That’s because when you wade into the evidence you find that the case for restricting immigration is pathetically weak. The only people who have less actual data on their side are the people who deny climate change.I consider this argument irrefutable. If what you want is a dynamic, exciting, economically thriving nation, you should support more immigration.
You don’t have to rely on pointy-headed academics. Get in your car. If you start in rural New England and drive down into Appalachia or across into the Upper Midwest you will be driving through county after county with few immigrants. These rural places are often 95 percent white. These places lack the diversity restrictionists say is straining the social fabric.
Are these counties marked by high social cohesion, economic dynamism, surging wages and healthy family values? No. Quite the opposite. They are often marked by economic stagnation, social isolation, family breakdown and high opioid addiction. Charles Murray wrote a whole book, Coming Apart, on the social breakdown among working-class whites, many of whom live in these low immigrant areas.
One of Murray’s points is that “the feasibility of the American project has historically been based on industriousness, honesty, marriage and religiosity.” It is a blunt fact of life that, these days, immigrants show more of these virtues than the native-born. It’s not genetic. The process of immigration demands and nurtures these virtues.
Over all, America is suffering from a loss of dynamism. New business formation is down. Interstate mobility is down. Americans switch jobs less frequently and more Americans go through the day without ever leaving the house.
But these trends are largely within the native population. Immigrants provide the antidote. They start new businesses at twice the rate of nonimmigrants. Roughly 70 percent of immigrants express confidence in the American dream, compared with only 50 percent of the native-born.
Immigrants have much more traditional views on family structure than the native-born and much lower rates of out-of-wedlock births. They commit much less crime than the native-born. Roughly 1.6 percent of immigrant males between 18 and 39 wind up incarcerated compared with 3.3 percent of the native-born.
What Brooks misses is that not everybody wants to live in a fast-paced, fast-changing country. Some people mainly want things to be the way they always have, even at the price of being poorer and having less cool stuff. Some people think it's great that we move less than we used to, because they think being home with your family and the other people you grew up with is much better than going to the city and getting rich among strangers. Some people think not changing jobs is also great, and mourn for the days when men could work all their lives in the same factories where their fathers worked. Some people don't want to work twelve hours a day and scrimp and save like immigrant shopkeepers, but want ease and comfort. They think that all the hard-working immigrants are just bidding down the price of labor, making it impossible to earn a decent living at a regular old job. And they suspect that the surge of immigrants and the troubles of the white working class are related, maybe even two sides of the same coin.
Me, I'm on the side of dynamism. I have a miserable daily commute down to Washington, but I have never tried to get out of it. I get a charge of coming down into the Metropolis where a hundred kinds of people are doing a thousand different things, where the person you chat with in the line at an ethnic food truck might be a coder from Serbia or a truck driver from Somalia or a lawyer from Rochester. It feels exciting and alive, and we all have to work a little harder to share in that dynamism, that seems to me a price worth paying.
But I do understand that not everybody wants this, so I have never been able to feel any anger against immigration restrictionists. They want what they want, and it is what half or so of humanity has always wanted. There is nothing inherently evil or racist in wanting to stay home in a place that feels familiar. Brooks' argument does not even touch this whole side of politics, of life. He could write that moderate column if he would glance away form the economic statistics and ask himself instead what it is that people really want, and what really makes them happy.