Why I Cancelled My Subscription to The Economist

By | 2017-06-02T18:30:05+00:00 August 23, 2017|
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As a teenager I was enthralled by The Economist—the logic of liberal economics was elegant, almost beautiful in its simplicity. I was a student. I valued parsimony. The Economist provided this, boiling macroeconomic events down to their core components and causal mechanisms—it made economics digestible.

I also valued objectivity, or at least its pretense. The magazine’s lack of authorial attribution flavored it with the bland spice of impartiality—it was consistent, both ideologically and rhetorically. It gave me what my young mind craved.

Twelve years on and I’ve finally cancelled my subscription. I hate The Economist. Why? A good case-in-point is their recent article If borders were open: A world of free movement would be $78 trillion richer. The best way to approach this is to dissect the article in detail, exposing its major flaws and biases.

The article’s thesis is that by allowing the free movement of labor worldwide, we could double global economic output. This would make everyone significantly richer, and therefore better off. The article begins by taking a progressive position:

Labour is the world’s most valuable commodity—yet thanks to strict immigration regulation, most of it goes to waste… Mexican labourers who migrate to the United States can expect to earn 150% more. Unskilled Nigerians make 1,000% more.

Essentially, The Economist presumes that it is rational to maximize global wealth. But this is not always true. Rationality depends on your perspective. Take America’s illegal immigration crisis for example. There is no question that illegal aliens are better-off in America than they were in their homeland—it was rational for them to migrate.

But the converse is not true: illegal immigration has hurt America’s citizens economically by depressing wages, increasing the demand for government services (and therefore taxes), and reducing the need for automation. It was not rational for America to leave the border undefended—even though doing so may have increased global wealth in the aggregate.

Two things can be rational, and yet mutually exclusive. The Economist ignores this fact. It continues:

If borders were open, how many people would up sticks? Gallup, a pollster, estimated in 2013 that 630m people—about 13% of the world’s population—would migrate permanently if they could…

Strangely, The Economist did not use Gallup’s latest poll (published 2017) on global migration. The newer poll states that just over 700 million people, or 14 percent of the world’s population, would like to migrate if they could. Of these people, some 147 million would move to the USA, while 168 million would choose Western Europe.

Specifics matter. Economists like abstract concepts and numbers—the more dissociated from reality the better. This makes the math easy, elegant. But there is a downside: the more abstract the number, the less we care. Joseph Stalin was right when he said ‘one death is a tragedy; one million, a statistic.’

So let us reframe Gallup’s findings in terms of natural frequencies. The Economist thinks it is rational to usher in 157 million immigrants into America—particularly those from the poorest countries. This is one immigrant for every two Americans. Take a moment to think through the consequences of such a high level of migrant-saturation.


The Economist Lies About the Link Between Open Borders and Crime & Terrorism

The Economist then goes on to summarily dismiss the problems you likely considered, calling them irrational or, at best, ‘open questions.’ The problems identified and rebutted are as follows.

If lots of people migrated from war-torn Syria, gangster-plagued Guatemala or chaotic Congo, would they bring mayhem with them? It is an understandable fear…but there is little besides conjecture and anecdotal evidence to support it . . .

A study of migration flows among 145 countries between 1970 and 2000 by researchers at the University of Warwick found that migration was more likely to reduce terrorism than increase it…

The Economist argues the worn-out progressive talking-point that immigration makes the host nation safer by decreasing crime levels and decreasing the likelihood of terrorism. Neither of these claims is necessarily true.

As with everything, the devil’s in the details. Were America to open up its borders to foreign labor as The Economist recommends, from where would the bulk of immigrants come? Presumably from the same destinations which are currently leading the pack: Mexico, Central America, the Philippines etc. If this is the case, we could expect to see crime rates rise dramatically following such a large influx of people.

Why? Because illegal immigrants from these regions commit crimes at a much higher frequency than do American citizens, or legal immigrants. For example, according to a report from the Washington Examiner fully 75 percent of all federal drug possession charges were levied against illegal aliens. Likewise, another report from the National Review revealed that illegals are 350 percent more likely to commit murder in New York City. Part of this is cultural—the crime rate for illegal immigrants often conforms to the rate in their homeland—and part of this is due to the nature of illegal immigration. Law-abiding people tend to immigrate legally, while individuals who do not respect the law have no compunction when it comes to hopping the border. Unfortunately, these are the very type of people who would benefit most from open borders.

A second example worth mentioning is the case of the migrant crisis in Sweden, as this probably best reflects what a large-scale, legal open borders policy would look like. Sweden has accepted over 320,000 migrants since 2014. During this period crime exploded. For example, the number of sexual assaults and violent crimes committed by Swedes of immigrant background (including asylees) has tripled, while the number of robberies and other petty crimes has doubled.

The magazine’s second point is that terrorism and immigration are not linked. Depending upon the place of origin of said immigrants, this is risible. The evidence is readily available and easily observed: there have been no terrorist attacks in low-immigration countries like Poland and Japan, while there have been many in high-immigration countries like France and Germany. This point is self-evident.

Furthermore, The Economist completely misrepresented the study they cite from the University of Warwick. The study does not show that “migration was more likely to reduce terrorism than increase it.” Instead, it argued that the overall level of immigration is not strongly correlated with terrorism—what matters is the country of origin:

[The researchers] found that migration can under some specific circumstances be a vehicle for and driver of terrorism. The researchers detected that there was an increase in terrorism in a country that accepted migrants from another where terrorism is rife. However, countries, which accepted immigrants from countries where there is no or a low level of activism, did not suffer exposure to terrorism

The Economist is not only factually wrong when it comes to the link between open borders, crime, and terrorism, but they are also quite content to misrepresent research to prove their point.

The Economist is fake news.


Open Borders Would Not Make Everyone Rich—It Would Make Us Poor

Finally we arrive at the most important section: the crux of the entire debate. The Economist asserts that large-scale immigration enriches the citizens of the host country:

Would large-scale immigration make locals worse off economically? So far, it has not. Immigrants are more likely than the native-born to bring new ideas and start their own businesses, many of which hire locals. Overall, migrants are less likely than the native-born to be a drain on public finances…

Much of this is incorrect. Why? Because the macroeconomic ideas espoused are based on a faulty understanding of how economic growth works and an ignorance of time-horizons. Cheap labor reduces the need for productivity-boosting technology, which can be a significant detriment to long-run economic growth. It is no surprise that economies predicated upon cheap labor, like in Ancient Rome or the Antebellum South, failed to meaningfully advance their technology or industrialize.

There is wisdom in Plato’s aphorism ‘necessity is the mother of invention.’ Economic stressors (from competition to costly labor) have the hormetic effect of causing growth—this explains why the Industrial Revolution occurred in Great Britain, and not France or China (where labor was plentiful).

Aside from this, the preponderance of evidence refutes The Economist’s claim: immigration does not grow the economy.

The most recent, and comprehensive study that looked at the economic impact of immigration was a 642 page report conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The study found that (i) immigration has negatively impacted the wages and employment prospects of American citizens, especially for the working class; and that (ii) although immigration provided a (minor) net economic benefit to America’s citizen population, nearly half of all immigrants were a drain on the economy.

Specifically, the majority of the 40 percent of immigrants who arrived via chain migration, as well as other non-economic channels, cost a negative net present value of $170,000. Net present value is how much money the government would need to invest today, at a yield of inflation plus three percent, to pay for said immigrant’s tax deficit over the course of their lifetime. Of course, the government does not do this, and spends only as it receives, so this lowballs the real number.

According to the Heritage Foundation, each non-economic immigrant—those who entered America as family reunifications, or asylum seekers—more realistically costs a net of $476,000. Over the last few decades the immigration of low-skilled people has cost America trillions.

Other studies concluded the same thing. For example, A recent study by Denmark’s Ministry of Finance found that immigrants were a net drain on the nation’s economy. In fact, non-European immigrants and their descendants consumed 59 percent of the tax surplus collected from native Danes. This is not surprising, since some 84 percent of all welfare recipients in Denmark were immigrants, or their descendants.

The bottom line: open borders will likely not make America richer.

Another study by the Fraser Institute found that immigration costs Canadian taxpayers some $24 billion per year—and this was using data from nearly a decade ago. The number has since increased significantly.

A final study from the UK, conducted by the University College of London found the value of immigration to the economy was contingent upon country of origin. The study looked at the labor government’s mass immigration push between 1995 and 2011, and found that immigrants from the European Economic Area made a small, but positive net contribution to the British economy of £4.4 billion during the period. However, during the same period non-European immigrants (primarily from South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa) cost the British economy a net £120 billion.

The bottom line: open borders will likely not make America richer.

Another major problem that the unknown author dismisses too-easily is the issue of crowding. Today, shelter is more expensive, in real terms, than at any point since 1973. Summing up my previous research on U.S. historical housing prices: in 1973 the median household income was $9,265, while the median sales price of a new home was $29,900—3.2 times the median household income. Compare this to today’s prices: in January 2017 the median sales price for a new home was $317,400, which is 5.6 times the median household income of $56,516. This means that houses are 73% more expensive today, in real terms, than they were in 1973.

And what is driving higher house prices? Predominantly immigration, which has been the engine of America’s population growth for the last four decades. It is a question of basic supply and demand: more people means more demand for housing, which elevates prices. Ideally, housing supply would expand accordingly and prices would find an equilibrium, but building new homes or apartment blocks takes time, and space is limited in the city.

A good example is what has happened in the Canadian city of Vancouver, which is now home to some 200,000 wealthy Chinese expats: property values have risen astronomically, and two-thirds of the rise can be attributed to said immigration, and other Chinese investment. Open borders would compound this problem.


Back to the Curiosity Shop

Perhaps open borders would make humanity as a whole richer. And perhaps the flow of one hundred million mouths into America would enrich our nation, and our people—despite the mountains of conflicting evidence. But even if we buy these conclusions hook, line, and sinker, it still does not follow that we should open the borders.

Economics is an intellectual tool that can help us make better decisions, but it should not make these decisions for us. There are many rational reasons to sacrifice economic expediency for principles of far greater value—family, freedom, nature. China’s economic rise was made possible, in part, due to its ability to bulldoze villages, pollute rivers, and silence critics—all in the name of “progress.”

Economically justified? Certainly. Rational? Perhaps.

But for those who, like Edmund Burke, see the nation not as an assorted collection of atomized individuals, seeking pleasure at the expense of their fellow man, but as a people inseparably bonded to one another through culture and language, and to the past and future through art and blood, sacrifices laid at the altar of economics are of little value. Far more important is the preservation of our nation, be it wilderness or artifice, duty or liberty. The Economist would be wise to remember this.


About the Author:

Spencer P. Morrison
Spencer P. Morrison is a law student, writer, and author of Bobbins, Not Gold. He is the editor-in-chief of the National Economics Editorial. Follow him on Twitter @SPMorrison_.


  1. Doctor Bass Monkey August 23, 2017 at 6:05 pm

    I canceled mine some time ago. They went left at least a decade ago in their news/political reporting, and it became insufferable. Shame, because they did have an interesting breadth of coverage, and their obituaries are still top notch. But their coverage became so skewed that reading the business/economic half was like reading a completely newspaper than the rest.

    • Spencer Morrison September 5, 2017 at 1:58 pm

      I agree, although it’s a shame because the apolitical elements are still quite good (tech section specifically), but I can no longer support the paper as a whole because its advocacy wings have usurped the paper’s broader mission.

  2. zoomie August 23, 2017 at 6:34 pm

    I noticed quite a long time ago there was not a single economist who recomended we take in more economists from other countries, NEVER.

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  3. Robert Curry August 24, 2017 at 7:42 am

    I enjoyed your explanation of why you cancelled.
    I cancelled my subscription around 2003.
    Here’s hoping you inspire lots of folks to follow your example.
    All the best

    • Spencer Morrison September 5, 2017 at 2:05 pm

      Thanks Robert.

      • Robert Curry September 5, 2017 at 4:47 pm

        Thank you for taking the time to reply.

  4. msher_1 August 24, 2017 at 11:32 am

    Economist leaves out something crucial: assimilation vs multi-culturalism. In our new pc world of multiculturalism, societies are no longer being formed as cohesive wholes and the resulting hodge-pidge of separate identity groups is u workable and ungovernable. I live in Calif – now Mexico Norte. There are days and places where I hear no English spoken. I have had medical appointments at a Stanford facility. They have signs saying free translators for all languages, Swahali, Mongolian, no problem. I asked who pays for those translators. No one knows. But gushes a pretty young thing, ” Stanford believes every patient has a right to understand their care.”

    • Spencer Morrison September 5, 2017 at 2:06 pm

      The Tower of Babel is an age-old parable—a shame no one listened.

  5. Wayne Lusvardi August 24, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    I let my subscription lapse. When they called me from the UK to renew I said “too much fake news”. I liked the Erasmus column on religion but even that has deteriorated. As to the specifics of the manipulative title of the cited article “If Borders Were Open, the World Would Be $78 trillion Richer”, I would refer readers to the book by Paul Bairoch “Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes”, wherein he provides data showing that after protectionist trade measures were enacted that GDP grew, mainly because it resulted in re-industrialization. Free trade is an ideology on the international level. I believe in markets not government but those markets can be domestic and local.

    • Spencer Morrison September 5, 2017 at 2:01 pm

      I recommend this book to anyone who asks. Bairoch was fearless.

  6. mikefromwichita August 24, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    Glad to see that someone else loathes The Economist as much as i do.

  7. Bill Robbins August 24, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    Hit the “Economist” and their globalist MSM ilk where it hurts: in the wallet. Cancel your subscriptions. Terminate your service. Tune-out. Un-plug. It really is the best way to take action.

  8. JamesDrouin August 25, 2017 at 8:34 am

    Well, Mr. Morrison, it’s good that you cancelled your subscription to The Economist, but it doesn’t speak well that you had one to begin with or that you needed twelve years to recognize the smell of bvllshiite for exactly what it is.

    • Spencer Morrison September 5, 2017 at 1:56 pm

      In fairness, I read it mostly for the tech section & special issues (which are to this day quite good)—the American content was never worth-reading (to be expected from a British paper). What pushed me over the edge was their coverage of the migrant crisis, Brexit & Trump.

      They also purged a number of their more conservative writers after the takeover a few years back, which likewise didn’t help.

  9. AtTheTable August 25, 2017 at 8:55 am

    Good discussion, though much more is needed, in many more outlets.
    However, you seem to have missed or avoided one of the real consequences of Open Borders, i.e., the impact on culture.
    Imagine if you will, 400 million immigrants from mostly Muslim countries coming to America. How long before the democratic system would demand, via the ballot box, that these new citizens get to rearrange the institutions of the country to better reflect their values, not the values of the host country?
    Of course, the global elite don’t care because they are increasingly dissociated from the masses. They have their islands, their enclaves where they can continue to gather and tell each other how wonderful life is, leaving the teaming masses to duke it out amongst themselves for the scraps the elite let fall from their abundant tables.
    Invasion by immigration, all in the name of keeping the global elite in the lifestyle to which they are increasingly becoming accustomed.

    • Spencer Morrison September 5, 2017 at 2:05 pm

      Your point is undoubtedly the most important (and true), but many liberals use economic arguments as a shield—once this shield is broken they will have nowhere to hide, and will be forced to debate on our terms.

  10. VintageVNVet August 26, 2017 at 7:20 am

    Received a subscription as a gift, and read it cover to cover while it was free of charge to me. Approximately half nonsense, and the rest ”gobbledeguck” or some thing like that…

    ”That’s all folks.”

  11. Schmutzli August 27, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    As long as the welfare state exists, open borders are guaranteed to lower the economic standards of countries who provide welfare benefits to anyone who crosses the border. The combination of freebies and crime costs far outweigh any “productivity” gains. It ain’t even close.

    Only the inhernntly stupid and the willfully ignorant think otherwise.

  12. sosumi idk August 29, 2017 at 12:21 am

    Economic and political considerations are both essential to quality of life. Lacking either one guarantees misery and suffering.

    Open borders would be to prioritize economic growth at the expense of political considerations to the point of literally disaster.

    Nation-states exist for political reasons: to provide security to people who share a geographic location. Political structures evolve over time to meet the needs of region and culture. Abandoning or overloading political institutions to make economic growth the sole priority and sole measure of well-being makes about as much sense as throwing out a person’s lungs to make more room for some “more important” organ (such as the heart) to have more room to grow.

Comments are closed.