Time for a reality check: boosting immigration will not fix ageing societies

Warning: The content of this essay may have a triggering effect on certain people. Reader discretion advised.

The most eye-opening days of my life were when I toiled away in the belly of the beast – Washington DC – as a low-level cog in the engine of empire. The great upside was that I met some very interesting people. One of them was syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan. Another was Dr Steven Camarota, Director of Research of the Center for Immigration Studies. Both are respected voices in the immigration debate.

The latest US Census tells us that in the latter part of the last decade, the US had the slowest population growth ever recorded, and that America’s average age is increasing. When such alarm bells go off, pro-immigration forces immediately demand increasing immigration as the solution. On the surface this sounds like a quick and easy remedy, but Dr Camarota knows better. In response, he has posted a column headlined “Increased Immigration is Not A Simple Solution for US Population Woes” on the popular and well-regarded RealClearPolicy.com, which might help it get traction in the media. In his piece, Dr Camarota challenges the alleged “conventional wisdom” among the chattering class.

The commentariat believes in the panacea of economic growth. They are convinced that having more people is automatically good for the economy. Dr Camarota, on the other hand, gently breaks the news that “In the real world, it is hard to find evidence that population growth actually increases per capita economic growth.”

The chattering class do not belong to the real world, however, but rather to a parallel universe where we’re all just one big multicultural family put on earth in order to generate profits. Dr Camarota refutes this notion by calmly and matter-of-factly pointing out that (1) immigration does not mean a younger population; (2) immigration does not make the country wealthier on a per-capita basis; and (3) immigrant fertility levels are already very close to those of the native-born population. Camarota writes:

More workers, more consumers, and more government spending do make for a larger GDP. But a larger population means the larger GDP is spread out over more people, so each individual is not necessarily better off. If all that mattered was the overall size of the economy, Bangladesh would be considered a richer country than New Zealand.  

It must be difficult to be a scholar like Steven Camarota, having to cut through the fog of media hype armed only with facts and plain reasoning.  

One thing Camarota does not mention is the cultural dimension of mass immigration, and who can blame him? That’s where Pat Buchanan comes to mind.    

One reason I like Mr Buchanan is that he talks a lot like my parents did around the dinner table. There is no better example of this than comments he made during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week with David Brinkley” way back in 1991. On that occasion, after a discussion of immigration, he was attacked by the pundits and other chatterers for being a bigot and xenophobe for having suggested that English immigrants would be more assimilable than Zulus.

In the firestorm that erupted, folks who already disliked Pat called him those names and worse trying to get more folks to dislike him. But what he actually said, rather than what someone else inferred from what he said, was this:

I think God made all people good, but if we had to take a million immigrants in, say, Zulus, next year, or Englishmen, and put them in Virginia, what group would be easier to assimilate and would cause less problems for the people of Virginia?  

Pat said nothing against either English or Zulus. And considering language, customs, and political traditions, it seems likely that folks from Merry Old England, whatever their racial background, would likely assimilate faster and less expensively into Virginia than Zulu-speaking people of South Africa. I have visited both England and South Africa, and I can see what Pat meant. Thirty years on, out here in “flyover country,” we still don’t think a comment like that is a big deal, nor do we disagree.

The East Asian countries, especially China, South Korea and Japan, are ageing rapidly, with fertility rates well below replacement level. Unlike the West, and for reasons reminiscent of Mr Buchanan’s remarks, those countries have been resistant to immigration (though Japan imports a few Asian immigrantsto do jobs that there are no Japanese around to fill, especially in elder care). Many Asians believe that mass immigration would dilute their respective cultures. They want Japan to remain Japanese, etc. Some of the Eastern European countries have similar attitudes, notably Hungary.  There’s no reason to hold that against them if that is their preference.

The US is in the midst of an identity crisis. There is no longer any appreciable degree of social cohesion, much less a common national Zeitgeist. This is due in part to (1) mass immigration over a short period of time, (2) immigration from so many vastly different cultures, and (3) abandoning assimilation in favour of feel-good diversity and identity politics.

In spite of the large-scale immigration, we are still on the path to becoming an ageing society, just a few steps behind Russia and China. After all the domestic strife in the states, where the media and leftist politicians tell the world that every other American is a closeted bigot and that there are only oppressed and oppressors among us, I can’t blame Asian countries for being reluctant to follow our path.

So here’s the conundrum. We’re dying out. We’d like to preserve our respective cultures by having more of us. Immigration is not the cure-all. How do we inspire people to prioritize family over economics?

At the very least, we could watch what Hungary is doing and take note of what Russia and China come up with. And finally, consider the source where the chattering class is concerned.

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