German Can Handle 800,000 Refugees This Year. And Next Year?

Germany's currently predicted to receive 800,000 refugees this year. German politicians confidently proclaim Germany can handle this amount. I think that's true.

But I don't think the refugee flow will drop to 0 on January 1, 2016, do you? And, as the head of Germany's refugee agency notes, the refugees Germany has already let in under current law will be eligible to bring 200,000 more people from their homelands under the rubric of family reunification. That number is sure to rise as well. 

If refugee flows drop by 50%, which seems unlikely absent dramatic, concerted action by all EU governments, that means by the end of 2016 Germany will have to find places for 1.2 million migrants. And if refugee flows remain steady in 2017, 1.6. Let's assume half of them are granted refugee status. That's 800,000 refugees. Assume each is allowed to bring in 2 more family members -- mothers, grandmothers, brothers, wives, etc.

That's 2.4 million new residents of Germany. They won't speak German, many of them won't be able to learn it, and the extent to which their job skills will fit with the needs of German employers will be a matter of random chance, since they weren't selected to fill needs in Germany.

If something can't go on forever, it won't. The crackdown is coming. 


Hungary to Germany: They're Your Responsibility Now

Deutschlandfunk reports (g) that officials in Budapest, instead of registering thousands of migrants just arrived from parts east, instead just let them board a train to Vienna. Out of approximately 3,500 migrants in total, a grand total of ten (10) chose to apply for asylum in Austria. The remainder got on the next train to Germany. Both Austria and Germany have loudly denounced Hungary's political leadership for failing to enforce EU law, which requires migrants to be registered in the first EU country they arrive in. In other news, German firms which specialize in shipping containers and temporary housing are making millions from the German government (g) in hastily-approved contracts with little oversight. One temporary housing firm reaping large profits is run by an ex-Stasi official.

The American economist Herbert Stein once said, approximately, if something can't go on forever, it won't. A couple days ago I sketched out a pragmatic 11-point plan for dealing with mass migration to Europe. Right now, many of those suggestions would violate various allegedly sacred European principles. But as the crisis continues, I am certain that most of my suggestions are going to become law, either at the European or national level. Watch this space.


Watching Germany Get Real

For a long while, the discussion about migration into Germany was dominated by abstract principles, so beloved of German commentators: "Dignity", "Humanity", "Fairness", "Justice", "Compassion" and the like. It sounded like a theological seminar. These abstract notions, like Olympian Gods, demanded various concrete policies in the real-world, such as accommodating all migrants who make it to Germany, helping migrant boats across the Mediterranean, rejecting any distinction between refugees and economic migrants, etc. The absolute nature of these moral injunctions made trade-offs, constraints, and distinctions -- the Three Graces of real-world policy debates -- seem positively demonic.

What a difference a few hundred thousand people and some spectacularly acrid and volatile European summits make!

This latest interview with Manfred Schmidt, the head of Germany's federal Office for Migration and Refugees, allows us to see the discussion about mass migration in Germany rapidly becoming much, much more realistic. Among the proposals Schmidt puts forward:

  • Don't forget that all the Syrians who have so far been granted some form of residency in Germany (usually asylum), will be bringing about 200,000 family members with them in the next few years.
  • Immigrants from Africa can be divided into those fleeing genuine oppression in Somalia, Eritrea or Boko Haram parts of Nigeria and the rest, who are economic migrants.
  • Although some of these latter migrants may be needed in Germany, it's neither realistic or sensible to invite 'the entire workforce of Africa' to Germany.
  • As for economic migrants from the Balkans, we need to go further in reducing their numbers. We need to quickly process their asylum applications and once rejected, quickly deport them. This will work: after large numbers of Kosovars were deported, the number of new migrants has plummeted from 1600 to 60.
  • It may sound 'cruel' to prevent children of economic migrants from going to school while their hopeless asylum applications are denied, but it's even more cruel to dangle a false hope of permanent resettlement in front of their eyes.
  • Cash transfer payments to economic migrants from the West Balkans should be stopped entirely. Since all their necessities are already given to them for free in migrant hostels, the €140 per month each family member gets adds up to € 1600 if they are allowed to stay three months before deportation. This is enough for the entire family to live on in rural Albania (average monthly wage €200) for an entire year. So yes, some of these migrants are coming for the money, and that should be stopped.

About the only concession to abstract principles is Schmidt saying that there should be no upper limit on the number of refugees accepted. But in general, the discussion is rapidly taking on a much more pragmatic turn. Proposals that were denounced as Draconian and crypto-fascist a few weeks ago are now firmly in the mainstream. This is healthy, in my view. 

In one part of the interview, Schmidt notes that many migrants tell him want to make it to Germany because its economy is booming, and because it is a 'safe and orderly' society in which people 'actually stop at red lights'. 'Our reputation is better than we think', Schmidt says. Never underestimate how enormous an achievement an orderly society is.


Small German Leather Postal Bag from 1952

For funky charm, there's nothing like a German flea market. One of the finest is just a short bike ride away, in a street called Im Dahlacker (g). It's a covered indoor market open every Wednesday and Saturday. There, you can find anything from commemorative egg spoons to used letters to Richard Clayderman CDs. A large selection of eerie dolls. A pamphlet on how to make your own clown figurines. A painting featuring a black-painted banana being slit with a knife, with red paint oozing out.

And this square black leather case for a postman:

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Hard to tell exactly what it was for: I presume that even in the dire post-war year of 1952, the average German postman had more mail than would fit into this wine-bottle-sized square case. Maybe it was for a flashlight? Who can say? At any rate, based on the liberal use of stamps on the inside of the cover, I bet there are dozens of bureaucratic entries tracing the entire history of this piece of West German government property. In fact, I'm not even sure it was legal for me to buy it under the Government Property Registration and Transfer Act of 1973. I suppose I'll find out soon enough. 


What I'd Do To/With/For the Immigrants

So, I've been rather hard on Germany's immigration policies lately. But it's not sporting to criticize the authorities without suggesting a workable alternative -- no magic pixie dust. Here's a rough sketch of one, off the top of my head. Let me know what you think in comments.

First, the pragmatic (or, to skeptics, cynical) principles and/or real-world constraints on which the policy is based:

  1. Immigration policy should put the interests of that country's citizens first. Other interests come into play, but in any democratic country, the will of the people should rule, as long as it is consistent with basic human-rights principles. There is no human-rights principle that says a national of one country has a right to live abroad simply because he or she wishes to. Uncontrolled free migration has never been and will never be considered a human right.
  2. Every country has a tolerance limit on the number of people from foreign cultures which it can accommodate without negative consequences. The more remote the culture from which the immigrant comes, the bigger the potential for problems. 
  3. The only successful, permanent solutions to the problems behind current refugee flows must come from within the affected countries, through a process of reconciliation and economic development. Germany should support these processes, and does so right now, however imperfectly and inconsistently. Germany's policies under the Nazi era were repugnant, and Germany has historical responsibilities growing out of them. But permitting uncontrolled mass migration is not one of those responsibilities. The difficulties of foreign countries thousands of miles away cannot be solved by German immigration policy, and can be made worse, for instance by brain drain.
  4. Germany cannot fix the root causes of current migration. Germany has no influence on the civil war in Syria. None of the state parties who are supporting proxies in Iraq or Syria (Iran, Russia, Gulf Arab States, etc.) cares about Germany's opinion, or the opinion of the EU. Conditions in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the West Balkans cannot be quickly remedied by any German or EU policy short of military intervention, which should not and will not occur.
  5. Those who are permitted to resettle temporarily in Germany for humanitarian reasons should be selected, to the greatest extent possible, on the basis of greatest objective need and/or danger, as determined by current international human-rights law.

With those in mind, here's my 11-point sketched-on-a-cocktail-napkin plan:

  1. International bodies should drastically increase funding for refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and other areas near war zones. Funding is beginning to dwindle, causing conditions in those camps to deteriorate. For humanitarian and practical reasons, this must be reversed. No matter how many refugees the EU accepts, as a practical matter, most refugees are going to stay in those camps, and conditions need to be improved there.
  2. The EU should build a high-tech fence around its external borders with non-EU nations. The 'dream' of a borderless Europe cannot survive a reality in which large disparities in the standard of living exist. And in fact is is now dead. Sooner or later, fences will be built and patrols increased. Better sooner than later. When I talk about disparities in standard of living, I am talking about northwest Europe. No MENA migrant is saying to herself: 'If only I could get to Moldova, Albania, or Serbia!' They don't even want to get to Greece, Italy, or Spain. They all want to get to places that have relatively sophisticated and tolerant societies and strong economies. Eastern European states are on the frontline, but they are not the destination. Routine traffic and train checks within the Schengen borders should be increased based on algorithmic modeling of human-smuggling routes.
  3. The punishment for someone convicted of human smuggling will be a minimum of 5 years in prison, followed by deportation, if applicable. If serious injury occurs to migrants, minimum 7 years. If death, minimum 10 years. No exceptions, unless you testify against the other members of the smuggling ring. These harsh penalties should be used as bargaining chips against small fry to get them to inform on higher-ups. Surveillance, sting operations and undercover informants should be used liberally to infiltrate smuggler groups. If these sound like harshly repressive methods, that's because they are. Governments can and should use severe methods against harmful, dangerous exploitation. And these methods work: they decimated the American mafia, which was once thought to be invulnerable. I bet a lot of cops currently enforcing pointless marijuana laws would prefer combating human smuggling.
  4. None of these measures will stop migration, of course, but they will reduce it substantially, and will generate information needed to devise improved interdiction strategies. To have controlled, humane, rational, fair system of migration, there is no alternative to a strong, secure border. In the era of drones, satellites, and GPS, this is actually not an insurmountable problem. Where will the funding come from? Some will come from reduced numbers of migrants. Other funding will have to be found. But since there will be overwhelming support for this project in places like Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Austria, I suspect the funding will be found. If you go to Hungary and say: 'Here's €100 million -- now please take tens of thousands of new immigrants from Africa and the Middle East', Hungary will say -- and has said -- no way. Never. Over my dead body. Not in a million years. Hungary will not change its mind on its own, and there is no way to force it to change its policy. If you go to Hungary and say: 'The EU wants to give you €100 million to build a secure, reliable, modern border fence so that you can better control who enters your country', the response will be 'Yes, please!!'
  5. All states within Europe, perhaps with the exception of Belarus, should be declared presumptively safe countries of origin. All migrants from Albania, Kosovo, etc. should be swiftly deported unless they can qualify for refugee status, meaning they, as individuals, fear for their lives because of war, or other grave threats. Relative poverty does not justify refugee status. Nor do allegations of discrimination, unless they directly threaten life. The existence of a code of blood revenge in Albania is definitely not Germany's problem, and not a reason to grant anyone refugee status. The tiny fraction of rural Albanians still involved in this foolish and illegal practice should be encouraged to abandon it, as their fellow citizens already have.
  6. All migrants who arrive in any Western European country should be fingerprinted and have a DNA analysis performed and stored in a secure EU-wide database. They're already fingerprinted, of course, but DNA analysis is cheap and much more reliable.
  7. Germany should set up stations in refugee camps near the Syrian border and at embassies and consulates in other problem areas. Applications will be processed there, at the site. If their refugee status is granted, they will be granted an entry visa into Germany and permitted to travel normally. They will be met at the airport and taken to housing and set up with benefits. They will be permitted to stay as long as the situation in their country of origin requires. Once the situation stabilizes, they will be returned to their home country. If they have spent a long time in Germany and made a successful transition to German society, they may apply for residency status or citizenship.
  8. Migrants who arrive in Germany without refugee status will be housed in humane detention centers and their movements will be monitored with ankle bracelets to ensure they do not disappear into the illegal underground. They will be informed that if they break any German laws during the period of detention, they will be immediately deported, no questions asked, no appeals. They will be assigned counsel and permitted to make a case for refugee status or another argument for being granted residency. If that is denied, and their appeals fail, they will be deported within one month. They will also be warned that if they attempt to return, they will be imprisoned.
  9. In consultation with other EU member states, Germany will set an annual upper limit on the number of humanitarian migrants, including refugees, which it will harbor. I'd suggest something like 250,000 per year. A million refugees a year is not sustainable for Germany. Some of those will be allocated for urgent humanitarian cases, such as people with medical conditions that can't be treated in their country, or people who are faced with immediate, deadly threats because of severe, government-sponsored persecution or war. Grants of refugee or humanitarian status should be based on selection for greatest need/threat. They should be rationed out so that the yearly maximum is not exceeded. The willingness of other EU countries to accept refugees will surely increase once secure borders exist and they know that they will be expected only to accommodate a set number of refugees known in advance.
  10. This will mean that thousands of people who do qualify as refugees under international law will be rejected by Germany because Germany has hit its yearly limit. This is unfortunate, but the number of refugees that Germany can handle should and must be determined by Germany, not by the number of refugees out there. Germany can and should have a lively internal debate about how many refugees it should accept per year, and those who obtain the most political support for their number limit should win. Those refugees who are rejected by Germany should be encouraged to apply for refugee status in another country, with a notice that Germany found their claims justified, but has no room under the quota.
  11. As for non-humanitarian policy, German should institute a points system to attract immigrants who have shown a specific interest in migrating to Germany and have relevant job and language skills. There should be quotas to ensure that immigration of these people is spread out among numerous countries, to avoid (excessive) brain-drain effects. If you want to foster a harmonious and welcoming attitude toward immigrants, the best thing you can do is make sure most of the ones you let in are well-educated, employed and productive, bringing ideas and skills that will make them an immediate benefit to everyone, including members of the native population.

'My First Zonen-Gaby': An Exegesis of Two Famous Rude German Jokes

Trigger Warning: This post contains discussions of racial stereotypes and East German hairstyles.

After the Charlie Hebdo attack, there were cultural misunderstandings galore about whether the French satire magazine was an obnoxious racist rag. Some of the Charlie's satirical cartoons contained stereotypical depictions of black people and Muslims, which was enough for many non-French speakers to denounce the magazine. Those who spoke French and knew the French media landscape countered that the editorial line of Charlie Hebdo was left-wing. The use of rude caricatures -- whether of blacks, Catholics, gays, or royalty -- is simply par for the course in the rollicking, adolescent world of European satire. To those in the know, which includes me, there is no debate: the latter point of view is correct.

Here's another magazine cover that's sure to provoke controversy, this time in Germany. I will now explain the background to you before the controversy erupts. I happen to have learned a lot about Germany, even though I've lived here for over a decade.

The roots of this joke go back to November 1989. The Berlin Wall had just come down, talk of unification was in the air, and thousands of East Germans were traveling freely to West Germany for the first time. The West German satire magazine Titanic decided to weigh in with a cover. Titanic, you should know, follows the dictum (g) of Kurt Tucholsky: Was darf Satire? Alles. (What is satire alllowed to do? Everything.)

Here is their November 1989 cover:

Zonen gaby

The title reads: 'Zonen-Gaby (17) overjoyed (BRD) : My First Banana'. Let's unpack the cultural signifiers. First, the name. Gaby (short for Gabrielle) is a common name all over Germany, but was especially popular in the East. Zonen-Gaby refers to the fact that she comes from East Germany. Now, there is a whole code governing how one may refer to residents of the former German Democratic Republic. The most polite way is 'People from the New German Federal States'. Quite a mouthful. Then comes East Germans. By the time you get to Ossi, you're in the political-correctness danger zone. And that brings us to Zonies. Right-wing Germans, who never accepted the notion of East Germany as a legitimate, independent state, referred to East Germany as the 'Soviet Occupation Zone' to emphasize its temporary and non-democratic character.

'Zone-Gaby' is 17, and now residing in the BRD, the German initials for West Germany. She has several characteristics of people from the East, including the half-hearted perm and unisex denim jacket. East Germans were very much into these things. If you don't believe me, just look at the footage from the fall of the Wall. East German women were also delighted by geometric plastic earrings. There were lots of dangling red plastic triangles. Gaby has what looks like a peach-colored plastic wind-chime hanging from each ear. Also the teeth. Basic medical care in the State of Workers and Peasants was quite good, but there was neither the money nor the will to provide comrades with bourgeois fripperies like cosmetic dentistry.

And finally we come to the cucumber. Bananas were rare in East Germany, and one of the stereotypes of East Germans coming for a visit to the West (which was allowed under strict regulation) is that they ran to the nearest grocery store to devour exotic tropical fruits unavailable in the East. Poor Zonen-Gaby is evidently unfamiliar with bananas.

This is, without a doubt, the most famous Titanic cover in history, perhaps comparable to National Lampoon's 'If You Don't Buy this Magazine We'll Kill This Dog.' The number of people who found it grossly offensive was outnumbered only by the number who found it funny, which was only outnumbered by the people who found it both.

And now, 25 years later, Titanic has just outdone itself:

Refugee joe

Even if you're not German-Powered™, you can probably see where this is going. The more sensitive among you should click away now. I'll give you a few seconds.

OK, we're back. I will now continue to dissect the joke, solely in the name of cross-cultural understanding, and perhaps Science. Our old friend Zonen-Gaby is back, this time in the company of 'Refugee Joe.' The title reads: 'Refugee Joe (52 cm) overjoyed (asylum): My First Zonen-Gaby'. As we also see, Zonen-Gaby is (still) overjoyed at meeting her new friend. Her thought bubble reads 'Hee-hee -- Banana Joe'! The black band promises 'Even more asylum critique in the magazine!'

The reference to 52cm should be self-explanatory. Although I should note for accuracy's sake that the current owner of the world's longest penis is an American (of course) and his glistening missile of sin is only 13.5 inches, or 34.2 cm long. Erect.


Georg Restle Has Magic Pixie Dust Solutions to Intractable Problems, but Won't Tell Us What They Are

Magic pixie dust

In this (unembeddable) video commentary (g) watched by millions on the nightly news, German journalist Georg Restle blames Germany for all the problems in the countries from which migrants are coming.

Let's look at his arguments.

First, instead of Germany 'trying to help Kosovo get a footing', it's supporting a 'corrupt regime that's driving people out of the country'. This is partially false, and partially silly. First, Germany, like many other nations, is trying to help Kosovo. Both bilaterally and as part of EU schemes, it's pouring billions (pdf) of dollars into Kosovo, and that effort is showing some slow progress. As for Germany supporting the corrupt regime in Kosovo, let's be realistic here. Kosovo's current government is the result of parliamentary elections held in 2014 under the close supervision of international agencies. The London School of Economics described them thus:

On Sunday, 8 June 2014 Kosovo went to the polls to elect a new government. Good news: the Serbian community has participated in a much higher number, and the elections were praised as relatively free and fair by local and international observers. Two days on, results are in and speculations on the formation of a new government can start. Kosovo electoral law makes it virtually impossible for a party to rule on their own – a coalition is needed. Who will team up?

What does Restle want? Should Kosovo be forced to dissolve its freely-elected Parliament? How, exactly? Or should Germany stop sending aid to Kosovo until that country stamps out corruption? Does Restle know that half of the aid flowing to Kosovo is actually intended to combat corruption? Does Restle know it has been somewhat effective, in that the 2014 elections were far superior to previous ones? How precisely does Restle think one nation, Germany, has the answer to political corruption by democratically-elected leaders of another country? Zauberhafter Feenstaub to the rescue!

Has Restle ever been outside of Germany? I have news for him: every country in that part of the world has problems with political corruption. So does, for example, India. Should German stop all development aid to India's 'highly corrupt' regime? How would that benefit Indians?

Second, he claims the current German government is supporting the Turkish government's policy in Syria, which is to 'deliver weapons to Islamist murder gangs.' Like a coy mistress, he doesn't even name these 'murder gangs', he just wants us to accept his characterization without question, like obedient subjects in a re-education seminar.

A few questions: How exactly is German supporting this (alleged) Turkish policy? What could Germany do to stop Turkey from acting in what it perceives to be its own national interests? Does Restle not understand that Turkey is a nation which elects its own leaders and makes its own policies? Is Restle aware that Turkey frequently does things of which Germany disapproves, and vice-versa? Does Restle know most Syrian refugees are fleeing ISIS? Is Restle suggesting that Turkey is supporting ISIS? 

The suggestion that there is one clear morally superior policy in the five-dimensional chess match that is the Syrian civil war is far beyond naïve. Which is probably why Restle never tells us what his preferred approach would be. Presumably it involves magic pixie dust.

Third, he claims the German foreign minister is currently negotiating a 'pact with the worst despots in Africa' in order to make sure none of the victims of these regimes can seek political asylum and that they are 'delivered helpless to their persecutors.' Funny, I don't remember Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany's current foreign minister, promising any of these things. In any case, Restle the coy strumpet is back, flashing us just a bit of ankle. Restle refuses to name the country, ruler, or agreement he's talking about. In fact, he doesn't even name Steinmeier. So there is no way to verify the accuracy of these breathless accusations.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I wonder if so many flimsy arguments have ever been delivered in such a short time to so many Germans.


Open Borders Supporters Everywhere You Look: Katrin Göring-Eckhardt

There are millions of Germans who favor open borders, among them some of the most powerful people in the country. Case in point:

Katrin Göring-Eckhardt is one of the leading members of the German Green Party. It wins between 10-15% of the vote in national elections, which is a lot in a parliamentary system like Germany. Easily enough to make or break coalitions.  The Green Party has been in governing coalitions in many German states and was in the ruling coalition for all of Germany just recently.  She has said (g, my translation) "I really hope Chancellor Merkel decides to go to a refugee hostel sometime, listens to the stories the people tell, and then says: 'Yes, these are the new citizens of our country'."

She did not say "These are the migrants whom we will house humanely while their legal status is decided." Nor did she say: 'These are the refugees to whom we will provide temporary refuge to until conditions have improved in their home countries and they can return." Nor did she say: "These are the immigrants who may one day qualify for permanent residency status in Germany."

She said that Chancellor Merkel should expressly promise all the migrants she meets that they are already citizens of Germany, merely by virtue of arriving on its soil.

This is open borders, pure and simple. No country in modern history has ever implemented such a policy, for very good reasons.

I hope this settles the argument about whether 'open borders' is merely a straw-man argument. Real people with real power in Germany want it to happen, or at least claim they do.


German Word of the Week: Schmähgier

I've been reading (well, listening to) Martin Gregor-Dellin's magnificent biography of Richard Wagner and came across a word which may well have been invented by Wagner himself. During his early years of pretty much unrelieved poverty, Wagner wrote feuilletons and music criticism to earn money while he desperately tried to get his early operas and overtures played. And they're still worth reading. This was before Wagner developed the pompous, semi-messianic tone that marks his later writing, including his autobiography. Gregor-Dellin cites some elegant turns of phrase to prove his point.

In 1840, Wagner met Heinrich Heine, the German poet who had been forced into Parisian exile for his political views. (Heine was Jewish, this was before Wagner's anti-Semitism became more pronounced.) Impressed by Heine's wit and strength of character, Wagner publicly defended him (g, pdf) against the withering attacks in the German press, which Wagner denounced as a product of Schmähgier.

This is brilliant German portmanteau word. Schmähen is a German verb meaning to viciously criticize or vilify. If you yell it it's a Schmähruf (vilify-call). If you criticize someone so harshly that it amounts to vilification, you may be legally liable in Germany for Schmähkritik (g).The German federal constitutional court has stated that although harsh criticism is protected by freedom of speech, criticism that is intended primarily to humiliate and insult and heap scorn on someone, without engaging in serious argumentation or debate, can be prosecuted under Germany's laws protecting personal honor. A lawyer who called his opponent (who apparently had a title of nobility) a 'chiseler' and 'Prince of Bullshit' (Flunkerfürst (g)) got dinged by a court in Hamburg for Schmähkritik.

Gier is greed or desire. Habgier is the greed to have (haben), i.e. avarice. Neugier is the greed for the new, or curiosity. You can have Gier for anything, there's even Mordgier, for those with an uncontrollable compulsion to kill. So Schmähgier is yet another short German word with tons of meaning packed in: the compulsive desire to vilify someone else.

I can't readily find this word anywhere before Wagner's use of it, so I would like to believe the master invented it himself. 


Study-Abroad Programs Make Americans Prouder to be Americans

Calvert Jones, a professor of political science, tested American students who went to study abroad and compared them to similar students who hadn't. The results were interesting:

First, I tested the core liberal hypothesis that cross-border contact promotes a sense of shared international community, or what political scientist Karl Deutsch called a “we-feeling” across cultural divides. Theorists define this in terms of warmth, shared understandings and values, and trust. Surprisingly, the hypothesis was not supported: None of the indicators for international community was higher on average for students returning from study abroad than for those yet to travel. In fact, those who had just returned from a semester abroad felt they had significantly fewer values in common and were more likely to say their understandings of key concepts were different from the people of their host country. None of this was sensitive to potential moderators like whether or not students opted to live with a host family. Given the intuitive plausibility of the liberal hypothesis, these results are striking.

Jones_Fig1Blue

How about threat perceptions? I asked students to rate how threatening they would consider their study abroad host country if it were to surpass the United States in terms of material power, such as economic growth or military expansion. In theory, cross-border contact should mitigate perceptions of foreign threat and foster expectations of peaceful change and cooperation, despite uncertainty and shifts in the distribution of power. And indeed, given identical scenarios, those just returned from a semester abroad rated their host countries as less threatening than did students about to leave. So the liberal hypothesis that cross-border contact mitigates threat perceptions was supported, even though the hypothesis that it fosters “community” was not.

Finally, I tested a variant on the “clash of civilizations” hypothesis—that cross-border contact, rather than encouraging a sense of shared international community, promotes nationalism. Perhaps troubling for some, the results strongly supported that hypothesis.

Jones_Fig2Red

Students returning from their study abroad experience were considerably prouder of America along a range of dimensions, including its literature, achievements in the arts, armed forces, athletic accomplishments and political influence. They were also prouder to be American, warmer toward American culture and more patriotic. Importantly, however, they did not display a heightened belief in America’s superiority; there was no difference in that attitude across the two groups. So while cross-border contact heightened nationalism, it did not appear to promote a virulent or chauvinistic form of it.

...We are used to thinking about nationalism and internationalism as mutually exclusive; people who are highly nationalistic are often assumed to lack the cosmopolitan mindset of a “global citizen.” Yet study abroad returnees were both more nationalistic and less prone to seeing other nations as threatening. Rather than fostering a sense of shared international community and warm realizations of “we are the same,” cross-border contact may instead encourage a form of “enlightened nationalism”—a sharper sense of national difference, and pride in that difference, tempered by tolerance and the realization that such differences need not be threatening.

It would be tempting to consider this another data point supporting the well-understood finding that close contact with foreign cultures reduces feelings of trust and empathy. Nothing new about that. That's why people generally prefer to live among people similar to themselves.

But not so fast. I think there's a huge limitation to this study: the fact that it was conducted among American college students. First, let's not beat around the bush: Americans know much less about the rest of the world than people in other developed countries, and are a lot less likely to speak a foreign language fluently. So they are generally ill-equipped to hit the ground running in a foreign country.

Americans are also on average the richest people on earth, and American college students come overwhelmingly from the upper-middle class. The contrast in standard of living between American and even UK college students is large. The gap between what an American expects from a university experience and what is on offer in France, Spain, or Germany is gigantic. Shabby, ancient buildings; no legion of mid-level bureaucrats to find you a place to live or guide you around campus or help you find a job; scummy student digs; overcrowded and often dull or inaudible lectures; rampant absenteeism and cheating. Having no standard of comparison, most American students going to an ordinary Spanish university will feel like they have been dropped into the third world.

I wonder if anyone's ever done a study like this among European Erasmus exchange students. I'd be willing to bet the ones who can actually remember their experience after all that partying probably had a very different reaction.


Next Time The AK-47 Might Not Jam

Pixie dust

There are thousands of Islamic militants in Europe, but as the New York Times reports, no European country has the resources to monitor them:

The sheer number of militant suspects combined with a widening field of potential targets have presented European officials with what they concede is a nearly insurmountable surveillance task. The scale of the challenge, security experts fear, may leave the Continent entering a new climate of uncertainty, with added risk attached to seemingly mundane endeavors, like taking a train.

In fact, the authorities in at least two countries already knew quite a lot about Mr. Khazzani before he surged into notoriety on Friday afternoon: He was on a French list as a security threat, and Spanish officials told news media there that he had traveled to Syria — not in itself an offense, unless he went there for jihad. Had he been living in France, a tough new surveillance law, approved at the end of July by France’s constitutional council, would have likely turned up even more on him.

If your government can't even keep tabs on a known Islamic radical who went to Syria to fight, it's pretty much hopeless. And even if your government can, the suspect can just hop in a car or train and go to another country. The next attack is only a matter of time, and the death toll could be staggering.

It may be impossible to do much about the Islamists in Europe right now, but you might think that the events of recent months would lead Germany to reconsider a policy of importing hundreds of thousands more people from the most conflict-torn region in the world with no background checks. Three-quarters (g) of current asylum applicants arrive in Germany without papers, and some even claim they don't know which country they came from! (That's a tactic to hinder deportation). There are already anecdotal reports (g) of radical Islamists among the people in German migrant hostels. It would seem pretty urgent to follow up these reports, but the system is already so ridiculously overburdened that it won't happen. Besides, even if the authorities started an investigation, the targets could simply disappear into the undocumented underground, where 600,000 migrants already live.

Better hope the pixie dust works!