The Corner

Derb vs. Riley, Round 2

Yesterday, Derb posed a few questions to Jason Riley, based on my interview with Riley about his new book on immigration. In an e-mail, Riley responds: 

John Derbyshire’s response to my interview with John Miller suggests that I assert a correlation between population density and national prosperity. (“He seemed to say ‘the more the better.’”)

I said no such thing, seemingly or otherwise.

The first chapter of my book is, among other things, a refutation of Malthusianism. There is no correlation between population growth and national prosperity. Malthus’s limits theories were wrong, as contemporaries like David Ricardo did not hesitate to tell him, and as Malthus himself acknowledged in later editions of his initial essay. During Malthus’s own lifetime, his prediction that more people would tend to produce a drop in the standard of living was proved false. Population and living standards rose simultaneously, and continue to do so today.

The more interesting phenomenon, which I also address in the first chapter, is why conservatives who know better ignore these facts and find common cause with zero-population-growth hysterics on the left for the purposes of opposing immigration. And as my book explains, it’s not the only example of conservatives pocketing their free-market principles to advance a restrictionist agenda. For some reason, when the topic turns to immigration, many on the right abandon Ricardo, Smith, Mill, Sismondi and even Ronald Reagan, and they embrace . . . Lou Dobbs. This is troubling.

Derbyshire’s second point is that we already have guest-worker programs in this country, yet we still have illegal immigration, so guest-worker programs don’t work. But the existence of a guest-worker program tells you nothing about its viability. His argument is akin to a teachers’ union official saying that we have charter schools and voucher programs in the U.S., yet we still have kids who aren’t learning, so school choice doesn’t work. What we have in this country right now are guest-worker programs (and school choice programs) that are laden with regulations that discourage participation and minimize impact. I argue for fixing them.

Finally, Derbyshire cites a poll that shows most Americans want fewer immigrants, even though we all know that polls provide different answers based on how question are asked. You show me your polls and I’ll show you mine. But if Derbyshire, who’s an immigrant, is so convinced that his poll reflects the will of Americans and should be heeded, why doesn’t he pack up his bags and leave the country?

Of course, as someone who’s pro-immigrant, I hope he doesn’t do that. I think we should continue welcoming immigrants, even the ungrateful ones who want to lift the drawbridge after they’re here.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.


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