The Effect of Communism on People’s Attitudes Toward Immigration

Does living in a communist regime make a person more concerned about immigration? This paper argues conceptually and demonstrates empirically that people’s attitudes toward immigration are affected by their country’s politico-economic legacy. Exploiting a quasi-natural experiment arising from the historic division of Germany into East and West, I show that former East Germans, because of their exposure to communism, are notably more likely to be very concerned about immigration than former West Germans. Opposite of what existing literature finds, higher educational attainment in East Germany actually increases concerns. Further, I find that the effect of living in East Germany is driven by former East Germans who were born during, and not before, the communist rule and that differences in attitudes persist even after Germany’s reunification. People’s trust in strangers and contact with foreigners represent two salient channels through which communism affects people’s preferences toward immigration.

That is from Matthew Karl at the Board of Governors, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.


That paper is painfully tendentious. It wasn't *communism* that made East Germans wary of immigration, it was *living under the domination of foreigners!* The East German Communist regime was a puppet of the USSR, which is why it fell immediately when the USSR collapsed. All the former Warsaw Pact states are wary of immigration because immigrants are invaders!

The more immigrants you take in, the more you feel foreign domination-- even in a democracy, because some of the immigrants get the vote, all of them buoy local opportunists who use them as shock troops against other natives, and most of them help disrupt and dilute the local culture (giving you the benefit, for example in Germany, of "Syrian refugees" who commit violent homosexual rapes in public natatorium changing rooms because they can't control their "urges," then after they are caught local judges withhold punishment [and therefore deterrence] because "immigrants don't understand local laws!").

In America we have the rotten-borough problem (it's really large in California) where electoral districts are so full of immigrants that a handful of local resident citizens, most of whom live in the district to exploit the immigrants, elect politicians whose only demand in all legislative logrolling sessions is more handouts for immigrants (so the immigrants can spend those handouts in the liquor stores owned by the local disloyal-traitor citizens).

Yes, I went through (some) of the paper and they didn't control or even mention that possibility. It doesn't mean they are wrong, but it weakens the paper.

'that made East Germans wary of immigration, it was *living under the domination of foreigners!*'

As noted below, it was also the fact that East Germans transitioned from a genocidal native totalitarian government to a brutal totalitarian state without a pause. One should not overlook a dozen fairly significant years in the lives of East Germans, who were however taught something quite different in history class after 1945 - more or less along the lines that the Red Army showed up, the Nazis were defeated, and everyone became happy comrades without sin following the party line, unlike the fascist West Germans.

And got a link for that rape claim? - cannot find a thing searching using English or German, but these days, lots of people don't bother checking what they repeat.

The OP must have conflated some memories. The swimming-pool rape happened in Austria:

https : //

Recently Der Spiegel ran a big article on German perceptions of rape by foreigners in Germany. It showed that at least one prominent web tally is overblown, but admitted (you have to read pretty far down) that at least some police statistics are counterintuitive at best, failing to count refugees as immigrants once they are granted asylum. That article also offers up some support for the OP:

"Why this specific prejudice is attached to refugees is something that Wolfgang Benz is trying to explain. The professor emeritus at the Technical University of Berlin, who researches prejudice, believes that the arrival of the refugees has "reactivated" an image that has long existed in the minds of Germans -- one of a country occupied by foreign forces behaving like barbarians.

"'Today, the horde that is invading us, is no longer the Russians but the refugees, and the rapes, as in every past war, are part of the conduct of war,' says Benz, describing the most recent iteration of that image. He says the events of new year's eve 2015 in Cologne and the tone of the reporting on them has exacerbated that prejudice. Every report of a refugee committing sexual assault or harassment, he says, acts as an amplifier, and reports to the contrary are no longer taken seriously."

http : //

This observation - 'Today, the horde that is invading us, is no longer the Russians' - may just explain a major difference between East and West Germans. West Germans were accustomed to the presence of young men without women over decades, but generally, German women and American servicemen got along in a more or less normal fashion. The Russians were something else, both during the actual conquering of eastern Germany, and in the way they were segregated from Germans afterwards. One East German I have known since the early 90s was amazed that Germans and Americans lived together around a base, as this never occurred with the Russians. (Another East German - older woman - remarked that an individual Russian could be a decent person, but to always avoid Russians in a group.)

Nonetheless, most of the people I know in this region of Germany of roughly my age do not think the current crop of refugees are any more notable for rape than what happened in the Cold War era, when hundreds of thousands of Americans were stationed here.

The West Germans were dominated culturally by the US more thoroughly than the East Germans were by the Russians. Most East Germans had very limited personal contact with the Russian occupiers, and "foreign domination" was felt mostly only at the highest levels of government. East Germany remained a "racially pure" country for 45 years after 1945, whereas West Germany began accepting large numbers of Italian, Turkish and Yugoslav immigrants by the 1960s.

No. If that were the case, then Ireland would be the most xenophobic country in Europe. In fact, it is one of the least. And the parts of Asia that lived under Western and Japanese domination would be more xenophobic than the parts that remained independent—but in fact places like Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan are friendlier to foreigners than mainland China. Within the West today, anti-immigrant attitudes are most prevalent in the nations and regions of nations with the lowest levels of immigration. Thus, those attitudes are caused by a lack of diversity, which makes some people judge others based on nationality rather than individual character.

Within nation, the effect of contact with migrants could go either way (and is argued both ways) but in either case is of tiny overall effect and almost seems almost irrelevant:

"Are White British Londoners more accepting of immigration than White British elsewhere? The British Election Study (BES)’s 2015 panel survey asks whether immigration enriches or undermines cultural life. 34.7 per cent of White British outside London say immigration strongly undermines cultural life. But so do 34.4 per cent of White British Londoners. Not much difference there. 44 per cent of White Brits outside London want to leave the EU, but so do 42.3 per cent of White British Londoners. Again, not much in it.

This would suggest that when we adjust for ethnic composition, UKIP support in London isn’t very different. This is clear in figure 1, which shows the city as pretty average among the regions, similar to the South West when we normalise for White British population. Its South East suburban hinterland even begins to look distinctly pro-UKIP. A small share of non-White British support the party, which might inflate London’s figure a touch, but this doesn’t alter the basic pattern."

Largely it seems individuals support or reject migration based on their concerns for the continuity of the nation state of which they are part, and with almost no regard to their personal experiences with migrants.

There's no effect of becoming warmer or colder to migrants based on personal experiences, as people are generally too wise to actually reason too heavily based on their anecdotal experiences.

The White left winger whose experiences with Black people are disproportionately negative (say he's been unfortunate to be mugged by young Black kids a lot) can advocate for higher migration, while the White right winger who has positive experiences (he personally gets on well with the nice West Indian lady who runs the local shop for'ex) can advocate for massive restrictionism. People reason on a thicker platform of ideas than their personal experience.

I dunno. I expect Texas is about to re-elect Ted Cruz even though Beto is called the "cutest Kennedy in D.C." and it is very, very difficult for the army of GOP women to vote for the homelier man.

All Ted really has to do is replay the ad with Beto proposing to end enforcement of immigration law.

And we are a very "diverse" state (if diverse means, as it seems to the media and presumably most of you, one majority giving way to another even more mega-majority).

I fear Beto's stance is probably not all that popular even in El Paso, a largely Mexican-American city in a region with a strong Border Patrol presence (and that Border Patrol heavily Hispanic) that only needs look across the river at its counterfactual.

It actually does bum me out because Beto would be my candidate in a lot of ways. He went up against the billboard lobby that is Texas' perennial, shadowy overlord. He has been a friend of the environment, effecting a long-sought goal of getting permanent federal protection for the Castner artillery range. A small thing anywhere else - but this is Texas. And he's rich! I love that. He seems like he has good taste. Texas needs tastemakers.

If only he had a tincture of his dad, who as county judge once sent Ronald Reagan a bill for illegal immigrants' medical expenses. If only Beto had been content to stay in Congress; he's far superior to most of the Texas delegation.

Oh! A data point re the day's other post - the Making of a Bigot: how is it I failed to comply with, or understand, the marching orders of the elite, where did I get my deplorable opinions of Beto O'Rourke? It's from the campaign ads that run during the weather segment of the 6 PM local news, a long Texas Monthly profile, and conservation intel from my husband. Social media played no part.

Texas is almost unique in the US in being the polar opposite of West Virginia.

From the latest census data, 82% of the people born in Texas still live in Texas. But only 62% of the people living in Texas today were born in Texas. But less than half the 38% immigrants, 17%, were foriegn born.

Over one in five Texans is an immigrant from the US, and these immigrants were and are more culturally different than native born Texans today or half a century ago or a century ago. And the foriegn born in Texas are culturally more like Texas before US born immigrants to Texas changed Texas culture.

The Bush family represents a wave of immigrants from the Northeast. Followed by a surge that surpassed it from the Midwest. But most US immigrants came and still come from the South, but far fewer from the Black Belt.

My guess is most US immigrants are white collar and light blue collar workers, capitalists like Bush, managers, engineers, manufacturing, skilled construction, professionals.

West Virginia, like a number of rather white States in the upper non-coastal West sees almost half its native born leave the State, 45%. Of the 30% who immigrated to West Virginia, almost none are foriegn born. Most likely those immigrating to West Virginia are much better educated than native born, and wealthier, moving in from the greater DC coastal metro, people looking to "get back to nature", drawn by national park land.

Note, California, like Texas, keeps most of its native born, 75%; few move to Texas, most leaving only to neighboring States. But interestingly, Reagan was an immigrant to California who entered politics as immigration to California was falling, and the number of foriegn born was low at under 10%. But Reagan, if he had any impact, caused immigration of US born to California to fall, but caused foriegn born immigration to explode. While foriegn born were 10% when Reagan became governor, they surged while he was governor, plateaued when Brown was elected, but then surged more when Reagan became President. Meanwhile US born found California less desirable and declined as a share of California's population.

Today's California demographics were set in motion when Reagan GOP politics were rising, increasing foriegn born immigration, driving down US born immigration, and driving up the number of California emigrants.

Also, the States that come closest to California's 28% foriegn born immigration are New York at 24%, New Jersey 23%, Nevada 21%, Florida 21%, Hawaii 20%, Massachusetts 18%, then Texas 17%.

As for Beto O'Rourke, he's got a century of roots in Texas. Ted Cruz and family are all immigrants to Texas, and his dad chose Canadian citizenship in 1973, not US citizenship, choosing to remain an immigrant to the US where his got his education and worked for three decades after.

And Texas was Hispanic until immigration from the US made is less Hispanic. Immigrants like the O'Rourkes. And the anti-immigrant laws passed by GOP controlled Congress in 1924 carved out Texas, New Mexico, SoCal to get lots of Mexican workers to fill labor shortages. The idea was they could be deported when there were too many workers, no matter where they were born. That changed in 1965, driven by the racism in the 1924 law totally unrelated to Mexicans. But didn't much affect migration until Reagan and followers started affecting migration policy and reality, mostly in opposition.

Nice theory but wrong.
Virtually all surveys show the people beyond the Iron Curtain to have highly negative views of immigration and racial miscegenation.
This includes countries which were not particularly hostile to Communist occupation (e.g. Bulgaria), as well as Russia itself.

@Somebody - " most of whom live in the district to exploit the immigrants" - that's a very Marxist way of framing the issue you address. Far more likely is the immigrants themselves elect the politicians who give them handouts, unless they are all illegal immigrant who cannot vote. But Latinos in California (I've lived in San Jose, CA among other places) do vote.

I think an easier question to ask is whether former USSR citizens are more concerned about emigration, not immigration, lol.

The Russians most certainly are. A Russian-German friend's son visited St. Petersburg for 2 weeks, part of an official government program to attract ethnic enough Russians around 5 years ago.

And Russia is not a good example in some ways - it has been an empire for centuries, and still is in terms of all the groups it encompasses within its borders.

The Iron Curtain's Silver Lining: It shielded Eastern Europeans from the half-century of liberal propaganda that taught Western Europeans to believe they're responsible for the relative failure of every outgroup. Good luck persuading Poles, Hungarians and Czechs that they should feel guilty about Middle Eastern and African squalor.

Poles, Czechs, and Hungarians didn’t colonize those areas. And national guilt is a good thing. It makes countries abandon their militaristic designs, which is zero-sum, and instead focus on economic growth and peaceful trade, which benefits the whole world. Germany and ordinary Germans are better off today because they have taken responsibility for the dark side of their history.

The Maghreb was colonized, as was a small knock of the Levant. That's it. There were other territories which were dependencies of Britain or of France for periods of time ranging from 14 years to 41 years. Only Pakistan was under a British Raj for an appreciably longer period. Pretty circumscribed compared to the centuries-long domination of the Balkans by the Ottoman sultans. You don't have Turks living in Germany because of 'colonialism'. Turkey's never been a dependency of any European power.

As for Africa, outside of the subtropical zones and the East African highlands, you had very little colonization. The Europeans present were, for the most part, a transient population of civil servants and soldiers. The capacity of the local population to build and maintain territorial states was minimal.

Poles, Czechs, and Hungarians didn’t colonize those areas.

Neither did Sweden Yes.

The USSR also frequently and cynically used internal migration to disrupt and control its various sub-populations e.g. the settlement of ethnic Russians in Baltic states. In "East Germany" of course this was the Russianization of East Prussia/Kaliningrad Oblast.

A stupid paper because this "natural experiment" certainly does not isolate communism from capitalism. If anything it isolates the specific West German propaganda environment from the East German propaganda environment (and each has predictable differences in emphasis on the virtues of submission to foreign migrants).

James Hawes' excellent Shortest History of Germany suggests that East Germany's otherness precedes communism by quite a long time. It's a persuasive (and fast) read

I wonder if the West's de-Nazification efforts in West Germany also had an effect in the other direction. I recall reading how East Germans de-Nazified by the Russians in a rather different manner, one that somehow blamed the Nazi movement on capitalism.

Just one factor among many. For example, the East Germans went from the Nazi genocidal totalitarian state to Stalin's brutal totalitarian state without a pause.

Another factor is that East Germans had no free movement, a trait shared by all the other Warsaw Pact nations - the East Germans had been intentionally cut off from the broader world since 1933, by two notably thorough totalitarian states.

There's a huge effort by The Establishment to keep anybody from saying: "That was a mistake." Powerful people don't like being blamed for mistakes.

In Eastern Europe, nobody made that mistake, so there isn't so much of an effort to keep from being blamed.

Yep. Inertia, stupid pride, and in-for-a-dime-in-for-a-dollar explains a great many public policies. Not sure any political movement of resistance is more effective than actuarial tables in cleaning out bad policies.

'a quasi-natural experiment arising from the historic division of Germany into East and West'

Lol. 'Exploiting my ignorance of history, I could conjure up a natural setting'.

However much the argument appeals to what some would call my 'priors', the premise that East Germany was like North Korea - a state in which the people had no access to foreign information - is simply false. Most of East Germany received West German radio and television broadcasts for most of its existence; and in the late years of Honecker, the East Germans even went so far as to boost/relay western broadcasts into 'black spots' (mostly, iirc, around Dresden). Now, the Right in West Germany used to complain that West German Free to Air television (state controlled) was left wing and tended to reflect 'anti-Western' and 'anti-American' prejudices; but if so, surely one would expect to see similar prejudices reflected in the west?

Communism tends to destroy people’s trust in one another. This is the case not only in Eastern Europe, but in Russia and China too. It’s not surprising that this causes xenophobia; I bet you could run the same experiment and find people in Hong Kong and Taiwan have much friendlier attitudes towards immigrants than people in Mainland China. Rebuilding that social capital after communism is very hard and it doesn’t seem like anyone has figured out how to do it.

There are thousands of historical differences between East and West Germany over the past few centuries, so they can't serve as a "natural experiment" for testing any one factor. You might as well say that there is a correlation between the duration of Hohenzollern rule and current levels of concern about immigration. Or maybe it's having large numbers of women raped by Russian soldiers. Or higher or lower levels of Lutheranism. Or who knows what.

Could it be that the average Nutella consumption of the East German households is lower, which causes them to be more hostile towards immigration?

The best argument in favor of communism and against libertarianism is that only societies from left-authoritarian backgrounds - be it Russia or today's China - have had the balls to tackle the most intolerant people head-on.

In theory libertarianism is about freedom. In practice, libertarianism encourages deep-state and the most intolerant ideologies, partly by marginalizing less intolerant ideologies that have better odds of setting up defence against the most intolerant ideologies.

I’m starting to wonder if Kevin Lewis isn’t so excellent after all

By all accounts the attitude of ethnic Germans who have emigrated to the BRD from the former Soviet Union and East Block countries (Aussiedler) is more strongly anti-immigrant than that of former East German (DDR) citizens. While attitudes toward communism or Soviet domination are factors, the role of the individual's often ambiguous or even contested identity as "a (West, BRD) German" is certainly an important factor. Aussiedler may frequently speak Russian fluently but German poorly, their cultural practices may be predominantly Russian in character, they may find Putin a more admirable figure than Merkel, and even support the Russian national soccer team over the German, but they typically define themselves as "more German than the Germans" around them, and part of the hostility towards other immigrant groups is due to contesting relative status as "more or less German" and "more or less entitled to live in Germany."

Absolutely ridiculous. One group, the West Germans has had far more contact with foreigners/immgrants now for decades. The other did not experience migration in substantial numbers until recently. Strikes me as a much more plausible channel, amoung others, than the difference being directly related to communism.

When you are struggling to feed yourself and your family, you don't want competition.

People in the wealthy West have started to forget how fragile their societies are, so they make sweeping policy decisions with little care for the cost.

People in Eastern Europe remember how quickly things can go wrong.

Mass migration from the Islamic third world is going wrong.

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