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Friday, November 18, 2005

Immigrants and welfare states

There was an interesting discussion on The Brussels Journal article on Right wing parties. I commented in a comment thread that Europe needed a libertarian conservative movement and a Barry Goldwater-type "conservative revolutionary". The replies on the thread were basically that it was about culture, not economics, and I was making the same mistake as the social democrats.

I agree that culture matters, but economics matters even more in some ways, particularly since it is quite difficult for the immigrants in France to find work or start businesses. Assimilating into a new culture is very hard, and if one is given an option that allows one to defer or not assimilate at all, most will take it. It's simply a rational choice, but one that leads to misery.

Assume you're a new immigrant to the US. What's more likely to make you study English and get a job? A government check and a government apartment, or "work or starve"? The "work or starve" approach isn't so feel-good, but it is the only option that will get you to accept the painful burdens of assimilation.

Now, assume you're a new immigrant to France. You're called a "refugee", get a check, and an apartment in a crappy area. There's no work nearby, but little need to work. How hard will you work to assimilate? You don't need to, and you are surrounded by people who didn't.

Welfare states make assimilation hard in many ways:

o The high tax burden makes the economy a poor generator of jobs in general, and jobs for immigrants in particular.

o The generous benefits make it easy to put off the heavy lifting of assimilation.

o A chicken-and-egg problem develops: few immigrants work, leading to a stereotype of immigrants in the society at large as lazy good-for-nothings subsisting on the backs of the taxpayers. Their children grow up in a hopeless state of a "rented life", without positive role-models or any connection to society other than the welfare checks, and end up in gangs and such.

Eventually, you have the situation that even capable, ambitious immigrants are refused jobs they'd otherwise be qualified for because of the stereotype.

And so, the road to Hell is once again paved with good intentions.

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