Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The failure of Europe's welfare-colonialism

If the United States has historically had more success in integrating its immigrants than Europe does nowadays, it's because the American work ethic makes greater demands on the newcomers than Europe's welfare societies - at the same time that America offers a job-related payback in dignity and the prospect of success
writes John Vinocur in the International Herald Tribune (which carried a column by Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy the previous day).
Simplistic theorizing? But maybe not so far from the truth. Marx and Gramsci pointed, variously, to the system in the United States as convincing in its claims that it provided a chance to rise in a society where all classes emphasize the virtues of hard work.

These days, following France's three weeks of rioting, largely by Arab and African Muslim immigrants, (mere "social disturbances," Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin explained to the world last week), there are a few European politicians taking a new look at the work ethic as a missing link in their countries' similar problems with integration.

This means a not so politically correct leap over the very real but incomplete explanation that discrimination and a lack of education are the essential causes of the high unemployment and the often angry alienation of Europe's immigrants.

Instead, the new thinking brings a focus to what has been called the failure of welfare-colonialism: Europe's allowing immigrants to become dependent on social handouts while letting a mutual commitment to work slide as a necessary bond in their integration.

The developing idea boils down to this: Because of the nature of the American ethos and the United States' less embracing social protections, immigrants coming to the country are prepared to seek work. In Europe, there are welfare-only alternatives to finding a job that create neither dignity for the immigrants nor, among the home folks, a sense of immigrants' contribution to society.

…In the past, Bertel Haarder the Danish education minister and former integration minister, had approached similar figures by saying: "It's not Turkish but Danish culture that's flawed. It's in Denmark where Turks have learned not to do anything for themselves."

…Haarder explained on the phone last week: "I don't think you can preach work. You have to send concrete signals, and we've been too unclear. We want to underline that in this country you have an obligation to work and educate yourself. Otherwise, there's the probability that immigrants settle in on welfare and that this goes from generation to generation. We're sending the message, to get something you've got to give something."

In Europe, I'd note that this message to immigrants can get tangled in the comforters and warm bedding of early retirement plans (Paris Métro drivers can hang it up at age 50 with full pay) and 35-hour work weeks. It's certainly not just another number when a poll shows Americans, in comparison with the French and British (and even the Swedes), are doubly convinced that hard work means far more than "luck and connections" in getting ahead.

…according to Fukuyama, America makes a value judgment that Europe does not: differentiating between the deserving poor who want to work, and those whose inclinations are elsewhere.

The sum was, he said, "In the U.S. model an immigrant gets dignity by contributing to the whole and by the dignity of his work. I think the Dutch are beginning to see this."

Other Europeans have before them. If Lipset's analysis of their thinking is correct, two monuments of Socialist theory, Karl Marx and Antonio Gramsci, the Italian revolutionary, went as far as identifying something admirable and even equalitarian in American society that could be linked to the place in which it holds work.…

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