity of the city's infrastructure to accommodate this increase - particularly when there are other regions of the country, such as districts of Waikato, which are already experiencing ageing and anticipating the end of population growth (Cameron, Jackson and Cochrane, 2014).

My intuitive understanding is that the projections for New Zealand may be over-estimating the migration effect on population change into the future. New Zealand has traditionally received its largest share of migrants from Europe (UK and Ireland) and more recently from Northeast Asia (China), with smaller numbers from Pacific countries, South Africa and India, with around 50 per cent beginning their new lives in Auckland (Department of Labour, 2009).

In future it is possible that there will be fewer migrants, as Europe and Asia themselves age and begin to depopulate, and as levels of socio-economic development improve in Asia. The former will provide New Zealand with competition for migrants with high levels of human capital, and the latter will encourage many to forego migration and to remain in their country of origin as opportunities expand. In addition, just as large numbers of people in the early decades of migration into New Zealand settled as pastoralists and farmers in sparsely populated regions, so in future migrants may prefer to work in technical and professional occupations in the already crowded urban centres, potentially prompting a reaction against migration among urban and politically engaged residents. Consequently, there are lessons in this for New Zealand, Japan and Europe.

A black swan and chick on the shore of Lake Taupo, New Zealand.

A black swan and chick on the shore of Lake Taupo, New Zealand.

New Zealand has long been a desirable destination for migrants, and justifiably so. With a clean and attractive natural environment, low population density, a highly developed knowledge economy, friendly people and a pleasant climate, it has many attributes. But, as the rest of the developed world also ages and shrinks, will migrants continue to come to New Zealand if immigration policies change and economic opportunities expand elsewhere? If the majority of migrants continue to settle in Auckland and the country's other major cities, what prospects await those more rural and peripheral regions which are currently experiencing low fertility and ageing and which will not expect to be replenished with international migrants in significant numbers?

Just as the 20th century was different from the 19th, so the 21st century may differ substantially from what preceded. In terms of population change, I have a hunch that past patterns of international migration may not be a very accurate good guide to the future. So, what might New Zealand, Japan and Europe expect?

  • A slowdown in the total number of migrants from traditional sending countries.
  • Fiercer international competition for migrants with high levels of human capital.
  • Increasing numbers of migrants from South Asia and Africa with lower levels of human capital.
  • Fewer migrants seeking settlement in ageing and depopulating agricultural regions.

In my next post, hopefully next week, I'll discuss ageing, depopulation and migration in New Zealand in a bit more detail, once I've visited a couple of rural areas and learnt more from academics and local people. I'll also have some more photos to post.


Cameron, M.P., Jackson, N. and Cochrane, W. (2014) Baseline and Stochastic Population Projections for the Territorial Authorities of the Waikato Region for the Period 2013-2063, National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis, University of Waikato.
Department of Labour (2009) Demographic Characteristics of Permanent Migrants, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Website, Accessed: 15 January 2015.
Hansford, D. (2015) Full to Brimming, New Zealand Geographic, 131: 30-32.
SNZ (2015) Population Clock, Statistics New Zealand Website, Accessed: 15 January 2015, 12.45pm.
SNZ (2015b) Population, Statistics New Zealand Website, Accessed: 15 January 2015.
Worldometers (2015) World Population Clock, Worldometers Website, Accessed: 15 January 2015.

Should Japan Increase Immigration to Arrest Depopulation?

Every time I give a public lecture which features Japan's 21st century demographic structure someone inevitably asks whether immigration could be a 'solution' to Japan's depopulation 'problem'. I put those words in quote marks for emphasis because I don't necessarily think that depopulation is a problem requiring a solution; at least not in the conventional sense of the solution being to arrest decline. Anyway, here's why I think Japan might not increase immigration as a means of stabilising population numbers.

I am a firm advocate of analysis being based on sound evidence rather than instinct. This is particularly when we address potentially contentious issues such as international migration. With this in mind, we should ask how the data on past and current international migration and population change in Japan inform us about the potential for immigration to 'solve' Japan's depopulation 'problem', then ask how many people would be needed, and finally think about the realistic possibility of an expanded immigration policy being successful.

What do the data tell us?

Current data show that net international migration to Japan is declining from a peak of over 100,000 persons per year in 1990-94 (Figure 1). For the three year period 2010-12, net migration turned negative for the first time since 1975-79, with 181,000 Japanese leaving and 23,000 non-Japanese entering Japan. But this masks some annual volatility. In 2011 56,000 non-Japanese left, while in 2012 77,000 entered, most probably as a result of the impact of the Fukushima nuclear disaster - the high figure for entry in 2012 would likely have included returnees who had left in 2011 due to radiation fears, for example. Significantly, the number of Japanese leaving has been increasing since the 1990s, with more than 300,000 leaving in 2005-09, 25,000 leaving in 2010, 73,000 in 2011, and 82,000 in 2012, more than cancelling out of the gains from non-Japanese entering the country since 2005. Currently, therefore, Japan is a net exporter of people; not a good position to be in if depopulation is viewed as a problem.

Figure 1. Net international migration in Japan. Source: MIC Statistics Bureau (2014).

Screenshot 2015-01-04 19.57.20.png

Combining migration data with figures for natural population change (births and deaths), the impact of migration on overall population change has been small (Figure 2). In the future, as the natural population decrease accelerates with the widening of the gap between the number of births and deaths, so the relative significance of international migration will decrease unless larger numbers of non-Japanese enter and the number of Japanese leaving the country is reduced substantially (or even reversed).

Figure 2. Population Change in Japan. Source: MIC Statistics Bureau (2014).

Pop change

How many migrants would Japan need?

In order to know how many migrants Japan would need we need to understand the terms of the question. Helpfully, but some time ago now, the UN Population Division produced a report whose title asked: Replacement Migration: Is it a Solution to Declining and Ageing Populations? (UNPD, 2001). I have taken the liberty of reproducing the top half of the table for Japan (UNPD, 2001: 55). Scenario III, where the population remains constant at 127 million, would require net inward migration of 17 million people through to 2050, or about 340,000 persons per year starting from 2000. Scenario IV, which is based on a constant working age population, would require net migration of 33.5 million people, or about 660,000 persons per year. Scenarios V and VI are more extreme and unrealistic.

Figure 3. UNPD Scenarios for Migration Effects on Population Change. Source: UNPD (2001).

Given these figures begin in 2000, and we are now in 2015, then the numbers required annually would be greater than the UN figures project, because Japan's net inward migration amounted to just 109,000 persons over the thirteen years of 2000-12. If Japan were to achieve Scenario III on time, then it would need to immigrate at least 459,000 people per year till 2050, and the age-based support ratio would fall to one working person supporting him or herself plus one other. The actual support ratio would be more serious than this, because of the numbers of 15-64 year olds not working, those in full time education and informal care roles, and those not paying their share of contributions.

One issue to note is that the UNPD assumes a slower population fall to 2050 than Japanese government projections. The UNPD anticipates that Japan will have approximately 105 million people in 2050 with no immigration, while the Japanese government projects around 88 million because its assumptions on future fertility are more pessimistic (NIPSSR, 2014). So far the latter's projections have proved to be more accurate. Consequently, my best conservative guesstimate projects that by 2050, if the numbers of Japanese leaving is taken into account and Japanese government projections prove to be accurate, the country would need to immigrate potentially up to 900,000 persons per year starting in 2015 to achieve Scenario III of a constant population with a deteriorating support ratio.

Even if Japan Increases Immigration ...

There are reasons to suggest that immigration would not solve the depopulation problem, even if the required numbers could be found. Here's why.

Depopulation is not geographically uniform, but has different causes and outcomes region by region, indeed community by community. It is a complex process that involves demographic, economic, social, cultural, and political processes that aggregate and correlate recursively out of low fertility and out-migration, ageing and, eventually, a fall in the numbers of people (Matanle et al, 2011). Depopulating areas tend to be economically less attractive for potential in-migrants due to fewer and poorer employment opportunities. Depopulating areas are geographically more peripheral, distant from major transportation nodes or with comparatively inhospitable terrain and climate, and are less likely to be chosen by migrants for settlement.

Critical for considering immigration is the perspective of the sending countries, something which is often overlooked by people from developed countries. Where would 900,000 people per year come from? Presumably China, which itself has a below replacement fertility rate, would not wish to lose millions of people with economic and biological reproductive potential. Moreover, as countries such as China and Indonesia develop their own economic and social systems to something approaching Japanese levels of comfort there will be progressively less desire on the part of entrepreneurial Chinese and Indonesians to move to Japan, when opportunities at home are expanding. There will always be some people wanting to make a move, to have an adventure, but Japan is competing with a lot of countries for high quality human capital, and in the coming decades there will be many more depopulating countries in Asia and Europe. Will Japan be the destination of choice for the best and brightest? Perhaps, but perhaps not.

Finally, international migrants tend to originate in low resource consumption countries, or at least countries with lower per capita resource consumption than Japan. Moving large numbers of people from a biocapacity creditor country, such as Indonesia, to Japan, which is a heavy biocapacity debtor, would exacerbate current environmental problems because the migrants would tend to adopt the consumption habits of their new residence. Japan's consumption levels are seven times the level necessary to maintain environmental sustainability (Global Footprint Network, 2014). Simply put, international migration is environmentally destructive and makes a sustainable human presence on Earth more difficult to achieve; and Japan doesn't have a lot of wiggle room on this issue (USEAI, 2013).

Wrap Up

At this point we need to remind ourselves that currently Japan is a net exporter of people. Moving from that position to absorbing around 900,000 people per year from other countries is probably politically impossible for Japanese society in its present state. The very best that immigration could do, if depopulation is considered a problem requiring the solution of more people, is to provide a softer landing than otherwise might be the case. However, we also know that there are considerable societal and environmental problems associated with this course.

In sum, my analysis points to Japan not going down the immigration path. The numbers required for population stability are too large, and it is questionable whether migrants would settle in the regions that need them most. Finally, international migration won't on its own help us to solve the real problem facing Japan and the rest of the world, which is environmental, and might make it worse. Indeed, I question whether depopulation is a 'problem' at all. Rather, I think it might prove to be an opportunity.


Global Footprint Network (2014) World Footprint: Do We Fit on the Planet?Global Footprint Network Website, Accessed: 1 January 2015.

Matanle, P., Rausch, A.S., with the Shrinking Regions Research Group (2011) Japan's Shrinking Regions in the 21st Century: Contemporary Responses to Depopulation and Socioeconomic Decline, Amherst, NY: Cambria Press.

MIC Statistics Bureau (2014) Japan Statistical Yearbook 2015, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Statistics Bureau Website, Accessed: 30 December 2014.

NIPSSR (2014) 将来推計人口・世帯数 (Population and Household Statistics Projections), National Institute of Population and Social Security Research Website, Accessed: 30 December 2014.

UNPD (2001) Replacement Migration: Is it a Solution to Declining and Ageing Populations? UN Population Division Website, Accessed: 4 January 2015.

USEAI (2013) Japan is the second largest net importer of fossil fuels in the world, United States Energy Information Agency Website, 17 November, Accessed: 4 January 2015.

To 'Suffer' or 'Enjoy' Depopulation?

A Happy New Year to everyone!

A disused elementary school in Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture, Japan. One of many schools closed due to reduced numbers of children.

A disused elementary school in Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture, Japan. One of many schools closed due to reduced numbers of children.

Original growth temperate rain forest, also in Sado.

Original growth temperate rain forest, also in Sado.

A couple of days ago I promised that my next blog post would be about international migration in Japan, but I couldn't resist saying something about this article that popped up unexpectedly in today's Guardian 'Japan suffers lowest number of births on record as population shrinks' (1 January 2015).

What a great example of the perspective that depopulation is a 'problem' that requires a 'solution', with that solution presumably being to stop decline, either by increasing the birth rate to replacement level or drawing in immigrants from other countries. Japan, according to the headline, is 'suffering' a declining birth rate and a widening gap between that and the death rate, resulting in depopulation.

Viewed from a global perspective, isn't over-population usually understood as the more pressing problem? Shouldn't the headline read 'Japan enjoys lowest number of births on record'? Isn't the current environmental footprint of humanity approximately 1.5 Earths (Global Footprint Network, 2014)? Surely fewer people is exactly what is needed right now.

In common with most complex issues, perspective is key here, as is scale of analysis; putting these two together delivers diametrically opposing viewpoints in this case. Seen from the national scale perspective Japan is experiencing a depopulation crisis that threatens serious economic and social consequences; viewed at the global scale, Japan's depopulation might be seen as light at the end of the long dark tunnel of an environmental crisis of existential proportions. Depending on whether one is in Shiga (growing) or Akita (shrinking), the local perspective could deliver either an optimistic or pessimistic assessment. 

If we ignore the global or local perspectives in favour of the national, then the more Japan's demographic circumstances are understood as a negative 'problem', then the more that policy interventions and resources will tend to be directed at attempting to arrest demographic shrinkage by increasing fertility to replacement levels, which is indeed what the Japanese government has been trying to do in recent years. However over the long term this approach is likely to accelerate global environmental change and imperil future generations' sustainability more severely.

Perhaps I am being too much of a contrarian but, if a solution is what is required in these circumstances - and I don't necessarily agree that one is needed - I think the more intelligent, but more difficult, approach should be to celebrate Japan as a pioneer in the science of depopulation by finding out what benefits can be gained and applying them more rigorously in other areas of the world that are experiencing similar demographic trajectories.

And I promise that I will write about international migration very soon.


Global Footprint Network (2014) World Footprint: Do We Fit on the Planet? Global Footprint Network Website, Accessed: 1 January 2015.

Guardian (2014) Japan suffers lowest number of births on record as population shrinks, Guardian Website, 1 January.

The Depopulation Dividend

The 'Depopulation Dividend' is an expression I invented early in 2013 at the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) international conference in Busan, and which I first used in writing in an online article published by Prospect magazine on 7 October 2013 (Matanle, 2013). I define it as the advantages that can be derived from naturally occurring demographic shrinkage and which promote human and environmental sustainability.

Some Background: The Demographic Dividend

In 2003 David Bloom, David Canning and Jaypee Sevilla published The Demographic Dividend, which quickly became a seminal work in the study of population and economy. Short and accessible, the book argues that it is the age structure of a population - rather than its overall size or rate of expansion - that provides the conditions for rapid and sustained economic growth. Key to this is the transition to low fertility that accompanies improved public health and rising living standards; that demographic and economic change go hand in hand with responsible government to lift a country out of poverty and backwardness.

Bloom, Canning and Sevilla singled out East Asia's so-called 'economic miracle' as the most compelling evidence for the relationship between changes in population structure and the achievement of economic development. As such it is my belief that Japan's realisation of its demographic dividend - in other words, its emergence in the late 20th century as one of the world's richest and most developed societies - was a seminal moment in world history. It not only demonstrated conclusively that successful purposive accelerated economic development was possible for a country without a European heritage, but it has helped other East and Southeast Asian countries to follow, by a mixture of emulation, adaptation, creativity, and hard work. The East Asian model of economic growth, which Japan pioneered, has enabled hundreds of millions of people across Asia to live longer, healthier, more fulfilling, more productive, and richer lives. What could be better than that?

Consequences: Ageing and Depopulation

However, Bloom, Canning and Sevilla cautioned that this opportunity is time limited; that on the other side of the transition to low fertility lay the potential dangers of an ageing society and, later still, depopulation (2003: 38). In the 1950s Japan's Total Fertility Rate (the average number of children born to each woman) dropped rapidly and stabilised through the 1960s and into the 1970s at around the normal population replacement rate for developed countries of approximately 2.1 children. Since 1974, however, its TFR has remained below replacement, falling to 1.3 during 2000-05; one of the lowest rates in the world for the time. Japan has enjoyed a slight fertility bounce back in recent years, registering a rate of 1.43 for 2013. But, with four decades of continuous low fertility behind it, the number of women of child-bearing age has declined dramatically such that the number of children being born continues to drop, and sometime in the five year period between 2005 and 2010 Japan's total population also began to fall.

Figure 1 below shows the Japan's natural population rate of change going into negative territory first in 2005, and then continuously from 2007/8; but this data excludes the effects of international migration, which I will deal with in detail in my next blog post. Suffice it to say for now that international migration is not having a great deal of effect on Japan's overall population trends.

Figure 1. Japan's population vital statistics. Source: MIC Statistics Bureau (2014).

Demographers knew for a long time that Japan would enter a long period of ageing and, if circumstances persisted, of depopulation too. Current government estimates project that Japan may reduce in size from its current 127 million people to nearer 88 million by around 2060, while United Nations projections anticipate a slower fall to around 102 million (NIPSSR, 2014; UNDP, 2014). Of course, the actual outcome is subject to some variation from current projections. Nevertheless Japan is shrinking and ageing, and will continue to do so for some years, even decades, into the future.

Why aren't we celebrating?

The consequences of ageing and depopulation are almost always assumed to be negative. Some fear that the the government will fail to raise enough tax to pay for the care and pensions needed in an ageing society; or that the economy may even begin to shrink and encounter problems of over-capacity; or that Japanese society and culture may be destabilised in an attempt to maintain economic strength by large-scale immigration (Coulmas, 2008; Matsutani, 2006). To my mind any hand-wringing is misplaced. Here's why.

For some decades, even a century or more, over-population was understood as the major demographic problem facing humanity, due to the potential for humans to overwhelm the capacity of Earth's natural resources to sustain our consumption. In 1798 Thomas Malthus warned that the increasing rate of expansion in the world's population would outstrip our ability to produce enough food. The Club of Rome published its seminal work The Limits to Growth in 1974 with an update in 2004 (Meadows, Randers and Meadows, 2004). The underlying logic in these, as well as other, volumes being that fewer people would place less pressure on the natural environment and, combined with reductions in per-capita resource usage, the possibility of achieving long-term human co-existence within a sustainable natural environment would be within sight. If that is the case, then why aren't we celebrating the appearance of depopulation in Japan and elsewhere?

Barring a major and sudden change in fertility, ageing, longevity, and migration patterns, Japan will continue to depopulate over the coming decades, and the rest of East and Southeast Asia will follow suit. Most of Europe is either already shrinking or will do so soon. The demographic dividend is coming to an end. The age structure of Asian and European populations is changing rapidly and there is little that can be done about it. Indeed, do we need to 'do' anything? Perhaps there is an alternative.

The Depopulation Dividend

Populations are always in dynamic flux as individuals in their aggregate respond creatively to their endlessly changing circumstances with new patterns for living. Despite initial expectations that the demographic transition would produce a stable global population this has not occurred; and it was probably a naive expectation anyway. In the developed world we now face the prospect of reducing populations as a generalised condition. There is little that can be done to reverse that trend; so why not celebrate it and find out if we genuinely can realise the potential for depopulation to enhance the environmental sustainability of human life?

This is where the concept of the depopulation dividend comes into its own. Once we begin to think in this way a huge number of questions emerge, whose answers might point towards new directions for human life in the 21st century.

  • Does depopulation reduce human pressures on the natural environment?
  • Is there any evidence to support the expectation of a depopulation dividend?
  • If not, where can we get the evidence that we need?
  • What if the evidence tells us that the depopulation dividend is more difficult to achieve than we had previously anticipated?

The Future

Some say that Japan is facing a major crisis (NHK World, 2014). But every crisis also bring opportunities. I want to seek out some answers to the above questions and I am confident that researching the experience of Japan and East Asia will help us grope towards finding them. As my research unfolds I will document and track my progress on this blog. By doing so I hope to stimulate discussion, collaboration, and progress towards the goal of maximising the depopulation dividend and delivering a more harmonious and sustainable relationship between humanity and the natural environment on which we all depend.

Next instalment: International Migration in Japan.


My thanks to Professor Natalie Jackson, Director of the National Institute for Demographic and Economic Analysis, University of Waikato, New Zealand, and Mr. Roger Martin, Chairman of Population Matters, UK, for their cooperation and encouragement in developing the concept of the Depopulation Dividend.


Bloom, D., Canning, D. and Sevilla, J. (2003) The Demographic Dividend: A New Perspective on the Economic Consequences of Population Change, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.

Coulmas, F. (2008) Population Decline and Ageing in Japan - The Social Consequences, London and New York: Routledge.

Matanle, P. (2013) Why the 2020 Olympics won't solve Japan's problems, Prospect, Online Edition, 7 October.

Matsutani, A. (2006) Shrinking Population Economics: Lessons from Japan, Tokyo: International House of Japan.

Meadows, D., Randers, J and Meadows, D. (2004) The Limits to Growth: The 30 year Update, London: Routledge.

MIC Statistics Bureau (2014) Japan Statistical Yearbook 2015, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Statistics Bureau Website, Accessed: 30 December 2014.

NHK World (2014) Japan's Depopulation Crisis, NHK World, First Broadcast 2 May 2014., Available from Youtube, Accessed: 30 December 2014.

NIPSSR (2014) 将来推計人口・世帯数 (Population and Household Statistics Projections), National Institute of Population and Social Security Research Website, Accessed: 30 December 2014.

UNPD (2014) World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision, United Nations Population Division Website, Accessed: 30 December 2014.

Social Media for Academia

Every year I become more convinced that to be successful as a scholar and academic I need to embrace social media. However, that prompts some explanation.

First, is to ask what does it mean to be a successful scholar and academic? For me it's about producing research that informs and assists others in their endeavours, either through contributing to and moving forward the scholarly discourse in my subject or by my research helping to improve the conditions of life. This might sound rather grandiose, but I mean it. I hope that, however modest my contribution may be, my research will have a positive impact on the world. Skilful and creative use of social media can be extremely useful in achieving that objective, I believe.

Which leads to the second question as to why social media is necessary. It's unavoidable that the internet is the most commonly used and most effective means of scholarly communication available today. It's essential for helping to push forward and shape the scholarly conversation. To be sure, conventional methods such as books, journal articles and other publications are also essential, as is regular attendance at conferences and other meetings. But social media is hugely effective for reaching out to new audiences, as well as for maintaining and developing existing relationships at a distance; and as electronic communications develop, so the number of distant relationships seems to increase year by year. And this leads me to the crucial questions of how to use social media most effectively, which media platforms to use, and why.

I like to think that I am an early adopter of internet communications, at least among my peer groups. But the more I use it, the more I realise it is a learned skill and that its use has few limits in terms of time and investment. In early 2011 I took the decision to work harder on using social media to boost my online presence and that has paid off in terms of the number of people that I am reaching. Stats from Google Scholar show that since I made that decision the number and rate of citations my research has received has increased (Figure 1). That may be to some extent due to some good quality publications since that time, but I also can't help concluding that it is also due to increased usage of social media.

Figure 1: Number of citations to my research as of 28 December 2014 (Source: Google Scholar My Citations).

In my experience one very useful site has been Academia.edu. Since 2011 I've uploaded advanced versions of my published research, talks, and other information to that platform and been incredibly surprised at the large number of page views and downloads (Figure 2). Members of academia.edu are students, academics and specialists, and the evidence from there shows that my research is getting a broader and deeper audience than previously within the scholarly and higher education communities. The international data also shows that my research has a broader geographical reach, too. It's very gratifying to see that the time I've spent developing these platforms and pages has been worthwhile in terms of the penetration of my research.

Figure 2. Screenshot of my research analytics on Academia.edu showing 60 day views to 28 December 2014 (Source: Academia.edu).

However, I've also come to understand that, like most things in life that are worthwhile and difficult, effective and creative development of a sophisticated and integrated online presence requires time, effort, patience, and dedicated study. There is still so much to learn in terms of which platforms to use for what, how each platform operates, how to join up activity on different platforms to develop an integrated approach to using social media for research, as well as simply finding the time and money to devote to the task. But I also want to share my knowledge and experience so that others can also benefit, which is one more reason for creating this blog and website.

So, I want to make 2015 the year of social media for me and my research. Over the coming months I'll need to do the following to make this work:

  • Read and learn about using social media from the experts.
  • Apply that knowledge to developing my current platforms.
  • Expand into new territories and create new platforms.
  • Link my platforms together and develop an integrated approach.
  • Review and track my progress and implement lessons learned.

Within these there will be a lot more besides, especially in developing an efficient method of rolling it all out and tracking my progress and its results. But I think I'm going to have fun doing so, and hopefully my research will not only have an expanded impact in the world, but I will meet some fellow travellers and make new friends along the way.