The website demo-demo.nl stems from the desire to understand the demographic consequences of immigration and to share those insights with interested parties. It is about democratising demographic knowledge in the Netherlands. Hence the name.
At its launch in 2016
Jan van de Beek started the site in 2016, motivated by curiosity, annoyance, concern and responsibility. He explained this as follows.
Curiosity is fuelled by my interest in the topic of immigration. I was always interested in different cultures and also used to travel a lot, including Africa, Asia and the former Soviet Union. From this interest, I studied cultural anthropology at Utrecht University after studying mathematics and computer science at the University of Amsterdam. I then obtained my PhD at the same university on the topic of migration. My thesis was about the knowledge that economists have produced over time about the economic effects of immigration to the Netherlands and also about whether that knowledge was allowed to be produced. So I am genuinely interested in the effects of immigration on the host society. In addition, I do have a fondness for the numbers behind the phenomena and for writing computer programmes.
Those who go looking for good information on immigration do not always find what they are looking for. That is where the annoyance starts. For instance, if you want to know what a certain level of immigration does to the ethnic composition of the population or the percentage of Muslims in the Netherlands, you quickly end up at authoritative institutes like the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI) and Statistics Netherlands (CBS). In themselves, these are obviously better equipped than me to develop a demographic model, but the information they produce does not always satisfy.
An important point, for example, is that CBS automatically counts third-generation immigrants as natives, regardless of whether they feel or want to be Dutch. In other words, the degree and timing of assimilation (understood as self-identification with the Netherlands) are fixed in advance. This is not realistic. What is also missing are accessible scenarios to relate, for instance, the development of the number of non-Western immigrants or the number of Muslims in the Netherlands to a certain degree of (asylum) migration or to a certain degree of secularisation or assimilation.
There was also no means of calculating the costs and benefits of migration policy. This is incomprehensible in a country where all election programmes are calculated by the CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB for short). And also irresponsible, because the impact of immigration on the government budget is huge.
I therefore decided to build a demographic model myself and write a computer programme that would allow me to calculate the demographic and economic effects of policy scenarios.
A major motivation for going to all this trouble is concern. I feel European and Western and, to some extent, global. But I still identify first and foremost with the Netherlands. And I think that too much immigration in the way it is happening now is not good for the Netherlands.
The immigration of too many disadvantaged non-Western immigrants threatens our prosperity, our welfare state and social peace. The key point is that our expanded welfare state means we are unable to absorb large numbers of immigrants of medium or low educational level. Far too many people end up in low-skilled jobs or on benefits. This costs large sums of money, as most working immigrants are also net recipients of the welfare state over their entire stay. Due to structural underlying causes (outsourcing, robotisation, automation, and so on), it is virtually impossible to do anything about it in policy terms through job plans and the like.
For now, we are still able to buy off latent ethnic and religious divisions with welfare state arrangements. But precisely because immigration costs an awful lot of money, this welfare state is not sustainable in the long run, if there is a structurally high level of unselected immigration in the future. If the current policy of barely selective mass immigration is continued, economic divisions – running along ethnic and religious fault lines – will surface, with all its consequences.
In addition, excessive immigration of people with little or no identification with the Netherlands – and with Dutch norms and values – poses a threat to the preservation of Dutch society. This is particularly true of the immigration of orthodox Muslims. Orthodox Muslims tend to have a value system that conflicts in crucial parts with the Western value system that dominates in the Netherlands. These include some salient points such as gender equality. But underlying it are issues that are, if possible, even more essential. One example is the fact that in the West religion has been almost completely pushed back into the private domain. Research by sociologist Ruud Koopmans and others has shown that this is at odds with the views of a large proportion of orthodox Muslims, who believe that their religious laws (Sharia) are above the laws of the Netherlands.
With small numbers of immigrants, it need not be an immediate problem that immigrants have conflicting value systems. But with mass immigration, it can lead to a struggle for the dominance of one or the other value system. Many progressives assume that cultural diversity is always good in advance, a goal worth pursuing, and to some extent, of course, diversity is desirable. But if that diversity leads to all sorts of dysfunctional conflicts in society and starts frustrating the democratic process, then the opposite is more obvious.
Let us also not underestimate that mass immigration gradually shifts the value system of a society. The value system forms part of what anthropologist Marvin Harris refers to as the superstructure of culture. That superstructure co-determines how cultures organise basic things like economic production and human reproduction. So a different worldview and a different system of norms and values can also ultimately lead to a different society.
Furthermore, mass immigration is a potential problem if many immigrants do not identify with the host country. Symbolic at this point were the demonstrations and flag-waving by Erdogan supporters on the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam after the failed Turkish coup. These people confirmed what the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP) research has long shown: a large proportion of immigrants of Turkish origin (as well as some other groups) hardly identify with the Netherlands and much more with their country of origin.
If there are increasing numbers of immigrants who do not or hardly identify with the Netherlands, that is potentially a problem. Because the Netherlands is not there for no reason. The Netherlands exists by the grace of there being enough people who identify with the Netherlands. That all those people are very different, but still have shared values and norms to some extent. And that most of those people, in one way or another, make an effort to shape and sustain the Netherlands – this prosperous, free and peaceful country – over and over again. That reproductive capacity is endangered by too much immigration.
Finally, this. Many progressives like to defend the rights of minorities – such as America’s original, indigenous population (first nation) – to experience and preserve their own language and culture. But the same argument can be used to argue that the indigenous population of the Netherlands is also entitled to the experience and preservation of its own language and culture. The only place where that Dutch indigenous population can experience its own language and culture is the Netherlands. Nowhere else can they go to have that experience. So if the Dutch indigenous population has that right to preserve language and culture, it also has the right to safeguard itself from overly abrupt or drastic changes to that language and culture through mass immigration. This is something that many Dutch people – including me – are rightly concerned about.
It should be clear that I find current immigration irresponsible. It therefore bothers me that there are quite a lot of people – especially highly educated, cosmopolitan-minded people on the left of the political spectrum – who seem to think the mass immigration of the past decades is a fine thing. One example is the UN refugee convention. I think that treaty is totally unsustainable, but quite a few progressives and Christians think we should always accommodate treaty refugees, no matter how many there are. Implicitly, those people are saying that through the UN Refugee Convention, the Netherlands should guarantee the human rights of 7 billion world citizens (and by the end of the century, 11 billion). In practice, the asylum origin area (roughly West Asia, Africa and some European countries) is currently about 2 billion people and about 6 billion people by the end of the century. Most asylum seekers end up in a dozen European countries with a combined population of about 400 million. That is totally out of proportion. I find that dangerous and naive because the resulting mass migration could simply be devastating for the Netherlands as we know it today.
That is why I see it as my responsibility to use this site to provide the best possible insight into the economic and demographic consequences of mass immigration, precisely because government institutes such as the SCP, CBS and CPB leave parts of the issue unaddressed here. I am trying to fill that gap with this first attempt to put all available information into one model as well as possible. Hopefully, the aforementioned government institutes will pick up this initiative and finally produce a reliable model with which all policy intentions and election programmes on immigration can be systematically calculated in terms of economic and demographic effects. That would be a good thing because those institutes, with all their manpower, expertise and resources, are undoubtedly better equipped for this task than I am.