Annals of Bizarre Migrant Crimes, Vol. ∞
Paul Hockenos on German Arrogance

European Welfare States and Immigration

Christopher Caldwell's 2009 book, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, is the best book on the European experience with Muslim immigration out there. It avoids the hysterical doom-mongering that plagues North American neo-conservatives and geriatric European reactionaries on this issue. But because Caldwell is an American and is therefore not bound by European taboos, he makes a lot of points which are rarely addressed in Europe.

His 2009 interview in Der Spiegel remains as relevant as ever, since the problems remain basically the same, even as their scale increases: 

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you suggesting there is no open discussion about Islam in Europe?

Caldwell: I think these things are getting much more openly debated than a few years ago. In the Netherlands and Denmark you do have a contentious debate. I think a lot of Danes and Dutch aren't really proud of the way their populist parties are discussing the issue of immigration, but it's generally much better if things are discussed openly....

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In your book, "Reflections on the Revolution in Europe," you cast a skeptical light on Europe's relationship with its Muslim immigrants. In your view, do Muslim immigrants pose a threat to the Continent?

Caldwell: I don't speak of a threat, exactly. This is a very important distinction. The debate up until now has been marked by two extremes. On the one side you have the doomsayer extreme, the people who say Islam is "taking over" Europe. On the other, you have people with the point of view that there's no problem at all, except racism. I think both positions are wrong, and I have tried to set a new tone.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Nevertheless, when reading your book, one leaves it with the impression that you think Europe will have real trouble integrating its Muslim immigrants.

Caldwell: Islam poses difficulties that other immigrant groups do not. Part of it is the growth of political Islam in the world in the last half-century. A large minority of European Muslims feel solidarity with the Muslim community abroad, and they feel at the same time that the West is at war with this world. That makes the transition into a European identity more difficult. But I think the problems at the cultural level are more important.


Caldwell: A lot of overly optimistic people expect Muslims to give up, or to modify, their religion over time. They're going to change in some way, but we don't really know how. And attitudes around religion provide a lot of potential for conflict -- the attitudes towards women, towards family relations, sexual freedom or gay rights.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The percentage of Muslims in the European population is very low. The total is about 5 percent.

Caldwell: Right. The population of Western Europe is about 400 million, and there are about 20 million Muslims. Nevertheless, the population (of Muslims) continues to grow.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But to what extent is it really growing? You base this argument on a higher birth rate, but a number of studies suggest that in the second or third generations, immigrants have birthrates closer to the national average.

Caldwell: That is true. There are two things that will cause the immigrant descended population in Europe to grow in the coming years. One is that immigrants are still coming and the other is that birth rates, although they are falling, are still higher. But the real issue is not the size of the immigrant population. It is that their culture needs to be accommodated within Europe in a way that requires Europe to change its structures....

SPIEGEL ONLINE: To what extent are your views shaped by the fact that you're an American?

Caldwell: As an outsider, one has the advantage of seeing parallels between European countries as well as differences. I come from a country that has experience with a multiethnic society, and America's history has some lessons for Europe. Just because the European Muslim community is a small one does not mean it is uninfluential or that it can be ignored or that the problems surrounding it are trivial and will go away. Blacks have traditionally made up about only about 10 percent of the US population. But we have a horrible history of race conflict that has shaken our country for centuries.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is America more successful when it comes to integrating immigrants?

Caldwell: For now, yes. I think the first reason is the ruthlessness of the American economy. You either become a part of it or you go home. There are more foreigners in the workplace, and that's where a lot of integration happens. And because most immigrants are in the workplace, you never hear, as you do in Europe, that immigrants don't want to work. No American would dream of saying that.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why do you think that's the case?

Caldwell: There is no welfare state on the scale of that in Europe, and I think welfare states are a bad fit for large-scale immigration. In an ethnically diverse society, people are less familiar with each other, and they are correspondingly less willing to pay taxes for social benefits. Two-thirds of the imams in France are on welfare. There is nothing wrong with being an imam. But I don't think the French are very happy about paying what is effectively a state subsidy for religion in that way.

The welfare state is a key distinction. I can't count the number of times people have asked me: "But you come from America, the nation of immigrants! How can you be so skeptical about Europe doing what America's been doing for centuries?"

The first answer is, of course, that European countries aren't nations of immigrants. Historians will often try to disprove this by pointing to ancient population flows, but they never convince anyone (not least because those population flows were usually accompanied by massive bloodshed). The fact is that European countries have established, centuries-old traditions and attitudes that are odd and opaque to outsiders, but which mean something to people born there.

More importantly, the European welfare state is an obstacle to integrating low-skilled foreigners, because it means they never have to work. Of course, most of them do eventually find jobs, but at rates lower than the native population. The U.S. gives immigrants nothing. They are expected to find jobs by themselves, without hand-holding by the state. Sink or swim.

Of course, immigrant Americans do end up on welfare more frequently than the native population, but America has an Anglo-Saxon welfare state that provides temporary assistance during down times. It is telling that the former U.S. welfare program called "Aid to Families with Dependent Children" was renamed in 1996 to "Temporary Assistance for Needy Families".

Temporary. You will get help for some time, but then it will stop, and you'll need to find another solution: Move in with family members, sell your possessions, beg on the streets. But preferably, you'll find a job. Will there be a welfare case-worker there to help you find it? No, you'll have to find one yourself. Same thing if you're an immigrant. 

Northern European welfare systems, by contrast, provide a permanent, unconditional lifelong cushion of support. (Southern European welfare systems aspire to this but don't have the money or organizational competence to genuinely deliver it). If you simply choose never to even try to find a job, you will continue receiving health insurance, rent support for a small individual apartment, and a basic income, no matter what. It will be anything but luxurious, but it can never be terminated, because the state must guarantee every person in its borders a basic level of existence required by human dignity.

Thus, Americans tend to look at unskilled immigrants as thrifty, God-fearing, hard-working types willing to do nasty jobs. Europeans tend to look at unskilled immigrants as yet another potential addition to the welfare rolls. They're not wrong: in 2006 every fourth welfare recipient (g) in Germany was a foreigner. And that number has skyrocketed: a recent government report leaked to the press showed that as refugees leave the program of temporary refugee assistance and enter the official government welfare rolls, the number only of non-European foreign welfare recipients shot up 132% from 2015 to 2016 -- an increase of about 400,000, to a total of 698,872 (g).

That's a whole lot of people to support, potentially for life, with free government-financed education, housing, healthcare, and welfare. Of course, some of these people will seek and find jobs. But they'll be in direct competition with low-skilled native workers. Low-skilled workers have noticed that their wages have stagnated with decades. They are also going to notice fresh competition from hundreds of thousands of foreigners willing to work for a fraction of their wages.

But hundreds of thousands of these newcomers with either never look for a job, or never find one. And plenty of Germans will ask a simple question:

"How does it benefit Germany -- or me -- for politicians to import hundreds of thousands of foreigners who will simply live here on welfare until they die?"

Of course, many members of the urban haute bourgeoisie, and probably all church officials, will react with outrage to this question. But that's not going to stop people from asking it, and demanding answers.