A Call for Western Nations to Apply Economics to Immigration
(AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
A Call for Western Nations to Apply Economics to Immigration
(AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
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Suppose some 1 million people are expected to come through the Southern border for a year.   

It costs $30K per year, on average, to incarcerate individuals, and it may cost that amount to take care of each illegal immigrant per year – until their status settled, kids offered schooling, health care, and until some find a job.  For those not employed, there would be years of welfare, education and health-related costs etc. as there is no evidence that these migrants are technicians, engineers or scientists, or people expected to have high compensations.

For one year this would amount to $30 billion.  Make the assumption that there are no criminal gangs among them, and since judging by the few pictures it appears that most of them are young, assume they are eager to work, learned and are disciplined.  Assume too that roughly 50% would find a job within a year.  That would mean that roughly $15 billion would be the cost of sustaining the rest for at least another year (while meanwhile the other 50% assume starting to contribute to US output, rather than being a drain on it).  That’s $45 billion for the next 2 years.

Continue to make these assumptions and that this amount diminishes geometrically: $7.5 billion the 3rd year, $3.75 billion the 4th, $1,875 the 5th, and let just assume $1 billion for the 6th, following which these migrants would be contributing to the US, rather than living off of its taxpayers as of 2021. The total comes to $59,125 billion: round it to $60 billion (and not discount).

Would Americans vote now for this amount in a referendum?  Would the Senate?  Who knows?  But if there was such a single issue referendum, there could be at least a solid debate on not just the above rough numbers, but many issues surrounding it, including the alternatives: Be it costs of enforcing the Southern border; changing immigration laws (having “foreign worker status” as some European countries have); foreign aid to mismanaged Latin and South American countries to keep perhaps some of their younger population from marching on the US.

Perhaps lessons learned from reactions to the 1 million march on Europe few years ago would come up too, which: Ended with Europe closing firmly its borders, paying Turkey billions of Euros to prevent migration through its land, though some European countries (Hungary, Poland) refuse categorically to comply with the EU demands to accommodate fractions of these migrants who are getting through.   Meanwhile the march on Europe shifted from Asia to North African countries, though in smaller numbers, people taking boats to enter Europe through Gibraltar, Spain, Italy, Greece.

Such focused debate would likely raise the issue of world demography: The fact that world’s population increased over the last century from roughly 1 billion to 7 billion people (3 to 7 plus billion just since the 1960s), and of whom perhaps 2 billion live or hope to have a decent life.  The remaining billions live in countries whose political and other institutions are atavistic, unadjusted to the drastic demographic change within their borders.  This lack of adjustment coincides with innovative Western communication technologies accommodating their own larger populations, but which also has allowed the roughly 5 billion poorer people with less prospects to instantly know how the other 2 billion live.             


More than Covid, the 2008 crisis, climate change (whatever its source, though with the population mass moving to less hospitable climates), this drastic demographic change is behind much of the uncertainty, uneasiness, discontent – as, with institutions not matched to it, it is impossible to predict what shape and form and over what timeframe adjustments would take.  Whereas throughout history, European countries that went through their population explosion (while the rest of the world was demographically relatively stable) adjusted their institutions (though after bloody battles) and also “exported” their young and restless (and criminal elements) to new continents, these days the latter option does not exist (though, who knows, with climate change, perhaps the two poles and Greenland could become “new continents” where people could flock to).  

How many refugees can the US, Western Europe - or Canada and Australia (two relatively empty countries) – accommodate?

This is not simply a matter of numbers.  Exceptions disprove rules, so what’s new? Israel is that exception.  Between 1989 and 1995, Israel accommodated on its roughly 4 million populations one million Russian immigrants — a 25% percent addition to its population.   Israel was not then a rich country, it was fighting wars, had an extensive welfare system offering significant help to immigrants.  Israel was quickly transformed into Silicon Valley East by abandoning its socialist past, and going through major de-regulatory, privatization and fiscal restructuring.  True, a third of the one million new immigrants were scientists, engineers and technicians — which would not be the case for any migration flow now to any country.

Could Canada, with its 35 million population (almost all located within about an hour of the US border, in few isolated pockets) accept – 8.5 million young people – 25% addition to the population – from Africa, Middle East, Asia, Latin America – relatively unskilled, and some perhaps not willing to assimilate, but to impose their own laws, customs and traditions?  And can the US with roughly 10 times Canada’s population accommodate 85 million and sustain its present institutions and policies?  

If there was a single item referendum in the US on the migration issue, it would appear that the lasting, relatively stable solution would be for Western kind countries to put far more intense pressures on all the mismanaged states so that their own people would have more opportunities, hope within their borders -  and realizing that unconditional foreign aid has never been a solution (the often cited Marshall Plan, being utterly irrelevant for guidance). 

Perhaps Jean Raspail’s (who died in 2020) Camp of Saints published in 1973 would come up in these debates, suggesting what might happen if some things are not done in time (as I pointed out years ago when discussing this book).  In the US there has not been much discussion about this book – as reviewers  declared that it was a racist science fiction or some “right-wing” hallucination, and PBS  refused to show a 1990 BBC movie (“The March” with Juliet Stevenson, a great British actress in a role anticipating Angela Merkel) drawing on it, even though Paul Kennedy, the highly awarded British historian and occasional contributor to the NYT concluded that “many members of the more prosperous economies are beginning to agree with Raspail's vision" – though not openly.

The book was roughly about this: The Belgian government announces a plan to bring thousands of Indian babies to Belgium.  When India’s poor parents trample over the consulate, Belgium changes its policy (eerie reminders of the German accidental tweet that apparently started the march on Germany, and the present policy reversals, closing borders).  An Indian “activist” organizes then a mass exodus toward Europe.

Journalists confront French officials who praise the refugees, and claim it is only human to "feed the invaders." The journalist asks what happens when the migrants reach France. The officials decry the question as immoral and threaten to throw the journalist out the press conference.  Part of the media then inflame divisions between the French and Africans and Arabs already living in France, whereas other media write about migrants’ goal to discard “capitalism.”  At the boats approach South of France, the population flees, with a single old philosopher staying put.

While still close to then South Africa under its apartheid regime, the migrants throw overboard this country’s assistance with barges of food. The media proclaims this to be a devastating statement of apartheid, and Western leaders fund a supply mission, paid by governments, charities, churches and rock stars.  The fleet does not accept this assistance either, kill the representative who tries to explain –but the media covers up these events.  Recall, the book was written in early 1970s.

Having arrived to France, the migrants do not want to assimilate to French culture, but demand Western standards of living, though they do not work, disobey laws, murder factories’ management and shopkeepers and anyone who does not welcome them.  Left-wing and anarchist groups support them.  Within few months the “Paris Multiracial Commune” orders white Westerners to share their homes with the immigrants after using military power to bomb remaining troops.  

The book ends with the future king of England forced into marrying a Pakistani woman, and the mayor of NYC forced to share Gracie Mansion with a number of families.  In the epilogue only Switzerland (unique over centuries with its “direct democracy”) stands up, but the international community labels it a “rogue state” for protecting its borders.  

So, who knows, perhaps the debate surrounding the single item referendum would raise some of the above options, see how the US citizens vote, which would also lead to address the basic question: “Just what is a State?”  Once the answer to this question was not in dispute: A “state” must have a monopoly on the use of force. Only then can a government function, and among other things, credibly negotiate borders, rights of citizens and non-citizens.  Unwillingness or inability to use such force – on the part of the US in particular - opens not just a domestic, but international Pandora’s boxes, and that may not be science fiction.

Reuven Brenner is governor at IEDM, and on the Editorial Board of American Affairs. The article draws on his books, Labyrinths of Prosperity, Force of Finance, A World of Chance.      

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