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The US NEEDS More People to Prosper, But If the US WANTS More People Parents Need More Help

September 14, 2020

Journalis Matt Yglesias invariably writes thought provoking essays and his recent NYMagazine piece, “The Case for Adding 672 Million More Americans” certainly hits that standard! Derived from his forthcoming book One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger, Yglesias argues that in order for the US to remain economically competitive on the global level it needs to accept MANY more immigrants. Why? Because of the sheer scale of Asian countries like China and India whose populations dwarf ours. As Yglesias notes at the outset of his article:

…against China, we are the little dog: There are more than 1 billion of them to about 330 million of us. Chinese people don’t need to become as rich as Americans for China’s overall economy to outweigh ours. If they managed to become about half as rich as we are on a per person basis, like the Bahamas or Spain, then their economy would be far larger than ours in the aggregate. To become one-third as rich as we are, like Portugal or Greece, would be enough to pull even. To stay on top, we probably need to grow the country threefold — to one billion Americans.

What Yglesias DIDN’T note in this excerpt but may note in his book, China’s ability to make up for lost ground is helped by it’s repressive government which is willing to enslave millions of minority Uighars in the Western part of its country to work for next to nothing so that natives in the heartland of the country can begin increasing its per person wealth rapidly. Ultimately, Yglesias sees our freedom as a means of increasing our population in a selective fashion— IF we wake up to this numerical reality and change our thinking about immigration:

…one advantage the U.S. does have over China is that because it is a beacon of freedom to the world, rather than an increasingly dystopian oligarchy, there are more than 100 million people who would like to move here than America is prepared to allow in. We shouldn’t recklessly throw the borders open to just anyone who happens to show up, but we should recognize that openness to immigration is not just a nice favor the U.S. does for immigrants. That people want to move here is — and historically has been — a strategic asset, and we have a form of creedal civic nationalism that can accommodate a broad range of newcomers.We should be reasonably selective about whom we let in, but we should let in a lot of people.

Needless to say if we abandon the “…creedal civic nationalism that can accommodate a broad range of newcomers”  by re-electing a POTUS who defines greatness by building a wall we will lose this advantage. We could also lose this advantage AND the possibility of expanding our population by failing to address the way our current system makes parenting and education difficult. Yglesias writes:

…though the standard K-12 public-school concept is invaluable, it’s also insanely limited. Children younger than 5 need to be taken care of, as do children of all ages during the summer months and after 3:30 p.m. Young people increasingly need more education than a high-school degree. Providing the public resources necessary to address all these gaps — rather than covering 50 percent of the days for 75 percent of childhood — would be very expensive. But not doing it pushes the costs onto parents and encourages people not to become parents…

And while Yglesias doesn’t say so, it would also discourage the immigration of the parents we WANT to move here and thereby precludes our opportunity to be “reasonably selective” in our immigration policy.

Lack of support for parents also disproportionately disadvantages the poor, as will surprise no one. And yet the scale of the disparity is nevertheless shocking: 21.1 percent of American children are living in poverty, compared with 11.3 percent of German children and just 9.3 percent of Swedish children, even though the U.S. is richer on average than either Germany or Sweden.

By accepting higher poverty levels among children, the US is sending a message that it doesn’t care about them… and a caring parent who wants the best for their child would not be drawn to a country with such a policy. Yglesias concludes his essay with a comparison between his goal that the US needs to accept more immigrants with Kennedy’s goal that we put a man on the moon and comes to this conclusion:

Letting more hardworking and talented foreign-born people move here is not hard. On the contrary, it’s keeping people out that’s hard. Providing financial support so that Americans can have as many children as they say they’d like to is a big change, but there’s nothing particularly difficult about it. Letting builders make whatever kind of housing their customers want to buy is easy. Shifting economic activity to places where land and buildings are cheap is a little more difficult, but it’s hardly a voyage to the moon. Copying a traffic-management paradigm that Singapore implemented in the mid-’70s isn’t hard at all, nor is copying long-standing German commuter-rail practices. These easy things feel hard only because we’ve become accustomed to a political culture that can barely do anything at all… 

…But think of how much healthier our politics would be if there were really a debate about how to accomplish great things rather than a food fight over semi-imagined offenses to “real Americans” that serves as a mask for an endless procession of tax cuts for the rich. Why not make America greater than ever instead?

Whatever liberals’ misgivings about this national project, America should aspire to be the greatest nation on earth. That’s what Americans already think and rightly so. Rather than being paralyzed by racial panic, ecopessimism, or paranoia about the loss of parking spaces, we should try to think this stuff through calmly and systematically — choosing to emulate our forefathers and mothers, who managed to welcome millions of newcomers and ride oxcarts across the Rocky Mountains to build the greatest nation in human history, rather than throw up our hands at every moderately difficult logistical problem and whine that the country is full.

Yglesias avoids emphasizing what I see as an obvious though politically contentious conclusion: that “we’ve become accustomed to a political culture that can barely do anything at all” because we’ve bought into the Conservative thinking of Ronald Reagan that “government is the problem” and the neoliberal thinking that “running Government like a business” is the antidote. We need to embrace the liberal thinking as defined by the Oxford dictionary: we need to be “open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.” Yglesias is offering us a solution to our problems that merits careful consideration. Let’s give it our full consideration.

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