The Corner

JONAH’S IMMIGRATION POINT

Jonah:  You make an excellent point.  Steve Sailer took a few whacks at that NY Times Magazine article on the economics of immigration here.

Those who argue that mass immigration is essential for economic vitality need to explain the many counterexamples:  the U.S.A. 1945-65, the Asian “tigers,” present-day Finland (there’s a good piece on Finland in the current Economist), etc.

We’d all rather be rich than poor, so the economic arguments are not null.  In re immigration, however, the question comes down to: Would you prefer to be better off by a quantity so amall and debatable that economists are fighting over it, if the cost of that improvement (supposing it is an improvement) is mass immigration?  And the answer to THAT depends on how you feel about (a) mass immigration from anywhere at all, and (b) mass immigration from Central America in particular, since that is what “mass immigration” currently means.

And that depends (it seems to me) on what you think the consequences would be from (a) and from (b).  I’d identify four possible downsides to mass immigration that might cause a U.S. citizen to look unfavorably on it.

(1) Assimilation.  Do the immigrants merge into American culture in a generation or two?  Are they (or their kids, or grandkids) going to share our “mystic chords of memory”–revere the Founding Fathers, nurse romantic fascination with the Civil War, take historical pride in our nation’s great victories over fascism and communism, play our national sports, and so on?

(2) National disintegration.  Point (1) applies no matter what the distribution of immigrants.  Small enclaves scattered across the nation can fail to assimilate and form permanent ghettoes, like those of the South Asian Muslims in England.  If immigrant numbers are big and locally-concentrated enough, though, there is the additional danger that some region, perhaps as big as an entire state, may drift away from U.S. norms and allegiance.  Goodbye, California, hello Quebec.

(3) Cultural stultification.  U.S. culture is, and for a couple of centuries has been, far more vigorous than most others–certainly than Central America’s, let alone other possible mass-immigration sources like Indonesia.  Our music, our movies, our literature, our entrepreneurship and inventiveness–we have been a Renaissance all by ourselves.  Importing masses of foreigners, especially unskilled and unschooled foreigners, from deeply un-creative places like Mexico may end all that.   Name one Mexican invention and one fine Mexican movie, tell me the outline plot of one Mexican novel or play, and hum me a Mexican pop song. 

(4) Political.  The political style of Latin America, with those stupendous levels of corruption, cynicism, class resentment, and violence, are deeply unattractive.  How resistant is our own political culture to the importation of this style by masses of Latin Americans?  Will their political attitudes and behaviors become more like ours, or ours more like theirs?

(5) Potential race problems.  The U.S.A. was born with two race problems:  the African Americans and the Native Americans.  We struggle with those problems still, and must continue to struggle.  Would it be wise to import a new one?  Mass immigration from (say) Indonesia or (say) Bangladesh would add a huge visibly identifiable minority to our nation.  Given our past experience with huge visibly identifiable minorities, is that smart?  Note that this question is simply one of prudence, and is independent of any opinions you might have about race.  (Unless you think that the U.S. currently does not have a race problem, in which case you should ignore this paragraph.  If you believe the U.S. does currently have a race problem to any extent, then I am inviting you to honestly ask yourself the question:  Would it be smart to add another one?  Note also that this applies to Central American immigration.  A high proportion of immigrants from Central America are of aboriginal descent in whole or part.  If you want to dispute this, go dispute it with their most prominent lobbying organization, whose name is La Raza—”the race”!)

It seems to me that the number of unknowns here, and the possibility of hugely negative downsides, is too great.  Therefore we should curtail immigration–take the “mass” out of “mass immigration”–secure the borders, and do everything we can to encourage illegal immigrants to leave.

This is a nation, not a charity.  We are under no moral obligation to take in all the world’s poor.  World-wide, around five billion people are poorer than the average Mexican.  Should we take them all in?  Is this what the open-borders people actually want?  Five billion?  You sure?

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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