The Economist occasionally publishes tables that show how much countries like each other. Unsurprisingly, almost every nation puts itself at the top of its own list, with approval ratings in the nineties.
The exception is the UK, which ranks itself third, behind Australia and New Zealand and a whisker ahead of Canada.
We imagine the Old Dominions as our better selves. They have kept our monarchy, parliamentary system, common law, sports, sense of humour, fair play, indignation at injustice and readiness to stand up to tyrants.
But they seem somehow more capacious than the mother country – more relaxed, more outdoorsy, more classless.
Richer, too. There is a reason that the movement of population is overwhelmingly from the UK to its former colonies rather than the other way around. Someone who moves from Bristol to Brisbane, doing the same job with the same qualifications, can reasonably expect a bigger house, a shorter commute, and a lot more sunshine.
Why are the former Dominions richer?… Because they have pursued policies that always serve to make nations richer: limited government, a competitive regulatory framework, free trade. …
Britain taxes more, spends more, and borrows more than its daughter nations. Unsurprisingly, this gives rise to a relatively lower standard of living. …
Britain is in its 13th consecutive year of “conservative” government, yet is still the most left wing country in the Anglophone. Why? Uncontrolled immigration and immigration from the third world has a lot to do with it:
There is never a single answer to these things, and lots of factors are involved. The absence of a hereditary aristocracy in the New World made for more social mobility, as did the sheer abundance of land. I suspect that Britain’s greater exposure to the Second World War, its more total mobilisation, was also part of the picture. The dial never quite returned to where it had been before 1940.
But there is one factor that I think is especially underestimated, and that is immigration. The settler colonies attracted disproportionately enterprising people, first as a function of geography, then as deliberate policy.
To leave your friends and family for a new land, even in an age of cheap flights and satellite TV, requires unusual optimism. Imagine what it must have required when sailing to Canada could take four weeks, and sailing to Australia could take four months.
The people prepared to make such journeys were, almost by definition, more spirited than average. Even the prisoners transported to eighteenth-century Australia proved innovative and industrious once the idea of supporting the colony with state-run farms was replaced by grants of private land upon completion of sentence. …
The optimism bias continued, from the gold rushes and to the age of jet travel. It went up a few notches when the settler colonies decided to open their doors to significant migration from Asia, introducing points systems to determine who was most qualified.
In all three countries, plenty of people vaguely opine that the numbers are too high, but none of the main parties proposes significant cuts. Why? Because all three countries control their borders. Their electorates go along with relatively high levels of legal migration because they can see that illegal immigration is nigh on impossible. …
The question is whether we are prepared to do distasteful things, such as send families to Rwanda. If we’re not, we might as well drop the pretence that we can control our frontiers.
Immigration into the UK has, from the start, been haphazard. Instead of aiming to attract the best and brightest through a points-based system, we recruited en masse, paid people’s fares, and put them to work for the state. Then we started admitting people simply because they had managed to stay long enough to acquire the right to remain – a policy that, instead of encouraging gratitude and patriotism, taught contempt for the system.
We tend to take it for granted that immigrants are likely to vote for parties of the left. But might this be the result of how they arrived here? Or, to turn it around, if we made more of an effort to recruit the most talented and energetic settlers, and to close off all other routes, might not the immigrant population be likelier, as in the Dominions, to support free-market policies?
Immigration is who we are. Is there a more important policy? I don’t recall it ever coming up as an election issue, where you could vote say to raise or lower it. The administrative state just did it.