Evidence of nothing much

When France beat Belgium in the semifinals, it became obvious to me that France deserved to win the World Cup and would likely do it. Belgium had one of the best teams I’d ever seen, and yet they were completely neutered. France had a long, talented bench, perhaps the best at the tournament, but they didn’t win on sheer talent. They won, primarily, on superior strategy and tactics – I’d even say on a superior philosophy of the game.

I did expect, of course, to hear a chorus crediting France’s immigration policies with this triumph. There’s a simple way to challenge this view. If the thesis is, “France won thanks to diversity brought by immigration”, the inevitable counterargument will be, “Croatia achieved more by the opposite approach.” Their team consisted mostly of ethnic Croats, including a few expats. Drawing from a pool of about five million people, Croatia improved on its earlier record, the third place in 1998, when France first won the World Cup.

But I don’t want to resort to this counterexample and this opposition – I don’t want to depend on Croatia’s performance for my argument. If you say, “France won thanks to diversity brought by immigration,” I’m not saying your view cannot be true. I’m merely asking, “How do you know?”

You can’t change the initial conditions and run the experiment again as you would normally do in science. You could run a thought experiment: suppose that at some point in the past France had limited non-European immigration to a trickle. You would have to deal with lots of multiple-choice branching points and end up with a tree leading to hundreds of outcomes, which you would have to rank in some way. You could eventually conclude that, on the balance of probabilities, the French team would have fared worse than it did at the 2018 World Cup.

This, however, would be a different, weaker conclusion than the straightforward claim that France won thanks to immigration. Moreover, it would invite a discussion over other consequences of the low-immigration policy.

Admittedly, most of us think – “think” – in non-sequiturs most of the time. But sometimes a neatly arranged sequence of non-sequiturs makes for a deep and daring raid into self-parody. A recent example is Adam Gopnik’s July 16 comment in The New Yorker, where he asserts that

[Donald Trump’s] views on immigration and Europe, loudly brayed out last week on his visit to the U.K., were neatly devastated by the excellence and the teamwork of the diverse French squad.

The French team’s excellence only proved wrong a set of narrow theses like this: “A French team that mostly consists of players of African descent cannot be great or win the World Cup.” It tells us little about the impact of immigration on the country’s economy and culture beyond the football field.

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