Borders, Walls, Nation-States, Property Rights: VDARE.COM At Vanderbilt University

[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 click here) 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 have 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. [laughter]

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: " Good fences make good neighbors".

Frost's thought about this, which has been much anthologized, is:

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 a famous passage, and really says a lot about Frost's profound liberalism. Maybe that's why he was invited to recite a poem at President Kennedy's Inaugural.

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?

That's why I started writing about immigration in the early 1990s and why I wrote my immigration book, Alien Nation in 1995.

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 people 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 the 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 that period—through natural increase.

And the second biggest pause, I should stipulate, is after the 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 all.

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 debate.

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 immigration. They 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 seen how perverse it is, they actually know something about it.

So as an immigrant I have a comparative advantage in this debate!

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 change it.

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 up!

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."

In person!

"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 year.

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 illegally.

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:

The first point: 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 illegal immigration.

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 descendants.

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.

The second point: 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.

The third point: 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 years.

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 taxpayer.

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 slightly.

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, essentially.

I've been involved in the American conservative movement for more that 30 years. I worked for John AshbrookAshbrook, 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 in you!

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 life.

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.

I 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 stand the guilt of stopping legal and illegal immigration at the border. 

I 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 Bartley, 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 near future.

I was surprised by this because it's obviously a simple matter to 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 Among Readers—Is Pope Catholic?"

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 information, without 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 tongues.

I 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 democracy.

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 economist called 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.

I 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.

I 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 democracy.

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.