Counterpoint: Needed, More Americans

Bret Stephens thinks we are dangerously underpopulated:
…America is vast, largely empty and often lonely. Roughly 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, covering just 3 percent of the overall landmass. We have a population density of 35 people per square kilometer — as opposed to 212 for Switzerland and 271 for the U.K.

We could use some more people. Make that a lot more.
He has some arguments about new immigrants being, on average, better people than Americans. They'll work harder for less money, go to church more often, and -- he claims -- get into less trouble with the law. It's hard to say if that's true or not, actually; drug traffickers who cross international borders make up almost half of Federal prisoners, but that's not representative of populations in state prisons or local jails, where 90% of prisoners are but which are not good about submitting statistics in a fashion that can be readily studied. Clearly 100% of illegal aliens have committed at least a misdemeanor Federal crime; but since the debate is about whether or not to eliminate those very laws, that's not of much interest to the discussion.

Myself, I hold these truths to be self-evident.

1) American cities are too crowded, and the bulk of new immigrants are going to go right to those cities -- just as they cluster in cities in the countries from which they come. (Besides, huge swathes of the unoccupied land in the USA -- especially out West -- is Federal land in national monuments, forests, parks, and wildernesses. The same folks who want to up our population density to UK levels would have a fit if you proposed opening that land to settlement and economic exploitation.)

2) New immigrants can in fact be better Americans than native-born Americans, but only if they come loving the American way of limited government and maximum freedom. Some do: likely you've known them, as I have. One of the best Americans I ever knew was a Korean-born Korean who fought the Communists in the 1950s, and then came here. He loved America with all his heart, and did his best to impress his love of the American ideal on all of his students once he became a professor of Political Science. I'll take all the guys like him you can find.

But that's my marker for whether or not America would benefit from any given immigrant. America is in a key sense a philosophy. If they share the philosophy, well and good: we can use all the Americans we can find. Otherwise, there are already plenty of folks on the highway.


Texan99 said...

My little rural county is feeling a bit underpopulated at the moment, though of course feelings are mixed on the subject as usual. People are noticing uneasily that you need low-income workers to fuel the hospitality industry, and without hotels and restaurants you can't get the tourists back, which the local economy depends heavily on. On the other stand, we sure don't want any of those awful mobile homes and RVs! It's as if they thought we could keep up the property values of the nice big houses while finding places to live for people who need very low rent, without by any means letting people live in anything unsightly within an hour's drive. Maybe they think the government will provide subsidies so that waitresses can rent houses in the country club. Come to think of it, that's not far from the bank-loan strategy that had such an interesting denouement in 2008.

We'd like more jobs, here, too, and more individual and corporate taxpayers, but oh, my goodness, please no industry. Not even industry in the semi-industrial towns 30-40 miles away. I get that it's important to preserve what makes the town attractive to tourists, but jobs have to come from somewhere. Everyone can't work in an adorable art gallery with an espresso bar.

Texan99 said...

I forgot to mention the appealing simplicity with which the local school district guy shows up at hurricane-recovery meetings with almost only one subject on his mind: After 10 months, we're still down from about 3,200 students to about 2,700, and that's a disaster. Why? Not because the kids aren't getting educated, because they're doing just fine wherever they are. Not because we have too low a student-to-teacher ratio in uncrowded classrooms, because that's supposed to be good. Not even because we're failing to train up the next generation of workers and citizens to stay here and make a living, because no one really expects that to happen. It's because schools are paid on the basis of bums on seats. The school guy is waiting with baited breath for a lot of apartment units to be rebuilt with state and federal grants, which will take another 9 months or so, so families with kids will move back. In this county, you've got retirees with reasonably comfortable incomes and young families with kid who are overwhelmingly in poverty. The apartment buildings mostly flew completely apart in the storm.

E Hines said...

We do need an increase in bodies from somewhere, if we're going to preserve Social Security and Medicare in their present form (whether we should is a separate discussion; although I've argued for some time that those programs should be privatized, with the accounts FBO the ones paying into them).

Here are a couple of other statistics that get ignored by the Left.

When FDR got Social Security passed, there were 7 workers for every retiree, and those retirees had an expected lifetime in retirement of ~5 years. Today, there are 4 workers for every retiree, falling rapidly toward 3 and under, and those retirees have expected lifetimes in retirement of ~12 years.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

I mean, I wrote Medicare and Social Security off ages ago. I know I'm going to pay tens or hundreds of thousands into it and never see a penny in return. We all know that.

But, you know, sunk costs are sunk. They're wisely disregarded when considering what to invest in now -- the American people, or social spending around trying to assimilate millions of new immigrants. In addition to the financial costs, of course, there are intangible costs in social turmoil and a decline of public trust.

E Hines said...

...never see a penny in return. We all know that.

No, we don't all know that. At current tax rates, Social Security will be able to pay retirees about 75% of their current benefits out of payroll tax cash flow. As the worker:retiree ratio continues to decline, that payout per centage will continue to fall, but it won't go to zero. No payout at all would require the government to cancel the program altogether.

As far as assimilating immigrants goes, that depends on who we let in. The ones with skills to offer, or a willingness to do the grunge work we (and predecessor immigrants who've moved up the economic and social ladders) won't do, and who (to coin a phrase) love America and appreciate what it is they're truly coming here for, will pay back in economic productivity more than the cost of helping them (because they'll want to assimilate, so help is all they'll need) assimilate.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

Your faith in the system is admirable, my friend. Were I advising a loved one how to plan, however, I’d advise then to expect current projections to be as over-optimistic as ever government projections are. I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t go to zero. I expect the whole system to be rescinded in favor of a whole new ‘offer you can’t refuse.’

Immigrant costs vary by rates. Even poor fits can be assimilated at low rates. At high rates, even the best choices get more expensive. Why assimilate when there’s a whole community here like back home? And too, prejudice rises sharply in the face of large numbers. That social cost is also expensive, and I doubt — given human nature — that it’s avoidable when high rates are present.

E Hines said...

I have, in fact, structured my family's finances on the idea that Social Security money will be FOB--at that 75% rate (which is not a government projection) or less. What you're suggesting, though, is what I said: the rates won't go to zero, unless the government cancels the program. And the replacement program you're positing may be entirely unsatisfactory, but its rates won't be zero, either. Nor is replacing the program with something else the same as simply canceling the program.

As for assimilation, again, that depends on who we let in. Wanting to be American, rather than merely being in America, is a key criterion for useful immigration and to easing assimilation and the costs of that. And the payoff is high with that criterion held to. Besides, that whole community like back home isn't an assimilated community.

My three immigrant friends, for instance--one from the RoC and two from different parts of the PRC (one, interestingly enough, via Spain where she taught English to the Spanish)--are not members of the community like back home. They came here to be American, not to be in America. That's not all that atypical, for all the press claims.

Eric Hines

Anonymous said...

Sarah Hoyt refers to people who come to the US to be Americans as "Americans who happen to have been born in the wrong place, and got here as fast as they can."

I recently went to Germany, and you can see what happens when you import populations without asking "Do these people want to be {country/culture}? Are they families coming to settle down and join us? Do they have the right attitude to become good citizens of [country/culture]?" Granted, Germany has more of a cultural tiger by the tail than the US does thus far, but it was interesting.


J Melcher said...

In the 1980's I worked for the US Forces in Germany and met many "Gastarbiters" -- who were, at that time, second or third generation German-born ethnic Turks. Second class Germans, in any case, doing jobs that the native born Germans did not care to do. (Handling toxins and ordinance, for instance...) I am given to understand there are similar populations of ethnic Koreans in Japan. The problem with importing workers who are not allowed, or expected, or encouraged, to become full, first class, citizens is that the the slippery slope of entropy winds up importing a sort of slave. To be quite clear, the roots and customs and laws that allowed race slavery in colonial American were set by the practices of indentured servitude imposed upon "equal" white race workers of less favored classes of British subjects.

It's almost the opposite of "gentrification". Groups of immigrants tend to self-segregate into communities that can share markets and churches (temples, mosques, whatever) and celebrations -- but then given the choice between assimilative activities or segregative activities, the segregation preferences dominate and accumulate. Those with the new foods and smells and language start to drive out the mobile natives. The non-mobile natives brood and resent.

Those who arrive with intent other than assimilation will be the most unlikely to assimilate. Come to earn money to send back to the old country? Not likely. Come to worship as a persecuted minority in a protected space? Maybe. Come to form an insular small protected space of your own where you can dominate and persecute all the outsiders, infidels, heretics, apostates, Christians and Jews who are trying to hold on within that space? No. Not at all.

E Hines said...

The problem with importing workers who are not allowed, or expected, or encouraged, to become full, first class, citizens is that the the slippery slope....

That was especially blatant in the Philippines while I was there, regarding Chinese guest workers (yes, there was such a thing). It also was bad for Filipino citizens of Chinese heritage. It is even worse, still, for Filipino guest "workers" in western Asia and Araby.

Eric Hines

David Foster said...

In the 19th Century, one of the arguments as to why it was OK for white people to forceably displace the Indians was that the country was underpopulated, the Indians weren't making good use of it.

douglas said...

I think we neglect the impact of the internet on this equation. When I was a kid, immigrants to this country could stick together, but they couldn't immerse themselves in a cocoon of their native media and entertainment. They had to go into the same media and entertainment universe everyone else did. That created some common points of connection, and probably helped them learn English also. Today, they can listen to their car radio playing the current hits from back home, watch the TV networks from back home, even interact with people back home on a regular basis. The kids in the Hispanic communities around me aren't like the kids I grew up with, who were second generation, but fully assimilated- heck, their parents usually rarely spoke in Spanish except to each other because they wanted their kids to be American. They even deliberately used the anglicized version of their names. No more.

I'd honestly have to say I have no idea how this all plays out, but I think if we can't convert more people around the world to a more American philosophical outlook, we're going to have trouble not being subsumed back into the rest of the world.

Texan99 said...

As a counterpoint, I remember in my youth that even living in a fairly large town (Houston hadn't gotten so huge yet, but it was pretty big), it was terribly exciting ever to run across anything exotic, beyond one or two Americanized Mexican or Chinese restaurants. I loved seeing the influx of new cultures. Is it really not possible to bring in new language and styles while retaining a grip on a shared philosophy of freedom, self-determination, and limited government? I tend to blame the safety-net, the attitude that anyone suffering difficulties must at all costs be cocooned, never face the need to engage with a new surrounding culture and find something to trade with it. Why would newcomers embrace the American experiment if we hide it from them?

E Hines said...

Why would newcomers embrace the American experiment if we hide it from them?

We don't hide it from them, exactly, so much as all we show them is our welfare programs.

(I dispute the label "safety-net." Welfare as we've structured it is a net, all right, but there's nothing safe about it. It's a trap, not a support. But that's for a different thread.)

Eric Hines

David Foster said...

Douglas..."I think we neglect the impact of the internet on this equation. When I was a kid, immigrants to this country could stick together, but they couldn't immerse themselves in a cocoon of their native media and entertainment."

Not just the Internet, but cheap long distance telephony, fast & cheap air travel...the commitment involved in moving to the US today is far less than that for immigrants in 1850 or even in 1910.