The Volokh Conspiracy

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An Odd Reaction to Brexit

"It's just sad to think of the families that will never be because of all this."


From a Politico article:

For others, there's a personal toll and private lament. As I played on the floor with the toddler of my Brussels hosts on Monday, his British mother — who met his Dutch father while working in Brussels — told me: "These kids would not exist without the European Union. We owe our family to Britain's membership of the EU. It's just sad to think of the families that will never be because of all this."

Now I appreciate that the British woman and the Dutch man are presumably happy together, and credit free movement of workers for their happiness with each other. But if the mother couldn't live in Brussels and stayed in London, I expect she likely wouldn't have remained childless; presumably she would have met some other man and had a child with him, thus owing that family to Britain's nonmembership of the EU. Should we think sadly about that family, which will never be because Britain was in the EU and the woman went to Brussels instead? Should we think happily of the British-British families that will now exist after Brexit instead of the British-Dutch ones?

I think there's a lot to be said for free movement of workers. It may give people access to jobs that could be markedly better for them (given their skills and interests) than they had at home. It may give businesses access to employees who are markedly better than local employees (because there may not be enough employees with the right skills and salary levels locally). And there are things to be said against this as well.

But I very much doubt that free movement of workers, at least among free and prosperous Western European countries, materially affects the quality of family formation. (I suppose that some people might have fairly specific tastes in spouses that are hard to satisfy at home; but that's a relatively rare circumstance, I think, especially when it comes to Britain, Belgium, and the Netherlands; and there's no reason to think the woman in the Politico story has such preferences.) Perhaps by moving to Brussels you'll meet a spouse who's better than you would have found at home, but perhaps you'll instead miss the chance of meeting a spouse who's better than the one in Brussels.

Likewise, I love my wife and my boys, but I expect that if an alternative me had to stay in Kiev, he too would have married and had children, and would be as likely to love his wife and children as I do mine; there's no reason to feel sad about unborn children in such a context. Life in America is generally happier for immigrants, I think, than in Ukraine, and immigration from the Ukraine to America has been good—but for other reasons.

NEXT: Senators Collins, Romney, and Murkowski ask about how to consider mixed motives

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  1. I wish you had saved this one for Valentine's Day.

    1. I'm such a romantic ....

  2. Should we think happily of the British-British families that will now exist after Brexit instead of the British-Dutch ones?

    Sure, it you think the world needs more babies with weak chins and a dry wit.

    1. There's room for two more Pythons now.

      1. That's either really funny or really sad and profound. (Or both???)

  3. Shall we take a moment here to mourn all the children that weren't born because the slave trade was abolished?

    1. Umm, they were born elsewhere, than they would have been.

  4. and immigration from the Ukraine to America has been good—but for other reasons.

    Have you met the average reason reader? Because most here think any immigration (legal or otherwise) is bad.

    1. No, we don't think immigration is bad. We think immigration of low IQ, unskilled, non-white people from alien, socialistic cultures is bad.

    2. Does it hurt being that ignorant regexp?
      Or just normal for a Progressive prole?

      Seriously, how hard is it to understand the difference between legal foreign nationals (aliens) and illegal foreign nationals (aliens)? Then again we now Progressives have a hard distinguishing between automatic rifle and semiautomatic rifle; XX (female) and XY (male) DNA...

      1. Or between a woman's vagina and another man's anus.

        1. I'm pretty sure that most progressives know the difference quite well -- just like most ice cream eaters can tell chocolate from vanilla. It's just that many of us (progressive or not) think people should generally be free to have the flavor they like best.

  5. Life in America is generally happier, I think, than in Ukraine, and immigration from the Ukraine to America has been good—but for other reasons.

    Not sure I'd share that sentiment with my wife if I were you.

  6. Your argument has a fatal flaw. If immigration from Ukraine to the US (and Europe) were limited, then Luc Besson would have cast someone other than Milla Jovovich as LeeLoo. Do you see the problem?

  7. Gee, I didn't know that Bexit meant that people were forbidden from traveling between the UK and the continent. I suppose it will be less convenient, but as that old Brexiteer Lionel Ritchie said, "Love will find a way."

    1. No, but it will stop people moving to and from the Continent, which is usually what happens before people start a family.

      1. It didn't stop people before the EU so I highly doubt it will stop people after Brexit.

  8. I had a grandfather who was born in Germany, a great-aunt who was born in Hungary, and an aunt who moved to Denmark. It's a good thing the United States was a member of the European Union starting way back in the 1920s, or none of that would have been possible. :-/

    1. Similarly, I'm married to a woman from the Philippines. But I don't recall when they and the US exited the EU.

      1. I do seem to recall a time not long ago when the Filipino's regarded the United States when great affection, having first committed to their independence as a nation in 1945 and then spending considerable "blood and treasure" to liberate them from the Imperial Japanese.

    2. Yes, once upon a time the US did not have immigration laws, or at least no immigration laws affecting white people.

      1. Not in the 1920s, though

        1. Actually the law that ended America's previous open borders was passed in 1924.

      2. Really? Then how did the US continue to be diverse to such a point that almost every country in the world has people living in the US?

        I would note that the EU is more lily white than the US especially with those dastardly countries like Denmark, Sweden, Finland, etc.

  9. Doesn’t this underestimate the likelihood of inbreeding on the British Isles? Have you seen a picture of the British Royal Family? It’s definitely a quality of life issue.

    1. I have always heard the European nobility accused of being inbred.
      Europe being a continent is no guarantee of genetic diversity.

  10. So we're supposed to value a life if it never existed. But we stop valuing it from conception and from then on afterward, especially for the first nine months, unless they commit a violent crime then we start valuing it again. These rules are confusing.

    1. I think that's why some folks settle on a simpler formulation: the sanctity of life starts at conception and ends at birth.

      1. I know you meant that with disdain but it was REALLY funny.

  11. I would like to take a moment of silence to mourn for all the babies not born thanks to the rise of internet pornography.

  12. The English Channel is the new Iron Curtain.

  13. "From the Thames on the Atlantic to the Ouse on the North Sea, an English Channel has descended across Doggerland. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern and Western Europe -- and, more importantly, all their splendid genetic material."

    1. It's truly a shame they'll be cut off from English culture like that, but apart from possibly the Czechs and Poles, democracy never took hold in Europe. Oh they have elections and all, but they view it as more of an opportunity to convey the decisions of government to the people than to allow the people to make their own decisions.

      1. My 400-year old democracy - which once brought democracy to the UK and to the American colonies - says hi.

        1. I usually don't jump in just to defend other posters, but that snark was unwarranted.

          If you had read the comment more closely, put into the context of the OP about the separation of the Britain from the European Union, you would have perhaps realized he was talking about the continent (sometimes shorted to "Europe" though perhaps not correctly to a geographer as the island is part of it) and continental democracy.

          1. Personally, I've always laughed at Europe's pretense of being a "continent". Anyone who can read a map can see that it's not distinct from the real "continent": Eurasia.

        2. Believe me I am conversant, at least for an American about Dutch history from William the Silent to William III of both the Netherlands and England, Scotland and Ireland (before it became the UK in 1707), and on thru at least the Napoleonic wars when both the United Provinces and the Holy Roman Empire were extinguished.
          But while there was a brief flowering of an oligarchical republic i don't think it was ever a true Democratic republic.

          And I'm also confused about how you ever got a royal family and a king out of the House of Orange, Dutch Patriots as they were but deriving their nobility from a principality in southern France. The Dutch never let them become Kings in the early days of the republic when their liberty was at stake. Even when William III of Orange was the King of three kingdoms in Britain and Ireland he never dared call himself king in the United Provinces.

        3. "once brought democracy to the UK"

          Parliament existed before the Dutch invasion of 1688 and the cabinet system developed well after Wiliam was dead because the then king couldn't speak English.

          "and to the American colonies""

          New Netherlands was governed by a Director with a mere advisory council. It also had the very much anti-Democratic patroon system.

          Now let's discus how Holland brought democracy to the East Indies.

        4. I do believe the Greeks have a far longer history of "democracy" however you have made a logic error as the USA is a Republic with some elements of democracy.

  14. "These kids would not exist without the European Union."


    This argument is almost as bad as when someone complains "How will I explain this to my kids?"

    Your apathy/ignorance towards formulating a reaction is no good reason to shut down someone else's actions or policies.

  15. Before the EU, over a century ago, G.K. Chesterton remarked on the extent to which England was a melting pot... "{So-and-so] was a quarter Dutch, an eighth French, an eighth German, and a sixteenth Spanish, and therefore all English."

  16. I think there's a lot to be said for free movement of workers.

    The what?

    Free movement of what?


    Are you talking about a hive?

    People aren't 'workers'. Their primary function isn't 'working' It isn't their job.

    Working, and jobs are means to an end. And that end is living one's individual life to the fullest, pursuing one's interests, maybe starting a family--whatever they might be.

    Not 'work'

    This may seem an absurd nitpicking tangent, but it's not.

    Workers are interchangeable cogs in a greater machine--the hive. They have no intrinsic value and are often slaughtered by the hive when times are tight--sometimes for their protein.

    The idea that people can fill this role is hidden in the idea that 'workers' 'flow'--that 'they' should be allowed to move freely over borders, going to the spot that needs 'work'. Just like ants.

    It seems minor, but it is a path that we would do better by decrying.

  17. Intercountry marriages, if there are enough of them, tend to reduce the likelihood of conflict because there are high costs to hating your in-laws (as long as they don't blow up your mosque). Hence, Israel's curious laws concerning marriage.

    1. ScottK: There's much to be said for that argument, especially if one acknowledges that they just "tend to reduce" the likelihood of conflict. If that had been the argument the British woman was making, I wouldn't have responded to it the way that I did. (And in her particular case, I doubt that conflict between Britain and the Netherlands would likely be such a big problem to avoid, the late unpleasantness of the 1600s notwithstanding.)

  18. Intercountry marriages, if there are enough of them, tend to reduce the likelihood of conflict because there are high costs to hating your in-laws

    Didn't stop WWI

    Or a lot of other European wars. Or the American Civil War.

    But one of the reasons given for the rise of national identity in Europe vs. tribal/clan identity was the Churches prohibition for a while against cousin marriages- extending out to past 5th cousins at one point, forcing distant relations upon people. Now it's no longer forced. I have children in CO and TX, I'm in NY. Have a sister on the other side of MA, and my 1st cousins are in NC. My wife's family is in WV, MD, and PA.

  19. It's just sad to think of the families that will never be because of all this.

    These people also unironically support abortion.

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