In an earlier blog entry, I spoke about the practical reasons as to why Korea ought to embrace multiculturalism. Elsewhere on the Internet, however, I received numerous objections.
A few of the ‘arguments’ that I have heard were nothing less than incoherent racist diatribes that were peppered with misogyny. I initially thought about writing something that would not only condemn but analyze racism and sexism. However, I decided against it for two reasons. Firstly, such topics have been covered by others before with much better penmanship than I could ever hope to achieve. Secondly, considering the intellectual, philosophical, and moral bankruptcy that are required for individuals to become racists or sexists, I figured that no amount of rational or logical arguments are likely to change their ‘minds.’
The arguments against immigration that piqued my interest the most were the economic ones. Those arguments tended to deal with wages, welfare, public expenditures, etc. The following are the economic arguments that I received and my rebuttals.
1) Immigrants from poorer countries who are willing to work for lower wages depreciate everyone’s wages.
Currently, the minimum wage rate in Korea is ₩4,860 (US$4.24) per hour. And it is certainly true that there are businesses that knowingly choose to employ illegal immigrants and pay them less than the legally mandated minimum wage rate. However, there is little to suggest that their low wages depress everyone’s wages. That is because immigrants from poorer countries rarely compete with Koreans over the same jobs.
Low-income and low-skilled immigrants tend to look for work in certain businesses like farms, restaurants, and factory floors. These are the kinds of jobs that most Koreans no longer generally seek. In fact, it is the presence of these workers that allows a lot of these businesses to be feasible. Without these immigrants, a lot of these businesses would not be able to compete with their foreign competitors.
As low-skilled immigrants and Koreans seldom ever compete with each other for the same jobs, the threat of depressed wages is a red herring.
That being said, there will be individual cases of workers who get put out of work by immigrant competition. However, using these anecdotal examples to argue against immigration fails to take into account that whereas these individuals’ acute suffering is immediately visible to all, the benefits of immigration are divided among the general population and is not immediately visible. Therefore, it must be taken into consideration that using these few individual cases to support anti-immigration policies are almost always nothing more than emotional arguments that often lack rational thought.
2) An increase in immigration will create or exacerbate unemployment.
This argument is related to the first one in that the argument is based on the assumption that immigrants and native Koreans compete for the same kinds of jobs. The response to that argument need not be reiterated.
However, this argument, unlike the first, is based on a second premise – that there is only a limited amount of work that can be done. This argument is the epitome of economic illiteracy.
When immigrants look for work, they are indeed supplying a commodity in the market – their labor. However, where there is supply there is always demand and vice versa. As immigrants earn wages, they inevitably spend their money (if not all of it, at least some of it) in order to buy goods and services. Their new demand for goods and services, which had been absent prior to their arrival in Korea, will in turn create demand for new labor.
Their very presence in Korea serves to create a larger domestic population, one that is comprised of native Koreans and immigrants. This creates a bigger market, which serves as more potential customers for businesses.
Furthermore, if the premise that there is only a limited amount of available work were true, besides opposing immigration, people who adhere to that logic also ought to oppose any and all new forms of technological innovation. Every new technological advancement and new invention ought to make more and more jobs disappear, thus eventually leaving every individual replaced by robots. Therefore, for the sake of guaranteed employment for the maximum number of people, not only should they oppose new technological innovations, they also ought to push for the disinvention of current technology. Think of all the jobs that people would have if only we could disinvent the wheel!
|At least we all have jobs.|
3) Immigrants are a drain on the economy as they become welfare recipients.
When the National Assembly approved this year’s revised budget, it was determined that the government would spend ₩342 trillion. Of that sum, ₩100 trillion was appropriated for welfare programs. However, what is most surprising about welfare expenditures is that, contrary to popular perception, most welfare programs focus on the elderly rather than the poor. In fact, most of Korea’s welfare spending is focused on public social expenditure (Social Security, free public transportation for senior citizens), health services (which are inaccessible without paying social security taxes), and separate old age expenditures.
Although Korea spends very little on welfare programs in general, Social Security and the health services dwarf other social programs.
However, most immigrants tend to be young. Therefore, immigrants who work in Korea often end up supporting older Koreans, rather than ‘milk the system.’ Illegal immigrants, on the other hand, either do not have Social Security numbers or they have expired or fake Social Security numbers. The ones who do not have them cannot access government services at all. Those who have expired or fake Social Security numbers, depending on circumstances, may have to pay taxes toward Social Security, but cannot collect any benefits. Therefore, as far as the Ministry of Strategy and Finance ought to be concerned, illegal immigrants are a cash cow.
As such, the argument that immigrants cost the government money in terms of welfare is inaccurate.
|They got a raw deal, except less eightiesmovies-tastic.|
The fact of the matter is that much of the anti-immigration rhetoric is usually egged on by demagogues. They usually attempt to mask their ignorance (or insatiable political ambition) with either nationalistic zeal or workers’ solidarity; all the while accusing their opponents of “exploiting cheap labor” while sacrificing the Korean worker at the altar of capitalist greed. In reality, what they pass off as economic knowledge is no more than half-baked pseudo-economics.