Immigration comes at hefty price
Immigrants are expensive for Dutch society, but few people want to say it out loud for fear of the consequences, a study by a Dutch scientist has found.
By Dirk Vlasblom, NRC Handelsblad
Published: 30 March 2010 16:55 | Changed: 31 March 2010 09:27
Turkish and Moroccan women take part in an integration course at Rotterdam's World Museum. Photo Vincent Mentzel
The economic effects of immigration have become a hot-button issue in Dutch politics. The mere mention of the subject is often greeted with suspicion and loathing. But that didn’t stop scholar Jan van de Beek from writing his doctoral thesis on the issue. In his PhD research, which he defended at the University of Amsterdam on Tuesday, he answered two related questions: what kind of economic consequences did mass immigration to the Netherlands between 1960 and 2005 have, and why is it such a taboo to study the economic effects of these immigrants?
Van de Beek has come to conclusions the Netherlands may not like. Since the 1970s, little research has been done into the economic effects of immigration, for fear of playing into the hand of the xenophobic right. As recently as last year, populist politician Geert Wilders asked the Dutch cabinet to calculate the net costs or benefits imposed on society by immigrants. Cabinet refused to do so, which led to uproar amongst several opposition parties. The minister responsible called it “improper” to reduce citizens’ contribution to society “to a profit-loss analysis”.
The reluctance to study the matter has done well to conceal some unpleasant facts, Van de Beek claims. For one, the Dutch policy of recruiting workers from outside of Europe in the 1960s needlessly delayed the modernisation of Dutch industry. As the Dutch economy was modernised in the 1980s, many immigrants were laid off and became dependent on welfare. Even today, the Dutch welfare state mainly attracts immigrants that impose a net cost on the Dutch economy, Van de Beek found.
Van de Beek is a mathematician and a cultural anthropologist. He is interested in social problems and has a soft spot for numbers. “In 1999, I was writing my master’s thesis about Dutch asylum policy,” he said in an interview. “I wanted to devote a chapter to the economic aspects of the matter, because the asylum debate centres mostly on numbers. To my surprise, I couldn’t find any sources. Filling this gap became the subject of my doctoral research.”
43,000 euros per immigrant
Since then, some other researchers have ventured into the area. In the same year Van de Beek wrote his thesis, economist Pieter Lakeman estimated that immigrants cost the Dutch state 5.9 billion euros each year. An analysis by a Dutch government agency in 2003 found that an immigrant who arrives here at age 25 costs Dutch society 43,000 euros over the rest of his lifetime on average.
For his PhD, Van de Beek studied all research published on migratory economics since 1960. He interviewed scholars about their attempts to investigate the economic consequences of immigration and spoke to (former) politicians about the motives underlying immigration policy. He also tried to answer the question of why prominent Dutch government think tanks had so little to say about the matter.
The title of his dissertation became Knowledge, Power and Morality. “Morality stands for Dutch political correctness, but that is a term I chose not to use,” Van de Beek said. “I prefer the term ‘moral reading’: the phenomenon that knowledge is not judged according to its factual merit, but according to its social, political and moral consequences.
“In the 1980s and 1990s people in the Netherlands feared the rise of the radical-right,” he explained. In 1983 the Centrumpartij (CP) garnered nine percent of the votes in Almere’s municipal election. The party opposed immigration and was later banned for inciting racism and hatred. “This shocked the Netherlands,” Van de Beek said. “The Second World War was still the moral frame of reference. We were not allowed to know the true cost of immigration because this could play into the CP’s hands. This left a huge gap in our body of knowledge.”
An economic disaster
“The recruitment of labourers in the 1960s”, Van de Beek said, “was an economic disaster. The stated intent here was to keep wages down, but we would have been better served by letting them rise. The switch from an industrial economy to one dependent on capital was inevitable for us to be competitive internationally. It would have been best to make that change in the 1960s, when the economy was booming. Finally, we had to restructure the economy anyway and many of the immigrants who came here in the 1960s were laid off in the 1970s and 1980s and ended up on benefits.”
Immigration remained an expensive issue long thereafter. In the Netherlands, the state redistributes a lot of money. “The government loses money on its less well-educated citizens. They contribute less in taxes and other payments over the course of their lives than they receive in the form of subsidised healthcare, education, benefits and pensions. This means there is little point for the Netherlands to try to attract uneducated labour from abroad.”
Van de Beek recalled a report about immigration published in 2001 by a Dutch government think tank. Harry van Dalen, a Dutch economist who was asked to contribute a chapter regarding its economic effects, met with resistance when he tried to discuss the tension between immigration and the welfare state. “A fundamental problem,” Van de Beek said. “But the project group wouldn’t hear of it. Other members feared such an analysis would lead to immigrants being blamed for reform of the welfare state.”
Van de Beek shares Van Dalen’s analysis. “A welfare state leads to a levelling of income. This makes it relatively unattractive for an Indian IT specialist to come to the Netherlands, because the educated earn relatively little here. He would prefer to move to the United States. The Netherlands attracts fewer educated immigrants, unlike Canada or Australia. Those countries recruit much more actively and have a selective admission policy. They put national interests first. That serves both the host nation and immigrants better, because it means they are welcome and will thrive.”
» » » » [NRC.NL; HatTip: Tom Klaasen, of Gerhardsville/Hennopsriver/Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy]
Political Parties Must Speak Out on Population Growth
UK Population Growth - “Running Up a Down Escalator”
Optimum Population Trust Patrons
Posted on March 30, 2010
“We, patrons of the Optimum Population Trust, call on all political parties to pay due attention to the environmental challenge presented by current UK population growth.
“If realised, the projected increase of 10 million more people in the next 22 years, equivalent to ten more Birminghams, would worsen all this country’s environmental problems including: climate change; food, water and energy security; transport congestion; flood risk; waste; and pollution – quite apart from pressure on public services. These are all easier to solve with fewer people, and harder – and ultimately impossible – with ever increasing numbers.
“The projected growth would, for instance, entail installing ten times the immense amount of renewable energy needed to supply the whole of Birmingham just to stand still in total carbon emissions. The Government’s ambition to reduce UK emissions by 80% by 2050 will be impossible to achieve with ever more energy consumers – we shall effectively be running up a down escalator without end. It would also be irresponsible to ignore the global implications - 10 million more Britons would have the carbon footprint of, for instance, 220 million more Malawians.
“Our total impact on the environment is clearly the average impact per person, multiplied by the number of people; so sooner or later, the UK population must stop growing. The OPT’s YouGov poll last year showed that: 70% of our people are already concerned that our population growth is causing serious environmental problems; half of us want a smaller population than we have now; and only 8% of us actually want any more growth at all. Yet the political parties are virtually silent on this issue.
“England is already the most densely settled country in Europe. Like the 1973 Population Panel – the last time any official body publicly addressed this issue – we believe it is in the national interest to stabilise our numbers as soon as possible. As a first step, we need open acknowledgement that the actual number of people is a critical element in determining our medium and long-term future, which can no longer be ignored. We invite all the political parties to share our concern.”
Signed or endorsed by:
Sir David Attenborough, naturalist and wildlife film-maker
Jane Goodall, founder, the Jane Goodall Institute, UN Messenger of Peace
John Guillebaud, emeritus professor of family planning and reproductive health, University College, London
Susan Hampshire, actor
Aubrey Manning, broadcaster and professor of natural history, Edinburgh University
Professor Norman Myers, visiting fellow, Green College, Oxford
Sara Parkin, founder director and trustee, Forum for the Future
Jonathon Porritt, former chair, the UK Sustainable Development Commission
Sir Crispin Tickell, director of the Policy Foresight Programme, James Martin Institute for Science and Civilisation, Oxford University.
» » » » [Optimum Population Trust]