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.

The New German Illegal Immigration Policy: Discourage, Detain, Deport

A prominent CDU politician has just advocated (g):
  • Actually deporting the 500,000 migrants currently in Germany whose asylum claims have been denied and who have no legal right to be here.
  • Turning back illegal migrants at the border.
  • Turning back migrant boats launching from Africa and establishing a detention center in Egypt.
  • Sanctioning and then deporting people who "lost" their identity papers and refuse to cooperate in getting new ones.
  • Disallowing illness as a reason to prevent deportation (an extremely common tactic, enabled by sympathetic doctors) if the person migrated to Germany with the illness.

In other words, adopting the sort of immigration policies the rest of the developed world has always had. Any one of these proposals would have been -- and was -- denounced as tantamount to fascism in 2015. It's unlikely all of these proposals will be enacted, but the reaction will be a lot more muted, and many of them will have a chance at passage.

We're a long way from the heady days of 2015, when seemingly every German was entranced by the moistly sentimental dream of proving Germany's enduring moral superiority by throwing open its borders to anyone. A year of dealing with the resulting increased crime; soaring expense; dismal integration results; visible decay and danger in lower-class neighborhoods; abuse of the asylum system; child marriages; honor killings; street stabbings, terror scares and terror attacks; and conflicts over resources, cultural differences, and funding priorities has taken its toll.

Turns out there was no magic pixie dust.

Of course nobody could have predicted the problems or the backlash. Except, of course, me, and millions of other observers. Who were mocked, insulted, and even threatened for the crime of clinging to our common sense in a period of national self-delusion.

We're a long way from Willkommenskultur.


Belief in a Borderless World is 'Stupid and Lazy'

Michael Lind, a pretty interesting and sometimes contrarian American center-left political writer and critic of the Iraq War, looks at the ways in which academics and intellectuals ('Freaks') conflate their own preferences with the public good:

[I]t is natural for academics to view a borderless world as the moral and political ideal — natural, but still stupid and lazy. Make-believe cosmopolitanism is particularly stupid and lazy in the case of academics who fancy themselves progressives. In the absence of a global government that could raise taxes to fund a global welfare state, the free movement of people among countries would overburden and destroy existing national welfare states, or else empower right-wing populists to defend welfare states for natives against immigrants, as is happening both in the U.S. and Europe.

The views of intellectuals about social reform tend to be warped by professional and personal biases, as well. In the U.S. the default prescription for inequality and other social problems among professors, pundits, and policy wonks alike tends to be:  More education! Successful intellectuals get where they are by being good at taking tests and by going to good schools. It is only natural for them to generalize from their own highly atypical life experiences and propose that society would be better off if everyone went to college — natural, but still stupid and lazy. Most of the jobs in advanced economies — a majority of them in the service sector — do not require higher education beyond a little vocational training. Notwithstanding automation, for the foreseeable future janitors will vastly outnumber professors, and if the wages of janitors are too low then other methods — unionization, the restriction of low-wage immigration, a higher minimum wage — make much more sense than enabling janitors to acquire BAs, much less MAs and Ph.Ds.

The social isolation of intellectuals, I think, is worsened by their concentration in a few big metro areas close to individual and institutional donors like New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. (where I live) or in equally atypical college towns. It was never possible for Chinese mandarins or medieval Christian monks in Europe to imagine that their lifestyles could be adopted by the highly visible peasantry that surrounded them. But it is possible for people to go from upper middle class suburbs to selective schools to big-city bohemias or campuses with only the vaguest idea of how the 70 percent of their fellow citizens whose education ends with high school actually live.

Germany has a sizable contingent of 'make-believe cosmopolitans' who are endangering the Northern European welfare state, probably the most civilized and humane form of government ever devised. They don't know they're endangering it, because their thinking is 'stupid and lazy'. 

Europe Doesn't Have Private Charities for Refugees

Non-Europeans can't understand the immigration debate in Europe without recognizing a key fact: Every single migrant who enters a (Northern) European country and files an asylum claim is immediately entitled to state-funded housing, healthcare, and education, plus a monthly cash stipend and child benefit. And is automatically legally entitled to all these things indefinitely, no matter what.
If they eventually get to the point where they are employable and then turn down suitable jobs, the benefits may be reduced. But never eliminated. Since the vast majority of migrants arrive not speaking the native language, and a large percentage never learn it to proficiency, all immigrants will be welfare cases for at least 10-15 years, and many will never stop being welfare cases.
In many Western countries, including the U.S. refugees are sponsored and funded by a public-private mix of government (which does the screening), and private charities, often religious in nature, who find housing and aid in integration. This doesn't happen to anywhere near the same extent in Europe. In Europe, private charities operate on a much smaller scale, since they have essentially been frozen out by state welfare. Religious charities run by the major established churches usually have significant government involvement. As the chart above shows, Germany has a comparatively small private charity sector. It's about the OECD average, but it's worth remembering that the OECD includes a lot of countries much poorer than Germany. 
So every migrant let into the country who possesses no job skills immediately begins costing the state money. And lots of migrants cost lots of money. Germany is now spending an amount on refugee welfare that exceeds its annual federal education budget. It is spending almost €3 billion per year (g) just caring for 65,000 unaccompanied minor migrants.
Denmark has similar policies to Germany's. Which brings us to Daham Al Hasan, his three wives, and his twenty children: 
In Denmark these days, Daham Al Hasan is making headlines. He has twenty children with three wives, but two years ago fled alone from Syria to Denmark, and left his wives and children behind. Recently, under the Danish rules of family unification, one of his wives and eight of his children have joined him in Denmark. But Al Hasan wants all his children with him, as well as all his wives. He has been granted permission for nine additional children to join him, but as Denmark does not allow polygamy, the two remaining wives, under the same rules of family unification, are not permitted to join him. Lawyers, however, estimate that the remaining wives will also be able independently to join their children in Denmark, once they are there.
The case has caused rather a shock in Denmark, not only because of the extraordinary size of the family, and what it will cost the Danish state just in child allowance, but because Al Hassan claims that he is too ill to work or even to learn Danish. "I don't only have mental problems, but also physical problems", he says by way of explanation, "My back and my legs hurt." He has admitted that his "mental illness" consists of missing the children he voluntarily left behind. This means that he and his family live exclusively off the Danish taxpayers' money.

How to Save the SPD: Universal Basic Income

Here's the problem:

1.     Anyone who's paying attention can see that 95% of the migrants who came to Germany in 2015 are going to integrate into the German social welfare system, and probably 50% will never leave it.

2.    This is going to piss off working- and lower-middle class Germans, who will still have to work 40 hours a week to make a wage only 20% higher than welfare. Uwe says: 'Why do I have to I bust my ass working in some shitty supermarket for an asshole boss while Firduz hangs out on the street corner getting free money from the government for doing nothing?'

The answer: Universal Basic Income. Abolish Germany's ludicrously complex welfare system, and just give everyone, say, € 900 per month. Enough to subsist on, but not much more. 

This plan will have some side-effects, of course, but it won't be such a huge change, since everyone in Germany is already entitled to a basic income -- they just have to prove they're unemployed and have no more assets. Under the new plan, everyone gets it. 95% of the useless welfare bureaucracy will vanish, providing huge savings to the German state.

Most importantly, UBI will remove, or at least greatly reduce the envy factor. Uwe will probably continue to work, since the UBI won't pay enough for any luxuries, such as a private washing machine, cars, or vacations. But since he is also getting what Firduz is getting, he will feel much less resentment.

If the SPD had any sense at all, it would stop futzing around with idiotic nanny-state schemes nobody cares about (sexist advertising) and come out loud and defiant in favor of UBI. 

The Unstoppable Decline of the SPD


Politico watches the German Social Democratic Party circle the drain (from 38% of the vote in 2002 to 22% today, with no end in sight):

“Questions of fair distribution of money and resources are no longer at the forefront of social democratic politics,” said Matthias Micus, a political scientist at the University of Göttingen.

“Being ‘left’ the way the SPD understands it today is no longer primarily about economic questions, but much more about cultural issues like gender politics, the protection of minorities, or when it comes to cultural diversity or immigration,” Micus said.

However, he added, the traditional SPD electorate — the working class — does not really care about those topics.

“This has led to an estrangement of the SPD from its traditional electorate,” Micus said.

You don't say.

Nordic Social Democracy Is The Only Desirable Future

Anu Partanen, a Finn, explains why Nordic social-democratic policies enhance individual freedom and flourishing, don't inhibit innovation, and are the only way forward in a world in which full-time jobs with benefits are vanishing: 

But this vision of homogeneous, altruistic Nordic lands is mostly a fantasy. The choices Nordic countries have made have little to do with altruism or kinship. Rather, Nordic people have made their decisions out of self-interest. Nordic nations offer their citizens—all of their citizens, but especially the middle class—high-quality services that save people a lot of money, time, and trouble. This is what Americans fail to understand: My taxes in Finland were used to pay for top-notch services for me.

When I lived in Finland, as a middle-class citizen I paid income tax at a rate not much higher than what I now pay in New York City. True, Nordic countries have somewhat higher taxes on consumption than America, and overall they collect more tax revenue than the U.S. currently does—partly from the wealthy. But, as an example, here are some of the things I personally got in return for my taxes: nearly a full year of paid parental leave for each child (plus a smaller monthly payment for an additional two years, were I or the father of my child to choose to stay at home with our child longer), affordable high-quality day care for my kids, one of the world’s best public K-12 education systems, free college, free graduate school, nearly free world-class health care delivered through a pretty decent universal network, and a full year of partially paid disability leave.

As far as I was concerned, it was a great deal. And it was equally beneficial for others. From a Nordic perspective, nothing Bernie Sanders is proposing is the least bit crazy—pretty much all Nordic countries have had policies like these in place for years.

But wait, most Americans would say: Those policies work well because all Nordics share a sense of kinship and have fond feelings for each other. That might be nice if it were true, but it’s not, as anyone who has followed recent political debates about immigration or economic policy in Nordic countries understands....

Nordic countries are well-ranked when it comes to helping facilitate starting a business. At the most basic level, what the Nordic approach does is reduce the risk of starting a company, since basic services such as education and health care are covered for regardless of the fledgling company’s fate. In addition, companies themselves are freed from the burdens of having to offer such services for their employees at the scale American companies do. And if the entrepreneur succeeds, they are rewarded by tax rates on capital gains that are lower than the rate on wages.

Nordic economies go through cycles like all countries, and they make mistakes like everyone else—Finland is in the midst of a recession right now, whereas the Swedish economy is doing phenomenally well. As in any region, some Nordic companies eventually crash and burn, and others never get off the ground....

In an age when more and more people are working as entrepreneurs or on short-term projects, and when global competition is requiring all citizens to be better prepared to handle economic turbulence, every nation needs to ensure that its people have the education, health care, and other support structures they need to take risks, start businesses, and build a better future for themselves and for their country. It’s simply a matter of keeping up with the times.

Americans are not wrong to abhor the specters of socialism and big government. In fact, as a proud Finn, I often like to remind my American friends that my countrymen in Finland fought two brutal wars against the Soviet Union to preserve Finland’s freedom and independence against socialism. No one wants to live in a society that doesn’t support individual liberty, entrepreneurship, and open markets.

But the truth is that free-market capitalism and universal social policies go well together—this isn’t about big government, it’s about smart government. I suspect that despite Hillary Clinton’s efforts to distance herself from Sanders, she probably knows this. After all, Clinton is also endorsing policies that sound an awful lot like what the Nordics have done: paid family leave, better public schools, and affordable day care, health care and college for all.

The United States is its own country, and no one expects it to become a Nordic utopia. But Nordic countries aren’t utopias either. What they’ve done has little to do with culture, size, or homogeneity, and everything to do with figuring out how to flourish and compete in the 21st century.

In the U.S., supporters of not only Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, but also of Donald Trump, are worried about exactly the kinds of problems that universal social policies can help solve: worsening income inequality, shrinking opportunity, the decline of the middle class, and the survival of the ordinary family in the face of globalization. What America needs right now, desperately, isn’t to keep fighting the socialist bogeymen of the past, but to see the future—at least one presidential candidate should show them that.

To the Middle Class, Germany is Broke and In Decline

[I'm cross-posting this from the immigration blog, since it seems to fit here too]

One of the slogans that pop up in the migrant crisis is that German exports are booming and the country is rich, therefore it can and should accept millions of new migrants.

True, unemployment is low and exports are booming. But that has nothing to do with how ordinary middle-class Germans see their country's financial position. Chancellor Merkel and her party have long sung the praises of the 'lean state', (Schlanker Staat). This translates, as a practical matter, into severe budget cuts in the public sector and privatization. Of course, the German Social Democratic also did party did its part to hollow out the German welfare state in the early 2000s, under Chancellor Schröder. They still haven't recovered from the damage that step did to their reputation.

The result is that many ordinary middle-class Germans experience their country as broke and in decline. They grew up in a country with a solid welfare state and well-funded public services, and have steadily watched those things disappear, slowly but surely, as a result of successive waves of budget-cutting and privatization. Germany doesn't have enough teachers, enough cops, enough university places, enough preschool places, enough money for street repair, for school repair, enough money to keep the trains running on time. 

Some cases in point: In the past decade or so, Germany has cut (g) 16,000 police jobs all over the country, including 3,300 in the most populous state, and 2,900 in Berlin. This comes at a time when violent crime in Germany has been increasing steadily. These cuts explain why migrant shelters are (under)staffed by poorly-trained private security forces working in precarious jobs for minimum wage.

According to a recent confidential government report which a German newspaper had to sue to gain access to, 12,000 bridges in Germany (g) need renovation. 3.8 million square meters need urgent repair, a task that will cost tens of billions of dollars. Since local governments don't have the money for the repairs of their streets, they are turning to private industry (g). The national train concern Deutsche Bahn has increased prices every single year for years at a rate higher than the inflation rate (g), while at the same time on-time performance is reaching historic lows (g).

Germany also doesn't have enough teachers. In Germany's most populous state, Northern Rhine-Westphalia, there is a current deficit (g) of 3,560 teaching jobs to handle current student needs, and other federal states have similar problems. The problem is so severe that many German newspapers have created special 'teacher shortage' (g) rubrics to report on the situation. And these projections are based on the needs of current students, without taking into account the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrant children who will need years of labor-intensive remedial instruction. A leading German newspaper recently asked readers (g) to comment on the state of the public schools their children go to, more than 70% half said the schools were in bad condition, 90% said they had been called on to donate time or materials to repair their children's schools, and many said they didn't let their children use the bathrooms in school because they were so dirty and dangerous.

German governments at all levels have gotten out of the business of building state-subsidized affordable housing. They are not only not building new apartments, they are selling the ones they already own. As a result, rental prices and homelessness have increased (g) in Germany regularly over the past 10 years. According to a recent study, 39,000 more people started living on the street in Germany over the past two years: 'The Federal Working Group for Help for the Homeless expects by 2018 a further 61 percent increase in homeless people. By then, around 540,000 people will have no place to live. The cause for the increase in homelessness are, according to the group, high rents and the increasing poverty of lower income groups.' And Germans are angry about increasing rents. A 2013 study (g) by a tenants' association showed that 90 percent felt that there were not enough affordable apartments in large cities, that 97% believed subsidized housing should be maintained, and 89% felt that the state was not doing enough to provide affordable housing. And this was, of course, before hundreds of thousands of new migrants began competing for low-income housing with government vouchers in their hands.

This might be a good time to mention that real wages in Germany have been stagnant for years, and that many new jobs being created are part-time contract labor with no benefits. It is true that Germans still have an excellent standard of living in many ways, but perceptions matter, and lots of Germans perceive that costs are exploding while their incomes stagnate.

This is the needed background to the current immigration debate. Politicians of all stripes warn that Germany must avoid a situation in which middle-class Germans have to compete with hundreds of thousands of refugees for affordable housing and public transportation, and in which the special needs of migrant children drains resources away from German children. This is already happening, and will get much worse in the coming years. Training teachers and building new affordable housing takes years. Further, it will only happen if there is the political will to spend tens of billions of dollars to do it. That does not exist.

So far, Angela Merkel and other mainstream German politicians appear convinced that middle-class Germans will willingly accept competition for housing and scarce public resources and a further reduction in their standard of living, all so that the 'lean state' can accommodate hundreds of thousands of foreigners on the cheap.

I think those politicians are wrong. If middle-class Germans become convinced that their political leaders care more about the needs of foreign newcomers than struggling middle-class Germans, things will get very ugly indeed.

Uncontrolled Immigration Endangers the Welfare State

People ask nervously: Why am I interested in European immigration policy? Because it has the potential to fundamentally shape European society for decades. As I just pointed out, the evidence shows that immigration is one of the most important factors, probably the most important factor, behind the collapse of the British Labour Party -- the one that, "left to their own devices, the respondents would have talked about all night."

If European left parties, like Labour, allow themselves to become closely linked with the unpopular policy of uncontrolled mass immigration (as opposed to controlled immigration of skilled workers needed by industry coupled with asylum for genuine refugees), they may well destroy themselves for decades. After that, European countries will be ruled by a stable majority coalition of the center-right (35%) and anti-immigrant (15%) parties. We are already seeing this happen: the anti-immigrant Swedish Democrats party doubled its support in the 2014 election.

If this happens, result will be a long-term shift to the right which may well herald the end of the European social welfare state as we know it. That is why a dyed-in-the-wool Socialist like Bernie Sanders unapologetically says immigration needs to be kept in check. Bernie Sanders is no fool. Long-term coalitions of the center and farther right will also, of course, also worsen the situation of immigrants. Anyone who can't see this danger staring us in the face is whistling past the graveyard. I think and write about this issue a lot because it seems to me the most important domestic policy issue we face, and I think many people don't yet realize that fact.