Rethinking Europe, Global HotSpots

Germany’s Immigration “Crisis”: Six Schools of Thought

How to get one’s mind around the massive wave of haphazard immigration into Germany?

Credit: Alexandre Rotenberg Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • Three schools of thought support immigration -- economic growth, multiculturalism and humanitarianism.
  • Three schools oppose immigration -- economic drag through welfarism, monoculturalism, Islamophobia.
  • German businesses working to enhance the fortune of owners of financial capital favor immigration.

As I have tried to get my mind around the policies called for by the current surge of massive, haphazard immigration visited on Germany, and as I have followed comments from my friends in Germany and in the German media, I have found it more and more difficult to formulate a firm and simple view on the issue.

For that reason, have I have retreated into the habit of social scientists first of all to categorize what I consider the different schools of thought on the issue, as shown in the sketch below.

1. The Economic Growth school

Leaders of German business who– work to enhance the fortune of the owners of financial capital – and the many economists whose theories inform and support these leaders generally favor more immigration, especially immigration of young people able to work and likely to form families that beget even more and even younger future workers.

The economic theory driving this school of thought is simple: increases in the ratio of labor to capital tend to increase the productivity of capital, other things being equal, which translates itself into a higher rate of financial returns to capital.

At the same time increases in the labor-capital ratio tend to reduce unit-labor costs through downward pressure on the total compensation of labor. For both reasons, the business sector in Germany, as elsewhere (e.g., in the U.S.) tends to favor heavier immigration, legal or undocumented.

The business, academic and political elite in this school of thought tends to look at labor as just another input into production – like raw materials or energy.

Members of this school usually do not care where the labor comes from or what mother tongue they speak, as long as that immigrant can be productively integrated into the work force.

Indeed, in general members of this school of thought do not think of nation states, nor are they patriotic in the true sense of that word.

They take financial capital anywhere in the world where it can earn the highest financial returns, even if it means that labor in their home country lose their jobs.

Thus, this school of thought would not be much interested in the longer-run social- and cultural implications of more of the haphazard immigration now visited on Germany.

One would think that the currently reigning political party in Germany, the CDU, is the natural habitat of this school of thought and that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s thinking is informed and much influenced by this theory.

Here it must be noted that a massive failure to procreate in sufficient numbers among especially younger German generations has saddled the country a highly problematic demographic structure. The population pyramid below tells the story.

Germany has a crude birth rate (births per 1,000 population) of about 8 while its crude death rate is about 16.

Its fertility rate (birth per 1,000 women of child-bearing age) has been one of the lowest in the industrialized world. It is now about 1.5, although some European countries (e.g., Italy, Greece and Poland) and Asian countries (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore) have even lower rates. Singapore’s rate is now estimated to be below 1.

A fertility rate of about 2.2 is needed just to keep the size and demographic structure of a nation stable over time.

Current forecasts actually have the total German population shrinking by about 2 million between now and 2030. Combined with an increasing life expectancy that now is about 82 years, these trends are begetting the top-heavy population pyramid, as shown above.

By 2030, about 28% of Germany’s population is estimated to be older than 65 years and 36% older than 60. By contrast, the immigrant countries of Australia, Canada and the U.S. will remain the youngest countries among developed countries long into the 21st century.

The economic-growth school can cite this demographic structure as support for the argument that only heavier immigration of working age people can save Germany from the economic stress of a shrinking and ever older population, and that the current flood of immigrants can fill the holes left by Germany’s low fertility rate.

2. The Multicultural school

This school of thought sees virtue in the multi-culturalism that has long been the hallmark of the United States, Canada and Australia, all countries whose very foundation is immigration.

While none of these countries has truly embraced the actual practice of multi-culturalism, they have tried hard to work toward that goal.

In the process, they have developed vibrant societies that offer their inhabitants and visitors considerable pleasure, as one can see by visiting cities such as Toronto, Vancouver, San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C. There are “Little Italies,” Koreatowns, Chinatowns, etc., with rich offerings of food and different cultures.

One could imagine that Germany, with some conscious efforts, could develop some such multi-cultural society, and quite a few Germans probably believe so too – probably more the young than the old.

3. The Humanitarian school

This school of thought argues that, whatever theories one may hold on the impact of the current immigration surge on future economic and cultural developments in Germany, the fact is that this flood of fairly desperate migrants is now at Europe’s doors and cannot simply be ignored.

Although a good many other European nations – France and the U.K. among them — now try to ignore it, it cannot be taken lightly. Critics of that school of thought agree that Germany’s almost “open-door” policy is laudatory on the moral plane.

However, they argue that Germany’s unusually generous social services programs in health care, education, housing and other spheres will serve as a beacon that will attract even more millions of migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East to Germany.

Reasons, however, will not always be oppression in their own countries but in fact the perceived economic opportunities in Germany and its very generous welfare floor in the eyes of millions of poor people languishing elsewhere in the world.

And that number of poor people is growing rapidly, by virtue of higher fertility rates, by virtue of horribly corrupt and inefficient systems of governance, and by virtue of endless local wars in these countries.

Furthermore, the critics point out that for every immigrant allowed this year to stay in Germany there will be family members still in their home country that will gain fairly easy admission to Germany.

Thus, it is anyone’s guess how large a pool of immigrant acceptances in for year’s cohort of immigrants will ultimately yield after relatives have joined them, and what the demographic make-up of these subsequent cohorts will be.

4. The “Economic Drag Through Welfarism” school

This school of thought believes that it will be much harder than may be thought by the economic-growth school to integrate the current wave of immigrants productively into Germany’s labor force, and that for years to come, as a group, these immigrants will be a burden on Germany’s welfare programs.

Because these programs are financed through taxes or payroll-based premiums on Germany’s working population and on business, argues this school of thought, they will constitute a drag on the economy.

The fact that about 70% of the current immigrants are young males, often from the higher economic-strata of their home countries and a good many with high-school or university education might make integration easier.

On the other hand, it remains to be seen what barriers to integration language problems may throw up and what additional cohorts of immigrants – e.g., family members – the current group of immigrants will bring to Germany.

In short, what net burden these cohorts will impose on Germany’s welfare and tax systems is an entirely empirical question that cannot be answered conclusively now from historical data because these data bases did not include that many immigrants from the current source-countries.

5. The Monoculturalism school

This school of thought sees great virtues in traditional German culture which, inter alia, also has had great economic virtues.

They see in the current flood of haphazard immigration into Germany, a potential threat to the culture that they see as the foundation of Germany’s economic strength and of the ethical foundation of its social policies.

Although I have not seen surveys on this preference for mono-culturalism (such surveys which may well exist), I would expect this sentiment to have a higher incidence among older Germans than among younger Germans.

The latter may well lean more toward the multi-cultural school of thought on migration, informed in part by their world-wide travels.

6. The Islamophobic school

Finally, just observing the religious intolerance now manifest in several Muslim countries – notably in the Middle East – one can understand why some or perhaps many Germans harbor the fear that heavy immigration may transfer sectarian strife and, ultimately, hostility to Christians, into Germany.

Germany last saw religious hostility of this sort play itself out during the horrible, highly destructive Thirty-Years War eventually concluded in the Westphalian Treaty of 1648.

To be sure, such intra-Muslim, factional strife so far does not appear to have translated itself in immigrant countries with relatively large or growing Muslim generations – the U.K., France, the U.S., Canada or Germany).

The burden of proof or at least of persuasion remains on the defenders of more heavy immigration from these countries that this destructive strife will not be transferred to Germany. One cannot just sweep that fear under the rug.

Concluding Observations

A listing of these diverse schools of thought on immigration is not meant to argue that individual Germans fall neatly into just one school of thought or another. Anyone can easily fit into two or more of these groupings.

For example, one may belong to both, the economic-growth school and the multi-cultural school. Similarly, one could fall into the mono-culturalism school, into the economic-drag school and into the Islamophobic school.

But the relative weight individual Germans attach to each of these schools of thought can vary among individuals. To illustrate, one person may attach a weight of 0.8 to economic growth and only 0.2 to multi-culturalism, while another may weight these two schools in their mind at 0.5:0.5.

It makes it so challenging to get a good feel for the arguments made in commentary on the issue of immigration into Germany. There are a myriad of nuances.

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About Uwe Reinhardt

Uwe Reinhardt is the James Madison Professor of Political Economy at Princeton University.

Responses to “Germany’s Immigration “Crisis”: Six Schools of Thought”

Archived Comments.

  1. On November 13, 2015 at 3:26 pm Grzegorz55 responded with... #

    Your statement “The fact that about 70% of the current immigrants are young males, often from the higher economic-strata of their home countries and a good many with high-school or university education might make integration easier.” is simply not true.

    “A study published in August by the Institute for Labour Market and Vocational Research (IAB) found that while some migrants arriving in Germany had higher-level qualifications, there was also “a very high proportion of people who had completed no professional training”. The Nuremberg-based institute cites a survey this year of 20,000 recently-arrived refugees which found that just seven percent had attended school for 13 or more years – while two-thirds had completed no qualifications at all.
    And another survey found that just 13 percent of those arriving in Germany as asylum seekers in 2013 had completed a university degree.” http://www.thelocal.de/20150907/germany-isnt-taking-refugees-for-selfish-reasons

  2. On November 14, 2015 at 7:35 am Nightfalcon responded with... #

    Thanks for the very comprehensive survey. I like to add another dimension which is not discussed in the article. The humanitarian crisis has led to a crisis of the EU and its institutions. These additional school tries to find solutions to preserve the european project. If you want to put it in a nutshell nationalism vs. paneuropean idea.

  3. On November 18, 2015 at 5:40 am Ben Banerjee responded with... #

    Another important point to be added is the Ecological impact of Demographic change of this magnitude. Has there been a study done on the tremendous ecological impact which this level of migration will have on countries like Germany, Sweden, etc. which has maybe few of the Europe’s last virgin nature.