Eric Kaufmann on Immigration, Identity, and the Limits of Individualism (Ep. 70)

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Mercatus Center
Jul 3 · 41 min read

Going back and forth between Canada and Japan during his childhood sparked Eric Kaufmann’s interest in the question of identity. As a foreigner in an international school, he encountered young individuals from at least 60 other countries, and this made him think more about national identity and how people affiliate and interact with one another. Now as an academic, he explores how demographic changes — most notably caused by ethnic migration and assimilation — are the key to understanding Brexit, Trump, and pretty much every major issue du jour.

Kauffman’s latest book Whiteshift, which examines how declining white ethnic majorities will respond to these changes, is on Tyler’s list as one of the best books of the year. The two discuss the book and more, including Orangeism in Northern Ireland, Switzerland’s secret for stability, what Tocqueville got most wrong about America, predictions on Brexit’s final form, why Portugal seems immune to populism, how Notre Dame should be rebuilt, whether the Amish — or Mormons — will take over the world, and much more.

TYLER COWEN: Hello. This is Tyler Cowen with another episode of Conversations with Tyler. I’m here today with Eric Kaufmann, who is a political scientist at Birkbeck College here in London. He has just published the highly influential book Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities. Eric, welcome.

ERIC KAUFMANN: Great to be here, Tyler.

COWEN: Let’s go back a bit earlier in your career. I have some questions about Northern Ireland. Is real estate in Northern Ireland underpriced? I’ve been to places, say, in Antrim, where you can buy a normal house that appears to be in good shape for about $60,000 or a beautiful, huge house on the water for $30,000. Why are those prices so low? Is that an arbitrage opportunity?

KAUFMANN: Well, it depends. Maybe it’s only about five or six days of sunshine a year. No, I’m just kidding. But yeah, I agree with you. There’s some lovely parts of Northern Ireland. One of the other things is the sectarian real estate market, which is another wrinkle that we could talk about.

COWEN: But is Northern Ireland undervalued by the market — its future prospects?

KAUFMANN: Yeah, I think so. I certainly don’t think they’re going to have sectarian violence, so it may be an opportunity.

COWEN: But am I wrong in thinking a kind of Coasian argument applies — that there are gains from trade, there won’t be much future conflict, they speak the English language. They’re a member of either the UK or the EU or, under some scenarios, both. And it will just be the world’s biggest boom area, say, 10, 15 years from now. Why is that wrong?

KAUFMANN: I don’t necessarily think it is wrong, other than the fact that, right now, the economy is about 85 percent government. So unless there is some sort of private investment, then it’s going to be a government-run . . . essentially an economy funded from mainland Britain. So I’m just not sure it has the dynamism yet. But tourism’s increasing, and like you say, it’s a very pleasant place with a lot of advantages.

COWEN: Why isn’t there more private investment?

KAUFMANN: Because, I think, for a long time, essentially, the security situation kept investors away. Republic of Ireland drew a lot of the investment in. It remained a kind of dependency situation in relation to the UK. For those reasons, I think, there just hasn’t been the investment. But you’re right — it has a lot of potential, and the people are very smart, so I can’t see a reason why not.

COWEN: What’s the most plausible scenario for Irish reunification?

KAUFMANN: I think the most plausible scenario is that Northern Ireland Protestants don’t have the same hostility to the Republic that they have traditionally had, so maybe a kind of charm offensive.

In a way, the unionist population is the one they have to win over. They are kind of foursquare against reunification. Somehow, the Irish Republic has to find a way to reassure them. That’s going to be the ticket to reunification, but it’ll never really happen just through economic integration. I think there’s got to be something symbolic that will win over the unionists.

COWEN: If the unionists feel so tied to Great Britain, why does, to me, Belfast feel so much more Irish than, say, Dublin does?

KAUFMANN: [laughs] Really?

COWEN: It does.

KAUFMANN: You obviously haven’t been to East Belfast and seen all of the Union Jacks, or down the Shankill. You should visit the Orange Order’s headquarters, I think, in East Belfast. I think that would cure you of that.

COWEN: You mention the Orangemen. Say I belong to a Grand Lodge of the Orangemen. What private benefits do I get? Why might I be joining?

KAUFMANN: Well, you get to take part in an annual spectacle, which is the July 12th parades where you’re parading in front of your community. I actually don’t think there are a whole lot of material benefits. I just don’t think that’s the reason people are drawn into it. It’s a family tradition. It’s a communal thing, historical symbolic thing.

That was different in the past when, really, that was the ticket to getting into the police force, the mayor’s office, a whole series of jobs at the aircraft factory or the shipyards. That’s no longer the case, so the incentives are different now.

COWEN: You wrote in one of your books on Northern Ireland, “Parading is about power.” And also, “Parading is the issue which most concerns Orangemen today.” Explain that. Why? Who cares about parading? I don’t.

KAUFMANN: [laughs] For many Orangemen it’s the . . . Many of them won’t really attend these lodge meetings, which are quite boring, and what they’re really in it for is that once-a-year spectacle. If you take that away, that’s a big reason why they joined in the first place, so it’s very emotional.

Also, these routes are, in some cases, hundreds of years old, so there is that symbolic attachment. It is also about power. Certainly, in the older days this was about showing who was in control, particularly in areas that were where the Protestants were parading through Catholic areas. But now most of those routes have been rerouted or closed.

So yeah, it’s very much a symbolic issue. And the sense amongst the unionists is that their culture is being taken away from them in a way — that in a sense, only Protestant culture is being targeted, and other forms of cultural expression, such as the Irish language, are supported. So I think that’s part of the issue there.

COWEN: If the Orange Order is some form of white identity politics, why is there an Orange Order in Ghana? And why does it appear to be growing?

KAUFMANN: I don’t think it is a form of white identity politics, actually, and that’s why you’re right, that in West Africa . . . Actually, by the way, there are native Indian lodges in Canada, for example, as well, which thrive. It’s mainly about being Protestant, so it’s a Protestant identity.

Of course, it depends on the setting. In Northern Ireland, for a long time, the Protestants were the dominant ethnic group as well, and so it functioned as a sort of association and fraternity for that group. Similarly, in Canada or in Newfoundland — both of which were very strong Orange jurisdictions — the Orange Order also functioned as a kind of association for the dominant ethnic group. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

COWEN: In Northern Ireland today, what is roughly the rate of intermarriage across Catholic-Protestant?

KAUFMANN: It is a few percent. It is very, very small. Yeah, extremely low. No statistics I’ve seen have shown that unfreezing, so it’s extremely rare. Many come over to Britain who — if they marry across the sectarian divide, they might just come over to Britain because life will be less complicated for them.

COWEN: Let’s say I meet someone in Northern Ireland. Other than what they might say, what’s the first thing they will do or show that might indicate they’re Catholic rather than Protestant or vice versa? What’s the empirical correlation?

KAUFMANN: [laughs] That they will show? Well, they’re very good at reading the signs. It could be what clothing color you’re wearing. They might ask innocuous questions like, “Which school did you go to?” And if it starts with a “Saint,” you know that’s Catholic. These are the signs that they pick up on.

On fertility and assimilation

COWEN: If we think about Catholics and Protestants in the United States, it’s striking how much the fertility gap has closed. Why has that happened?

KAUFMANN: Well, what happened is, the Protestants went through the demographic transition first in Northern Ireland, 80 years before the Catholics did. But then the Catholics entered into that, so they started reducing their fertility. By 1980 in the US, the two fertility rates were pretty much identical. This is just a convergence as groups enter into the mature phase of demographic transition, but some groups are lagging a little bit behind.

COWEN: Given that the Amish have apparently a total fertility rate of 5.3 and a high retention rate — that is, Amish stay Amish — why don’t they take over the world? Or will this happen? What exactly is the limiting factor in this kind of calculus?

KAUFMANN: This is an interesting question because I don’t see the limiting factor yet. You could imagine in an authoritarian country like China, they would just impose a sort of two-child policy on the Amish. But in the absence of that, you’re right. There were, I think, 5,000 Amish in the US in 1900. There are probably 300,000 now. In the 2200s there will be 300 million with this rate of growth. So what is the limiting factor?

One of the test cases will be Israel with the ultra-Orthodox, where they were a few percent of the first-grade population in 1960. They’re now past a third of the Jewish school first-grade population. So yeah, at what point does a high-reproducing group that retains its members either drop their fertility or start bleeding into the rest of the population? That’s going to be a big question, and Israel will be the test case for that.

COWEN: With the Amish, could it be there’s a limited number of people who can either work in agriculture or sell to tourists? If we, say, double the number of Amish once again, in essence, they’ll stop making good livings and outmovement will be much higher, or they’ll have fewer kids?

KAUFMANN: I think these world-denying, fundamentalist sects really are not that motivated by economic incentives. One of the reasons their populations have exploded is partly because they reject modern contraception, but also limiting family size. They’re really setting their face against the modern trend toward secularism, liberalism, low fertility.

They’re inoculated from a lot of these pressures, and particularly the material pressures, which really drove fertility in the past. Now that we have contraception, you don’t need to have a lot of kids to work the land anymore. The material incentives are no longer the driver. Fertility is cultural and religious. So I think we shouldn’t expect their fertility to come down even if they run out of land.

COWEN: Will the Mormon birth rate crash? Or are they, too, going to take over the world? They have a head start on the Amish, right? Many more Mormons than Amish.

KAUFMANN: That’s right. Six million versus 300,000 in America. Their fertility rate is almost twice that of the rest of the population. If the American fertility rate continues to go down, it could be that the Mormon one actually goes up to about twice as much. When you’re maintaining twice the fertility rate as the rest of the population and you have a fairly high retention, you multiply that over generations, and it rises exponentially.

So we should expect the Mormons to be more influential in future generations in the United States.

COWEN: But there seems to be a lot of outmovement from the side of Mormon males who don’t repudiate Mormonism, but they might be willing to marry a Christian woman who is not Mormon, and they slowly bleed into just being Christian over time. The number of unmarried Mormon women who are somewhat older seems to be an extreme imbalance, indicating retention rates are not as high as they’re measured perhaps?

KAUFMANN: I think it depends whether we’re talking about the core in Utah and perhaps spilling into Idaho versus Mormons who live outside the core. I think Mormons outside the core have a higher intermarriage rate and perhaps are more likely to assimilate into the mainstream. But if you take that core settlement area, I think the intermarriage would be pretty low.

COWEN: Do you think that the very religious will always have much higher birth rates than secular individuals? Is there some technology that could overturn that, or is that just baked into us?

KAUFMANN: I think it’s pretty baked in. If you look worldwide, next to women’s education, religiosity is the next strongest predictor of total fertility rate. There’s almost no country in the world where committed religious women have a below-replacement fertility. The difference in Western developed countries — the religiosity actually matters more than women’s education. So I don’t see that factor going away. I think it’s going to be a key factor driving fertility differences going forward.

If you look worldwide, next to women’s education, religiosity is the next strongest predictor of total fertility rate. There’s almost no country in the world where committed religious women have a below-replacement fertility. The difference in Western developed countries — the religiosity actually matters more than women’s education. So I don’t see that factor going away. I think it’s going to be a key factor driving fertility differences going forward.

COWEN: Could wealth overturn that? Now it’s an in thing for, say, a billionaire family to have four kids, five kids.

KAUFMMANN: Right.

COWEN: And of course, they can handle it rather readily. But if you extrapolate out, say, 80 years, and many more people are quite wealthy. And maybe there are cheap ways — using surveillance, robots, whatever — to take care of kids, and then the wealthiest families have the most kids. They may or may not be religious, but the gradient of extreme religion and fertility might go away?

KAUFMANN: Possibly. We’re already seeing that the wealthiest and the best educated women, actually, are now having more kids than those with just a BA or of moderate wealth. So some of what you’re saying has already kicked in in the last, say, 10, 20 years. But it’s still below replacement, even amongst that wealthy, high-educated group.

But it’s certainly possible if, as you say, we get some cheap childcare. But I still fundamentally think there’s something there in the theology about “go forth and multiply” and women having a traditional role that tends to be associated with higher fertility.

The other part of this is, participation in a congregation gives a support network around child-minding, childcare, and creates a more pro-natalist atmosphere. To some extent, in Israel even, because of the high birth rate amongst the religious, it seems to have bled into the secular population as well. So the secular Jewish women have, on average, 2.2 kids, which is extremely high for any secular population.

COWEN: Do conservative Muslims also have a much higher fertility rate?

KAUFMANN: The gradient between very conservative and sort of secular and liberal is not as strong in Islam as it is in Judaism or Christianity, but it’s about a twice higher fertility for women who are most in favor of Sharia compared to those who are most opposed to Sharia, in the cities. So I do think there is also this dynamic within Islam, yes.

COWEN: If we look at a country such as Iran, which now has a very low total fertility rate, is that a sign they’re not actually very religious? Or there’s something unusual about religion in Iran? What accounts for that?

KAUFMANN: If you go back to Khomeini, they actually issued fatwas that endorsed the family policies. The mullahs themselves, the religious authorities themselves, actually endorsed family planning and contraception. So this is not a secular thing, necessarily, in Iran.

COWEN: But getting back to the question of whether the very religious might end up with lower birth rates, isn’t that a scenario? Whatever reasons those religious leaders had to endorse birth control, why couldn’t a more distant future have, say, other religious leaders in the West doing the same?

KAUFMANN: I agree. If the religious leaders say so, then I think they can bring the birth rates down very quickly, as we saw in Iran in the space of, what was it? 20 years, from 6 to 1.8 per woman. Yeah, that is a scenario. You could have leaders who would say, “We just can’t sustain this runaway population growth. We have to bring the birth rate down. And by the way, God says it’s the right thing to do.”

So that is certainly a scenario that I could imagine occurring, but by then, they’ve taken power, and for the seculars, you’d have to ask the question, “Do you want that?”

COWEN: So that’s, in your view, a kind of theological strength of Islam, that it can be flexible in this way that Western Christianity can’t? If Iran needs a lower birth rate, Muslim theology has brought it there?

KAUFMANN: Well, I’m one of these people who thinks the theology can be tweaked to give you any interpretation so that the Christians and Jews could come up with something similar in a pinch. I guess that would be my take on the matter, yeah.

COWEN: What’s your projection for the long-run percentage of Muslims in Western Europe? This is much debated. You hear a lot of exaggerated claims that by year X — fill in the blank — they’ll be more than half the population. What should we actually think and why?

KAUFMANN: I don’t think we’re going to head to much more than about 20, 25 at the most, percent. There’s a number of reasons I say that. Number one, even if the European population consisted only of immigrants, if the immigration flow is only minority Muslim — I think the average is only about 20, 25 percent — then that’s going to be your population.

The other thing is, the birth rates for Muslims are really not that different, including if we go into the Muslim world, particularly the Arab world. The birth rates have really come down dramatically in the last two decades.

Added to that is that intermarriage is a route through which Muslims or their children lose religion. I’ve looked at individual-level census data in this country, where we can see that the offspring of people who are part, say, Pakistani or Arab and part white British — that kind of person, between 2001 and 2011, had quite a high chance of moving from saying, “I’m a Muslim,” to saying, “I have no religion.”

There are certain groups, like the Bosnians, who have a quite high, I would say, a kind of fall-off from religion. There’s secularization potential through intermarriage, and also the immigration flow is just not Muslim enough to produce this majority. So I don’t think it’ll ever be more than about 20, 25 percent.

COWEN: Which group of French Muslims has assimilated most successfully and why?

KAUFMANN: Well, the outmarriage rate is almost 50 percent for French Algerian men, but even across the Franco-Algerian community, I think it’s in the 40 to 50 percent outmarriage —

COWEN: And they’re marrying ethnically white French women?

KAUFMANN: Right, or men. I think part of this stems from Algeria in its history. You have a large Berber population in Algeria, many of whom are anti the regime. They’re anti the Arab-Islamist regime. So they’re actually quite secular in many ways.

That’s part of it, but even amongst the Moroccans in France, there’s quite a high outmarriage rate of like 40 percent. So yeah, the French Muslims do seem to be melting in better than Muslims even of the same ethnicity. Compared to Moroccans in the Netherlands, for example, there’s a much higher outmarriage in France.

COWEN: And that’s the Berber factor, in your view?

KAUFMANN: I think it is the Berber factor. I don’t think there’s anything magical that the French are doing that the Dutch are not in terms of integration policy. I think too much is made of that.

COWEN: What’s your assessment for Turkish assimilation in Germany? Because a lot of the Turks have been there, now, quite a while.

KAUFMANN: Yeah, I would think that long term, they will intermarry. If you look at Turkey itself, it’s actually a reasonably secular country, and the birth rates have come down quite a bit.

Intermarriage is going to be the route. It’s not going to be Turks within the Turkish community moving away from Islam, but I think intermarriage is a route through which the offspring will then be relatively secular. I do think, even though those rates are not high now, I think they probably will increase. That would be my projection.

COWEN: I know this is a hard one to call, but what is your prediction for the Syrian refugees now living in Germany?

KAUFMANN: Again, they’re not a sort of strongly Salafist group. I would think groups from South Asia — Pakistanis in particular — tend to be very unlikely to intermarry. In this country, for example, there’s a very low . . . Whereas I would’ve thought the Syrians would have a higher intermarriage rate and a higher secularization rate long term. So I do think they also will assimilate. Maybe it takes two, three generations, but that would be, again, a prediction I would make.

COWEN: Why do Pakistanis in the United States seem to assimilate so much better? They have very high per capita incomes, high rates of education. It seems like almost a complete success.

KAUFMANN: I would have to know the intermarriage rates there. There are different meanings of assimilation. One is acquiring the language and doing well in the economy. The other would be intermarrying in and essentially becoming part of the ethnic majority.

COWEN: But just no one complains about them. Take that as a kind of brute standard.

KAUFMANN: The first thing is, they’re probably selected. Pakistan has a relatively educated urban elite in the cities, and then it has, let’s say, not tribal, but sort of areas of the country — particularly in the border with Afghanistan — Balochistan and other areas there, where people are more traditional, agricultural. This is the issue with cousin marriage that we have here in Britain amongst a subset of the Pakistani population.

My impression is that that’s not . . . Sylhet would be a region where people were — or was it Meerpur? I keep getting mixed up — People were recruited into the textile factories, and you have these familial cousin-marriage links. My impression is the American Pakistanis wouldn’t have been drawn from that same subpopulation. So that might explain the difference.

COWEN: Sometimes the argument is made — I think this comes from Jack Goody — that high rates of cousin marriage are inimical to liberalism or free society. You have an opinion on this? I know, again, data are hard to bring to bear, but you have an intuition?

KAUFMANN: Yeah, that would certainly make sense to me. When you’re oriented around family and extended family in that way, and that’s the worldview that you acquire, then yes, that is obviously the opposite of a kind of liberal, individualistic worldview. So it makes sense to me, but again, I have no data on that.

COWEN: But the most religious Americans with big families, sometimes extended families, they almost seem to be the strongest supporters of the American brand of liberal individualism. They’re not marrying their cousins per se, but —

KAUFMANN: Well, depends which aspects of liberal individualism. They may give lip service to things like low tax and independence, but it’s not clear. If you consider individualism to also extend to expressive cultural forms, such as divorce or different forms of sexuality, then I think there would be more of a clash between that brand of, say, American Christianity or Christian fundamentalism and individualism.

So yeah, I think economic individualism is probably okay, but the cultural or expressive kind, I think there would be more of a clash.

COWEN: The data are imperfect on this one, but you often hear it claimed that many parts of Africa — when they urbanize, they’re relatively slow to undergo secularization and falling birth rates. If you go to Nigeria, just visually, this seems to be true. There are churches everywhere. Do you have an account of why this might be the case?

KAUFMANN: The fertility stall in Africa, you mean?

COWEN: No; when they move to cities, the fertility rate doesn’t fall much.

KAUFMANN: It doesn’t. I mean, it does in some cases. Addis Ababa in Ethiopia has got a two total-fertility rate, so it does seem to be happening in some places and not in others. I don’t have a good sense of necessarily why that’s happening. Some societies where there’s strong ethnic and religious competition, local politicians want to keep numbers up and their constituencies strong and growing. That could be one factor. Patriarchal attitude’s another.

But it is the case that in some sub-Saharan African countries — clearly South Africa, where South African blacks have about a two, also a replacement-level fertility. So there are some countries where this has occurred.

I know some people say the data might not be very accurate in some countries on fertility, but I think, in general, the consensus is that you’re right, that these fertility rates have not dropped. I would put it down more to a cultural reason rather than anything economic in that case.

COWEN: I have some friends who obsess over the long term, and they’re fond of making the argument that Darwinian forces, over some time horizon, will bring almost the entire world to greater religiousness if religious families keep on having more children, and that maybe 400 years from now, we’ll have a world where most people are just flat-out religious. Do you attach any credence to this at all?

KAUFMANN: Well, with some caveats. It’s true that secular populations — defined as people who say they have no religion — everywhere in the world have very low, well below replacement, fertility. People who are regular attenders all have replacement or above, with fundamentalists having very high fertility.

Now you run that forward. It’s hard to see how we get to a situation in which it’s not mainly religious, unless there’s an equilibrium where the rate of religious loss is fast enough to offset the demographic deficit of the seculars. There is a scenario — I do think that the kind of liberal, tolerant, secular society is quite an ideal one for religious groups to expand demographically.

If we imagine China having Amish or ultra-Orthodox or these groups growing rapidly, the Chinese government would say, “Okay, you’re allowed to have two kids or one kid.” And that would be the end of it. Right? So it’s within a certain environment that the religious can take over, and that is a sort of democratic, liberal environment. But within an authoritarian environment, they do very badly. So it just depends on what is the environment in which they’re operating.

COWEN: You’ve lived in Japan for, what, eight years? Why is Japanese fertility so low?

KAUFMANN: Well, the way it works with fertility is that, if you’re very patriarchal, you have high fertility. If you are not patriarchal at all, you have moderate fertility. And if you’re in the middle, you tend to have really low fertility. The thing in Japan is that women — they know that once they stop working, they will essentially just be folding shirts for their husband.

I think that part of this is that, because the society is still relatively patriarchal, it has that very low fertility. Something similar in southern Europe that we see also, again, very low fertility. So one of the ways this is explained is that, if you give women the opportunity to enter and exit the workforce relatively easily and you don’t impose a very sort of patriarchal gender role, then you will get somewhat higher fertility. Japan fits that pattern of southern Europe.

COWEN: How secular is Japan really? If I watch a Miyazaki movie, there’s spirits all over the place. Is that just for kids and for fun? Is that a substitute religion? Are they simply as secular as they appear to be?

KAUFMANN: Yeah, it’s a hard one to know. I remember in kindergarten having to kneel down with the Buddhist statue there. There are all these quasi-religious rituals, but I don’t think they really believe in a cosmological way, in an otherworldly way. I think it is a relatively secular society, but with these almost cultural rituals like Shintoism. This is not really about praying to a god. I wouldn’t classify it as having a relationship with the otherworld, so not religious in my view.

COWEN: How pacifistic has Japan actually become in your opinion?

KAUFMANN: I think pretty pacifist, and this is why there’s many dimensions of nationalism. You can have a dimension which is about militarism and pride in your military, which Japan doesn’t have. But then they have a very strong attachment to an ethno-communal definition of the nation.

On populism and immigration

COWEN: A few questions about what’s sometimes called populism. It seems that Portugal is fairly immune to alt-right or populist politics. Do you have any sense of why that’s the case?

KAUFMANN: I think, really, it’s as simple as the share of Muslim non-Christian immigrants —

COWEN: Is low.

KAUFMANN: Is very low.

COWEN: So it’s your core thesis that populism is responding to immigration?

KAUFMANN: Yeah, if they were getting large numbers of Muslims or non-Christians, then I think you would see it there. I don’t think they’re immune.

COWEN: What about Canada, which is one of the most welcoming nations for immigrants?

KAUFMANN: Right, and of course, being Canadian I think I know Canada fairly well. There’s French Canada and English Canada. French Canada is, I think, very similar to continental Europe and is responding. The CAQ, which won the provincial election on an immigration reduction platform, is something I would classify as a populist right party.

English Canada — we’ve obviously had elections such as in Ontario — the Doug Ford Conservative administration, which has elements of this populism. Also, there’s a new party called the People’s Party, which did get 11 percent in a by-election in greater Vancouver. So I think the idea that English Canada is immune from this is actually wrong, and we’re going to see more of it going forward.

The electorate is now more polarized on cultural issues than it’s ever been in Canada. We’re going to have to see where that goes, but I don’t think Canada will be the great exception that it has been for much, much longer.

COWEN: So there’ll be more of a turn against immigration?

KAUFMANN: Yeah.

COWEN: In Canada.

KAUFMANN: Yes, and immigration attitudes are now very different, depending if you’re a Conservative or a Liberal voter. That didn’t use to be the case even five years ago, so there is more of a politicization of that issue now.

COWEN: What about Scotland? When you poll Scots, they seem to be about as worried about immigration as are the English, but they’re not as strongly “leave by any means from the European Union.” Does that fit your story or run counter to it?

KAUFMANN: It doesn’t run that counter to it. First of all, Scotland has a smaller immigration, less of a non-Christian population. But in addition, Scottish nationalism is explicitly kind of pro-European, pro-immigration. That is the message that they have been running with. Given that pressure, Scottish nationalism is, in some way, a cross-cutting cleavage to this sort of anti-immigration populism, and that explains some of the Scottish dynamics around “leave” and “remain.”

COWEN: You get upset at England instead of at the EU?

KAUFMANN: That’s right. And you think of Scotland in the EU, so it’s Scottish independence within the European Union, although it is interesting that, actually, whether we’re looking at those who voted for or against independence in Scotland, they both have roughly similar views on Brexit. There’s a lot of people who want Scotland to leave who are also Brexiteers.

COWEN: I know this has been going on for years now, but do you in fact have a Brexit prediction?

KAUFMANN: I still believe it’ll sort of slouch towards some soft Brexit in the end, when people are looking over the cliff. Only at the last minute will they come up with a decision because I think that the Labour Party has to come up with a story that it can get away with with its supporters.

If they say, “We had to vote for this deal or else we would’ve had a hard crash out of Brexit. That’s the only reason we voted for this deal,” that might be acceptable to its “remain” supporters. Whereas, if they say, “We supported this deal, and now that’s pushed Britain out of the EU,” their supporters will punish them. So I think it’ll be a last-minute, somewhat soft Brexit deal. That would be my undoubtedly wrong prediction.

COWEN: I have been saying that, but as time passes I wonder whether or not we can predict anything about this matter.

KAUFMANN: Yeah, of course.

COWEN: Going back to the United States, as a group, why aren’t educated women more worried about immigration? Because they don’t seem to be in polling data.

KAUFMANN: No, they’re less worried, right? There’s still a lot of educated women who voted for Trump, for example, but just less so than other groups of people. I don’t put a lot in the social categories, whether it’s class or even age or gender, in terms of predictors.

Most of the variation is within these groups and is, in my view, largely down to psychology — whether you like diversity or change — and disposition that would be linked to openness, one of the big five personality traits, or whether you prefer stability and continuity. We find those kinds of people amongst educated women, white working-class men, et cetera. But I wouldn’t say that there’s necessarily much in the educated female experience per se that would make somebody be pro-immigration.

COWEN: How much of American politics do you think is explained by Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory?

KAUFMANN: Right.

COWEN: I know it works in his dataset, but when you, in other ways, try to measure personality differences across liberals and conservatives, they appear to be quite small. So something is wrong somewhere.

KAUFMANN: Here’s the way I would make sense of it. Moving from those big five personality dimensions, which don’t explain that much of the variation in, let’s say, immigration attitudes or populist right voting. But according to, say, Robert Plomin, once you have a particular disposition, you then select an environment that’s different.

If you are high in openness, you will select different environments, different newspapers to read, maybe different political parties, and they will reinforce those dispositions. By the time you hit age 50 or 60, you’re way over here. So the effect is magnified over time. You start with these psychological dispositions that are different, but then they select environments which magnify and play on those differences.

COWEN: So it’s the interaction effect?

KAUFMANN: Yes.

COWEN: Do you think that’s becoming larger with time?

KAUFMANN: Because this issue strikes on that open v. closed cultural dimension, values dimension, more directly than the economic left/right — which didn’t engage that dimension as much — I think the fact that these immigration diversity–related issues very much do engage those psychological dimensions, I think that then becomes more the basis of politics over time. Yes.

COWEN: In the United States, why have so few Catholics been elected president? No one seems to care, right?

KAUFMANN: No.

COWEN: But yeah.

KAUFMANN: It’s interesting because when John Kerry was running, really his Catholicism was just not an issue in a way it was for Kennedy, right? I think a Catholic could easily be elected. I really think it’s just a random thing that they haven’t. Kerry could’ve been elected. His Catholicism would not have been the issue.

It’s like the Supreme Court having a lot of Catholics and no Protestants. I think it’s somewhat accidental, so I really think we could quite easily have a Catholic come in. I don’t think there’s any . . . Whereas prior to Kennedy, I think there was really a structural reason why you wouldn’t have had a Catholic president because there was a strong anti-Catholic dimension in the population.

COWEN: But even if there’s no structural bias today in American electoral politics, could there be some “deep roots” reason why Catholics don’t end up in the positions to be successful presidential candidates?

KAUFMANN: I don’t think so, honestly. Could it be said that a Catholic may be seen as less all-American, less presidential, and therefore would tend not to do as well? I’m not sure. I just don’t think the electorate would be attuned enough into that to not select such a person going up the chain. But again, there’s a good study in that. I think we’d have to see it.

COWEN: Do you think American Muslims will evolve as a relevant interest group for either American foreign policy or any other set of issues? Or are they too diverse, and that will never happen? They will outnumber Jews soon, probably.

KAUFMANN: Yes, the 2020s they will. Yeah, probably they will evolve as an interest group. But as you say, they are extremely ethnically diverse, and that will impede their ability to coordinate and organize.

COWEN: What would their issue be?

KAUFMANN: Well, policy towards Israel-Palestine would be an obvious one.

COWEN: But is there even a choice variable there at this point? I mean, years go on and the situation — I wouldn’t say it stays the same, but the role of the US in brokering a solution doesn’t really progress.

KAUFMANN: No, but the US is shoring up the Israeli side, even the moving of the embassy or defending Israel at the United Nations and all of these sorts of things, which one could imagine, with a stronger Islamic bloc, maybe countering that, perhaps.

But the whole Jewish thing will be interesting because the Jews have a very low fertility rate, but the ultra-Orthodox have a very high one. So that’s a whole other wild card.

COWEN: What did Tocqueville most get wrong about America?

KAUFMANN: Hmm. God, that’s a good question. I have to think about that. He made a lot of the associationalism and how that sort of buttressed American democracy — what Putnam talks about — the kind of social capital through associations. We’ve seen that decline dramatically, so I think perhaps you might say that he overestimated the tenacity and durability of that associational life, that it may not survive the current secularization and individualism. Maybe that’s what he got wrong.

COWEN: Do you think of yourself as Tocquevillian at all? Or you’re a descendant from Daniel Bell? Or where do your views come from, if you have to place yourself? I don’t mean in a partisan, political way, but intellectually.

KAUFMANN: Well, I think similar to Bell in that sense of being sort of center-center-left on economics, somewhat culturally conservative, politically liberal. When I say culturally conservative, perhaps more on this dimension of social cohesion rather than religion, which I don’t have a strong affinity for.

But I don’t know about Tocqueville. Tocquevillian in the sense I’m not a sort of libertarian individualist, and I do think there’s an importance in having social cohesion and a social fabric to underpin some of the good things that we enjoy in Western democracy.

On things under- and overrated

COWEN: In the middle of all these conversations, there’s a segment, underrated or overrated. Are you game?

KAUFMANN: Sure, okay. [laughs]

COWEN: These are easy.

KAUFMANN: Hit me.

COWEN: First one, Neil Young. You’re Canadian.

KAUFMANN: I would say underrated.

COWEN: What’s his best stuff?

KAUFMANN: I just like some of his older material. You know, “Old man, look at my life” — that sort of thing.

COWEN: Glenn Gould.

KAUFMANN: I don’t know much about Glenn Gould except that he composed pieces about the north. But I don’t know a whole lot about his music, so I can’t comment.

COWEN: Michel Foucault.

KAUFMANN: Michel Foucault, I’d say overrated.

COWEN: Why?

KAUFMANN: Well, even though I think he’s interesting, and that encountering him at that time, he would’ve been fresh and interesting. But by now, there have been so many imitators, and there’s been so much reprocessing that it’s just not that exciting anymore, in our day and age. I’d say the number of people studying Foucault is vastly disproportionate to his importance for advancing human knowledge.

COWEN: French food in Tokyo. Where did you live in Japan when you lived there?

KAUFMANN: I lived in Tokyo. There was not much French food at the time. I’d say it would be, well, overrated I guess. Horrendously expensive, no doubt. I wonder if they have the plastic models of the food with the French food as they do with the Japanese.

COWEN: Sushi versus sashimi. Where’s your loyalty?

KAUFMANN: I’d say sushi. I don’t have any good reason for that.

COWEN: Northern England, overrated or underrated — its future prospects?

KAUFMANN: I would say perhaps underrated. It’s certainly got, in many ways, a better quality of life than greater London. Unless you’re on a high income, you’d live much better there. To the extent that the high-speed rail connections are put into place, maybe that’s where a lot of the activity will be in the future.

COWEN: Other than rentals, what’s the worst thing about living in London?

KAUFMANN: The crowding on the streets, on the roads. Driving is terrible here.

COWEN: You mean just traffic congestion?

KAUFMANN: Traffic congestion, yeah. It’s no fun driving in London.

COWEN: What’s your favorite movie?

KAUFMANN: Boy, maybe The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

COWEN: Yeah, that’s a great one.

In your book, Whiteshift, what do you think is the best empirical argument that it’s immigration that is behind the political turmoil in the West as of late?

KAUFMANN: You just see it time and time again — doesn’t matter which dataset you use. You can look at Europe. You can look at the United States. It’s just about finding a correlation between voting for Trump or Brexit or Le Pen. What is it that predicts that?

It’s not being poor versus being rich. It’s not disliking politicians, because far left voters are as likely to say that as populist right voters, so it is really around views on whether immigration should be reduced and by how much. And secondly, how important that issue is to you.

Then we also see it over time, that as concern over immigration rises, populist right support rises —nine out of ten West European countries. So I think the evidence is pretty strong in the fact that we’re still talking about the economically left behind and devolving power to localities as some way of somehow making this disappear. I think it’s more about hope over reality, I’d say.

COWEN: You argue in your book, Whiteshift, that we should, in some way, enable people to recognize and grant legitimacy to whiteness as an ethnic category that can have a dialogue about whiteness, which is not racist, not evil. Is that a fair way of putting your point?

KAUFMANN: Yeah, what I would say is that attachment to is not the same as hatred of the outgroup, right? This is something Ashley Jardina points out also in her book. And if you look at the American National Election Study, the thermometer of whites who are warmer towards whites are not colder towards blacks, quite the opposite.

So there just isn’t . . . and this is, again, part of the psychological literature. We’ve known that for a long time. Unless there’s a violent conflict going on, attachment to your own group is not the same as hating an outgroup. Attachment to being white or attachment to a North European ancestry is not a predictor of disliking a minority.

The problem is, if we try and mash those together and outlaw this identity, we store up more trouble than if we simply say, “Okay. This is fine. You can express this identity like anybody else, but it’s got to be moderate, and you have to bear in mind the common good, so it should be subordinate to that.”

Unless there’s a violent conflict going on, attachment to your own group is not the same as hating an outgroup. Attachment to being white or attachment to a North European ancestry is not a predictor of disliking a minority.

COWEN: What do you think of the argument that appeasement in politics, ethnic politics, rarely works, and that even if the view you’re putting forward is logically sound, it will, de facto, just encourage the crazies. And we need to be a bit Straussian and keep a lid on talk about whiteness — realize a lot of it’s going to happen, but penalize it a bit more than, ideally, we ought to just to keep things under control?

KAUFMANN: So the question is this: Is penalizing going to make things less dangerous or more dangerous? If you penalize, let’s say, then the far right is able to say, “Okay, everyone else gets to have an identity, we don’t. That’s a double standard.” Which, actually, I’m afraid is true. That, then, is the sort of foundation that they build the crazy stuff on, you know — Jews and globalists wanting to have race suicide for white people, et cetera, or I think they call it white genocide, right?

What you’ve then done is, if you look at the Christchurch or the Breivik shootings, where are they getting their ideas from? The sort of furthest corners of the dark internet, where these conspiracy theories grow. And those conspiracy theories, I think, thrive on this double standard, much more than if the argument was out in the open.

For example, if you look at even the correlation between populist right support and far right attacks, there’s actually an inverse correlation if you look. From 1990 to 2015, Jacob Ravndal in Norway has looked at this quite systematically.

And part of the reason is that, if you get this out into the light, you can shoot down the bad arguments. Populists come out — they can be attacked in the newspapers. Their arguments can be shown to be false, whereas if you really suppress it, it goes underground. I think that’s actually the worst solution, quite apart from the fact that you’re doing violence to this idea of equal treatment, which is always problematic.

COWEN: And you believe that, for the most part, American Latinos will assimilate into whiteness?

KAUFMANN: I think, for the most part, they will. Maybe I’m partly an example of that, being a quarter Latino myself, but I do think that just the pull of the culture will tend to lead to this mixing, and that over time . . . Part of the thing is that there is a sort of white majority now, but as that group becomes more admixed, there won’t be such a clear monolithic white group to riff off. The mixed population will, therefore, be more inclined to identify with a kind of majoritarian aspect of their identity.

So yeah, I think the direction of assimilation will be towards the majority. We already see it to some extent, where, I think, 60 percent of people who have at least one Mexican grandparent identify as white rather than Latino. So this is already occurring to some extent. I think it will occur more so as we move into the future.

COWEN: There are already fewer pupusa restaurants in northern Virginia. And they’re not as good as they used to be.

[laughter]

Some questions about Switzerland, which you’ve written about.

KAUFMANN: All right.

COWEN: On the surface, Switzerland appears to be so diverse, and yet it also has this incredibly strong national identity, perhaps falling less under question than almost anywhere else in Western Europe. What’s the secret to that blend? What is it that we outsiders don’t get about Switzerland?

KAUFMANN: Well first of all, it is diverse, but the German component is much larger than the French and Italian or Romansh. That’s number one. The other thing is that the identity — it’s built up from the commune level. Communes and cantons tend to be ethnically and religiously homogenous. When they’re not, they will tend to . . . Jura, for example, broke off, I think it was the Canton of Bern.

So at the subnational level, there’s a high degree of cultural homogeneity. Then they federate into a larger whole. It’s not the case that this is a highly multicultural society down to the lowest level. It’s multicultural in the cities, but at the communal and cantonal level outside those, it isn’t. So I’m not sure it’s really a great countercase, really.

COWEN: Is this all an accident, or was it political engineering? How did the Swiss end up having such a strong and effective national identity?

KAUFMANN: A number of things. First of all, the line between Catholicism and Protestantism cut across the German-French line in terms of language, so that cross-cutting cleavage, I think, helped. If the language and the religion were aligned, as in, say, Quebec versus the rest of Canada, then you would have had much stronger pressures towards a breakup.

The other thing is a relatively successful society economically. I think that helps, although that is more recent. But the main thing is the fact that, at a time when religion was the most important thing, Geneva was Protestant and also other parts of German-speaking Switzerland were Protestant, whereas the central Swiss cantons were Catholic. But yet that held together because of that cross-cutting cleavage.

COWEN: Why is Switzerland now so much richer than the rest of Europe? It’s a marked difference, right?

KAUFMANN: Yeah, I’m not the economist, so I don’t —

COWEN: But you know plenty about Switzerland. They’ve done something right.

KAUFMANN: They have done something. What have they done? I’m thinking about their economy. It’s sort of a relatively free-market type of economy, and yet the culture seems to have a high enough degree of social cohesion. So they all can keep a rifle at home, and they’re not all shooting each other. Somehow, they’ve managed to get that combination right, of having enough social cohesion and also having a dynamic market with good education. I don’t have the Swiss silver bullet, unfortunately.

COWEN: Why doesn’t India fragment more politically? Its future as a nation-state seems fairly secure, but if you just read about it on paper, you would think, “My goodness, this couldn’t last.” So many languages, religions, caste system.

KAUFMANN: Right. Again, I think there was partly a cross-cutting cleavage issue there with caste and religion. Even though you have the Muslim-Hindu divide, you then have the caste divide, which to some extent pushes against a simple Hindu-Muslim division. Some lower-caste Hindus will not vote for the BJP, for example. They’ll vote for Congress, along with Muslims. That could be one reason.

The other thing, by the way, is the Indian states, as I understand it, have moved more towards being more ethnically delineated. I don’t know, I’m trying to remember when that occurred. It was sometime in the last few decades.

The other thing, of course — there is a kind of Hindu overlay. Even though, yes, 80 percent Hindu — so you’re right that there are Tamils, and there are different languages, Marathi and these different languages, but still you could argue that the Hinduism offers a commonality, at least to 80 percent of the population.

COWEN: How should the French rebuild Notre Dame?

KAUFMANN: In my view, they should just rebuild it as it was. I think that adding bells and whistles wouldn’t do much for it.

COWEN: Do you think that reflects anything about your underlying worldview? Or it’s just an arbitrary aesthetic opinion?

KAUFMANN: No, no, I think you’re probably right, as I guess I’m relatively . . . We should, obviously, have new architecture and change, but iconography like that should be preserved in the form that it was. That’s what people are attached to. Now, it doesn’t mean I’m closed to an argument for making some alterations, but I think the essence of it should be preserved.

COWEN: If we’re in the middle of the 19th century, and the French are debating whether to put up that spire at Notre Dame, are you for that or against it?

KAUFMANN: I think I probably would be against it. So perhaps that does suggest a certain leaning, that things of beauty that have a long provenance — I tend to want to preserve them.

This brings up this other issue about preservation versus change. You have to have some change and some preservation, and then people are oriented differently towards both. Actually, if you’re consistent, if you want local communities and historic buildings and things which are associated typically with progressivism, then that’s also, actually, consistently associated with things like preservation of existing ethnic compositions or histories, which is a more populist-right thing.

This brings up this other issue about preservation versus change. You have to have some change and some preservation, and then people are oriented differently towards both. Actually, if you’re consistent, if you want local communities and historic buildings and things which are associated typically with progressivism, then that’s also, actually, consistently associated with things like preservation of existing ethnic compositions or histories, which is a more populist-right thing.

COWEN: Some people suggest the age of modernism in the Western world was a kind of aesthetic peak. Take the 1920s. You have Picasso, you have Thomas Mann, you have Proust, you have Rilke. You have so much in art. Classical music is still quite a live tradition, though coming to an end. And after that, something weird happens, and we never somehow got on track. What’s your take on that view? Is it correct?

KAUFMANN: I take more the Daniel Bell view, that essentially modernism represents a break towards the end of the 19th century with tradition, that it’s about novelty, difference, immediacy. It’s kind of an expressive individualism where you’re constantly negating the past, negating tradition. I don’t see a whole lot of difference between the 1920s and pop art and Jackson Pollock, or even what you find in the Tate Modern. I think they’re all —

COWEN: But that’s now old stuff mostly. Andy Warhol — that’s a long time ago.

KAUFMANN: But even the new stuff — it’s all about trying to be shocking and new and different, which is fine, but I think it’s the same sensibility and it’s the same thing that’s driving the art.

COWEN: But has it been exhausted for decades?

KAUFMANN: Yeah, I think it’s probably been exhausted since the ’30s, as Bell says. The most creative phase was where you still had a traditional culture to push against, and that gave creativity to modernism. Most of the modernism that I like is from that period of the 1910s, ’20s, ’30s. Beyond that, it gets a bit — well, I think there’s a lot of repetition. It’s not as interesting, for me anyway.

COWEN: Do you think of yourself as a kind of cultural pessimist for this reason?

KAUFMANN: I’m not a pessimist. I don’t think things are going to hell in a handbasket. I think, though, that there has been a downgrading of respect for people who want continuity and tradition and who want to rework those traditions perhaps, but who are not on board with the modernist aesthetic of novelty, difference, and complete individuality.

I think there has to be a balance between those two. The high culture has moved, as Bell writes, really heavily in that direction of just the expressive individualism and the novelty. I think some balance perhaps, some more respect from the high culture for that tradition. There’s respect for foreign traditions and exotic traditions, but there isn’t really a respect for kind of Western native traditions.

COWEN: Martin Gurri has put forward the thesis that, because of the internet, people get a much closer look at their elites, including political elites. They see how crummy they are, and they’re disillusioned. And this turns politics into something negative. Do you agree?

KAUFMANN: I think that television kind of began that, perhaps. I’m not sure the internet really explains that much. I always return to East Asia because you can see where they have the internet and they’ve got a lot of modernity, but I’m not sure that politics has changed anywhere near as much there as it has, say, in the West.

Again, the difference, I would say, is around issues of migration and multiculturalism. Similarly, if you look at support for the populist right, those who are heavy internet users or heavy social media users are not more likely to be populist-right voters. So I’m less convinced by the technological arguments.

On the Eric Kaufmann production function

COWEN: Two questions on your development, also known as the Eric Kaufmann production function. Having lived for eight years in Japan, how has that influenced your research and your subsequent views?

KAUFMANN: Definitely, I think, when you grow up abroad and you are a foreigner in another country, you think more about identity, and particularly national identity. So this is how that question —

COWEN: You say abroad. Just give us your history. You were born in Hong Kong?

KAUFMANN: Born in Hong Kong, but that was just for a year. Then moved to Japan for about six years, and then back to Canada for two, and then over to Japan for another two before moving back to Canada.

It’s more that second phase, particularly age 10 and 11 in Tokyo. You just become aware at school. I went to an international school, so you have a day where everybody has their booth with their country, and there’s 60 countries. It just makes you more aware of that, whereas if I’d just grown up in the middle of Alberta somewhere, I probably wouldn’t be looking into these questions, no.

COWEN: Final question. How did writing your first two books about Northern Ireland influence your subsequent views and research directions?

KAUFMANN: Well, the work on the Orangeism was kind of . . . My first book, which was on the US, was looking at the decline of WASP in the 20th century in the United States.

COWEN: Oh, so that’s before the Ireland books.

KAUFMANN: This is before the Ireland book, but the Orange interest was partly because very few Canadians realize that four Canadian prime ministers and almost every mayor of Toronto from 1870 to the 1950s was an Orangeman. So I was very interested in this, but it’s also in keeping with this interest in ethnic majorities, right? That’s sort of an understudied area that I’ve been in for some 20-odd years.

The Northern Ireland question was really about the Protestants, who are a declining dominant group in Northern Ireland, and that was kind of a similar interest in the American case with the Anglo-Protestant decline. So I was just focusing very much on another instance of a decline demographically, and in the Northern Ireland case, also economically declining majority group.

COWEN: Isn’t it also a region where everyone, in a sense, is some kind of white nationalist? Not necessarily in a racist way, and they may even disagree as to what the nation should be, but they’re some form of nationalist and they identify that with whiteness, and that’s just taken for granted.

KAUFMANN: I think the whiteness really doesn’t play in Northern Ireland, actually. It’s interesting. I’ve seen black spectators at the Twelfth will be welcomed, whereas there’s a lot of suspicion of anyone Catholic. I think it’s very much a nonracial thing in that sense, but you’re right that people take history and identity quite seriously, and they see themselves connected to feats of their ancestors, et cetera.

So history very much lives in the present even though the society looks totally modern. That’s what fascinated me about Northern Ireland — the argument that societies are going beyond history is clearly untrue for Northern Ireland, where history is very present, even as many other dimensions of modernity continue.

COWEN: Oh, one final question, actually. What is it you’re going to do next? Your book is out, published. What now?

KAUFMANN: One part of the book, of course, is about progressivism, and that liberal left synthesis, which is not socialism and not liberalism. I kind of want to look at the history of that — all the good things it did, but also, perhaps, where it’s overshot, and perhaps some of the places where it’s going wrong now. This is an idea that I have. Whether I will pursue that, I’m not sure.

COWEN: Eric Kaufmann, thank you very much.

KAUFMANN: Thanks, Tyler.

Conversations with Tyler

A podcast in which esteemed economist Tyler Cowen engages with today's most underrated thinkers in wide-ranging explorations of their work, the world, and everything in between.

Mercatus Center

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The Mercatus Center at George Mason University is the world’s premier university source for market-oriented ideas.

Conversations with Tyler

A podcast in which esteemed economist Tyler Cowen engages with today's most underrated thinkers in wide-ranging explorations of their work, the world, and everything in between.

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