Still, I suspect, desperately spinning to protect its thesis that Angela Merkel, Germany’s worst postwar chancellor, is somehow “indispensable”, The Economist runs a piece describing some of the (considerable) problems that Germany (and specifically Berlin) is facing in simply processing the large number of migrants who turned up last year, but sub-headlines the article thus:
Berlin’s refugees wait to register. Businesses cannot wait to employ them.
Well, employers are often interested in cheap labor, particularly if their visa status leaves such workers more pliable (as the GOP establishment clearly realizes). That said, remembering the problem that Sweden (another high skills economy) has faced finding jobs for its influx of migrants over the last decade or so, I couldn’t help wondering how good the employment prospects of Germany’s new migrants really are.
So I looked again at the relevant part of the article:
Berlin’s chamber of commerce, a business association, is asking refugees about their qualifications to place them in internships or jobs. It recently organised a “speed-dating” session where refugee chefs cooked for hoteliers (to mutual satisfaction).
Among the firms that have employed refugees, the reviews are good. Ingo Hennig, a manager at a local branch of Edeka, a supermarket chain, is delighted by the work ethic of his Iranian intern. “We need people like that,” he says. Marlies Poppe, a spokeswoman for Edeka, says the group would hire many more, were it not for the bureaucratic hurdles.
And so far as specific examples are concerned, that’s it: Some chefs, and one hardworking intern at a supermarket (with hopes of more to follow).
A touch skimpy, I reckon.
Back in the real world, the Financial Times, a newspaper that leans further left than the Davos liberalism of The Economist, has room for a less cheery perspective:
Jürgen Gallenstein, an official of Hamburg’s social services department, fears that unless they’re offered the right opportunities many migrants will end up in the ranks of Germany’s long-term unemployed…
Germany took in more than 1m refugees last year, an influx that could transform Europe’s largest economy. Business initially saw it as a boon for a country with an ageing population and a flourishing labour market that badly needs more workers. Dieter Zetsche, chief executive of carmaker Daimler, said they could unleash a new “Wirtschaftswunder” or economic miracle — much as the millions of guest workers from countries such as Turkey helped fuel Germany’s postwar boom…
Mr Gallenstein plays down talk of a new boom. “It was different in the 1960s, with the Turkish immigrants,” he says. “We had a different kind of industry, and a lot of simple work on assembly lines. We don’t have those jobs any more.”
Low-skilled work in the postwar era required “little language but strong muscles” says Mr Gallenstein. “These days, you don’t need muscles, but you do need to be able to speak German.”
Very few of the refugees now coming into Germany do.
Indeed, very few have any skills at all. A survey by the federal labour agency in October found 81 per cent of them had no professional qualification or even high-school diplomas — or at least no proof they had any. Mr Gallenstein says it’s a mixed picture. “We have a man who worked six years as a military doctor, and then young women who have no school education at all.”
Mr. Gallenstein evidently sees matters much more clearly than does the Daimler boss, whose remarks, stuck in the thinking of 1960, only make sense when understood as an attempt to curry favor with Germany’s political establishment. The arrival of new migrants in such numbers may give some sort of boost on the demand side of the domestic German economy (it’s not straightforward), but, in an age of automation, it’s hard to imagine that they will contribute to a Wirtschaftswunder 2.0, leaving the question unanswered as to what jobs it is they will be supposed to be doing.
And there’s something else. Even if we assume that these migrants can find work, the experience of the UK (which has attracted a large number of migrants over the last decade or so) suggests it can come with a catch.
Here’s an extract from an article I cited in the Corner in March last year. The writer looked at Britain, a country where wage rates are low for a number of reasons, some of which are rooted in the past, but which also include the ready availability of cheap labor imported from abroad:
Productivity slowed almost everywhere after the financial crisis. But the picture is especially dismal in Britain. Output per hour worked is still 2% below its pre-crisis peak; in the rest of the G7 group of rich countries it is 5% higher. The French could take Friday off and still produce more than Britons do in a week. Confounding stereotypes, Italians are 9% more productive. Britain’s workers are a bargain all the same, because their pay is so pitiful…
When people are cheap, firms would rather hire than invest in machines or technology. So productivity is held down. That tendency is stronger when banks do not lend much—as in the aftermath of the financial crisis—because cash-poor firms struggle to finance new investment. A shift from capital to labour seems to have happened in Britain: growth in the capital stock has fallen along with productivity.
And where was this argument made?