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'Counting immigrants' worth in money is racist'

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'Counting immigrants' worth in money is racist'
11:35 CEST+02:00
Don't fall into the racist trap of measuring immigrants' value by how much they contribute to the treasury. How much do disabled people contribute to the balance sheet of society? Sick people? Such thinking opens the door to horrible follow-up questions, argues Swedish author Marcus Priftis.

A while ago, the economic club of wealthy nations known as the OECD published a report showing immigration to be a profit-maker. The OECD compared the taxes paid by immigrant households with the social benefits, pensions and other welfare services claimed by the same households. In 22 out of 27 countries surveyed, including Sweden, the national budgets gained on average 26,000 kronor ($3,800) per household.

The OECD also noted that immigrants who have not become citizens of their country of residence are even more profitable from a national treasury point of view, compared to naturalized citizens, mainly due to the absence of pension costs.

Following the newspapers reporting that immigration contributes a net profit on the treasury, the news spread like wildfire in social media, accompanied by cheerful anti-racist commentaries triumphantly bassooning "Ha! Suck it up, Jimmie!" - referring to Jimmie Åkesson, leader of the nationalist, anti-immigration Sweden Democrat party.

But why all this joy?

Sure, the OECD report is a blow to the Sweden Democrat way of talking about national budget issues. But the Sweden Democrats are already the least credible party in the Riksdag in terms of financial policy. Neither is there any proof that voters who cast their ballot for a racist party do so with the state finances in mind.

Moreover, the OECD's conclusions should be simple math. People who arrive to Sweden as adults do not put any burden whatsoever on the state treasury when it comes to childcare, pre-school, and school. Since they start from scratch, as soon as they start to earn a living and pay taxes – which most of them do unless curtailed by racist attitudes and unsound labor market policies – they constitute a fiscal goldmine.

But that’s the overall picture. There are of course exceptions. And once facts have proven the racists wrong with respect to the overall picture, they will naturally target the exceptions instead. For example, illiterate people coming from countries with poor (if any) education systems, or refugees arriving from war zones with their minds scarred by trauma. And as soon as the racists start targeting this carefully selected group of immigrants ("Well, what about the Somalis? How do THEY contribute?"), those anti-racists who have built their counter-argument on a cost-benefit analysis will stand speechless.

And that’s not the end of the problem. Once you have been lured into the trap of determining people’s civic rights (such as the right to stay in the country) by financial factors, you are on a slippery slope with a dreadful historic record. If the profitable persons are deemed the only desirables, some horrid follow-up questions will line up. For instance, how is the treasury doing with the disabled? Do they cost us or make us money? And what about the sick? Or the elderly, whose days of contributing to the economic growth is in their past? What are we supposed to do with them?

If you want to build a sustainable argument against ideas such as “the cost of immigration”, you must instead understand where those kinds of idea come from. They for sure do not come from economics. In a Swedish context, the concept of “cost of immigration” was political rhetoric formulated by Ny Demokrati. [Editor’s note: A right-wing populist party that sat in parliament in the early nineties.] They didn’t come up with the concept due to their profound concern with the state finances, but because they wanted to single out immigrants as a burden on society.

Nobody asks what Värmlänningar [people from the western county of Värmland] cost society, although they are probably just as expensive as immigrants. Nobody has demanded a study of the cost of men, despite the well-known fact that men are an economic detriment taking into account the crimes we commit, our high salaries etc. Why? Because we all agree that Värmlänningar and men belong in our society, no matter the cost.

The OECD report contains valuable insights for regulators and civil servants. But it makes for a weak conceptual structure on which to lean for someone who wants to fight racism. An argument that measures people in economic terms will never make a true case against discrimination.

Marcus Priftis is the author of "Främling, vad döljer du för mig?". This op-ed was originally published in Swedish by the left-leaning news and opinion website Dagens Arena.

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