Unmasking the myths of anti-multiculturalism

If society depicts immigration and immigrants as worthless and useless for the economy, these enemy images will lead to a hostile attitude towards all newcomers. The breach between locals and immigrants will become deeper and this soon undermines the social cohesion of any society.
Ger Mennens
30 October 2011

Conservatives and right-wing parties across Europe are making big efforts to undermine multiculturalism. They question the use of multiculturalism and state that multiculturalism has failed. Multiculturalism is not leading to any economic profit and therefore the influx of immigration has to stop. However, the arguments of the anti-multiculturalists are scarcely tenable.

Daniel Stoffman tells us in his book Who gets in that politicians should reduce the influx of immigrants because immigration brings no profit to our economies. He says that history shows us that immigrants have no impact on economic growth or the level of a nation’s wealth. According to Stoffman, all that immigrants do is keep wages for all workers low. Employers alone profit from this since they don’t have high costs of production. Immigration thus leads to economic redistribution between labour and the employers. The total wealth of the nation decreases since low wages lead to under-consumption. Stoffman is also concerned about the fact that immigrants are being exploited, being forced to do the work that no one else wants to do, such as cleaning, nannying or garbage collection. Furthermore, the author tells us that there are no demographic reasons to justify immigration. He tells us that it is a lie that we need immigration as a solution for the ageing of the population. According to Stoffman, all western countries have to deal with ageing and a shortage of labour forces, and none of these industrialized countries have ever used immigration influx to solve that problem. Stoffman shows us that there are other solutions to help us cope with this shortage of labour forces. Education and technological innovation will take care of the problem. For instance, methods of production that need a high level of labour forces should be reorganized. Multiculturalism is not working according to Stoffmann, since it is too much focused on letting immigrants come in.

Who gets in is great raw material for those populist parties welcoming any sort of argument against multiculturalism. However, much of what Stoffman tells us is not true. In the first place, immigration and multiculturalism in particular do bring economic profit. Immigration provides the economic benefit of ‘diversity’, further elaborated in the nineties as the concept of ‘productive diversity.’ With management that creatively takes advantage of the diversity of its employers, cultural diversity in the composition of labour forces can lead to advantage and profit in a global market. Advertising slogans such as ‘Diversity, it takes more than one ingredient to make a great product’ have been used to profit from the quality of an immigrant workforce. In a globalised world of export which is necessarily diverse, consumers can identify with products that have a multicultural image.

In Stoffman’s worldview it is as if we are all determined by the brute force of the economy. As if we don’t have any choice. He forgets that there are unions. Newcomers and locals have the right to unite and put pressure on employers and government. Workers don’t have to choose between their self-interest and the common good. What makes such solidarity difficult is that newcomers are often insufficiently aware of their rights. Education in rights and awareness-raising will lead to resistance against low wages. But then again, Stoffman argues that it is unfair that immigrants always have to the jobs that locals don’t want to do. Stoffman forgets that immigrants who are not well educated in their homeland will also be willing to do such work in their own country. If they can earn more money by doing this work abroad they will at least profit in a way that leaves them feeling less exploited, that is, if they get the same wages as locals.

According to Stoffman, immigration is not needed to solve the problems of an ageing society. However, the author only focuses on the ways states deal with the shortage of labour forces. He forgets to look at the fact that the social facilities of welfare state have to be affordable for all of us. Countries that have to deal with ageing have to increase the influx of immigrants because otherwise pensions and healthcare cannot be paid for by the state. Newcomers do pay taxes after all. You may well ask whether newcomers pay back in taxes all the money they themselves receive from the modern welfare state. According to James Allen Evans, in his review of Stoffman’s book,  the average immigrant will not pay back his individual costs, but in the long run, taxpayers who are his offspring will pay back to society and make society more prosperous. Facilities for the aged people will then stay available and affordable.

The public debates in which newcomers are reduced to depersonalized entities, bundles of muscles, judged by cost and profit margins, are to be found in your face in many western countries. Immigration does not only raise questions of economics, however. Immigration has a lot to say about a society’s concept of justice, equality in opportunities, solidarity and the social-cultural contributions of newcomers to all modern societies.

Multicultural policy cannot be reduced to immigration policy issues. Its challenges arise form the ethnic groups that have already settled here. Our citizens. It is more to do with recognition and social cohesion.

Even if we were to reduce the influx of immigrants, multiculturalism would still present a challenge. Multicultural policy is focused on making newcomers feel welcome, and recognised. Lack of recognition or misrepresentation is harmful and can damage one’s self-esteem. This in turn hinders social mobility. Recognition of one’s cultural identity will give people motivation to participate within society. Misrecognition and anti-multiculturalism lead only to polarization and ‘reactive ethnicity.’ If society depicts immigration and immigrants as worthless and useless for the economy, these enemy images will lead to a hostile attitude towards all newcomers. The breach between locals and immigrants will become deeper and this soon undermines the social cohesion of any society. In the light of this, populist parties should rethink their political actions and their programmes.

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