How Immigration Makes Us Stronger

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 22 2011 @ 4:05pm

by Maisie Allison

James Pach dismantles the notion that the U.S. economy is "turning Japanese" (a case that has been made convincingly by John Judis, among others):

Take immigration, which ultimately is critical for the long term. It’s immigration that accounts most of the difference between US and Japanese population projections. The rapidly rising Hispanic and Asian populations allow the US business owner to anticipate long-term domestic market growth, and hence to invest. Higher immigration will eventually be vital for Japan, because a shrinking market deters the investment needed to produce the productivity breakthroughs that could offset population decline. Unfortunately, Japanese equate harmony with homogeneity, and see large-scale immigration as tantamount to an invasion.

This will be a particularly difficult debate. The government has made a small start by trying to boost the intake of foreign university students, especially from China, but that will not be enough on its own. Yet the longer Japan leaves this issue unresolved, the less likely it will be to attract immigrants from its preferred countries, like China, which are rapidly closing the opportunity gap.

In short, whereas without substantial productivity gains the default position of the Japanese economy is contraction, the U.S. still has an economic cycle and proven policy options.

Despite robust immigration, and in some ways because of it, American culture is also dominant – and resilient. It sustains us: American culture is tied to a free economy, but does not recede during economic downturns. Outsiders want to be a part of it for societal reasons as well as economic. And regardless of economic conditions, Japan does not draw aspiring citizens in the same way. Because assimilating and absorbing immigrants is a core advantage of the American economy, Jim Manzi sees an opportunity for a meaningful pivot to a skills-based immigration policy: 

[W]e should think of immigration as an opportunity to improve our stock of human capital. Once we have re-established control of our southern border, we should set up recruiting offices looking for the best possible talent everywhere: from Mexico City to Beijing to Helsinki to Calcutta. We should offer green cards to foreign students upon their completion of degrees in science and engineering subjects at approved universities. The H-1B visa program should be expanded and strengthened. On the other hand, we should de-emphasize family reunification for immigrants already in the United States.