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The New Case Against Immigration

February 19th, 2009 at 11:21 pm David Frum | No Comments |

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What a pleasure it is when a friend writes a thoroughly excellent book!

Mark Krikorian’s The New Case Against Immigration will head any list of the outstanding public policy books of 2008.

This is an especially impressive achievement because writing about immigration is fraught with unusual difficulties. The writer must avoid on the one hand the bogs of suffocating economic detail – and on the other, the thickets of a word or passage that can be used or misused to accuse him of xenophobia or racial animus.

On both counts, Krikorian succeeds superbly.

Mark’s big idea is that immigration proponents are right when they say that today’s predominantly unskilled, non-English-speaking immigration looks very like the immigration of a hundred years ago. The difference, he argues, is not the immigrants – it’s America. Today’s high-tech, high-skill, high-welfare economy cannot absorb poor and unskilled laborers the way the mass-production economy of a century ago could do.

At the risk of sounding glib, immigrants in the nineteenth century came from towns and villages with horse manure in the streets and found the same situation in New York and Boston.

Less glibly:

A century ago, what economists call the primary sector of the economy (farming, fishing, and so on) still employed more Americans than any other, as it had since the dawn of humankind. Today, only 2 percent of our workforce still occupies itself in this way. Meanwhile, we’ve passed through the industrial phase of economic development, and entered the post-industrial era, with the tertiary sector (the service industries overall) employing fully 80 percent of Americans, and the percentage is climbing.

,.. The change from the old manufacturing economy has also made education much more important than in the past. … [A]s late as 1979, college graduates earned only 43 percent more than high school graduates, but by 1995, they earned 84 percent more.

Both as a cause and effect of these changes in the economy, the educational attainment of Americans has increased significantly. …

Into this twenty-first century economy we have resumed the importation of what amounts to niineteenth-century foreign labor. Between 1980 and 2000, immigration increased the number of workers in the United States by nearly 10 percent and the number of high-school dropouts by 20 percent ,,,, 

Even if it offers (low-wage) employment to first generation arrivals, America’s 21st century economy will not offer satisfactory opportunity to those migrants’ children if those children fail to gain education – as indeed they are failing to do. Relying on calculations by the economist George Borjas, Krikorian notes that the children of recent immigrants

although doing better than their parents, are doing less well ln relation to the rest of America. … If the pattern holds, then the children of today’s immigrants will never catch up, still having in the year 2030 incomes 10 to 15 percent below the average for other native-born Americans.

Persistent multi-generation disparities like these carry sinister implications for future intergroup relations and national political stability.

Krikorian looks beyond just economics to a wide range of other challenges posed to modern societies by migration from the non-modern world. His book is thoughtful, wide-ranging, carefully researched, and always fair and moderate in tone. It’s not scheduled for publication till July. But anyone interested in this crucial issue will want to book a copy as early as possible. This is a book that will anchor the national conversation on immigration in the months ahead – why not join the conversation early? 

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