Bryan Caplan  

Observations from Europe

PRINT
Decentralization in Turkey... Zachary David on NGDP futures ...
Just got back from a month in Europe, where I was a visiting professor at the University of Münster, teaching a short course in Advanced Public Choice.  Along the way, we drove to London for the Institute of Economic Affairs THINK conference, and to Heidelberg to address European Students from Liberty.  Overall, a month of fantastic intellectual and aesthetic experiences, and I can't thank all my gracious hosts enough.

Random observations:

1. I was based in Münster, near the Dutch border, the historic home of the original Khmer-Rouge-type communist revolution.  From 1534-5, Anabaptist fanatics seized power and established a theocratic communist dictatorship, predictably drenched in blood.  While 20th-century socialists minimized their crimes, Rothbard's gruesome account seems right to me.

A crucial part of the Anabaptist reign of terror was their decision, again prefiguring that of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, to abolish all private ownership of money. With no money to purchase any good, the population became slavishly dependent on handouts or rations from the power elite. Accordingly, Matthys, Rothmann, and the rest launched a propaganda campaign that it was un-Christian to own money privately; and that all money should be held "in common," which in practice meant that all money whatsoever must be handed over to Matthys and his ruling clique...

After two months of unremitting propaganda, combined with threats and terror against those who disobeyed, the private ownership of money was effectively abolished in Münster. The government seized all the money and used it to buy goods or hire workers from the outside world. Wages were doled out in kind by the only employer: the theocratic Anabaptist State.

Food was confiscated from private homes, and rationed according to the will of government deacons. Also, to accommodate the host of immigrants, all private homes were effectively communized, with everyone permitted to quarter themselves everywhere; it was now illegal to close, let alone lock, one's doors. Compulsory communal dining halls were established, where people ate together to the readings from the Old Testament.

[...]

Totalitarianism in Münster was now complete. Death was now the punishment for virtually every independent act. Capital punishment was decreed for the high crimes of murder, theft, lying, avarice, and quarrelling. Death was also decreed for every conceivable kind of insubordination: the young against the parents, wives against their husbands, and, of course, anyone at all against the chosen representative of God on earth, the government of Münster. Bernt Knipperdollinck was appointed high executioner to enforce the decrees.

The only aspect of life previously left untouched was sex, and this deficiency was now made up. The only sexual relation now permitted by the Bockelson regime was marriage between two Anabaptists. Sex in any other form, including marriage with one of the "godless," was a capital crime.

But soon Bockelson went beyond this rather old-fashioned credo, and decided to enforce compulsory polygamy in Münster. Since many of the expellees had left their wives and daughters behind, Münster now had three times as many marriageable women as men, so that polygamy had become technically feasible. Bockelson convinced the other, rather startled preachers by citing polygamy among the patriarchs of Israel, reinforcing this method of persuasion by threatening any dissenters with death.

Compulsory polygamy was a bit much for many of the Münsterites, who launched a rebellion in protest. The rebellion, however, was quickly crushed and most of the rebels put to death...

The rest of the male population also began to take enthusiastically to the new decree. Many of the women reacted differently, however, and so the Elders passed a law ordering compulsory marriage for every woman under (and presumably also over) a certain age, which usually meant becoming a compulsory third or fourth wife.

Since marriage among the godless was not only invalid but also illegal, the wives of the expellees became fair game, and they were forced to "marry" good Anabaptists. Refusal of the women to comply with the new law was punishable, of course, with death, and a number of women were actually executed as a result.

2. German Master's students are even more reluctant to participate than American undergraduates.  Eventually, however, I found a topic that drew them out: the political economy of environmentalism.  In my lecture on expressive voting, I argued that popular environmental policies are often driven by expressive, not instrumental concerns, as evidenced by pronounced disinterest in trade-offs, cost-benefit analysis, and creative ways to "take the easy way out."  There are 663,000 square miles in Alaska, so why not use .1% of that area for an immensely valuable pipeline?  My students' favorite answer was the slippery-slope: After the first pipeline mars the virgin wilderness, further desecrations are likely to follow.  I pointed out that Münster stably combines natural beauty with ample development, but I don't think that convinced my class.

3. In contrast, my lecture on anarcho-capitalism sparked minimal pushback.

4. While my class largely drew on U.S. data and examples, I routinely asked students if my claims generalized well to Germany.  They usually affirmed that they did.  Voter motivation in Germany, as in the United States, seems driven by ideology and group identity rather than material self-interest.  But for finer-grained details, the U.S. results are more contingent.  Religious identity plays little role in modern German politics, the legacy of the Thirty Years War notwithstanding.

5. Brexit passed right before I went to London.  I was aggravated but not surprised that many observers hastily claimed I had lost my 2008 EU bet.  The original specified "official withdrawal" by January 1, 2020 to guard against this overreach.  If the UK disappears from the list of EU members before January 1, 2020, I will happily pay.  If it disappears on January 1, 2020 or later, I will declare victory and demand payment (assuming, of course, that no other EU member with 2007 population over 10M withdraws by that date). 

6. Betting markets got Brexit very wrong, but they're still the best forecasting institution in the world, and they imply a roughly 50/50 chance of Article 50 being invoked no sooner than 2018.  Since Article 50 opens up to two years of negotiations, I'm still somewhat optimistic about winning - though I would not make the same bet again.

7. Socially, of course, what's important is not whether I win my bet, but what happens to the British, European, and global economies.  Many analysts treated the initial stock market crash as proof that Brexit is terrible; others treated the rebound as proof that Brexit is fine.  I reject both views.  I've long regarded financial markets as a poor measure of the goodness of policy.  If X happens and stock markets hold steady, this could mean X is harmless.  But it could also mean that the burden of X falls on consumers rather than capitalists.  Does that ever happen?  Probably yes - the standard view of trade agreements, for example, is that they make consumers better off, but leave the average domestic business earning its standard vanilla rate of return.

8. The important question, rather, is how British exit from the EU would change economic policy.  Both sides seem overconfident here, but I lean toward those who think overall trade and especially migration openness would fall in Britain, Europe, and the world.  Indeed, even if Britain never leaves the EU, its behavior marginally raises the probability the EU moves away from internal freedom of movement.

9. Students at the THINK conference in London leapt at every chance to participate.  Why were they so different from my German students?  Since Students for Liberty Heidelberg were similarly enthusiastic, I'd guess the gap was 20% cultural, 80% self-selection.

10. Accents in Germany were easier to understand than accents in England, strangely.

11. Due to a strong accent, I think I failed to properly answer one THINK attendee's question.  In my open borders talk, I addressed the political externalities of immigration.  My claim: While immigrants are indeed more socially conservative and economically liberal than natives, the differences are marginal and immigrants don't vote much anyway.  When the attendee asked why my results were so atypical, I claimed they were standard.  In hindsight, I should have acknowledged that immigrants are much more likely to vote for left-wing parties.  But since this holds even for the richest, most socially conservative immigrants, the best explanation is that right-wing parties treat immigrants with great disrespect.  Since parties are potent name brands, even pro-immigration right-wing politicians have trouble winning immigrant support.

12. Germany is much more multi-cultural and multi-racial than I remember it, even in a smaller city like Münster.  And horrific headlines notwithstanding, it's wonderful to behold.  The people of the world can and should work side-by-side to Finally Make Mankind Great.

13. When I taught my German students Kuran and Sunstein's availability cascades model, I used terrorism as a prime example.  Over a thousand people are murdered on Earth on an average day.  Every death is a tragedy, but there's no good reason to treat the small minority of terrorist murders as disproportionately important or revealing, except in the trivial sense than countries overreact to terrorism.  I know this is an unpopular view, especially after a major attack, but I love numeracy more than popularity.

14. This was my first trip to London.  I'd heard it was remarkably multi-cultural, but I didn't expect it to be the most multi-cultural place I'd ever seen.  While I personally find big cities claustrophobic and inconvenient, if London doesn't convince you that Western civilization is a hardy weed, nothing will. 

15. The fact that Londoners showed little sympathy for Brexit is telling: People who experience true mass immigration first-hand tend to stop seeing it as a problem.  "Backlash," as Tyler Cowen calls it, is a symptom of insufficient migration - the zone where immigrants are noticeable but not ubiquitous.  I know he disagrees, but I honestly can't figure out why.

16. Averaging over my four days, the UK had the nicest people I've ever encountered.  They were more than polite.  Strangers literally handed me money for parking.  Why did Americans want independence again?




COMMENTS (21 to date)
David writes:

Would you generalize number 13 to black people who are killed by police? If not, what are the relevant differences?

AlexR writes:

Bryan, don't you find the Anabaptists' open borders policy to have been welfare enhancing, as well as morally justified?

"Also, to accommodate the host of immigrants, all private homes were effectively communized, with everyone permitted to quarter themselves everywhere; it was now illegal to close, let alone lock, one's doors."

Given the influx of immigrants, by revealed preference they were made better off by immigrating. And how parochial it would have been for the Munster locals to begrudge them quarter!

Elsewhere you've argued against arguments based on property rights for the control of borders.

Mark Bahner writes:
Averaging over my four days, the UK had the nicest people I've ever encountered. They were more than polite. Strangers literally handed me money for parking. Why did Americans want independence again?

I think Patrick Henry said it best:

Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? I know not what course others may take; but as for me, I would rather be ruled by 3000 tyrants one mile away than one tyrant 3000 miles away!
Matthew Moore writes:

14. There is a good argument to say that London is no longer British or English in any real sense. It is an entirely new type of place, a global city. It is amazing, but the tension of having the British governing classes and institutions in such a place, increasingly seen as alien by the population, are palpable.

15. Alternative explainations include sunk costs (no traditional way of life left to lose) and endogeneity: immigrants move to welcoming areas, and unwelcoming natives leave or don't move there.

16. What an elegant compliment. Obviously, nothing to do with me personally, but it is nice to feel proud of one's country.

Effem writes:

#13 feels like the type of thinking that has allowed most instances of genocide to get far out of control before properly addressed.

There is a world of difference between an isolated murder and a murderous movement aimed at spreading its ideology far and wide.

Michael Byrnes writes:

For those interested in a more detailed account of the Anabaptists' atrocities in Muenster, Dan Carlin had a great Hardcore History episode on them a few years ago.

E. Harding writes:

"But since this holds even for the richest, most socially conservative immigrants, the best explanation is that right-wing parties treat immigrants with great disrespect."

-This has only the slightest plausibility. Was the Republican Party of the 1930s-1960s highly antisemitic? However, it is abundantly clear that Christian Indians are much more likely to support the Republican Party than Hindu ones.

""Backlash," as Tyler Cowen calls it, is a symptom of insufficient migration - the zone where immigrants are noticeable but not ubiquitous."

-That sounds wrong.

"I've long regarded financial markets as a poor measure of the goodness of policy."

-That's good.

Julien Couvreur writes:

Is there, by any chance, an available recording your course on public choice?

Brian writes:

"If the UK disappears from the list of EU members before January 1, 2020, I will happily pay. If it disappears on January 1, 2020 or later, I will declare victory and demand payment (assuming, of course, that no other EU member with 2007 population over 10M withdraws by that date)."

What happened to your "or" condition that the British government "unilaterally withdraw." It seems like you are attempting to change the conditions on the bet that you had laid out prior to the vote. The bet itself was vague, of course, without a formal definition of "withdraw." This is a rather disappointing attempt on your part to hedge on the bet. It seems to me that the PM invoking article 50 satisfies your condition of "unilateral withdrawal."

And by the way, I don't recall anyone, and certainly not Mark Steyn, claiming that you had already lost. This seems to be something entirely imagined by you.

Anon writes:
Every death is a tragedy, but there's no good reason to treat the small minority of terrorist murders as disproportionately important or revealing, except in the trivial sense than countries overreact to terrorism.

The proposition and the conclusion are very wrong.

The most important reason why you would treat murders by terrorists differently than regular murders (e.g., due to personal disagreements, sexual conflicts, etc.) is because the terrorists have *political* aspirations, and the murders are a signal that they have at least some capability in carrying those out. This is the same as asking why we should treat the murders in Pearl Harbor different than any other during that day. Well, because they were carried by a foreign nation with a political purpose, so we can surmise that more murders are being contemplated. The issue then becomes does this adversary have the capability to cause harm, and what, if any, should our response be. Many people, including me, think that we should take terrorism very seriously because it is likely that small organizations may obtain weapons that cause a huge impact, and we should try to prevent that. But you are sidestepping that analysis entirely. If you want to say that you don't think terrorists have the capability to cause mass harm, then say that.

How can you possibly not immediately see the difference? Yet you so quickly claim that your insight is due to your numeracy. You are normally more careful than this, but whenever you feel like you are superior to others, that should be your first clue that you're obviously overreaching.

Weir writes:

"The fact that Londoners showed little sympathy for Brexit is telling: People who experience true mass immigration first-hand tend to stop seeing it as a problem."

This is definitely how most people have been using the word "Londoners" over the last couple of weeks, probably because they aren't even aware that they're simply excluding from their definition of a Londoner everybody who was born in another country.

Which in the London boroughs of Lambeth, Brent, Camden, Hammersmith and Fulham, Southwark, Barnet, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Ealing, Harrow, Waltham Forest, Haringey, Redbridge, Merton, Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Kensington and Chelsea, Bexley, Westminster, and Hounslow, means that you're excluding at least a third of the Londoners living there from your definition of Londoner.

So there are millions of Londoners who never started "seeing it as a problem." They could vote identity and interest at the same time.

RogerPodger writes:

[Comment removed for supplying false 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.]

DWM writes:

#15 is really a matter of selection bias. Londoners who have remained in London are the one's who are OK with the mass immigration. The Londoners who disapprove of immigrants have left London. There has been an outflow of "traditional British" from London, so it cannot be assumed that "People who experience true mass immigration first-hand tend to stop seeing it as a problem". Some react to mass immigration positively, others move out.

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

On Brexit:

7. Socially, of course, what's important is not whether I win my bet, but what happens to the British, European, and global economies.

How about what happens to British, European and "global" social orders and governmental structures?

What happens to the effects on individual liberties?

An "Economy" has less "value" than the bowl it is mixed in. A good bowl can be used for many ingredients - a contaminated vessel will poison most ingredients.

Niko Davor writes:

13: The US has always treated political, ethnic, or religious motivated murders more seriously than other murders. We also treat first degree premeditated murder more seriously than second degree murder or voluntary manslaughter. And we treat voluntary manslaughter more seriously than involuntary manslaughter.

This isn't some irrational populist behavior or opposition to "numeracy", these are carefully reasoned laws of our civilization.

Consider broad hostility, physical intimidation, and even violence towards Jews. In Europe there are large numbers of threats, intimidation, and group level hostility towards Jews caused by recent immigrants or descendents of recent immigrants. Jews have had to flee neighborhoods, they've had to hire security for children attending school, they've had to cancel Jewish celebrations and festivals out of genuine safety concern, they've been warned by sympathetic official police to hide any outward signs of Jewishness for their own safety, and they've experienced lots of graffiti and non-lethal intimidation violence. So, the number of officially confirmed ethno-religiously motivated killings of Jews are small, the costs are large. And to compare those small number of officially confirmed ethno-religious killings to say, drunk driving manslaughter incidents is unreasonable.

A B writes:

#13 - Let's move away from murder for a minute and look closer at signaling.

Suppose ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, etc... collectively reach a deal with the United States and the world: All terrorism will immediately and permanently cease as long as we all agree to pay them tribute and that our government leaders will annually travel to their capital to be spat on in public.

If your followup is 'well, how much tribute are we talking?' then you need to get out a bit more.

Chrisnonymous 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.]

Peter Schaeffer writes:

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was just one man. His death meant very little per se. His death triggered a war that killed (roughly) 16 million people. Terrorism is profoundly significant not because terrorists kill so many people, but what they represent... An imminent threat (or reality) of large scale war.

Peter Schaeffer writes:

"Also, to accommodate the host of immigrants, all private homes were effectively communized, with everyone permitted to quarter themselves everywhere; it was now illegal to close, let alone lock, one's doors."

Sounds like an Open Borders paradise to me. Lots of immigrants. Mandatory property confiscation to help the "refugees". What's there not to like?

The whole idea that "borders" are immoral but "doors" are sacred is utterly hypocritical and ultimately unsustainable.

Open Borders for all. Open Doors for all.

Peter Schaeffer writes:

"But since this holds even for the richest, most socially conservative immigrants, the best explanation is that right-wing parties treat immigrants with great disrespect."

This is basically BS. Immigrants (in Europe and the USA) define themselves as "outsiders" and vote accordingly. Social conservatism should influence their votes, but doesn't. There are actually several points here.

First, social conservatism has far less influence than is commonly believed. Blacks in the U.S. express socially conservative views. They note Democratic anyway. Reagan (delusionally) believed that "Hispanics are Republicans, they just don't know it yet".

He was actually twice-fold wrong. Hispanics are not socially conservative and they are deeply Democratic.

However, in Europe the dynamic is somewhat different. The left (in Europe) is rigidly socially liberal, except when it comes to immigrants. The left abhors rape, FGM, wife-beating, Anti-Semitism, gay-hatred, intolerance, etc. unless the practitioners are immigrants. In that case it's all OK. Note the role of the left in covering up the Rotherman and Cologne crimes. For the left, rape is only a "crime" if it can be used to advance a PC agenda. Otherwise, it's OK.

By contrast, opposition to immigrant intolerance (in Europe) typically comes from the right. To use the Dutch example, Pim Fortuyn, Theo van Gogh, and Geert Wilders have all (the first two were murdered by immigrants/leftists) denounced the brutality that the left condones (as long as immigrants do it).

Basically, intolerant immigrants are tolerated by the "pro-tolerance" left, and they vote left accordingly.

Peter Schaeffer writes:

For some time now I have been reading the Open Borders propaganda about “trillion dollar bills lying on the sidewalk” (the alleged benefits of Open Borders). I have always wondered “Which sidewalk?” and what does a “trillion dollar bill” really look like?

Now we know. The sidewalk is the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. The “trillion dollar bills” have been cleverly disguised as baby carriages.

Of course, this is not exactly how the Open Borders advocates see things. However, it is a lot closer to the truth than the fantasy libertarian worldview. The fantasy libertarian worldview is predicated on a “blank slate” ideology (among other things). Sadly the libertarians have managed to persuade ISIS to share their perspective.

Of course, the other intellectual underpinnings of Open Borders are just as suspect. There is no evidence that the economies are the advanced industrial nations are “scalable” in the face of mass migration. Given the dominance of anti-growth ideologies (many of them advanced by pro-Open Borders Greens), there is little likelihood of economic growth keeping pace with migration driven population increases. A closely related point is that mass unemployment in Europe (and the USA) hasn’t exactly triggered a burst of economic growth. If unemployment in Europe and the US doesn’t increase growth, why would mass migration have a more positive effect?

The standard Open Borders answer amounts to the theory of the “magical immigrant”. Why immigrants from unsuccessful countries are supposed to be magical when they arrive in Europe or the USA isn’t apparent to me. Clearly others differ.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top