Q&A with Rafaela Dancygier on the politics and economics of immigration
Rafaela Dancygier is an Assistant Professor of Politics and Public Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School. Her research focuses on the domestic consequences of international immigration, the political incorporation of immigrants, the relationship between ethnic diversity and redistribution, and the determinants of ethnic conflict. Dancygier is currently working on a book which explores how immigration regimes and welfare states impact interethnic conflict and immigrant integration in Western Europe.
In January she spoke with the Office of External Affairs about her research, and some of the major trends in international immigration.
Woodrow Wilson School (WWS): Your work focuses in part on the relationship between ethnic diversity and redistribution. Could you explain what that means?
Rafaela Dancygier (RD): Over the last decade or so there has been a lot of research that in essence has found that environments that are more ethnically diverse tend to spend less on public goods, and taxation tends to be lower. This has been a finding across the globe, comparing Europe, the U.S. and African countries. And while there’s a lot of agreement that this relationship exits, there’s a lot of disagreement about what actually brings it about.
For example, some say it’s because different ethnic groups disagree as to what to spend their money on. Others maintain that ethnic or racial groups do not want to see their taxes go to another group that they dislike. This argument has been made to explain the relatively small size of the U.S. welfare state. Or it could be more indirect.
In Europe, for example, some may vote for parties on the right because they dislike immigrants, but the byproduct of that is that taxes and public spending go down. But this argument has also been made in the United States with respect to low-income whites supporting the Republican Party, and taxes decreasing as a result. Race, rather than a preference for lower taxes and spending, might really be the driver here.
And here at Princeton, Evan Lieberman has found that ethnically diverse countries tend to spend less on HIV/AIDS policies. And here the mechanism is that in ethnically diverse settings, risk is being understood in such a way that people might think “well, this is something that affects the other ethnic group and not my ethnic group.” These distorted risk perceptions are especially salient due to the stigma of HIV/AIDS that still exists in many societies.
So, over the last ten years there’s been a huge amount research on this topic. In my own work, I’ve looked at taxation at the local level in England and found that in ethnically diverse towns taxation goes down as well. So local councils raise less money and they also spend less money on public goods. But I also found in my work in Germany that sometimes the arrow can go the other way.
For example, when economic resources are scarce, a group that has previously not been considered ethnically different might gain an outsider status. This has been the case with so-called ethnic Germans – people coming from Eastern Europe and Russia that claimed German ancestry – who never really posed a problem until more recently, when economic goods, especially public housing, were in short supply at the local level where they settled. Since then, they have often been perceived and described as outsiders, and not as fellow Germans. So, there’s a lot of research going on in different areas of the world.
WWS: One might think that taxation would go up because there would be higher expectations; more individuals, more public service needs. Could you explain why taxation would go down?
RD: People disagree on what exactly drives this mechanism, but it’s not so much an argument of population increase as it is about diversity. What you often see in the United States is that as areas become more ethnically diverse “white flight” occurs and overall populations do not necessarily increase. And also usually we look at per capita spending and not necessarily overall spending. But the mechanisms that drive these results are certainly still in dispute.
Some more recent experimental evidence has shown that it really has something to do with social ties and social cooperation. For example, in areas that are pretty ethnically homogeneous there might be strong norms of reciprocity and of contributing to the collective good, especially because failure to cooperate can be sanctioned. But in more ethnically diverse settings, sanctioning non-cooperation is more difficult. In short, there are a lot of theories and not a lot of consensus as to what drives the apparent empirical regularity between ethnic diversity and redistribution.
WWS: Is this a relatively new area of research?
RD: It really started in the late 1990s with Easterly and Levine who argue that the main reason for Africa’s poor economic performance is its ethnic fragmentation, which they in turn link to an underprovision of public goods that impedes growth. And in the United States, Alesina and co-authors have found this pattern in U.S. cities; more ethnic fragmentation leads to lower spending on education, roads and other public goods.
Since then, there has been a slew of research in different areas around the world. John Roemer and colleagues, for example, have researched the relationship between redistribution and xenophobia in the U.S., France, Great Britain and Denmark.
WWS: You also focus on the domestic consequences of international immigration. What countries have you examined?
RD: The countries I know best are Germany and Great Britain. More recently I’ve done research on France, Belgium and Denmark.
WWS: What are your major findings?
RD: What I look at specifically is what explains conflict between immigrants and natives on the one hand, and confrontations between immigrants and the state on the other. My focus is the local level, the areas where immigrants actually settle, as opposed to say the public debate about immigrants.
Taking a cross-national, historical view, I found that when immigration is managed by the state, by employers, and by labor -and immigrants settle in areas that have been guided by these immigration agreements and, as a result, are provided with housing, employment and other economic resources - conflict tends to be more muted.
When that’s not the case – and this would describe Great Britain from the 1950s – it’s much more dependant on the conditions that immigrants encounter in the localities where they settle. So, when the state is pretty much uninvolved in structuring and guiding immigration, the extent to which resources are available at the local level really impacts the probability of conflict.
When such goods are in short supply and immigrants are in fact able to claim such scarce goods, sustained intergroup conflict becomes likely. But when immigrants do not have the capacity to claim these goods and the state does not allocate these goods to them, we are more likely to observe clashes between immigrants and state actors.
And you see this in the United States now because you have a very unstructured immigration regime which basically consists of illegal immigration that has not at all been channeled or managed by the federal government - you see a lot of variation in different towns and cities and how they deal with this influx of people. In some areas there’s really no conflict at all, and in other areas the situation is more tense.
WWS: Are there significant differences between one country and another, or are these outcomes universal?
RD: I think there are large differences across countries having to do both with national immigration regimes and political economies, but also with the political behavior of immigrant groups themselves. This political behavior is in turn a result of state policies having to do with the extension of citizenship – in settings where immigrants can participate in the political process and as a result claim scarce resources and make themselves heard as political actors, that’s when we tend to see most conflicts between immigrants and natives, especially when economic goods are in short supply.
So, that varies across countries depending on whether or not they enfranchise immigrants and give them political rights. But it also varies within countries because different groups vary in their ability to participate effectively in the political process.
WWS: Could your research serve as a model for studying the consequences of international immigration in the United States?
RD: Yes, I think that there are some variables that tend to come into play over and over again in different settings. I believe the role of employers and the state and labor in structuring immigration can be very important, and the extent to which these actors are involved in managing immigration – this becomes more important as economic conditions deteriorate or when public services are stretched thin.
For example, in Great Britain today you see a lot of immigration from Eastern Europe but you do not see too many local conflicts involving this population. But that also has to do with the fact that the British economy has been doing quite well over the last five-to-ten years. So, I think that the general variables that I would look at if I were to study the domestic consequences of international immigration in the United States and elsewhere would be, to what extent is this immigration managed? To what extent are localities where immigrants settle provided with the means to integrate immigrants? How do immigrants themselves behave in the areas they settle-what kind of political actors are they?
Here in the United States today, obviously the big issue, politically and numerically speaking, is illegal immigration coming from Mexico. In Britain – in part due to geography as the country doesn’t have a border state that is so much less economically developed as is the case with the United States and Mexico – there is a mix of immigration. Eastern European states have joined the European Union over the last several years and Britain has allowed a lot of Polish migrants to enter. These are mostly young migrants who come for work.
But then you have a very different group of immigrants coming to Britain for reasons of family reunification, often from South Asia. Even though this group started settling in the 1950s, family reunification as well as marriages are still occurring today. The same is true for countries like the Netherlands, France and Germany which still receive family-based immigrants even though primary large-scale immigration supposedly to end in the 1970s.
Britain also receives a substantial share of skill-based migration; recruiting highly skilled individuals to work in Britain. I would say, just numerically speaking, you have more one-sided immigration here in the United States with a large in-flow of illegal immigrants, and in Britain there are more diverse patterns.
WWS: Are most of the immigrants in Great Britain legal?
RD: Yes. You also have illegal immigrants but the majority are legal. Some might come legally and overstay their visa or their work permit, but the mode of entry is generally legal.
WWS: Discuss your research and findings in terms of the politics and economics of immigration.
RD: What I’ve found is that there is often great discrepancy between what political debate at the national level would suggest and the economic conflicts that are played out at the local level. For example, if you came to Europe today you would probably open the paper and see a lot of articles about Islam and the challenge of integrating Islam into Europe. The threat of Islamic terrorism, the treatment of women, and extreme events such as honor killings are certainly issues that have captured the attention of many Europeans, and for good reason.
But when you go to the cities and towns where immigrants settle, what you often observe is that much more mundane issues become important; public services, education, overcrowding, those types of things. And political parties campaign on that, too.
For example, in Denmark there was a huge cartoon controversy that raised questions about Muslims’ ability to assimilate and their willingness to tolerate free speech directed against Islam. Events such as these certainly become part of the political discussion and the Danish People’s Party, a nationalist, anti-immigrant party, has campaigned on the issue of Islam and its compatibility with Danish values. But studies have shown that at the local level what the Danish People’s Party really runs on are things like public transport, care for the elderly, or housing.
WWS: Those messages at the local level don’t typically filter up to the national level.
RD: Yes, and vice-versa. Sometimes there’s a direct relationship, but other times there isn’t. And one way we can explain why someone who lives in a predominantly non-immigrant white area would vote for an anti-immigrant party has to do with these parties’ culturally-based appeals. He or she is probably going to care less about public housing or local economic development elsewhere, which are issues that tend to arise in areas with a high concentration of immigrants.
In terms of the politics, immigration is one of those issues that is very tricky, because on the left, for example, parties will often resist immigration because they see immigration as potentially hurting their core constituency when it comes to wages and working conditions. However, once immigrants are already in the country, parties on the left actually find it more advantageous to appeal to immigrants and to make them part of their coalition, because immigrants tend to be low-wage workers who tend to support left-of-center parties.
But of course that can also bring up tensions. On the one hand a party’s core constituency might be in favor of incorporating immigrants because it enhances their electoral power, but on the other hand if that means there’s another group of people that resources have to be shared with it could also create tensions.
And on the political right, we can observe the opposite. Employers for example will generally be in favor of immigration. But once immigrants are in the country it’s not really clear that parties on the right will want to incorporate them politically, especially if immigrants are members of the working or lower-middle class, as is often the case.
In the U.S. we saw this recently with the Republicans opposing what they called amnesty and Democrats being more in favor of legalization. And of course what amnesty means in the long run is incorporation as citizens. Politics and economics are really deeply intertwined when it comes to immigration.
WWS: You’re working on a book which explores how immigration regimes and welfare states impact inter-ethnic conflict and integration in Western Europe. Please tell us about that.
RD: This is the above argument that national immigration regimes - the extent to which they mange and guide immigration economically and incorporate immigrants politically - will impact how immigration is experienced at the local level. Often, we observe no conflicts. But sometimes, there is a native backlash against immigrants, while in other settings, immigrants might clash with the forces of law-and-order.
In my research what I found is that first, lack of economic goods, especially public resources, at the local level where immigrants settle explains both types of conflict. However, what’s really important here and determines which of the two types of conflict will occur is immigrants’ ability to claim scarce resources, which often goes hand-in-hand with immigrants having political power. That is when you see a native backlash.
But when immigrants lack that type of political power and electoral clout to induce state actors to allocate resources to them, then you’re much more likely to see confrontations between immigrants and the state. And you see deprived immigrant communities protesting against the fact that they have been neglected.
It’s this interaction between economic scarcity and political power of immigrants that is important. And in the background you have international immigration regimes structuring the allocation of economic resources, as well as citizenship regimes determining whether or not immigrants have the potential to become important political actors.
In Britain, post-war immigration occurred almost as an accidental byproduct of colonialism, and was not guided by policymakers. The state did not provide for the economic integration of immigrants, but colonial migrants tended to have access to full political rights. Looking at the past half-century, we observe a lot of local-level variation in immigrant conflict depending on whether or not economic resources, such as schools, housing, or employment were scarce at the local level, and if this was the case, whether or not immigrants were indeed able to claim these resources.
Now if you look at France, it falls somewhere between Germany and Great Britain; Germany being this very structured regime, at least up until the 1990s, which incorporated immigrants economically, if not politically. In Germany, the native backlash has been relatively muted and immigrants and their descendents are – at least comparatively speaking – better integrated economically.
In France, post-war immigration consisted of large shares of illegal migrants, guestworkers, political refugees and post-colonial immigrants. Measures to integrate migrants economically, in the areas where they settled, were rather post-hoc and often inadequate, especially in the areas of housing and employment. On the political front, immigrants have generally been able to become French citizens, but their local incorporation has varied greatly, and, as a result, the incidence of both types of conflict has varied across France’s cities and towns.
WWS: What are some of the major trends in European immigration, and how does the U.S. compare?
RD: The way that countries collect data on immigrants varies dramatically, so it’s actually not that easy to give a straight answer. For example, Britain has very good data collection and statistics, because they look at both where people are born and their ethnic identification, so you can actually tell or infer if someone is a second or third generation immigrant. In France, the collection of ethnically-based data is prohibited. All you have in France is data on citizenship status and country of birth. Of course there are millions of second, third and fourth generation immigrant-origin French citizens, but in the census they disappear.
And in Germany, until recently, they also only collected data on nationality and country of birth because here, the collection of ethnic data is very sensitive due to the country’s history. Nevertheless, they now have a new category which they call “individuals with a migration background,” which is a broad category and includes those who have been born abroad, those who do not have German citizenship, those who have naturalized and those who have parents who fit any of those categories. Recent estimates say that almost 20% of the population in Germany has a migration background. Of course the number of foreign-born is much smaller. So, it’s really hard to say who has more immigrants.
When you actually look at the percentage of foreign born people in the United States, it’s a high number, about 12%. The United States is a big country, so this translates into many millions of people. But in Austria, which one may not normally associate with being ethnically diverse, the share of foreign-born today is about 13%. It’s a very small country and so the large influx of immigrants over the past several decades has made a big impact.
So today, Europe and the U.S. are no longer so different when it comes to their shares of first and second generation immigrants. Moreover, countries that used to be emigration countries, like Spain and Italy, have become major immigrant destinations.
But what is still intriguing to me is that the integration of immigrants has appeared to proceed more smoothly in the United States. There are of course many differences. The U.S. has always understood itself as a nation of immigrants and anti-immigrant movements have not been as successful, in part due to the country’s electoral system, which makes it more difficult for smaller parties to compete. But what is striking is that many immigration-related problems that European countries have encountered have occurred in the U.S. with respect to African Americans, who have obviously been victims of racism, but also participants in confrontations with the police.
In contrast to the U.S., immigrants in Europe generally represent the main groups that are considered ethnically distinct from the majority population. It would be interesting to find out how the integration of immigrants in the U.S. has been affected by the presence of a long-settled large minority population.