Monday, February 28, 2011

Immigration is an essential ingredient in American economic growth.

Within the space of 235 years (a blink of an eye in historical time) the United States of America has gone from an ex-colonial backwater to the greatest economic powerhouse in history. Its population has grown from about 3 million to over 300 million over this period. A sizable portion of this growth has come from immigration. The proportion of the foreign born (legal and illegal) has rarely been below 10% and has frequently been in the region of 20%. At any point in time a large proportion of working Americans were either born elsewhere, had parents who were born elsewhere, or had grandparents who were born elsewhere. This is an incredibly dynamic picture, a veritable demographic churning, with amazing cultural and economic implications.

Judging by my own experience and observations, there is a subtle inter-generational shift in cultural identity. Only by the third generation do people feel completely assimilated into the local culture. The immigrants never quite "make-it." I think of myself very much as an American. But I am frequently conscious that my accent and my experience causes me to stand out a bit - not in a bad way, but it is noticeable. Many of my fellow immigrants feel this to a greater extent. It makes for cultural tensions, but also for an exciting dynamism, an infusion of cultural DNA into to social gene pool. My children are American. But even they, as children of South African immigrants, carry an extra bit of background baggage. They feel just a little bit different, in possession of something unique (the tacit and conscious knowledge of another culture). You see this most clearly in the way they gravitate to other first generation Americans in their social circles. By the third generation the children are full Americans. Their grandparents might as well be from another planet.

This pattern is repeated over again in each generation of America's population. It has been a necessary part of the ongoing vitality of the American experience, including its entrepreneurial component. Without it American exceptionalism, and the rate of value-creation, of economic growth, will not be sustained.

Illegal immigration is not a problem. It is an opportunity.


Richard Ebeling said...

It has been estimated that between 1840 and 1914, around 60 million people left Europe to make new lives from themselves in other parts of the world.

They were escaping from political oppression, religious persecution, and the lack of economic opportunities due to government restrictions and controls over markets.

Around half of those 60 million, made their way to the United States, with the other 30 million making new homes for themselves in Canada, Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, and southern Africa.

Many of the other great migrations in human history had been the results of war and conquest.

But here was one that was peaceful, privately funded, and involved settlement in other parts of the world for the purpose, not of plunder, but productive work and freer lives.

Furthermore, for most of the period of this 19th and early 20th centuries migration, it was made possible because all the major countries of Europe and North America had abolished passport requirements for travel, after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815.

So for about a century a growing part of the world was one of the increasingly free movement of goods and capital (free trade) and the free movement of people (free migration).

A truly unique episode in the history of mankind.

Richard Ebeling

Troy Camplin said...

America is one of the few places where you can be a member of the nationality by choice rather than by birth. It's a wonderful thing, and the strength of America. Is it any coincidence that the few countries like that are also the strongest economies? I think not.