Basic Fallacies

The economic fallacy

Superficial analyses about the economic costs of social inclusion are widespread within the political class in most of Eastern and Central Europe (ECE). In this article I will look at an economic fallacy regarding an imagined group of Roma that I like to call the “Frankenstein” Roma a term that is meant to emphasize both the confusion and simplistic Roma archetype that is largely spread among policy makers.[1]

Most politicians and policy-makers think of the word “Roma” as a euphemism for all kind of petty criminals (though of course many of these criminals are not Roma). As with any stereotype, the percentage of the Roma that fit the “Frankenstein” description is just a fraction of the total number of Roma. Successful Roma professionals tend to be invisible for politicians and policy makers as they do not fit the racist but widespread typology of a “true” Roma. In fact, there are more successful Roma professionals than “Frankenstein” Roma.

The economic fallacy about the Frankenstein Roma says that their countries are better off, in economic terms, without them. This belief justifies both inaction at home (lack of effort and funds spent on social inclusion) and a reluctance to work towards stemming immigration to Western European countries.

ECE governments think that the majority of Roma that leave their countries are, at best, singers, dancers, or menial workers (cleaners or restaurant helpers), but most likely live on welfare, steal, or are employed on the black market. Regardless, they consider that at home, Roma are a significant economic loss for their countries’ economies.

They also believe that once the “Frankenstein” Roma leave, that the host countries (Western Europe) will have to deal with the costs of welfare, policing, education, health, housing – while most of the money these Roma save will be spent back at home.  It is a crude and wrong but easy to sell message for the majority of voters that anyway do not like or openly hate the Roma.

The “Frankenstein” Roma need to be incentivized and made responsible towards their citizenship. This would require an aggressive campaign to make Roma feel that they are an important part of their nations, through massive investment in social inclusion, fighting anti-Gypsyism and promoting active citizenship within the most difficult ghettoes and Roma communities.

Such an action plan requires long to very long (over 20 years) strategic measures, involves significant budgets and will be moderately to highly unpopular. It requires serious hands-on grass-roots work an activity disliked not only by the policymakers but also by most NGOs active in the Roma and social inclusion field.

Why should any country do this?  The answer is simple- there is no other better solution.

Most of the “Frankenstein” Roma governments want to get rid of will not settle permanently in other countries. They will continue to collect welfare in their own countries as well as welfare in the West. Some will use their criminal experiences in the West to strengthen the criminal networks in their own countries. It’s already happening: in the ghetto where I work, I have witnessed the number of drug addicts skyrocket in the last years. There is increasingly more money made from drug trafficking and prostitution. Criminal gangs control significant numbers of people through money or threats and are able to influence elections. Corruption is rampant.  Links between those criminals and top-level politicians are sometimes public. All these come at significantly higher costs than social inclusion measures meant to prevent them.

Another reason to work towards social inclusion is the catastrophic situation of the Roma children and youth within the groups inclined to migrate. At the beginning of the 1990s some Roma made a fortune by going to Western Europe, together with their children. These children became the first of the many lost generations. Both children and adults were involved in begging, some in petty criminality, some sang for money and others collected and sold metals. A few of those started businesses dealing with second hand clothing and cars. They spend their money back home, much of it on strident signs of wealth.

For many Roma, making money became much more important than education or trying to hold a steady job. Roma were among the first to lose their jobs during the transitions from socialism to democracy at the beginning of 1990s. The success of the few that made easy money by going abroad was much more visible than the “normal” but long-term success of those that worked hard on their education. The long-term success was rendered even less visible as most of those who managed to complete their education left the ghettoes or their Roma communities. Educated, prosperous professional Roma face the choice of hiding their roots and trying to blend in with the majority populations (I personally know almost a hundred such cases) or enduring structural racism at all levels (see my previous articles on structural racism). Their achievements are never as visible as the “achievements” of those who made “easy” money.

That many of those trying to make “easy” money end up in prison is ignored, as incarceration is considered a part of the normal life cycle in these communities.

The children that made money begging or stealing in the 1990s became adults that used their children for begging or stealing. Their children, in turn, will do the same with their children when the opportunity arises. Children that steal cannot be put in prison, and some children became valuable assets for their parents, relatives or criminal networks that exploit them. The same principles apply when it comes to prostitution or selling drugs.

The focus on making money destroys generation after generation of children in the communities that live from these “trades”. It is a niche “economy” that was and in some cases still is very productive. I know a good number of families that go on begging trips by plane.

While education requires discipline and has no immediate pay off, begging or stealing can bring a child hundreds of Euros every month. Selling drugs becomes more and more the new productive “job” in the ghettoes of the big cities in Eastern and Central Europe.

The psychological damage suffered by the children involved in these “trades” is almost impossible to estimate and in the majority of the cases is completely disregarded by their parents as they think it is for the economic benefit of their children. These children grow into adults that have no chance to compete on the job market but have the skills, the networks, the support and the motivation to do well in the criminal economy. Selling drugs, prostitution, stealing and begging pay much better than any possible legal job for an uneducated (and usually illiterate) youth.

The lucky one-in-a-hundred prostitute who manages to pay off her traffickers, escape drugs and pimps, comes back with money and opens an erotic massage saloon is the only relevant model in the ghetto where I work. The stories of those that die of overdose, are beaten to death by their traffickers or their clients, or get HIV or other diseases are simply ignored by the girls that live in abject poverty and see prostitution as their only chance to get out.

Furthermore, the worst conditions in Western Europe are much better in almost every respect than living in the ghettoes or in dirt-poor communities in Eastern Europe. The welfare is better, the social services are better, the educational system is better. For criminals, beggars and prostitutes (whether they are Roma or not) the richer the country is, the better the pay. Prostitutes and beggars make sometimes ten times more money that in their own countries. Incarceration conditions are much superior and jail sentences shorter than in their countries.

It is true that there are immediate economical benefits in the short term if “Frankenstein” Roma leave their countries. But this has a disastrous effect in long term as it destroys generations after generation of their children. There may be long term repercussions: Roma have the highest percentage of young people of any ethnic group in Europe; these children must complete their education in order to compete on the job markets. The sustainability of many EU member states pensions might depend on it.

Economical benefits that come out of begging or petty crime are already much less than they used to be in the 1990s and soon enough there will be no “new markets” to be exploited. The increase in anti-Gypsyism is also a direct effect of migration and will make social inclusion harder and more expensive. The end result is a very dangerous spiraling effect that results in more and more rejection on behalf of the majority societies. Rampant anti-Gypsyism could result in inter-ethnic conflicts – the economical costs of such conflicts are impossible to estimate.

The existing flux of Frankenstein Roma migration needs to be addressed much better. It is impossible to stop it completely but using more efficiently the available EU money could lead to a significant reduction in the number of these people (and especially of children) leaving their countries.

The responsibility for many of the children, youth and adults from these lost generations rest not only with their irresponsible parents and inept local administrations and politicians but also with the aloof bureaucrats in Brussels or in the capital cities.

An independent responsible evaluation of all these bureaucracies and the way hundreds of millions of euros are spent on Roma issues is a must if we are to succeed with the social inclusion of Roma. Such evaluations are a normal requirement that these organisations impose on NGOs – there is no reason why they should not be subject to the same scrutiny.

[1] Contrary to popular belief, Frankenstein was not a monster, but the well-wishing creator of what turned out to be a monster. Victor Frankentein was described as very intelligent and well educated. The problem was that his pride and arrogance circumvented his responsibilities.


1 Comment

  1. „For many Roma, making money became much more important than education or trying to hold a steady job” – unfortunately, not only for Roma people making money comes first but for many youngsters regardless of their ethnic origin. Nowadays, a steady job doesn’t come as a logic consequence of efforts invested into education, and even worse a job after years of education cannot provide a decent wage (i.e. teachers, doctors) in order to have a decent life.

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