By Scott Sumner
Milton Friedman once remarked that it was difficult to combine open borders with a welfare state. I thought about that observation when reading a couple of articles in a recent issue of the Economist. The first example discusses the views of a half-Arab Swede who is a member of the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats:
One of those MPs will probably be Mr Robbjens. Three years ago, he left the centre-right Moderate party for the Sweden Democrats. As a man of mixed race whose mother was deputy mayor of Tripoli, he seems an odd fit for a far-right party. But he is not against immigrants; he is against Sweden’s failure to integrate them. He voices a common criticism, that because the country has not demanded that immigrants assimilate, too few consider themselves Swedish and too many rely on social-welfare programmes.
And a few pages later:
RETURNING to Turkey from Germany with four children in tow was not easy for Faisl Alakrch, a 36-year-old Syrian. He had to use a people-smuggler to retrace, in reverse, the route he had taken the year before. His younger brothers have remained in Germany and are studying at university, but he wanted to work, and complains that “I could not do anything there.” Turkey, by contrast, has made it easy for him to operate. He was able to register a company and set up a café in Gaziantep, a city close to the Syrian border. He has now been invited to become a Turkish citizen. His six-year-old son speaks a mixture of German, Turkish and Arabic.
Around 3.5m Syrians live in Turkey, the largest number of refugees anywhere in the world. Turkey is not fully signed up to the 1951 Refugee Convention so, although Syrians there get access to health care, education and a small stipend, partly paid for by the European Union, they do not receive the many benefits that refugees in the EU get, such as accommodation and child benefit. Nevertheless, Turkey is proving a better refuge for many than Europe.
Of course it’s not easy to suddenly absorb 3.5 million refugees, and the article also mentions a few problems. But Turkey seems to have done better than Sweden at integrating the immigrants. The best way for an immigrant to integrate into a new society is to work side by side with local residents. (The US has been pretty successful with its Muslim immigrants.) Having a Swedish-style welfare state may make that harder to do.
Some people worry that immigration reduces wages and steals jobs from locals. Thus it’s worth noting that Switzerland has perhaps the developed world’s highest wages and lowest unemployment rate, despite unusually high levels of immigration:
Switzerland’s high wages, strong economy and location lure foreign workers. About a quarter of its 8m residents are foreigners while 320,000 workers commute daily into Switzerland from EU countries including Germany and France.
That commuting figure is actually rather mind-boggling, when you think about it.