Can Britain Catch Up with Its Former Colonies?

London's upcoming separation from continental Europe is seen by many as a cutting of the cord from territories that are declining in cognitive ability.  In other words, Brexit is the U.K.'s recognition that brainpower will determine its economic future.

Brexiteers do not shy away from nasty comparisons of the E.U. with "a rotting corpse" dragging the U.K. down.

Indeed, in the global student competition in mathematics (TIMSS 2015), England placed 168 out of 1,000 children in the highest achievement group.  Scotland and Northern Ireland did better.  In Germany, there were 53 top-scoring students out of every 1,000, in Italy and France only 42 and 25, respectively.  Both were surpassed by Turkey at 47.  It is these gifted and essential minorities who will represent their nations and the West in the high-tech competition with East Asia.

In the countries of this region — led by Chinese in the PRC, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore — a third to a half of all children make it to the top academic ranks.  They possess three quarters of the world's best brains.

Boris Johnson explicitly referred to Australia as a model for his struggle for migrants with "exceptional talents."  His Conservative Party confirmed this ambition in no uncertain terms: "Only by establishing immigration controls and ending freedom of movement will we be able to attract the high-skilled workers we need to contribute to our economy. ... There will be fewer lower-skilled migrants and overall numbers will come down."  Newcomers must pay into the National Health System (NHS) "before they can receive benefits."

Immigration standards imposed by the European Union had forced the United Kingdom to fall far behind former crown colonies such as Australia.  The fifth continent rejected its White Australia Policy as early as 1966.  The ability of people "to integrate readily and their possession of qualifications positively useful to Australia" [1] were to become the decisive criteria for their admission.  The Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 underlined this policy.  It remained unchanged, as Canberra's Minister Peter Dutton pointed out last year: "We're making sure that people who do become part of our Australian family are coming here to work, not to lead a life on welfare. ... If you have a robust migration program like we have, they are going to be productive, you will see increased economic benefit."  The policy seems to be working.  Australia became the first Western country where immigrants cognitively outperform locals.

Following in the footsteps of the Australians, Canada adopted the 1976 Immigration Act.  Until then, the short-term benefits of powerful companies dominated immigration policy.  The Ministry of Mines and Resources, therefore, served as a de facto immigration agency.  With the new immigration act, however, future benefits for the nation as a whole were to be the main consideration. After all, it is the nation that — after the bankruptcy of firms for which they were brought into the country — must take care of the laid off workers if they cannot be retrained for more demanding jobs.  Anyone who might become a burden on the social or health services should therefore no longer be naturalized.

In return, discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, and sexual orientation would no longer apply.  Chinese and Jews, for example, who were blatantly excluded until the 1940s, have now been accepted.  The latter — with less than one percent of Canada's population — have expressed gratitude to their new home by winning 28 percent of Canada's Nobel Prizes.

The post-Brexit immigration policy could replace the now dominant recruitment areas in Africa, the Middle East, and the Caribbean with East Asia.  Moreover, talents from the rest of the E.U. are expected to build their future in Britain.  This should bring the U.K. further advantages over the troubled Brussels bloc.  Already today, Great Britain is home to two and a half times as many Chinese as Germany in terms of the total population.  The U.S., New Zealand, Canada, and Australia, on the other hand, exceed Germany by factors 6, 16, 20, and 22.

In the Anglo world, only America now keeps its borders still largely open.  It remains to be seen whether Scotland wants to separate from the United Kingdom in order to allow low-skilled immigrants future access to Edinburgh.  Since the USA was clearly behind the other Anglos in PISA mathematics in 2018, with 478 points (Canada was best with 512 [U.K. 502]), Brexit may even strengthen the hand of the policymakers between Boston and San Diego who want America to change its immigration policy.

This intensifying competition among Anglo-Saxons for improved immigration models is also putting the rest of the E.U. under pressure.  It will be interesting to see whether Brussels or Washington will be the first to understand that the world of tomorrow will be determined almost exclusively by brainpower, not firepower.

Gunnar Heinsohn (*1943) teaches, since 2011, military demography at NATO Defense College (NDC) in Rome.  He recently published Competition for the Smart (Wettkampf um die Klugen, Orell&Fuessli, Zurich, October 2019).


[1] S. Harper, Demography: A very short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018, p. 107

London's upcoming separation from continental Europe is seen by many as a cutting of the cord from territories that are declining in cognitive ability.  In other words, Brexit is the U.K.'s recognition that brainpower will determine its economic future.

Brexiteers do not shy away from nasty comparisons of the E.U. with "a rotting corpse" dragging the U.K. down.

Indeed, in the global student competition in mathematics (TIMSS 2015), England placed 168 out of 1,000 children in the highest achievement group.  Scotland and Northern Ireland did better.  In Germany, there were 53 top-scoring students out of every 1,000, in Italy and France only 42 and 25, respectively.  Both were surpassed by Turkey at 47.  It is these gifted and essential minorities who will represent their nations and the West in the high-tech competition with East Asia.

In the countries of this region — led by Chinese in the PRC, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore — a third to a half of all children make it to the top academic ranks.  They possess three quarters of the world's best brains.

Boris Johnson explicitly referred to Australia as a model for his struggle for migrants with "exceptional talents."  His Conservative Party confirmed this ambition in no uncertain terms: "Only by establishing immigration controls and ending freedom of movement will we be able to attract the high-skilled workers we need to contribute to our economy. ... There will be fewer lower-skilled migrants and overall numbers will come down."  Newcomers must pay into the National Health System (NHS) "before they can receive benefits."

Immigration standards imposed by the European Union had forced the United Kingdom to fall far behind former crown colonies such as Australia.  The fifth continent rejected its White Australia Policy as early as 1966.  The ability of people "to integrate readily and their possession of qualifications positively useful to Australia" [1] were to become the decisive criteria for their admission.  The Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 underlined this policy.  It remained unchanged, as Canberra's Minister Peter Dutton pointed out last year: "We're making sure that people who do become part of our Australian family are coming here to work, not to lead a life on welfare. ... If you have a robust migration program like we have, they are going to be productive, you will see increased economic benefit."  The policy seems to be working.  Australia became the first Western country where immigrants cognitively outperform locals.

Following in the footsteps of the Australians, Canada adopted the 1976 Immigration Act.  Until then, the short-term benefits of powerful companies dominated immigration policy.  The Ministry of Mines and Resources, therefore, served as a de facto immigration agency.  With the new immigration act, however, future benefits for the nation as a whole were to be the main consideration. After all, it is the nation that — after the bankruptcy of firms for which they were brought into the country — must take care of the laid off workers if they cannot be retrained for more demanding jobs.  Anyone who might become a burden on the social or health services should therefore no longer be naturalized.

In return, discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, and sexual orientation would no longer apply.  Chinese and Jews, for example, who were blatantly excluded until the 1940s, have now been accepted.  The latter — with less than one percent of Canada's population — have expressed gratitude to their new home by winning 28 percent of Canada's Nobel Prizes.

The post-Brexit immigration policy could replace the now dominant recruitment areas in Africa, the Middle East, and the Caribbean with East Asia.  Moreover, talents from the rest of the E.U. are expected to build their future in Britain.  This should bring the U.K. further advantages over the troubled Brussels bloc.  Already today, Great Britain is home to two and a half times as many Chinese as Germany in terms of the total population.  The U.S., New Zealand, Canada, and Australia, on the other hand, exceed Germany by factors 6, 16, 20, and 22.

In the Anglo world, only America now keeps its borders still largely open.  It remains to be seen whether Scotland wants to separate from the United Kingdom in order to allow low-skilled immigrants future access to Edinburgh.  Since the USA was clearly behind the other Anglos in PISA mathematics in 2018, with 478 points (Canada was best with 512 [U.K. 502]), Brexit may even strengthen the hand of the policymakers between Boston and San Diego who want America to change its immigration policy.

This intensifying competition among Anglo-Saxons for improved immigration models is also putting the rest of the E.U. under pressure.  It will be interesting to see whether Brussels or Washington will be the first to understand that the world of tomorrow will be determined almost exclusively by brainpower, not firepower.

Gunnar Heinsohn (*1943) teaches, since 2011, military demography at NATO Defense College (NDC) in Rome.  He recently published Competition for the Smart (Wettkampf um die Klugen, Orell&Fuessli, Zurich, October 2019).


[1] S. Harper, Demography: A very short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018, p. 107