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The Five Billion
The Bush Administration officials announced in January 2004 that the President's guest worker plan will allow anyone in the world with a minimum wage job offer from an American employer to move here, and bring along dependents. Contemplating this, it struck me (among other things) that our leaders must be clueless about how many people actually want to move to the U.S...
In fact, we have several pieces of evidence about what such an open borders plan might bring.
The State Department's bizarre Diversity Visa Lottery hands out green cards to 50,000 random individuals per year. Few Americans have heard of it, yet it is of such avid interest around the world that anti-government riots raged in the impoverished African country of Sierra Leone in 1997 when 5,000 lottery applications mailed by locals were found floating in the Freetown harbor.
The Diversity Visa Lottery gets up to ten million applications per year. And those are just from foreigners outside the 15 countries, such as Mexico, China, and India, that send the most immigrants to America and hence don't qualify for the Diversity Visa.
This suggests that, across the world, scores of millions would like to immigrate to America right now.
What about in the long run? We have two informative examples:
- The U.S. maintains an open border with its territory of Puerto Rico. One-fourth of all Puerto Ricans live on the U.S. mainland, according to Harvard economist George Borjas, and that proportion is kept down only by paying generous benefits to Puerto Ricans who stay home.
- There are currently 106 million people in Mexico and approximately 25 million people of Mexican descent in the United States. In other words, just under 1/5th of all Mexicans in the world now live in America. And they got here without an official open borders plan.
So what does that imply?
There are currently over six billion people who live neither in America nor Mexico. So, if one-fourth of the rest wanted to move to America, as happened with Puerto Ricans, that would be 1.5 additional billion people, compared to the current American population of 296 million.
If only one-sixth wished to immigrate, that would be a mere one billion people.
But, surely, Puerto Rico and Mexico are special cases—where extreme poverty triggered radically high immigration rates?
No. In reality, almost five billion people (4,976 million to be precise) live in countries where the average per capita gross domestic product is lower than Mexico's mean of $9,600. (These numbers are from the CIA World Factbook, and are calculated in terms of purchasing power parity.)
Despite generations of Mexican self-pity—"Poor Mexico! So far from God and so close to the United States"—it turns out that being so close to the world's strongest economy is the best thing Mexico has going.
And, at $17,700 per capita, Puerto Rico is downright affluent by global standards, albeit not when compared to the USA ($40,100).
Puerto Rico and Mexico are different only because they are more conveniently situated for getting into the U.S.
But travel costs are becoming less daunting for other Third Worlders.
For example, the heavily populated parts of Brazil are a long way from the U.S. (about as far as, say, Nigeria is). But the influx of illegal aliens from Brazil appears to be doubling annually. The Border Patrol now apprehends more Brazilians on the Mexican border than any other nationality besides Mexicans.
Brazil does not have a particularly backward economy—for example, it competes successfully in the global market for small jetliners, which even Japan does not. Yet, its per capita GDP is only 84% of Mexico's and, with a population of 186 million, it has 80 million more people.
Until recently, few Brazilians immigrated to the U.S. But as the new crop of Brazilian illegals puts down roots that future immigrants can exploit, there is potential for millions or even tens of millions of Brazilians to come to the U.S.
And there are six more countries besides Brazil that are both bigger in population and poorer in per capita income than Mexico.
- China. While China is booming, its GDP per capita is still less than two-thirds of Mexico. And more than half of China's 1.3 billion people live in abject poverty outside of the industrial zones along the coast.
Most immigration to America has come, so far, from the Southeast, such as from Fukien province. But connections with the poorer, more inland areas in China are increasing, which will facilitate future immigration. Even though China has enforced a draconian "one child" policy, the population of China is expected to grow for another 25 years, due to the phenomenon of "population momentum" that keeps the population increasing long after the total fertility rate has dropped below the replacement level.
- India Life in India has also started to improve, but its 1.08 billion people have even farther to go. Average income is only 35 percent of Mexico's, and the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that India's population will grow by another half billion over the next 45 years.
Most of India's economic growth since 1991 has been down on the farm. But as agricultural productivity increases, it's not clear where the ex-farmers will go. India lacks China's manufacturing base. India is doing very well in creating software jobs for its best-educated young people, but it's not generating the kind of manufacturing jobs that non-elites can do.
- Indonesia has an amazing 242 million people, most of them Muslims, and its income level is only 40 percent of Mexico's. So, far, Indonesians don't immigrate much, but how long will that reluctance last? Especially as the population of Indonesia is supposed to reach 336 million by 2050?
- Pakistanand Bangladesh. These formerly united Muslim countries (population 162 million and 144 million respectively), each at about one-quarter of Mexico's income. U.S. government demographers expect them to add another 269 million people between them by 2050 for a combined total of 575 million.
- Nigeria, with 129 million people living on an average of $1,000 per year, or 11 percent of the Mexican level. Currently, most immigrants from Nigeria to the U.S. tend to be from the elite. But the long run trend around the world is toward more immigration by the masses. As Borjas pointed out: "The typical Puerto Rican migrant residing in the United States has about 1.3 years less schooling than his compatriots back on the island." The U.S. forecast is that Nigeria's population will reach an incredible 357 million by 2050.
Still, Nigerians, with their oil reserves aren't as impoverished as the 73 million Ethiopians, at $800, and headed for a population of 145 million by mid-century.
And Ethiopia is just one of many poor countries expected to have huge numbers of residents by mid-century. Others include Uganda (16 percent of Mexico's per capita income and a population forecast to grow from 27 million to 133 million), the Congo (seven percent of Mexico's income, and growing from 60 million to 183 million), Egypt (48 percent of Mexico's income and up from 78 million to 127 million), and little-known Yemen on the Arabian peninsula (nine percent of Mexico's wealth, and 20 million turning into 73 million).
And then there are our two new special friends in the Muslim world. In Iraq, the current population of 26 million averages 36 percent of the Mexican income level and is thought to be headed toward a population of 56 million by 2050.
In Afghanistan, the GDP per capita in only 8 percent of Mexico's. The women of Afghanistan average 6.8 babies apiece, so the current population of 30 million is expected to reach 82 million.
Inevitably, a lot of Iraqis and Afghans will be coming to the U.S. in decades ahead as part of what John Updike labeled "imperial backwash"? Perhaps someday Iyad Allawi and Hamid Karzai can start a falafel stand together in Alexandria, VA?
Mexico, itself, is expected to add another 42 million people over the next 45 years, even though the total fertility of Mexican women is now down to 2.4 babies per lifetime. But, it was so high in the recent past that the population will continue to boom for decades.
Strikingly, the fertility of Mexican-American women is higher than that of Mexican women. Mexicans who can't afford large families within their own country head for America to have more children.
Although it's reasonable to assume that a billion foreigners would like to move to America, the reality is that they won't. Even if the Wall Street Journal editorial board got its way and their proposed Constitutional amendment "There shall be open borders" became law, a billion people would never actually arrive.
But don't relax. The unpleasant reason: After only a fraction of that horde had immigrated, the quality of life in America would decline so drastically that life back home in, say, Yemen would start looking pretty good in comparison. America would become like that restaurant that Yogi Berra said got so popular that nobody went there anymore.
But there's a more subtle point. In the modern world, limits on immigration are absolutely inevitable, and therefore, somebody has to choose how many get admitted to America and who they will be. There is no more fundamental job of government.
Those of us who raising immigration as an issue for democratic debate are routinely demonized. The American Establishment tries to drive out of polite society those of us who take seriously our public duty to discuss this central issue.
But ostracizing the patriotic doesn't make the issue go away. It just hands the decision over to special interests.