November 15, 2019 1:21PM

Illegal Immigrants in Europe

Pew Research Center recently released a wonderful new report that estimates the illegal immigrant resident population in European Union and European Free Trade Association (EU-EFTA) countries. This is the first systematic report to estimate Europe’s illegal immigrant population along the lines that Pew and others use to estimate the U.S. illegal immigrant population. Illegal immigrants are a much larger population in the United States than in Europe.

Pew estimates that there are 3.9 million to 4.8 million illegal immigrants in EU-EFTA as of 2017. Those illegal immigrants come from countries outside of the EU-EFTA area. About 1 million illegal immigrants in EU-EFTA have pending asylum claims, so many will eventually earn legal status. As a percentage of the 525 million people living in the EU-EFTA, only about 0.74 to 0.91 percent are illegal immigrants. Of the roughly 20 million non‐​EU‐​EFTA residents who are non‐​citizens in any of those countries, only 19 to 24.5 percent are illegal immigrants.

Compared to the United States, illegal immigration is a minor concern in Europe. According to Pew, there are roughly 10.5 million illegal immigrants in the United States as of 2017. Other groups come to similar numbers despite some controversy regarding estimation methods. Illegal immigrants were roughly 3.2 percent of the approximately 326 million people living in the United States in 2017. Of the 22.6 million non‐​citizens currently living in the United States, about 47 percent are illegal immigrants. No matter how you look at it, EU-EFTA countries have a smaller illegal immigrant population than the United States.

There are many reasons why many fewer illegal immigrants live in the EU-EFTA than the United States. The first is geography. It’s more difficult for illegal immigrants to travel from poor countries to Europe illegally. Crossing the Mediterranean Sea is expensive, difficult, and deadly. Historically, crossing the border from Mexico into the United States was easier. That is why about 23 percent of the illegal immigrants in Europe are from other European countries outside of the EU-EFTA like Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, and Kosovo. The cost for them to travel to Europe is a lot lower than the cost for an Afghan, Iraqi, or Nigerian.

Another reason is that the EU allows workers from poorer countries to work in wealthier EU countries legally. A larger supply of legal immigrant workers crowds out illegal immigrant workers. For instance, Luxembourg was the wealthiest EU country in 2017 with a per capita GDP, PPP of $107,641 in current international dollars. Workers from Bulgaria, which is the poorest EU country, have a crudely‐​estimates place premium of 5.1 if working in Luxembourg. That’s much higher than the 3.1 place premium multiple (same crude estimation method) for Mexicans working in the United States. If the United States had a free movement agreement with a few countries as poor as Mexico then the illegal immigrant population here would also be a lot smaller too.

The third major reason Europe has fewer illegal immigrants than the United States is that they have had more amnesties in recent years. From 1996 to 2011, more than 5 million illegal immigrants were legalized in Europe. The last major U.S. amnesty was in 1986 for illegal immigrants who arrived before 1982 (DACA is merely a temporary reprieve with work authorization). By decreasing the stock of illegal immigrants substantially in recent years, EU-EFTA countries have kept the number of illegal immigrants low.

Some European countries have a revolving amnesty program that isn’t tied to the illegal immigrant’s date of entry. For instance, the United Kingdom has a revolving amnesty policy that grants “limited leave to remain” (i.e., temporary residence) to illegal immigrants under certain conditions that can lead to “indefinite leave to remain” (i.e., permanent residence). The United Kingdom grants limited leave to remain to any adult non‐​UK citizen who would have “very significant obstacles” to “integration into the country to which he would have to go,” children who have lived continuously for at least seven years in the United Kingdom and for whom it would not be “reasonable” to expect them to leave, non‐​UK citizens ages 18–25 if they have lived continuously for at least half their life in the country, and any non‐​UK citizen who has lived continuously for at least 20 years in the country. Limited leave to remain provides for two and a half years of temporary residence without access to public benefits, but immigrants may renew it. Following 10 years with limited leave to remain, legalized immigrants may apply for indefinite leave remain.

Another reason why there are fewer illegal immigrants in Europe is that the generally more intrusive labor market regulations and identity systems in EU_EFTA countries make it more difficult to work, rent a dwelling, open a bank account, or otherwise live in Europe as an illegal immigrant than the comparatively less‐​regulated United States. A Danish libertarian told me that the Personal Identity Number issued to legal immigrants and Danish citizens is essential to get a job, receive payment, rent an apartment, and open a bank account. There’s likely a black market for Personal Identity Numbers, some fraud on the margins, and other ways to circumvent the system, but only at a cost. Meanwhile, American attempts to create similar systems fail miserably.

Costly labor market regulations that discourage the hiring of low‐​skilled workers means that employers of illegal immigrants in Europe would have to break both labor market laws and immigration laws. In the United States, by comparison, employers only break the comparatively less‐​well enforced immigration laws to employ illegal immigrants. This is why many American intellectuals who want harsher immigration enforcement push for a higher minimum wage – it will price out some illegal immigrants and conscript labor bureaucrats into immigration enforcement. The comparatively less‐​regulated United Kingdom, Germany (after the Hartz Reforms), and Italy’s large labor black market help explain why most illegal immigrants are in those countries.

The United States has one big lesson to learn from Europe’s experience with illegal immigration: A free movement zone with comparatively poorer countries can reduce illegal immigration. An increased supply of legal immigrant workers can crowd out illegal immigrant workers.

July 10, 2018 3:37PM

On the Purpose of NATO & the Cost of European Defense

The anxiety leading up to this week’s NATO summit is unusually intense, thanks in large part to President Trump’s fractious relationship with European allies. Trump’s political values are often in tension with that of his transatlantic counterparts, and the White House is inching ever closer to an all-out trade war with Europe and Canada, but the real drama of the NATO summit will center on Trump’s brash accusations of allied free-riding. He recently sent letters to many European capitals berating them for not meeting their pledge to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense.

In a post at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Lucie Béraud-Sudreau and Nick Childs try to push back on the notion that providing for European defense is all that costly for the United States. While it is true that the $602.8 billion the United States spent on its military in 2017 “was the equivalent of 70.1% of aggregate spending by all NATO member states,” this exaggerates the true cost, they argue.

Direct U.S. spending on European defense, by their estimate, is only about $30.7 billion in 2017 and $36 billion in 2018, or between 5.1% and 5.5% of the total U.S. defense budget.

How do they calculate this number? They tally up the cost of three things: (1) direct funding for NATO, including common procurements; (2) the costs of the U.S. military presence in Europe; and (3) U.S. foreign military assistance.

Now, $30-$40 billion every year is nothing to sniff at. That is an enormous chunk of change for an America that is $21 trillion in debt to be spending on the defense of a region that is remarkably rich, powerful, and safe.

The problem, however, is that this understates the true cost of America’s NATO commitments. It is misleading to count the U.S. contribution to NATO solely as a sum of direct annual costs. The tally should also account for the indirect cost of maintaining a military big enough to fulfill our security commitments in Europe. It must account for some share of the permanent force structure that would shift to the reserves, or disappear entirely, if the United States wasn’t pledged to treating an attack on Paris, France or Podgorica, Montenegro as synonymous with attacks on Paris, Texas, or Portland, Maine. This more inclusive count is very difficult if not impossible to calculate with precision, but it is more honest.

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January 7, 2018 11:24PM

Washington Post Columnist Needs to Get Her Opioid Facts Right

In a December 28, 2017 column for the Washington Post entitled, “Opioid Abuse in the US Is So Bad It’s Lowering Life Expectancy. Why Hasn’t the Epidemic Hit Other Countries?,” Amanda Erickson succumbs to the false narrative that misdiagnoses the opioid overdose crisis as being primarily a manifestation of doctors over‐​prescribing opioids, goaded on by greedy, unethical pharmaceutical companies. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed less than 25% of people using opioids for non‐​medical reasons get them through a prescription. A study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association found just 13% of overdose victims had chronic pain conditions. Multiple Cochrane analyses show a true addiction (not just dependency) rate of roughly 1% in chronic pain patients on long‐​term opioids. Yet despite the 41% reduction in the prescription of high‐​dose opioids since 2010, the overdose rate continues to climb, and for the past few years heroin and fentanyl have been the major causes of death, as death from prescription opioids has stabilized or receded.

In actual fact, the rise in drug abuse and overdose is multifactorial, with socioeconomic and sociocultural components. This helps explain the Washington University study reporting 33% of heroin addicts entering rehab in 2015 started with heroin, as opposed to 8.7% in 2005.

It also helps explain why, contrary to Ms. Erickson’s reporting, opioid overdoses have reached crisis levels in Europe, despite a European medical culture that historically has been stingy with pain medicines, and has encouraged stoicism from patients. And the overdose crisis in Canada, ranked second in the world for per capita opioid use, has alarmed public health authorities there. But at least the Europeans and Canadians have the good sense to emphasize harm reduction measures to address the crisis, such as safe injection rooms and medication‐​assisted treatment, rather than focusing on inhibiting doctors from helping their patients in pain.



June 21, 2017 5:57PM

Fatalities and the Annual Chance of being Murdered in a European Terrorist Attack

Recent terrorist attacks in Europe have increased death tolls and boosted fears on both sides of the Atlantic. Last year, I used common risk analysis methods to measure the annual chance of being murdered in an attack committed on U.S. soil by foreign‐​born terrorists. This blog is a back of the envelope estimate of the annual chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack in Belgium, France, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The annual chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack in the United States from 2001 to 2017 is about 1 in 1.6 million per year. Over the same period, the chances are much lower in European countries.

Methods and Sources

Belgium, France, and the United Kingdom are included because they have suffered some of the largest terrorist attacks in Europe in recent years. Sweden and Germany are included because they have each allowed in large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers who could theoretically be terrorism risks.

The main sources of data are the Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland for the years of 1975 to 2015, with the exception of 1993. I used the RAND Database of Worldwide Terrorism to fill in the year 1993. I have not compiled the identities of the attackers, any other information about them, or the number of convictions for planning attacks in Europe. The perpetrators are excluded from the fatalities where possible. Those databases do not yet include the years 2016 and 2017, so I relied on Bloomberg and Wikipedia to supply a rough estimate of the number of fatalities in terrorist attacks in each country in those two years through June 20, 2017. The United Nations Population Division provided the population estimates for each country per year.

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February 8, 2017 12:15PM

Encouraging NATO Burden Sharing: What Works?

President Donald Trump has repeatedly complained that the United States carries too much of the economic and military burden in NATO. He has even gone so far as to call the European alliance “obsolete” and to suggest that his administration might not fulfill the treaty’s Article 5 obligation that commits NATO countries to come to the defense of any member that is attacked (Note: administration officials have repeatedly sought to reassure NATO allies that we remain committed to the collective defense of Europe, and Trump has contradicted himself on this score).

Many think this provocative rhetoric is just a ploy to get our NATO allies, who habitually underspend on defense and free‐​ride on America’s security guarantees, to pay more of their fair share of the burden. At the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, Andrea Gilli argues this approach is unlikely to jolt NATO allies into spending more on defense, though. Among other reasons, most NATO allies “face financial and political constraints to increasing military expenditure” in part because U.S. security assurances “have freed up state funds in Europe for other priorities, including a robust system of social services.” And since cutting welfare benefits is typically a political non‐​starter, we shouldn’t necessarily expect NATO countries to boost defense spending due to Trump’s abrasive rhetoric.

But the historical record seems to contradict Gilli’s argument. According to the RAND Corporation, Europe has historically spent between 43 percent and 78 percent of U.S. spending on defense. The ratio reached its peak in 1980, and then again in 2000 — years that were at the tail end of periods of defense budget cuts. And according to the RAND report, one of the the most successful techniques in getting NATO allies to share more of the burden was “threats by Congress to withdraw its troops from Europe.”

The only period of signficant real growth in European defense spending was during the 1970s; otherwise European defense expenditure has been remarkably flat in real terms…

Historically, efforts to create incentives or to manage the burden‐​sharing problem have taken four different approaches. The first approach (1966 to the mid‐​1980s) was based on the threat of U.S. troop withdrawals. With a series of resolutions and amendments from 1966 to 1975, Senator Mike Mansfield sought to use the threat of U.S. troop withdrawals to force Europe to contribute more and to lessen U.S. costs. As noted, that effort—plus other factors relating to economic growth and the Soviet threat—may have had a positive effect: European defense spending grew by 44 percent between 1970 and 1984.

Certainly other factors contributed to this period of growth in NATO burden sharing — higher rates of economic growth, increased perceptions of the Soviet threat, defense budget cuts as we withdrew from Vietnam, etc. But U.S. threats to pare back its commitment to the region seem to have had a significant impact.

That said, European defense spending may never reach the levels that the Trump administration, or for that matter the Washington foreign policy community generally, would prefer. And while U.S. security guarantees are surely one reason for this, it also may be the case that European countries aren’t boosting defense spending levels because they don’t face any major threats. Increasing defense spending to 2 percent of GDP or higher won’t do much about the terrorism problem European countries face. And the supposed geopolitical threat from Russia, meddling in Georgia and Ukraine aside, is consistently exaggerated

October 31, 2016 1:47PM

Muslim Immigration and Integration in the United States and Western Europe

Muslim immigrant assimilation in the United States is proceeding well. American Muslims have either similar or greater socio-economic status and levels of education than the average American. They are also active in civil and political society. However, this is not the case in Europe where Muslim immigrants tend to have worse labor market outcomes, are less well educated, and less socially integrated. The lack of assimilation and integration in Europe is affected by policies regarding multiculturalism, welfare, labor market regulation, citizenship, and guest worker laws that make integration more costly.

Integration in Europe

Social opinions show how Muslims in Europe are less integrated than in the United States. In Europe, there is a wide gap between Muslim and non-Muslim acceptance of homosexuality (Figure 1) and abortion (Figure 2) according to three surveys published in 2007 and 2009. The acceptance gap on these issues is the smallest in the United States – meaning that Muslims in the United States have opinions that are closer to the general public than in European countries (Figure 3).    

Figure 1

Is Homosexuality Morally Acceptable?

Media Name: euromus1.png


Sources: Pew and Gallup.

Figure 2

Is Abortion Morally Acceptable?

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Sources: Pew and Gallup.

Figure 3

Acceptance Gap


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Sources: Pew and Gallup.

Opinions on social issues are just one aspect of this gap in assimilation but an important one for judging how assimilated immigrants are into Western culture.  Although there are many other areas that could be compared, opinions of abortion and homosexuality show that Muslim Europeans are less well-assimilated than Muslims in the United States.

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August 26, 2016 3:15PM

The European Commission’s War against Pro‐​Growth Corporate Tax Policy

I have a love-hate relationship with corporations.

On the plus side, I admire corporations that efficiently and effectively compete by producing valuable goods and services for consumers, and I aggressively defend those firms from politicians who want to impose harmful and destructive forms of taxes, regulation, and intervention.

On the minus side, I am disgusted by corporations that get in bed with politicians to push policies that undermine competition and free markets, and I strongly oppose all forms of cronyism and coercion that give big firms unearned and undeserved wealth.

With this in mind, let's look at two controversies from the field of corporate taxation, both involving the European Commission (the EC is the Brussels-based bureaucracy that is akin to an executive branch for the European Union).

First, there's a big fight going on between the U.S. Treasury Department and the EC. As reported by Bloomberg, it's a battle over whether European governments should be able to impose higher tax burdens on American-domiciled multinationals.

The U.S. is stepping up its effort to convince the European Commission to refrain from hitting Apple Inc. and other companies with demands for possibly billions of euros... In a white paper released Wednesday, the Treasury Department in Washington said the Brussels-based commission is taking on the role of a “supra-national tax authority” that has the scope to threaten global tax reform deals. ...The commission has initiated investigations into tax rulings that Apple, Starbucks Corp., Inc. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV. received in separate EU nations. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew has written previously that the investigations appear “to be targeting U.S. companies disproportionately.” The commission’s spokesman said Wednesday that EU law “applies to all companies operating in Europe -- there is no bias against U.S. companies.”

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