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» Today's money quote -- US vs Euro immigration assimiliation from Big Cat Chronicles

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A quote from Richard Posner on The Becker-Posner Blog, 31 July 2005 The assimilation of immigrants by the United States, compared to the inability of the European nations to assimilate them - with potentially catastrophic results for those nations - is no [Read More]

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Brilliant. Of course the irony here is that the US is being attacked, verbally and very physically, for the very poicies it doesn't have. The WTC fell as symbol for privileges the US system, in contrast to Europe, incessantly removes rather than cements.
Nonetheless, I wonder whether you can account for enmity, deep and passionate enmity in you thinking. Is only a reflection of economic imbalances?


Really a tremendously insightful entry; I'd been groping for an explanation of why America assimilates immigrants so much better, and this seems to be it.


"and not objects of significant hostility by non-Muslim Americans."

Two weeks ago, the local Islamic Center here in Bloomington, Indiana was firebombed. That was significant hostility if you ask me.

"if instead, excluded from identifying with the culture of the nation in which they reside they perforce identify with the worldwide Muslim culture"

I assume you are referring to the imaginary monolithic Muslim culture shared by all 1 Billion members of that religion? Yes, lets talk about a Billion people spread around the entire globe as if they share a culture, I'm sure that will be illuminating...

"some of them are bound to adopt the extremist views that are common in that culture."

OH! So now extremism is COMMON in the imaginary monolithic Muslim culture shared by all 1 Billion members of that religion. Lets fear them!

One doesn't even have to read Orientalism to spot the cultural hegemony in that statement. Come on.

It strikes me as a horribly bad idea to even talk about setting policy in such a broad fashion in an environment of obvious stereotyping and fear.

"The resulting danger to Europe and to the world is not offset by long vacations."

OK, but can we have them anyway? I am tired of competing to see who can accumulate the most stuff while taking the least time to appreciate it. Seriously, right now everyone with a job in Europe is pondering which beach to sit on for all of next month. Thoreau is laughing so hard at us in his grave.


This is an insightful writeup. I think there is a complementary reason for the lack of assimilation in Europe when compared to the United States. Immigrants to the US cannot afford to remain unassimilated into society. If they remain unassimilated, their economic prospects suffer considerable damage, and unlike in Europe there is no safety net for them to fall back on. This provides a powerful incentive for them to assimilate , however culturally unwilling they might be. I do not think that this is the case in most of Western Europe.

The other problem with the leisure argument is that a lot of this leisure is enforced. Higher unemployment implies pressure in favor of lower working hours. In addition, a competitive economy would imply that employment in a firm is fluid and there is considerable employee turnover in firms as companies go through periods of expansion and contraction. This degree of turnover is sufficient to ensure longer working hours to offset job insecurity. An economy with considerable leisure time is a relatively uncompetitive one, and hence not particularly a good thing in the long run.


"An economy with considerable leisure time is a relatively uncompetitive one"

Europe competes effectively against the US. Check the Euro exchange rates.

I do agree with you about immigrants being forced to assimilate when they come to the US, but I do not believe it is exclusively economic pressure. Much of it is social pressure, reflecting America's entrenched cultural, religious, and racial intolerance, not to mention our stubborn mono-lingualism.

(And before you call me un-American, consider that I now live in a state that has 7 active chapters of the KKK and in a town that just saw its mosque firebombed. I have never been more glad that I can pass for native.)


The resulting danger to Europe and to the world is not offset by long vacations.Speak for yourself. If I had to choose between (avoiding) a one in a million chance of being killed by Islamic terrorists and a couple extra weeks of vacation I would take the vacation. I don't know whether that makes me brave or lazy or just good at math. I mean, I probably have a one in a million chance of being killed in a traffic accident on a single trip to the movies but I go anyway....poverty cannot be abolished without recourse to measures that produce the social pathologies that we observe in Europe.If failing to assimilate some Muslims is all it takes to abolish poverty then I, for one, vote for failing to assimilate.I'm not trying to troll here. That's just where my personal values are. In terms of things that scare me, terrorism is way down the list. In terms of people who offend me, terrorists are way down the list. In terms of sympathy, victims of terrorism are no higher on my list than victims of anything else.The one thing that does bother me is that so many people are so hung up on Islamic terrorism but I suppose that those people are equally bothered that I am not.

Marcin Tustin

I would note that the london suicide bombers came from relatively wealthy middle-class backgrounds. Economic exclusion is unlikely to have motivated these young men.
My mother's experience as an immigrant is that England does contain a certain element that is hostile to foreign immigrants, within all social classes, which makes social integration more difficult, but certainly not impossible. It cannot be emphasised enough that our experience has overwhelmingly been that the mainstay of English culture, and the main body English are welcoming to immigrants. I have not found the same problems because I speak English as my first language, and have white skin which makes it impossible to definitively say that I am an immigrant, or descended of recent immigrants, just by glancing at me. Those whose English is flawless but have a different skin colour may have a different experience.


Very insightful. I find nothing to disagree with, but I wonder how comparable the Muslim populations in the US and Europe are. It seems to me Europe's immigration is more recent, and from my understanding poorer (not necessarily because of lack of economic mobilility, though that may exacerbate it, but because they arrive poorer).

Also, has anyone here wondered about the relationship between the size and distribution of a minority and its members' propensity to assimilate? It seems to me that the smaller and more dispersed a minority is the more the members are forced to assimilate because there are no functioning communities to partcipate in, so they must branch out and fully embrace and immerse themselves in the host culture. It seems something like this could explain some of the difference between Europe and America, but perhaps this is only superficial (clumping together needn't imply a failure to assimilate in the most important ways).

Larry Horse

The one thing I have trouble with about the whole idea that this is enforced leisure is that the French people repeatedly vote in politicians who implement and stnad by these laws. Thus, at least a majority of the French voters show some kind of support for "leisure-friendly" laws (although they may express their dissatisfaction by voting for Sarkozy in the next election). Would the explanation for this be that the 10% of unemployed workers get their votes drowned out by those with secure jobs or that the immigrants either can't vote or are not a large bloc of votes yet due to their being minorities? Or would the French voting populace do well to read the Becker-Posner blog in order to enlighten themselves in preparation for the next elections?

Larry Horse confused.


So, Europe is protecting current workers jobs at the expense of immigrant labor market entry. One can see how this might create resentment, in spite of the social safety net (which, you'd think, should be a countervailing force). Could Europe change its policy so that it's economy uses roughly the same amount of labor while "sharing" the work with more employees? The social safety net would have to adjust as well of course.

Also, as generations go on and [marginally] ever more immigrants [and their decendents] enter the permanent labor force isn't this problem likely to correct itself, barring institutional anti-immigant barriers. Those might be a real problem more in need of correcting than the short work week.

As for the U.S.'s labor market and treatment of immigrants:

The fact that we're a nation "in which the risk of economic failure is significant" hardly seems like the kind of thing we'd want to exclude immigrants who are reluctant to "conform to the customs and attitudes of their new country." If the best reason we can offer people to "conform to our customs and attitudes" (I'm not sure what those are exactly.) is that they won't be able to make a living otherwise, that does not seem to say much for us (whether we're talking about immigrants or natives). In the 21st century, the U.S. and Western Europe both enjoy prosperity so great that we can no longer justify (if we ever could) using a hard-knocks labor market to get people to adopt our way of life.

This is not to say that Europe's failure to assimilate its Muslims won't play some part in future terrorist threats. But, to the extent you're saying that the only way we can get people to live together in peace is to encourage them to (1) take work as the main measure of social participation and/or (2) desire above all to increase their capacity for consumption I disagree.


I am definitely going to have to reread this, but I am mystified. Is Posner arguing that long vacations cause terrorism? That is absurd.

Krugman's prescient column last week discussed the trade-off that the American economy makes versus Europe: slightly higher productivity in exchange for more working hours. We also pay slightly lower taxes but do not have national health care. Krugman argued that, perhaps, both trade-offs are net losses for Americans in terms of quality of life for the average person. The European model also allows people to spend more time with their families. Krugman made a reasonable argument, possibly a compelling one.

Krugman said nothing about terrorism. In fact, he would probably agree with Posner that European terrorism is in part due to cultural barriers in Europe that have made it more difficult for Muslims to assimilate. Of course, however, America's "melting pot" model did not stop 9/11.

Long vacations have nothing to do with terrorism. They have nothing to do with assimilation. Those are separate issues. Posner's attempt to merge them is little more than sophistry. Even accepting that assimilation can be aided by a strong economy, long vacations alone do not create barriers to employment for immigrants. European vacation policy no more causes terrorism than the Family Leave Act (which I'm sure Posner opposes, on different grounds).

Also, there is plenty of terrorism in countries with fewer worker protections than in America. Bali, anyone?

This post is a remarkable attempt to bash Paul Krugman, not to mention France, by trying to say that their policies encourage terrorism. As if Max Cleland wasn't enough. When will the right get a life? I'd suggest a long vacation.


"Is Posner arguing that long vacations cause terrorism?"

When you believe this:

"...extremist views that are common in that culture."

Then it starts to look like everything causes terrorism.

It is interesting how everyone imports their private ideology when attempting to explain irrational events. The neoliberals will say the bombs were a consequence of relaxed efficiencies. I'm sure the welfare-state people will point to the failure to guarantee equality of opportunity to Muslim populations. The Anarchists will say it is just a necessary result of interventionist foreign policy.

The same thing happened after Columbine. The right blamed violent media, the left blamed guns. Like I said before, it isn't a good idea to set policy in reaction to rare, extreme polarizing events (see, the PATRIOT Act).


I don't think America is so different from Krugman's France. I can find five dozen jobs that want me to work 20 to 35 hours per week for a low hourly wage, but I can't find any jobs that require me to put in a good 40 hours or more (the ones with decent salaries and meaningful benefits).

Guess American companies are just looking out for my free time on the Government's behalf.

America, eff Yeah!



Corey -

I fear that this is more than just overreaction to an extreme polarizing event. It is the blatant misuse of a national tragedy (9/11), not to mention the recent tragedies in London and Madrid, to promote unrelated ideological ends. The Patriot Act was an understandable reaction to 9/11, even if not entirely necessary or justified. On the other hand, using 9/11 to argue for shorter vacations isn't even in the ballpark. It's like saying that the main problem with Nazi Germany was its socialism. I'm waiting for that post next week..


David and Corey:

You both sound ridiculous. Are you suggesting it is a good idea to have unemployed, unassimilated radical fundamentalists in one's country? That's a recipe for disaster.

There is no doubt that Islamofascism is an idealogy independent of unemployment or lack of assimilation. But the question is: what environmental factors encourage the virulence and prevalence of that diseased idealogy. Assimilation naturally reduces the threat because one identifies with the targeted population. Gainful employment similarly reduces the propensity toward radicalization because it is likely to promote assimilation, while providing an alternative to terrorism. People who are personally happy, content, and who identify with their countrymen are not likely to engage in terrorism.

It is generally accepted that crime is negatively correlated with employment. Do you dispute this? People with good jobs, with families to support, and who identify with their host country are less likely to commit crimes or engage (or sympathesize with) in terrorism. What is so hard to understand?

michael persoon

Great post!

I read "Freakonomics" last month and this post reminds me of it--looking for seemingly unrelated consequences of a given policy decision.

I think that an issue that underlies the post and the responses is how to create incentives for a social group (Muslims living in the West) to change their primary group identification (from "Muslim" to "national of country of residence").

One of the problems with that is a psychological trait most obviously seen in Nationalism, namely that an external threat creates stronger in-group identification. In this case, there is a perceived external threat to "Muslims" as well as a real threat to Muslims, as the firebombing posts show. The fact that this external threat is a product of complex interactions in which Muslim terrorists are a causal factor does not change the psychological effect it has on persons who either identify as or are identified as Muslim. The point is, the more there is conflict between any minority Muslim group and the West, the more all Muslims will be compelled to circle the wagons.

On the difference between Euro and American social/liberal economic policies and the effect on assimilation, I think there is a chicken-egg question and that the policies are indicators rather than causes. I think that a historical difference between the US and Europe is the degree of national identity/cultural homogenity and the level of social welfare that is acceptable.

Europe has traditionally had a greater degree of cultural homogenity within the borders of each country. I think that this is a cultural reason for greater acceptance of social welfare because "my" money (taxes) will not subsidize people who are not like me. In the US, there has traditionally been greater cultural heterogenity. As a result, social welfare is less acceptable because "my" money (taxes) will support peoplw who are not like me, people I do not identify with. Social welfare policies work better in homogenous areas (Scandinavia), but are not as acceptable to countries with great diversity (the US).

I think that the economic policies are not a cause, but rather an indicator of underlying cultural conditions (a homogenous sense of cultural and nationality identity vs. a diversity in cultural and national identity)that are more or less conducive towards assimilation. Does anyone remember the Tory campaign in the past year--"Are you thinking what we are?"


If you have an open society, you are going to have radicals living in it. Here in the US, we have a few disaffected militia types from Michigan willing to blow up Federal buildings, we occasionally get college professors sending bombs though the mail, bullied teenagers sometimes shoot up their schools, klansmen sometimes firebomb mosques.

However, in each of those cases, we can all agree that the perpetrators are individual crazies that should be addressed in an individualized fashion. (i.e. through the criminal law) We do not start acting as if all teenagers, people from Michigan, or white people are potential shooters, bombers, or klansmen.

Yet when some muslims set off bombs, all of a sudden we are talking about national immigration policy and the extremism supposedly common in worldwide muslim culture.

I realize that "Islamofacism" is to today what Communism was to the Reagan era, or what violent media was in the immediate aftermath of Columbine. Its fine to look for social factors that contribute to violent radicalism, but don't go painting such a diverse and peaceful culture with that brush.

"Assimilation" has never been established as a per se good. Especially not in the sense of abandoning one's heritage and adopting the dominant culture. There is no reason a society cannot permit economic integration while allowing a minority to maintain its rich cultural or religious tradition. It is harder to succeed at than forcing a population to submit to dominant cultural norms, but it is worth striving for.

Attempts here to link extremism with the cultural tradition of Islam look like justifications for the more hegemonic form of cultural assimilation. It is just a watered down version of the "savages" myth that lead American colonialists to say to the natives, "look white or die."

Before you jump all over me, ask yourself, are you thinking of economic assimilation or cultural. And if the latter, can you demonstrate the superiority of the culture you want muslims to adopt? Can you do so without sounding like a facist?


"The point is, the more there is conflict between any minority Muslim group and the West, the more all Muslims will be compelled to circle the wagons."

And that is EXACTLY why it is important to cast the conflict as one between terrorists and the countries they attack, rather than as between a minority Muslim group and the West. The minority Muslim group is PART OF the west.

I never had to defend Christianity when Christians bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building.


I generally don't respond to frivolity, but I'm feeling frivolous today:

"Are you suggesting it is a good idea to have unemployed, unassimilated radical fundamentalists in one's country?"

I don't remember saying that. Certainly not today. Maybe yesterday, after a couple of beers. j/k Seriously, get real.

"People with good jobs, with families to support, and who identify with their host country are less likely to commit crimes or engage (or sympathesize with) in terrorism. What is so hard to understand?"

I don't remember disputing this either. The issue, specifically, was whether long vacations cause terrorism. I distinctly remember disputing THAT.

Posner's argument is based on a chain of suppositions a mile long, and it goes basically like this:

1. Discontented and/or unemployed people become terrorists.

2. Many European Muslim immigrants tend to be discontented and/or unemployed.

3. European Muslim immigrants are discontented and/or unemployed largely because of their countries' vacation policies and tax rates.

4. Therefore, to prevent terrorism, we must lower taxes and not provide long vacations.

5. The Muslim experience in the U.S. shows this to be true (forgetting that little matter of 9/11, of course).

Every single one of Posner's suppositions in this chain is questionable at best. Essentially, Posner's underlying theory is that unmitigated capitalism solves all ills. Unfortunately, the world's actual experience with unmitigated capitalism proves otherwise.

We all want to get rid of the terrorists, or "violent extremists," or whatever may be the "nom de jour" for these despicable criminals. Let's try to find some common ground here, like not giving asylum to preachers of hate, promoting tolerance within ALL communities (Muslim or otherwise), locking up the terrorists when we find them, and using the bully pulpit of government to promote democratic values. Arguing against vacations in the name of terrorism is silliness.


The fairness of a stereotype should be judged by what percent the group actually conforms to it. In your counter examples of white people and Christians, very very few would support the actions taken by the terrorist Tim McVeigh (my guess is less than one tenth of one percent). Let us look into the opinions of the Muslim world, shall we?


"The proportion that expressed confidence in the al Qaeda leader dropped from almost half to about a quarter in Morocco, and from 58 percent to 37 percent in Indonesia. Bin Laden's standing went up slightly in Pakistan, to 51 percent, and in Jordan, to 60 percent."

"Roughly half of Muslims in Lebanon, Jordan and Morocco said such attacks are justifiable, while sizable majorities in Turkey, Pakistan and Indonesia disagreed. Yet, support for suicide bombings in Iraq still declined by as much as 20 percent compared with a poll taken last year."

And those figures represent a DECLINE from previous years.


The long vacations is one of many attributes of the socialist European system. Posner presents the following logic, which is not hard to follow.

Socialist policies (including very generous vacations)-->Greater unemployment, especially among the poorest segment of population
---->Increased disaffection, and possibly places host country at greater risk.

That is the logic, and there is nothing silly about it. Maybe you dispute that Europe's tilt toward socialism is to blame for their higher unemployment, or their seemingly less assimilated Muslim population. That is a fair criticism. But there is nothing preposterous about Posner's position.


"Yet when some muslims set off bombs, all of a sudden we are talking about national immigration policy and the extremism supposedly common in worldwide muslim culture."

Supposedly? Please see the statistics and article I just posted.


What is meant by "assimilation" aside from getting a job and off the dole?

The original post spoke of "political and cultural" assimilation as well as economic, but what that is is still unclear. The best we can tell is that it means, "being entirely undisposed to become a terrorist." That is indeed a highly desirable property!

But Corey may be right that, assuming non-terrorism, allowing people to "assimilate" at their own speed or not "assimilate" (again what does that word mean?!) may be the better option. In fact, when one looks back to the mid-1990s and Benjamin Barber's "Jihad v. McWorld" one can recall the view that globalization's call for universal cultural assimilation was tribalist violence's dialectical partner in crime. Not that that book was about Islamic terrorism in particular. And I don't know what Prof. Barber thinks about current events. But it seems worth considering the possibility that some of the things to which people are being asked to assimilate are reinforcing Islamist tendancies.

Plus, as others have said: Poverty and lack of opportunity don't seem to have explained the London bombers? How many 9-11 bombers experienced the indolent unwanted leisure of Europe? What about Bin Laden? Did he spend time in Europe as well as the U.S.? The assaults and cemetary defacings we've seen in Europe are terrible, no question. But its possible that their perps have considerably different profiles, motivations, and capacities from the suicide bombers and 9-11 hijackers.

John Kelsey

Palooka, I followed the link, and it seemed to me that your post didn't quite convey what the article said in one important spot. OBL is apparently well thought of in various Muslim countries (I wish they'd given specific numbers and questions). But the attacks that about half of people in Lebanon, Jordan, and Morocco thought were justified were suicide attacks against the US in Iraq, as I read it. That's quite different from support for bombing the subways in London or the WTC in New York!

More broadly, support for terrorism in the name of Islam was down. Still uncomfortably high, from what I could tell (for some reason, they didn't just give us a chart with numbers, though the results they reported should have fit on a small chart easily).

I guess I'm a little mystified by the concern with morality of suicide bombings specifically. Isn't it the nature of the target of the bombing that determines the morality of the attack, perhaps along with the nature of the conflict? I mean, it's not like McVeigh would have changed the morality of blowing up that building full of people in Oklahoma City if he'd stayed in the truck till the bomb went off, right?



That article also says:

"As the events in London show, it does not take too many people to cause big problems. If only 1/10,000 of 1 percent [of the Muslim world] is inclined to terrorism, that is still 1,200 potential mass killers."

So the question is, "what are you willing to do to the 1 Billion Muslims in order to insulate against that 1/10,000th of 1 percent?"

And the corolary is, "will the repressive measures and cultural hegemony that you adopt to that end have the peverse effect of GROWING the number of people willing to commit violence?"

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