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We are talking here about astonishingly large numbers of potential immigrants—large and fast-growing. Egypt will add 50 million people to its population over the next three decades. Bangladesh will reach million people; Pakistan, million. The populations of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, countries that have already sent so many people northward, will rise by 50 percent by , to more than 47 million. Altogether, the population of Africa in will almost equal the entire population of the world in 2.

Hundreds of millions of people will want to become Americans. Only a relatively small number realistically can. Who should choose which ones do? According to what rules? How will those rules be enforced? The Trump-era debate about a wall misses the point. The planet of tomorrow will be better educated, more mobile, more networked. Huddling behind a concrete barrier will not hold the world at bay when more and more of that world can afford a plane ticket. If Americans want to shape their own national destiny, rather than have it shaped by others, they have decisions to make now.

But at present, the most important immigration decisions are made through an ungainly and ill-considered patchwork of policies. Almost 70 percent of those who settle lawfully in the United States gained entry because they were close relatives of previously admitted immigrants. Many of those previously admitted immigrants were in their turn relatives of someone who had arrived even earlier.

Every year some 50, people are legally admitted by lottery. Others buy their way in, by investing a considerable sum. In almost every legal immigration category, the United States executes its policy less by conscious decision than by excruciating delay. The backlog of people whose immigration petitions have been approved for entry but who have not yet been admitted is now nearing 4 million.

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Only spouses and children are exempted from annual numerical caps. Under present immigration policies, the U. Nobody is seriously planning for such population growth—building the schools and hospitals these people will need, planning for the traffic they will generate. Nobody is thinking very hard about the environmental consequences, either. The average American causes the emission of almost 17 tons of carbon dioxide each year, quadruple the annual emissions of the average Mexican and 45 times the emissions of the average Bangladeshi.

The question before the United States and other advanced countries is not: Immigration, yes or no? In a mobile world, there will inevitably be quite a lot of movement of people. Immigration is not all or nothing. The questions to ask are: How much? What kind? Too little immigration, and you freeze your country out of the modern world. Too much, or the wrong kind, and you overstress your social-insurance system—and possibly upend your democracy.

Choose well, and you build a stronger, richer country for both newcomers and the long-settled. Choose badly, and you aggravate inequality and inflame intergroup hostility. How we choose will shape the future that will in its turn shape us.

African Migrants and Europe: Managing the ultimate frontier

If you were born in West Africa or Central America to a family not of the ruling elite, you would probably yearn to emigrate. And if your family and friends could stake you the travel costs, you would probably seize the chance.


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A young person enterprising enough to hazard such a trip would surely contribute in many ways to his or her eventual new home. Almost all of us in North America are descended from somebody who made such a decision, took that risk, and made those contributions. And what happens when those vast numbers of newcomers arrive, not in mass-production economies whose factories and mills need every pair of hands they can hire, but in modern knowledge economies that struggle to achieve full employment and steady wage growth?

Some people look at migration pressures and see a solution.

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The million Americans of gave birth to fewer babies than did the million Americans of Without immigration, the U. So would most European populations. Japan is leading the way to the dwindling future: In , 1. Precisely because advanced societies have so few children of their own, immigration brings change at startling speed. Relative to the existing native-born population, the migration of — was larger than that of today. The 75 million Americans of would receive 8 million immigrants, or almost 11 percent of their number, over the next decade.

The million Americans of would receive 15 million to 16 million immigrants, or 6 percent of their number, over the next decade—the peak of the current wave. Yet from onward, the foreign-born share of the U. Today, a relatively smaller amount of immigration is exerting larger population effects, because Americans are not replacing themselves. When natives have lots of children of their own, immigrants look like reinforcements. When natives have few children, immigrants look like replacements.


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A classic study by the social scientist Karen Stenner predicted the consequences of such feelings. In any given population, according to Stenner, roughly one-third of people will have authoritarian tendencies. This habit of mind is just part of the way human beings are, in much the same way that a certain percentage will be born with depressive tendencies.

Happily, the authoritarian tendency does not necessarily lead to authoritarian politics. In secure and stable circumstances, it goes dormant. But perceived threats to social norms trigger the tendency. Rapid ethnic change figures prominently on the list of such apparent threats. The extremism and authoritarianism that have surged within the developed world since draw strength from many social and economic causes.

Immigration is only one of them—but it is typically the spark that ignites the larger conflagration. Immigration has done particular damage to political parties of the moderate left. From the s until the s, social-democratic parties dominated the politics of the European Union member states. As of last spring, among the 28 governments of the EU, only Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and Sweden were led by social democrats.

The German Social Democrats have suffered a staggering series of defeats at the national and state levels.

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In the October state elections in Bavaria, they lost half their seats, finishing in fifth place behind the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party. Read: Debating immigration policy at a populist moment. But young white Americans express nearly as much discomfort with demographic change as their elders do. Almost half of white Millennials say that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. Whites under age 30 voted for Donald Trump in by a four-point majority, according to CNN exit polls.

In European countries too, notably France, the parties of the far right are appealing more and more to the young. Anti-immigrant feeling usually runs strongest in places that receive relatively few immigrants—stronger in eastern Germany than in Hamburg or Frankfurt; stronger in Hull and Stoke-on-Trent than in London; stronger in Laon than in Paris; stronger in rural America than in the multiethnic cities of the knowledge economy. Yet nonmetropolitan places are experiencing immigration in their own way.

Mobility between countries appears to have the perverse effect of discouraging mobility within countries—in effect, moating off the most dynamic regions of national economies from their own depressed hinterlands. Americans in the s are only half as likely to move to a new state as their parents were in the s. What has changed? Economic researchers have refuted some possible explanations—the aging of the population, for example. The most plausible alternative is directly immigration-related: Housing costs in the hottest job markets have grown much faster than the wages offered to displaced workers.

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Simply put, a laid-off Ohio manufacturing worker contemplating relocating to Colorado to seek a job in the hospitality industry is likely to discover that the move offers no higher pay, but much higher rent. An immigrant from Mexico or the Philippines faces a very different calculus.

Her wage gains would be significant.


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And while her housing options may seem lousy to someone accustomed to an American standard of living, to her they likely represent a bearable sacrifice for all the other opportunities offered by life in the United States—and possibly a material improvement over living conditions back home. Yet when immigration is the subject, policy makers tend to concede the microphone to the economists—precisely the profession that looks at people and sees workers instead.

From an economic point of view, immigration is good because it encourages specialization and thus efficiency. At that price, she might choose to do the yard work herself. Instead of leaving the office at 5 p.