The Nativist Snapped

There would be eighty million fewer Americans now if the United States had not opened its doors to immigration in the 1960s, which would be a calamity given the approaching worldwide underpopulation issue.

What if, in the style of Thanos, a nativist snapped his fingers and reversed the previous six decades of immigration to the United States? Eighty million immigrants and their children would be obliterated.

Small numbers, such as the number of persons in our hunting party, extended family, or immediate tribe, are ingrained into our brains. Eighty million is such a vast figure that it is difficult to comprehend; it would have the same mental impact if it were eight or eight hundred million.

Eighty million individuals are greater than the population of thirty states put together. You could empty every state from Wyoming (#50) to Colorado (#21) and still have a few hundred thousand people left over before reaching the population of eighty million.

Eighty million people dwarfs the ~1.3 million Americans killed in all US wars combined. More potent than any bomb or bioweapon ever developed, immigration limitation is a more powerful instrument for obviating Americans. Ethnic nationalists who are hateful and stupid pose a larger threat to the future of the United States than any foreign opponent we have ever fought.

However, seeing the enormity of eighty million people only goes so far in understanding how catastrophic their loss would be to American prosperity and power. That's because immigrants outperform their peers in practically every positive social and economic indicator.

Immigrants and their children are only ~25% of the US population. Yet 43% of all Fortune 500 companies have first or second generation immigrant founders and more than half of America’s Nobel Prize winners were born abroad. The United States has approximately eight times as many immigrant innovators as the following twenty-six nations combined, or nearly eight times more than Germany, which is ranked second on the list. Without immigration, America would be a mediocre what if cautionary tale rather than a worldwide technological leader.

All of this innovation leads to increased economic growth. Between 1990 and 2010, a single group of immigrants—those with H1B visas and accounting for fewer than 1% of the entire population—accounted for up to 20% of all productivity gains in the United States. Economists lament the "Great Stagnation" in American productivity growth during the 1970s; yet, it may have been named the "Great Plateau" if millions of immigrant innovators and entrepreneurs had not contributed.

These losses would not have been due to simple productivity shifts. If such were the case, America's loss would have been offset by gains in other nations, resulting in identical net human growth. However, immigrants flock to America in part because we still have world-class social, industrial, and educational infrastructure. Despite the worst efforts of nativists, our university system is the envy of the world, our research laboratories are large and well-funded, and we remain considerably more open to immigrants than peer nations like Japan or China.

Which means that, since 1965, barring eighty million immigrants from entering the United States has resulted in what economists refer to as "deadweight loss." Scientists, engineers, professors, entrepreneurs, and workers of all types would have been unable to completely realize their latent human potential.

Consider the case of Katalin Karikó, to provide just one example. Her research is eventually responsible for the two most effective Covid 19 vaccines; you may have heard her name touted as the mother of mRNA technology. You may not be aware, however, that she is an immigrant. Her work was nearly thwarted by her failure to secure a visa for her husband to join her from Hungary decades before she played a critical part in containing the biggest worldwide epidemic of our lives. Then her original visa sponsor, enraged that she had changed jobs, sought to deport her.

It's unlikely that her groundbreaking work would have been finished if she hadn't had access to American research universities and entrepreneurial financing. The loss of net human flourishing caused by this solitary, banned immigrant–albeit one of exceptional rarity–is inconceivable. And no one can predict who among the next eighty million immigrants will be the next Karikó, Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin, or any of the other first or second generation immigrants who have made the world a better, healthier, and more prosperous place. Every immigrant is a lottery ticket with the reward of American prosperity and world benefit; the upside is unlimited, and the floor is really rather high, given that immigrants are more likely to create companies and commit fewer crimes than native-born citizens.

However, it is critical that America should not slam the door in the face of immigration at this time. Immigrants have long been a critical source of energy and wealth in the United States, but the globe is now facing a deepening underpopulation catastrophe. The median age has risen as fewer children are born, particularly in economically developed countries. The median age in the United States has risen from 22.9 years in 1900 to 38.1 years in 2019.

This is a concern because our social structures are unprepared to deal with the combination of declining population and growing median age. Because most social security programs rely on a big, increasing workforce, the shifting ratio of employees to retirees and other non-workers will result in a flurry of political bickering about benefit cutbacks and tax hikes. Fewer workers means global economic productivity gains will stagnate, a precondition for the kinds of political unrest that can destabilize previously functional democracies.

However, as worrying as America's aging tendency is, immigration has considerably reduced it. Countries without major immigrant flows, on the other hand, have aged prematurely, such as Japan, where the typical inhabitant is 48 years old. Indeed, considering that Japan's median age in 1950 was 22.3 years, it is currently more than a decade older than the United States, despite being younger within living memory. Without immigration, America's demographic patterns would have mirrored those of Japan during the previous half-century.

The fall of Japan's gerontocracy is a cautionary story. Although it is normal for American politicians to be concerned about China's geopolitical ascent, readers of a certain age will recall a period of peak American anxiety over Japan. It was all the rage among American leaders in the 1980s and early 1990s to be concerned about Japanese dominance in technology and international commerce. Following the triumph of his best-selling Jurassic Park, novelist Michael Crichton wrote Rising Sun, about a wicked Japanese company embroiled in corporate espionage, political corruption, and even heinous murder.

Crichton's work, like those larger worries, hasn't aged well. Japan's economic growth has slowed as a result of a dwindling workforce and growing government spending. Japan has one of the world's strictest immigration policies, barring migrants from helping to alleviate the country's economic and population problems. As people revert to their nostalgia for a period when Japan ruled the world, this stagnation has brought in a resurgence of far-right nationalist parties. Japan serves as a microcosm of what the United States should anticipate as a result of population decrease and restrictive immigration policy. Let's not make the mistake of learning that lesson the hard way.

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