Saturday, June 23, 2018

Bret Stephens' Fact-Free Immigration Idolatry

Bret Stephens takes on immigration with some tired arguments:

First: The U.S. fertility rate has fallen to a record low. In May, The Times reported that women “had nearly 500,000 fewer babies than in 2007, despite the fact that there were an estimated 7 percent more women in their prime childbearing years.” That’s a harbinger of long-term, Japanese-style economic decline.

Counterpoint: Japan is a perfectly fine place to exist. There's nothing wrong with Japan. It does not need to try to outgrow America, India or China in some sort of zero-sum economic sprint.

Second: Americans are getting older. In 2010 there were more than 40 million Americans over the age of 65. By 2050 the number will be closer to 90 million, or an estimated 22.1 percent of the population. That won’t be as catastrophic as Japan, where 40.1 percent of people will be over 65. But remember: We’ve only avoided Japan’s demographic fate so far by resisting its longstanding anti-immigration policies.

Counterpoint: There is nothing wrong with being older. Young median age is often correlated with social catastrophe.  Why would we ask for many millions more young men if we can not guarantee a role for them?

Third: The Federal Reserve has reported labor shortages in multiple industries throughout the country. That inhibits business growth. Nor are the shortages only a matter of missing “skills”: The New American Economy think tank estimates that the number of farm workers fell by 20 percent between 2002 and 2014, accounting for $3 billion a year in revenue losses.

Counterpoint: The future of the economy is not labor intensive farming. There is no more productivity to be had in humans picking berries. America need not compete with countries with different climates that may be able to produce certain foods more cheaply. America does not need to divert rivers and import hundreds of thousands of people just so California can have competitively priced berries.

Fourth: Much of rural or small-town America is emptying out. In hundreds of rural counties, more people are dying than are being born, according to the Department of Agriculture. The same Trumpian conservatives who claim to want to save the American heartland from the fabled Latin American Horde are guaranteeing conditions that over time will turn the heartland into a wasteland.
Counterpoint: America is full.  It's irrelevant that most of the land is 'empty'. All of America's growth is happening in urban areas - in 1900, 39% of Americans lived in cities - today, over 80% of Americans live in cities - cities that hate growth and have huge income inequality and affordability problems. Nobody is going to go live in Yellowstone National Park, nor should anyone want that to happen.

Fifth: The immigrant share (including the undocumented) of the U.S. population is not especially large: About 13.5 percent, high by recent history but below its late 19th century peak of 14.8 percent. In Israel, the share is 22.6 percent; in Australia, 27.7 percent, according to O.E.C.D. data, another indicator of the powerful correlation between high levels of immigration and sustained economic dynamism.

Counterpoint: This is a butchering of math, as Israel and Australia are comparatively tiny countries. One could say that China should aim to be 27.7 migrants - it would only hit such a target if the entire population of America moved to China. The conditions under which that sort of thing would happen would mean the entire world would be a very screwed up place. It's meaningless to compare America to countries a tenth or less of America's size. They are always going to have a 'dynamism' that America does not.

Finally, immigrants — legal or otherwise — make better citizens than native-born Americans. More entrepreneurial. More church-going. Less likely to have kids out of wedlock. Far less likely to commit crime. These are the kind of attributes Republicans claim to admire.

Counterpoint: This is true because there is a lot of selection bias in play - the immigrants that come to America are abandoning their fellow citizens that may not be upstanding members of society. As a result, study after study shows first-generation migrants happen to be the section of society that works harder and has a better moral compass.

The problem is that the second generation does not have the same priorities as the first, and they start to look again like entitled Americans - except now with grievances that may follow religious or ethnic lines. A parody of what they think America did to the 'old country' they adopt after watching too many VICE documentaries or reading too many opinion pieces in The New York Times.

Take, for example, Omar Mateen. Or Ahmad Khan Rahimi. Or Salah Abdeslam. Or Salman Abedi. Or Jahar Tsarnaev.

Entitled young men doing very entitled things, because everyone needs more of those. And we counted on these boys to be dutifully picking berries!
But America is truly exceptional. Surely everyone is capable of falling in love with apple pie and Trump golf clubs.

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