Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Europe, an Island Under Siege

I have often been awfully hard on Old Europe (here, for example). It is a region with many difficulties – an aging population, an over-mortgaged welfare state, etc. But perhaps its greatest liability is that it lies in a neighborhood in much worse shape, one that appears to be collapsing around it. The greatest challenge to the European future may come not from within (imposing as those obstacles are), but from outside.

As an example, the BBC describes the permanent encampments around Ceuta, a tiny dot of Spanish territory on the Moroccan coast. They are populated by desperate migrants from all over West Africa. Even the photo of the modern enclave suggests Moses looking down on the Promised Land:



Below are some statistics (from the World Bank) for both per capita GDP (in constant 2000 dollars) and life expectancy for a variety of countries surrounding the European Utopia under construction:


Per capita GDP:

Country1983/892003
Algeria57985769
Kenya1005980
Mali747939
Nigeria740942
Russia106468718
Ukraine92165188
Zimbabwe26702307


Note: First year is 1989 for Russia/Ukraine, 1983 for others.

Life expectancy:

Country19872003
Algeria65.770.9
Kenya57.645.4
Mali46.540.6
Nigeria48.244.9
Russia69.465.7
Ukraine70.568.3
Zimbabwe56.938.5


On two sides in three of Samuel Huntington’s admittedly crudely defined civilizations – the former Soviet Union, the Arab world and sub-Saharan Africa – Europe faces civilizations that appear, at a minimum, to be in catastrophic short-term decline, with stagnant or falling standards of living and life expectancy. James G. Lacey makes a provocative case (free registration required) that Arab civilization is collapsing for reasons that have little to do with Islam:

Interestingly, on the Arab League's website there is a paper that details all of the contributions made by Arab civilization. It is a long and impressive list, which unfortunately marks 1406 as the last year a significant contribution was made. That makes next year the 600th anniversary of the beginning of a prolonged stagnation, which began a dive into the abyss with the end of the Ottoman Empire. Final collapse has been staved off only by the cash coming in from a sea of oil and because of a few bright spots of modernity that have resisted the general failure.

Statistics tell an ugly story about the state of Arab civilization. According to the U.N.'s Arab Human Development Report:

There are 18 computers per 1000 citizens compared to a global average of 78.3.
Only 1.6% of the population has Internet access.

Less than one book a year is translated into Arabic per million people, compared to over 1000 per million for developed countries.

Arabs publish only 1.1% of books globally, despite making up over 5% of global population, with religious books dominating the market.

Average R&D expenditures on a per capita basis is one-sixth of Cuba's and less than one-fifteenth of Japan's.

The Arab world is embarking upon the new century burdened by 60 million illiterate adults (the majority are women) and a declining education system, which is failing to properly prepare regional youth for the challenges of a globalized economy.

Educational quality is also being eroded by the growing pervasiveness of religion at all levels of the system. In Saudi Arabia over a quarter of all university degrees are in Islamic studies. In many other nations primary education is accomplished through Saudi-financed madrassas, which have filled the void left by government's abdication of its duty to educate the young.


Russia and its “near abroad” too are in an increasingly disastrous state. The current influx of oil revenues masks what appears to be a demographic catastrophe, with a total fertility rate of 1.28 and 1.20 in 2003 in Russia and Ukraine respectively. (The economic data are not much better.) The fact that Islamic and nationalist radicalism appears to be metastasizing and spreading out of Chechnya into other Russian territory is perhaps a sign that Russia no longer has the capacity to defend its territory. While the fact that those fighting the Russians as of yet control no territory even in Chechnya itself indicates that Russia has life in it, the fact that the rebellion is spreading deeper into Russia despite application of much of the military force that Russia is capable of bringing to bear is ominous. So too with the Russian east, where Chinese propaganda now emphasizes the fact (which Russians dispute) that Chinese used to live in and control the region north of the Amur River until they were barbarically expelled by the czars. There are more and more Chinese in that resource-rich area and fewer and fewer Russians, and in the long run that combination plus Russian sovereignty probably cannot stand. We are witnessing the early stages of the unraveling of the gigantic empire built up over centuries.

Given the generous welfare states, high standards of living and free movement within Europe, the decline at least and collapse at worst of the civilizations around them is an ill wind. It is not surprising to see the continent under attack by desperate migrants abandoning their failed homelands for the promise of a better future. If there is no economic or demographic recovery this assault will only worsen.

History is replete with examples of corrupt, declining civilizations being overrun by more vigorous, even if more technologically and materially limited ones – one thinks of the Romans cutting deals with the barbarians for over a century before their last child emperor was deposed, or the crumbling Ming dynasty overrun by the Manchus. But I am not aware of any historical analogies to the modern European problem – a civilization that still functions well surrounded by societies that are crumbling.

What makes this problem especially difficult is that Europe is not well-suited to absorbing the excess mass of these collapsing civilizations, if that is what they are. To be fair, no civilization could absorb the level of attempted migration that we will soon see from Africa, Arabia and the former Soviet Union. But Europe in particular is at best ambivalent about immigration. It has little tradition of mass assimilation, and is prone to migrants who end up as asylees rather than, as in the U.S., as workers (legal or otherwise). These migrants are prohibited from working and thus end up either in the black market, with no legal protections and therefore less allegiance to the society around them, or they don’t work at all, which makes them a public-finance burden and cultivates resentment among the natives.

How might it play out? As the U.S. has discovered with its southern border, using law enforcement to stop the migration is a hopeless task if Europe wishes to remain a society devoted to the rule of law. The amount of police resources necessary, and the power they would have to have, to enable law enforcement to actually solve illegal immigration is unthinkable. So it is inevitable that Europe will demographically look more like the civilizations that surround it, with more Africans, Arabs, Turks, Russians, etc. In principle there is no reason that they cannot be assimilated as full Europeans, as the Roman Empire successfully managed for several hundred years and the U.S. succeeds in doing for the most part now. But in practice it will be difficult. The rigid European economies, which make entrepreneurship outside the black market difficult, combined with the tribal hostility to immigrants who do not look like them, portends trouble. Europeans will demand (indeed are already beginning to demand) higher and higher metaphorical fences, but the migrants will just keep coming, pushed by their own collapsing societies and pulled by the opportunities for those willing to work hard and off the books doing jobs that increasingly scarce Europeans won’t. European politics are going to turn increasingly nationalistic, and the rule of law will probably suffer. But in the end politics and the law will not be enough. The Europeans’ vaunted transnational courts, their body of human rights law, their commissions and ministers will not save them.

As the crisis worsens we should expect to see ever more desperate pleas from Europe for more ways to promote “development,” in an attempt to keep the migrants at home. But the band-aid of “development aid” that the Europeans will promote first and foremost in fact does not promote “development.” The only way to do that is to promote economic reform and engagement with globalization in those countries by, for example, negotiation of sweeping free-trade agreements with Africa and Arabia. But that will threaten the jobs that for Europeans ”are hoarded in a locked cupboard”. Europe’s only hope is that pressure for reform in Africa and Arabia (the former Soviet Union is probably beyond hope) that ironically comes from everywhere but Europe (from the U.S., from the IMF and World Bank, and most importantly from within the afflicted countries themselves) takes root. This will end the pushing of immigrants out of these places. In some places – Mauritius, Uganda – this has already happened. But this is a slim reed on which to hang a society’s hopes, because economic reform and national stability has proven so hard to achieve in so many of these places. More likely is that continuing immigration will steadily erode the cohesiveness of European societies and the moderation of their politics. Some people reading this will probably live long enough to see the end of the European Union over immigration tensions and perhaps major changes in the basic political and tribal natures of these societies.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Frodo said...

"I have often been awfully hard on Old Europe (here, for example). It is a region with many difficulties – an aging population, an over-mortgaged welfare state, etc"

Despite your lame little schadenfreude trip, this is all overrated, and not just in my own native Ireland. In Europe despite the early retirement age, people routinely work well into their 70's in jobs that they like (and are often healthier in) thus continuing to pay into the system. Likewise, the USA confronts in own aging population by inviting in millions of immigrants. Europe confronts its aging population by... inviting in millions of immigrants. Funny how that works.

"But Europe in particular is at best ambivalent about immigration. It has little tradition of mass assimilation, and is prone to migrants who end up as asylees rather than, as in the U.S., as workers (legal or otherwise). "

I'm not a big fan of having gazillions of poor militant Muslim Arabs either, but fortunately, the vast majority of immigrants to Europe are *not* from the Arab Middle East, despite the extent to which this gets underplayed in the press. France and Germany both receive the vast majority of their immigrants (generally young) from other European countries, with millions more from India, China, and the Philippines. And most of these people are workers, not asylees, with a substantial fraction being highly trained professionals.

"or the crumbling Ming dynasty overrun by the Manchus."

Yes, and the Manchus-- who had already adopted some Chinese civilization-- turned out to be perhaps China's most important rulers. They extended Chinese territorial control more than any other single dynasty, and provided for an unprecedentedly long and sustained period of prosperity in the 1700s which was crucial for enabling China to stay intact and rebound after the fiascos of the next two centuries.

Vigorous outsiders can actually be a benefit if they wind up adopting the culture of the places they conquer. A big reason that the world now has close to 1.5 billion Muslims, is that the invading Turks and Mongols in the Middle Ages eventually adopted the Muslim faith of the lands that they attacked, subsequently using their steppe invasion tactics to invade and Islamicize countless other lands in Asia.

"Educational quality is also being eroded by the growing pervasiveness of religion at all levels of the system. In Saudi Arabia over a quarter of all university degrees are in Islamic studies."

This much is true, and it's a sad testament that this societal floundering in turn spills over to cause so much damage to the West.

"More likely is that continuing immigration will steadily erode the cohesiveness of European societies and the moderation of their politics. Some people reading this will probably live long enough to see the end of the European Union over immigration tensions and perhaps major changes in the basic political and tribal natures of these societies."

Europe and the US are in the same boat in this regard-- tribal and cultural differences in the US pose as much danger to the national fabric here as in Europe. The US actually *did* split apart, and violently so, in 1861-65, so great were the cultural differences between the states despite a common language and (generally) Protestant faith. There's nothing to stop it from happening again, especially if the economy crumbles and ethnic, cultural or political differences overwhelm a weak sense of unity. The EU isn't guaranteed either, but if there's enough economic stability and prosperity there, this (along with the historical aversion to division) will help to maintain the place together. With the common currency and the increasing extent to which the EU is actually being recognized as an extant international player, the unification is proceeding further apace. Moreover, in many respects people in the EU (like my relatives in Ireland) have the best of both worlds, since they have the benefits of unification in many ways, yet also retain distinct cultural identities.

7:42 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

In Europe despite the early retirement age, people routinely work well into their 70's in jobs that they like (and are often healthier in) thus continuing to pay into the system.

The data I have seen say otherwise overall, but if you have any I would certainly love to see it.

And most of these people are workers, not asylees, with a substantial fraction being highly trained professionals.

Again in Holland and Scandinavia at least I have read otherwise. A majority of entrants come to those countries (or perhaps did until recently; I am not sure) as asylum applicants.

Vigorous outsiders can actually be a benefit if they wind up adopting the culture of the places they conquer.

I don't dispute that, apart from the violence that often accompanies their arrival.

The EU isn't guaranteed either, but if there's enough economic stability and prosperity there,...

Only there's not.

12:20 PM  

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