Demography and Decency
By Bryan Caplan
The staunchest critics of immigration focus on demographic complaints. We’re currently a white/Christian/English-speaking/high-IQ country. To maintain these favorable demographics, we have to heavily restrict or exclude contrary immigration. Keep out non-whites. Keep out non-Christians. Keep out non-Anglophones. Keep out people with low IQ. Mainstream defenders of immigration usually meet these demographic complaints by (a) ignoring them, or (b) playing the “racism card.”
Truth be told, I think the racism card usually fits. But there’s a much better response. Unlike most complaints about immigration, demographic ills can clearly be remedied with more immigration! Non-white immigration is messing up America? Then let in enough white immigrants to keep the white share constant. Non-Christian immigration is destroying our religious heritage? Then let in enough Christians to keep the Christian share constant. Non-Anglophones are turning English into a minority language? Then let in enough English-speakers to balance them out. Low-IQ immigration is making us dumb? Then let in enough high-IQ immigrants to keep up smart.
This is certainly a viable solution given current levels of immigration. The world has hundreds of millions of whites, Christians, English-speakers, and IQs>100. At least tens of millions of each group would love to permanently move to the U.S. Why haven’t they? Because it’s illegal, of course. If the U.S. selectively opened its borders to these groups, it could reverse decades of demographic change in a matter of years. In fact, the U.S. could admit vastly more Third World immigrants without changing overall demographics a bit – as long as it concurrently welcomed First World immigrants to balance them.
So why not? Most people – perhaps even including some supporters of open borders – will recoil at the thought of pandering to racism. But this puts symbolism over substance. If white and non-white foreigners should be free to move here, opening the doors to white foreigners is a big step in the right direction. Furthermore, nullifying demographic objections to immigration helps keep the door to other kinds of immigration open.
But what about the people who fear demographic change? I could be wrong, but I suspect they too will recoil at my proposal.* Sure, admitting tons of the people they like cures whatever demographic ills they lament. But it raises the status of immigration in general, and fails to put resented out-groups in their place. In other words, they too put symbolism over substance.
People who oppose immigration for demographic reasons will probably object that they’re just pursuing the path of least resistance. Cutting the quota for undesirable immigrants is a lot easier than raising the quota for desirable immigrants. But they’re wrong. This is a classic Nixon-goes-to-China situation. If die-hard critics of immigration fervently urge, “Let’s let in more immigrants from Europe,” who will gainsay them? Sure, you could decry the supporters of European immigration as “racists,” but the accused suddenly have a great defense: “How so? We support just as much non-white immigration as you do.” Imagine if Mark Krikorian, head of the Center for Immigration Studies, had eagerly lobbied to admit all Christian victims of ISIS, instead of predictably looking for an excuse to exclude them. “Even Krikorian says we should let them in” is far more convincing than “Once again, Krikorian says we should keep them out.”
Balancing allegedly bad immigration with good immigration is a keyhole solution. It takes anti-immigration arguments at face value, then tries to address them as cheaply and humanely as possible. If demographic shifts frighten you, there is no need to abandon common decency, to lash out at desperate foreigners searching for a better life. Just welcome the immigration we’re getting – plus all the extra immigrants required keep our demographics steady.
* There is a prominent lobby for high-skilled immigration, which covertly amounts to lobbying for high-IQ immigration. But prominent proponents of high-skilled immigration almost always rhetorically focus on labor and fiscal effects, not demographics.