Immigration, the Welfare State, and Christopher Caldwell

Financial Times columnist Christopher Caldwell has a new “provocative” (code for “liberal-baiting”) book out called Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West. It is a classic piece of wilful disinformation. This article he wrote in yesterday’s Sunday Times gives the general idea:

“Immigration and welfare: a bad mix”

Caldwell refers in this article to the work of Harvard economists Alberto Alesina and Edward L. Glaeser – presumably their 2004 book Fighting Poverty in the US and Europe – a World of Difference”, claiming that the the book is a dire warning against the undermining effects of too much immigration on social cohesion.

In fact, Alesina and Glaeser warn against “political entrepreneurs” who try to use immigrants as a way of attacking the welfare state, and create the kind of inequality and social breakdown right-wing populists have achieved in the USA by systematic stigmatization –
first of black people, then Chinese, and now anyone who can be distinguished in some easy superficial way.

They explain that the extreme, historic weakness of the USA’s public sector derives from two things: an antiquated, 18th-century constitution established “by men of property determined to stop the state from expropriating their wealth”; and the racial and geographic fragmentation of US society, which made it easier to propagate the idea that “all poor people are lazy”. Thus, “by convincing even the not so rich whites that redistribution favors minorities, they have been able to build up large coalitions against welfare policies.”

Alesina and Glaeser warn that Europe could fall prey to this kind of populism, if anti-welfare state politicians are allowed to pursue similar, scapegoating politics – precisely the politics Caldwell is now promoting, it seems.

He asserts that Britain has “overgenerous asylum and welfare policies”” but they are nothing of the sort, as he well knows. Ask anyone who has tried to seek asylum or welfare, or to help those who need them.

He encourages the reader to see immigrants as scroungers: “welfare policies do lure immigrants”, he claims. But no evidence of that has ever been found. Very rich immigrants certainly come here to benefit from our very generous tax laws, but they are not the ones living in the makeshift encampments at Calais.

Our welfare state is not being undermined, insidiously, by immigrants, but in broad daylight by its increasingly-confident enemies: those who resent expenditure on public healthcare, welfare and education.

Christopher Caldwell’s piece warns us that we are in danger of becoming a country that lacks the guts to face up to inequality, and prefers to scapegoat its weakest members instead. An old and unworthy game.

Bob Hughes

PS – Matt Carr wrote a thorough dissection of Caldwell’s book for the Institution for Race Relations (IRR) in July 2009:

Caldwell’s book has had lavish publicity, including a full-page review by anti-immigrant theorist David Goodhart in the Observer (“Do we need more people in Europe?” 17/5/09)

His way with the truth really does need to be nailed; he throws out falsehoods at an extraordinary rate; many of them have the quality of urban myth, and have the same mass-hysterical implications.

Fortunately Carr is thoroughly au fait with many of the facts (and has probably put in a lot of extra work unmasking more). Do read and share the article.


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