Western civilization faces an existential crisis. Mass immigration, low birth rates and China’s rise pose challenges our political institutions and economies appear ill-equipped to confront. The future of democracy and fundamental human rights, which only since World War II have become the focus of international enforcement, hang in the balance.
Some 750 million people would like to migrate — mostly to Western Europe and America. Close to home, millions from Central and South America could easily overwhelm our capacity to culturally assimilate new entrants and offer a decent standard of living for less-skilled workers.
Casting an undisciplined eye at failing economies, state entropy and rampant violence, immigration maximalists who now dominate the Democratic Party advocate an open border and often preach the answer to limiting the human tsunami must rely on developing the economies, promoting democracy and weeding out corruption in places like Colombia and El Salvador.
Globalization and modern technology make those impossible prescriptions. Unlike 100 years ago, these economies must build export industries to buy tractors, industrial machinery, computers and software from the north — long gone is it tenable to rely on mules, plows and artisan workbenches to create prosperity.
Since World War II, the prescription has been development aid to build roads, irrigation systems and factories — for example, through President Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress and the World Bank — and better access to northern markets through free trade agreements. However, the competition among America, Europe, China and other advanced nations in Asia indicates there are hardly enough manufacturing jobs to go around — President Trump and populist movements in Europe owe their electoral success in some significant measure to the shortage of good-paying industrial employment.
Building universities and technical programs to train enough workers across the range of skills necessary to compete with the likes of America’s finance and high tech businesses is no more plausible in El Salvador or Colombia than it is in poorer counties of Mississippi or West Virginia. For the same reason that rural Americans must migrate to more prosperous medium-sized cities, Latin Americans must move to the same places to escape poverty.
Knocking out corruptions requires establishing well-disciplined democracies where bribe-taking is not merely illegal but the object of social ostracization — as those are in the West. But Americans wrongly believe the values necessary to sustain democracy and honesty are cultural universals when those are not.
Well-functioning democracies are scarce outside of Western Europe, North America and Japan, and as China’s autocratic kleptocracy demonstrates, democracies cannot presume to offer the most efficient paths to economic development.
The bottom line is that no matter how effective American border enforcement may be — and no matter how easily the courts at some more enlightened time may permit an American president to send illegal migrants back — they are going to keep coming. If they can’t cross the Rio Grande, they will risk ocean travel in the Gulf of Mexico just as Africans risk the Mediterranean to get to Europe.
America’s declining birth rate is an obstacle to accomplishing the economic growth needed to support our aging population without bankrupting the federal government. Consequently, we need immigrants but immigrants with skills and reasonable fluency in English.
Acculturating new arrivals to American values to preserve our society is critical. We must recognize — and this is tough juxtaposed against freedom of religion, thought and speech — that some immigrants are not very assmilable. Seeking new citizens that would embrace American values —— tolerance, race and gender equality, self-reliance and respects for free markets — and not establish insular communities hostile to those values — should take precedence over allocating visas merely on the basis of economic expediency or personal distress.
That’s tough when the left is attacking the founders of our civilization for sins endemic to the human existence one and two hundred years ago, and vilifying the successful for the sake of using the courts and regulatory state for personal enrichment and crass political gain.
After all, what are the American values we offer newcomers when we are engaged in a cultural civil war.
It’s time to address the world as it is: Messy in upheaval and riddled with injustice as it always has been. But to welcome the afflicted and for newcomers and Americans of established lineage to prosper together, we must put aside our hateful obsessions with sins past and fight less among ourselves.
• Peter Morici is an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.
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