David R. Henderson  

The Germans Are a Comforting People

Funny Bargains... Do we really want to control h...

Those of you who, like my wife and me, are big fans of the TV show The Big Bang Theory, might get a kick out of this title. I've changed the "have always been" that Sheldon says in this segment to "are" to make it more accurate. (If you're in a hurry to see the relevant quote, go to the last 12 seconds of the video above.)

Because today, despite Sheldon's irony, it does appear to be broadly accurate. Here's a quote from a recent BBC story, "Migrants crisis: Germany seizes its chance to help."

These are the refugees who've made it to Germany. And waiting to greet them are scores of volunteers standing next to trestle tables piled with clothing, food and supplies.

As a little girl with dark hair tries on some tiny second-hand shoes, one of those volunteers tells me they're here to meet every train. "It's our turn to help," says Colin.

Surveys suggest the vast majority of Germans agree. In almost every town or city, people are giving their time, donating food and clothing, even opening their homes to the thousands of asylum seekers who arrive here every day.

A few days ago, I met a man called Hasseen with sad, tired eyes. He'd just stepped off a train and set foot in Germany for the first time.

He fled Afghanistan, he told me, after the Taliban threatened to kill him.

But when I asked him about his hopes for the future, his expression changed. Smiling, he said: "I'm so happy to be here. The German government welcomes refugees, gives them a home here."

And, broadly speaking, he's right. Last week, for example, the government indicated it would grant asylum to Syrian refugees regardless of how they'd entered Europe.

Do I suspect that the German government is giving taxpayer-funded aid to these refugees? I do and, of course, I oppose that. That's not charity: it's forced distribution.

But if that's all you see going on, you're missing the big picture: the German government being willing to let these refugees in and many of the German people being personally generous and welcoming.

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COMMENTS (10 to date)
_NL writes:

What I think we can say is that most Germans, including an overwhelming consensus of their politicians, take seriously the idea that Germany should be both sensible and cooperative when dealing with both its own citizens and the world.

It is one of the few countries in Europe without a major political party that focuses on anger over immigration - unlike open and modern countries like the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, and others, which have seen the rise of parties using anti-immigration as a key selling point. The closest is the AfD and they're both locked out of the Bundestag and for now still mostly a party led by academic euroskeptics, not populist euro-bashers.

Yes, Germany is being more generous than other countries in the current crisis. But even there, there are reports of many people (particular East Germans) very upset at immigrants, including street harassment, angry denunciations, threats of violence, and even a refugee apartment building burned in Meissen. A refugee station was attacked by protesters in Dresden. Some citizens openly complain about the racial implications of African and Middle Eastern migration.

So Germany is doing more than any other country and Merkel is urging them to remain open, but even there nativism is rearing its ugly head. Thankfully, Germany has avoided any major anti-immigrant demagoguery by politicians. In part this is because free speech is subservient to the constitutional defense force and its power to invalidating extremist parties - certainly a free speech concern to Americans.

Also, just throwing it out there, but I'm not sure that ending welfare for immigrants would really satisfy a lot of these opponents. It always feels like a red herring.

David R. Henderson writes:

Thanks. It’s telling that the opposition is stronger among East Germans. Communism destroys generosity and it will take another number of years to come back.

Kurt Droffe writes:

Being a German living in Berlin, here a my few thoughts.
Yes, it is good to see so much goodwill on the side of ordinary germans, and the travails of the refugees often are harrowing. On the other side, not being an nativist, and decidedly libertarian, I had always my problems with the "total freedom of borders"-stance. A lot of people here a really scared by the vision of millions of people from very, very different cultures and backgrounds, combined with the relative generosity of our welfare systems. We had our share of civil war refugees (lebanon, tchechen, balkan) and believe me, that brought massive problems. Its not the same if you are from Mexico and go to the US or if you are from Sudan and go to Germany. Add to that the relatively tightly regulated labor markets (minimum wage now in Germany too), and that seems, well, a recipe for a lot of problems, to put it mildly.
And for the east-germans: they had not the experience of migrant workers, as the west had; but then you have villages there with 300 villagers, where some distant politicians allocate double the number of refugees; one understands that they are not all too happy with that.
Years and billions squandered on Greece, and being so wrongfooted be this developement, thats quite a feat!

bill writes:

I recall reading the other day in the South German Newspaper that charity officials had to ask the Munich residents to hold off donating for the time being as they are overwhelmed with donations (things, food, etc. - not money). My experience in Germany was that the majority feel an obligation to help people (partially related to the country's Nazi history). Both through charity and through redistributive policies. I also understand that the East Germans felt less post-war guilt about Nazi policies as the Communists and Nazis were always mortal enemies. That's second hand knowledge as my time in Germany was in Munich and Bavaria.

Pajser writes:

"Do I suspect that the German government is giving taxpayer-funded aid to these refugees? I do and, of course, I oppose that."

It seems as anti-refugee position to me. Without taxes, there would be less money for refugees, therefore, some would have to stay in their countries - or suffer and die due to lack of medical care etc. in Germany.

"Thanks. It’s telling that the opposition is stronger among East Germans. Communism destroys generosity and it will take another number of years to come back."

These people are not communists, they are all anti-communists. If one assumes that system is responsible for deeds of people who have grown in the system - even if they advocate opposite ideas - he should claim that capitalism is responsible for crimes of Red Khmers.

andy writes:

What bothers me id that we see news about people behaving almost like animals trying to get... from France to UK. From Hungary to Germany. That's just weird. Could somebody come up with a plausible explanation that wouldn't include selfishness (in the bad sense)/government money as primary motivation for such behaviour?

Mark V Anderson writes:

I too have an uneasy feeling about these refugees, like Andy. In all this news about the refugees, I haven't seen any explanation as to why this suddenly happened. And that lack of explanation makes me worried about what might happen next. If most of these refugees end up with mostly happy endings, what is to stop another even larger group of refugees from repeating the same thing. There are billions of people in the world that live well below Western standards.

I presume a substantial number of them would move to the West if:
1) the move itself wasn't beyond them, and
2) if they were able to get past the borders.

If Western governments let them in and treat them well, that only leaves #1 as an obstacle. I could imagine the refugee crisis becoming a whole lot worse.

David writes:


If the government got out of the way, the refugees would be welcomed with even wider arms. As they would in the U.S. Unfortunately, our government is making it more difficult to aid these people rather than easier.


Shane L writes:

"He fled Afghanistan, he told me, after the Taliban threatened to kill him."

Fully open borders would mean the Taliban could come too. Now probably they would have to come unarmed, but I cannot escape the feeling that letting people into our countries who loathe our societies and wish to destroy them is not good. What sanctuary will Europe or North America be if the predator is allowed in with the prey?

Shane L writes:

Although I feel my post may seem a bit mean-spirited; it is of course impressive to see normal people help out strangers and I admire the work of these German citizens too.

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