Thursday, January 19, 2006

Emigration/Immigration and Cultural Change

This is just the expansion of a theory that I had proposed on David’s Medienkritik blog on German-American relations and German media bias against America. The blog is available on the link for anyone that may be interested.

The basic premise of the theory is that a culture, in this case the German culture, is effected by its emigration/immigration patterns throughout history. A good example is Germany verses the United States from the early 18th Century to a period just prior to World War II. Short-term examples can be found for other European countries during the 19th Century mainly in the Scandinavian countries, Ireland and Italy. A case could even be made to support the theory using the United Kingdom during the “brain drain” years of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. It’s possible, but I haven’t researched it, that a case could be made for the current emigration/immigration movement from Mexico and Central America to the United States would fit this theory. By the way, the United States is not the only country that fits the recipient class as Canada and Australia also figure as immigrant rich countries.

The theory boils down to a simple statement. The emigrant population from a country, whether poor, rich or middle class, is drawn from the most adventurous and risk taking portion of the population. This emigrant population has a number of advantages that they bring to the receiving country. First, they are willing to work had for their success or the success of their children. Second, while they may not be highly educated they support and encourage their children to achieve an education and succeed. Third, the immigrant and his children contribute to the development of their adopted country in ways that are deprived to the country they left. This effect has a permanent effect in the receiving country, but the loss is not long lasting, only a generation or two, to the losing country.

Let us use the United Kingdom and the “brain drain” mentioned earlier as a short-term example. After World War II and into the 70’s, the United Kingdom lost a large number of highly educated and talented people to the United States, Canada, and Australia. The questions that you need to ask about this “brain drain” are simple. What caused it? What were the long-term advantages to the receiving country? What were the results to the losing country? How long did it take the losing country to recover?

In the case of the United Kingdom the answer to the first question is obvious. A liberal and socialist government raised taxes and placed restrictions on business development that restricted peoples natural inclination to improve their “lot in life.” For the United States this admittedly small population shift didn’t have the profound effect that earlier immigrants had because it was simply too small. However, it did have some effect in medicine and the other scientific fields. What happened in the United Kingdom? Well, they lost their parity in the military, medical, and scientific fields. Did the United Kingdom recover? The answer is yes and in only a single generation after the conservatives under Margaret Thatcher took the reins of government in the 80’s.

Now let us look at a large and more long-term shift in populations. Germany started losing population even before the emigration with the death of nearly a third of the population during the Thirty Years War. Recovery was underway when the 18th Century brought the emigration because of lingering religious restrictions and the rising population caused economic hardships to the rural population of mostly farmers. The result was emigration to both the British colonies of North America and the prairies of the Russian Volga region.

What effect did this have on the assortment of independent states that would later make up a United Germany? A short-term population relief of the rural areas along with a pronounced rise in food prices was the primary result. What was the effect in the British Colonies? A near doubling of the population and the colonies became major exporters of raw materials and food to the “mother country.” It is interesting to note here that of the 40,000 or so Hessian troop brought to the colonies during the Revolutionary War, nearly 8,000 choose to stay and married into the existing formerly German families. What was the long-term result of that immigration to the new United States? The rise of a middle class of mechanics and artisans, which put the country on the road to a later industrial powerhouse, was the primary result. Did the future Germany recover? Yes, but continued emigration slowed this recovery until the mid 18th Century.

The mid 18th Century saw another major loss of population for Germany. The failure of the so called 1848 revolution caused a major loss of an educated middle class to the United States. What did Germany loose besides this educated middle class? Very little as the emigrants did not make up a large percentage of the population. What did the United States gain? A large population of educated and dedicated people that went on to build businesses schools, and colleges throughout the under populated regions around the Great Lakes, along the Mississippi River and into Texas were the primary results. How long did it take Germany to recover from this population shift? A generation at most, but because of this population shift along with the political disunity Germany missed the empire building of the United Kingdom and France during this period.

After the American Civil War, a new emigrant population began arriving in the United States and continuing for over 40 years. While this immigrant population would nearly double the population of the United States, it differed in that many countries in Europe contributed. At this time, we also see the first signs of Asian immigrants.

Continuing with the German example, millions left Germany to take up lands that had become available on the prairies of the Midwest. Educated and inventive these people not only farmed, but built businesses and industries that turned a country from essentially a rural farming economy into an industrial power in 50 years. What was the effect in a now united Germany? As a percentage of the population, the emigrants were spaced out so that natural population increase replaced the losses. However, culturally Germany became more autocratic and centralized and the population accepted these changes. Thus, we have the “respect for authority” culture that developed in Germany. The 20th Century cost Germany much because of the world wars not only in terms of population, but also in terms of a vast cultural change. However, that cost was replaced by the “miracle rebirth” of Germany first under an Allied administered government and later under more conservative German governments. It was only with the rise of the liberal governments in the last few decades and their emphasis upon a socialist state that the economy and spirit of the German people has suffered.

So does emigration cause a collapse of a nation’s culture? The short answer is no, but only if the nation encourages population growth and economic freedom. Does immigration cause a nation to grow and prosper? The short answer is yes, but only if the immigrants integrate into the existing culture and they are allowed to seek their own economic prosperity and educational advancement without government interference.

Thus ends a long story on a theory that may be valid but needs more research than I can give it. Full research would have to look at all the emigrant countries, past and present, along with all of the immigrant countries, not only the United States but also Australia and Canada. I would also think any proof requires looking at the results of the massive immigration into the United States from Mexico and Central America that currently exists. Are these immigrants integrating into the American culture? Also the question of Islamic immigration into Europe should be examined. Are they integrating into the European cultures? If neither Europe nor the United States encourage this integration then what happens? Do both regions loose power and influence both militarily and economically? Do they stagnate? Just some points to consider.


Doug said...

As a nearly-lifetime inhabitant of the Great Lakes region, I can tell you that you've got at least that part spot on. Every major community that I'm aware of in the region has -- or had in the not-very-distant past -- a German ghetto (in the strict sense of the word). And the impact of educated Germans on America's past development is undeniable; not a matter of opinion, but recorded history. Likewise, I think that your assessment of the sort of people drawn through emigration/immigration is just about spot on, but maybe overstated a little in Germany's case. With no other motivating factors present I think it would be a safe bet, but things like self-preservation have interfered with your otherwise-valid formulation time and again.

Likewise, I think your assessment of the effects on the destination society are very accurate, but I'm not sure about the source society. The assumption that the effects last only a generation is pre-loaded with the assumption that such people are a purely random phenomenon. If they are in some way a product of other such people -- either by nature or by nurture -- then the duration of the effect of being deprived of these people is at least as long lasting as the effect of receiving the benefit of these people. In this case, the damage (and I think it's accurate to term it so) cannot begin being repaired until the next generation, and that's all that the next generation succeeds in - beginning repairs. Perhaps some fraction of it can be considered permanent, and in any event its severity is of course dependant on the rate of reproduction.

Thanks for taking the time to flesh that out. It was a good read, and aside from the above, it looks sound to me. It was worth the wait. :D

Phil said...


Thanks for your kind comments. I've taken a look at some of the areas that you questioned and agree that I need to flesh out those.

I tried, obviously without success, to show that recovery in a generation requires a change in the source nation. The Margaret Thatcher example if you will, where the governmental change reduced the "brain drain" which lead to the economic resurgence in the United Kingdom. That is harder to do with Germany as I've only done real research on the immigration effects on the United States.

I think I also need to define some of my terms better. Culture would be taken by some as only dealing with the arts, but my use deals with culture across the entire spectrum of arts, language, education, government, science, economy, etc.

Maybe I'll turn this into a full theory and do the research necessary to turn it into a book.

Anonymous said...

That would be an interesting book. With all the research that you have done, you have a good start.

Doug said...

I agree. I'm not sure it would be a particularly thick book, but the core ideas look good, and enough material could probably be assembled for an interesting presentation (buyer beware - this opinion comes from an author whose every book effort has fizzled).

I just popped back because I had a thought on what I said earlier about the effects being dependant on reproductive rates - I think that I was more right than I realized at the time that I wrote it. If we take it as given that the presence of these 'adventurous' souls does in fact influence the production of more of them, it's certainly more significant than I thought at the time.

First, three principle mechanisms that I think might influence the production of our pioneering sorts.

People inclined to such adventures may have a genetic predisposition. Perhaps their chemistry just permits them to be less inhibited than most others. This could be a random factor, or could be inherited. If inherited, the effect on replacement is direct and clear. If random, it's rate will be something nearly constant, and therefore have a stabilizing effect on the overall "risk-taker production rate".

There will likely be a developmental aspect. Even without genetic contribution, each such individual will have some direct impact on the development of children they have influential contact with. On average, I think they will influence a greater number of children than just their own offspring, but the rate at which this influence will yield more "risk-kids" is less certain to me. I think that rate will be a product of this and the next factor.

Lastly, a cultural effect. My psychology and sociology backgrounds are too shallow and far into my past to approach being reliable, so it's my purely subjective and unprofessional estimation that this is probably the biggest factor. The more "mainstream" the risk-taker personality is, I think the greater its effect in producing more of the same will be. The more marginalized this personality is in society, the more diminished its effect. The kicker is that I think this culture effect acts as something of a multiplier on the other social actor, the developmental factor. A larger cultural effect will raise the "conversion rate" of adventurous kids towards 1:1, while a very small cultural effect will move the rate closer to zero.

Which hints at the reason I think this is so significant. To assign some completely arbitrary numbers in order to sketch with, we could say that with a society of 1,000,000, of which 10% (100,000) are risk-takers, that the risk people's producing influence is roughly a balance; that this is the mix you need to achieve replacement rate of the risk-takers. Raise that proportion significantly — such as adding another 100k through immigration — and the resulting impact on their producing influence is to raise it well above replacement rate. Lower it significantly — say, by 50k through emmigration — and suddenly you have a risk-taking segment of the population which can't do other than decline.

If all this holds up, then the remaining big question is whether Germany's overall proportion of risk-takers was already in something like a balance with the rest of German society, rising above replacement rate, or falling when each surge of emmigration began. I'm not sure just how you could determine that, or how far back data that might help you make a guess is available. I think the implications appear important to your thesis. An interesting secondary question is what the present collapse of the German reproductive rate will do to this process, and are their current immigrants adequate replacement? A tertiary question - can the risk segment of the population reach a critical mass where it can't help but increase? Has anything like that happened in immigrant countries like Australia and the US?

Phil said...

I was thinking more along the lines of an ebook format, html or pdf, since I agree that it would be a smallish book. Also, that would allow easier distribution at a lower production cost since we are talking something that couldn't really sell more than a few hundred copies.

I like your expansion of the ideas. I think that it may be possible to include the proposal that the recipient countries are large geographic area so internal movement of the population can cause a similair regional effect.

Measuring changes in Germany for about the past 400 years would be doable and is one reason that I picked that example. A prime example is Wurttemburg where the population before the 30 Years war was estimated at around 450,000 but a census in 1727 found it to be 380,000. Since this was before the major emigration of people from this region to the Colonies, it gives a basis of measuring effects. Additionally, by the Treaty of Tubingen subjects of that Duchy, later Kingdom, had the "right to leave freely and without let or hinderance." Something that can't be said for other political entities in what was to become Germany.

I'm not sure that a genetic factor could be measured. A genealogical research project may be able to establish at least the possibility, but proof would be hard to come by. It would make an great project for some sociology grad student, I said with a smile.

All food for further thought. Let me think about what you've said. I may have more comments.

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