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One Nation, Inhospitable?

Round One -- Response
Posted November 6, 1996


I find it striking that all three of us reacted to the same phrase in Jack Beatty's introduction: the assertion that Americans are in a mean mood about immigration.

Professor Kennedy's reactions, as expected, derive from his knowledge of historical experience. But his reactions are also marked by a conflict between poetic and factual conceptions of immigration. On the one hand he seems to buy into a poetic notion (in the November Atlantic he asks, "Can we afford not to be" a nation of immigrants?) and accuses Governor Wilson of exploiting present-day nativism -- a nativism that he attributes to "general social and economic stress." On the other hand Professor Kennedy knows the facts and concludes that it is not "illegitimate" to be concerned, as Governor Wilson has been, with the disturbing links between immigration and the welfare state. Let me translate the grudging double-negative into plain and clear English: it is legitimate for Governor Wilson and others to raise these issues. In fact, if the Governor of California did not raise these concerns -- concerns that have serious fiscal implications for the state -- he or she would be guilty of dereliction of duty and should be thrown out by the voters.

Mr. Brimelow's reactions are written in such a way that they will surely ignite a different type of "inferno" than the one he is talking about. Underneath the rhetoric, however, he raises one very important question: Just how substantial are the benefits from immigration? Or, to put it differently, what level and type of immigration is necessary to maintain a high level of economic growth?

Surprisingly, economic research is mute on this subject. Although many participants in the debate often claim that immigration imparts huge economic benefits on the United States, their claims are often left unsubstantiated. One very useful by-product of Mr. Brimelow's work -- whether one agrees with it or not -- is that he has thrown down the gauntlet: let those who claim that immigration imparts huge benefits state their case and show their cards. In my view it is very telling that no one has yet taken him up on that challenge.

Forum Overview

Introduction and opening questions by Jack Beatty

Round One -- Posted November 6, 1996

Round Two -- Posted November 20, 1996

Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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