Bryan Caplan  

What the Swiss Vote Really Shows

PRINT
Why do booms feel good?... Why Income Mobility is Larger ...
The Swiss just passed a referendum to restrict immigration from the EU.  Tyler thinks this shows that open borders is a hopeless cause.  When immigration gets too high, public opinion naturally turns against immigration.
In my view immigration has gone well for Switzerland, both economically and culturally, and I am sorry to see this happen, even apart from the fact that it may cause a crisis in their relations with the European Union.  That said, you can take 27% as a kind of benchmark for the limits of immigration in most or all of today's wealthy countries.  I believe that as you approach a number in that range, you get a backlash.
But there's a major problem with Tyler's story: Swiss anti-immigration voting was highest in the places with the least immigrants!  This is no fluke.  In the U.S., anti-immigration sentiment is highest in the states with the least immigration - even if you assume that 100% of immigrants are pro-immigration.

The natural inference to draw, then, is the opposite of Tyler's: The main hurdle to further immigration is insufficient immigration.  If countries could just get over the hump of status quo bias, anti-immigration attitudes would become as socially unacceptable as domestic racism.  Instead of coddling nativism with gradualism, we can, should, and must peacefully destroy nativism with abolitionism.



COMMENTS (45 to date)
Yancey Ward writes:

I wonder if you held a referendum in Texas, for example, that proposed to allow open immigration from Asia only, how it do vs the same vote in Iowa. I suspect the vote tallies would not be all that different in the two states.

HH writes:
The main hurdle to further immigration is insufficient immigration. If countries could just get over the hump of status quo bias, anti-immigration attitudes would become as socially unacceptable as domestic racism.

Hm. Maybe. I'm not sold on the causality. Why should we assume that it's increased presence of immigrants that has turned attitude pro-immigration? Isn't it possible - nay, likely - that immigrants are mostly located in places that are friendly to immigration in the first place?

spotrusherz writes:

Swiss guy here. You might be right, but I think the biggest reason why rural places voted yes has to do with construction activity being more visible as opposed to the "already built" cities. Another way to look at it is that status quo bias might be higher in regions where immigration would change more relative to the status quo than in regions where the change would be marginally quantitative, but not (as) qualitative.

marcus writes:

Erroneous conclusion if you haven't factored in indigenous people leaving areas of high immigration. In the UK it's called "white flight", where certain urban areas become pockets of foreign settlement/ghettoes/no-go areas/police no-go areas.

Can't really see why people working abroad have to immigrate to the country they are working in. You work there, earn your money, and then return to your native country, in the majority of cases.

Jeff writes:

Switzerland is not a big country; I doubt it was lack of familiarity with immigrants that drives nativist sentiment.

John Thacker writes:

Bryan, it is difficult to show causation. It's possible that a region is relatively unfriendly to immigrants, and that causes both immigrants to avoid it as well as the populace to dislike immigration. Immigration was very low in the American South from 1850 to 1920 (even while high elsewhere) for some obvious reasons.

Yancey:

A very high percentage of the Swiss immigration seems to be European, from the statistics I've seen. So I'm not sure that this is racially based.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

"Can't really see why people working abroad have to immigrate to the country they are working in. You work there, earn your money, and then return to your native country, in the majority of cases."

You may wish your children to be born in a country with better economic expectations. Or your kids may just be born in the country you immigrate to because you didn't want to be separated from your spouse, and they came as well, and now your kids are born and are citizens of another country and you wish to not leave them.

You may wish to not go back to a country with a high level of violence. You may be illegal, in which case it was lucky you got into the country in the first place, and if you leave you may never return. Or you may be a legal immigrant on a visa on a pathway to citizenship that doesn't let you leave the US even to go to your mother's funeral (real case I am aware of).

My immigrant ancestors from England, Germany, Scotland, Bohemia, Norway, and Sweden all decided to stay in the US.

John Thacker writes:

Hi Yancey:

I wonder if you held a referendum in Texas, for example, that proposed to allow open immigration from Asia only, how it do vs the same vote in Iowa. I suspect the vote tallies would not be all that different in the two states.

So you think that Texans would support immigration less if it were from Asian than they do now, or Iowans would support it more, or both? (Since Texans are pro-immigrant compared to Iowans.)

Roger Sweeny writes:

I suspect HH is right: immigrants are more likely to move to areas where people are more favorably disposed to immigrants.

Or to put it differently: immigrants are less likely to move to areas where people are less favorably disposed to immigrants.

And marcus may be on to something, too: people who are not favorably disposed to immigrants are more likely to themselves move away from areas with many immigrants.

HH writes:

There was an interesting "fact" floating around the first Obama primary, and possibly the election as well: the percentage of the white vote that went Hillary or later Republican went up as the black percentage of the population went up. Basically, the opposite effect from what you see with respect to immigration here.

Not sure if it means anything, though.

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

If we stop "running our minds" for a moment and look at sociological trends, and the limitations they engender, we *may* find evidence of two of Pareto's observations.

Next, Europe has become a torn sieve through which there are now pouring into the EU (and moving within it)peoples from the cultures of families, clans and tribes - in which there is not the development of individuality (individual will in the terms of Guizot).

It is probably not so much immigration as the potential kinds of immigrants now building up pressures within the Eu, which the limited population and space of Schwyz might not withstand.

Preventative measures now may be seen as preferable to corrective measures later.

joshua writes:

Unless immigration resulted in internal migration and the most opposed to immigration aren't ignorant to immigration but already actively avoiding it.

Nathan Smith writes:

That might be the right interpretation of the Swiss vote, but I doubt it can be cross-applied to the US opening its borders to Third World immigration. Immigration from the EU to Switzerland is immigration from developed, historically Christian places to another developed, historically Christian place. That's a comparatively easy sell, and it may well be that just a bit of mingling is enough to accustom people to it. But immigration from Mexico, or Somalia, to the US would face more resistance.

Converting the US to open borders will require something like a religious conversion. The Catholic Church might spearhead it, and civil disobedience as represented by Jose Antonio Vargas and Define American might change minds, but I doubt it will be as simple as people meeting a few more immigrants and deciding to open the borders.

Yancey Ward writes:

John,

My point, no doubt poorly made, is in regard to Bryan's claim that areas with larger immigrant populations are more open to immigration- full stop. I think this is only true if most of the new immigrants are going to be like the old immigrants in the area- in other words, Hispanic immigrants and their descendants are not going to be any more supportive of greater immigration if most of those new immigrants would be non-Hispanic.

CEC writes:

Changing the rate of immigration impacts the rate of cultural change. Since some cultures and subcultures have lower limits for the rate of cultural change than others, it is hardly surprising to think that those areas which have the least immigration will be the most likely to act in a manner that generates the most barriers to future immigration.

I think this goes beyond status quo bias, so I find myself in the camp with Tyler Cowen, HH, and others.

Faré writes:

As in any votation, it's a package deal. Restricting migration is bad. Not giving in to communists in the particular ways they want to increase their control on migration isn't necessarily bad.

It's not like the vote was about opening borders. It was about surrendering border control rules the the EUSSR.

Tiago writes:

Aren't we making too much of just one piece of information? Couldn't there be several other variables accounting for why the Swiss chose to make such a decision at this point in time. I mean, there are so many other factors which might play a role that I don't see how one can come up with a 27% maximum immigrant population threshold - or anything close to that.

Shawn writes:

It's about space not race. Switzerland is a jam-packed place. You think they want more traffic & depressed wages?

Daniel writes:

[Comment removed pending confirmation of email address and for crude language. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring your comment privileges. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.--Econlib Ed.]

Charon writes:

"...must peacefully destroy"? What monstrous arrogance. Let the Swiss look after themselves.

As the E.U. keeps trying to "peacefully destroy" happy and relatively homogeneous ethnic and cultural homelands, we may find that things stop being so peaceful.

Paolo writes:

[[[[But there's a major problem with Tyler's story: Swiss anti-immigration voting was highest in the places with the least immigrants!]]]]

I see this misconception all over the place. You are forgetting how small Switzerland is. Nearly the entire country is within commuting distance of the main centres Zurich, Basel, Geneva, or the secondary centres of St.Gallen, Winterthur, Lucerne, Berne, Lausanne, Lugano, Neuenburg.

Those Yes vote regions are where people are living who were pushed out of the centres due to a huge rise in housing costs. A lot of those rural-semi rural areas have had very high population growth rates in the last 10 years due to the influx of commuters looking for affordable housing space. Both the continued expansion of public transport services as well as the real estate price inflation in the centres have been big drivers of this trend.

The yes vote in those regions are both disgruntled commuters unhappy with being priced out of the centres and locals unhappy with the influx of outsiders.

As to the No vote of the centres, that’s not a big surprise. Who can afford to live in the centres these days? Either people living in (subsidised) social housing or people earning enough to pay for the rapidly increasing rents and flat prices. The first group is insulated to a large extent from the price pressure and tends to follow the Social Party and Union paroles, while the latter by definition belongs to the winners of the current situation who can afford to pay those prices.

When looking at the results at the micro level you see this pattern as well. The boom areas in the canton of Zürich which have had the highest population increases in the last few years, all voted yes. The No votes of the cities and the upscale suburbs were however enough to push the result into a No at the cantonal level.

The above also applies to the French speaking part, even if they voted No. Traditionally very Europe friendly and Socialist, the outcome this time is very close if compared to similar votes that have taken place in the last 20 years.

The extremely high Yes result in the Italian part of Switzerland in turn is the result of them being literally swamped with Italians willing to work for 50-60% of the median wage due to the economic crisis in Italy.

Eric Nowak writes:

Immigrants and their native-born descendants and govt. dependents on the left unaffected by the economics of reality voting for more immigration perhaps? Shocking realization! I'll have to go to Econ school to reach an opposite, dumb conclusion, I guess...

VSSC writes:

"Instead of coddling nativism with gradualism, we can, should, and must peacefully destroy nativism with abolitionism."

Actually the last abolitionist movement did not accomplish it's goals peacefully, and neither will you. It being your actual goal is to Destroy not Nativism but the Natives themselves.

Mr. Caplan what is it about Europeans that fills you with genocidal hatred, however lovingly you couch the words? Could it be old business from the Old World perhaps, and Americans are the only Turtles ye can find to give snakes a ride?

There is a great deal of hatred amongst the sick&smart set for these Native born Americans. The European ones. It's being reciprocated at last.

The Pendulum having swung out left of Pluto is now swinging back.

You have a name: Enemy. Enjoy the Backswing.

Bill writes:

"Instead of coddling nativism with gradualism, we can, should, and must peacefully destroy nativism with abolitionism."

And there you have it, in all its glory: the methods of the open borders extremists in full glory. Destroy democracy, overwhelm the demos, ignore their votes if necessary and punish them if you cannot. "Destroy" them (your term) with abolitionism.

Why do the cities vote aye while the rural areas vote nay? For the same reason that rural areas anywhere and everywhere have higher birthrates. "Rural areas" - and that includes suburbs; it's not like we're in Alaska - are more future-oriented, in terms of preserving things for the next generation. City-dwellers, who often benefit financially from immigration, are more concerned with amusing themselves, with consuming (and creating) culture, and not so much with being able to afford a family.

The relationship between the two can be quite symbiotic when the two aren't at each other's throats.

A nation is a form of property, both similar and dissimilar to other kinds of property. Governments in developed nations control a huge share of the wealth to be managed (in theory) for the good of the owners (i.e., the citizens). So from any growth in GDP that results from immigration, you must subtract the loss from having to divide a nation's assets, physical and psychic, amongst a greater number of people. Americans living in the Southwest will see any economic gains from millions of immigrants lost when they can no longer water their lawns or have swimming pools, or can only take showers every other week. Citizens of Norway and Australia have nothing to gain from sharing their abundant natural resources with 20 million Somalis and Tamils. The billionaires who support open borders in practice understand that their enjoyment of their properties in Sun Valley, Aspen, and Jackson Hole would be greatly diminished if they had too many neighbors, especially the kind who watch Michael Bay films.

Additionally, and more importantly, voters collectively exert an enormous amount of control over citizens individually. Once a common consensus (the result of semi-homogeneity) is lost, disaffection is the inevitable result, and civic capital declines. There is much more to a country than its GDP. To sum it up with a common saying, "No one washes a rental car" - and no one bleeds or sacrifices for a rental country.

Bill writes:

For the record, the notion that 27% is the tipping point (with N=1) is ridiculous. If you polled people in Western Europe, Canada, Australia, or the US, you'd find that majorities in most of them think immigration rates are too high. Unlike Switzerland, however, they have no direct way of expressing this sentiment. Since they generally vote only for politicians and not on issues, they have to concern themselves with all the other issues politicians address - issues generally of greater concern than immigration. But when the issue has been addressed at a local level, where plebiscite are generally allowed, "nativism" generally wins - Prop 187 in California, official English in several states, etc., etc.

At what point are the Swiss allowed to exhibit concern over too many immigrants, if not when immigrants are almost 30% of the population? When they hit 60%? When the hit 90%? When?

Glaivester writes:

If countries could just get over the hump of status quo bias, anti-immigration attitudes would become as socially unacceptable as domestic racism.

Because making racism unacceptable has made Birmingham Alabama, Baltimore, and especially Detroit such wonderful places to live.

If countries could just get over the hump of status quo bias, anti-immigration attitudes would become as socially unacceptable as domestic racism. Instead of coddling nativism with gradualism, we can, should, and must peacefully destroy nativism with abolitionism.

Force submission? As VSSC says, people are about to push back.

Crg writes:

[Comment removed pending confirmation of email address and for foul language. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to discuss editing your comment. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.--Econlib Ed.]

Noah Carl writes:

This is almost certainly because immigrants prefer to settle in places where the people are more liberal and tolerant.

Bill writes:

"This is almost certainly because immigrants prefer to settle in places where the people are more liberal and tolerant."

An answer which fits your biases, such as the notion that a desire for less immigration makes someone anti-immigrant.

Immigrants go where (1) there are jobs for them; (2) there is a pre-existing network of other immigrants (i.e., they are segregating themselves - yep, familiarity is important to immigrants just as it is to natives). In most countries that means cities. Additionally, immigrants, if arriving from bordering countries, often settle in regions bordering their native countries (e.g., heavy Mexican immigration to the Southwest).

City dwellers aren't necessarily more tolerant. They are, on balance, simply less vulnerable to immigrant competition than people who live in less expensive rural areas, and, as population sinks, they are filled with people less concerned about conditions that allow for affordable family formation - exemplified in the US by cities like San Francisco which have more dogs than children. Congressional districts in the US with higher white birthrates are more likely to have Republican congressmen. In 2006 the House member with the fewest children in her district was Nancy Pelosi (D). The House member with the most children, Chris Cannon (R), had three times as many. Republicans in that Congress had 7 million more children in their districts than Democrats did.

The gap between urban and rural support for immigration is the gap between those who can afford to live in expensive cities and those who cannot, and it is the gap between those who are bothering to breed future generations of Swiss and those who are not. They are concerned about conditions, financial and cultural, favorable to turning out the next generation of Swiss. It has little to do with intolerance.

James writes:

VSSC: Is the case against open borders so weak that your first choice is to make an argument that only makes sense if you have access to the private goals of immigration supporters? My mind is already made up on the matter, but if I were "on the fence," seeing you resort to anything other than facts would lead me to believe that the facts were just not on your side.

inhumanist writes:

James, I don't think you get it. VSSC isn't trying to convince you, he's trying to scare you. Think about the validity of fear at this point. Are you the enemy, and are you on his list? Is a reckoning coming, or will VSSC and his ilk go silently away? Or is it your belief VSSCs will be overcome if it came to blows? If you must obsessively rationalize everything, think on those things for a bit.

Jody writes:

Perhaps this has been addressed somewhere, but

a) do immigrants in Switzerland vote?
b) do the results cited include the immigrant vote?

If yes to both, isn't the result a bit banal?

(Hold a referendum on supporting / growing group A. Unsurprisingly, group A is most in favor.)

Bill writes:

[Comment removed pending confirmation of email address and for policy violations. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring your comment privileges. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.--Econlib Ed.]

Peter Schaeffer writes:

"The main hurdle to further immigration is insufficient immigration. If countries could just get over the hump of status quo bias, anti-immigration attitudes would become as socially unacceptable as domestic racism."

Bertolt Brecht

After the 1953 East German uprising: “Would it not be easier for the government to dissolve the people and elect another?”

So the methods libertarianism are now those of Stalinism.

Who knew? Who is surprised?

Peter Schaeffer writes:

"In the U.S., anti-immigration sentiment is highest in the states with the least immigration - even if you assume that 100% of immigrants are pro-immigration."

Propositions (referendums) are a form of revealed preference. In the 1990s, California was swamped with illegals. Prop 187 passed 59 to 41 and Wilson made an astounding come from behind victory in the governors race by supporting 187.

Closer to the present Jan Brewer in Arizona won another come from behind victory by opposing illegal immigration. The voters passed several referendums to the same end.

Going back 100 years, the huge wave of low-skill immigrants that came after 1890 triggered a massive backlash that ended with the reforms of 1917, 1921, and 1924 (stopping mass immigration).

The historical record is clear. Mass low-skill immigration always triggers intense opposition. It should. The vast majority of people lose and a very small corporate / cosmopolitan elite gain.

Samuel Gompers, the founder of the AFL and himself a Jewish immigrant from the UK put it rather well.

"America must not be overwhelmed.

"Every effort to enact immigration legislation must expect to meet a number of hostile forces and, in particular, two hostile forces of considerable strength.

"One of these is composed of corporation employers who desire to employ physical strength (broad backs) at the lowest possible wage and who prefer a rapidly revolving labor supply at low wages to a regular supply of American wage earners at fair wages.

"The other is composed of racial roups in the United States who oppose all restrictive legislation because they want the doors left open for an influx of their countrymen regardless of the menace to the people of their adopted country.'

Most voters are not corporate employers or those who profit from identity politics.

ogunsiron writes:

I happen to be of Haitian origin and yet I find the idea of open borders obscene and repulsive.

I'm glad that my parents were able to move to a north-american country, but I also accept that they had to meet residency requirements for admission into the country. I accept that they had to earn the trust of someone appointed to determine if they were welcome or not. I don't find anything insulting or dehumanising about earning the trust of a host society or of those appointed to assess that trustworthiness.

Those Haitians who choose to leave the land that belongs to them by birthright should simply accept that being accepted into other countries is the other countries' prerogative.
I'd probably enjoy working and living in Singapore but the idea that I'm the only one who gets to decide that is bizarre and I'm not interested, even though I'd benefit from it.

If I were a voter in Switzerland I'd vote UDC, no doubt about it.

Frau Katze writes:

I strongly object to the negative portrayal of those who have had about enough of immigration.

I'll take a lower standard of living if necessary.

In your model, one just keeps up the immigration indefinitely. Well, you speak for the rich, who want even more money, while they can afford to live in nice neighbourhoods and send their kids to private school.

I'm in Canada, for the record.

Gary Rumain writes:

[Comment removed for supplying false email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.--Econlib Ed.]

Brett_McS writes:

I vote we have Open Borders in one category, and in one category only: Economists.

James writes:

inhumanist:

And therefore what, exactly?

Former Libertarian writes:

Rather than argue causality, I'm happy to stipulate it, and then to point out that the Swiss vote is simply the other side of the scale.

To wit, apparently just before it was too late, the Swiss have realized, as the US must soon also do, the impending tipping point, where the immigrants' finger on the scale makes the outcome self-fulfilling.

And that outcome isn't the utopia that libertarians inanely assume. Here in the US, it will result in the continued denigration of quality of life, so as to match that of the toilet-like situations the immigrants come.

Universal equality is a stupid, unattainable goal - people are not equal. And fooling oneself that diversity will magically achieve equality is just that - fooling oneself.

Mike Wallens writes:

[Comment removed pending confirmation of email address and for rudeness. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring your comment privileges. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.--Econlib Ed.]

Bill writes:

[Comment removed pending confirmation of email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring your comment privileges. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.--Econlib Ed.]

Ricky Vaughn writes:

[Comment removed pending confirmation of email address and for rudeness. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring your comment privileges. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.--Econlib Ed.]

Gaiseric writes:

[Comment removed pending confirmation of email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.--Econlib Ed.]

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top