Automation and immigration

Migration and automation are dominant trends of our age. Both are changing how we work and live. When it comes to migration, many voters want tighter restrictions. They are worried that migrants are ‘stealing their jobs’ and ‘changing the culture’. Politicians are responding with promises to get tough. Automation is different. People worry about automation but not in the same way. Voters are not calling for the numbers of machines to be reduced or even controlled. There are no anti-robot political parties. Politicians do not win elections by getting tough on computer chips.

The question is ‘why?’ Why is there such significant opposition to migration and yet so little to automation? Why limit migrants but not robots?

The paper asks these questions not only in relation to the public debate on migration but also the debate amongst philosophers. In the first part, it looks at some of the main philosophical arguments for immigration restrictions and shows how the arguments apply equally to automation. In the second part, the paper offers a hypothesis as to why migration, not automation, generates public opposition. It is human to classify other humans in terms of in-groups and out-groups. Migrants, being human, are readily identified as an out-group. Machines are not human. In short, anti-migrant prejudice seems to explain the difference. If prejudice is so crucial in explaining opposition to immigration, we have further reason to doubt the permissibility of immigration restrictions.