A long article by Robert S. Leiken, "Europe's Angry Muslims," in the July/August 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs, written before the recent London bombings, when it is read in conjunction with the economist-columnist Paul Krugman's column in the New York Times this past Friday (July 29), entitled "French Family Values," brings into focus important issues of immigration policy, and, more fundamentally, of the different economic and cultural models of the United States and Western Europe.
Leiken points out the strong appeal of Islamic extremism to the large Muslim minorities in countries such as France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands (in France, the Muslim population is approaching 10 percent of the total population; in Netherlands, 6 percent), including many second-generation Muslims--Muslims who were born in these countries but have not adopted their political or cultural values. The widespread penetration of these nations by Islamic extremists lies behind political murder in the Netherlands, bombings in the United Kingdom and Spain, and widespread anti-Semitic vandalism in France. The nations of Western Europe appear to be riddled with Islamist terrorist cells that also incubate plots to attack the United States. The non-Muslim populations of Western Europe are increasingly and in some instants lethally hostile to their Muslim minorities. In contrast, although there are several million Muslims in the United States (more than in the U.K., for example, though constituting a smaller percentage--about 1 percent versus almost 3 percent), most of them, like their counterparts in Europe, of Middle Eastern or Central Asian heritage, the American Muslim community is well integrated. It is prosperous (with a median income actually slightly above the national average), so far unthreatening (though security officials believe there are some terrorist cells; and heavy-handed tactics by the FBI since the 9/11 attacks have caused some disaffection among American Muslims), and not objects of significant hostility by non-Muslim Americans.
Krugman's column does not mention Europe's Muslims, but in defense of the French (more broadly, the European) model, argues that the French have made a good trade--their average incomes are significantly lower than those of Americans, but they work a good deal less. This is partly because of a much higher unemployment rate than in the United States (Krugman's complacency about high unemployment is notable), but mainly because Western Europeans work fewer hours per week, take much longer vacations, and retire earlier. In effect they trade material goods for leisure, a trade that Krugman regards as a sign of high civilization. Krugman (here relying on a recent working paper by the economists Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote) recognizes that the greater leisure of the French and other Europeans is, as it were, forced, because it is the product of laws that restrict labor mobility and hence work opportunities, make it difficult to fire lazy workers, provide a variety of economic benefits uncoupled from work, and even restrict the number of hours a week a person can work. But, further relying on the working paper, Krugman argues that without compulsion, workers could not get the amount of leisure they really want, because leisure is not worth as much if other people don't have it, assuming leisure has a strong social component--that you engage in leisure activities with other people, and therefore suffer a loss if they don't have leisure time to spend with you.
Krugman's failure to relate the European model to Europe's Muslim problem is telling. To point to the upside of Europe's social model without mentioning the most serious downside is to provide bad advice to our own policymakers. 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 not unrelated to the differences between economic regulation in the United States and Europe. Because the U.S. does not have a generous safety net--because it is still a nation in which the risk of economic failure is significant--it tends to attract immigrants who have values conducive to upward economic mobility, including a willingness to conform to the customs and attitudes of their new country. And because the U.S. does not have employment laws that discourage new hiring or restrict labor mobility (geographical or occupational), immigrants can compete for jobs on terms of substantial equality with the existing population. Given the highly competitive character of the U.S. economy, in contrast to the economies of Europe, employers cannot afford to discriminate against able workers merely because they are foreign and perhaps do not yet have a good command of English. By the second generation, most immigrant families are fully assimilated, whatever their religious beliefs or ethnic origins.
In contrast, even in a country such as France that has a declared policy of requiring all immigrants to assimilate, immigrants from alien cultures, such as that of the Islamic world, tend to be marginalized and isolated, even in the second and later generations. European unfriendliness to immigrants might be thought a cultural rather than an economic phenomenon, but the paper by Alesina, Glaeser, and Sacerdote on which Krugman relies argues that the European preference for leisure, also supposedly cultural, rests on policy, specifically the employment laws. So too in all likelihood is the difficulty European nations have in assimilating immigrants. The less fluid, less competitive, less market-oriented, and indeed less materialistic (the only color important to businessmen is green) a national economy is, the less opportunity it will provide to alien entrants.
Advocates of the European model point to the pockets of poverty in the United States, but may not realize that poverty cannot be abolished without recourse to measures that produce the social pathologies that we observe in Europe. Social mobility implies the opportunity to fail. If society protects jobs, the employment opportunities of ambitious newcomers are reduced and they may end up at the embittered margin of society. Thus, it is not poverty that breeds extremism; it is social policies intended in part to eradicate poverty that do so, by obstructing exit from minority subcultures. If Muslims in European societies do not feel a part of those societies because public policy does not enable them to compete for the jobs held by non-Muslims--if instead, excluded from identifying with the culture of the nation in which they reside they perforce identify with the worldwide Muslim culture--some of them are bound to adopt the extremist views that are common in that culture. The resulting danger to Europe and to the world is not offset by long vacations.