This obviously leads into the endlessly contentious topic of immigration, and whether or not today’s high levels provide benefits that outweigh their problems. There are few subjects so likely to provoke angry emotions in political circles, as well as sweeping ideological justifications, personal vilifications, and factual claims that have no basis in reality. Furthermore, this is one issue in which individuals quite frequently feel compelled to take one position publicly while very clearly holding the opposite belief in private; and such dishonesty seems to occur in both directions of the debate.
Many of the leading factors driving populist opposition to immigration, such as perceptions of high crime rates or anti-white ethnic hostility, seem completely incorrect. As I demonstrated in a 2010 article, all available evidence indicates that most immigrant groups tend to have approximately the same crime rates as white Americans of a similar age, or perhaps even a bit lower. Similarly, there is overwhelming evidence that today’s immigrants want to learn English, gain productive employment, assimilate into our society, and generally become “good Americans” at least as much as did their European counterparts of a century ago.
The notion that masses of non-white immigrants, legal or not, will turn our cities into violent battlefields or support ethnic separatist movements which shatter national unity are total absurdities, and the people who believe such claims are fools. And as we have seen above from the accumulated voting data of the last couple of decades, after a brief transition period, whites and non-white immigrant groups seem to coexist perfectly well, or at least as well as did the various white ethnic groups on the East Coast 50 or 60 years ago.
However, the fact does remain that America’s current immigration levels are extremely high, not merely relative to the 40-year pause between 1925 and 1965, but even relative to the previous peak reached during the early years of the 20th century. Over the last decade, the flow of immigrants has often hit a million or more per year, a rate that would have seemed almost unimaginable during the immigration controversy of the early 1990s, when Peter Brimelow warned of America becoming an “Alien Nation” in his alarmist book of that title. The number of foreign-born Americans has doubled in the last 20 years, while almost a quarter of all American children today have at least one foreign-born parent, nearly matching the level reached during the absolute height of European immigration a century ago.
The result of all this has been a quite remarkable rate of national population growth. During the early 1970s, when environmental concerns, such as depletion of resources and overpopulation, became leading causes among the liberal intelligentsia, America’s population was a little over 200 million, and growth was rapidly diminishing, with birth rates falling to replacement levels following the end of the postwar Baby Boom. But soon after those activists declared victory and moved on to new and varied ideological causes, population growth—driven almost entirely by immigrants and their children—suddenly started up again, with numbers reaching unprecedented levels: 250 million in 1990, 275 million in 2000, and well over 300 million today. A couple of years ago, urban-development expert Joel Kotkin published The Next Hundred Million, a book in which he trumpeted the likely fact that the American population would reach 400 million within about 30 years. Does an eventual billion inhabitants of the 50 states now seem utterly impossible?
Such rapid and massive population growth is found nowhere else in the developed world and is rare even among the more successful developing countries. The European nations, Japan, and China are all approximately stable in their populations, and in most cases are projected to undergo some decline in the near future. Even crowded Mexico, long the leading source of anti-immigrationist dystopian nightmares, saw total fertility rates drop to replacement levels a few years ago, as increasing levels of affluence and education permeated the population.
Large and growing populations certainly do produce national benefits as well as burdens, and America’s wide-open interior spaces still provide a much lower overall population density than small and crowded European countries. But if our national population trends are so wildly discordant with those of almost all our international peers, perhaps we should at least question them.
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There are obvious reasons for this curious lack of national debate. The solvency of our Social Security system is buttressed by such rapid population growth, which increases the number of current workers relative to retirees. The housing sector—which during the peak of the bubble became America’s largest industry—is heavily dependent upon population growth to boost demand. But support for immigration based on these arguments amounts to an endorsement of Ponzi schemes in which growth must continue indefinitely in order to maintain the same benefits. And as we have seen in the recent past, Ponzi schemes eventually collapse, usually leaving devastation in their wake.
Meanwhile, consider the strange continued silence of the once vocal environmentalist groups, for whom massive housing growth and endless suburban sprawl are hardly cherished dreams. I strongly suspect that the difference between their energetic criticism a generation or so ago and their quiescence today centers on the matter of race: back then, America’s population growth was driven almost entirely by the white birthrate, while today non-white immigration and the children of such immigrants are the overwhelming source. And these days in American society, very few individuals—least of all the sort of affluent liberals who focus on the environment—care to risk being branded with a “Scarlet R”.
As a prime example of this dynamic, consider the case of the Sierra Club, one of America’s oldest and largest environmental groups, which quite naturally had always made population growth one of its major concerns. During the mid-1990s, a wealthy California environmentalist, David Gelbaum, himself the grandson of Jewish immigrants from Europe and with a Mexican-American wife, grew outraged over the nasty racial tone of the political battle unleashed by Pete Wilson and Proposition 187 and privately pledged $100 million to the Sierra Club on the condition that it never turn anti-immigration. This requirement was accepted, permanently silencing that organization.
Even without such explicit inducements, we should hardly be surprised that liberal, cosmopolitan, upper middle class environmentalists would be extremely uncomfortable enlisting in a political cause typically spearheaded by the sort of loud right-wing populists whom they personally detest as “racist rabble.” Sometimes strange bedfellows do find it extremely difficult to share the same bed.
Meanwhile, many other powerful lobbies within our political system derive important real or perceived benefits from endless population growth. The massive inflow of often impoverished and desperate immigrants tends to weaken unions and drive down working-class wages, thereby increasing corporate profits, a slice of which is then rebated back to the campaign accounts of the elected officials who maintain such policies. Some of the more expansively-minded neoconservatives feel that if America must establish a hegemonic world empire, it necessarily requires a vast population to do so, especially given their expectation of an inevitable conflict with China. Particular proposals from some of these individuals carry strong echoes of the decaying Late Roman Empire, with Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, having suggested that we should offer automatic American citizenship to any foreigner willing to enlist in the U.S. military.
But if we take a step back and ask ourselves to consider the current outcome of all these interlocked policies, we discover a very sorry situation. The massive immigration of the last couple of decades is certainly not the sole or even the leading cause, but it is an important contributing factor. Endless foreign wars, partly made possible by the availability of pliant immigrant cannon fodder, have ruined America’s worldwide reputation and its finances. A gigantic housing bubble, inflated by heavy immigration-driven population growth, has collapsed, wrecking the American economy and endangering our financial system. And the extremes of American wealth and poverty have reached levels never previously seen in our society.
This last point is perhaps the most significant, but also the least often articulated, given that both political parties are largely funded by the same financial interests.