Does immigration bring Nordic welfare states to the verge of collapse?

They all seem to think so, but I’ve long found this fear puzzling.  These states could solve many of their fiscal problems by either cutting taxes/spending a few percentage points, or by moving to complete dual benefit status (read: non-whites receive less money).  No matter what you think of those ideas, they would stave off fiscal crisis.

The trick is that Americans and many of the Nordics have such different senses of what counts as a major political problem.  For better or worse, we are used to tolerating waste and disorder.  They fall apart if even a single piece of the machinery of government is out of order.  (Similarly, the Japanese are aghast over tiny tears in the fabric of social order.)  So if someone is collecting benefits "who shouldn’t be," it threatens their entire basis of social and legal organization.  I, as a New Jersey-bred American think "too bad, but big deal, what else is new?"

Would it help them to be more like me?  Can they simply overlook these instances of immigrant abuse?  Maybe not.  If they were more like me, they wouldn’t be them in the first place. 

And that is why so many Nordics think their welfare state is in such danger from immigrants.  Often the countries most able to handle problems are — for that same reason — the most worried about those problems.  It is their own vigilance which makes them so vulnerable to exceptions and scattered loose ends.

But if they could be more…um…Hegelian…their future would be brighter.


In the early 1990s, I used to work with officials from Sweden, other European countries, Japan and USA. We were supposed to manage a large program of assistance to Africa. In my experience the only ones concerned about waste and disorder were the Americans. Perhaps the non-American officials that I knew were trained in New Jersey (I was trained in Argentina so I know what you're talking about). The concern of many Nordics about immigration may be related to the relative size of their countries and the expected flows of immigrants. Even if they wanted to accommodate much larger inflows than in the past 20 years, they would not have the ability to do it.

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Or they could just stop all immigrants from coming to their countries, much easier. Why import resentful conquistadors who do nothing but sit around and collect benefits. Round them up and deport them, stop any more from coming, problem solved, the welfare state endures. Most Somalis in Sweden and places should be just taken off the streets and shipped home.

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Adrian - just curious, but where exactly are these boats of disease
ridden asylum seekers coming from - the Shetland Islands?

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"For better or worse, we are used to tolerating waste and disorder. They fall apart if even a single piece of the machinery of government is out of order."

Tyler, this can't be right. Surely Nordic (and other) welfare states have high rates of bogus disability and other free-riding problems. Only recently the WSJ had a story about efforts to get people with electricity allergies and other such dubious problems to go back to work after years on the dole. I should think that any time the public sector soaks up so much GDP there would be significant waste (if not disorder). Maybe that's the key: if the waste occurs beneath some veneer of legitimacy, and if it's universally available, and the free riders are just like us, people may tolerate it.

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"These states could solve many of their fiscal problems by either cutting taxes/spending a few percentage points, or by moving to complete dual benefit status (read: non-whites receive less money). No matter what you think of those ideas, they would stave off fiscal crisis."

"Would it help them to be more like me? Can they simply overlook these instances of immigrant abuse? Maybe not. If they were more like me, they wouldn't be them in the first place."

Are you OUT OF YOUR MIND? You say "taxes/spending" as if they are interchangeable. They are not...this administration has increased spending at the highest rate in history while cutting taxes. IN OTHER WORDS, CUTTING SPENDING IS NO LONGER AN OPTION EVEN FOR THE REPUBLICAN PARTY. The Republicans will raise spending while putting the entire nation into debt, and the Democrats will raise spending while raising taxes. Nobody is controlling spending now, and trend is that with each passing year, the chances of toning down spending diminish. Spending will continue to rise and rise because of racially based politics...people expressing outrage at the disparities in outcomes between racial groups.

The majority of Americans can not "simply overlook" what is happening. That is why the majority of Americans are opposed to allowing unlimited illegal immigration. But unfortunately President Bush and many Congressmen in both parties want to "simply overlook" the abuse of the welfare state, and while they're at it will call anyone who actually cares about the United States "racist" in order to make it seem like it's a race issue rather than an issue of resources, money, and rule of law.

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I think the / in Prof. Cowen's "taxes/spending" should be read as an "and", not an "or".

I'm pretty sure he would agree with Prof. Tabarrok that the Bush "tax cuts" would be more accurately described as "tax shifts", i.e. from the present to the future.

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As a native Norwegian (and regular reader of Marginal Revolution) I find this post interesting.
But I'm puzzled by the claim that the Nordic countries need to "stave off fiscal crisis". The Nordic countries run fiscal surpluses, and the public debt is falling.

As most Americans know, this is not the case in every country of the world.

Over the long term the Nordic countries may face fiscal problems, but for the time being, they seem to me to be some of the least likely candidates for a fiscal crisis.

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Ah the two issues where Cowen is at his worst, combined. Immigration and uninformed arguments about Nordic countries.

Where to start:

1. “Collapse† is a straw man. Not the first time Cowen is using it either. Big government leads to a reduction of economic activity compared to what people are capable of, not “collapse†. Third world immigration leads to higher than necessary taxes, social conflict, much higher crime rate, not “collapse†. Modern countries hardly ever collapse. Does that mean we can downplay large policy issues in our standard of living? In Sweden about 5-6% of GDP goes to net transfers for immigrants. Of course this does not imply “collapse†. But is it good?

2. The Nordic countries differ more among themselves here than with the US. Iceland and Finland have extremely harsh immigration laws. 2% of Iceland’s population are born in a non-western country. Similar figure for Finland.

Denmark had large third-world (let me include the Balkans here), but this lead to a backlash. Now they have tightened the law.

Sweden (and to a less extent Norway) have most of the problem. About 10% of the population are third worlders. 48% of adult third world immigrants work in Sweden (2004), compared to 75+ of natives. More than half all murders, rapes and robberies are committed by first or second generation immigrants.
Cowens claim that Scandinavians politicians are less tolerant to abuse is completely false in the political arena. There is no political reaction, due to the same and worse ideological problems among the elite as in the US. Immigration 2006 was the highest recorded in a decade. The number of police per capita are lower than ten years ago. Welfare abuse has been rampant, with polls indicating a large share of the population ACCEPTS abuse of welfare benefits.

Just get this through your head once for all: Scandinavians are privately well organized and through, but have very badly functioning political systems. This is why Swedes earn 60% more in the US than in Sweden. Norms of conformism and “niceness† work great in a small community, but are disastrous when applied to politics.
The Swedish political elite cannot react to immigration problems, because that would be “racist†.
Do you honestly think Americans would see the rate of violent crime increase by 2-300% since 1980 and not react politically? What would the American reaction be if 52% of Mexicans lived completely of transfers? Well, Sweden has not reacted, at least not yet.

Lastly Cowen it should be clear to you that a country whose elite is pro immigration enough (actually anti-anti immigration enough) to allowing in 100.000 immigrants per year is never going to enforce apartheid. The suggestion would be met with the same outrage as an American suggesting we give blacks lower benefits than whites.


Not hard to run a 2% surplus when you collect 56% of GDP in goverment revenue.


"If they were more like me, they wouldn't be them in the first place."

Great point. 56%-42% Swedes do not want more immigration. Yet all 7 political parties propose same or higher rates of immigration. Do you know why Professor Cowen? Because intellectuals are doing in Sweden what you are doing in the US, cheerleading immigration in the name of “tolerance† and “diversity†. The Swedish 'Tyler Cowens' have lower IQ and are less innovative, but equally irresponsible.

Now that you have seen the light about Scandinavian immigration, how about you apply the same logic to the US?

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Now is it not the case that the country you are visiting is much more worked up about this issue
than its neighboring Nordics? It is the Danes who have voted in a ruling party on an anti-immigrant
platform, a government that then got them into Iraq. I am not aware of any other Nordic country that
is quite as hysterical about the matter as Denmark, although I was told last time I was there that
Finland has very strict immigration laws, while being less worked up about it than the Danes have been.

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"Finland has very strict immigration laws, while being less worked up about it than the Danes have been."

Duh, because they didn't have many immigrants in the first place because of their laws, so they had nothing to worry about. Denmark had nonsensical invite the world policies until they rightly elected people to keep the Muslim conquerers out of their country.

Notice, as Steve Sailer has pointed out - Finland has as big a border with Russia as the US has with Mexico, and yet Russians don't flock to Finland (despite a similar wealth gap), because the Finns don't let them in!

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Read this Dan, and tell me immigrants aren't a problem in other Scandinavian countries.

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Well, at least somebody in Sweden is hysterical about immigrants,
if not most of the society.

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Whites in Britain have significantly higher crime rates today than their ethnic kin in America (homicide excepted, due to our vast number of guns). I would guess that the greater religiousness of working class whites in America is the single most important factor for why their morals are better than those working class whites in Britain.

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"France with all it's North-African immigrants doesn't seem to be more crime ridden than Europe on average."

France has always been an unusually law abiding country, they tend to solve most disputes by revolutions. But 80% of French inmates are Muslim.

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Hey Arthur,

I am not entirely clear on what your beef with Cowen is here, although I do think there are lots of reasons for thinking that his post is pretty bad. But†¦.

get the F*** up out of your arm chair and join the rest of us in a little thing I like to call REALITY.

1) There are several welfare states that have been welfare states for at least 40 years
2) There are and have been for 40 years incentives to cheat
3) There are several welfare states that are not bankrupt

1-3 are little things I like to call FACTS.

Put 1-3 together and reflect on your comment one more time.

Gee wizzz, the quality of commentators on this site is really poor these days.

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OK, I got carried away and I do apologize.
Let's look at a few more facts:
1) tax as a percentage of GDP has increased overall for more than 40 years;
2) taking the 2 highest-tax countries, Denmark and Sweden, the tax rates have actually decreased in the last 10 years or so;
3) high taxes do not provide incentives for corruption but for tax evasion, and the Nordic countries have very large black economies (estimates of course), much larger than e.g. the USA;
4) Denmark devotes a few percentages of GDP to the tax police (3 or 4% if I remember correctly), I don't know about Sweden;
5) the Swedish tax office outsources work to Estonia to save money.

So much about the facts, and sorry if I can't supply documentation about (4). Now my interpretations:
a) fact (2) would not be possible without actions such as (4) and (5);
b) more generally, welfare states can probably survive, but not without the welfare police.

Now I don't know whether immigration somehow increases incentives to cheat, and if it does I don't know why, not for sure anyway. My point was simply that the larger the welfare state, the more important the welfare police is for its survival. Cultural differences, to the extent that they precede the welfare state, have influenced a simple binary choice: the Nordics have gone for a larger welfare police, the Americans for a smaller welfare state.

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Please come to secondlife money, we will give you a great surprise.

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nordiska länderna behöver inte invandring.

är ett bedrägeri.

Vi behöver inte svarta eller muslimer i Norden.

invandring sker endast i syfte tos topp demokrati och kristendom i Norden.

Detta är vad NWO ny världsordning eller EU Europeiska unionen Freemason - Bilderberg djävulska eliten vill.

Norge har 40 000 somalier
Danmark har hundratusentals muslimer
Sverige har snart 50% av befolkningen invandrare ...

Norge: 95% av vissa brott som invandrare.
Sverige: Muslimska hotar polisen.
Danmark: Upplopp


nordiske lande ikke har brug for indvandring.

det er et bedrageri.

vi behøver ikke sorte eller muslimer i de nordiske lande.

indvandring sker kun i orden tos toppen demokrati eller kristendom i de nordiske lande.

dette er hvad NWO ny verdensorden eller EU Den Europæiske Union frimurer - Bilderberg sataniske eliter ønsker.

Norge har 40 000 somaliere
Danmark har flere hundrede tusinde muslimer
Sverige har snart 50% af befolkningen indvandrere ...

Norge: 95% af nogle forbrydelser foretaget af indvandrere.
Sverige: muslim truer politiet.
Danmark: Optøjer


Norðurlöndin þarft ekki innflytjendamálum.

það er svik.

Við þurfum ekki svart fólk eða múslima á Norðurlöndum.

innflytjendamálum er gert eingöngu í röð TOS upp lýðræði og kristni á Norðurlöndum.

þetta er það sem NWO Nýi heimurinn röð eða ESB Evrópusambandið freemason - Bilderberg Satanic elites vilt.

Noregur hefur 40 000 somalis
Danmörk hefur hundruð þúsunda múslima
Svíþjóð hefur bráðum 50% innflytjenda mannfjölda ...

Noregur: 95% af sumum glæpum gert við innflytjendur.
Svíþjóð: múslimar hóta lögreglu.
Danmörk: Riots


nordic countries do not need immigration.

it is a fraud.

we do not need black people or muslims in nordic countries.

immigration is done only i order tos top democracy or christianity in nordic countries.

this is what NWO New world order or EU European union freemason - bilderberg satanic elites want.

Norway has 40 000 somalis
Denmark has hundreds of thousands muslims
Sweden has soon 50% of population immigrants...

Norway: 95% of some crimes made by immigrants.
Sweden: Muslim threatens police.
Denmark: Riots


Pohjoismaat eivät tarvitse maahanmuuttoa.

on petos.

Emme tarvitse mustia ihmisiä tai muslimien Pohjoismaissa.

maahanmuutto tapahtuu vain Tilaan tos alkuun demokratian ja kristinuskon Pohjoismaissa.

Tämä on mitä NWO Uusi maailmanjärjestys tai EU Euroopan unioni vapaamuurari - Bilderberg saatanallinen eliitti haluaa.

Norja on 40 000 somalialaista
Tanskassa on satoja tuhansia muslimeja
Ruotsissa on pian 50% väestöstä maahanmuuttajien ...

Norja: 95% joitakin rikoksia tehneet maahanmuuttajat.
Ruotsi: muslimien uhkaa poliisi.
Tanskassa: Mellakat


Norden trenger ikke innvandring.

det er en svindel.

Vi trenger ikke svarte mennesker eller muslimer i Norden.

innvandring er bare gjort i orden tos toppen demokrati eller kristendommen i Norden.

dette er hva NWO New World Order eller EU europeiske union frimurer - bilderberg sataniske elitene ønsker.

Norge har 40 000 somaliere
Danmark har hundretusener muslimer
Sverige har snart 50% av befolkningen innvandrere ...

Norge: 95% av noen forbrytelser gjort av innvandrere.
Sverige: Muslimer truer politiet.
Danmark: Riots

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mafia – immigration,
gang- immigration,
islam – immigration
CIA – immigration,
drug trade – immigration,
multi culture – immigration,
satanist- immigration,
anti-christian – immigration...?

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