Not enough babies. Maybe it's time to emigrate?

Not enough babies. Maybe it’s time to emigrate? Nearly half of us want no more Asian immigrants, say Insight pollsters, and the trend of dislike is steeply up. Winston Peters is on to a winner.

Certainly, he and his senior MPs made a meal of it at the weekend at his party’s convention, swamping attempts by some to extend New Zealand First’s appeal beyond the immigration ghetto.

The message: too many Asians will “inexorably change” this country’s “unique set of values and beliefs”; Britain went down this route and has been beset by riots; we are headed for separatism and ethnic and religious conflict.

It works a treat. And as long as Al Qaeda and suchlike continue their evil work, Peters’ catchment is likely to deepen — the more so because education institutions are importing large numbers of ethnic-Chinese students who can easily be mistaken for evidence of “out-of-control” Asian immigration.

To those concerned at this only Peters stands between us and annihilation.

Actually, he has a point, though not the one he makes most noise with. His telling point is that this country lacks a population policy. The coalition in which he was Deputy Prime Minister was to have produced one but he was in it only 20 months.

The underlying issue is not immigration. It is that the locally grown population is shrinking. We are as a nation not making enough babies to keep our numbers up. Pacific islanders do a sterling job but they are only 7 per cent and cannot make up for the dominant ethnic-Europeans’ infecundity.

Why is that a bother? After all, we were at our relative richest 50 years ago with under half the current number.

It is a bother because there will be fewer local-born in the 20-65 age group in 20 years. That means fewer to do the work to pay the pensions of the old, who will become more numerous as the baby boomers retire.

Moreover, large numbers have been emigrating. If this continues, it will cut worker numbers still further.

So to maintain living standards, let alone grow them, we need more people.

One option would be to change public policy to encourage reproduction. We did that in the 1940s and 1950s. But there is no great enthusiasm for it now, despite Labour’s cohabitation with United Future to spawn a family commission. Even Peters does not suggest it.

That leaves immigration.

Millions are looking for a home, so just filling the void is no problem. Trouble is, most on offer are not the right sorts.

The emigrants tend to be the brighter and better-skilled from among us. So we need high-talent and high-skilled migrants to replace them.

In bygone times we imported skilled Britons, some of whom, Peters’ deputy Peter Brown among them, are now among Peters’ most vociferous supporters, defending their better Britain from non-Europeans.

But now there is tough competition for ethnic-Europeans. Employers and Manufacturers Association Northern chief executive Alisdair Thompson talks of “an international war for talent”.

It is a war that is likely to intensify. European imbalances between future workforce numbers and future oldies will be bigger than ours. And Europe is richer. Who wins? What are we left with?

Peters’ answer is to grow the economy faster so we get richer and keep our native talent. But how do we get the economy to grow faster if we have a skills deficit?

It is the addition of skills, added to innovation, which will lift productivity and make us richer. Just adding volume to the volume industries, such as tourism and pastoralism, will not do that.

Peters’ answer is to skill up those who stay. Well, yes. Governments for a decade have agreed and now the private sector is beginning to acknowledge it must muck in, too. Tertiary education tsar Andrew West is aiming to select sectors to focus on which give us a high-wage competitive advantage, not the modest-wage comparative advantage of climate and scenery.

But in any case Peters’ answer is circular. It takes time to translate higher skills into a faster economy and meantime many of those with higher skills will have left because the economy isn’t growing fast enough.

Which takes us back to immigration. Which gives him a growing constituency. Which he will work on with flair and skill. Which will not help the economy.

It’s time to emigrate, don’t you think?