The definition of a successful country

Tyler Cowen recently linked to this amusing story:

A Swiss politician has prompted a heated debate after suggesting that there are too many German immigrants in her country. “We really have too many Germans in the country,” Natalie Rickli, a member of Switzerland’s parliament with the right-wing populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP), said during a television talk show on Sunday.

.   .   .

She said that she had already received a lot of mail from Swiss people saying that they had lost their jobs because cheaper Germans had been hired instead.

.   .   .

There are around 200,000 Germans living in Switzerland, where the unemployment rate is currently at 3 percent. The country has a total population of 7.6 million. Many Germans in Switzerland work in service sector jobs, attracted by higher wages than they would earn at home.

More good reasons to favor radical decentralization and hyper-democracy.  No, not because it leads to xenophobic immigration policies (few countries are as open to foreigners as Switzerland), rather because it produces such economic success that those low-wage foreigners stealing all the jobs are Germans.

PS.  In proportion to population, the 200,000 Germans in Switzerland would be like 8 million Germans moving to the US.  (Yes, lots did move here, but not recently.)


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20 Responses to “The definition of a successful country”

  1. Gravatar of Mark A. Sadowski Mark A. Sadowski
    29. April 2012 at 19:46

    Scott wrote:
    “No, not because it leads to xenophobic immigration policies (few countries are as open to foreigners as Switzerland), rather because it produces such economic success that those low-wage foreigners stealing all the jobs are Germans.”

    However, it’s also important to keep in mind that the Germans have a long history of taking things that aren’t necessarily theirs.

    Captain Renault: “Carl, see that Major Strasser gets a good table, one close to the ladies.”
    Carl: “I have already given him the best, knowing he is German and would take it anyway.”
    - Casablanca

  2. Gravatar of Nic Johnson Nic Johnson
    29. April 2012 at 20:26

    What do you think the challenges would be to implementing such policies in a large country like the US? Do you not think cultural homogeneity is important?

  3. Gravatar of Robert Robert
    29. April 2012 at 21:15

    Even better, the Swiss aren’t radically decentralized in the area where centralized rule over large swaths of territory is most beneficial to immigrant populations: protecting minority rights. If the European court of human rights says minaret bans violate the ECHR, the Swiss will (effectively) have to un-ban minarets. One human rights court serving all of Europe is about as centralized as it gets, and serves as good protection for immigrants against local bigotry.

  4. Gravatar of Full Employment Hawk Full Employment Hawk
    29. April 2012 at 22:34

    Correlation can be observed. Causality must be inferred, and in making such inferrences the prior beliefs of the people making the inference tend to play a major role, as is the case here.

    Generalizing from a special case, unless it is a representative special case, is logically invalid. And there are many alternative explanations of why the economy in Germany may not be as good as Switzerlands. Unless these are ruled out no such conclusion can be drawn.

  5. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    30. April 2012 at 03:32

    I thought the joke was in the fact that most Swiss have German ancestry anyway.

    But I guess that’s really historical irony – Europeans squabbling over which slightly differentiated group gets to occupy which slightly differentiated patch of land…

  6. Gravatar of Becky Hargrove Becky Hargrove
    30. April 2012 at 05:00

    For me, the local – global context works in terms of whether the product is actually scarce, thus readily defined by money, or (potentially) plentiful, such as knowledge and skills. Knowledge and skills have the capacity to be captured and recognized at the local level, because now they can be coordinated and utilized from anywhere. When people have the courage to validate knowledge in such a fashion, no one has to be worried about immigrants, because the immigrants are simply capable of bringing in more knowledge and skill. The only reason immigrants are limited now (in so many places) is that knowledge and skill are still artificially limited.

  7. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    30. April 2012 at 05:01

    Mark, Great film.

    Nic, I think it would be more difficult, especially in big cities like New York and LA. But we should still try to move in that direction as far as possible. Tyler Cowen has a new post today on school vouchers and charters, a very useful form of decentralization. I like the way the Nordic countries raise funds for health care at the local level–it increases accountability.

    Robert, You said;

    “Even better, the Swiss aren’t radically decentralized in the area where centralized rule over large swaths of territory is most beneficial to immigrant populations: protecting minority rights. If the European court of human rights says minaret bans violate the ECHR, the Swiss will (effectively) have to un-ban minarets. One human rights court serving all of Europe is about as centralized as it gets, and serves as good protection for immigrants against local bigotry.”

    We don’t have architectural freedom in this country either, as a local government fought to stop a Mormon temple from being built just a few miles from here, because the steeple was too high.

    But I strongly disagree with your assertion that these are the most important issues facing immigrants—jobs are 100 times more important that architectural freedom. All countries have violations of human rights, and the US has many more than Switzerland does. Just compare us on drug laws, or euthanasia laws. In general, more democratic countries will produce more human rights, as governmental elites generally want to control the population. I plan a post demonstrating this soon.

    Having said all that, I’m not opposed to centralized governments imposing certain human rights. I support the American Bill of Rights, for instance.

    FEH, I agree.

    Saturos, Yes, this is amusing on so many levels. Another is that southern Europeans are currently pouring into “rich” Germany.

  8. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    30. April 2012 at 05:02

    Becky, Good point.

  9. Gravatar of Full Employment Hawk Full Employment Hawk
    30. April 2012 at 05:10

    “I thought the joke was in the fact that most Swiss have German ancestry anyway.”

    The German speaking Swiss are ETHNIC Germans (Volksdeutsche), just not German nationals. While differences in language and culture severely limit the mobility of labor throughout Europe, this impediment does not exist here. They speak the same language. Yes, there is a Swiss dialect, but you also have dialects throughout Germany and it is not a problem. Therefore labor mobility between Germany and the German speaking part of Switzerland is high. I would conjecture that the mobility is much lower between Germany and the non-German speaking part of Switzerland.

  10. Gravatar of dwb dwb
    30. April 2012 at 06:00

    ok dumb question, why arent more low wage Spaniards and Greeks moving to Switzerland I hear unemployment is much higher than 3% in those countries. Is it a language barrier?

  11. Gravatar of Full Employment Hawk Full Employment Hawk
    30. April 2012 at 06:56

    “And there are many alternative explanations of why the economy in Germany may not be as good as Switzerlands.”

    One thing that Tyler’s ideological blinders keep him from considering is the fact that German wages have been deliberately held down by the German government with the cooperation of businesses and even unions in order to give Germany an advantage in the export markets and thereby increasing aggregate demand in Germany. This low wage policy is not the result of free market forces, but of government actions. It is one of the main reasons why the weaker countries in the Eurozone are having such serious difficulties. And it is the most plausible explanation of why German wages are lower than Swiss wages.

  12. Gravatar of Full Employment Hawk Full Employment Hawk
    30. April 2012 at 07:01

    “why arent more low wage Spaniards and Greeks moving to Switzerland”

    Language and cultural differences are a major obstacle to labor mobility in Europe. No part of Switzerland is Spanish or Greek speaking. About 60% of Switzerland is German speaking and the people in the other regions can also speak German because they learn it in school.

  13. Gravatar of Full Employment Hawk Full Employment Hawk
    30. April 2012 at 07:01

    “why arent more low wage Spaniards and Greeks moving to Switzerland”

    Language and cultural differences are a major obstacle to labor mobility in Europe. No part of Switzerland is Spanish or Greek speaking. About 60% of Switzerland is German speaking and the people in the other regions can also speak German because they learn it in school.

  14. Gravatar of D R D R
    30. April 2012 at 07:25

    … and Switzerland has its own currency, for what that’s worth.

  15. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    30. April 2012 at 08:12

    … and that’s why the Germans are arriving. They know where that Euro’s headed ;)

  16. Gravatar of A.W. Carus A.W. Carus
    30. April 2012 at 11:51

    Any data to support your claim that “few countries are as open to foreigners as Switzerland”? Rich foreigners, or those of the right ethnicities, perhaps. But as far as I’m aware, Switzerland has one of the most restrictive immigration policies of any country in Europe, certainly more restrictive even than Germany (which is why there are no Turkish or Greek Gastarbeiter in Switzerland). Also it’s notoriously difficult for immigrants to get citizenship, and non-citizen immigrants have fewer rights than elsewhere, certainly fewer than in Germany, let alone American Green Card holders. So I’m also skeptical of your claim that the US has “many more” violations of human rights than Switzerland. Sure, the Swiss don’t have our stupid War on Drugs, but there are so many (less obviously visible) things to be stupid about!

  17. Gravatar of Robert Robert
    30. April 2012 at 13:10

    Scott–

    Huh? I didn’t claim human rights was the most important thing for immigrants, I said it was the most important way centralization can help immigrants. I was agreeing with you and adding an “and also” — in Switzerland immigrants get access to the economic good that can come from decentralization, and also they can do it without having to give up the protections against local prejudice you can get from a large, centralized system, since Switzerland is part of a continent-wide human rights regime.

    I would also never claim that a large, centralized government will never discriminate against local minorities, or that avoiding human rights abuses is simply a matter of having a large, centralized government. It’s not even the best way to try to guarantee human rights, which is obviously to have a stable democracy. I just think that, once a stable democracy is a given, centralization over a large, preferably multicultural area is better than small states running separate, decentralized legal systems. Look at the American experience, where some of the worst human rights abuses have been committed by the states and remedied by the federal government. Look at our hemisphere’s experience, where the inter-american commission on human rights and the inter-american court of human rights have played important, though probably not leading roles, in improving human rights in the Americas over the last few decades.

    Lastly, the minaret ban would not survive in the US. In the case of your local church, the government had to state a reason for not letting the structure be built that was neutral with respect to religion. “It’s too tall. We wouldn’t let you build a skyscraper there either.” Neutral laws or regulations of general applicability can freely infringe on private religious practice in the US, so unless the Mormons can prove that the height restriction is pretextual (which they can’t) they are out of luck.

    In Switzerland, the ban isn’t on tall towers, it is solely on minarets! It isn’t a neutral law of general applicability to people of all faiths, it is a law targeted at a specific religious structure. The ECtHR may find that within the margin of appreciation, but the US courts would almost certainly strike that law down as infringing the freedom to practice one’s religion.

  18. Gravatar of pct pct
    30. April 2012 at 13:42

    I’d like to second A. W. Carus. Switzerland has extremely restrictive immigration policies. For instance, you could have worked in Switzerland for 25 years in an international agency (like the UN). You will have a special visa to do that, and immediately upon retiring from your UN post, you have to leave the country or be deported. The contrôle des habitants will see to that.

  19. Gravatar of Simon Simon
    30. April 2012 at 14:57

    Switzerland has opened it’s labour market to countries whose combined population is more than 50 times its own. This is equivalent to the US having completely open labour market to the rest of the world. This, even though income levels of the countries in question range from relatively low (Germany, France, UK, Nordics) to developing country level (the rest). So the opening of the labour, while nominally benefiting both sides, is actually a one way street, which is borne out by the immigration statistics.

    The question is how long this will last, with immigration at current levels some kind of backlash will probably happen within the next 5-10 years.

  20. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    30. April 2012 at 19:08

    FEH, That’s right.

    dwb, I’ve heard lots are moving to Germany.

    FEH, I’m not at all convinced that German wages are below equilibrium. Lots of government policies push wages up. If the government has other policies pushing them down, they may well be near equilibrium. Compare the unemployment rates in Germany and Switzerland–do you really think German wages are below equilibrium?

    DR, Voters in a number of countries rejected the euro–more evidence that voters are smarter than technocrats?

    AW, I’d guess our war on drugs is a bigger violation of human rights than all the Swiss government violations combined.

    Switzerland has one of the largest foreign populations in Europe (percentage wise.) I admit that most don’t become citizens–in that respect the US is better.

    Robert, Sorry if I misunderstood your argument.

    On centralization, I agree that the treatment of African Americans at the state level has been a disgrace. Of course there are lots and lots of abuses by the Federal government as well (treatment of Indians, Japanese interned in WWII, military draft, War on Drugs, and so on.) I’d like to see a Bill of Rights that applies as widely as possible, but then most goverance decisions kept local. I once did a post arguing that US should copy the EU, although today my argument looks pretty weak. :)

    I see your point on the towers. Still it’s a restriction on architecture more than religion. Similar to the (highly centralized) French banning religious apparel in schools. Naturally I oppose both policies.

    pct, See my response to AW.

    Simon, Thanks for that info.

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