With Immigration, Familiarity Breeds Tolerance and Respect

A relatively borderless world that allows free movement of people will be more tolerant, because immigrants carry with them their own antidote to "prejudice."

London UndergroundFoter/Creative CommonsThe immigration wave of the last decade is making people in England more racist, according to a sensational new poll. If this were true, it would indeed be very bad news for those, like me, who favor less restrictionism and freer cross-border flows. Fortunately, it is not true.

Indeed, if anything, widespread anti-immigrant sentiment is destined to become a relic of the past.

The survey, conducted by NatCen for the British Social Attitudes, found that self-declared levels of prejudice (a curious metric!) among Brits had increased 5 percentage points, from 25 percent in 2001 to 30 percent last year—with 3 percent of Brits admitting to feeling "very" prejudiced and 27 percent at least a "little" prejudiced against people of another race.

Partly this is due to the anti-Muslim backlash after 9/11, the study's authors explained. But it was also, they reckoned, a backlash to greater immigration, given that 70-plus percent of respondents also wanted immigration levels slashed. (Since joining the European Union, Britain has allowed more people from Eastern Europe, including recently Romania and Bulgaria, to work in the country without work permits. The rate of migration to England in 2012—2.59 immigrants for every 1,000 members of the population—was two times more than in 2000, although still lower than Canada's (5.65) and the United States' (3.62).)

That anti-immigration sentiment ebbs and flows with immigration rates makes intuitive sense—except that another British survey, conducted by the highly regarded Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute earlier this year, found this relationship to be far from airtight. In 1978, 70 percent of the British public agreed that the country was in danger of "being swamped" by other cultures, when net migration was in fact "nada"—as in zero! About a decade later, in 1989, 63 percent of Brits felt that there were "too many immigrants" in the country when net migration was still relatively low.

This suggests that anti-immigration sentiment is the given. It is the default condition of humanity. So if you go looking for it, you'll find it. The real news, buried under sensationalistic headlines hell bent on berating Brits for racism, is what such surveys reveal about when, where, and among whom such feelings are declining.

For starters, if 2011 instead of 2001 was used as the benchmark year, one could use the NatCen data to argue even more plausibly that racism in Britain is waning, not rising. That's because in 2011, 38 percent of Brits—8 percentage points more than now—admitted to being prejudiced. But playing that up wouldn't be emotionally satisfying for Britain's liberal press.

What's more, NatCen found a clear generational trend of declining anti-immigrant feelings, with 37 percent of those born before 1929—the so-called interwar generation—expressing hostility, compared to 34 percent of Baby Boomers, 30 percent of Generation X members, and 25 percent of Generation Yers. Also, skilled professionals exhibited the least antipathy (26 percent) toward immigrants and unskilled manual laborers the most (41 percent).

All of this suggests that as older generations depart from the scene and the economy moves from an industrial to a service base, anti-immigrant sentiments will naturally fade.

But the survey's most interesting finding was this: If high immigration rates inevitably mean more anti-immigrant feelings, then such sentiments would be most prevalent in the most immigrant-dense places. After all, immigrants increase (the perceived) competition for local jobs and strain public services such as schools and hospitals.

In fact, the opposite is the case: Hostility to immigrants, even among the native born, is least pronounced in places with the biggest immigrant populations. In Inner London, a truly international city, only 16 percent of respondents admitted prejudice, a 17-point decline since 2000. Outer London likewise registered a decline.

England's experience is perfectly consistent with America's, where the most anti-immigrant states are those with the fewest immigrants—and vice versa. USA Survey reported some years back that in New York and California, the most immigrant-dense states, far fewer people felt that "immigrants take away American jobs" and far more felt that they do "jobs Americans won't do" than in immigrant-poor states such as Alabama, Mississippi, Indiana, and, my own, Michigan.

Contact with immigrants humanizes them, making it harder to scapegoat them for existential anxieties created by a fast-changing world. It also creates a co-dependence, making it harder to fixate on the downside of foreigners when, say, professional moms rely on them for baby-sitting or accounting or other services.

But there's a deeper reason, too: Much anti-immigrant sentiment does not stem from racism, nativism, xenophobia, or any other affirmative hatred of foreigners—although there is certainly an element of that. Rather, much anti-immigrant fervor stems from what George Mason University's Bryan Caplan has dubbed the "status-quo bias"—a preference for the status quo because it is the status quo.

People have a natural affinity for a world that they know because it is hard for them to imagine the alternative. And what they've known are linguistically, culturally, and ethnically/racially homogeneous social arrangements stemming from a tribal or kinship-based past. Active bigotry and preference for the ethnically familiar are not the same thing, and advocates of immigration, myself included, who conflate the two do their cause no favor.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I'm not sure Muslim is a race.

  • SIV||

    Why do you hate brown people, Fist?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Jealousy. They don't sunburn so easily.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Really? I should introduce you to some very sunburned Bosniaks.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    HE SAID BROWN NOT RED.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    Michigan is an "immigrant-poor state[]"?

  • UnCivilServant||

    In 1978, 70 percent of the British public agreed that the country was in danger of "being swamped" by other cultures, when net migration was in fact "nada"—as in zero! About a decade later, in 1989, 63 percent of Brits felt that there were "too many immigrants" in the country when net migration was still relatively low.

    Not so minor point here. Net migration is number of people entering minus number of people leaving. If the people leaving were largely native brits, there would be a factual basis for the fear of being swamped, as this would exacerbate the change. A net migration rate of zero will only have no impact on the demographic makeup of a country if and only if all of those who are leaving were foreign born persons.

    USA Survey reported some years back that in New York and California, the most immigrant-dense states, far fewer people felt that "immigrants take away American jobs" and far more felt that they do "jobs Americans won't do" than in immigrant-poor states such as Alabama, Mississippi, Indiana, and, my own, Michigan.

    Huh, don't New York and California also have shittier economies and more anti-business regulation that prevents wage competition? They also have absurdly high minimum wages too, limiting the marginal utility of immigrant labor by pricing it higher than it would normally sit.

    (cont.)

  • UnCivilServant||

    (cont.)

    It also creates a co-dependence, making it harder to fixate on the downside of foreigners when, say, professional moms rely on them for baby-sitting or accounting or other services.

    With the cost of living in the dirt poor, immigrant rich blue states you mentioned, very few 'professional moms' can afford the cost of hiring outside labor for those tasks regardless of form. Controlled for cost of living, New York is much poorer than Texas. Outside of NYC, New York is poorer in absolute terms as well.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Your analysis is incomplete, Shikha

  • Ivan Pike||

    rely on them for baby-sitting or accounting

    What?? I don't think these two professions have similar qualifications. If so, I wasted years on college for nothing.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Don't they both involve filling out onerous government forms and deep financial understanding?

    Oh, wait, that's baby-selling, my mistake.

  • Ted S.||

    You should have gotten that degree in puppetry instead.

  • Ivan Pike||

    You should have gotten that degree in puppetry instead.

    They don't offer puppetry. This is the closest they come, and it's a minor.

  • Gene||

    SF'd

  • Ivan Pike||

    Strange, works for me.

    Women's and Gender Studies
    College of Liberal Arts
    907-474-6249
    www.uaf.edu/women/

    MINOR ONLY

    Women's and gender studies offers an interdisciplinary minor focusing on women, girls, and historical and contemporary experiences related to femaleness. In addition, the minor offers students the opportunity to study multiple issues related to gender, such as masculinities, femininities and sexualities. In addition to an introductory course and a theory course focusing on women's studies, the minor draws from a variety of other disciplines, including: Alaska Native studies, anthropology, communication, education, English, foreign languages, history, journalism, justice, linguistics, literature, music, philosophy, political science, psychology, social work and sociology. The particular strength of the program lies in its interdisciplinary, its wide diversity of course offerings and its inquiry into gender issues. The multiple voices and perspectives provide broad understanding of diverse issues related to both women and gender. The minor helps students prepare for a wide variety of personal and career pursuits as gender issues and women are involved in every aspect of human experience.
  • Rhywun||

    Outside of NYC, New York is poorer in absolute terms as well.

    Yes, the economy upstate is shit but the cost-of-living is dirt cheap - I suspect less than TX. NYC really skews all the stats about the state.

  • You Know Who Else||

    someone better tell UKIP

  • Hawk Spitui||

    Indeed. In view of the recent EU elections, this column would most charitably described as "delusional".

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • ||

    John Lennon might have been more right than wrong

    "Imagine" is the worst pop song of the 20th century. Fact.

  • Rich||

    Perhaps. "Wonderful Christmas Time" is right down there, too.

  • Ted S.||

    "Wonderful Christmastime" is so much better than "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)".

  • Rich||

    Whoa. I'd suppressed that.

    *** gets coffee ***

  • Cdr Lytton||

    And neither one could hold a candle to "Do They Know It's Christmas?" in the awful Xmas pop category.

  • From the Tundra||

    Christmas in Hollis is the only acceptable Xmas pop song.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    It works because it takes itself seriously as a clown having a heart attack.

  • Ted S.||

    It's a close race with "Margaritaville" though.

    Every time I hear the phrase "Imagine no possessions", I imagine Yoko Ono not having any of the copyrights to Lennon's post-Beatles stuff and living in penury as a result.

    Yoko also seemed to work hard to keep possessing what should rightfully have been Julian Lennon's inheritance.

  • ||

    It's not just the lyrics (as irritating as they are), it's the fact they're combined with a plonking tempo and general musical dullness. The sheer earnestness and transparent grab for profundity are deeply offensive. C major never sounded so shit.

  • l0b0t||

    I am a native Floridian, my wife is a native of Lawn-Guy Land. I've found that many New Yorkers have the same love/hate relationship with Billy Joel that we true Crackers have with Jimmy Buffet; one knows all the lyrics to every single song but hearing any more of them makes one start to get stabby.

  • l0b0t||

    FTA - "In fact, the opposite is the case: Hostility to immigrants, even among the native born, is least pronounced in places with the biggest immigrant populations. In Inner London, a truly international city, only 16 percent of respondents admitted prejudice, a 17-point decline since 2000. Outer London likewise registered a decline." (emphasis mine)

    Is not part (if not all) of this explained away by the fact that those of us who have to live and work amongst the barbarous heathen have learned that certain opinions are best kept to oneself if one wants to continue one's employment/client relations/etc.?

  • UnCivilServant||

    If I told the truth at work (outside of technical matters related to IT), they'd find a way to dispose of me. Something to do with wanting the government to spend less being at odds with management's view of things.

  • sarcasmic||

    If I were to voice my opinion that the role of the military is to protect the country, not to wave the president's dick all across the world, I would find myself unemployed in short order.

  • np||

    amongst the barbarous heathen

    I smell Murken

  • l0b0t||

    Sorry, my presence here predates American's by a number of years (I think I was arguing with Tulpa about food-trucks back in '07 or '08).

  • Rich||

    Contact with immigrants humanizes them, making it harder to scapegoat them for existential anxieties created by a fast-changing world.

    Apparently Shikha's point is: If you "interact" a bit, an individual personality becomes less "abstractable" into a group. While that's probably true in many cases, it can also lead to confirmation bias. Also, I'm reminded of the congresscreature effect in which "mine is fine" but the others suck. Still, I suppose in a few years our existential anxieties will have found different manifestations ....

  • Rich||

    SQUIRRELS AGAIN! WTF, Reason? I'm with Fist!

  • BakedPenguin||

    For anyone who wants immigrants to be more accepted: first, fix the economy. Whatever the truth of the matter, people will get angry at immigrants taking "American" (or wherever) jobs. If there are plenty of jobs, this will largely go away.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I'm going to challenge you on that, BP. People who tend to get angry at immigrants would still get angry at them even if we had a chicken in every pot and a Cadillac in every driveway. They would find another reason to get angry at them (not speaking English, not praying to the right version of Jesus, dating my daughter, etc.) because their anger isn't predicated on an outside reason, but on the proximity of the "other" itself.

    And speaking of fixing the economy, this store opened in the Kmart Plaza a few minutes drive from me last month. They've been growing like gangbusters, because they have the lowest prices and best quality I have seen in Northern New England. Now, my wife and I can afford to regularly buy certain items that were once considered luxuries that we had to wait for a trip to Lowell to buy. That's fixed my personal economy.

  • sarcasmic||

    I love Asian markets.

  • Cytotoxic||

    You're right HM about the real hardcore bordertards, but a strong economy would suck the wind out of their sails. They can only get the pull they do get because of DEY TRK R JERBZ.

  • StephenC||

    "in New York and California, the most immigrant-dense states..."

    I believe the title of the article needs to be corrected to:

    With Immigration, Familiarity Breeds Tolerance, Respect, and Socialism

    Tolerance and respect are debatable, but socialism is a practical certainty. I can't think of a better way to stamp out any classically liberal notions than by numerically overwhelming the classically liberal.

  • Cytotoxic||

    DERP CORRELATION =/= CAUSATION DERP

  • PapayaSF||

    ^This. I keep pointing that out. Immigrants are, on average, far less open to libertarian ideas than Americans. In the real world, support for mass immigration means one libertarian ideal (free movement) injures every other libertarian ideal. More Mexicans and Central and South Americans in the US means the electorate will be more like it is in Mexico and Central and South America. What libertarian wants that?

    And, obviously, you can't count on the mainstream media and the school system to instill knowledge of and desire for political liberty....

  • Eric Bana||

    More Mexicans and Central and South Americans in the US means the electorate will be more like it is in Mexico and Central and South America.

    The same could be said for many European countries. Should we bar the French, Italians, and Portuguese as well in your opinion? Furthermore, immigrants who come illegally or become permanent residents don't vote. Their children, who would be able to vote, would be U.S. born and raised.

  • StephenC||

    Furthermore, immigrants who come illegally or become permanent residents don't vote. Their children, who would be able to vote, would be U.S. born and raised.
    ----------------------------
    Their children would be raised in the US, that is a geographical fact. Whether they are raised with any classical liberal notions is far less certain.

    The thing about diversity is....it's diverse. Classical liberalism plus diversity equal diluted classical liberalism.

  • Eric Bana||

    Whether they are raised with any classical liberal notions is far less certain.

    So then you support no immigration, not even of skilled laborers, from France, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, the UK, Greece, Italy, Belgium, etc. because they're children probably wouldn't grow up to be classical liberals?

  • Eric Bana||

    *their

  • StephenC||

    You really need to reject the premise to counter my position. If you accept that immigration will likely lead to greater numbers of illiberal voters, then you accept that there is a choice between liberty or diversity.

    That's easy -- give me liberty.

  • Eric Bana||

    OK. No immigration whatsoever. Shut all the doors and lock the gates. Got it.

  • StephenC||

    So more diversity, less liberty...that's your preference then?

  • Eric Bana||

    The children of native-born U.S. citizens are often not "classical liberals." I don't support banning immigration just as I don't support banning non-classical liberals from having children.

  • PapayaSF||

    I would not ban any particular country, though frankly, I don't want any more Muslim immigration. The main thing is to keep the total numbers low, so that assimilation can happen as much as possible, and to avoid what's happening now with Hispanics: turning us into a bilingual country, with even greater social divisions and more poverty.

  • Eric Bana||

    So you wouldn't ban any particular country, but you would simply ban all Muslims and Hispanics?

    Even if the U.S. were becoming a bilingual country (which it is not--English is by far the dominant language of nearly all third-generation immigrants regardless of origin), what is wrong with that? In Switzerland three languages are widely spoken. In Spain, more than four languages are widely spoken, and their debt problems aren't related to being linguistically diverse. Paraguay is almost completely a bilingual country.

    The 18th century was the century of immigration in the U.S., and things turned out just fine back then.

  • Cloudbuster||

    Precisely.

  • ipolitics123||

    I really don't understand this "blind spot" that libertarians (small "l") have regarding immigration. You can favor "freer cross-border flows" all you want, but the flow is only going to be one way.

    Libertarianism, like most (if not all!) other economic systems, only works if everyone plays by the same rules. That's why it falls on its face on the international level - other countries say "thanks for sharing your stuff!" but when you want to share their stuff the answer comes back "f*** you."

    Mexico will not change their immigration laws, property ownership laws or economic system to suit you. They will continue to keep everything they have for themselves, and grab with both hands everything you offer to "share" with them in your "freer cross-border flow."

    Same with Muslims in Europe - they're very happy to build mosque after mosque in Europe, but you won't be opening a church in Saudi Arabia any time soon (and it would be fatal to try.)

    I love libertarianism as a philosphy, but this is - really - a fatal flaw.

  • RAHeinlein||

    Ditto

  • Cytotoxic||

    "sharing"

    Whatever the hell are you talking about? Why the hell would I care about the laws in the state where my new neigbor's came from? Doesn't affect me.

  • Cloudbuster||

    *facepalm*

    Because people from a collectivist culture bring their political philosophies with them.

    Ever heard people from Colorado or Arizona complain about the invasion of the Californians?

  • Eric Bana||

    Libertarianism, like most (if not all!) other economic systems, only works if everyone plays by the same rules.

    I'm not sure libertarianism is an economic system, but free trade is not dependent on both countries applying the same laws. If one country continues to subsidize a certain industry for example, the trading partner benefits by having artificially cheaper goods in that industry (although on the whole, of course, it would be better if there were no subsidies). Furthermore, I don't know what you're talking about with Mexico since they are a part of NAFTA. Are you talking about trade deficits with the U.S.? All you did was make unsupported vague assertions.

  • Ben1234||

    I hate that "jobs Americans won't do" phrase. It should always be corrected to "Job Americans won't do at the wages currently offered."

  • ||

    Or perhaps most accurately "In consideration of the price floor on labor and astronomical costs of hiring". In low skill/low utility jobs it's hard to squeeze enough productivity out of a min wage worker to make them worth their keep, especially when you factor in regulatory compliance (and just wait until the employer mandate kicks in...), which for most min wage jobs matches or exceeds the actual hourly price of labor. It is astronomically cheaper and easier to pay a guy $15 an hour cash under the table than it is to hire a minimum wage worker at $7.25, or whatever it's up to now. Illegal labor enjoys a competitive advantage in the current environment. (Which is why it kinda baffles me that the CoC and a lot of businesses are pushing for an amnesty that will strip their workers of their entire utility as a price floor and regulatory cost dodge).

  • ||

    Before declaring the end of bigotry and hard feelings, it might be worth asking immigrants what they think of the native population, and each other. You might be surprised to learn that uneducated people from backwater third world countries tend to share the same prejudices and ignorance as those uneducated redneck gun totin' hillbillies who hate them some messicans. The term "balkanization" has a negative connotation for a reason.

  • StephenC||

    DERP CORRELATION =/= CAUSATION DERP
    --------------------------------------
    In other words, if X is correlated to Y, then it could be that X causes Y, or that Y causes X, or that both X and Y are affected by some as yet unidentified variable.

    Now that we our statistics review out of the way...

    It seems immigrants are disproportionately likely to vote for money coming out of my paycheck, regardless of the cause.

  • JFree||

    I think this article is generally accurate - with one gaping hole.

    The cause of most anti-immigrant sentiment among 'natives' IMO is not any of the things mentioned. Rather it is that immigrants bring a lot of cultural baggage of their own WITH THEM when they immigrate. Since they are no more able to simply give up existing cultural baggage than anyone else, the result is a culture clash which is the inevitable preliminary to resolving that cultural difference via either assimilation or balkanization or something (probably only fully in the second or third generation post-immigration - since much cultural baggage has to do with family/children/marriage and such).

    It happened in the first immigrant wave to the US - when the Irish brought over their hatred of Anglo/Scots/Prots - and found themselves in a country that up to then was mostly Anglo/Scots/Prots. It happened in the second wave - when German idealists from the failed liberal 1848 revolutions found themselves in the country that had inspired those liberal 1848 ideals but that was also struggling with the difficulties of making them real/actual.

    Same thing with every subsequent wave - whether the immigrants are attached to cultural tribalism, or socialist/anarchist ideology, or obsessed about some foreign dictator, or an attitude of resentment towards imperialist gringo.

    Ignoring that complexity results in little more than a bit of simplistic multiculti Kumbaya where the 'natives are the sole problem here'.

  • Great+Grandma||

    Borderless states are an unrealistic dream partly because criminals could roam freely and be much harder to track and would tend to go to states and countries that have poor policing or that have the richest residents. But the main reason open borders wouldn't work would be for taxation reasons. Countries need to know who is in their country in order to tax them. It wouldn't be right for permanent residents to pay all of the taxes because it would encourage non-permanent to never be permanent residents simply to avoid being responsible taxpayers. That would cause complete chaos and society would collapse.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement