Tuesday, 19 May 2020
Unskilled and Unaware
Many people will be familiar with the Dunning & Kruger study from 1999 which broadly tested the thesis that people with low levels of knowledge tend to overestimate their own competence. In a nutshell, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. This axiom is universally accepted – the study was merely to formalise an understanding of it – and it is nowhere more widely demonstrated than in the national discourse on any topic you care to name.
Another axiom – better to remain silent and be thought stupid, than to speak out and leave no doubt – might better be observed by the plethora of armchair experts who, on the basis of a few headlines, suddenly know all you need to know. In the delayed debate on the Immigration Bill, David Lammy (a near perfect example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect) tweeted out: “Just voted against the Conservative's Immigration Bill. I still can't believe this government has the nerve to call countless key workers in this pandemic 'low skilled' - and legislate to make others like them no longer welcome in the UK.”
Conflation is at the heart of being unskilled and unaware and the logical fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc is regularly deployed to create arguments such as this, which have no merit. A working definition of ‘low-skilled’ could be work which could be performed by the majority of the population, in contrast with work that can only be undertaken by very few who have the aptitude and have put in the countless hours acquiring the necessary skills. Anybody in reasonable shape could re-stock shelves in a supermarket; very few could ever be trained to perform brain surgery.
This is self evident. What might be less so, but is nonetheless true, is that just because you may be highly educated and niche-skilled in a particular discipline, it does not automatically follow that you are better placed to comment on an entirely different topic than any others. Your doctorate in astrophysics does not make you an epidemiologist – I’m looking at you Brian Cox – and your pre-eminence in the entirely self-indulgent discipline of philosophy does not endow you with omniscience in matters political, Mr Grayling.
So, it is entirely appropriate to refer to the mass importation of foreign labour as low-skilled and to honestly examine who they are and why we do it. In theory we invite in the lowest paid and most productive workers from all over the world, they busy themselves enriching us while we Brits get to live the life of Riley. Then, once the economic units have done their bit they get to go back to their mud huts with a bit of cash so they can feed the family they have been absent from for so long.
When I worked in North Africa, all those years ago, we employed people from all over the continent, working 7 days a week, in grim living conditions, often for years on end with very little paid leave. They were happy because in their own countries of origin what we were paying them was very attractive and they were prepared for the hardship because the reward offered them a better life. But there was never any option for citizenship, for permanent residence, or for benefits of any kind. Once the work ended, home they went without question.
But that was Libya; this isn’t. In the caring, liberal, virtue-driven west we have a thing called ‘human rights’ which seems to exist purely to defend the rights of the least desirable elements in society against the majority opinion. Once a worker is here in the UK they appear to gain most of the rights of UK citizens, to the delight of the employers and the chagrin of the rest. It is a murky area because reality is obscured by the tabloid stories of excessive migrant benefits and the cries of ‘racist!’ whenever the subject comes up for scrutiny. We, the hoi polloi, are not well enough informed to make valid judgements, but the politicians are hidebound by their ideologies, making their judgment equally questionable.
More accurate than you dare to think
Having the debate about the true cost and benefits of immigration is long overdue and the bill may be a necessary instrument in imposing controls. But the left will not countenance a second tier of residency, the right will not question the supply of low-cost labour and the general population will continue to be informed by talking heads from the press and entertainment industry. The Immigration Bill may look like we are doing something but the chances are that nothing will really change.