Friday, March 03, 2006

A four-letter model

At YaleGlobal, Sharon Noguchi writes about Japan's less-than-stellar treatment of their perhaps much needed immigrants.

Thinking a bit about this and David Coleman's position, I think the issue can be thought about in faux-formal terms, even if we don't have enough knowledge to predict the future - specially about the "soft" political and cultural parameters.

Being a bit silly: A population P with an age structure A and an economic system T (technology -including medical technology relevant to the productive phase of the lifecycle- plus organizational methods plus laws) will be able to honor a variety of societal pledges at a level L(P, A, T).

The projected equilibrium situation in the mid- to long-term doesn't look well right now. Alternatives:

  • You lower L: Pension reform, an smaller state, less public investment in health and education, etc. Basically, you are producing less, so you do less. Of course, if you cut costs in health and basic science while having the most inefficient military acquisition system on the face of Earth then this is no solution at all, but properly applied it is, at least, a solution. And it's clearly what will happen if nobody does nothing. The problem: this probably isn't what the people who voted the governments in had in mind, so expect some, ah, friction. And reduced living standards for everybody who wasn't already rich in 1999.

  • You raise P: Immigration! On the face of it, it's the perfect solution. After all, Europe, the US and Japan already import a lot of what they need. Why not people? The problem: there isn't a single modern country who isn't failing at the task of attracting, educating and integrating migrants at a significant scale, save perhaps for the US. (The US is failing big time at the problem of educating, integrating and not screwing over their low and middle classes, but that's another issue... although perhaps it's the same; geographical origin is less relevant than integration in the global network, after all is said and done.)

  • You "fix" A: "Everybody start making babies now!" Sounds fun, but it's just not doable. People can be "convinced" of having less kids -if you happen to be a totalitarian enough country- but having more kids is a whole different matter. Children are expensive, bothersome (I know, I was one), and cramp your style. It'll take a lot to give enough incentives for people in a modern economy to have more kids, and that's the problem: governments already have (or think they have) more pressing hundred-billion-a-month problems.

  • You raise T: aka the sci-fi solution. That's my favorite solution, and I think it's also David Coleman's. A longer productive life thanks to advanced medicine, nootropics and more exotic gadgets. Massive retooling of your IT infrastructure, followed by more massive retooling, and so on ad infinitum or at least until Intel gives up. Flexible labor rules, a population that has given up on ever retiring, and productivity growth trend high enough to both compete with the rest of the world and compensate demographic trends. The problem: getting the political and cultural support for such a radical revolution. A lot of people are squeamish about stem cell research (here is where I roll my eyes; who the hell feels proprietary about their stems?) and are declaring war against memory enhancing pills or genetic treatments. The IT revolution was comparatively easy, but faster computers won't be enough to compensate for less and older workers. You'll need to upgrade your workers... Cue a lot of editorials about the spiritual dignity of progressive cognitive decay, lowering libido and general organ failure as you approach a three digits age.

Roughly speaking, it looks to me like the US is going the L- and T-ways, although only despite their government's best efforts to keep them in the 1950's, and it'll eventually have to stop being scared of Al-Qaeda to focus on the really important thing (i.e., this). Europe has toyed with A, but it's not working, and neither is P, but I give them points for trying. L is creeping in there, and it'll break a lot of hearts (and politicians' careers). Japan is trying T (at least when it comes to robotics), but for some reason they aren't going at it properly (as an anime fan, I have to say that the failure of Japanese business to live up to the obvious, glorious, glaring blueprints in their popular culture is disappointing).

And at some time, while everybody is dealing with this, oil prices will keep going up (even when nothing is being blown anywhere releveant) , coasts shift with an slow and devious pace, agricultural yields change all over the place, etc, etc.

But I try to cynically contemplate one thing at a time.


Admin said...

Interesting way of looking at this, but I see one problem right from the start: things you include under P (like attitudes to immigration), and things you include under T (like open-ness to futuristic technologies) may be co-related. ie they may both be endogenous to some third process.

Take Japan as an example. There is a rigid idea of identity which people don't want to change. They are just fine as they are, even though they are, in fact, disappearing. Non-threatening immigration (ie cheap menial labour that can be booted out at any time) and robots both conform to this model (what some previously termed the positivistic appraoch to technology). You retain control.

On the second account you need to adapt, by changing your absolutism vis a vis your own cultural id. You accept immigration and interact with people from new cultures, and you change your notion of human 'essentialism' by being pragmatic about new 'essence changing' technologies, like genetic engineering. ie you accept that you change.

These two positions seem to me to be relatively mutually exclusive, both theoretically and empirically.

Admin said...

"America received immigrants from mostly liberal western societies2

This is largely the pre 1922 experience, the sending societies were certainly far from being liberal at this stage, and, of course, they weren'texactly laic either.

Post 1980, US immigration (which is now the largest single movement into the US in history has not been coming from liberal European countries either.

"right now a lot of the immigration comes from societies with different political/cultural systems, and that puts a different kind of strain on the host systems."

It does put a stain, but I'm not sure the extent of the strain isn't being over emphasised in some quarters. I think the strongest point Coleman has is the scale of the numbers needed to stabilise the pyramid. This is clearly unrealistic, simply because ultimately the population of the whole planet wouldn't be enough to fill the gap. As he ironises in a paper title "'Replacement Migration', or why everyone's going to have to live in Korea ".

Nonetheless some substantial immigration can help slow down an overdramatic change in the shape of the pyramid. It can apply a brake on the process.

"I tend to look with a pleased eye to changes that bring more multiculturalism and diversity while keeping a secular, liberal framework..."

Where, and in which ways, do you think multicultural changes are happening to the detriment of the secular liberal framework with the cause being immigration? I use the expression 'framework' explicitly here, since I am not talking about some highly publicised examples of illiberal behaviour?

I can think of many ways in which our liberal frameworks are being put under threat by global terrorism, but this is not the same thing at all.


Admin said...

Sleeping on this and thinking about it a bit more, I think that the key issue here is mental plasticity. Part of ageing and life cycle rescaling is possibly associated with later maturation. The important think is that all that extra brain capacity which is developed in the process is put to good use. It should give us the ability to be much less habitat specific (death of distance etc).

Of course the real problem is a stocks and flows one. And meantime the main threat to our liberal infrastructural consensus (at least in Europe) comes from the new breed of neo-protectionists, who seem to want to conserve their own national particularism, whatever the cost.

Admin said...

"My base concern -which might well be overblown, as I don't have a lot of first-hand experience in US or the EU-"

Well this is my feeling, but others may like to add something. I think you should treat wioth great caution anything written in Europe about the US, and anything written in the US about Europe. You should believe virtually nothing about anything written in either place about Latin America :).

So the first thing I am saying here is that we live in a world of perceptions and misperceptions. This is very important when it comes to the current geo-political situation.

One anecdotal example here. Claus, Thomas and I all live know some economics and we all live in Europe. As it happens we all have a fairly critical stance on how the euro is working. If we were in the US, and with our profile, we would probably be much less critical (see Brad Setser or Dave Altig). This is to do with perspective, and perspective here is everything. More later, I have to go out for a bit now :).

Edward Hugh said...

"young undereducated Arab who moves to France"

Now this may seem like a detail, but it isn't. There are in fact very few actual Arabs in France. The majority of France's North African immigrants are not arab, they are Berber (Les Beurs), and they speak not Arabic but Amazigh:
In fact many of them have left North Africa to get away from 'Arabisation'. Strange potential bedfellows these for OBL and his new califate.

So my first point is that any US analysis of French reality which doesn't take the massive Berber presence there (and now in Spain, from Morocco) as its starting point simply isn't worth the read.

"moves to France yet remains more loyal to his local religious leader"

This is another of the points, they don't have important local religious leaders. The parents come as poor migrants, on arrival the lack religious facilities, and since our societies are, as you say, normally laic, they get no help from the state. So what happens? Saudi Arabia steps in and sends some Salafist nut to indoctrinate them. I think this is exactly what has happened in Denmark, where the so called religious leaders seem to look to Saudi.

At the same time the young people, generally, are completely non-religious. They identify with Islam the way young Spanish people identify with catholicism, that is with skepticism and from a good distance. Another issue would be that they still, like the Spanish consider their religion to be part of their cultural id, and will protest when they think it is threatened.

Most Spanish young people still get married in church, and a million Spaniards recently followed the call of the Spanish bishops to demonstrate 'in favour of family values', by which they meant against gay marriage.

Edward Hugh said...

Incidentally, as I say, I am sure Claus has a slightly different take on this from me, but there are opinions to suit all tastes in this thread:

CV said...

Picking up on the last comments I would say that perspective is important here as also stated by you (Marcelo and Edward) ...

The obvious example ... the cartoons:

From my (Danish) POV I think Edward is right when he says that we "native" Danes feel that the muslim religious opinion leaders in Denmark increasingly have colluded with Saudi-Arabia (and others) in the effort to the escalate the conflict. But then again from a Danish and increasingly international POV we actually do have a problem with our muslims immigrants because the public debate tends to stigmatize them under one zeal. What to take away from this ? IMO I believe we in Denmark need to, first and foremost, be balanced and realize that we must accept our muslim minority. However, crucially we must also be allowed to attack/contain those muslim forces which do not accept the rules under which we live.

Ultimately though I stand firm on my "candybar" example (see my comment in the AFOE thread).

Another point I feel that is important is concerning the "immigration as a remedy to demographic issues" argument. This is all well and good but when it comes to the discussion of
how immigration affects the welfare societies and culture/identity in the receiving countries the demographic argument obviously loses out. Is that a problem ?

CapTVK said...

"One anecdotal example here. Claus, Thomas and I all live know some economics and we all live in Europe. As it happens we all have a fairly critical stance on how the euro is working. If we were in the US, and with our profile, we would probably be much less critical (see Brad Setser or Dave Altig). This is to do with perspective, and perspective here is everything. More later, I have to go out for a bit now :)."

Well supposing i were an American instead of Dutch (probably I would be the Rockefeller-republican/democrat type) my comments on the EU would involve a lot of anxious handwringing and headshaking about all those wasted opportunities and failures to get their affairs in order (noting in passing the USA has its own share of problems). ;)

On the issue of (P) immigration as a solution to cure our ills. No that won´t work, at least in the classical sense, I´ll come to that further below. I´ve seen reports that most (low/non skilled) immigrants actually cost far more in total social costs (education, healthcare, unemployment) then they bring in. High skilled immigrants are an exception but they have no trouble integrating as far as i know.

Instead of fixing the problem of immigration on a national scale I see more in a truly pan-EU free services/labour market. If countries were truly open with markets that are (cough cough) "reasonably regulated" EU citizens and immigrants with the will and the skills could work where and when they want without much legal hassle. For that reason I´m not very happy how the EU services directive turned out.

CapTVK said...

"Now this may seem like a detail, but it isn't. There are in fact very few actual Arabs in France. The majority of France's North African immigrants are not arab, they are Berber (Les Beurs), and they speak not Arabic but Amazigh:
In fact many of them have left North Africa to get away from 'Arabisation'. Strange potential bedfellows these for OBL and his new califate."

Good point there Edward, there are also a lot of Maroccans in the Netherlands as well, who are actually Berbers. It´s another small fact that many overlook.

Sometimes that sort of ignorance can have drastic results as in the 80´s and 90´s we assumed their native tongue was arabic so we started "helping" their children by giving extra arabic schoollessons as well. In fact alienating the 2nd generation even more. It took about decade after much protest, by some Maroccans themselves, before we figured that out.

Admin said...

One concrete example here: Italy. Italy is now the third oldest society on the planet, has extraordinarly low fertility (1.2/1.3 TFR) and has a government which is almost bankrupt. So you would think something should be done, right?

The fiscal crisis is going to make it harder for the government to do anything meaningful about child support. So one alternative would be to enable women who have been postponing having children to do so later, by offering technology driven fertility enhancement. But what happens, the conservative value structure means that Italy will be one of the last places in Europe where this becomes a reality. Not coincidentally Italy is also far from being an immigrant friendly country.

It's like shooting yourself in both feet at once.