Dean Baker replies to my post:
I may give a longer response later, but just out of curiosity, would you support a system of complete open borders in the United States. If so, given that we have 12 million people who were willing to go through months of hell to get over the border, do you have idea as to how many immigrants the United States would see if anyone who wanted could come to the United States and had the same right to work as native born citizens? If that is not the policy you are supporting, then how would you restrict immigration?
My initial response was:
I sometimes have trouble reconciling my views on this. On the one hand I’m in complete principle support of ‘open borders’, on the other, I know within the current system that would lead to chaos. I think immigration without assimilation is bad for a country and society, largely what has created a cohesive “American” culture is rapid (by international standards) assimilation towards our culture. I think a path to citizenship is also critical for all immigrants. So I would limit immigration at the point where our bureaucracy (not political framework) can’t support the infrastructure necessary for such assimilation and/or process citizenship requests in a sane manner fast enough. At the margin, for reasons you note, I would always pick the ‘skilled’ over the ‘unskilled’.
Because of vast inequality, we may already be reaching that limit, I don’t know.
But it still left me thinking. I don’t like the idea of arbitrary guidelines (“5 million is okay, but 10 million isn’t”). We would all prefer some general principle on which restrictions can be designed.
After a bit of thought, I think I was pretty close on. I came across a Pew Study that notes that 61% of children of Asian and Hispanic immigrants think they are ‘typical Americans’:
The similarity between Asian and Hispanic children really struck me. Initially, I thought inequality was a big deal as far as assimilation is concerned, but maybe it isn’t. As I noted in my reply to Dean, when our social system can’t support immigration, protectionism might be valid. Systems that work to this end are highly accessible and robust public education systems, libraries, strong ESL programs, and interaction with ‘traditional’ customs.
Inequality erodes pretty much all those entities. Schools get bad, communities get segregated, and libraries get torn down. Asians are rich and latinos are poor, and both react very similarly, so I must have been wrong somewhere…
My gut tells me the long-term effect of today’s inequality has yet to be felt, especially as many Asians still live in the ‘poor man’ mentality (high savings rate, humble beginnings, etc.)
But every society has its breaking point. I don’t know what the number is, but if all of Africa suddenly came to the US well, then, there’s a problem.
I’d also like to know what Dean thinks about population density, in relation to land, but also in relation to overall natural resources. India is projected to have 1.5 billion people on land far smaller than the US. Doesn’t it make sense that some come over, it would seem to be more productive overall…
This is something I haven’t fully thought about, and expect to blog about soon; would love to hear opinions in the mean time.