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By Philippe Legrain 1 COMMENT

Dutch journalist Paul Scheffer, who shot to fame by sounding the alarm about what he sees as the dangers of multiculturalism in Europe, has reviewed Immigrants in NRC Handelsblad. The review is in Dutch, which I unfortunately don’t understand, so I can only guess what it actually says. Dutch speakers can check it out here

Posted 12 Apr 2007 in Blog
  1. Thanks for posting the review (and for writing the book which I enjoyed reading!). I translated a few passages from Scheffer’s article and posted it below this comment. I would have expected Scheffer to write a slightly more negative review of your book. Scheffer started the debate about the ‘multicultural drama’ in the Netherlands in 2000, well before 9/11 or the murders of Fortuyn and Van Gogh (and he started the debate in a more ‘civilised’ manner than the way in which the debate is developing at the moment in the Netherlands).
    The main issue that Scheffer addresses is that the book’s approach is too economical in scope and is neglecting many social and cultural issues. I’ve written a short post on the book after your lecture in Sydney and also addressed that issue. On the other hand, this again might be a very European response, considering the developments in the past few years.
    This made me think about a related issue that Scheffer does not address. Do you think the different attitudes towards migration between – let’s say – the western European and the Anglo Saxon world, might be explained partly by the composition of their immigrant communities? Could it be that people feel more threatened in Europe becuase their immigrants are predominantly North African and Turkish muslims, while in the US, Australia and Canada these populations are much more diverse? Comparing for instance Sydney (where I live now) with Amsterdam (where I used to live), it’s not so much the difference in numbers of immigrants but the difference in diversity of the immigrant population which is striking.
    Legrains book is compulsory reading for anyone who wants to be prepared for the migration debate.
    Lets look at the moral considerations. Legrain is right when he concludes that free migration flows contribute to the development of the poorer parts of the world. Not only do immigrants benefit, but the money they send back is an important source of income for the ‘sending’ countries. These remittances have by far surpassed official development aid.
    But there is a shadow side to migration as a form of development aid: the brain drain issue. Legrain is not too negative about this but does observe that a country like Ghana (6 doctors per 100000) has lost doctors to countries like the US and Canada (more than 220 doctors per 100000). The moral ‘cost-benefit account’ is not as simple as Legrain presents it.
    According to Legrain it’s clear that temporary migration of low-skilled immigrants is the best solution for the receiving countries, but it is questionable whether the migrants concerned will conform to this. There’s a lot of talk about seasonal migration and about brain circulation but it is doubtful whether such schemes are more real than in the time when the first guest labourers entered Europe. Of course one can guard the process of return migration more closely (for instance by withholding part of the salary until the moment of return) but the will of the migrants to stay might very well outweigh such financial incentives .
    Legrain to easily assumes that migrants actually want to go back. He cites Max Frisch saying that the European countries wanted guest labourers as workers, instead they got people. As an economist he doesn’t really get to the true meaning of these words. He underestimates the fact that immigrants get rooted in their new societies and develop their own family histories, which will make a return far less likely. It’s a well known fact that labour participation of the first generation initially is high, but that slowly the proportion of women, kids and elderly increases, and therefore participation decreases relatively.
    In the last part of his book Legrain discusses the integration issue. It’s clear that his affinity is more with economic considerations than with the cultural ones. Problems within families and also the lack of socialization of the second generation are insufficiently discussed. Here are important problems that also need to be included in the economic assessment of migration.
    The value of Legrain’s book is situated in the objective economical reflection on the issue. He first and foremost lookst at the indespensible contribution of migrants to future prosperity of the western world and to the countries of origin. In this book one can find all arguments that the new (Dutch government, eb) coalition will use for supporting an increase in low skilled migration.
    It’s not out of the question that an alignment of free market liberals and the agents of the Third World will ultimately turn out to be the winners of this debate. But reducing immigrants to their labour also shows the weakness of his economic approach. Migrants are not just workers, they are also fathers, husbands, and – hopefully – citizens. The many questions that arise from their integration make the plea for open borders much more than an economic account of costs and benefits

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