The Feuilleton and Its Discontents

Alexander Stern has an essay on the feuilleton which is as readable as it is erudite, no mean feat:

“In the beginning was the press, and then the world appeared.” So begins a satirical 1922 poem by Karl Kraus. A ruthless critic who regularly excoriated the press in his magazine The Torch, Kraus blamed German newspapers for the outbreak of World War I. He reserved a special hatred for the feuilleton (pronounced “fuh-yah-tawn”) section of the paper, which included, along with art, literature, and reviews, short impressionistic pieces about city life and culture. And he was far from the only one to bemoan “the age of the feuilleton,” as novelist Hermann Hesse dubbed it. In 1929 the philosopher Theodor Lessing, who would be assassinated by Nazis four years later, reflected that “feuilletonist” had become “the nastiest insult in the German language.”

Whence all this contempt for light reading material?

The answer is complicated, but lies somewhere at the intersection of a volatile political climate, quickly modernizing cities, and the emergence of mass culture. In papers like Die Frankfurter Zeitung, Das Berliner Tageblatt, and Vienna’s Neue Freie Presse, German journalists attempted to come to terms with their fast-changing times, writing literary vignettes that reflected philosophically on culture, technology, and politics. The feuilleton section thus became a battleground over the meaning of modernity. The controversy it generated prefigured present-day concerns about the deterioration of attention and the media’s role in shaping—or, as Walter Benjamin suggested, generating—public opinion....

n modernity we are wrenched out of history, take up an “objective” viewpoint on our culture, and immediately find genuine connection to much of it gone. God dies, traditions wither, only the words remain. To the feuilletonist, in Benjamin’s view, this means we can finally think clearly. We can finally view religion, tradition, and so forth objectively—things that to premoderns were still obscure because they were too close to their culture, because the words meant too much.

The feuilletonist thus covers all his subjects with a finish of urbane, pseudo-philosophical detachment. Kraus wrote:

When a streetcar accident takes place in Vienna, the gentlemen [of the press] write about the nature of streetcars, about the nature of streetcar accidents, and about the nature of accidents in general, all with the viewpoint: what is man?

Glib generalization and a tone of seen-it-all skepticism seduces the reader and seems to lift them up into the writer’s realm of free-floating observation. Even when written in the first person, the feuilleton takes up a kind of third-person “I” that surveys the scene, wary and detached, hovering above the crowd. Judgments seem to emerge effortlessly. Individual observations always serve some unassailable universal point. Feuilletons were written with what Benjamin called a “false subjectivity that can be separated from the person and incorporated in the circulation of commodities.”

The feuilletonist is like a conversation partner who convinces you of something by assuming you already knew it. A tacit note of almost conspiratorial intimacy accompanies his opinions: This is just obvious to two people of our intellect and experience. The reader is, on the one hand, flattered without argument into accepting the view expressed, and, on the other, infantilized.

The result is the manufacture of opinion—not that the feuilleton necessarily indoctrinates its readers. Rather, it absolves them of having to think for themselves. “It is precisely the purpose of the public opinion generated by the press,” Benjamin wrote, “to make the public incapable of judging, to insinuate into it the attitude of someone irresponsible, uninformed.”

Read the whole thing, as they say. I love feuilletons, which don't exist in the English-speaking press. I've often thought of trying to import the genre, but there's probably a reason it doesn't seem to travel well. At first, the English-speaking reader is put off by the distinctive tone of amused, world-weary detachment. He's used to either facts or opinions, dammit, not some weirdly subjective mix of the two.

But once you get up to what masters like Roth and Kracauer and Tucholsky are up to, you're hooked.


Götterdämmerung for Europe's Meritocratic Elites

Ivan Krastev in the New York Times:

When you can’t understand why people behave in a certain way, the easiest thing to do is to convince yourself that people do not know what they are doing. This is what European political, business and news media leaders have done in response to the populist wave that is sweeping the old Continent. They are shocked that many of their compatriots are voting for irresponsible demagogues. They find it difficult to understand the sources of the rage against the meritocratic elites best symbolized by the well-trained, competent civil servants in Brussels.

Why are the “exams-passing classes” so resented at a time when the complexity of the world suggests that people need them most? Why do people who work hard so that their kids can graduate from the world’s best universities refuse to trust people who have already graduated from these universities? How is it possible that anybody can agree with Michael Gove, the pro-Brexit politician, who said people “have had enough of experts”?

It should seem obvious that meritocracy — a system in which the most talented and capable, the best educated, those who score highest on the tests, are put in leading positions — is better than plutocracy, gerontocracy, aristocracy and, perhaps, even the rule of the majority, democracy.

But Europe’s meritocratic elites aren’t hated simply because of populists’ bigoted stupidity or the confusion of ordinary people....

What makes meritocrats so unbearable to their critics is not so much their success but their insistence that they have succeeded because they worked harder than others, because they happened to be more qualified than others and because they passed the tests that others failed....

In the eyes of the meritocratic elites, their success outside of their country is a proof of their talents, but in the eyes of many people, this very mobility is a reason not to trust them.

People trust their leaders not only because of their competence but also because of their courage and commitment, and because they believe that their leaders will remain with their own in times of crisis rather than being helicoptered to the emergency exit. Paradoxically, it is the convertible competencies of the present elites, the fact that they are equally fit to run a bank in Bulgaria or in Bangladesh or to teach in Athens or Tokyo, that make people so suspicious of them. People fear that in times of trouble, the meritocrats will opt to leave instead of sharing the cost of staying.

Unsurprisingly then, it is loyalty — namely the unconditional loyalty to ethnic, religious or social groups — that is at the heart of the appeal of Europe’s new populism. Populists promise people not to judge them based solely on their merits. They promise solidarity but not necessarily justice....

The American philosopher John Rawls spoke for many liberals when he argued that being a loser in a meritocratic society was not as painful as being a loser in an openly unjust society. In his conception, the fairness of the game would reconcile people with failure. Today it looks as if the great philosopher may have been wrong.

He was wrong, because losers in a meritocracy get the message that they are losers because they are less hard-working, disciplined, and intelligent than the winners. Regardless of whether this message is true (it often is), it will be unpopular. In fact, the truer it is, the more unpopular. For endless examples, see Chris Anrade's twitter feed.

I remember debates with friends in the mid-2000s about the so-called European Constitution. I observed that the public-relations campaign for this thing was moronic. The document itself was ridiculously long and complex, the opposite of what a constitution should be. The public relations campaign mostly involved ancient stuffed shirts like Giscard d'Estaing writing pompous op-eds in respectable broadsheets -- i.e., the kind of newspapers read by people who were already going to vote for the constitution in referendums.

My friends would respond by pointing to all the progressive, thoughtful, ingenious elements of the constitution. People should vote for it, because it's a good idea. I had to chuckle at how naive their idea of politics was. Now, my friends are highly intelligent people, winners under the meritocratic European system, many have passed the notoriously difficult Concours! But what European elites never learn about is marketing. Or mass psychology. Or practical leadership.

As we all know, the European Constitution project fizzled out after it was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands. So it was eventually turned into the Treaty of Lisbon, which avoided the danger of asking people in EU countries whether they wanted it. In retrospect, the disaster of the European Constitution project seems like a harbinger of the deeper rot within the EU. Now the EU itself is teetering on the brink of collapse. If you ask me, one of the many reasons why is the inability of EU meritocrats to effectively communicate with the 70% of Europeans who've never graduated from college.

In fact, not only are they unable to communicate, they're unable to imagine why they should try. Still. The fact that the arguments in this post and in Krastev's op-ed will be dismissed by these folks as "irresponsible" and "populist" just proves the point.

 


Fine Buildings, High Culture, No Excuses, No Regrets

Martin Kettle, who proudly calls himself a Germanophile, expresses his admiration in the Guardian for the new Elbphilharmonie (Philharmonia on the Elbe River) concert hall in Hamburg:

[I]n Hamburg on Wednesday evening a substantial part of official Germany – and surely everyone in the city itself – turned out in force for the opening of the dazzling Elbphilharmonie concert hall stretching high into the heavens in the former port district. Germany’s president Joachim Gauck made a witty speech, chancellor Angela Merkel, Hamburg-born before her family emigrated to communist East Germany, sat in the front row of the stalls. The mayor of Hamburg, Olaf Scholz (a social democrat opposed to Merkel), glowed with civic pride....

For sure, Germany is far too deferential for the British taste. It is too respectful, polite, orderly, above all too serious. At times, including in the course of my visit for the Elbphilharmonie opening, even I, a Germanophile, wanted to have a bit more naughtiness and surprise in the proceedings. And no British arts organisation would put seven white men on stage to conduct a press conference about a huge project – the way the Elbphilharmonie did this week – with not a woman nor a black face in sight. On social media, there is this week, certainly, a strong undercurrent of hostility to the Hamburg opening, and the amount of public money it has taken is eyewatering. But the fact remains that Germany’s readiness to spend on a project such as the Elbphilharmonie, though often controversial on matters like cost and the environment, is ultimately a unifying force.

The civic pride and pleasure now that the concert hall is finally up and running was palpable. The tickets are all sold out for the next six months. The aim is that every child in Hamburg will get to a concert within the first year of the opening. The hall has already had half a million visitors before the first notes (by Benjamin Britten, as it happens) were heard in the opening concert, broadcast live on German television.

...But the truth is we don’t care, not enough. Maybe Germany cares too much. But I’d rather care too much than too little. And it really is a stunner of a building in a city that it’s a joy to get to know.

Amen, brother. This is what makes living in Germany a delight: livable cities with bold, interesting architecture and thriving cultural scenes. German politicians all more or less agree that high culture is an end in itself. It is not open to debate whether the state should fund it. They know that many people find it elitist and a waste of tax money, but it has to continue.*

High culture cannot survive without subsidies either from the state or from private donors. And its existence benefits everyone, whether they understand that or not. So Hamburg spends millions to build a glorious new concert hall. And at the other end of the scale, municipal arts councils dole out grants and commissions here and there to small bookstores, avant-garde theater groups, nature education programs for children, jazz clubs, charity projects, and artists of all kinds. Of course there's some corruption and waste here, what government program doesn't have that? But overall, most of the money goes where it's supposed to, and keeps interesting things happening.

It all adds up, and has a subtle, but profound overall effect. This is why I love living in Germany.

Continue reading "Fine Buildings, High Culture, No Excuses, No Regrets" »


Isolated, Unable to Communicate, Easy to Radicalize

Abigail Fielding-Smith has a good deep dive on Jaber al-Bakr, the Syrian refugee who became radicalized in Germany and was arrested last year for having constructed a powerful bomb:

The idea that a terrorist group like Islamic State has infiltrated the country through its refugee intake is alarming enough. But Jaber’s case suggests a different kind of challenge. If building a life in Germany is so hard that it could cause an ordinary Syrian refugee to fall in with extremists, how will the struggles of several hundred thousand others manifest themselves?

“So many, with no language, in such a short time,” says Manfred Murck, a former Hamburg intelligence chief. “This is a real field experiment.”...

The precise reasons behind Jaber’s decision to set out for Europe in 2014 are unclear. The country was falling apart, with more than 100,000 Syrians already dead. Many of the millions of young men who left were wanted by regime authorities, either for suspected links with the opposition or for military service.

Jaber may have been worried about getting called up, or he may simply have wanted out. In the aftermath of his arrest in Germany, one of Jaber’s brothers back home gave interviews to the media. His account is puzzling at points, and may reflect the pressures of living in a government-controlled area of Syria. During an interview with the TV program ARD-Fakt, he seemed to give different explanations for Jaber’s decision: he wanted to get out of Syria, he wanted to study more, and he had seen others going and wanted to join in....

aber was “really interested” in learning German when he first arrived, Samer recalls. He bought a book on it. In June 2015, he posted an article in German about a Syrian girl who arrived speaking only Arabic and passed the German end-of-school exams with top marks a year later. It’s unlikely Jaber would have understood the article, but it seemed to reflect an aspiration....

This sense of being exposed, looked at, and judged, can make it hard to practice German.

“I don’t want to speak when I only have a few words, because out there, there is no mercy,” explained Aziz, a young Syrian man living up the road from Eilenburg in Leipzig. Pieces of paper detailing the fiendish machinations of German grammar were pinned to his wardrobe.

One bit of German idiom with which Aziz is all too familiar is the word schmarotzer – scrounger.

“In Syria we had dignity,“ he said. “Now I have to ask for money. You don’t know how much it hurts.”

German is one of the trickier European languages. The articles – ‘the’ and ‘a’ - change form not just according to the gender of the noun attached to them but according to the case being used. Certain words trigger an inversion of the sentence order. Until rules like this have been drilled into you to the point where they are second nature, it is very hard to spontaneously express yourself in German.

Samer, Jaber’s housemate, believes that language is one aspect of a cultural barrier keeping many refugees excluded from German society.

“Let’s be honest, not every Syrian refugee who came here is a doctor”, he said. “I know many Syrians that still struggle to use the train.”...

Jaber didn’t seem to have what it takes to make it in the ‘white’ economy. “His interest in the language got less and less,” recalled Samer. “Jaber wasn’t disciplined –the new generation hasn’t been disciplined enough because of five years of war. When he came to Germany everything had rules and a system, and he couldn’t cope.”

As people like me have been pointing out for years now, the majority of the recent arrivals from MENA countries will never learn German. German is a tough language to learn even for people who speak English or Romance languages, to say nothing of semi-literate Arabs who use an entirely different alphabet. When confronted with these obvious problems, mainstream politicians invoke the mantra "German courses...German courses...we must have more German courses...". They never address the question of what happens if people fail those courses, or stop attending them. You'd think German politicians would know that this is a thing that happens in the real world, since about 1/3 (g) of Germans who enroll in university never finish.

And, as this article shows, that fact creates a security risk. Isolated, angry, with disappointed expectations, increasingly cloistered in ethnic sub-groups, and with propaganda and sympathetic recruiters just a mouse-click away. Even if only 1 in 100 becomes radicalized, that's quite a few radicals, considering that there are something like 500,000 young Muslim males now in Germany, the majority of whom will never learn German.


Immigration the German Way: Fire, Ready, Aim!

How most countries handle immigration:

  1. Figure out who the person who wants to enter your country is.
  2. Check to see if they have a good reason for entering your country.
  3. If they do, let them in.

How Germany handles immigration:

  1. Let them in.
  2. Check to see if they have a good reason for having already entered your country.
  3. Regardless of the answer, let them stay.
  4. Figure out who they are.

German Word of the Week: Natursekt

Put the kiddies to bed, because this German Word of the Week gets a little blue. Or golden.

Recent events put Donald Trump's alleged partiality to a certain, er, erotic fetish in the spotlight. In English, this fetish is called "golden showers".

In German it's called Natursekt: "Nature's Champagne". Now, of course this isn't a perfect translation, since Sekt is better translated as prosecco or sparkling wine. It's the term used for any sparkling wine which doesn't come from Champagne, the French region which, of course, has a controlled legal monopoly stopping anyone from calling a sparkling wine Champagne unless it's made there by their methods.

And needless to say, Champagne isn't made from urine, unless humanity has been the victim of the greatest hoax the world has ever known (memo to self: write screenplay based on this premise).

But I still think, "Nature's Champagne" is really more true to the light-hearted perversion of the original. I anticipate millions of Germans will encounter the term Natursekt for the first time in the next few days, so keep an eye on this graph.

Of course, millions of Germans already know this term. One of the main reasons is that prostitution is legal in Germany, and working girls, and boys, openly publish their "set cards" on the Internet. Here's one (g) I found, "Carmen" from the Eroscenter Ludwigsburg, which I found completely at random from a website I have never visited before and will never visit again, presented here to you strictly in the name of Science. Carmen says that she is not willing to be the, er, recipient of Nature's Champagne, but is happy to provide that service to her guests.

And what is the proper pairing with Nature's Champagne? Why, Nature's Caviar (g), of course! No, I didn't just make that up. Those who are of a mind to consider Germans ultra-perverse will be unsurprised to learn that paraphilias having to do with human excreta are, in German, compared to mankind's most refined gastronomic delicacies.

After this post, I need a shower -- and not the golden kind (ba-da-BOOM!).


Shiny Happy Dutch People Make Shiny Happy Dutch Babies

Dutch children are the happiest in the developed world. A Brit and an American raising children in the Netherlands ask why:

When it came to Dutch children rating their own happiness levels, more than 95 per cent considered themselves happy. Several other research surveys have likewise highlighted the positive benefits of growing up in the Netherlands – Britain’s Child Poverty Action Group and the World Health Organisation, for example. The Unicef report was a follow- up to one conducted in 2007, in which the Netherlands were first heralded as a prime example of childhood prosperity. The UK and the US ranked in the two lowest positions.

In addition, new research also suggests that Dutch babies are happier than their American counterparts. After examining the temperamental differences between babies born in the US and the Netherlands, Dutch babies were found to be more contented – laughing, smiling and cuddling more – than American babies. Dutch babies were also easier to soothe, while American babies displayed more fear, sadness and frustration. Psychologists attribute this discrepancy to the different cultural mores of child-rearing in the two countries. It’s quite astonishing to us that no one seems to be making more of a fuss about this.

  • Dutch babies get more sleep.
  • Dutch kids have little or no homework at primary school.
  •  Are not just seen but also heard.
  • Are trusted to ride their bikes to school on their own.
  • Are allowed to play outside unsupervised.
  • Have regular family meals.
  • Get to spend more time with their mothers and fathers.
  • Enjoy simple pleasures and are happy with second-hand toys.
  • And last but not least, get to eat chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag) for breakfast.

The Netherlands have a reputation for being a liberal country with a tolerance of sex, drugs and alcohol, yet beneath this lies a closely guarded secret: the Dutch are actually fairly conservative people. At the heart of Dutch culture is a society of home-loving people who place the child firmly at the centre. Parents have a healthy attitude towards their kids, seeing them as individuals rather than as extensions of themselves. They understand that achievement doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness, but that happiness can cultivate achievement. The Dutch have reined in the anxiety, stress and expectations of modern-day parenting, redefining the meaning of success and wellbeing. For them, success starts with happiness – that of their children and themselves.

The first caveat is, as always, genetic confounds. The main reason Dutch children are happier is that they were born to Dutch parents. The Netherlands has been one of the most successful societies on earth -- often the most successful -- for 5-6 centuries now. The Dutch are tall, good-looking, smart, happy, healthy, and have moderate, prudent, sensible habits. They avoid unnecessary risk, have strong sense of social responsibility, accept limits on their freedom (such as high taxes or bicycle lanes crowding out cars) to enhance overall flourishing, and take care of each other. These are all hallmarks of societies made up of people with high general levels of intelligence, risk-avoidance, ability to delay gratification, and impulse control. As this landmark 2015 study (whose lead authors are Dutch!) shows, all of these traits are heritable to a certain extent, usually between 30 and 50%.

But still, I'd be willing to bet there's a pretty big environmental component. There are hundreds of thousands of non-Dutch babies being raised in the Netherlands. My guess would be that they tend to do worse than ethnically Dutch children, but better than children in their own home cultures. We can safely assume that their own home cultures are more chaotic and less prosperous than the Netherlands, because almost every other country on earth is more chaotic and less prosperous than the Netherlands.

If anyone knows any good studies on this, I'd be interested to learn of them.


Genetic Confounds and the Causes of Crime

Criminologist Brian Boutwell on the genetic influences on behavior, including criminal behavior:

Variety in our gene pool matters when we seek to understand why some people can dunk a basketball or compose a sonnet, and why some people persistently break the law. The effects of genetic differences make some people more impulsive and shortsighted than others, some people more healthy or infirm than others, and, despite how uncomfortable it might be to admit, genes also make some folks more likely to break the law than others.

...Imagine that you’re curious whether certain parenting styles influence self-control in children. It’s not hard to find evidence that the way parents treat their children is associated with the child’s level of self-control later in life. But parents don’t just pass on life lessons for learning self-control to their kids, they also pass along their genetic material. Half of your genetic material was inherited from Mom and half came from Dad. If you ignore the element of genetic transmission, you might falsely attribute any correlation between parent and child as being due to social transmission.

The way parents treat children is, in part, a product of their own personality and temperament. Personality is partly heritable, so the observation that parents and children tend to have similar levels of self-control could be due to social transmission, genetic transmission, or both.

Most of the evidence about the causes of crime overlooks genetic transmission. Yet, some research has found that once you account for genetic influences on self-control, previously identified social transmission effects (read: parenting) on the child’s self-control become unstable. In other words, when you control for genetic transmission (the alternative explanation that most criminologists overlook), the effect of parenting on self-control diminishes or goes away entirely.

Consider another type of parenting effect — one that shows up in the news frequently — spanking. Not long ago, we examined the relationship between spanking and behavioral problems in children. Once we controlled for genetic transmission, there was no spanking effect in the way that most scholars think about spanking effects. Put another way, our evidence did not support the conclusion that spanking causes behavioral problems in the sense that most psychologists would argue.

The conundrum of heritability transcends parenting. For instance, it’s obvious that crime isn’t randomly distributed across neighborhoods. It seems to be a relatively stable factor that defines an area over many generations. Equally nonrandom, though, is the process by which people sort themselves into neighborhoods. People cluster into areas based on a host of factors, including the primary factor of income. Here’s the kicker, if any of the traits that affect residential choices are heritable and you ignore that influence, your findings regarding the impact of neighborhood factors on crime could be in jeopardy.

A remarkable study in Sweden recently found that highly disadvantaged neighborhoods had more crime. Yet that neighborhood effect disappeared when risk factors concentrated within certain families were taken into account. Once again, social transmission effects weakened (and, in this case disappeared) when other factors like genetic transmission were controlled for. Does this finding guarantee that similar results will emerge in other samples around the world? No. But criminologists rarely consider the possibility that their own studies could be polluted by hidden genetic effects.

The more technical term for this phenomenon is genetic confounding, and there is reason to believe that it is endemic to much of the research coming out of the social sciences in general, and criminology in particular. Our own research into the issue suggests that even a modest amount of unmeasured genetic influence can pollute and infect your findings. As a result, much of what we think we know about the causes of crime could be overstated or just flat wrong.

I first became interested in genetic influences on behavior and opinion when I was writing my book on the death penalty. I wanted to know what kinds of argument and information change peoples' views on capital punishment, and found that the answer was, basically, none. The typical arguments people use against capital punishment are human rights, cost, reliability, deterrence, possibility of executing the innocent. And study after study showed that these arguments usually only changed a small percentage of peoples' minds, and that the changes were often temporary.

One reason for that is that your views on capital punishment are influenced by your genes. Since the sequencing of the human genome in 2003 -- the most important scientific achievement of the past 20 years -- researchers have been able to tease out the genetic influences on all sorts of behavior and personality traits. There's no reason that should exclude crime -- in fact, the kinds of personality traits which lead to a higher likelihood of crime are well-known to be heritable.

Every time you read about a social-science survey on the effects of education, parenting, or environment on this or that human trait, you should scan the report for any signs that the authors took genetic confounds into account. If they didn't the report is worthless. It's that simple.


Immigration Drives Populism to the Tipping Point

Fareed Zakaria:

Supporters of Trump and other populist movements often point to economics as the key to their success — the slow recovery, wage stagnation, the erosion of manufacturing jobs, rising inequality. These are clearly powerful contributing factors. But it is striking that we see right-wing populism in Sweden, which is doing well economically; in Germany, where manufacturing remains robust; and in France, where workers have many protections. Here in the United States, exit polls showed that the majority of voters who were most concerned about the economy cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton.

The one common factor present everywhere, however, is immigration. In fact, one statistical analysis of European Union countries found that more immigrants invariably means more populists. According to the study, if you extrapolate from current trends, “as the percentage of immigrants approaches approximately 22 percent, the percentage of right-wing populist voters exceeds 50 percent.” Hostility to immigration has been a core theme of every one of these populist parties.

One way to test this theory is to note that countries without large-scale immigration, such as Japan, have not seen the same rise of right-wing populism. Another interesting case is Spain, a country that has taken in many immigrants, but mostly Spanish-speaking Latinos, who are easier to assimilate. While you see traditional left-wing economic populism in Spain, you do not see right-wing nationalist movements.

The backlash against immigration is rooted in fact. As I pointed out in a Foreign Affairs essay (written in September, before Trump’s victory), we are living in an age of mass migration. In the past three or four decades, Western societies have seen large influxes of people from different lands and cultures. In 1970, foreign-born people made up less than 5 percent of the U.S. population; today they are about 14 percent. The rise is even sharper in most European countries, home to 76 million international migrants, recently coming mostly from Africa and the Middle East. Austria, for example, took in almost 100,000 immigrants last year — adding 1 percent to its population in 2015 alone.

This much change can be unsettling. For most of human history, people have lived, worked and died within a few miles of the place they were born. But in recent decades, hundreds of millions of people from poorer countries have moved to wealthier ones. This reflects an economic reality. Rich countries have declining birthrates and need labor; poor countries have millions who seek better lives. But this produces anxiety, unease and a cultural backlash that we are witnessing across the Western world.

What does this mean for the future? Western societies will have to better manage immigration. They should also place much greater emphasis on assimilation. Canada should be a role model. It has devised smart policies on both fronts, with high levels of (skilled) immigration, strong assimilation and no major recoil.

The study he refers to is here. An excerpt from the abstract:

Among the central tenets of globalization is free migration of labor. Although much has been written about its benefits, little is known about the limitations of globalization, including how immigration affects the anti-globalist sentiment. Analyzing polls data, we find that over the last three years in a group of EU countries affected by the recent migrant crisis, the percentage of right-wing (RW) populist voters in a given country depends on the prevalence of immigrants in this country’s population and the total immigration inflow into the entire EU. The latter is likely due to the EU resembling a supranational state, where the lack of inner borders causes that ”somebody else’s problem” easily turns into ”my problem”. We further find that the increase in the percentage of RW voters substantially surpasses the immigration inflow, implying that if this process continues, RW populism may democratically prevail and eventually lead to a demise of globalization.

And some findings specifically about Austria and Germany:

In Fig. 2, using the data for Austria and Germany over the past three years (2013-2016), we demonstrate that the percentage of RW populist supporters also depends on the inflow of immigrants into Europe. Illustrative is the Austrian example, where in 2013 parliamentary election the far-right party won 20.5% of the popular vote, roughly reflecting the sentiment predicted from the percentage of immigrants living in Austria at the time. However, due to a high inflow of immigrants that in the second half of 2015 reached unprecedented proportions [33], the local Vienna election saw the percentage of RW voter suddenly jump to 33%. This sudden change in popular vote is reminiscent of phase transitions (i.e., tipping or critical points)—well documented in social sciences [35, 36]—whereby the closer a country to a tipping point, the more abruptly voters turn their back to moderate parties and start voting for more extreme alternatives. A qualitatively similar phenomenon is seen in the case of Germany in Fig. 2(b)-(c)....

Why would countries with a relatively high and a relatively low inflow of immigrants exhibit about the same increase in the percentage of RW voters? This result may be a consequence of the EU’s political organization. Because the EU functions practically as a supranational state with no internal borders, if one country decides to accept immigrants, this decision may have repercussions for all the other member states. The increase in the percentage of RW populist voters may therefore more systematically depend on the total inflow of immigrants into the entire EU, expressed here as a percentage of the total EU population, than the inflow in any individual country. Some, albeit anecdotal, evidence to the effect that the decision of one country may affect the situation in another is seen in the case of Sweden and Norway. The former country was among those that were hit the hardest by the recent migrant crisis, yet the latter country saw practically the same annualized increase in the percentage of RW voters.

Another interesting pair in this context is Germany and Poland. Again it was the former country that experienced a high inflow of immigrants, yet it is in Poland that 53% of the population thinks that their government should refuse asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa (and only 33% thinking Poland should do the opposite). The Polish example may contain another important lesson. Namely, this country seems to have already transitioned from the tolerant mode of democracy associated with globalization to a mode dominated by RW populism. If so, the implication is that the fraction of immigrants at which the Polish population is pushed beyond the tipping point is much lower than in western EU countries. Poland—and similarly Hungary, both of which share decades of socialist experience—is among the toughest opponents of immigration into the EU, strongly debating against the quotas that the EU imposed with a goal to more evenly spread the shock of recent migrant crisis.

The two most interesting findings of the study to me are first the idea of a tipping point: when a country reaches a certain level of immigration (and problems associated with it) support for populists begins rapidly increasing until they may become the most popular party in the country. The latest polls show (g) that the AfD in Germany is now at 15%, the Greens have dropped 3-4% to 9%, and the SPD continues its historic slide, now at 20%. Germany probably won't have as clear a tipping-point as other European countries owing to its fractured party landscape and historic suspicion of parties to the right of the CSU. But who knows?

The second factor the study points to is that Europeans are considering mass immigration as a European problem. Their point of view seems to be that we gave up a considerable amount of sovereignty over our own national borders in return for at least an implicit promise that Europe's borders would offer a similar amount of security. But they don't, and some bad actors within northwestern Europe have further undermined the implicit agreement by continuing to lure large numbers of unsuitable immigrants with their overly-generous policies. So we will elect populists at home in the hope that they will pursue policies that will minimize the fallout inside our own national borders.

That seems like a pretty sensible response to me.