Commentary Magazine


European Mobility and the Euro

One regular criticism of the Euro has long been that Euroland is made up of, as Milton Friedman put it, “different countries [with] different languages, limited mobility among them, and they’re affected differently by external events.”  A recent column by Jay Cost brings home just how low that mobility actually is.

In making the case that Florida will play a crucial role in determining the outcome of the 2012 election, Cost notes 70 percent of its residents were born in another state, and it is therefore a microcosm of the nation. But what is striking is that, while Florida’s out of state rate is particularly high, states like Virginia (49 percent), North Carolina (40 percent), and Texas(33 percent) are hardly completely dominated by the sons of their soil. Even Louisiana, one in every five residents was born outside the state.

Compare that to Europe. In 2009, Eurostat found the average share of national population born in the EU-27 but not in the country where it now resides – that is, Europeans who have moved to another European country – was a mere 2.4 percent. The range is broad – from below one percent in Bulgaria to
38 percent in Luxembourg –but nowhere does it come close to Virginia’s share, never mind Florida’s. In fact, only Luxembourg (with the highest mobility) has a larger share of Europeans than Louisiana (with the lowest mobility) does of Americans born in another state. Or, to put it other ways, there are about 5.75
million more Americans born in another state living in Texas (population 25 million) than there are non-German Europeans living in Germany (population 82
million), and there are as many migrant Americans living in Virginia and Texas than there are migrant Europeans in all of Europe.

Even more remarkable is the approximately 32 million citizens of Europe who do not live in their country of birth, 62 percent of them – 20 million – were not born in Europe at all. The total number of Europeans – not workers, but citizens of all descriptions – who have ever moved from the European country of their birth to another European country and were still alive in 2009 amounts to about 12 million people. There are substantially more non-Europeans living in Europe than there are Europeans who move around inside Europe.

It is thus fair to say Europe’s approach has rested more on importing foreigners than it has on manifesting much actual Europeanism among its citizenry, if that can be measured by a willingness to move around. The reliance on importing foreigners has hardly been universally popular in Europe. That is not surprising: leaving aside the issue of radical Islamism, there are the well-known problems of assimilating non-Europeans into the various European cultures, and the even more everyday resentments produced by the presence of foreign workers.

Praising the EU as a way to promote mobility inside Europe thus largely misses the point: the fact is the EU is more readily associated with immigration from outside Europe. Certainly, it is possible to move within European nations – from the Italian south to the north, for example – as well as among them. But the comparison between Cost and Eurostat tells me, first, that the U.S. really is exceptional in its mobility, and, second, that any analogy between the common currency zones of the U.S. and Euroland ignores their fundamental differences, of which Europe’s low mobility is only one.