Migrants 1.

Social scientists posit that people experiencing disturbing social change can seize on particularist identities like ethnicity or nationality.  Demographic change and economic change and shifting social values all can trigger such a response.  On the other hand, cultural and economic elites in Western countries celebrate the free flow of goods and labor.  They also have developed more cosmopolitan views than have many fellow citizens.[1]

Illegal immigration provides a good example of the particularist-cosmopolitan tension.  In recent times, illegal migration has become easier than ever before in history.  In both Europe and America bitter quarrels over immigration rack politics.[2]  These controversies arise not from heavy current immigration, but from heavy prior immigration.  More importantly, the general backlash against elites–who led us to war in Iraq and then into the financial crisis—has ensnared migrants.

Illegal migration to the United States dropped sharply during the Great Recession.  It hasn’t picked up immensely in the past year.  However, that still leaves 10-12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.  Human symbols of elite failure.  Liberals insisting on calling them “undocumented immigrants”—as if there is just some bureaucratic foul-up in Washington—adds fuel to the fire.  President Obama’s skirting of the law angered many people.  Illegal immigration in the European Union is more recent.  There the flood of migrants from various failed states mixes with refugees from war-torn Muslim states.

People leave their “shithole” countries for good reasons and not just on a whim.  Until conditions in those countries improve, there is not likely to be a significant drop in attempts at illegal immigration.  To complicate matters further, while many of the migrants are economic migrants, the law allows them to request asylum as victims of persecution.  This clogs the immigration system and delays repatriation.

In light of this reality, attention has turned to deterring them from reaching American or European soil in the first place.  Europeans have negotiated with pathway countries—Libya, Sudan, and Turkey—to stem the departures for Europe.  The implementation of those agreements involves a good deal of brutality that is much worse than anything suffered by Central American migrants to the United States.  Mexico is unwilling to play that sort of role for the United States.  The “zero tolerance” policy attempted by a Trump administration grown tired of waiting for Congressional approval of a border wall offers another form of deterrence.

Cosmopolitans sometimes phrase the choice in a misleading way: “What sort of society do they wish to be?  Do they wish to be immigrant nations with continual demographic and cultural change?”  First, both the European Union and the United States have long had substantial legal immigration.  Second, it is legitimate to debate what kinds of immigrants best serve the interests of the community.

[1] Benjamin Barber, Jihad and McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Shaping World Society (1996).  Barber’s analysis remains engaging, but it wasn’t new.  Late-Nineteenth Century sociologists had identified the problem of anomie.  For that matter, historians long ago diagnosed the rise of “mystery” religions as a response to the cosmopolitanism of the Hellenistic kingdoms.

[2] Amanda Taub and Max Fisher, “In U.S. and Europe, Conflict Over Migration Points to Political Problems,” NYT, 30 June 2018.


Memoirs of the Addams Administration 14.

The historian Fernand Braudel distinguished between long term trends and the “mere history of events.”  It’s a useful concept to bear in mind when analyzing political developments.  However, Braudel would be the first to admit that events can illustrate trends.

As early as the 1950s, Democrats turned to seeking changes in the law through the courts when they could not obtain them through the legislature.  Two can play at this game.  Both parties have spent a great deal of effort getting “their” judges on the bench while blocking the other guys’ judges from getting on the bench.  Polarization has only made the problem more obvious.  In 2013, when last in the majority, Senate Democrats chose to get rid of the filibuster for all judicial appointments below the level of the Supreme Court.  When Justice Antonin Scalia died, President Obama nominated a highly qualified Democratic replacement; Senate Republicans refused to even hold hearings on the nominee.  Now in the minority, Senate Democrats chose to filibuster the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court and Republicans chose to do away with the filibuster.[1]  This unhappy event is merely the most recent phase in the politicization of the judiciary.  The mind reels at possible future developments.

Human-caused climate change is a reality.  So, too, is the halting effort by industrial countries to limit the further emission of pollutants that cause that climate change.  So, too, are the social and economic costs of fighting climate change in industrial societies.  When interest groups resist the threats to their immediate well-being, governments can either bend before the resistance, or seek to off-set those costs, or seek to circumvent the resistance by other means.  Thus, President Barack Obama insisted that the Paris climate agreement to which his administration adhered not be a treaty.[2]  He knew he could never get such a treaty through the Senate, as required by the Constitution.  Nor could he get the policies needed to implement the Paris agreement through Congress.  So, he resorted to a “Clean Power Plan” issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The Trump administration ordered a re-write of the Plan and “requested” that the EPA lighten up on other regulations.[3]  Most observers found this to be ridiculous pandering to his core voters.[4]  In this view, coal is a dying industry, climate change has to be resisted with energy,[5] and renewable energy is a key technology of the future economy.

American social values and the deficiencies of the American education system have challenged the growth of the high-tech industries for many years.[6]  In brief compass, America doesn’t produce enough techies to meet the needs of growing industries.  The solution appeared in the hiring of many (85,000 new people a year) from foreign countries.  The granting of H-1B visas plays a key role in this process.  Now the Trump administration has issued orders intended to hinder the issuing of such visas.[7]  The empty spots aren’t likely to be filled by displaced coal miners.

[1] “Senate showdown over Gorsuch nomination,” The Week, 14 April 2017, p. 5.

[2] “Climate change: Can Trump revive coal?” The Week, 14 April 2017, p. 17.

[3] Relax the rules on emissions by power plants to be constructed in the future; allow new coal mining on public lands; and ease restrictions on the emission of methane in the course of “fracking.”

[4] As an employer, the whole of the coal industry ranks behind some fast-food chains.  Coal mine employment has fallen by almost 50 percent since 1990, long before the Clean Power Plan was even a twinkle in Barack Obama’s eye.  “The bottom line,” The Week, 14 April 2017, p. 35.

[5] HA!  Is joke.

[6] See Bruce Cannon Gibney, A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America (2017).

[7] “Tech: More scrutiny for skilled-worker visas,” The Week, 14 April 2017, p. 35.

Rivers of Blood I.

Muslim immigration to Western Europe began by stages after the Second World War as labor-short economies and the end of empires combined to draw non-Europeans toward the “mother country.” A great deal of thoughtlessness went into these migrations. All host countries were ill-prepared to deal with the immigrants.

In January 2015 there are an estimated 20 million Muslims in Europe. About 5 million are in France, where they make up 8 percent of the population. (See: “The other land of liberty and opportunity.”) In Britain and Germany they make up 5 percent of the population. One of the things that eats at European countries is the feeling that immigrants have come to their countries to prey on the generous social welfare provision of enlightened countries. In the 1970s, two-thirds of the immigrants in Germany were in the labor force, while one-third were not. Thirty years later scarcely more than a quarter of immigrants were in the labor force.[1] Another problem, revealed by a poll in L’Express in January 2013 is that 74 percent of those polled said that Islam “is not compatible with French society.” Yet this feeling finds no expression in the “mainstream” or “respectable” French political parties. Why not?

Christopher Caldwell argues that the European left has made discussion of the problems raised by immigration almost impossible.[2] On the one hand, they have evoked European historical crimes—the Holocaust above all—to justify repressing unwelcome speech. He implies that they have undermined the foundations of democracy in the process. In France, he sees the “SOS Racisme” group created in the 1980s as a puppet of the Socialist Party intended to shout-down conservative voices and the 1990 Gayssot Law against Holocaust-denial as an entering wedge for people who want to stifle discussion of other historical events—many of them highly unpleasant and non-Western. Most recently, the anti-immigrant Front National Party got left out of the post-Charlie Hebdo parade on the grounds that it was not “republican” enough.

On the other hand, people on the left have failed to understand that, whatever was done to European Jews, it wasn’t done by Muslims. Just as Palestinians have felt free to reject the State of Israel as European expiation of European crimes at the expense of Arabs, so too have Euro-Muslims felt free to reject European progressive thought as an alien set of values intended to curb their own beliefs. If one adds these forces to the failure to integrate the immigrants and their French-born descendants into French society, one can begin to understand some of the impulses that set the Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibaly on the path to terrorism. They are not alone in their alienation, hostility, and religious fervor.

Caldwell understands that Europe’s aging and declining non-Muslim population makes immigration essential. He is less quick to say that the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments expressed by parties like the Front National can have no practical expression in public policy. Yes, the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. Is that what the Front National or other parties expect to repeat with Muslims? Some of the Front National voters undoubtedly do want that, but the program of the party calls for a halt to further immigration and a defense of “secular values.” France already has more police per capita than any other European country. Even so, security lapses allowed the Kouatchis and Coulibaly to escape detection of their plans to kill.

There is going to have to be a third way between “political correctness” and stupidity.

[1] Two million out of three million in the early 1970s versus two million out of seven-and-a-half million in th early 2000s.

[2] Christopher Caldwell, “Europe’s Crisis of Faith,” WSJ, 17-18 January 2015.


The other land of liberty and opportunity.

The terrible events in Paris in early January 2015 have inspired all sorts of questions. What are the limits of “free speech”? Why did the security services fail to discern the threat? Perhaps most importantly, why do some French Muslims become radicalized?

During the 19th Century French population grew at a pace (40 percent) much below that of the rest of Europe (100+ percent). This population gap began to have an effect on the supply of workers. In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries the French began to make up the difference by encouraging immigration from countries like Italy, Poland, and Spain. By the eve of the Great Depression, immigrants had increased from 1 percent of the population to 3 percent. The Depression caused the French to seek to reduce the number of immigrants in the country. In the aftermath of the Second World War, however, France turned to encouraging the immigration of guest workers from its colonial empire as a national policy. The collapse of the French position in Algeria in the early Sixties then brought a flood of refugees (both Algerians of European descent and Algerian Muslims who had been loyal to France in the Algerian war). This population movement totaled well over a million people in the space of a few years.

From this point onward the question of immigration became politicized and tense. For one thing, there the “pied noir” immigrants from Algeria and the “harkis” competed for the same jobs at the bottom of the French economy, spawning a bitter hostility. For another thing, the great economic slump of the Seventies intensified the competition for jobs. France put a stop to immigration in 1974, but the immigrants in the country put down roots rather than going “home.” They sent for their families before French laws could prohibit this. Consequently, the immigrant population actually increased in size at a time when France sought to limit it. For a third thing, the French accepted the sociological theory of a “threshold of tolerance,” beyond which the number of unassimilated immigrants worked to disintegrate society. This latter theory had a particular resonance because of the “French social model.”

That model holds that there is a single French national culture and everyone has to assimilate to it to be French. Anyone who is not French is “foreign” (etranger). Formally, “etranger” refers to anyone without French citizenship, but informally it includes anyone who refused to become “French.” The French reject the Anglo-American model of multi-culturalism. The French carry this to the point of refusing to gather statistical data on the ethnic or national origins of French citizens. Rough estimates, done on the basis of the number of “etrangers” and their descendants living in France, put the number of non-French within the hexagon at 14 million or 25 percent of the population. Of these, it has been estimated that 5-6 million are Muslims.

It is open to question whether the Muslim immigrants have assimilated to French culture. On the one hand, they undoubtedly have: they eat pork, smoke, drink, and have premarital sex, just like ordinary “French” people of their generation. On the other hand, they are walled off in ethnic ghettoes on the outskirts of the major cities (especially Paris). These areas are marked by very high unemployment (40-50 percent), crime, and drug-use. At the same time, one can wonder whether the French have made much of an effort to assimilate the immigrants. The inhabitants of these ghettoes are often third generation residents of France with little knowledge of or interest in their “homelands,” there is a good deal of evidence that French employers prefer to hire people with lighter skins and French-sounding names, and former President Nicholas Sarkozy may have been expressing a common sentiment when he referred to the rioters at the end of 2005 as “racaille” (scum).   See: The Week, 2 December 2005, p. 15.

On the Border.

Sometimes it is useful to look backward to have some idea about contemporary issues.

Hispanic-Mexican immigration is a political problem in the United States. In 1986 the US offered an amnesty to those Mexicans in America illegally, combined with the promise of a crack-down on future illegal immigration. The illegal immigrants got amnestied, but the crack-down was slow in coming. In 1994 the US did crack down on immigrants openly flouting the law along US highways. As a result, illegal immigrants concentrated on crossing the Sonoran Desert into Arizona. In 2004 1.3 million Mexicans got snagged by the Border Patrol trying to cross into the United States; 500,000 of them in Arizona alone. This totaled more than those arrested in any other American state, and it ignores the many others who got through. One estimate held that about 485,000 illegal immigrants successfully entered the country each year.

By April 2007 there were about 20 million people from Mexico working in the United States. The goods they produced exceeded in value the GNP produced by all the Mexicans who stayed home. The money they sent home ($20 billion a year) trailed only oil exports in Mexico’s foreign earnings, leading both tourism and direct foreign investment. These remittances amount to a form of foreign aid paid by the United States to Mexico. Same as money for drugs.

Why do all these Hispanic-Mexicans come to the United States? In some places, going to work in the United States has become a basic right of passage for young men. The cost can run $20,000. The financing of this resembles American student loans. Illegal immigrants basically “charge” the cost of their passage, then spend years paying it off. The debt collector then becomes a regular figure in the emigrant community. Then there is is the awful state of the Mexican economy and the many injustices of Mexican society. Mexican elites export their surplus population to the United States to avoid having to pay decent wages or provide decent public services in their own country. More money for them.

So, it’s good for Mexicans and for Mexico. However, a majority of Americans regarded it as a Mexican invasion. Working-class voters see Mexican immigration as a threat to their livelihood. Probably a lot of middle-class people see the flood of Mexican immigrants as a threat to raise taxes for services and as a threat to the Anglo culture. You may not like that, but it’s a democratic country where citizens have a right to express their feelings—and where the feelings of non-citizens don’t count. In 2005 the—Democratic—governors of New Mexico and Arizona declared “states of emergency” in their states because of illegal immigration. They complained that the federal government has failed to address the problem. For example, while most Mexican immigrants are immediately returned to Mexico, most non-Mexican immigrants (120,000 of them) are released on their own recognizance by federal courts. It should surprise no one that they usually fail to appear for trial.

However, “American” politicians dissent from the majority view. Some people suspect that Republicans answer to powerful business interests, who see real advantages in having a low-cost labor force available for marginal enterprises; Democrats see potential voters if the “immigration reform” issue can be spun the right way. In both cases, the narrow interests of the political parties trump the desires of American voters. That can’t be good for democracy.

Ross Douthat and Jenny Dodson, “The Border,” The Atlantic, Jan.-Feb. 2006,” pp. 54-55.

Matthew Quirk, “The Mexican Connection,” The Atlantic, April 2007, pp. 26-27.