A Persian Cafe, Edward Lord Weeks

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

On "Integration" and the Current Migrant Crisis

I'm never quite certain whether, when people refer to integration of immigrants, they mean making those immigrants into full members of our civil society or whether they just mean persuading immigrants not to blow us up or sexually assault women. These correspond to two different views of potential immigrants: as people who look different but otherwise completely like us, or as the products of less advanced societies who hold correspondingly backward views.

The way many high liberals talk about the topic - as though integrating some migrants is the duty of a civilised society, but it is not something we need do with every single person who wants to enter the country - seems like it works far more with the second view of migrants. But these same people would be deeply uncomfortable with the implicit picture of migrants. Say what you like about Steve Sailer and such people: at least their view of immigrants is consistent with their politics.

Given that I'm on record as a supporter of open borders, it would be very convenient for me to hold the second vision of integration but the first view of migrants. This seems to be roughly what most open borders people believe, and with regard to your typical economic migrant I think it is probably the most reasonable view. But the "typical economic migrant" is selected for being relatively ambitious and cosmopolitan; the people fleeing Syria are simply trying to get away from a warzone, and do not appear to be selected for anything much other than being young and male. Obviously the pictures of migrants I presented at the start of this post are both exaggerations, and all actual migrants will fall somewhere between the two, but in general we might expect that the direr someone's circumstances are back in their country of origin, the closer they are likely to fall towards the uglier end of the spectrum. This is an uncomfortable fact for anyone trying to come up with a compassionate immigration policy.

This is rather unfortunate, and I don't really have a good answer to it. One option would be to take the deontological "immigration is a basic right which may never, under any circumstances, be denied" line, but I forfeited that principle long ago when I failed to apply it to Israel. Another option is to suggest that yes, there are costs to taking in immigrants, but ultimately we have to apply a sense of proportion: the benefits to the immigrants, most of whom are entirely law-abiding, vastly outweigh the costs to host societies. This is definitely the option to which I am most inclined, but it is not without its problems.

A photo taken last Thursday in central Budapest. From left to right:
Damjan (Macedonian), Oshadie (Sri Lankan), Nino (Croatian),
Olesya (Ukrainian), myself (British), Puja (Indian), Rachel (US),
Errol and Christy (US, though they met while teaching in Japan).
First is the fairly explicit cosmopolitan worldview. This is not to say that I believe cosmopolitanism to be wrong - entirely the opposite. Rather, it is very easy for me, who grew up in one country, currently live in another, plan on moving to yet another to do a PhD starting in 2017, have no idea where I will eventually end up, and live on a corridor with people of more nationalities than I can count, to endorse this kind of globalist worldview. The average person, if their culture is disrupted by foreigners - something which is distinctly more likely for them than for me - has nowhere else to go.

Second, there are the worries about cultural collapse. Social trust really is an important resource, even though I think conservatives tend to overestimate its volatility, and immigration really can harm it. Especially when the liberal authorities refuse to take genuine complaints about migrants seriously. Having read Haidt I do take this argument seriously, but what it really needs is to be put into quantitative terms. Social trust is, as with everything, the subject of a vast empirical literature, so how about we try to, however roughly, measure (a) the extent to which social capital is damaged by immigration, and (b) the extent to which other things we care about are damaged by loss of social capital? Perhaps we also place an inherent value on social capital, in which case that's also something to be factored into the equation.

In sum: I remain convinced that under normal circumstances, the UK ought to accept vastly more immigrants than it currently does. These are not normal circumstances, and I'm still trying to understand the implications of that. Deporting students - who are especially well-selected for liberal values, SJWs aside - is still stupid. But again, that's easy for me to say.

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