The Necessary Immigration Debate: Ross Douthat

Further to my earlier post on Noah Smith (@Noahpinion) and Jeremy Bickles (To Ross Douthat, white immigration is the only good immigration – Salon.com) Douthat continues his arguments, placing too much weight IMO on Putnam’s social cohesion and trust theories and not enough on economic factors and the general fragmentation enabled and accelerated by social media.

Equally striking that his emphasis on the societies that have major social cohesion issues and political impacts while being silent on the exceptions (to date) like Canada, where GSS, Census and other data indicate much less of a problem:

One important task for a columnist is figuring out which ideas can be usefully argued over and which ones can’t. The responses to my column last week urging Democrats to negotiate with Stephen Miller and Donald Trump on immigration, because a deal hammered out with restrictionists would have more durability and democratic legitimacy, were helpfully divided between the first category and the second.

The argument-ending rejoinders ran as follows: Trump is a racist, Miller is a racist, and making major deals with them normalizes presidential bigotry. Since I agree that Trump’s race-baiting is disgraceful, I respect that rejoinder, and I don’t think my own arguments are likely to dislodge people from a firm point of moral principle.

But another kind of response is worth disputing. Instead of making a moral judgment, it purports to make an empirical one, implying that the serious case for immigration restriction is all but nonexistent, and that negotiating with restrictionists is therefore like negotiating with flat-earthers.

I want to challenge this view by expanding on two points that I mentioned last week, both of which offer reasons to regard immigration as a normal policy question with costs as well as benefits to any course you choose.

First, as mass immigration increases diversity, it reduces social cohesion and civic trust. This is not a universal law, as the economics writer Noah Smith has pointed out; there are counter-examples and ways to resist the trend. However, it is a finding that strongly comports with the real-world experience of Europe and America, where as cultural diversity has increased so has social distrust, elite-populist conflict, and the racial, religious and generational polarization of political parties.

Moreover, the trust problem is not a simple matter of racist natives mistrusting foreigners, since social trust is often weakest among minorities — which is one reason why the most diverse generation in American history, the millennials, is also the least trusting. So you can see the political effects of distrust even if you ignore the Trump Republicans entirely: It’s one reason why campus politics are so toxic, why Democrats struggle to keep their diverse coalition politically engaged, and why the Bernie-Hillary contest produced so many cries of racism and sexism.

Then linked to these ethno-cultural tensions are the tensions of class, where mass immigration favors stratification and elite self-segregation. In the United States, as in France and England, regions and cities with the largest immigrant populations are often the wealthiest and most dynamic. But this doesn’t mean that poorer regions are dying from their own xenophobia, as is sometimes suggested. The hinterlands are also filled with people who might want to move to wealthier regions (or who used to live there) but can’t because an immigrants-and-professionals ecosystem effectively prices out the middle class.

It is a testament to immigrants’ grit and determination that they can thrive working long hours for low wages while living in crowded housing with long commutes. But the social order of, say, the Bay Area or greater Paris is not one that can serve for an entire country — and it ill-serves not only lower-middle-class natives but also the descendants of the immigrants themselves, whose ability to advance beyond their parents is limited by a continued arrival of new workers who compete with them for jobs and wages and housing.

Thus our rich and diverse states also often feature high poverty rateswhen their cost of living is considered, while second and third-generation immigrants often drift into the same stagnation as the white working class …

… And they do so out of sight and mind for the winners in this system, who inhabit a world where they only see their fellow winners and their hard-working multiethnic service class. Which in turn encourages them toward mild contempt for their fellow countrymen who don’t want to live under a cosmopolitan-ruled caste system, who feel alienated from the Californian or Parisian future.

For some pro-immigration Republicans this contempt is Ayn Randian: We’ll all be better off with more hard-working immigrants and fewer shiftless mooching natives. For pro-immigration liberals it’s the predictable cultural triumphalism: The arc of history is long, but thanks to immigration we won’t have to cater to heartland gun-clingers any longer.

In both cases there’s a fantasy of replacement that’s politically corrosive, and that’s one reason why Donald Trump is president and Jeb! and Hillary are not.

Now all of the foregoing is one-sided. It leaves out the real advantages of immigration, economic and humanitarian, which are part of the policy calculus as well — as is the recent decline in illegal immigration, and the fact that the problems I’ve identified are more manageable in America than Europe. Hence my own view that keeping current immigration levels while bringing in more immigrants to compete with our economy’s winners and fewer to compete for low-wage work represents a reasonable middle ground.

But the calculus is not simple, a middle ground is actually worth seeking, and recent immigration plays a role not only in America’s greatness, but in our divisions and disappointments as well.

via The Necessary Immigration Debate – The New York Times

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: