Peter Brimelow writes: I like Irwin Stelzer personally and he was warmly supportive when I first discussed immigration reform with him, in the early 90s. His violent reaction to Alien Nation was a shocking 180 degree turn. But his subsequent writings on the subject showed distinct signs of intelligence, and with the Commentary review discussed here ["Unwelcome Mat? Heaven's Door: Immigration Policy and the American Economy by George J. Borjas." Review by Irwin M. Stelzer], he completed 360 degrees. Alas, he didn't like me pointing this out and seems to be rotating again, or at least palpitating wildly. The reasons for this probably require another book, but seem to include intense ethnic prejudice against WASPS. Tsk tsk.
(A point of information for Irwin: the term "visible minority," which American race-hysterics do often seize on as evidence of racism, has been certified politically correct in Canada, where much of of this soft totalitarianism is invented, and in fact derives from the legislation that institutionalized affirmative action there.)
Neal Kozodoy at Commentary, another old friend, cut the heart out of my letter: its J'Accuse, to coin a phrase, about the neoconservative role in sabotaging the Smith-Simpson immigration reform bill in 1996. I'm surprised and will have to ask why. Cuts in boldface; I've attempted to indicate with brackets various minor word changes of the sort dear to the heart of American editors. Letter as published in December 1999 Commentary, for anyone who wants to check.
Many thanks to Lew Rockwell and his wonderful LewRockwell.com for weighing in.
Irwin Stelzer is to be congratulated on a remarkable review of a remarkable book: George Borjas' Heaven's Door: Immigration and the American Economy (Commentary, September 1999). Borjas' research has led him to astonishing findings — that the immigration wave accidentally unleashed by the 1965 legislation has not benefited Americans in aggregate; that lower-skilled workers in particular are being hurt; that the current system's paradoxical selection process is producing lower-skilled (and overwhelmingly Third World) immigrants; that these immigrants are disproportionately failing and going on welfare; that Americans are actually paying, through fiscal transfers, for the transformation of their society. Dr. Stelzer's handsome acknowledgement that "many of these findings are now uncontested" is entirely appropriate — but only for economists. In public debate, the conventional wisdom is still entirely the opposite.
I must gently point out that this unfortunate situation is, in a small way, Dr. Stelzer's fault. In 1995, I published Alien Nation: Common Sense About America's Immigration Disaster. It anticipated Borjas' conclusion that U.S. immigration policy is broken and must be fixed — although reasonable people can certainly disagree on how to fix it - for the simple reason that my book [a book that] was in large part an explicit popularization of Borjas' work. But Dr Stelzer, in his New York Post column (April 13, 1995), brushed aside the very evidence that he now finds so compelling as a "narrow-minded statistical compendium." He completely ignored my exposure of the paradoxical selection process that he now describes as "one of the besetting sins of the present system." Instead, his point was purely emotional: that my argument was rightly "falling on deaf ears in the neo-conservative community" because "they well remember their parents' tales of the contempt in which they were held by earlier immigrants and nativist WASPs…"
Naturally, I rejoice at the return of the Prodigal Stelzer. Needless to say, I look forward to being enlightened by him, in the best tradition of Commentary's correspondence columns, as to which of my personal failings so blinded him, happily for a mere four years, to the facts.
But ideas, and emotions, have consequences. The year 1995 was a brief shining moment of hope for immigration reform. The landslide victory of California's Proposition 187, cutting off certain tax subsidies to illegal immigrants, had gotten the attention of the Washington elite. The bipartisan Jordan Commission, appointed by Congress and headed by the late black Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, had provided perfect political cover with its recommendation of significant immigration cutbacks. Legislation embodying these proposals, the Smith-Simpson bill, had the support of the leadership of the Republican majority in Congress.
It took a ferocious campaign of special-interest lobbying to intimidate the Republican leadership and derail the Smith-Simpson bill. Playing a critical fifth-column role in that campaign were the neoconservative-dominated media — notably the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Dr. Stelzer's own Weekly Standard magazine. They amply demonstrated that he was right to predict they would have "deaf ears" to facts and logic about immigration. Sadly, however, he had helped stop those ears. Today there is no immediate prospect that the present system, with all its "besetting sins," will be reformed.
I think the failure of Smith-Simpson was disastrous for the American nation. Apparently this unit of analysis makes Dr. Stelzer uncomfortable. But perhaps he could be interested in the fate of the American conservative movement, and of the Republican Party, to which the neo-conservatives have allied themselves.
One part of Alien Nation that Dr. [What Mr.] Stelzer still has not reckoned with is its discussion of the level at which immigration should be set. I pointed out that because Americans of all races have brought their families down to replacement level, the demographic impact of immigration is much greater than it was during the last great wave in 1890-1920, when the native-born population was still growing rapidly. Combined with the system's paradoxical selection process, which has favored the Third World and choked off Europe, this means the U.S. racial balance is being shifted rapidly. Thus whites have gone from being about 90% of the population in 1960 to 75% in 1990. They are projected to go below 50% in the mid-21st century.
Ethnic identity and partisan affiliation are closely correlated in American politics, changing only slowly if at all. Elsewhere [National Review, June 16, 1997], Edwin S. Rubenstein and I have shown that, if this racial shift continues, the Republican Party can reasonably hope to win just two more Presidential elections. After 2008, they will go decisively into a minority. After 2025 or so, even a sweep among whites of Reaganesque proportions will not outweigh the effect of imported Democrats.
The inexorable logic of the situation is that, if the present U.S. political order is to survive, either immigration must be made proportionate to the racial groups already here, or it must be reduced low enough not to disturb the racial balance. I think the latter is more practical. But, again, I await enlightenment from Dr. Stelzer - when he decides to think about it. But he had better not take another four years.
It has been said that the catastrophe of Pickett's Charge, and the loss of the decisive Battle of Gettysburg, was the price that the South paid for Robert E. Lee. The contribution of the neoconservatives to American conservatism is an oft-told tale. Tragically, their price — missing the chance to reform immigration — may prove equally fatal.
Dr. Stelzer's Response:
Peter Brimelow fears immigrants. They are different from "us" — different in color ("visible minorities," to use the term Mr. Brimelow prefers in his book, Alien Nation), skills, and political outlook. Indeed, they will (shock, horror), he says in his letter, likely vote for Democrats, sending "Republicans . . . decisively into the minority." So he finds comfort in George J. Borjas's book, Heaven's Door, and in my generally favorable review of it, which he takes to be a recanting of positions I have taken in my columns for the New York Post. Alas, Mr. Brimelow still does not get it.
The virtues of Borjas's book are two: he lays out the facts that should guide the debate about immigration policy; and he suggests a rational framework within which to analyze those facts. He also describes some of the problems created by the newer wave of immigrants, lovingly repeated by Mr. Brimelow in his letter—and, I might add, laid out with care in my several New York Post pieces on the subject.
But social policy is not made merely by tabulating negatives. It is made by weighing advantages against disadvantages: a decision to pay down the national debt has the disadvantage of foreclosing a tax cut but the advantage of stimulating economic growth by lowering interest rates; a decision to open American markets to the products of low-wage countries threatens the jobs of some workers but enriches some consumers. To decide which policy is best for America requires balancing the costs against the benefits.
So too with immigration policy. To close "Heaven's Door"—which, by the way, Borjas does not suggest we should do—would relieve us of some burdens, most notably the welfare costs associated with the newer immigrants. But it would also deny us access to some of the advantages that new immigrants bring with them—no need here to recount the successes of Asian immigrants.
Since Mr. Brimelow repeats some of the costs associated with our new immigrants, by way of balance it is worth pointing out that the National Research Council has found that there appears to be no relationship between immigrant concentrations and local crime rates; that new immigrants are more likely than the average native to be living in family households; and that intermarriage seems likely to blur ethnic and social distinctions, hastening the assimilation of current immigrants from Asia and Latin America.
In his letter, Mr. Brimelow repeats his suggestion in Alien Nation that immigration "be made proportionate to the racial groups already here," an updated version of the argument once used to restrict immigration from Asia and Eastern and Southern Europe. This is either a mere statement of prejudice, or, more likely, a cop-out: a confession of an inability to gain acceptance for policies that maximize the benefits of immigration and minimize its costs.
Before we sign on to the Brimelow program and deny ourselves the injections of yeastiness and spice that have historically forced natives who are comfortable with the status quo to compete with newcomers, we should consider less costly measures. Where would America be if it were now forced to rely only on its old-line Wasp population for the drive and skills needed to compete in a global economy? We would be in the hands of the largely Wasp, perk-laden corpocrats who so mismanaged America's major companies as almost to bring the economy to ruin before being saved by Michael Milken and his gang of sons-of-immigrants corporate raiders.
We would also be facing the inflationary pressure of a much tighter labor market than now exists. Estimates are that some 38 percent of the 12.7 million new jobs created in America in this decade have been filled by immigrants. Nearly one-third of the start-up companies in high-tech Silicon Valley are headed by Chinese or Indian immigrants.
To throw away these advantages in pursuit of some Brimelow-ordained "racial balance" seems to me less desirable than to develop policies that retain the benefits of a generous immigration policy while minimizing the costs of keeping "Heaven's Door" open: welcome those who come here seeking a hand up, not a hand-out; deny citizenship to those who are not fluent in our language and familiar with our history; abandon the ideology of multiculturalism in favor of good old-fashioned assimilation.
I hope this provides Mr. Brimelow with the "enlightenment" he says he seeks from me. But I suspect it will not. I regret that I simply do not possess a torch powerful enough to brighten the darkness in which he finds himself as he contemplates the future of an America peopled by folks different from himself.
December 8, 1999
1. Did the "perk-laden corpocrats who so mismanaged America's major companies as almost to bring the economy to ruin" award themselves executive compensation of hundreds of millions a year while reducing wages at home and outsourcing millions of jobs abroad? Oh well, at least we finally understand "creative destruction."
2. Wasn't Michael Milken a criminal? Oh well, at least he wasn't a filthy "Wasp."
3. Isn't Stelzer an economist? And didn't the 1970s prove once and for all that monetary policy—not "tighter labor markets"—causes inflation? Oh well, at least we now know who is the real enemy: the native-born American worker.
4. Have you ever noticed that the pro-immigration argument is always ultimately about food? Oh well, at least we have a delicious new metaphor for the post-1965 influx: a yeast infection.
5. Go, Pat, go!
(White but neither Anglo-Saxon nor Protestant)