When it comes to foreign workers, some ideas aren’t so crazy

Shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed, a Russian bureaucrat travelled to the west to seek advice on how the market system functioned. He asked the economist Paul Seabright to explain who was in charge of the supply of bread to London. He was astonished by the answer: “Nobody.”

Fifteen years later, I had thought that almost everyone had abandoned the notion that a committee could plan its way through the unimaginable complexities of an advanced economy. I was wrong.

Earlier this month, the Migration Advisory Committee presented a list of professions that would qualify migrants for entry, broadly on the grounds of UK skills shortages. They include geologists of all stripes, veterinary surgeons (but not other veterinarians), chefs (but only those paid £8.10 an hour), sheep shearers with a British Wool Marketing Board bronze medal (or equivalent) and ballet dancers (but not choreographers, nor other dancers).

The remainder of this column can be read here. Please post comments below.

Tim Harford’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.