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If Liberals Won’t Enforce Borders, Fascists Will

David Frum, 03/13/2019

PART TWO - A Recipe for Social Discord  

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. 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.

But what happens when it’s not just one person or 1,000 people or even 1 million people who want to move? What happens when it’s tens or hundreds of millions knocking on the doors of the developed world?

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. The 325 million Americans of 2017 gave birth to fewer babies than did the 160 million Americans of 1953. Without immigration, the U.S. population would age and then shrink. So would most European populations. Japan is leading the way to the dwindling future: In 2017, 1.34 million Japanese people died; only 946,000 were born.

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 1880–1914 was larger than that of today. (The 75 million Americans of 1900 would receive 8 million immigrants, or almost 11 percent of their number, over the next decade. The 249 million Americans of 1990 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 1890 onward, the foreign-born share of the U.S. population actually declined, because so many children were born in the United States. 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. No wonder that, according to a 2016 survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic, nearly half of white working-class Americans agree with this statement: “Things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country.”

A classic 2005 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. “Authoritarian [personalities] are not especially inclined to perceive normative … threat,” Stenner writes. “They are just especially intolerant once they do.”

The extremism and authoritarianism that have surged within the developed world since 2005 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 1970s until the 2010s, 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. In the October 2018 state elections in Bavaria, they lost half their seats, finishing in fifth place behind the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party.

t’s sometimes suggested that the passage of time will salve these anxieties—that elderly Trump voters in America, or elderly Marine Le Pen voters in France, will eventually be replaced by younger voters more amenable to immigration. 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 2016 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 2010s are only half as likely to move to a new state as their parents were in the 1980s. 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. 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. 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.

If Liberals Won’t Enforce Borders, Fascists Will

 
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