April 24, 2005

"Race to the Bottom": Euro Edition

One of the more depressing aspects of federalism here in the United States is that states tend to compete with each other in a "race to the bottom" on offering various welfare benefits, so as to avoid attracting all sorts of immigrants and other low-income folks who flock to the more generous states. (As I discussed here, research shows that this effect is both real and pretty strong.) Among other things, that explains why converting programs like Medicaid into block grants can be so pernicious, at least if you think health care is a good thing. (If you don't, block-grant to your heart's content!)

Anyway, this is sort of random for 2 am, but I've sometimes wondered if the same thing could start to happen in the EU, as various countries become more and more integrated, and immigration flows become easier and easier. Chistopher Caldwell suggests this might be going on already:
Swedes have lately grown attentive to their neighbors' policies on immigration. They note that Finland's tight immigration policies have resulted in lower social burdens. But ever since the Öresund bridge brought Malmö within commuting distance of Copenhagen, it is to Denmark that Swedes have looked with most anxiety. There, the rise of the anti-immigration Danish People's party--which has never entered government but has thoroughly spooked the other parties of left and right--has succeeded in winning passage of Europe's most stringent laws on immigration. Denmark now restricts asylum admissions, welfare payments, and citizenship and residency permits for reasons of family unification. Danes under 25 who marry foreigners no longer have the right to bring their spouses into the country. Many such half-Danish couples now live in Malmö.

Denmark's crackdown has left Swedes wondering what is to stop everyone in the E.U. from coming to the most generous welfare state, even if such worries are couched in human-rights language. Shortly after Denmark passed these laws in 2002, Sweden's Social Democratic integration minister complained that the policies were inhumane. The Danish People's party leader, Pia Kj rsgaard, replied to the Swedes in a newsletter: "If they want to turn Stockholm, Göteborg, and Malmö into Scandinavian versions of Beirut . . . then that is up to them."
Huh. This paper, meanwhile, which sadly I can't read in full, argues that EU states are definitely acting as if there's a "race to the bottom," because they're all worried about attracting immigrants (especially, ahem, swarthy immigrants) to their generous welfare states, but that there's little empirical evidence that they really need to be doing so. And another Danish economist, Torben Andersen, maintains that "there is nothing... which supports the view that it is impossible to maintain the welfare state when economies integrate," though some rejiggering of the way benefits are financed might be in order. Very interesting!
-- Brad Plumer 4:46 AM || ||