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January 31, 2003

Free Reads -- Bob Rowthorn on Immigration

Friedrich --

It seems to me that one of the biggest victories of the thought police has been to place the topic of immigration out of bounds as a subject for intelligent and polite discussion. As things stand now, you're either anti-immigration, or you're pro-immigrant. What the thought police really want us to believe, of course, is that if you disagree with them you're a racist, and only by agreeing with them can you be a decent human being.

Baloney. While intelligent arguments can certainly be made for the two extreme positions on immigration -- stopping it entirely, or throwing the borders wide open -- I suspect there are few people who would be happy with either position. People will move about some, for one thing. For another, even someone as economically liberal as Milton Friedman says open borders don't make sense so long as some countries have generous welfare states and others don't. Why? Because the welfare countries would be effectively subsidizing immigrants.

Which leaves the middle ground, which is where the bulk of the conversation ought to be taking place. Inevitably, the two main topics are: what rate should be allowed, and one what basis should it occur? Ie., how many, and who? Yet it's verboten to raise such topics in polite society. This makes no sense. It seems clear that immigration should be one of a country's most-openly talked about subjects, right up there with defence, economic policy and the environment.

Perhaps the web will help crack the topic open. Brave and informed souls such as Steve Sailer (here), the rowdy team at Vdare (here), John Ray (here), and Lawrence Auster (here) are busy gathering and organizing facts and hammering home arguments.

My own opinion? It couldn't be easier to imagine why people would want to move to the U.S. How not to feel sympathy for people who want to come here? But that doesn't mean we're obligated to let them make important decisions for us. As far as I'm concerned, the rate of immigration is too high and the criteria for it are wrong. I stare in amazement at the pages of the Economist, which I generally enjoy, when they advocate opening the U.S. borders more than they already are. The Economist gang seem so in thrall to economic liberalism (which I generally favor too) that they've lost all human comprehension of how wrenching dramatic population shifts can be. How would Mexicans -- or Indians, or the Chinese, or Egyptians -- react if huge numbers of foreign Caucasions took it upon themselves to move into their countries?

And -- ultimate forbidden topic -- gigantic shifts in ethnic balance may be something to be wary of. Much of history is the story of war and conflict between ethnic groups. So it's miraculous that such a large number of people from so very many backgrounds manage to live peacefully together in this country. It's an achievement, it seems to me, that ought to be treated with care and respect -- more to be learned from than monkeyed with. Yet very recently, for instance, Hispanic/Latinos overtook African-Americans as the country's largest ethnic minority. Is this a good thing? Whether the answer is yes or no, I'll let it go with the observation that if I were a black American, I'd be scratching my head and wondering, not at all generously, about the motives of the political people responsible for this development.

I may be all wrong, and my arguments may all be bad. So be it, though I can't resist recalling that various polls have indicated that something like 70-80% of Americans also think that rates of immigration are currently too high. (Where is the political party that will take this fact into account and give it some respect?) The thing, however, that I really can't stand, and that I don't think anyone should tolerate, is that the subject simply can't be discussed in polite society. Of course it should be.

So I find it a very hopeful sign that the (U.K.) Prospect, a respectably lefty and intellectual publication, has chosen to publish an essay by Bob Rowthorn, a leftyish Cambridge economist, in which he argues that current rates of immigration into England are too high. Sample passage:

Immigration is not simply a question of personal qualities. It is also a question of numbers. Rapid changes in the ethnic or cultural composition of a society may cause widespread disorientation and conflict. Even slow changes may lead to the same result if their cumulative effect is to undermine the position of a dominant group or a previously established modus vivendi between groups-consider the recent history of Northern Ireland or Kosovo....

These are all extreme examples, but they do illustrate the point that numbers matter. Quite apart from its impact on social composition, mass immigration may also lead to an unsustainable growth in the total population of a country or region. The result may be unacceptable damage to both the environment and quality of life.

The piece is readable here.



UPDATE: I notice in Saturday's NYTimes an article by Felicia Lee about the black response to news that they've been surpassed in numbers by Hispanics. She includes a long quote from Henry Louis Gates: "African-Americans and the African-American leadership community are about to enter an identity crisis, the extent of which we've not begun to imagine...For 200 years, the terms 'race' or 'minority' connoted black-white race relations in America. All of a sudden, these same terms connote black, white, Hispanic. Our privileged status is about to be disrupted in profound ways."

posted by Michael at January 31, 2003


Ugh, Michael, really. You say that the rate of immigration is "too high" – do you even know what it is? It's way below its historical level – where, exactly, would you like it to be? Then all those loaded adjectives – gigantic shifts in ethnic balance, mass immigration... what is your justification for using these adjectives which, I would argue, have little basis in reality? And I would love a bit more detail on the hispanics vs blacks part of your post, too: what is your point here?

As for your beloved polls, people always think immigration is too high. You could bring it down to zero and you'd have the same result. Where is the political party that will take that fact into account, you ask. I'll tell you. Jorg Haider, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Pauline Hanson and their ilk – do you really want US politics being besmirched by the likes of these loathesome politicians?

As someone with essentially zero chance (beyond marrying an American) of being able to get a green card, I can tell you that immigration laws in the US are very far from lax. I pay my taxes here, pay Social Security contributions without being eligible for it, I'm a productive part of the US economy. But if you had your druthers, I wouldn't be here at all, right?

Posted by: Felix on January 31, 2003 12:47 PM

Hey Felix -- Is current immigration into America high or low? It depends on how you measure it. As a percentage of the population, it's rather low. But in absolute numbers, it's quite high, especially when illegal immigration is taken into account.

I suspect the absolute number, not the relative one, is the one that counts for most people, though I obviously have no evidence whatsoever for saying this. But there is a reason to suspect this may be the case.

If, to use a made-up example, 100 years ago, a million people were coming every year into a country of a hundred million, that would be a rate of 1% of the population per year. Say that country's population is now 300 million, and say there are still a million immigrants coming into it every year. You'd argue that the present-day immigration rate is relatively low -- after all, these days it's just a third of a percent of the population per year, much lower than a hundred years ago. But I'd argue that it's still a million people a year, a sizable quantity to say the least, and that they're coming into a much more crowded country.

But, as I say in the posting, I'm right or I'm wrong, you agree or disagree with my position on immigration rates or you don't, what strikes me as much more important than my own position is the fact that the topic has been placed so far off limits. Don't you find that odd? Why shouldn't a country engage with itself in vigorous public debate about such a topic? I'm glad you and I are doing so, but I'm appalled that such discussions are rare elsewhere, even in the blogosphere, where political discussion is otherwise pretty open.

I'd argue also that the blame for the fact that the topic has been taken over by the unsavories, such as Le Pen, lies with the lefty thought police. Try to forbid discussion of something so important and it'll crop up nonetheless, and probably in ugly ways. Why not open the discussion up instead of trying to suppress it?

By the way, how did you react to the Pim Fortuyn phenom? He certainly wasn't a despicable quasi-fascist, yet he had reservations about the rate and basis of immigration into his country...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 31, 2003 1:15 PM

The USA? A crowded country? This is a man who's obviously never lived in Europe. In any case, the USA, like all developed nations, needs immigration just to prevent the demographic nightmare that is a consequence of a falling population. Generally, immigrants are hard-working people who don't need to be expensively educated: they're great for the economy, and cost it much less than an American new-born. The more the better, if you ask me. Opposition to immigration, as your post implies, is not usually opposition to immigration per se, but opposition to immigration of brown and black people. And there is something a bit distasteful about that.
As for Pim Fortuyn, I left him off my list because he was slightly more nuanced than Le Pen (or, to take a US example, Pat Buchanan). Also, his country is genuinely crowded (unlike the US) and has a much, much higher immigration rate than the US (ignoring your silly idea that it's absolute numbers that count and not relative ones – are you realy saying that a million Dutch immigrants and a million US immigrants are equivalent phenomena?)
The interesting thing about Fortuyn is that exactly what you are saying doesn't happen, happened. List Pim Fortuyn collapsed in the latest elections, not because Fortuyn was assassinated and his party fell into internecine squabbling, although that was part of it, but mainly because most of the rest of the political parties in the Netherlands learned their lesson and incorporated many of his ideas, only without his ugly animus towards Muslims.

Posted by: Felix on January 31, 2003 1:32 PM

Hey Felix, I take note of your move, which is to try to dictate that the only possible positions on the topic are pro-immigration or anti-immigration, and I choose to decline to respond on those terms, while also feeling a little dismayed by how quick you're being to make use of the word "race." Anyway, aren't the more interesting questions "how much immigration," and "on what basis"?

I take it that your position on the first of those two questions is "more than is currently allowed" -- we have different opinions about that, which is fine. You'll cite wide-open spaces, and I'll cite crazy "multicultural" imbroglios (bilingual education, for instance, and public education in California) that I think need time to be ironed out. What's your position on the second question? I note that, while it's hard for Felix to become a citizen, it's easy for the third cousin of the grandmother of a whatever to become a citizen, thanks to the "family-reunification" provisions of the 1960s immigration laws we're still living with. Does that strike you as good policy?

I found Fortuyn interesting too. Do we agree that it's a good thing that he brought discussion of immigration into the mainstream of Dutch politics? Here's hoping someone in America manages to do so too, without getting shot, of course.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 31, 2003 1:53 PM

And... Disagree though we may, isn't it a good thing that we're having this discussion? And isn't it a weird and unfortunate thing that such discussions aren't often taking place in public?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 31, 2003 2:08 PM

Hey Michael,

On the "race" question: you started it, with your original post about "gigantic shifts in ethnic balance" and Hispanics overtaking African-Americans as the country's largest ethnic minority. Not to mention your thought-experiment about how various populations would react if large numbers of whites entered their country.

Of course I'm not saying that the only possible positions on immigration are pro- or anti-. That said, I'm happy to count myself pro-. One of the most eloquent speakers on this subject, actually, is a man I normally have very little time for, Rudy Giuliani. You'll note that New York politicians nearly all think that immigration laws are too tight, while rural politicians in overwhelmingly white areas are much more likely to say they're too lax. In other words, when people actually live in a vibrant community made up of many different nationalities, they think it's a good thing. (cf racism, a related phenomenon to anti-immigration sentiment: it's normally worst not in ethnically mixed communities, but in ethnically homogenous communities which are worried about becoming mixed.)

"How many, and who?" you ask. Surely the second question is really "what colour". Isn't that what you mean? When you point out that relations of naturalised Americans find it easier to gain citizenship than someone like me, when you worry about "crazy 'multicultural' imbroglios", what you're doing is talking race. (And what's with the scare quotes about "multicultural", btw?)

Am I answering your question about "discussion of immigration", and why it doesn't happen so much? It's because immigration and race are very close bedfellows, and it's impossible to restrict the immigration of other cultures without restricting the immigration of non-white races. If you ask me, immigration is the least of this country's problems. You want to talk about it, fine, but I'd like to hear exactly why you think there's too much right now, and how much you think would be about right. And be resigned to the fact that in this debate, your New York friends will nearly all be against you, while you'll be on the same side as some very unsavory crypto-racists. So your first job, I think, will be to explain where you differ from the racists: how you arrive at the same conclusion by different means.

Posted by: Felix on February 1, 2003 11:44 AM


I thought you gentlemen just had dinner together? At least you have moved on to more compelling topics.

There seems to be a shibboleth making frequent appearances in these postings: "the left thought police".

Who are they?

Besides not even being a nifty turn of a phrase it smacks of a discredited practice known as "red-baiting". Let's name some names.Perhaps you ought to focus your keen critical attentions to this dire threat to free and honest discourse.

While I'm at it I can't recall lefties and progressives in the USA ever conducting witch hunts and creating black lists and creating police squads to monitor the activities of the likes of Father Conklin or Gerald L K Smith and such... or the KKK or White Citizen's Councils.

Maybe someone can refresh my memory.

Posted by: Robert Birnbaum on February 1, 2003 10:58 PM

Hey Felix, Good to see you seizing the moral high ground with such gusto. And what a thrill to be told that I need to spend the time I'd prefer to spend making my case instead distinguishing myself from Evil. I'll content myself with observing that it's you who's making the presumption of evil. And, given that 70-80% of Americans share a belief that immigration levels are too high, it seems to me that it's up to you, not me, to come up with reasons why your preferences should prevail. But I can't imagine it's really your position that no one can disagree with you about immigration levels without being Evil himself -- you're too loose and tolerant a person for that to be true. But my more general point is that the topic is an important one, and that it deserves to be talked about more often and more openly than it is. So I'm pleased we've been able to chat like this.

I am eager to hear what you make of the Times article (which I link to in the posting's update) about how distressed American blacks are to learn that they've been surpassed in numbers by Hispanics. Perhaps they should bite the bullet and learn to be more liberal about immigration rates themselves?

Hey Robert -- All due respects, and McCarthyism was a terrible thing, etc. But you've got to be kidding. Studies repeatedly show that in academia and in the media, particularly in the softer and artier areas, 90 or so percent of staffers are leftish. Here's some figures from one study I turned up in about 30 seconds of Googling:

Researchers studied faculties of 20 universities by checking voter registration records at election offices near the campuses. Faculty members were coded as part of the left (Democrat, Green, Socialist Workers) or the right (Republican, Libertarian). The left was found to dominate to an extraordinary degree. At CU-Boulder, for example, researchers identified 116 members on the left. How many on the right? Five. At Cornell it's 166 to six, at Stanford, 151-17 and at the University of California-San Diego, 99 to six.

I don't know what your personal experience is, but in my 20 years of hanging out in arty and media circles, I don't believe I've heard more than a dozen people say out loud anything that could be construed as non-leftish. It's simply assumed that you're pro-abortion, pro-affirmative action, pro-national health-insurance -- at the very least. I met a lot of people in NY book publishing, for instance, and was aware of only one person who openly identified herself as a Republican. Behind closed doors, some people are more freewheeling and irreverent -- but that suggests to me that there is a general atmosphere heavily dominated by leftish assumptions and beliefs. How else to explain the closed doors and lowered voices?

Of all the authors and lit figures you've met and interviewed, how many would you say are staunch Republicans?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 2, 2003 10:58 PM

Michael, sorry about the moral high ground – that was not an attempt to cut of debate, so much as it was an attempt to answer your question as to why there is so little debate. The fact is that the immigration debate, as you imply in your postings here, is actually a debate about what kind of ethnic mix we want to see in the USA. So it's all about race.

OK, take your 70-80% of people who think that immigration is too high. Subtract from that number the racists, who just don't want any more black or brown people in their white country. We might be living in a democracy, but I don't feel any particular need or desire to debate immigration with that particular demographic. Then perform a thought experiment: consider a world where US immigration fell to zero. How many of your respondents would still say it was too high? These people would just have a basic feeling that they don't want foreigners diluting their American Dream at all, and wouldn't let facts as to immigration rates get in the way of their opinions. Indeed, they would have absolutely no idea what the facts as to immigration rates are.

What we would then be left with – the non-racists who might actually think that immigration rates were not too high if only they were to come down a bit – is a number much, much lower than your 70-80%. It's probably closer to 7-8%.

Remember that a large relative increase in the Hispanic population would be a demographic inevitability even if all the borders slammed shut tomorrow. Hispanics in the US are younger than whites or blacks, and have more babies. If the number of Hispanics in the US increased by about 14 million between 1990 and 2000, less than 4 million of that was due to immigration. If you, Skip Gates, or anybody else is worried about the racial make-up of the US, trying to change it by altering immigration policy would be like trying to cut down on international travel by banning cruise liners.

Meanwhile, Mexico is becoming increasingly integrated into the North American economy. As the European Union has learned, it's pretty much impossible to have a true free trade agreement without having labor mobility. The US has seen a huge amount of benefit from Nafta, and if a consequence of Nafta is more Mexican immigrants, it should embrace that as good for Mexico, good for the US, and good for the cause of free trade.

Meanwhile, Asian immigrants – who really do fuel the relative increases in the Asian population in the US – generally arrive well educated, economically productive, and hard working. They're fantastic for this country. Lazier whites and blacks who are already here might, if they were ignorant, fear such immigrants, on the grounds that they might "steal" "their" jobs. But you and I know that economically productive immigrants create jobs, they don't steal them.

What's left? Speaking in round numbers, let's say that immigration in the 1990s comprised 4 million Hispanics, 2 million Asians, 1 million Europeans, and 500,000 others, mainly Afro-Caribbeans. Which of these would you cut, how much would you cut them by, and why would you cut them?

Two slides for you, from the US Census, on the foreign-born population in this country. Non-Hispanic immigrants are better educated and better paid than the average native American. (And no, I don't mean Native Americans.) These are precisely the sort of people you want to attract, not the sort of people on whom you want to start slamming doors.

So what do you want to do? Stop the sort of immigration (non-Hispanic) which is indubitably good for the country? Try to cut down on Hispanic immigration, with costs to Nafta, free trade, and relations with Mexico and the rest of Latin America, most of which already believes that the USA has given up on its own hemisphere? Or might it not be better to embrace immigration as the force for good that it is, and instead redirect your efforts to helping native-born Americans to understand that if the USA is going to remain a vibrant country for the rest of this century, it's going to need fresh blood from abroad? Who, if not immigrants, will be able to pay the rapidly-escalating pension and healthcare costs of the aging white population? Who, if not Asian-Americans, will be instrumental in positioning the USA as a vibrant Pacific Rim economy during a century when China is certain to become the largest economy in the world? And who will remind Americans that this country was built by immigrants, made great by immigrants, and is based on a sentiment which is not noble in its selflessness but rather noble in its self interest? Lady Liberty puts it better than I ever could:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

It's served America well for the past 200 years. Why stop now?

Posted by: Felix on February 3, 2003 1:42 AM

Brother Blowhard:

When I think of thought police, I think of Moscow show trials, J. Edgar Hoover, George Orwell’s 1984. There is even a faint T.P. whiff coming from the White House’ cancellation of a Poet’s conclave—the poets were intending to behave badly.

Why belabor your well substantiated stereotypes of the ‘pointy headed intellectuals’ and ‘tennis show wearing’ types (as George Wallace and others referred to them) as left leaning? The college campus has historically been a favorite target of demagogues in the USA. In other countries, college students are actually a threat and one of the first moves your new USA backed junt amakes is to close the National University. Point granted, academics tended toward a progressive view.

Thanks for sharing your anecdotal experience. I was floored at the irony of:

I met a lot of people in NY book publishing, for instance, and was aware of only one person who openly identified herself as a Republican. Behind closed doors, some people are more freewheeling and irreverent

Just the idea of all those non-lefties cowed by the bullying ethos of a radiant future, well it gives me chills and goose bumps. I wonder where those gauche goose-steppers were when that feral blonde Ann Coulter was proffering her fantasies of bombing the NY Times building?

Anyway, Brother Provocateur to answer your question about all those ‘lit types", I think I have interviewed 2 "staunch Republicans" that I could tell, William Safire and Senator Bill Bradley( I wasn’t sure about him but I couldn’t call him a leftie) and 2 people I was certain weren’t: Angela Davis and Elaine Brown (former president of the Black Panther Party).

But pray tell, what has this got to do with the left though police? Artists and intellectuals may indeed be leftist in either attitude or ideology. Okay, they are still outnumbered by bankers, real estate developers and various speculators. But in case you may be cowering at your computer late night in fear of having your door kicked in, it won’t be by the likes of Thom McGuane, Andrea Barrett, Rick Russo, Howard Zinn or, I think it safe to say, any of the lit types I’ve met and interviewed .

So who are they?

Posted by: Robert Birnbaum on February 3, 2003 8:28 AM

I was going to stay out of this because of my deeply ambivalent feelings regarding immigration. But this debate seems to need some specifics.

As a Southern Californian, I can testify to some of the downsides of immigration. The Los Angeles Unified School System (which includes many cities other than L.A.) has been completely overwhelmed by the challege of teaching so many kids whose first language isn't English--to the point where, if your kid's first language is English, you probably don't want them going there. Pollution, traffic congestion, urban sprawl, limitless population growth--in the twenty-odd years I've been here, L.A.'s quality of life has suffered visible degradation, and in the past 13-14 years that has all been the result of national immigration (people from Oklahoma don't moving to Southern California anymore). The 2000 census showed that Los Angeles, which tends to absorb the greatest regional share of illegals, is clearly falling behind other cities in the region in economic growth, while being saddled with large social services costs. Also, the remark comparing the U.S. to Europe in terms of immigration is a bit off the mark; the U.S.-Mexico border is virtually the only place in the world where the citizens of a Third World nation have such physical access to a First World Economy. It's possible that open borders would be a great policy for a variety of business interests and, of course, for the immigrants themselves, but there are pretty clear cut "externalities" that the process inflicts on citizens living in the path of large-scale illegal immigration, and accusing people of racism isn't going to make them go away.

I've also always wondered if large scale immigration to the U.S. hasn't been an incentive for the Mexican elites to enthusiastically screw their people, since there's this great safety-valve at hand when the natives inevitably get restless. It's particularly irritating to deal with the pollution, traffic, etc. when you think that the consequence of a lot of it may well be to keep a bunch of evil thugs in power south of the border.

On the other hand, many Hispanic and Asian immigrants, legal or otherwise that I've known, are terrific people and I've helped them get their immigration status in order. So, what are you going to do?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 3, 2003 3:21 PM

Friedrich --

Jumping in here for what might be the last time before the topic drops off the bottom of the "recent entries" list...

1) Between 1990 and 2000, the population of the Los Angeles - Long Beach conurbation grew by 7.4% to 9,519,338. That's significantly LESS than the 13% growth seen in the US as a whole. You're worried about "pollution, traffic congestion, urban sprawl, limitless population growth" -- well, lots of us are, but it really has very little to do with immigration. It's true that immigrants did account for most of LA's population growth in the 1990s, but LA has always been growing. The 1980s saw growth of 18.5%, and the 1960s had 16.6% growth. Immigration might be going up, but population growth rates are coming down.

2) You can say that open borders would be a bad thing, or that large-scale illegal immigration is a bad thing, but you can't complain about them both at once: if you have one, you won't have the other. If the borders are open then immigration is legal, if the borders are closed then immigration is illegal. Which one do you want?

3) Which evil thugs are in power south of the border? Vicente Fox? He might have a matinee-villain moustache, but an evil thug he is not. In case you missed it, the era of one-party rule has come to an end in Mexico. Besides, if you look at the ongoing revolt in Chiapas, I don't think that emigration from Mexico keeps the natives quiet. Maybe near the border, but not in the rest of the country.

Posted by: Felix on February 3, 2003 4:28 PM

At risk of being simplistic, and completely ignoring the statistics being lobbed about, I'll cast my vote for increased immigration. Why?

-Nearly all of the first (and second) generation immigrants I've known personally have been above-average workers, in both motivation and skill. I recall seeing a representative quote from an interview of a successful Indian businessman in a newspaper recently--he had come from India 20 years ago with about $300 to his name, and now he owns a dozen convenience stores. His quote, which I found rather hard-hitting as I skirt the generational demographic he speaks of, was something like, "Forget about those unmotivated teenagers...Indians will *work* for you."

-Diversity. Not "diversity" as in the sacred left-leaning ideal, completely divorced from any practical reality--but the practical competitive and creative benefits that necessarily arise from heterogenous cultures. When I leave the west coast to visit family back in the South and Midwest, the thing that always strikes me first is how few non-white people there are--and this is in the big cities. Perhaps not coincidentally, neither of these regions are known for being cultural or economic powerhouses...and yet these are the people who think that immigration is too high.

As a side note:

-It is one of a great many ironies that lefties in general, who often promote increased immigration, also encourage welfare-statism (here in the US). Of course, you can't have it both ways. I encourage the former and discourage the latter, and that historical balance is why immigration has worked so well for this country. We'll welcome you in, but you don't get a free ride.

In a way, it's an illogical position I hold. I don't consider this "my" country to the extent that my being born here gives me the authority to keep others out. I'm not yet ready to propose completely open borders, but I tend to view citizenship in this rather unique country as a quality, rather than a property right. Yet I do realize that certain practical realities must be maintained to perpetuate the nation. I'd suggest reasonable, though large, quotas to keep things diverse (not just opening the gates to Mexico -- though having lived in Texas I can assure you that the entire service industry would disappear without Mexicans).

And after a delicious Mexican lunch today, I'll head to Chinatown to pick up some housewares, drop off my taxes with my Indian accountant, and continue my Japanese language classes.

What a great country.

Posted by: Euphrosyne on February 3, 2003 5:56 PM


By your own numbers L.A. has seen 25% population growth in the past 20 years, a majority of which, and quite likely a supermajority of which, is Hispanic. The freeways and other infrastructure have barely been expanded in this same era. Plus you ignore the growth of the population of the rest of Southern California, all of which is economically and transportationally interlinked, with growth at the margins (e.g. Riverside County) having the greatest impact on congestion, pollution, etc. So when I say there has been a degradation in L.A.'s quality of life, I ain't whistlin' Dixie. I admit I was sloppy in confusing open borders and illegal immigration, but my point remains--the infusion of very large numbers of low income, low-education-level individuals into a metropolitan area or into a region may promote (some) economic dynamism but will also create significant externalities for people already there. (Note the crisis of L.A.'s medical network, which is overwhelmed by people lacking health-insurance.)

Also, I think you're a bit overly optimistic regards Sr. Fox--basically, he hasn't accomplished a thing, despite what may be a sterling character, because he is blocked all over the map by thuggish characters. I didn't notice mass purges or executions of PRI party members when they (at least temporarily) lost their monopoloy on power a few years ago, and I suspect a great many of them are still going about business as usual south of the border. I mean, how good a job could this same Mexican elite have been doing the past 30 years or so to drive 20% of their population out of the country?

Also, I'm still waiting on your response to my points regarding (1)the problems of non-English speaking children in the L.A. public schools, (2)the negative effects on L.A. of its gradual evolution into an economically poor, low-growth community surrounded by wealthier and more dynamic cities, and (3) my criticism of your weak comparison of U.S.-Mexico immigration to inter-EU immigration (I don't recall many people getting all worked up about U.S.-Canada population transfers, either.)

I agree, however, that a system of easily obtainable "work permits" for foreigners would be a cleaner solution, in contrast to today's "system" of major illegal immigration combined with periodic amnesties, which amounts to a de facto policy of granting an option on U.S. citizenship to every Mexican.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 3, 2003 7:48 PM

OK, Friedrich, I'll respond. You ask: "How good a job could this same Mexican elite have been doing the past 30 years or so to drive 20% of their population out of the country?" I answer: In the past 30 years or so, Mexico's population practically doubled, from 48.2 million in 1970 to 97.5 million in the year 2000. Mexico's emigration rate is about 310,000 people a year, which means that its population is growing by about 1.6% a year, rather than the 1.9% a year that would be the case if the birth rate remained steady and there was no emigration. A growth rate of 1.6% a year works out as about 37% over 20 years -- more than Los Angeles has seen, however you define it.

Vicente Fox -- he's been having difficulties in Congress, to be sure, but I wouldn't say that was the fault of thuggish PRI dinosaurs.

Public schools -- LA's public schools have many problems, and I'm happy to concede that a large number of kids with English as a second language might be one of them. But even if all kids were fluent in English, you still probably wouldn't want your kid going to an LA public school. And in fact most English-as-a-first-language kids go to schools where they're in the majority (indeed, to use your distinction, where they're in a supermajority). Now you can try to make a case that the great weight of ESL kids has brought down the LA school system as a whole, but I think that's a bit of a stretch.

Is LA evolving into an economically poor, low-growth community? Somehow I doubt it. I'm sure all your defense contractors are licking their chops right now, even as box-office totals have been hitting record highs year after year. Economically speaking, I'd rather be in LA than in New York, where the engine of economic and municipal growth -- Wall Street profits and their associated tax revenues -- have disappeared almost overnight. Besides, even you concede that there are just as many qualified and educated white people in LA now as there ever were. Why can't they continue to do the same jobs they always used to do? Show me some numbers, though, and I might be more convinced. I doubt, however, that reducing immigration rates would boost the LA economy -- how would that work?

As for US-Mexican vs intra-EU immigration: the EU has complete labor mobility, where anybody in any country can automatically work in any job in any other country. I was not proposing that Mexico and the US have a similar setup. I was merely noting that insofar as there isn't labor mobility between the US and Mexico, that damages both countries, macroeconomically, and reduces the positive effects of Nafta.

Living anywhere is a bit like sitting a train carriage: you feel resentful of anybody coming in to sit with you, but then weirdly feel some bond, some kinship with them when even more people try to come in. I understand where you're coming from: LA is not the same place that you moved to back when. But it's good for the immigrants, it's good for the US as a whole, and I somehow doubt it's singlehandedly responsible for anything and everything bad that has happened to Los Angeles. Don't you think you're a little bit Nimby here?

Posted by: Felix on February 3, 2003 8:44 PM

Hey Felix, Thanks for the many interesting facts and arguments.

I'll pass along a little of what I've run across and then back out and leave the conversation to my betters. As best I can recall, the let's-slow-it-down argument goes something like this:

* It's not "about race" unless you insist it's "about race," in which case all you're doing is showing that you're a racial essentialist who likes to use the race card to scare people into shutting up about a topic that deserves attention and discussion.
* What slowing down immigration is "about" is showing respect for the present population and its desires and preferences, as well as its makeup and traditions.
* It's a mistake to think that current rates of (and criteria for) immigration are somehow normal, or written in stone. They're the result of a specific mid-'60s rewriting (by Ted Kennedy, apparently) of immigration law. Laws and regulations that have been written and then re-written and then re-written again can be re-written once more. They no doubt will be at some point. The topic was openly raised and discussed in the mid-'60s, and something was done about it -- not for the first time. It'll happen again sometime.
* Rates of immigration and criteria for immigration have changed many times over the centuries. Sometimes it's been felt that more immigration was good; sometimes it's been felt that rates ought to be slowed down. Periods of heavy immigration have often been accompanied by a lot of unrest and displacement. It isn't that controversial that periods of rest are sometimes needed to absorb and digest large influxes of immigrants -- see, for example, the Prospect piece that kicked this discussion off.
* Perhaps the moment has come when slowing down the rate would be a good idea. Perhaps it hasn't. But it simply can't be maintained that current rates and criteria are somehow unavoidable, or that they can never and shall never change.
* The "nation of immigrants" argument is a smokescreen to disguise an open-the-borders agenda. The US is a nation of immigrants only in the sense that every country is a nation of immigrants. Every place on earth (one square foot in east Africa excepted) has been settled, conquered and reconquered. America was conquered and settled by a very specific population, and has since for various stretches welcomed immigrants at various rates. But recognizing that America has been very generous about welcoming immigrants doesn't by any stretch mean that America is a "nation of immigrants." (The inscription on the Statue of Liberty is a lovely sentiment, but it isn't in the Constitution, or written in law either.) Like every other country, America had a settler/conqueror, ie., native population. Plus, in our case, a lot of immigrants who've been more or less successfully integrated into the nation's gestalt, somewhat changing it in the process but never severely disrupting or challenging it until recently.
* The idea that massive immigration and mixing of populations is automatically a good idea rests on a utopian hope -- and who wants to gamble on such a thing? The utopian dream is that a hugely-mixed multicultural country can function well. Let's have a few examples of such. What history demonstrates instead is that unassimilated population groups will tend to square off and eventually go to war. Even if exceptions can be found, prudence dictates that, at the very least, care, caution, and respect should be shown.

These all strike me as perfectly decent arguments. Do they trump all other arguments? Not as far as I'm concerned. But they do strike me as more than respectable, and well worth wrestling with. Personally, I'm not sure how anyone can think about immigration without having mixed feelings. I certainly feel for the Pablos and Felixes and Abduls who want in. At the same time, lines do have to be, and will be, drawn. Where? And on what basis? Tough questions, yet avoiding them seems childish.

Felix, for what it's worth, I'm a little startled by your determination to disallow all possible disagreement, effective though that may be as a debating strategy. Even the Economist, more pro-immigration than whom it's hard to get (and, hey, you English sure enjoy telling us how we ought to be running our show, don't you), admits that there are downsides as well as upsides to large-scale immigration. You can certainly argue that on the whole it's a benefit, but I don't see how you can claim there are no costs. Even economically: public schooling in SoCal is a problem; so's health care (poor immigrants making use of public hospitals -- someone's got to pay); so's crime; so in fact is disease -- I'm told that the resurgence of TB, for instance, is largely due to immigrants. And there are the non-economic costs and problems, which I suspect count more for many people, and which I notice you never seem to want to address. Questions of sentiment, allegiance, preference, taste aren't minor or despicable things. Why should Americans put up with your agenda? 70-80% repeatedly tell pollsters that they don't want to, and if they're willing to pay the cost I'm not sure why that shouldn't be respected. Do you assume they're all crazies and racists? If so, we may have a real disagreement -- in my experience I've found considerably more intolerance (let alone outright craziness) among the urban left than among mid-Americans. In any case, it isn't at all unusual these days to run across people in the Northwest or in Arizona who report that they moved away from California because it was no longer the place they once loved. Things change, sure, and we all have to make adjustments. But why would you expect the general run of people to applaud the agent of what they experience as unpleasant change? I'll point out again that African-Americans, who for hundreds of years were the #2 ethnic group in the country, have now been displaced as such by Hispanics. That's an amazing development, and one that means that the political influence of blacks just went down a click or two. (It's possible that this change will have psychic and emotional impacts as well.) If you were to stand before a group of black Americans who aren't pleased by this development, what would you say to them? "Tough, it's all for the good. I know better. You'll see, and you'll thank me"?

It seems to me that the difficult thing about the immigration debate is that all these arguments may have some validity -- Felix's economic arguments, Friedrich's observations about changes in SoCal, the let's-slow-it-down arguments that I've passed along. There may well be something to all of them. Which basically makes me say Yikes, but which (patting myself on the back here) is also why I think it's a good thing to pull the Band-Aid back and take a good look at what's there to be seen.

Not that anyone's listening to any of us in any case ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 4, 2003 12:36 AM

with 80+ percent of new immigrants non-white (see ins web-site) and 90 + percent of the illegal aliens (census bureau) non-white who gave the "criminal enterprise" a.k.a. the government the right to change the color, culture and to a certain extent, the language of the country, without a vote or debate ???

Posted by: noel christiani on February 7, 2003 1:15 PM

with 80+ percent of new immigrants non-white (see ins web-site) and 90 + percent of the illegal aliens (census bureau) non-white who gave the "criminal enterprise" a.k.a. the government the right to change the color, culture and to a certain extent, the language of the country, without a vote or debate ???

Posted by: noel christiani on February 7, 2003 1:15 PM

please help me i want go in usa.

Posted by: nabil danouaj on August 24, 2003 2:35 PM

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