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One Nation, Inhospitable?

Round One -- Response
Posted November 6, 1996


Peter Brimelow says immigrants are a net fiscal burden, George Borjas says they contribute $7 billion more to the economy than they cost, and David Kennedy, in his article in his cover story this month, cites a study that says that for the U.S. economy to grow at a rate of 3 percent a year, it will need 5 to 15 million more workers than can be supplied by domestic sources. Experts differ.

Yet Brimelow has no shade in his mind on the issue. His sulfurous certainty that immigration is harming the United States needs mitigation by reality. Take the high-achieving Asian-American students at Professor Kennedy's Stanford University, for example. It's hard to make a case against them on economic grounds. Is the United States the poorer for having admitted the Hungarian immigrant George Soros? The wealth that that one man has created cancels out an awful lot of welfare. If Brimelow was able to make his restrictive prejudices law, would we lose the George Soroses and the George Borjases? The secret of American prosperity has been ethnic diversity as economic power.

Diversity has also been the genius of American culture. What would American literature be without Saul Bellow and Joseph Brodsky? American ballet without George Balanchine? American cinema without Milos Foreman and Richard Rodriguez and Martin Scorcese? Would New York be the capital of the art world without immigration? Our skylines would certainly be less dramatic. Our food would be blander. Our science less distinguished. Our language sparer. Our thought about the true, the good, and the beautiful less rich without immigration.

Brimelow asks what immigration does for America. The answer is that it literally made America and is remaking it today.

Should immigration policy be changed to take account of the needs of our labor market? Of course. The commission led by the late Barbara Jordan made excellent recommendations. Should we worry about the slower pace of assimilation among some newer immigrants? Of course. Should illegal immigration be curtailed in ways short of Pat Buchanan's steel wall? Certainly. But we will hurt the American future in the name of saving the American present if we forget the lesson taught by the American past.

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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