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At the moment, American politics offers two separate, distinct ways not to address these issues: Either the brain-dead populism of the Left that blames it all on trade and the decline of unions, or the brain-dead populism of the Right that extols the working class without taking serious note of its agony. We’ll have to do better: There’s a crisis in the middle.
I agree strongly. I did a long article almost exactly a year ago in National Affairs that has the same basic diagnosis of the underlying problem, as well as the recognition that neither side in the political debate is really addressing it successfully. In it, I made a few suggestions for how to do this, and among these was rethinking immigration policy.
In your post, you say that
I think conservatives need to spend more time thinking about all of this, and what our solutions — if any — are to it. I know I’d begin with a crack-down on illegal immigration. At a time of high unemployment and wage stagnation for people without college degrees, we don’t need people from other countries flooding into the United States to take low-skill jobs and drive down wages.
I think that the key thing for us to keep in mind on this topic is that immigration isn’t charity.
The U.S. is in a long-term battle to maintain sufficient economic advantage to generate the hard power we need to control our own destiny in the face of the economic rise of the Asian heartland. We might lose. One available tool that could help us win is immigration policy. We can neither afford to view this entirely as some kind of battle to maintain the purity of our culture, nor think that we have been endowed with eternal riches that we have a moral duty to share with the world’s poor by letting them move to Encino. Some amount of immigration is very likely helpful to the long-run interests of the citizens of the U.S., but we ought always to work backward from that objective.
This is how I put one idea for how to radically rethink immigration policy in the National Affairs piece:
We should reconceptualize immigration as recruiting. Assimilating immigrants is a demonstrated core capability of America’s political economy — and it is one we should take advantage of. A robust-yet-reasonable amount of immigration is healthy for America. It is a continuing source of vitality — and, in combination with birth rates around the replacement level, creates a sustainable rate of overall population growth and age-demographic balance. But unfortunately, the manner in which we have actually handled immigration since the 1970s has yielded large-scale legal and illegal immigration of a low-skilled population from Latin America. It is hard to imagine a more damaging way to expose the fault lines of America’s political economy: We have chosen a strategy that provides low-wage gardeners and nannies for the elite, low-cost home improvement and fresh produce for the middle class, and fierce wage competition for the working class.
Instead, we should think of immigration as an opportunity to improve our stock of human capital. Once we have re-established control of our southern border, and as we preserve our commitment to political asylum, we should also set up recruiting offices looking for the best possible talent everywhere: from Mexico City to Beijing to Helsinki to Calcutta. Australia and Canada have demonstrated the practicality of skills-based immigration policies for many years. We should improve upon their example by using testing and other methods to apply a basic tenet of all human capital-intensive organizations managing for the long term: Always pick talent over skill. It would be great for America as a whole to have, say, 500,000 smart, motivated people move here each year with the intention of becoming citizens.