Declining standards of living: professor blames immigration; Marxists blame capitalism

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According to Robert Rowthorn, economics professor at Kings’ College, Cambridge, large-scale immigration will be bad for Britain’s economy. In a report published by the right-wing think tank Civitas, Rowthorn argues that immigration causes a decline in standards of living.

This comes just after the publication of the OECD’s fifty-year projection for the world economy which says that global economic growth in the future will be reliant on unprecedented immigration by workers into the advanced capitalist countries.

Rowthorn is correct – immigration under capitalism causes a decline in the standards of living for working people. This is because bosses use immigrant labour to force down wages. Capitalism in crisis requires more attacks on living standards in order to maintain profits – this is why mass immigration is required over the next fifty years in order to stimulate the world economy.

But Rowthorn misses the point. It is not the case that Britain doesn’t need more doctors, nurses, teachers or various other types of workers. Many hands make light work – so an influx of workers from other countries should mean that, if everyone is working, we could shorten the working day to a fraction of what it is now while increasing productivity. If workers are working less but receiving the same or even better pay, on the basis of increased productivity, this would represent a significant increase in standards of living.

The reason that this doesn’t happen is because it would be very unprofitable for those at the top. The crisis of capitalism today is due to overcapacity in the economy – more commodities are being produced than can profitably be absorbed by the market. The last thing the bosses want to do now is to employ more people with a decent wage – in fact they are sacking as many people as possible and replacing them with workers on zero-hours contracts and very low pay in order to reduce the productive capacity in the capitalist system and thereby maintain their profits.

In reality it is not immigration that causes declining standards of living but the capitalist system itself – thanks to its internal contradictions and the unquenchable thirst for profit. Immigration has the potential to vastly improve standards of living for the majority of people but this is only achievable on the basis of a socialist plan of production.

Reports like this one by Rowthorn are one-sided and serve reactionary purposes. They ignore the elephant in the room – the decaying capitalist system. They are simply used to whip up anti-immigrant hysteria in order to divide workers among themselves along national lines. Such divisions make it easier for the ruling class to drive down wages and standards of work and life.

As Marxists we stand for the unity of the working class across national lines. We recognise that it is capitalism, not immigration that causes falling standards of living. And we struggle for socialism as the only rational way to run society – to democratically plan production, manage migration and improve standards of living.

by Cambridge Marxists