Borders, Walls, Nation-States, Property Rights: VDARE.COM At Vanderbilt University
[VDARE.com Editor Peter Brimelow writes: When Alien Nation was first published, I was approached by several speaking agencies, all happily convinced I would get a flow of lucrative invitations from colleges. It didn’t happen—some controversies are apparently too controversial. But I do speak occasionally on campuses (for an example clickhere) and find the students surprisingly receptive. I was invited to Vanderbilt by IMPACT Symposium, and spoke before blinding lights—alas, there was no video, for audio click here: MP3. The topic was “Disappearing Borders.” For a generous account by Douglas Kurdziel, (email him), in the Vanderbilt Torch, click here.
To offer VDARE.COM writers lucrative or even reasonable speaking gigs, email us.]
[See Part Two of this speech, with Peter Brimelow answering questions: Day 11, 2006 “Disappearing Borders”—Brimelow Q&A At Vanderbilt U.]
(Delivered March 20, 2006)
(It`s hard to see you out there!) Thank you, Jonathan [Justle],
thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen. And I want to
particularly thank the people at Vanderbilt who
organized this. Everybody talks a lot about diversity.
But actually it`s surprisingly rare to have an
immigration reform point of view presented at a
university. I guess the administration is concerned
about protecting you!
As you see from my
accent, I`m an immigrant here myself. I came here in
1970, when I had to fight dinosaurs and so on
to get to Stanford. Maybe that`s what`s responsible
for my political views. Nevertheless, my accent is still
terrible, according to my children, so if any of you
any trouble understanding me, please raise a fiery
cross or some other
cultural symbol—this is the South, after all!—and I
will redouble my efforts to assimilate acoustically.
Now, my topic today is “Disappearing borders.” One of the
things about journalists is—and I`m a financial
journalist—is that they write
what they`re told to. They also write to length, so
we will get out of here within in an hour. [laughter].
To show you how assimilated I am, I`m going to quote a
poet that no one in England has ever heard of:
Robert Frost. Is Anita here? I know she`s a Robert
Frost fan, but that`s how it is, isn`t it, Anita [Anita
Aboagye-Agyeman, the Vanderbilt senior assigned to meet
me at Nashville airport]?
[Laughter] Anita was
educated in Ghana, so she knows that the British
don`t know Robert Frost.
The poem is
Mending Wall and I`m sure you all know it.
Wall, borders, what`s the difference?
It starts with a famous line:
Something there is
that doesn`t love a wall
and Frost discusses how he goes out into
his farm, north of Boston in New England, to inspect
the stone fence that lies between his land and his
neighbor`s land. His neighbor, who walks with him,
insists upon repairing the fence, even when it`s in an
area where there`s no reason to repair it—it`s going
through woods or something—the neighbor says: “
fences make good neighbors”.
Frost`s thought about this, which has been much
Before I built a wall
I`d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
In other words, Frost proposing a
Politically Correct wall.
It`s less known—in fact, people who don`t actually read
the poem often don`t realize—that the neighbor is
completely unconvinced by this. He continues to say, in
fact, Frost ends the poem,
He will not go behind
his father`s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
That`s the end of the poem.
And it`s an interesting thought: do
good fences (and good borders) make good neighbors?
And I`ll be giving my answer at the end of this talk!
Well, here I am an immigrant. How can an immigrant dare
pontificate about immigration?
One answer: if you don`t like being told what to do by
immigrants, you really have to worry about current
immigration policy. Because we`re going to get to the
point pretty soon where immigrants are going to be
enormously influential in American politics. In fact,
the nature of the immigration that`s coming in right now
is such that it is rapidly eliminating
Kevin Phillips` “Republican Majority” and
transforming traditional Republican states, like
first of all California, and fairly soon Texas.
However, I`ll try to answer this question. Here`s a
country that`s being transformed against its will, as
far as we can tell from public opinion polls, in a way
that`s unprecedented in the history of the world, to no
particular economic advantage—and
you`re not supposed to talk about it! I mean, how
could I resist?
In some ways, being an immigrant makes it easier to talk
about immigration. For one thing, we`re always being
told that immigrants do dirty jobs that Americans don`t
want to do. And here I am. [laughter].
For another thing—immigration is a new issue. Americans
are constantly being told that they`re a
nation of immigrants. Of course, all nations are
nations of immigrants. There`s no known case where
grew out of the ground. The only question is the
speed with which the nation was put together.
But it`s not true in another sense as well in the U.S.
If you look at American history, and I charted it in
Alien Nation, immigration is highly discontinuous.
There have been long periods of time when there has been
no immigration at all, stretching all the way back into
Colonial period. And those pauses are central to the
process of assimilation.
The longest pause was after the
Revolution, from about 1790 to the 1830s or 1840s.
In New England, which is where I now live, there was
absolutely no immigration from the early 1600s to this
point in the 1840s when the Irish started to arrive. But
New England and America in general grew enormously in
And the second biggest pause, I should stipulate, is
cutoff that occurred in the 1920s. Through the
middle of the 20th century, there was a 40-50
year period when there was essentially no immigration at
And that`s had a very peculiar political effect. You
know, generally, people don`t have new ideas after
they`re 21. It`s probably too late for some of you here!
You can see this in academic life. It`s not true that
one school of economics refutes another school of
economics. What happens is the old guys die off, and
they`re replaced by new professors coming up who have
different ideas. Well the same applies in political
The current generation of politicians and pundits grew
up during a period when there was very little
immigration. It was triggered finally by the 1965
Immigration Act, which was part of Lyndon Johnson`s
Great Society, and it didn`t really start until
about 1970. So a lot of these people came to maturity
when there was just no immigration at all. And they just
haven`t gotten the message.
But most immigrants are fairly skeptical about
came through the process, you see, and they don`t
have the romantic ideas about it that American
intellectuals do. Having been through the process and
how perverse it is, they actually know something
So as an immigrant I have a comparative advantage in
Now, let`s talk about “disappearing borders.”
You often hear people say that we`re moving toward a
“borderless world.” But this is only true in the
First World. When I wrote Alien Nation, I went to
the trouble of calling up a lot of the countries that
send immigrants to the U.S. I called the
Japanese Consulate in New York and asked the
official, how could I go about immigrating to Japan? And
we have a quote, we taped him. He expressed complete
surprise and astonishment. He said:
“Why do you want to immigrate to Japan?” He said
there might be three people a year
who become Japanese, and even they don`t stay long,
they try to immigrate somewhere else, like the U.S.
Well, of course, the Japanese reluctance to accept
immigrants is quite well known. And they`re not about to
My favorite was India.. When we called them up, the
first official we got said, “Are you of Indian
origin?” When we said no, he said “Submit your
question in writing to the Embassy” and then he hung
The second official said “Are you of
Indian origin?” and when we asked if it was
important, he said yes, and he transferred the call. We
finally got to a third official who said “Since you
are not of Indian origin”—now remember, he meant
race here, we`d already specified we were American
citizens—“since you`re not of Indian origin, it`s a
very difficult and complex process to immigrate to
India. Among other things, it will require obtaining
clearances from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the
Ministry of Home Affairs. This is a very long process.”
In other words, India is running a
Brown India program—sort of like the old
White Australia policy. And they have probably very
good reasons for that. There a quite enough
communal problems right now in India, without
introducing other divergent elements.
Perhaps one of the most surprising countries where the
borders are not “disappearing” despite
fashionable belief is Mexico. It`s the largest
contributor of both legal and illegal immigration to the
U.S. and it`s in the process now of persuading President
Bush to open the borders even further.
When we talked to the Mexican official, he said:
“Unless you`re hired
by a Mexican company, a Mexican company has obtained a
temporary work permit, or you are a retiree over the
age of 65 who can prove financial self-sufficiency, you
must get a six-month tourist visa, and apply in person
to the Ministry of the Interior in Mexico City.”
“If your visa expires
before the process is complete, you must get a new visa
and begin again.”
This is a country which sends two to three hundred
thousand legal and illegal immigrants to the U.S. every
There is no concept of
reciprocity, that they should allow Americans to
immigrate there because they immigrate here—even though,
of course, the economic opportunities for educated
Americans in Mexico would be very high.
That`s the universal thing about the Third World—nobody
allows immigration. And there have been several
episodes of mass deportation there.
The other day, the Malaysians tried an amnesty for their
illegal immigrants from Indonesia. The
Malaysian definition of amnesty is very
interesting. It means you get to go home
without being punished.
And what they mean by punishment is caning. They
beat people with a cane if they find them there
So it really is only in the First World that this idea
of “disappearing borders” obtains.
Well, we all know that diversity is strength. So
maybe they know something that we don`t know.
Very quickly, let me just summarize the actual facts
about the immigration situation. I`ll make three points:
immigration right now into the U.S. is a very big deal
by historic standards.
The Census Bureau says that without immigration, the
American population would stabilize somewhere at its
current range, right around three hundred million
people, because Americans of all races are bringing down
their family size to replacement levels. But it`s not
going to stabilize, because the American government is
second-guessing people on
population size through immigration policy, through
legal immigration and through not
enforcing the laws against
Because of that, the American population is going to
four hundred million, maybe even higher in 2050. And
over a third of those people, maybe one hundred and
thirty million, will be post-1965 immigrants and their
There has never been a situation in American history
where immigration has had that kind of demographic
impact. There has been nothing like it, it`s unique.
we`re looking at a
government policy here. Immigrants are not
growing out of the ground. They`re coming because the
government either deliberately lets them in, or chooses
to turn a blind eye to them coming in illegally. Above
all, immigration right now is determined by the 1965
Act, which was passed, as I say, as one of the
Great Society reforms.
Government policy is determinative as far as the level
of immigration; as far as the
skill level of immigrants, which are much lower
than they have been historically—this is the first time
that on average, immigrants are less skilled than
Americans coming in—and, of course, as far as the racial
and ethnic composition are concerned.
Because what the 1965 Act did was, it cut off
immigration from Europe pretty well, and favored the
Third World. Just a handful of countries in the
Third World—not all of them. For example, it`s something
like about a third of all
Jamaicans born in the world
live in the U.S. now. Several other smaller
countries have shipped substantial numbers of their
population to the U.S.
there`s no economic advantage to this policy at all.
I`m a financial journalist. When I came to look at the
technical literature on the economics of immigration in
the early 1990s, I was amazed to find that the consensus
among labor economists—the
consensus—was that the great inflow triggered by
the 1965 Act and the simultaneous breakdown of the
southern border, which was then something like twenty
million people, is not beneficial in aggregate to
native-born Americans. It brings no aggregate gain to
the native-born Americans. It does increase GDP, but
that is virtually all captured by the immigrants
themselves in their wages. And that`s the consensus
among economists. And it has been for more than ten
Since Alien Nation came out, I`m happy to say, my
reading of the consensus has been confirmed by the
National Research Council`s report,
The New Americans,
which said the same thing: essentially no benefit to
native-born Americans in aggregate; actually a
significant loss, because of costs of the welfare state,
schools and emergency room health care, that sort of
thing, which are very substantial.
The NRC ran a microstudy for California. It found that
for every native-born family in California, the
immigrant presence in 1996 was costing them something
like $1,000 a year. Every native-born family in the
state of California is subsidizing the immigrant
presence by about $1,000 a year. Essentially,
Americans are subsidizing their own displacement.
And this is the paradox created by the existence of the
welfare state. And that`s exactly why Milton Friedman,
the Nobel economics laureate,
says that it`s impossible to have mass immigration
and the welfare state together. We`ve had mass
immigration in the past in the U.S. And we`ve had a
welfare state, since the 1930s. But we`ve never seen
them both together. It doesn`t work. It totally alters
the incentive structure for immigration.
You might ask yourself, why is it that you can have
something like 10 percent of the workforce foreign born
and yet you still don`t see any great benefit to the
native born. The answer to this is that labor is only a
minor part of the factors of production. Even labor and
capital together are quite small. There is substantial
technical literature on economic growth, and it shows
that what drives it is technology. Not increases in
labor or increase in capital.
And you see this in Japan of course. The Japanese are
world experts in the use of robots. They have
robots that bathe people—if you`re an invalid you
get stuffed in a robot, a
machine that bathes you. Now in California we see
the opposite, its economy is moving in a labor-intensive
direction in the last 20 years. They`ve started growing
strawberries and things like that which need,
actually need, stoop labor. They get that stoop labor in
the form of illegal immigration. And they don`t pay the
full cost of it because the full cost of
emergency room healthcare and so on falls on the
However, and this is very important caveat, although
there is no aggregate benefit for Americans, immigration
does have an enormous impact on the native-born
community in the form of the redistribution of income,
fundamentally because it reduces wages. It`s
transferring income from labor to capital in the U.S.,
from native-born suppliers of labor to native-born
owners of capital. And by no small amount—2-3 percent of
GDP every year.
And that explains the class nature of this debate.
Although immigration is not beneficial in aggregate to
Americans, it is beneficial to people who run factories
and farms and things like that. They like it, and so
they lobby for it. And, in a common phenomenon in
political science, when you have a small organized group
that benefits a lot from something, it can overwhelm the
disorganized majority that is disadvantaged from it only
That explains the class nature of this debate, it`s
essentially a raid, from an economic standpoint, it`s a
raid by the owners of capital on the working class,
I`ve been involved in the American conservative movement
for more that 30 years. I worked for
John Ashbrook—Ashbrook, not
Ashcroft!—against Richard Nixon in 1972. But I have
to say this is a very unedifying spectacle, what`s
happening here—what the Republicans I`ve supported for
so long are doing here.
Let me say a bit more about this impact on wage levels.
You know, to paraphrase Trotsky, you may not be
interested in immigration, but immigration is interested
About two years ago, George Borjas, who is the leading
economist on immigration—he`s a Cuban immigrant who
teaches at the Kennedy school at Harvard—he published a
paper which for the first time showed substantial impact
on wage levels, not simply of the unskilled, but also of
college-educated Americans. It appeared, for those of
you who are interested, in the Quarterly Journal of
Economics in the Fall of 2003. [The
Labor Demand Curve Is Downward Sloping]
Borjas showed that immigration from 1980 to 2000 had
reduced the wages of the average native-born worker by
about 3 percent. But the effects varied dramatically
according to age and to skill levels. The worst, of
course, was for native-born high-school dropouts. Their
wages were reduced by about 9 percent. But even for
college graduates, wages were reduced by about 5
percent. The impact was greatest for college graduates
with about 10 years experience, i.e. the ones who are
raising young families. But even new
college graduates` wages are reduced by about 5% a
year. [Vdare.com note:
Peter Brimelow was speaking from memory. In fact, it`s
3.5 percent, according
to Ed Rubenstein.]
This is a substantial cost that`s being imposed on
American workers, for no overall benefit. I`m not
saying, of course, that immigration is of no value. I
think a limited amount of skilled immigration could be
justified. I mean look at me, I`m well worth having, I`m
sure you agree. [laughter!]
But it`s a luxury, not a necessity. And what you`re
going to see, if this trend continues, is that America
is going to become Brazil. There are going to be a small
number of very wealthy people living in gated
communities and a very large number of very poor people
sort of scuffling around out there in the dirt. And the
one is going to have to be protected from the other.
And this is a profound shift in the American way of
If you think about [Frederick Jackson] Turner`s
Frontier Thesis, the idea that abundant free land
was responsible for American democracy and American
political culture—well, the frontier`s closed. Things
are heading in an opposite direction now. We may see the
Frontier Thesis go into reverse—America`s democratic
culture may be destroyed by government-imported
inequality and scarcity.
Well, why did all this happen? Well one reason is, it`s
just an accident. When the 1965 Act was put through, it
was supposed to be a symbolic measure, a gesture to the
“non-discriminatory” spirit of the Civil Rights
Era. Very explicit assurances were given, for example by
Teddy Kennedy, who was actually the floor manager in the
Senate, that levels of immigration would not increase,
that a particular country would not dominate the flow,
and that the ethnic balance would not be shifted and all
that kind of thing, all of which have proved to be
untrue. So, you know, an accident is a possibility.
Another possibility is the sheer power of the special
interests, by which on the hand I mean business—and on
the other hand government, which is often overlooked.
The government bureaucracy likes to have clients. So
does the quasi-government—one of the curious things
about current policy is the activity of the
refugee agencies, which are in the
business of getting refugees into the country,
claiming government money for them, and then
dumping them on the welfare system. And they`re very
good at it.
And the third special interest, of course, is ethnic.
Obviously, many of the immigrants themselves want to
have more of their own people come in because their
political leaders think that will increase their power
base. And there are other groups as well, for example
the importation of Soviet Jews through the Refugee Act.
think in the end, and this applies to all of the First
World, what we`re looking at here is what I call
“Hitler`s Revenge”. I think that the intellectual
elites and the political elites of the First World were
so affected by the Second World War, were so traumatized
by the struggle against Nazism, that they sort of went
overboard in the opposite direction. They became
convinced that any kind of ethnic identity at all was
unacceptable. And so they are literally in the process
of dissolving their own nations, because they can`t
guilt of stopping legal and illegal immigration at
also favor the explanation of stupidity. I think that`s
a good explanation for a lot of things in human affairs.
I worked at one stage for the
Wall Street Journal
Editorial Page. The
great editor of the Wall Street Journal, Bob
once said to me—we were having a dispute about
immigration and I wanted to know why they wouldn`t let
me respond to their attack on my immigration book—and
eventually he said to me, you know, all of this
nonsense, nothing can be done about it, the destiny
of Europe has already been
settled in North Africa.
What he meant that illegal immigration from
North Africa was going to overwhelm Europe in the
was surprised by this because it`s obviously a simple
stop North Africans from coming in, I mean, what are
they going to do—swim? They can be stopped all right.
It`s just a question of
whether you`ve got the will or not.
So I said “That`s a poor lookout for the
nation-state.” And Bartley replied, “I think the
nation-state is finished. I think Kenicho Ohmae has got
the right idea.”
Ohmae was a Japanese who was advancing the idea
that you were going to see a movement to economic
regions that would be governed transnationally rather
than through traditional means.
Well, needless to say, I was amazed by this. I knew that
Bob`s readership were predominantly conservative
Republican who were patriots, nationalists. And that
they would be astonished to find that the editor of the
Wall Street Journal that they read faithfully
everyday believed that the nation-state was finished. I
mean, you can see the headlines in one of the
Journal`s A-head stories, you know “Editor of
Journal Revealed as One-Worlder—Consternation
And the thing is, I just don`t see how it would work.
You didn`t get to ask Bartley questions like that—he`s
dead now, unfortunately—but he wasn`t the kind of boss
who encouraged questions and argument.
But, for example, you need borders to stop disease. Even
at the time of Ellis Island, about one percent of
immigrants were sent back because they were found to
have disease. Now, there are all kinds of extraordinary
diseases brewing out there in the Third World because of
these huge mega-cities that are developing there. But we
have really no way of stopping them spreading anymore.
We have close to 2-3 million illegal border crossings
every year. How are those people being screened for
disease? They`re not.
For that matter, actually, there`s no real disease
screening for legal immigrants either.
So I just don`t see how this “borderless world”
is going to work.
And I don`t see why it`s necessary. I mean, two hundred
years ago, when
Catherine the Great wanted to have better farming in
Russia, she had to bring German farmers in, because the
Russian peasants were illiterate and there was no other
way of getting the information in.
But now there are telephones! There are fax machines! We
can convey economic information, technological
actually having to move people around.
So immigration is not necessary. In fact, I would say
that exactly the opposite is true. I think that, to the
extent that you get free trade in the world, all kinds
of small countries can survive, because they don`t have
to be vertically integrated. But that`s a technical
argument; we`ll perhaps get into that later.
That`s really the ultimate question about the
“borderless world”—will it work?
You know, it is true that the U.S. is a nation of
immigrants that was put together very quickly—whereas
other nations of immigrants, such as Britain, were put
together over a thousand years. But the danger of this
is that it can be undone equally quickly. It can fall
apart, it can become chaotic, it`s like the Tower of
Babel, it could collapse into a thousand warring
think the truth about the nation state is that it`s
actually a relatively recent development in human
history. Many of the great ones that we`re aware of,
like Italy and Germany, were only really created in the
19 century. They`re a product of modernity and
You see, if you have a mass educated population, and
mass literacy, it absolutely matters what language they
function in. Similarly, if you have a voting population,
if people to actually vote about how their lives are
going to be run, the question arises: what community are
they in? Are the Irish in Ireland, where they were in
the majority, or are they part of Britain, where they`re
outvoted? So the definition of the community become
necessary, it becomes critical.
That`s why we see that with freedom, some of these huge
syncretic “nations”—like the Soviet Union,
Yugoslavia, where they actually did try to develop a
purely political definition of nationality apart from
ethnicity and language—have broken up.
You know, I keep talking about economics. There`s an
Garret Hardin who wrote a famous essay called
The Tragedy of the Commons. (Have any of you
ever heard of The Tragedy of the Commons? Good,
good!) It`s really an essay about what happened to the
common lands in Europe, why were they overgrazed. They
were overgrazed, and eventually they were seized by
landlords and broken up and moved into private hands.
The answer is, of course, that when you have common land
like that, nobody has an incentive to preserve it.
Everybody has an incentive to maximize their own
short-term consumption, even though it contributes to
long-term degradation of the entire resource.
Hardin himself was a socialist and thought that the
government should just have come in to control the
commons. But there is another answer—in fact, the answer
which has emerged—which is property rights. If you have
clearly defined property rights, then it really matters
who is grazing on whose land and each property owner has
every incentive to preserve his own land and maximize
his utility and so on.
would argue that borders are as essential to free
societies as property rights are to free economies. You
don`t get functioning free economies without property
rights. That`s why for example, there was an early
version of the Industrial Revolution in the Netherlands
in the late medieval period, but it collapsed basically
because inventors couldn`t be sure that they could keep
the fruits of their labors.
It was only when you had a firm law of property, as they
did in Britain, that the Industrial Revolution was able
to get underway.
think it was only when we have clear borders, and when
we have a clear definition of what a citizen is and what
his rights and responsibilities are, that we`re going to
maintain a civil society, an open society, a liberal
In other words, you`ll be surprised to know, I think
that Robert Frost`s neighbor was right to say “Good
fences make good neighbors”.
I`m going to conclude with one of my favorite quotations
from Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn of course, won
the Nobel Prize
when he was in the Soviet Union, he wasn`t allowed
out to receive it, and then shortly after that
he was expelled. The
speech had to be read for him.
But there`s a wonderful passage in it in which he
said—it was a digression from his main theme—he said
“The disappearance of
nations would impoverish us no less than if all men
became alike with one nature and one face. Nations are
the wealth of mankind, its collective personalities; the
very least of them wears its own special colors and
bears within itself a special facet of God`s design.”
Now that`s a remarkable statement for somebody who was
brought up as a Marxist in that other would-be Universal
Nation, the Soviet Union.
It seems to me that the U.S., as it
had evolved by 1965, did reflect a special facet of
God`s design. That special facet depends upon borders to
protect it. And I would like to know why the government
has decided no longer to defend them.