The two are related, but deflation is a transient economic problem--in a decade or two it will be vanquished. Depopulation is much more serious, threatening civilization as we know it. That problem is long-term--lasting on the scale of centuries.
In southern Europe fertility rates have plunged to below 1.5--the number needed for a constant population is 2.1. In Japan, and South Korea the rate is below 1.3. In Japan they now sell more adult diapers than they do for babies. Even China isn't the teeming mass of humanity it used to be--it's down to 1.55.
Mexico and the United States come in at 2.25 and 2.06, respectively. Good by comparison, but hardly a population explosion.
Depopulation is terrible for a society. Of course the best solution is to have a stable birthrate, but failing that, a sensible immigration policy is essential. Japan dramatically illustrates the problems of having neither. The country simply will not exist 100 years from now if current trends continue. No, we don't need to wait for the last Japanese to die out--they will just succumb to invasion from one of their neighbors, e.g., the Philippines (3.1).
France illustrates the problems posed by unassimilated immigrants. Nominally, their fertility rate is 2.08. But according to Mark Steyn, the baby bulge is primarily among the very non-French Muslim population. Ethnic French (the carriers of French culture) are no better lovers than other Europeans. France, too, will simply cease to exist as France.
The world will be a much poorer place without either France or Japan.
As usual, the United States is a blessed country. Not only can we hold our own in the fertility sweepstakes, but our major source of immigrants is from Mexico. Mexicans are Christians who speak a language as close to English as any, and who share a significant part of our history. As immigrants they are not politically demanding, and they come here to work hard and accumulate capital. And yet, for all that, a lot of people want to turn them away.
Now this would be a disaster. Vitality, both economic and cultural, depends on population growth. From 2000 to 2010 we had the slowest growth of any decade in our history--a mere 10%, or 30 million people. Maybe that's sufficient, but if so, then just barely.
Of that 30 million, 11 million of them are illegal immigrants. Extremists like Michelle Malkin want to either deport them all, or strongly "encourage" them to leave ("self-deport" in Mitt Romney's unfortunate phrase). Of course that will never happen. Deporting 11 million people would be the largest forced migration in history, and it would be a humanitarian disaster. Even Ms. Malkin will flinch before actually doing that. So one way or another, we have to legalize these immigrants.
Not only should we legalize them, we should welcome them. In a world with shrinking human resources, the country with the most young people will do well.
But assimilation is essential, and unlike France, the US has a proven track record of accomplishing just that. In my youth, we Trotskyists vilified the once-famous linguist, S. I. Hayakawa. Mr. Hayakawa championed English Only laws that would make English the national language of the United States. Today I think he was on to something.
Now I'm not going the full Quebec on you--that is, unlike that province, I do not advocate government regulation of what language people use in their own private business. But the public language of the United States--the language of government at all levels--has to be English. English is the language of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, against which all laws are judged. Accordingly, for example, if Puerto Rico were to become a state (which I oppose) a condition has to be that all legislative and judicial deliberations at all levels of government be in English.
Mexican immigrants seem perfectly happy to learn English. They came to this country in part to leave Mexico--not to bring it with them (though if they bring more food, so much the better).
Two additional common arguments are made against immigration reform:
- The moral hazard: Many, especially my friends in the Tea Party (e.g., Glenn Reynolds), maintain that amnesty now will simply encourage more illegal immigration in the future. They cite the failed reform of 1986. But the world is different--Mexico's fertility rate has fallen dramatically and continues to fall. There simply is no large excess of Mexicans waiting to cross the border. The moral hazard--valid in principle--is simply irrelevant in practice.
Accordingly, I object to the billions of dollars in proposed spending for the border fence. It won't keep people out because there aren't that many people waiting to get in. And it won't make us safer. The NSA does a better job with our security than do immigration officials at the border. What people carry on their persons is the least of our worries.
- Economic competition: Mickey Kaus is the most prominent advocate of this view, that low-wage Mexican workers compete against low-wage American workers. There is some truth to this, but not much. First, the illegal immigrants are already here, and because of their status receive below market wages. Hence they are worse competition now than they would be if they were legal. Employers will hire somebody below minimum wage if that person is both competent and available. Legal employees are not available at the extra-low salary.
Second, low-wage workers benefit from a growing population, just like the rest of us.
And third, it assumes that Mexicans will always be low-wage workers. I don't think that's true. My sense is that they hoard capital rather than fritter it. Over time, they will be a wealthy community.
The perfect cannot be the enemy of the good--Marco Rubio's bill deserves to pass the House. In a world of declining human resources, we can't afford to forego our last opportunity for immigration. Turning away people who are already here is huge mistake. Similarly, we need to find a way to give residency status to a large number of the foreign students now in the United States, regardless of major.
Common sense security concerns are, of course, valid. A criminal background, along with evidence of connections to terrorism, have to be disqualifying. Some border enforcement is necessary--probably at the level we currently have. But in general, people are our most valuable resource. Let's not turn them away.
Mr. Rubio has my vote for President, should he ever choose to run.