The Corner

Asiktskorridor : Opening Borders, Closing Down Speech

Writing in Foreign Policy, James Traub has an update on how things are going in Sweden, the (possibly retired) ‘humanitarian superpower’, previously well-known for an  immigration policy of which even Pope Francis could approve: 

When the refugee crisis began last summer, about 1,500 people were coming to Sweden every week seeking asylum. By August, the number had doubled. In September, it doubled again. In October, it hit 10,000 a week, and stayed there even as the weather grew colder. A nation of 9.5 million, Sweden expected to take as many as 190,000 refugees, or 2 percent of the population — double the per capita figure projected by Germany, which has taken the lead in absorbing the vast tide of people fleeing the wars in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere.

… Vast numbers of asylum-seekers had been pouring into Sweden both because officials put no obstacles in their way and because the Swedes were far more generous to newcomers than were other European countries. A few weeks earlier, Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, had declared that if the rest of Europe continued to turn its back on the migrants, “in the long run our system will collapse.” The collapse came faster than she had imagined….

Diana Janse, a former diplomat and now the senior foreign policy advisor to the Moderate Party (which Swedes view as “conservative”), pointed out to me that some recent generations of Swedish refugees, including Somalis, had been notably unsuccessful joining the job market. How, she wondered, will the 10,000-20,000 young Afghan men who had entered Sweden as “unaccompanied minors” fare? How would they behave in the virtual absence of young Afghan women? But she could barely raise these questions in political debate. “We have this expression in Swedish, asiktskorridor,” she said. “It means ‘opinion corridor’ — the views you can’t move outside of.” Merely to ask whether Sweden could integrate Afghans today as it had Bosnians two decades before was to risk accusations of racism.

What Janse does not say is that her party—The Moderates—played a very major part in defining that corridor. Led by Fredrik Reinfeldt, Sweden’s prime minister until his center-right coalition was turfed out of office in the 2014 general election, the Moderates opened the doors of Sweden very wide, while narrowing the opinion corridor as far as they could. Their attitude to the border was libertarian, their attitude to free speech was authoritarian, and Sweden will have to live with the consequences forever. Reinfeldt mercifully stood down from the party leadership after his election defeat, and, not before time, there are signs that the Moderates are changing tack.  Meanwhile, a far harder-edged party on the right, the Sweden Democrats, has risen to fill the political vacuum created by the unwillingness of the establishment parties to accept that immigration could be handled another way.

Traub:

Like other right-wing parties in Europe, the Sweden Democrats have tried in recent years to move away from their thuggish and quasi-fascist origins. Bieler, the daughter of Polish Jews, recoiled when I compared the party to France’s National Front, a party drenched in anti-Semitism. [She] describes herself as a “nationalist” who fears that an increasingly multicultural Sweden is in danger of losing its identity — “the feeling that you live in a society that is also your home.” Bieler objects, not to immigrants themselves, but to the official state ideology of integration, which asks Swedes as well as newcomers to integrate into a world that celebrates diversity, and thus casts Sweden as a gorgeous mosaic. Are native Swedes to think of their own extraordinarily stable thousand-year-old culture as simply one among many national identities?

And as for the argument that immigrants will provide an answer to the (largely imaginary) demographic crisis created by Sweden’s ageing society:

Tino Sanandaji, an economist and critic of refugee policy whose work has become so controversial in the Swedish media that he asked me not to name his university, says while 82 percent of adult Swedes are in the workforce, only 52 percent of immigrants from non-Western countries are — a gap that has grown rapidly in recent years. (Since virtually all Swedish immigrants arrived as refugees, the two words are often used interchangeably.) While only one-fifth of Swedes fail to graduate from high school, the figure for immigrants is one-third. Sanandaji points out that the consequence for Sweden’s generous state is a sharp increase in welfare payments, 60 percent of which go to immigrants. Sanandaji predicts that the new refugees will have an even harder time adjusting than their immediate predecessors have. Despite widespread reports that Syrian refugees are drawn largely from the educated middle class, statistics compiled by the Swedish Migration Agency show that half the new arrivals do not have a high-school degree, and one-third have not progressed beyond ninth grade. The figures are yet higher for the Afghan unaccompanied minors….

I often asked what this new generation of newcomers was going to do for work. Sweden has virtually no space for unskilled workers; I’ve never seen a more automated, do-it-yourself economy. (You don’t just check yourself in at the airport; you scan your own suitcase.)

Post ‘peak labor’ is real.

No matter:

The answer [that Traub was given] was always the same: Sweden’s “aging population” would provide vast job opportunities in personal health care. Maybe that’s true, though old people in Sweden seem awfully self-sufficient. You can’t push someone’s wheelchair if they’re going to cross the street on their own.

And how long anyway would a younger immigrant population be satisfied with job opportunities based largely on caring for elderly Swedes? 

And the financial windfall that these new workers (again, doing what?) will allegedly produce may take a while to come through:

Sweden expects to spend about 7 percent of its $100 billion budget next year on refugees. The real number is somewhat higher, since the costs of educating and training those who have already received asylum are not included in that figure. It is, in any case, double the 2015 budget.

…The refugee issue has split Sweden’s genteel consensus as no other question has in recent memory. As Ivar Arpi, a columnist at the daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet and an inveterate critic of the country’s refugee policy, said to me, “People have lost friends over this; families are divided against one another. I’ve had agonizing discussions with my mother and my little sister.” It is very hard to find a middle ground between “we must” and “we can’t.” One of the few people I spoke to who was seeking one was Diana Janse of the Moderates. I asked her if she feared that Sweden was in the process of committing suicide. “It’s an open question,” Janse replied.

I’ll leave it there, I think.  Read the whole thing. 

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