8. Workshop – Der Fremde als ökonomisches Problem

Schwarzenberg, 03.07.2003 – 06.07.2003


Progress Foundation Conference
“The foreigner as an economic phenomenon”
Schwarzenberg, July 3. – 6, 2003

Protocol of the Core Issues and Ideas of the Talks

The twenty-first century pledges to be a new age of migration: many countries of the world are becoming more multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual. These changes challenge civil society as well as governments and refer to all levels from the individual, through the group, local municipality, regional and national communities to the international and global levels. Following an interdisciplinary approach, the Progress Foundation Conference has raised awareness about issues related to migration across all these levels. The discussion evolved along six talks based on selected literature and countless informal exchanges of facts, ideas, and views. The following outline, which is structured along the six talks, sketches some of the core issues and ideas expressed during the conference.

Talk 1: Sources of identity

During the first talk the possible sources of individual and collective identity were debated. The basis for this discussion was a text by Assmann who suggested classifying collective identities in:

  1. egalitarian identities (for societies without government),
  2. hegemonic identities (for societies in which the “human being” is represented by an elite while the rest of the population remains a faceless mass), and
  3. minority identities (where dissociation from a majority with different characteristics constitutes the collective identity)

It was agreed that Assmann’s classification made sense, however, the talk at first concentrated on the question of individual identity. The exact definition of individual identity was then critically examined. The idea to view individual identity as an overlapping network of different identities (in regard to family, region, nation, neighbors, etc.) was brought forth. Still, the controversial question remained whether these identities are part of a hierarchical structure and if so, what this structure looks like. The existence of “the others” was seen as a constituting element of identity development (the individual is nothing; it only receives its identity through the “others” – it sees itself with and through the eyes of others). Apropos collective identity, the historically motivated theory, the idea of a national identity as a possibility of cultural identity after the decline of the umbrella organization of the roman-catholic church in the 16th century, was generally accepted. Furthermore, it was stressed that throughout history national identities often developed from the top down (with the use of force) rather than from the bottom up. Here, the development process of such countries as France and ltaly serve as a prime example.

Talk 2: On the economics of community-building

In the second talk different motives for community-building were addressed. The literary basis for this talk was (among others) Weber’s famous treatment of economic relations within a community as well as a paper by Jasay. The latter contrasted the possible benefits of collective action (e.g. solving the prisoners’ dilemma) with the costs of a possible failure of the state. At first, it was discussed to what extent community building can be explained through the reduction or elimination of transaction costs – the utility of community-building was seen in the generation of positive effects through standardization of communication and behavior as well as the development of common rules (such as, morals and competition laws). Another argument in favor of community-building was the community’s function in providing defensive capabilities and security to the group. Along with these normative, pro community- building arguments “negative” motives were also investigated. First, it was noted that communities can also act as aggressors thereby creating costs. Secondly, the community was also seen as a means for appropriating economic surplus, for instance, by restricting competition through guilds or other forms of regulation. As one of many examples concerning the latter motive, the participants will surely recall the German regulations that make the carving up of pork a prerequisite for obtaining a butcher’s license, a practice that practically excludes Muslim butchers.

Talk 3: On taking culture into account in economics

The basis for the third talk was Jones’ theory which states that economics up until now has been marked by a “cultural nullity”. This means that economics either disavows or ignores the fact that culture has a profound influence on an individual’s behavior. More precisely, the Arrow-Debreu model of perfect competition assumes that individuals with different preferences still all follow the same rational behaviour of maximizing their utilities, regardless of any cultural factors. This pushed the discussion towards the new institutional economics which has the potential, as an economic approach, to take cultural influences into account. Also included in the discussion was Weber’s “Protestant theory”. This theory states that the development of capitalism is furthered by elements found in Calvinism (such as a rational approach to the way of living, asceticism, the duty to work, and social status derived from professional success as well as by the assumed congruence of proving oneself professionally and salvation). In light of further research, however, this theory was regarded critically by the participants of the discussion. Instead it was agreed upon that basic elements of capitalism probably originated in northern Italy at the time when double entry accounting was being developed. ln general, the idea of culture as an important component of economic behavior was accepted by all. No support, however, could be garnered for a theory on Islam also found in the literature. It depicts the religion as focusing too heavily on pre-modern times and thus obstructing economic development.

Another topic that was analyzed in this talk was the question of how to regulate immigration. To begin with, the debate shortly touched on the subject of talk 6 namely the specific advantages foreigners may add to the innovative potential of an economy. Afterwards, the idea surfaced that it might be worthwhile to liken countries to clubs. Like clubs, countries have generally invested in a great deal of material and organizational infrastructure. To secure that this infrastructure can be made available in the long-term immigrants could be asked to pay a “membership fee” for its use.

Talk 4: On the logic of prejudices and discrimination

A text by Eibl-Eibesfeldt was the basis for the 4th talk. Therein he illustrates that the fear of the strange and unknown among humans and animals is widespread. Often a tendency to reject anything that fails to adhere to the “norm” can be observed. This conduct could possibly be explained by the advantages that come with homogeneity which, for example, makes it possible to predict behavior and thus reduce social tensions. From that perspective, teasing can be seen as an instrument that creates an incentive to fit in. In a sense, such a “biological-evolutionary” approach to discrimination is in line with economic rationality. Equally, in the same vein of economic reasoning, Singer’s “principle of equal interest” can be interpreted as a principle that maximizes society’s utility as a whole.

Yet the discussion soon turned back to the final topic of the 3rd talk. A rigorous debate ensued on a number of questions: the utility derived from immigration, possible costs of immigration, and the different implications of economic immigration versus immigration for political reasons.

Talk 5: On the conditions for intercultural communication

The basis of the 5th talk was, among others, a text by Galtung classifying different scientific styles. These include “Saxon”, “Teutonic”, “Gallic”, and “Nipponese” each with their own benefits and drawbacks. Galtung favors a competition between these different styles. The author’s approach was met with general agreement, albeit with some reservations. A text by Oksaar dealing with the difficulties concerning intercultural understanding was also discussed. Oksaar focuses on the acquisition of a second language. He sees problems in mutual comprehension arising due to cultural differences (“Kultureme”) rather than stemming from the language itself. These problems can be non-verbal (mimicry), extra verbal (time, location, social variables), and verbal. But also, various conditions concerning reception (too quiet, too fast, too complex expressions) as well as the level of expectation of the students are vital factors.

However, soon the key topics discerned in the previous talks once again became subject of debate. Here the participants agreed that a fruitful discussion on the pros and cons of immigration could only be possible in an atmosphere free of the usual stereotypes. One of the more important topics was the connection between welfare systems and migration. Toward the end, it was discussed how to normatively draw a line between integration and assimilation in politics.

Talk 6: Cultural diversity as a source of innovation

The 6th talk dealt with the idea of cultural diversity as a source of innovation. Positive effects of cultural diversity on innovation were taken as a given by the participants. At the same time everyone concurred that both immigrants themselves as well as the openness with which they are received greatly contribute to the success of innovation. In this context the effects of labor market regulations as well as of freedom of trade regulations were considered. The conclusion was reached that such forms of regulation often deter integration and destroy innovative potential” The talk made somewhat of a turn when reasons for migration that arise in the country of origin were addressed. The question was posed if it would not make sense to combat the role of repressive systems (“Tyrant states”) as a source of migration. A provocative demand was issued to make it the international community’s duty to intervene in the case of tyrannies. This would help fight one of the three prime causes of migration – tyranny, hunger, and minority problems. A wide range of reactions from “utopian” to “worth considering” greeted this demand. ln any case, the demand for intervention managed to make the talk quite dynamic.


Islam, the West and 9/11 – Challenges to the Values and Institutions of a Free Society
Stefan Voigt, Persönliche Arbeit, August 2003

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