Saturday, 16 August 2014

Racism and the integration of immigrants


In matters of race, Sweden is one of the most tolerant nations on earth. Yet, for that country's significant immigrant population, the fact that the neighbours don't mind you being a foreigner probably doesn't make up for the poor economic outcomes. In a striking study, Nima Sanadaji looks at how good different places are at integrating immigrants with the concern that:

In particular, low-skilled immigrants from poor countries experience high unemployment and a range of related social problems. Much has been written about the extent of the problem. In many Western European cities, entire communities of migrants are living in social and economic exclusion. The state of poverty is often persists among their children.

We're not here considering whether those immigrants should be here in the first place - that's a very different debate - but how, when they get here (wherever 'here' might be) they get on in economic and social terms. What Sanadaji does is use the World Values Surveys to look at whether the barrier to integration is attitudes (essentially racism) or outcomes. And he concludes that: is difficult to conclusively say what factors that favor integration and what obstacles that stand in the way of integration. It could, for example, be argued that the people in countries such as Sweden are giving politically correct responses. These responses do not necessarily have to translate to the discrimination actually faced by immigrants on a daily basis. At the same time, it is clear that the Anglo-Saxon countries are succeeding in integration. This could be attributed to having English as their main language. It could also be attributed to market-based systems with strong incentives for work and relatively free labor markets. In short, attitudes, at least as reported by the World Value Survey, do not seem to explain the differences in integration. Although all enlightened countries should strive for the tolerant views expressed in countries such as Sweden, this does not guarantee well‑functioning integration.

The lesson here is that, if we focus merely on reducing discrimination, we may still find that those immigrant communities sit outside the mainstream and struggle to integrate, at least economically. Sanadaji's observations about disincentives to work in European welfare systems and the significance of open, flexible labour markets are perhaps as important - put simply incentives and opportunities are critical to the successful integration of new communities. Without these factors, anti-discrimination alone does not work to integrate immigrants.


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