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
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.
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.