[openDemocracy editors' original note: Will mass immigration prove a similar threat to the integrity of European society and culture as it does to America's? For the author of Alien Nation, the book which helped to catalyze the modern anti-immigration argument in the US, the current 'great wave' from third to first world is undesirable, economically unnecessary, and driven by a misplaced sense of guilt over past racism and colonialism.]
openDemocracy's People Flow debate is a poignant moment for me. I'm the editor of an American webzine, VDARE.COM, focused on immigration and the “national question”–well-defined in Anthony Browne's terms as whether a country has a “right to sustain its own culture.”
Yet I am also an English immigrant to the United States, with a sojourn in Canada, who is sometimes credited with restarting the modern immigration debate in my adopted country with a cover story in National Review magazine and a subsequent, much-denounced, book, Alien Nation.
(I tell audiences in America, where public discourse is frequently conducted in economistic terms, that in criticizing immigration policy I am just an immigrant doing a dirty job. They laugh, but it's true–as will be confirmed below).
As I write this, I can see from my office window more than fifteen miles (twenty-four kilometers) across northern Connecticut's Litchfield Hills (spelt, be it noted, with a “t”–this area still bears the imprint of Puritan settlers from England's East Anglia and Midlands). Almost all of it is woodland. In early summer, it's a rolling sea of green foliage. Ironically, this was not the case 150 years ago. The area was stripped bare by intensive subsistence farming and the quest for charcoal to fuel the early industrial revolution here. But now the forests have returned.
I must say that I have found myself grieving that the epicenter of the industrial revolution, the north of England where I grew up, will never get a similar respite. The classic patchwork fieldscape of the Cheshire plain, which I have carried in my mind's eye since early childhood, is now being eroded so quickly by sprawl that I find it painful to go back.
To that extent, Rosamund McDougall's riposte to the People Flow concept is unanswerable. Population growth means sprawl. But population growth in the first world is now not inevitable–it is being imported by immigration policy. This is true in the US too, and on a gigantic scale. Americans of all races have brought their family size down to the point where the Census Bureau projects that the US population would stabilize by 2050 at 280-300 million–but with the current mass immigration, it is projected to soar to 400-500 million.
In effect, first world governments are second-guessing their peoples on population size. Perhaps unlike McDougall, I don't necessarily anticipate ecological collapse because of this. I can envisage my woodland vista being carved into malls, freeways and suburbs full of moderately healthy people. (Birdlife is a different matter).
But it won't be the same. I would regret it. This is a value judgment, of course. But so what?
California, I tell American audiences, will cease to be the Golden State and become the Golden Subdivision (American for 'housing estate'). They don't laugh quite as much at this. It's already coming all too visibly true here; and in a small space like Britain, there is even less room for error.
Five warnings from America
The debate in the United States offers five main pointers to Europeans.
- First, immigration is economically unnecessary. It was a British economist, the great Peter Bauer, who first and most forcefully made this point to me. You can't reason from more people to more production. The key factor, rather, is technical innovation–new ideas.Thus, the idea that third world immigration is necessary to support ageing first world 'baby boomers' does not add up. (Of course, it is always possible that first world governments will make a mess of things and turn to immigration to stave off the problem).In the US, the validity of Bauer's point has been born out by the National Research Council's 1997 compendium, The New Americans reflecting the consensus among labor economists. It found the net aggregate economic benefit to native-born Americans from the enormous influx accidentally triggered by the 1965 immigration act is nugatory–less than $10 billion a year, in an economy of $10 trillion.
Immigrants do increase gross domestic product (GDP), but they receive most of the benefit themselves. Moreover, this doesn't count transfers like education, which amount to a significant net loss. The Economist has rightly characterized this as “chickenfeed”–without, typically, altering its generally romantic view of immigration. America is being transformed for nothing. I have no doubt the same is true for Europe.
- Second, the welfare state has changed everything. The US has experienced mass immigration before, in 1890-1920. And it has experienced a welfare state (more accurately, a transfer state, because free education and free emergency-room health care are included) since President Roosevelt's New Deal of the 1930s. But it has never experienced both together.The transfer state has completely altered the incentives facing immigrants. In the US, whereas up to 40% of the 1890-1920 'great wave' went back home (something not much noted in this country's pervasive pro-immigration mythology), now around 90% of the post-1965 great wave remain. In effect, they are paid to stay, even if they don't like it here–which is clearly a factor in the current non-assimilation of Hispanics. Again, mass immigration's incompatibility with the welfare state has been publicly recognized by economists like Nobel laureates Milton Friedman and Gary Becker. But it has not penetrated popular debate. Again, I have no doubt the same is true of Europe.
- Third, “refugees” are a false issue. It is amazing to me, growing up in Britain during the great retreat from empire, to read arguments like Gil Loescher's that take for granted that Britain and Europe still have responsibility for the displaced of the third world. Of course, this sense of responsibility is, in considerable part, what motivated imperialism, especially the late 19th century partition of Africa, urged on by missionaries who wanted to protect their flocks from the slave trade. Rudyard Kipling called it “the White Man's Burden.” (Presumably it's now the White Person's Burden). But there can be no responsibility without power–and Europeans have eschewed power along with their empires. End of story, as we say here.Moreover, our experience in the US is that “refugees” invariably turn out to be nothing more noble than expedited, subsidized, politically-connected immigrants. Thus, America's refugee program was effectively
hijacked in the 1980s on behalf of Soviet Jews. The refugee lobby itself needs to be viewed in the context of “public choice economics”–the perception, for which
James Buchanan won an economics Nobel prize, that policy makers as a class have their own economic interests, which (amazingly) tend to influence their policies. Refugee lobbyists become interest groups–funded, of course, by the taxpayer.
One current scandal produced by this corrupt system is the importation into small towns across America of large numbers of illiterate, primitive “Somali Bantu”–a group with which the US has no historical relationship whatever–because refugee lobbyists rejected the much cheaper expedient of resettlement in Africa…which would, of course, have deprived them of clients. Again, I sense the same in Europe.
- Fourth, the real issue is white guilt. At the beginning of Alien Nation, I wrote: “There is a sense in which current immigration policy is Adolf Hitler's posthumous revenge on America. The U.S. political elite emerged from the war passionately concerned to cleanse itself from all taints of racism and xenophobia. Eventually, it enacted the Immigration Act…of 1965. And this, quite accidentally, triggered a renewed mass immigration, so huge and so systematically different from anything that had gone before as to transform–and ultimately, perhaps, to destroy–the one unquestioned victor of World War II: the American nation, as it had evolved by the middle of the twentieth century.”
I stand by these words. It is because Americans are still paralyzed by the accusation of racism, further exacerbated by the struggle over civil rights, that uninhibited immigrants like myself (or the Cuban-born Harvard economist George Borjas) can play a role in the American immigration debate.
Obviously, the same trick is being imported into Britain, judging by Ali Rattansi's emotional attempt to smear Anthony Browne. The one virtue of
Rattansi's piece is that he (no doubt inadvertently) answers the national question–whether the nation-state, the political expression of a particular people, can and should continue to exist. Rattansi's answer: no. (“Even a democratic decision to opt for supposed racial purity is not one that is ethically defensible or acceptable within contemporary global norms of human rights, themselves an outcome of the fight against Nazism.”)
At least, that's Rattansi's answer in the case of the British. Historically, they have indeed had the bad taste to be a white nation. But the third world is a different matter. In researching Alien Nation, I contacted every major immigrant-sending third world country and asked how I could, as an American citizen, emigrate to them. All of them said, with varying degrees of politeness, that it was effectively impossible. The Indians said it was “very difficult”–unless I was “of Indian origin.” For them, apparently, “racial purity” is defensible and acceptable.
- Fifth, immigration is vitally important. Denial is the first stage of the immigration debate, as it is supposed to be with terminal disease. Obviously, some openDemocracy contributors are still in this stage.
This is a demographic transformation without precedent in the history of the world–all brought about by public policy. And Europe is starting down the same path.
I reject the notion that those of us who question this policy have to show what's wrong with it. Instead, I believe it is incumbent upon those who favor this extraordinary transformation to explain what's right with it–and what makes them think it will work.
Otherwise, it must be said of the West's late 20th century immigration disaster, in the words that J. Robert Oppenheimer quoted from the Bhagavad Gita on witnessing the first atomic bomb: “I am become death, the shatterer of worlds.”