The prevailing view of immigration among mainstream elites is that it represents a great boon to the economy. That immigration is only to be considered from the standpoint of its economic effects has become such an accepted notion over the past 25 years that it has not occurred to many people what a bizarre idea it really is. The implication is that our well-being as a society is solely a function of economic output. Matters of quality of life, social cohesion and continuity, aesthetic enjoyment, political liberty, national identity, and all the other intangibles that make up the life of a society—since these cannot be stated statistically, they don’t count. Or so the economists seem to believe. The late Julian Simon, with his crack-pated idea that every immigrant, regardless of his cultural origin, level of education, or legal status, represents a net economic gain for this country, was perhaps the most extreme of these “economystics.”
Notwithstanding the veneer of scientific expertise with which its claims are advanced, the economystic faith boils down to an almost vacuous proposition: immigration is good because it increases population, and thus (assuming more economic output from more people) proportionately increases gross product. A doubling or tripling of the U.S. population will lead to a doubling or tripling of economic output. Voilà—immigration makes us a “wealthier” nation! One of the problems with this logic is that individual wealth does not necessarily increase, only the aggregate wealth. Meanwhile, our congested coastal and metropolitan areas have become two or three times more crowded. Pressure on open spaces and parks, stress on resources (increasing the need for burdensome regulations), crippling traffic congestion, displacement of older residents, as well as ethnic conflict, all become worse. Even as economic output goes up, overall quality of life can decline. But the economystic cannot see these things because for him the only reality is that which can be stated in economic terms.
For the economystic, the swelling of Los Angeles due to immigration has been a wonderful thing. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Development policies over the last decade have sought to make the Los Angeles area the magnet of the burgeoning Pacific Rim economy. The region’s growth has been phenomenal, as measured by trade revenues, number of building permits issued and aggregate income.” Sounds great, right? But the article continued: “The success of Los Angeles’ integration into the international economy, however, is not matched by success in integrating its immigrant and ethnic minority populations.” The article then discussed the uncontrolled ethnic rivalry and violence in this new “world-class” city of Los Angeles.
In other words, the great economic growth of Los Angeles has not necessarily been a boon for the people living there. By most standards, Los Angeles over the last 30 years has become an immeasurably worse place to live in as a direct result of the very things that have led to the growth of its aggregate wealth. The economystic cannot see this. He looks at a table of statistics, notices the upward trend in population and aggregate income, and rushes into print telling us how immigration is turning America into an earthly paradise.
The deeper problem with economism is that no true values, including the values of a distinct political system, culture and way of life, can be comprehended in economic or utilitarian terms. Solely on the basis of measurable, quantifiable, pragmatic facts it is impossible to preserve any society or institution, even so basic an institution as the nuclear family.
Suppose there were two families, the Smiths and the Joneses, living next door to each other. The two families get along, the children play together, the parents occasionally socialize with each other. Then one day the Joneses announce that they want to move in permanently with the Smiths. When the Smiths seem less than enthusiastic about this proposal, the Joneses say: “What’s your problem? You have enough room, your house is bigger than ours, and we get along together. Besides, the nuclear family is only a modern invention. A dual family will enrich all of us.” To back up these claims, the Joneses bring in an economist who says that two-family households have larger aggregate wealth than one-family households. They bring in a sociologist who cites studies showing that the children raised in two-family households have superior abilities in adjusting to different types of people in a diverse society. Faced with this aggressive challenge to their existence as a family, what can the Smiths say? Their family, as a unique, autonomous association, is an intrinsic, irreplaceable value to its members. It cannot be defended on the basis of quantifiable facts. In the same way, the nation is a family whose distinct character and values cannot be defended on a purely rationalistic basis. To say that it must do so in order to have the right to exist, is to deny its right to exist.
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