Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hidden factors in the rush to immigration reform

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I favor immigration reform, under the general outlines that have been proposed both by President Obama and the recent bipartisan committee in the US Senate.  After a shellacking at the polls, Republicans now seem ready to join in resolving an array of issues.  Still, I'm less interested in discussing this consensus than factors that the public may not know about.

Four years ago, I made this topic #11 of my "Twelve Suggestions for the New Administration." At the time, I pointed out a number of ironies in: Control the Borders. Then, in October 2011, I offered a detailed appraisal of the immigration debate: the place for you to go for facts and figures and depth that I am not presenting here. Today, we'll concisely get to the heart of it.

First off - Republicans have always talked tough about controlling U.S. borders and reducing illegal immigration. while democrats are known for bringing up compassion, amnesty and all of that, implying a gentler border stance.  In practice, when they take power, each party tends to act in ways diametrically opposite to its  polemical position.

In 1993, as one of his first acts upon entering office, Bill Clinton doubled the number of field agents in the Border Patrol. In sharp contrast, one of George W. Bush's first endeavors was to savagely undercut that service, citing "budget reasons." (In fact, he did this tellingly, lowering our guard before the attacks of 9/11.) What did Barack Obama do, after taking the oath in 2009?  Exactly the same as Bill Clinton. Across the entire first Obama Administration, border enforcement was pushed hard, almost equalling economic factors in accounting for a steep drop in illegal border crossings.

It all sounds counter-intuitive, of course. Why would the parties say one thing, for appearances, yet do the opposite? The reasons are simple. Democrats like legal immigration, which results in lots of new voters and new union workers, while illegals drain resources, get embroiled (normally against their will) into crime, undercut union labor and prevent domestic programs from achieving full effectiveness.

On the other hand, Republicans -- well, not your neighbors, but some influential people near the top of the party -- like access to pools of cheap, undocumented labor that won't talk back for exactly those same reasons. Only when border state citizens began getting riled did the GOP start offering tough words on immigration. And words, for the most part, is all they ever supplied during the long eras when they operated the entire government. Where it comes to border security, GOP presidents going back to Reagan counted on their partisans to pay attention only to words, never actions.

This is what I predicted, back in 2009: "I fully expect the same political factors to apply under Barack Obama. Watch for a serious attempt to increase cross-border trade and legal human contacts, but to crack down on illegal crossers and smuggling. This change of emphasis also happens to be a good idea for enhancing homeland security. And those who are offended by this illustrate that "liberal" and "leftist" really are different terms that apply to different sets of political passions that are only allied part of the time. We must not assume that the former have to always cater to the latter."

== The Panorama in early 2013 for Reform ==

So what are we seeing in the new proposals for Immigration Reform?  Most attention goes to the "path to legalized status and then citizenship" and left-right arguments over details, like how easy the path should be and how big should be the fines that undocumented folks pay for having broken our laws... on the way toward becoming welcomed neighbors and fellow nortamericanos

I am interested in all of that, but fairly content with the bipartisan consensus we see forming. Indeed, it is wondrous to once again view pragmatic argument and negotiation take place.  Perhaps congressfolk will acquire a taste for it.

Regarding border security, I cannot suppress a giggle over watching the GOP being forced to actually vote for the very measures they have long loudly screamed for - even though in practice they spent decades blocking improved border security with every trick they could muster.  This victory for the Democratic Party (and unions) won't be viewed that way by the press or public, but it has to be galling to the top lords of conservatism, who strove for so long to keep the U.S. border weak and porous.

What is missing, however, is much public attention to legal immigration.  I have always found this strange, since legal immigration has been vastly more responsible for the ethnic changes taking place in the United States across the last generation. While Red America has fulminated against undocumented entries, those with perfectly good documents constituted the main flood, in the greatest influx of new faces to America since the 1890s. Why has this not been raised much in arch-conservative circles? Perhaps because to do so would lay bare some of the deeply racist and intolerant attitudes that underly fear of a changing America.  (Again, see my 2011 article for a detailed appraisal of population trends and why the parts of the U.S. who are most angry over immigration ignore the kind that actually affects numbers.)

Now, at last, a few aspects of legal immigration are being discussed. Especially a long desired ability to keep some of the wonderful students who get post-graduate tech degrees here, then were kicked out when they asked to stay and put those skills to work in the U.S.. That lunacy may end, at last.  Likewise there might be more visas for the world's smartest people to come to the U.S. to do research or start businesses.

diversityAs I said in 2009: "Let there be no mistake, I am proud of America's heritage -- and present-day status -- as the world's leader (by far) in offering opportunities to hope-filled people from all over the globe. Diversity is our greatest strength and immigrants often give far more than they take. 

"Nevertheless, as a nation, we have a right to have immigration be orderly and legal, at a pace that doesn't overstrain services. So long as we continue to be generous and prudently open, overall, immigration can even be tuned to benefit America in directly tangible ways. For example, by restoring somewhat of a merit system, especially when it comes to skilled workers that our industries desperately need, or allowing some of the foreign graduate students who we have (expensively) trained to stay and add their brilliance to our stew. After all, half a million people is half a million people. There's no rule of honor or nature that says we can't look for some of them to enter as a win-win deal."

Sound prophetic, for something written in 2009?

== Where Obama gets it wrong ==

One area where I sharply disagree with President Obama is his proposal to increase the number of people who immigrate through family sponsorship.  That may make me sound callous and unsympathetic!  But please pause and ponder before you judge. Yes, by all means re-unite parents and minor children or minor siblings.  Beyond that though... you start a chain cascade in which the newly admitted uncle then brings a wife who brings her sister who brings her husband, whose brother... it becomes completely arbitrary, a chain of entitlement without end.

aluckIt isn't even fair in a humanitarian sense! Note that families here can already send home remittances, or provide other means of immigration help. So those relatives already have tons more luck than their neighbors in the village, back in Guiana or Togo or Timor. They are already benefiting more than other folks overseas who don't have cousins in the U.S.

What about those other people in the old countries, not lucky enough to already have US resident cousins? Don't they deserve a chance, too?  Shouldn't the millions of others get to roll the dice?  Must luck be kept limited to arbitrary family chains? Isn't that just another form of inherited privilege?

Frankly,  I see no reason why other traits should not factor in, like industriousness, eagerness, cleverness, or attributes that indicate a real possibility of leveraging sudden luck into enriching both the new and old countries.  Heck, I'd deem a worldwide essay contest, or art or performance competition, or para-olympics, to be far more fair. More likely to benefit both America and those competing, whose vigor would prove them truly American in spirit.  Indeed, so long as the numbers stay the same, who is anyone to call my proposed method of choosing less compassionate?

(Ponder it almost through a sci fi lens: an avidly watched television show, in which 10% of our immigration slots go to those who present world audiences with something - anything(!) - extraordinary or excellent. From juggling to a tear-jerking lamentation of poor luck, to an ethnic song or dance, to a poem that tears our hearts out, to acts of goodness that transformed their home villages. And that world audience votes! And the prize is something coveted... that ALL the finalists win, after all. A home in the Land of Opportunity. 

(What an underlying message! One that could not be conveyed by a trillion dollars of propaganda. After all, how bad can the Evil Empire be... if everyone wants to go there?)

America deserves plaudits for being the nation of fresh starts. It is a moral claim that can never be taken away from us. Together with Canada, we take in more than half of the world's immigrants and it has been our glory.

But we have to use some basis to choose among those wanting in, doing so in an orderly and rational way -- one that is both generous and in keeping with our own best interests. Always look for the positive sum.  The win-win...

38 comments:

Carl M. said...

Residency/citizenship is one of our most valuable exports. We are going broke. Maybe it is time to start selling the right to be here instead of having a long obsolete quota system.

It can be done simply. Replace our graduated tax system with a flat tax with a honkin big rebate for adult citizens. If you are a guest worker, you pay the same rate as a lawyer even if you are picking tomatoes. If that is still worthwhile to you, fine. Welcome to the USA. We can afford to have you as a legal guest. If not, go home in peace. No punishment and you can try again later if you so choose.

If you want to buy in, you must pay what a U.S. citizenship is worth. (The annuity value of the citizen dividend. A nontrivial sum!)

With no welfare system and an open frontier, free immigration made sense (except for the Native Americans, who were "donating" said frontier). The frontier is closed and the welfare system is open. The rules need to change.

adiffer said...

Hmm... I am in agreement with most of this post, but in strong disagreement on the arbitrariness of using family chains in the decision to admit new immigrants. Not only do I think this ISN'T arbitrary, I think there is a good argument to be made for it as a way to filter for the people we want most.

I will admit to some bias in this. I have family from across the border. They have brought people over too. From what I have seen and learned from them, the flow works in both directions and I think THAT is the major benefit we stand to gain. When people come to the 'Land of Opportunity' we can benefit, but when they take the message back to their families and neighbors we get far more because the message comes bundled with information on what it takes to work with us, what we like, and where to best fit in. The benefit to us is most significant when the flow goes both ways because we extend our cultural footprint and adopt part of what they bring to us at the same time.

Having families help choose who comes here helps us as follows.
1. The arriving immigrant has a place to go and has access to information on how to fit in and where to work.
2. The resident family effectively sponsors the new immigrant by say 'this one is like us'. If we let the first one in on some other form of merit then it is possible the next one will be similar or at least be able to integrate.
3. The arriving immigrant brings more than themselves when they have family here. We get a larger piece of their culture along with them.

I won't pretend that having families bring other family members is a perfect approach. There will be duds in the mix. Having government choose isn't perfect either. Far from it. Setting up tests isn't much better as it invites people to game the system. From an historical perspective, the method humanity has always used is based on the support families provide to members AND the screening they provide. If someone isn't in one of the lucky families with citizens across the border, they have only to figure out how to marry in, right? How many of our own ancestors got in that way? 8)

My father's father followed his brother to America in 1928. The two of them together stood a better chance of success at finding work. When my grandfather did just that, he went back and got his family. Both sons served in the Armed Forces and the family has grown.

My mother married my father and came over. She rescued her parents from poor health insurance coverage many years later... because she could. She did NOT make them dependents of government programs here, though.

My brother married an immigrant and currently resides south of the border with her family, but spent many years up here and may return some day. While he is down there he teaches our ways and attitudes simply by being who he is. He is entrepreneurial and so is his wife. They employ a number of people. Think about the message that sends.


I'm a bit of a classical liberal and I am far more inclined to trust the decisions of families who have the courage to come here than I am to trust any other system we try to design to make legal immigration benefit all of us. There is a delusion that is best avoided when it comes to designing such things. It is the one that intelligent people suffer most. We think we know how to do it better. Even worse, we think we HAVE to design it. I put to you that humanity has already solved the problem of maximizing the benefit to all from legal immigration, but it is a solution not born of design. We do it through marriage and family.

David Brin said...

Okay, good points adiffer. Certainly the burden of adjustment can be spread to people and not govt services.

Yet, the endless cycle of expansion bugs me. When does ANOTHER family get a chance?

Paul451 said...

I don't suppose there's any support for my idea that everyone gets exiled from their home nation for 10 years after turning 21? Mix things up a bit.

[Personal aside: I was going through my family records to help a distant cousin do a family tree project, and I came across a ship's record from my great great grandmother's voyage to Australia [as a free settler]. My great grandfather was born on the ship, about a week from arrival, and was named after the ship's doctor. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy... until I looked through the ages of the Deaths-at-Sea and realised the number of names that were on the Born-at-Sea list. Every single baby born at sea died before the ship arrived in Australia, every single one except my great grandfather. And every single child under 1 years old at launch, died at sea. And two thirds of the children between 1-2 at launch died. And yet their parents got on the ship. Migrants are made of sterner stuff than you and I.]

kat said...

I haven't looked too closely at the new legislation, but I sincerely hope it includes a way to make legal immigration less of a hassle. I went through the system with my husband when he immigrated from Canada. Now, understand we were in the second-best of all possible scenarios: he was marrying a citizen, his English was perfect, we had no suspicious circumstances (large age gap, no real past together, etc), he was coming from a nice affluent country, we just wanted to be together. The only way it'd have been easier was if I'd been in the Army.

It took us over a year to get the initial green card. He had his fingerprints taken 3 times, had to get immunizations he already had, took more trips than I can remember (including a separate one for each of the fingerprintings nonsense and a six-hour drive to DC), and the paperwork was... wow. Really, really, bad. We had to have a lawyer -- there was simply no way, as two English-speaking college graduates, we would be able to handle it ourselves. For the fees and lawyer fees (not travel time and incidental expenses like doctor bills) it cost us $5500 -- we had a really nice lawyer who waived a bunch of stuff because we were such nice young kids.

It was bloody ridiculous, and I can't imagine going through it if we had a poor grasp of the language, or less forgiving employers, or more financial constraints. So if you really want less illegal immigrants, one step would be to make it, you know, easier to immigrate.

Robert said...

A Canadian webcartoonist I know was getting married to an American. Because things were taking too long, they asked if it was okay for them to get married while it was still pending. They were told "sure!" So they did. His application was denied. Why? Because his paperwork was inaccurate: he was married to an American but didn't state he was when he applied for citizenship. Despite the fact he applied while unmarried. It would take another year for him to jump through hoops to get into America.

So she moved to Canada to be with her husband instead.

Yes, we lost an American Citizen to Canada because our system was too fucked up. And this isn't the first or only time such bullshit has happened.

Rob H.

rrwood said...

Any thoughts on H1B visas? There seems to be a big push to increase the numbers there, which seems very odd, considering the high number of unemployed workers in the US. Is this just a push from greedy corporations to access highly-trained labor and pay them lowball wages?

Robert said...

The problem is that there are not enough qualified people, and businesses don't want to train employees because the employee could up and quit, going elsewhere instead. Of course, the alternative is to have a new employee sign a contract stating that they will work for X period of time (long enough for the company to be reimbursed for the training) or has to reimburse the company should they leave/be fired and utilize those skills at another company.

Of course, you'd also need an addendum in there so that should the person be laid off or let go without being at fault (ie, no reason is given or the person was innocent of wrongdoing), that they are not required to reimburse the company. And when you consider that most companies train new workers ANYWAY even if they just came out of college... well, it's more companies being lazy and not wanting to have reasonable training programs.

Rob H.

adiffer said...

Another family gets a chance when they marry in OR when one of them works up the courage to walk through the other doors we make sure we leave unlocked. No reasonable person will argue that we shouldn't take smart, entrepreneurial immigrants as fast as we reasonably can. Few will argue that we shouldn't take certain political dissidents for moral reasons. As long as we leave certain other doors open for them, their families get in after they do, but only the family members they want to bring... later.

The cycle doesn't have to be endless. At some point, familial relationships won't be enough to tempt someone to bring their relatives. Look back through your own family tree for a relative that is not a citizen. Would you care that much about a 3rd cousin? If they knew you were related to them and really wanted in, they might write to you or send cash or something, but the work needed to do that acts as a barrier to entry. It could even act as a source of income for Americans, but we may need to work up a good repository for who is related to whom to avoid fraud. 8)

I don't sweat the entry bribe too much. Some will take advantage of it for sure. I know someone (she IS cute) who was offered cash by a father who wanted to bring his son in. All she had to do was marry him and stick by him long enough for the paperwork to get through the system. She was insulted and flatly refused him. No doubt that father found someone eventually, but I argue that we would be better off if we had simply let him go through non-fraudulent hoops to bring his son over. The father was obviously smart and crafty. Such people are damn useful to us if we can keep them on the honest side of the market.

David Brin said...

Unpleasant stories. adiffer you miss the point. each family member you bring in then becomes the person here who... has other family members. You bring your brother, he brings his wife, who brings HER sister...

adiffer said...

I know. That is MY point. The filtering occurs within the families. I might bring my brother in and he might bring his wife, but they both might choose not to bring her brothers. Who would knows those brothers better? No government offered test would be able to catch what their sister and brother-in-law knows about them.

I don't mind if you want to put hurdles up making it 'less than free' to bring relatives in. I don't mind if you want to support background checks and other very sensible precautions. We should take steps to mitigate the risk that one bad apple will bring his entire rotten family in. I don't even mind if the authorization is provisional. If someone can avoid generating a criminal record for the first few years they are here, that should probably be enough, though.

Family members aren't always that forgiving of others when it comes to social errors. We can use this by tieing some responsbility back to sponsors for the immigrants they bring in. This happens in the armed forces for guys who marry abroad and bring their brides back with them. Her behavior in the coming years reflects upon his career. Surely we can think of something similar in the future world you think we are entering where surveillence is omnipresent. 8)

Jumper said...

Most of my concerns are the effects of overpopulation, and the rampant use of counterfeit IDs. I am for allowing more guest workers here, but am okay with slowing down citizenship. I fear the effects of a policy developed solely to drive down wages.

Robert said...

Multiple studies in multiple nations have shown that immigration actually drives increased job growth and economic growth. Immigrants open new businesses and stimulate economic development in rich nations. Further, efforts in Georgia to drive off immigrant labor resulted in food rotting on the vine because despite high unemployment numbers, no one wanted to stoop to picking vegetables. It was beneath them, despite not having jobs or prospects and running out of unemployment in some cases.

That's right. People didn't want to pick veggies and fruit despite whining about immigrant labor stealing their jobs. They had the opportunity and said "eff you, we want real jobs."

Rob H.

Jumper said...

All true, Robert. Population increase brings economic activity. It is just that that is not all it brings. There is so much exploitation connected. And some problems not even dealt with, such as tax evasion, crime syndicates, war crimes refugees flying in under radar, cross-border gang activity, etc. Not to mention natural habitat destruction, accelerated resource consumption, pollution, etc. But the pool to pay my Social Security increases without taxing the plutocrats, so there's that plum for me.

locumranch said...

A merit-based immigration policy is a great idea, but why not extend merit to citizenship & social services?

We'll call it the "Service guarantees Citizenship" bill. First, we make sure that every immigrant becomes a productive member of society. Second, we apply the same standards to our own citizens. And, third, we strip our own ne'er-do-wells of their citizenship so they cannot vote themselves unlimited social services, forcing them to rely on our humanity for total support. [See 'A Modest Proposal']

Or, we can stick to the tried & true. We try to establish an immigrant quota but end up accepting all comers. We let the cream rise to the top in a modified free market environment, so the citizen 'we' can benefit from their productivity. Then, we use this productivity to provide unlimited social support to an ever increasing number of our own ne'er-do-wells according to their votes & wishes until the entire system collapses under its own inertia, dooming us all. [see 'The Postman']

Which option is the most moral?

Best.

Paul451 said...

False dichotomy. The great unwashed don't vote themselves unlimited largess. Why else would "tighten our belts", "control entitlements" type arguments be such good campaign slogans?

It's the upper crust that raids the kitty.

Jumper said...

As the case actually is, most of the problem in the U.S. is from Mexico and I have found some sharp and smart people of great character and a pleasure to work with and meet. We could do much worse. (I don't live in CA...)

I just don't like the dishonesty from policy makers who won't deal with the facts that there are likely a billion people who would come here now and there are reasons beyond the speed of acclimation to have to say "no, sorry."

Jumper said...

Why the U.S. Government Never, Ever Has to Pay Back All Its Debt
http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/02/why-the-us-government-never-ever-has-to-pay-back-all-its-debt/272747/

locumranch said...

Paul451,

Don't make me your straw man. I never said that it was the "great unwashed" that vote themselves unlimited largess. I only said it was the US "ne'er-do-wells" who do so.

As you say, it is the upper crust inheritors -- our financial legacies -- that produce little or nothing besides 'investment'. They also frame public policy and label this problem 'immigration'.

That's why we need to apply merit standards to our own citizens as well, or the US is doomed to follow the Roman Empire model of doom & fiscal decay.

Best.

locumranch said...

The more I think about it, the more obvious it becomes that the two immigration options offered by the Republicans & Democrats represent a false dichotomy. After all, as both parties acknowledge (tacitly or otherwise) that immigration is a good thing for the US economy, we can conclude that this a non-issue.

What we are left with is a republican system problem -- the perpetuation of a hierarchical republic with a heredity oligarchy on top & producers on bottom -- wherein an oligarchy (representing less than 5% of the population) owns or controls over 80% of capital resources while the producing class (representing almost 90% of population) fights over the distribution of the other 10 to 15% of capital.

Of course, we need not resort to Bolshevik, Mao or Khmer Rouge-type tactics to achieve economic and/or social parity. We could start with a true Flat Tax, deleting the Capital Gain Tax Rate so the Mitt Romney type oligarchs would be forced to pay the same tax rate as school teachers, then we could increase the Inheritance Tax upwards from 75% to eliminate the hereditary basis for oligarchy, thereby leveling the playing field in few short generations.


Best

Jumper said...

David, you gotta see this.
http://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/01/21/the-kitten-setting/

Even if you mostly never need it.

Ian said...

"That's why we need to apply merit standards to our own citizens as well, or the US is doomed to follow the Roman Empire model of doom & fiscal decay."

Given your lack of comprehension of Roman history, I suspect you'd find yourself lumped the the Ne'er-Do- Wells.

David Brin said...

Jumper thanks. cute idea.

David Brin said...

I do not understand what "notifications" are for (the little orange box in the upper right) on Google Plus.

Also... do people send each other MESSAGES via Google+ (cause I can't find a place) or do those come to me as Gmails?

locumranch said...

Ian's right:

When the revolution comes, I'll be first up against the wall with the other comedians, doctors, thinkers, engineers, writers, artists & iconoclasts.

And, furthermore, I love hearts and flowers and pretty bows! I could dance in sparkly showers all the day long! Fa la la la la la!

Best.

David Brin said...

Sorry guys. I had to kitten-mallet locumranch... what he REALLY said was... um... I love hearts and flowers and pretty bows! I could dance in sparkly showers all the day long! Fa la la la la la!

damn!

Ian said...

I see now that Locumranch, my opposition to his entirely reasonable proposal that people he disapproves of should be stripped of their right to vote marks me out as a freedom-hating would-be tyrant.

After all, it's not like there's a long and sorry history of such measures being used to disempower the poor and ethnic and religious minorities.

David Brin said...

What Ian Meant to say to locumranch was: " I love hearts and flowers and pretty bows! I could dance in sparkly showers all the day long! Fa la la la la la!"

;-)

adiffer said...

OOOooo, sparkly! There are variations on that mallet setting that should work for people who quote the troll before the admin arrives too. I like it.



Adam Smith & David Ricardo.

Increase the population size and market size and we can arrange to be better off by mostly getting out of their way.

Nuf Said?

Tony Fisk said...

Stop! Stop! Don't you see that the kitten mallet setting unleashes a pernicious viral meme that will gradually lock us all into a universe of sparkly showers?

Think Kzinti kittens, if you must.

Tony Fisk said...

It begins with the kitten mallet, as foretold by Sluggy

Fa la la is the only known sparkly to rainbows.

Robert said...

Speaking as one with an inner troll (I'm a critic, the troll comes with the territory), there is one threat as shown here: the tendency to troll with kittens. =^-^=

Which can derail otherwise serious threads, mind you.

Rob H.

locumranch said...

Trollery is an interesting concept in & of itself.

It's Modern English form appears in the 1620s, coming to us from the French drôle "odd, comical, funny" (1580s), from the Middle French noun meaning "a merry fellow," possibly from Middle Dutch drol "fat little fellow, goblin," or Middle High German trolle "clown," ultimately from Old Norse troll "giant, troll" (see troll (n.).

Thus, without any sense of false modesty or shame, I can hold my head up high & declare:

I am a TROLL AMERICAN.

Best.

Jumper said...

It also means slowly towing a fishhook.

Anonymous said...

With everyone's fertility rates collapsing, where are we going to get our immigrants from?

ALL of our problems are basically demographic in nature. It ain’t Obama. It ain’t the Tea Party, it ain’t politics, liberals, conservatives, deficits, policy or economics.

Its demographics.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323375204578270053387770718.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

Forget the debt ceiling. Forget the fiscal cliff, the sequestration cliff and the entitlement cliff. Those are all just symptoms. What America really faces is a demographic cliff: The root cause of most of our problems is our declining fertility rate. The fertility rate is the number of children an average woman bears over the course of her life. The replacement rate is 2.1. If the average woman has more children than that, population grows. Fewer, and it contracts. Today, America's total fertility rate is 1.93, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; it hasn't been above the replacement rate in a sustained way since the early 1970s.

The nation's falling fertility rate underlies many of our most difficult problems. Once a country's fertility rate falls consistently below replacement, its age profile begins to shift. You get more old people than young people. And eventually, as the bloated cohort of old people dies off, population begins to contract. This dual problem—a population that is disproportionately old and shrinking overall—has enormous economic, political and cultural consequences....

There has been a great deal of political talk in recent years about whether America, once regarded as the shining city on a hill, is in decline. But decline isn't about whether Democrats or Republicans hold power; it isn't about political ideology at all. At its most basic, it's about the sustainability of human capital. Whether Barack Obamaor Mitt Romney took the oath of office last month, we would still be declining in the most important sense—demographically. It is what drives everything else. If our fertility rate were higher—say 2.5, or even 2.2—many of our problems would be a lot more manageable. But our fertility rate isn't going up any time soon. In fact, it's probably heading lower. Much lower.

And its not just America, it’s the rest of the world. By 2050 we will have 20 million fewer Japanese and 50 million fewer Russians. Even the birthrates of Hispanic and Muslims are falling (France now has a higher fertility rate than Algeria or Iran). Everyone’s dependency ratios will skyrocket.

Our real debt problem isn’t current operating deficits. It’s the long term tsunami of entitlements as the Boomers retire.

The only issue that matters is the demographic cliff. It is the root cause of everything. Everything else – every economic downturn and every political fight – are merely symptoms.

And there is not a thing Obama or any other president can do about it.

David Brin said...

onward

David Brin said...

anon is silly. The US fertility rate may be SLIGHTLY below replacement but immigration more than compensates. The real demographic collapse is Russia, followed by Europe, Japan and other disjunctions...

And we need this period of "collapse" in order to survive. Planet. Species. Got PLENTY of cushion.

now onward

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