Monday, 29 December 2014

Should all Immigrants Assimilate?

Immigrants are a recurring phenomenon in many parts of the world and its importance will only grow in the near future. Immigrants adjust, assimilate or remain alienated and sometimes even become active agents of destruction through terrorism in their host countries.

They are either expelled or ordered to assimilate without fuss in most pull immigration countries. The simple argument is that if immigrants assimilate to the host society, discrimination decreases, immigrants contribute better according to their abilities and life becomes smoother for everyone. The counter argument is that if immigrants assimilate, they have to relinquish their own heritage and culture in order to adopt the local. This would mean that the host society is not enriched by an infusion of new ideas. 
“Every immigrant who comes here should be required within five years to learn English or leave the country.”
Theodore Roosevelt, US president 1901-1909.

The immigrants’ difficulty of adjusting is tolerated when the economic, political and social stability in the host country is high, and as long as there is a perception of current or future benefit from the immigrant.

But come hard times and the rules of engagement change. Then immigrants are easily perceived as burdens or threats. The othering of immigrants intensify and everything wrong with the host country’s economy, society, political atmosphere and morals are promptly ascribed to the avarice, immorality, stupidity, insufficient skills or lack of commitment of the newest immigrants. Vulnerable minorities also get the same treatment sometimes.

Are there ‘good’ immigrants and ‘bad’ immigrants?

It depends on whom we ask.

Characteristics that usually get valuable ‘points’ for immigration to many rich countries nowadays:
  • Education, very specific with a high job-market demand
  • Occupation, something that locals can’t or won’t do
  • Work experience, a lot of high quality experience which generates transferrable skills
  • Language ability
  • Age (usually pensionable age immigrants are welcome only if they bring enough money and get pensions from elsewhere)

Highly skilled foreigners best suited for demanding jobs get fast-track immigration permits to Canada. Saudi Arabia requires immigrants to go out of the country immediately when job contracts expire.

Canada in the late 19th century had clear orders of preference. This reflected how similar were the immigrants to the majority of the people already living there (First Nation people were not considered in this equation).
  • British and American agriculturalists
  • French
  • Belgians, Dutch, Scandinavians, Swiss, Finns, Russians, Austro-Hungarians, Germans, Ukrainians and Poles
  • Italians, Southern Slavs, Greeks and Syrians were considered less suitable for assimilation
  • Jews, Asians, Roma and Black people were the least desired as immigrants.

New Yorkers, in the 1890s, when asked which immigrants were the most desirable, mentioned Russian Jews in spite of their great contributions to society and culture.

In many countries, the results of applying these selection criteria, however, look slightly different from the brochures and application forms.
“We have a bubbling successful melting pot in this country so long as the ingredients are essentially European.”
― Jared Taylor, Convergence of Catastrophes, (2012)

How We Measure Assimilation

A fairly good definition of Assimilation: Assimilation, also called integration or incorporation, is the process by which the characteristics of members of immigrant groups and host societies come to resemble one another. Resemble is a key word here. It still allows the immigrant to retain vestiges of their own culture and does not necessarily entail total substitution of one set of characteristics with another.

A politician’s approach at definition of the assimilation situation:

 “A simple way to take measure of a country is to look at how many want in.. And how many want out.”
- Tony Blair.

Politicians, like economists, try to simplify things with assumptions that best suit their purposes. The host country’s main needs-related assumption is that they get the best highest skilled units of labour at the least input price by allowing selective immigration. It doesn’t always go that simply.
“We asked for workers. We got people instead.”       Max Frisch.

Research in USA reveals some interesting aspects of assimilation:
  • Economic and civic assimilation without significant cultural assimilation is rather common
  • Immigrants from other rich developed countries may not be better assimilated
  • Huge diversity in how different immigrant groups assimilate: best assimilators are from Vietnam, Cuba and the Philippines – all countries with previous US military occupation
  • Mexican immigrants to USA show low levels of economic and civic assimilation but normal levels of cultural assimilation

The entire history of the human race is a tale of immigration. The most widely accepted theory of how human beings spread all over the earth is the “Out of Africa” theory or academically “RSOH – recent single origin hypothesis”. Depending on which theory is currently accepted, humans have been emigrating and immigrating for the last 1.8 million years. So, with immense competition, is the playing field ever fair? Here again, it depends.
“From the day he left his parents' house, Abe [Reles] had to know his father was right, that America promises everything, but he also had to know his father was wrong--America gives nothing. Those things that are promised, they cannot be worked for but must be taken, conned away with good looks, obsequiousness, mimicry; or traded for with bit of your soul or the morals of the stories your parents told; or tricked away with lies; or wrested away with brute force.”
― Rich Cohen, Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams

Why People Migrate?

People migrate for different reasons. Some people fall in love and migrate to live with their loved one. Others go in search of better jobs or better climate and then some people are forced to migrate as refugees. “It’s better for me there than here” – is the underlying belief in all migration. Push factors explain why a person leaves a certain area, while pull factors explain the choice of destination and typically these factors complement each other in migration. Considering the coming huge waves of mass migrations to Europe, knowledge of these factors would be valuable in designing suitable win-win responses.

Push factors of migration:
  • High crime rate
  • Poverty
  • War or sectarian violence
  • Inability to cope with high corruption
  • Environmental reasons – persistent drought, crop failure, too cold or too hot
  • Social instability
  • Limited opportunities for improving one’s lot in life through education etc.
Pull factors of migration:
  • Low crime rate
  • Greater affluence
  • Peace
  • Significantly lower rate of corruption
  • Better climate
  • Social stability
  • Increased opportunities for improving one’s life

Recently the UK government decided to stop saving migrants drowning in the Mediterranean as saving the drowning is perceived as pull factor for migration to the UK.

Is Assimilation a Good or Bad thing?

Like all complex questions, this generates more questions than answers.
  • Do we have a shared understanding of assimilation? How is it different from integration and adjustment?
  • What is that to which one is supposed to assimilate - Frenchness, Americanness or Chineseness such that we can measure it? If we made tests for immigrants, what happens if a large section of locals cannot pass these tests? Only 44% of Americans with a college level education pass the Citizenship test for immigrants. 
  • Does assimilation necessarily produce better contribution to and engagement with the host society? Or is the obverse true?
  • If a high percentage of indigenous (born locally) people do not assimilate well, can they also be penalised in the same way as immigrants? Immigrants’ point of entry or deportation are usually airports, land borders or harbours, so what is the point of entry or deportation of indigenous people who do not assimilate?
Immigrating or being an immigrant is not something that one engages in flippantly. Immigrating usually means uprooting your life; sometimes you lose your property, friends, social connections, means of livelihood, professional and social influence and even your identity. For some immigrants life turns for the better and for some others it is the end of living and the beginning of survival. Being forced to give up their food habits and having to live on English food alone might scare the living daylight out of most immigrants and even Brits in Britain, and the British food scene would lose most of its wonderful diversity. The annual average of £425, that people in UK spend yearly on ethnic food shows that such a horror scenario is extremely unlikely.

Photo source:

Peter Salins, in his book Assimilation, American Style (1997), presents 3 criteria for assimilation:
  1. Immigrants must accept English as the national language
  2. Work and live by the protestant ethic (self-reliant, hardworking and morally upright)
  3. Be proud of the American identity and believe in America’s liberal democratic and egalitarian principles
This kind of dialectic of assimilation is rather problematic. 
  • Many people also seem to de-assimilate, as they get older. They might get disillusioned with what they assimilated to and entertain a nostalgic fondness of what they imagine as having ‘lost’.
  • Many people have no clear idea how such vague concepts e.g. protestant ethics really means and don’t find many locals living it either.
  • The identity that the host society gives to immigrants may significantly differ from how they’d like to be seen. A person may want to be seen as a happy and singing Neapolitan rather than an Italian stereotype or as a successful engineer rather than as a Korean. An immigrant from Guatemala or Mexico does not necessarily see herself as a “Hispanic” or “Latino”. 
  • Does assimilation mean adopting the thinking patterns of others? I am reminded almost weekly: “You can’t think like that!” and my response always is “I just did”. Do we really think thoughts? I’d say that we just register and react to thoughts coming to the focus of our consciousness. 
Then, is assimilation requirement a good thing? Learning the local language and culture brings immense benefits to both sides in the form of improved communication and understanding. Improved communication also might widen the horizons of the locals.

Assimilation is a sweet thing, like sugar. Too much for some people may cause health (mental) problems. Since when has being like everyone else made mavericks happy? Too little and there is no sweetness in your life, probably. Of course, being the eternal other also may give someone immense kicks and thus assimilation would be a high price. 

There is a third possibility over total assimilation or zero assimilation - selective assimilation. The immigrant assimilates to a degree that helps with living fulfilling lives yet retains aspects that enriches the new surroundings.

Recipe for successful selective assimilation: 

  • Quickly learn the local language and culture 
  • Learn to appreciate and be grateful for all the good things in the host society 
  • Stop finding faults with the host society like many locals do - moaning makes you boring
  • Find a way to contribute, at least to someone other than yourself - make friends!
  • Cherish your own culture and cultivate a deeper understanding and then communicate it to the locals who are interested in widening their horizons.
  • Find something in the new culture to cheer up your daily life - have fun!
So, assimilation oui, mais non.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

What Kind of Books Should I Read? Novels, crime, horror or serious stuff?

More than 2,5 million new books are published yearly in the world. Then there is tons of reprints and old books. Google estimated in 2010 that there are 130 million books in the world.  There is much to choose from. 
What kind of books should we read?
First let us define what is a book. The Oxford Dictionary definition is “A written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers.” In the digital age, e-book should also qualify. A magazine is not a book but a magazine. 
Then, the criteria of evaluating the book – this is the answer to the question “Why do I read?” 
There can be different motivations for reading a book: to learn new things, get a certified education and improve one’s financial and social standing, to learn to speak a new language, to travel somewhere, to cook a new dish, to show off one’s knowledge, to develop spiritually – infinite reasons for reading. Underlying all these motivations is one common desire, and that is to acquire new bits and pieces of knowledge, impressions, feelings, ideas, sensations or pleasure.
If it helps anyone, here are the kinds of books I seek to read:
  • Books that give me new ideas – often the new inputs build on previous knowledge, skills and ideas and sometimes they contain the so called unknown unknowns as Donald Rumsfeld called them. Erich Fromm’s The Fear of Freedom was such a one for me.

  • Books by authors I don’t like or disagree with – if we never read or listen to people we disagree with, we exclude a whole bunch of talented people just because we dislike them. This is the surest way to remain in a very narrow bandwidth of consciousness. If we can read people we dislike, we expand our intellectual horizons immensely. 
The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Crack-Up", Esquire Magazine (February 1936). Reading Karl Marx on the TheFirst Indian War of Independence 1857-1859  or Njall Ferguson’s Empire were such bountiful challenges for me. 

  • Books that challenge mentally, intellectually, knowledge-wise or emotionally - This is the adventurous way of mental/intellectual/spiritual detox. Along with books in the earlier group, these books might require re-evaluation of concepts, unlearning things learnt earlier and reformulate ideas. Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel was such a book for me.

  • Books that support me on my development path – not only does such a book enrich the existing corpus of knowledge, concepts and ideas but also they create a positive loop of encouragement. As we climb to new heights, we need to stop and take in the new scenery unfolding before us and gratefully acknowledge the gift of learning. It is an ennobling feeling to be able to appreciate differences without judging and register one’s inner development. Poetry, fun, travel books and DIY stuff are all wonderfully helpful often.

  • Books that “fall” into my hands – this is life nudging us in directions that would help us. A book in a shop window beckons us, a volume accidentally falls as we move clumsily or a friend mentions having read one, these are all signs. Njall Ferguson’s Empire literally fell into my hands in a bookshop. Reading it was a stormy relationship with the book and I threw in down many a times, but there were many learning points and insights that I gained.

Benefits of Reading a Book
There are many benefits of reading.
If we imagine our brain as a muscle, exercising the brain improves its function and the effects are noticeable in our lives, and also in other people’s lives. Very few people really live totally isolated lives and we all have some degree of interaction with others, the quality of which improves if brain functions are improved. But of course, we also need to grow in our hearts as well.
  • Reading regularly reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease 2 ½ times. 
  • People who read are more likely to vote, be culturally active and socially involved as this research finding shows.
  • Reading reduces stress as this research has evidence.
  • Reading makes people sexy as this research shows. 
  • Reading helps with advancing your career as research claims.

Reading before going to sleep is an excellent habit. Remembering to get away from the computer (also smartphones and iPads) at least one hour before going to sleep is a good habit, which improves sleep quality dramatically.
Photo source:

Here's a nice quiz about should you read in bed or not. 

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Is Strict Border Control the right Solution to Social Policy Problems?

Too many immigrants of the wrong kind - This is a typical reaction of some people explaining why many things in their societies don’t work well. Is this even remotely true?

In many countries, especially the affluent ones, governments base many social and economic policies on the assumption that efficient and strict immigration controls are vital for the success of social policy. Ironically, rather often, older immigrants in affluent countries tend to be of this opinion even more than the conservative politicians who rule people often by fear mongering. 

The implicit logic of many immigrants is that “once we have come in, the doors should be closed shut for undeserving immigrants”. 

The "undeserving" kind of immigrant may even be people from the exact same ethnic background, group or clan but they sincerely believe that a wide gulf of qualitative suitability differentiates them from the newcomers.

This same logic of strict immigration control is applied also to the matter of poverty eradication; fight against hunger, malnutrition and holoendemic diseases; reducing illiteracy, gender inequality and other common issues plaguing the human race in different parts of the globe. There the strict immigration control logic is applied to mean regulating the number of people entering the planet Earth by birth. Another name for this solution is selective population control.

In USA the Obama administration has already deported more than 2 million people. 

The main groups of people getting deported from USA are:
  • Convicted criminals 55%
  • Immigration fugitives 3%
  • Other removable aliens 4% (Did some hard core fan of MIB invent that term?) 

Who Says Immigration is Bad?

Immigration has immense flash potential and is very potent as a political weapon. Many people and politicians blame too many things on immigrants because they are the others. Blaming the others for our shortcomings has a very long history. Remember the biblical story of the forbidden fruit, Adam blaming Eve, Eve blaming the serpent.

In a December 2011 poll on immigration in the UK, we learnt: 
  • 69% in UK thought immigration affects negatively (32% in Poland, 37% in Sweden, 56% in Italy thought the same)
  • 71% in UK think there are too many immigrants in the country (29% Poles, 46% Swedes and 67% Italians agree)

Attitudes towards immigrants depend on whom you ask (the social class of the respondents).
  • 67% to 26% of UK working-class people would ban all immigration while 49% to 46% of middle class in UK would not do so.

What if There Is No Immigration Control?

Absolute mayhem – warn the powers that be, will result from relaxed immigration control. As UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher said in 1978 “..people are rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture.”

This attitude is strictly fear-based. The assumption is that they do not value our traditions, systems, institutions and infrastructure and will ruin everything by outright exploitation. Many people in many net immigration countries feel that their old way of life has changed and thus the country has gone to the dogs. Who do they blame? Immigrants of course! This is a very subjective feeling, rather uncomfortably reminiscent of old people sighing that “everything was better before”. Accepting that societies evolve in any case, whether people immigrate or emigrate, and that we need to evolve too is too much for many of us.

We do not know of any functioning society, country or nation state being overrun by unarmed civil immigrants arriving in small numbers in peacetime and destroyed. However, throughout history we have numerous examples of invasions and occupations and post-war scenarios where the indigenous populations have been exterminated by the invaders. Here are some examples of “swamping” á la Thatcher:
  • Anglo-Saxon invaders in 5th century AD used ethnic cleansing to wipe out between 50-100% of the indigenous population and segregated themselves from the native Celtic Britons, restricting intermarriages. Effects can be detected even today. In 2002, BBC reported “English and Welsh are races apart”.  
  • The Native Americans, the First Nation in Canada, the Australian Aboriginals, the Karen people in Burma and the Pygmies (killed and eaten by both sides in the recent Congo Civil War 1998-2003) still live to tell their stories of genocide, extermination and persecution

On the other hand, in the Schengen countries, free mobility among the 26 member states have not caused mayhem through increased immigration. Contrary to massive fear mongering, neither have the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta taken over the Pizzerias or taxi business in France or Finland nor the Clerkenwell crime syndicate or the Adams family of UK have caused sleepless nights for the police or the people in Norway, Germany or Lithuania.

Who Bears the Ill Effects of Immigration?

It is some of the immigrants and not the host country that bear most of the ill effects of immigration, such as being forced to do the jobs locals don’t do, at much lower salaries and working under bad conditions, and often becoming victims of human trafficking or staying stuck in low-income, low education, low-skill, high crime rate poverty traps. 

Increase in crime rates and social anxiety in the host countries are often directly linked to immigrants as in the case of Sweden, where they are four times more likely to be investigated for violent crimes. 

One counter-argument to liberal immigration is that immigrants just save all their money and then send it home. This deprives the host economy of their spending locally. But many locals also don't spend all their money and save a lot.

But how do we know that, in a globalizing world, the local crime rate would not have changed without those particular immigrants perpetrating those crimes? How do we know that the Swedes would not have been becoming more “criminal” again (as in the past) without immigrants “teaching” them how to? “Viking” Sweden was pretty violent earlier without “immigrants”. In the “nice” welfare state, only in 1975, did Sweden stop force sterilising mothers “deemed unfit”.

So, is it safe to argue that immigration is not bad for the host country and open borders create immense positive contributions and just make a merrier world? This argument, unqualified, can get us into very muddy waters.

In UK, people evaluated the positive contribution of immigrants as follows:  
  • 68% say that food and restaurants have improved – 8% thought otherwise
  • 47% say that entrepreneurial and start-up climate has improved due to immigration – 11% thought they have deteriorated
  • 32% believe that art and literature have gained while 6% see the opposite
  • 36% feel that immigrants have enriched film and music, while 7% feel the opposite

Does "Quality" of Immigrants or Quantity of Immigration Give an Indication of Benefits to the Host Society?

Now, are these “benefits” generated even with modest amounts of immigration or do they require a large critical mass of immigration? Could the correct answer be a mythical British rail explanation (right kind of snow – John Naughtie interview 1991) – quality of immigrants? 

This line of reasoning can get very dangerous as it leads to selective immigration and massive discrimination. Who gets to choose, using what criteria and who sets the criteria. Does this kind of eugenic practice mean good-bye to human rights? Yes, rather too often but not always. In almost all societies, restaurants can choose their customers, but are not accused of trampling human rights.

If not quality of immigration, what about quantity? Would a large enough population burning with a desire to share be enough to generate cultural transmission? The times since Ellis Island have changed. There are too many incipient factors to formulate a simple formula for a society having the “right” kind of immigrants in “right” numbers allowed into a host country so that they begin to create valuable contributions to the host country.

If we were to go by magnitude alone, why has Somali cuisine not spread, in spite of fairly large Somali populations in many countries, but Moroccan or Turkish cuisine has? Why isn't Marmite popular in places where English has become the dominant language? Is there some connection to the uniqueness or differentiating taste of the cuisine before it can spread around? Is a cuisine a cultural “meme” with its own complex logic of spreading around without any connection to immigration volumes?

Does increase of immigration volumes produce directly commensurate added value to the host society beyond an initial surge from tiny numbers?

Only five immigrants from a particular group, growing to ten might cross a start-up threshold and bring novel contributions to the surrounding host society but we cannot say that by increasing the number of immigrants from 1 million to 2 million we would double the positive effects, could we?

Emigration Can Sometimes be Disastrous for the Country the Émigrés leave

Emigration, people going away to other countries, can sometimes be devastating for the country they leave. Brain Drain and loss of income are very real losses to a society. John O’Donovan, the Irish historian explains how in Ireland after WWII, the entire economy was critically dependant on money sent home by the Irish emigrants. The situation is similar to how nowadays remittances by émigrés make up: 
  • 52% of the GDP in Tajikistan
  • 30% in Haiti
  • 25% in Lesotho and 
  • 24% in Nepal. 
Some people argue that if the émigrés didn't leave, they would be investing their earnings in their own country and help it's economy grow. The counter argument is that they left because they found no opportunities and further if those people didn’t leave, they might not have made any money and might have become frustrated instead and become burdens instead.
Does it mean that the richer countries where these émigrés work and send money home get poorer due to these remittances? No. Social interaction and evolution of societies, cultures and civilization is not a zero-sum game, as the fear mongers would have us believe. Let’s consider Nepal’s case.  About 67% of Nepal’s imports are from India and there is a deficit in the trade balance. The remittances help Nepal pay for these imports and rectify trade deficits. If those Nepalis working in India were forced to stay back in Nepal, they would earn much less or nothing and there would be less money for anything.

Now, the money flowing back into India keeps some parts of the wheels of the Indian economy running and preserves jobs there. This is net gain for the sending country, India and also a win-win situation for both countries.

Photo source:

So strict border controls, without a proper understanding of how freer immigration often contributes to win-win situations for the host and the sending country, may create lose-lose situations and just appease some people’s paranoia only.

Where are the strictest border security controls in the world? They are between:

  • USA and Mexico (about 400 people die each year and 365 000 are detained while trying to cross illegally)
  • North and South Korea (about 3000 people manage to defect to South Korea yearly)