But yes, we really do have immigration problems. Nobody denies it. What doesn’t normally occur, however, is an attempt to discover the root cause of the problem. When I looked, I discovered something I didn’t expect: myself.
Stay with me here, but I think I may be the source of the world’s social problems—all of them. I was born in 1950 when the world population was 2.5 billion. According to the most liberal scientific estimates I could find, a truly sustainable human population that this planet can support in perpetuity without exhausting critical resources or by polluting the environment beyond livability is about is 2.5 billion people. And that’s after we master technology and everyone stops living extravagantly.
Nevertheless, my mom (in the flush of post-World War II prosperity and with a new husband with a good job in the burgeoning petroleum industry) decided to have her third child—me—and I tipped the scales. I may have even been inhabitant 2,500,000,001. And it’s been gangbusters since, with the population during my 60 years climbing to 7 billion, with estimates of it topping out at 9 billion to even 10 billion.
And I further bumped the numbers. As a former member of a religion that was very pro-“Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the Earth,” I did my duty and had two children, with a third on the way, before I’d even finished college. My ex and I added two more after that. This is a hard thing to put into print because I risk offending my wonderful kids, but, had I been true to the very first topic I researched and wrote about in my first college paper, the benefits of ZPG or Zero Population Growth, some of the “spirits” who are my children may have been my grandchildren instead.
But there’s a far bigger reason why I cause all the world’s problems. In the 18th and 19th centuries, half of my ancestors arrived from the British Isles. In the beginning of the 20th, my paternal grandparents came from Italy. Those folks (immigrants all) produced me, a typical American consumer born and programmed at the height of the Baby Boom. As such, my consumption of resources equals that of about 19 African tribesmen’s. With vital resources such as topsoil, fresh water, fertile land, industry-critical rare minerals, oil, ocean fish and many others now in short supply, my ancestors’ contribution of me to the world didn’t help. I’ve killed off a few of my extra selves by adopting a green and simple lifestyle, but I still probably count for eight Third Worlders.
Too much immigration also spurs overpopulation in two places simultaneously. When immigrants leave an overcrowded and financially depressed homeland (especially if they start sending money back home), they actually add problems back home by artificially taking away from the financial pressure that could keep population in check there. Plus, they become a new consumer in their new land, and immigrants often acquire the more extravagant tastes of their adopted homes.
Then there’s the fallout that happens when resources get scarce. What’s happened repeatedly throughout history is that cultural differences become apparent and the “us versus them” distinctions are used to determine who is worthy of limited resources. That became visible recently with Caucasian Arizonans who, when their construction bubble burst, couldn’t wait to run out those who’d provided the cheap labor the bubble had exploited but who were now just “different” and competing for resources. The same dynamic fuels most wars even if the groupings get camouflaged as religious, ethnic or other differences. Most conflicts still boil down to who is worthy to get the resources so some “groupings” get highlighted or manufactured to make that call simpler.
This may sound horribly nonprogressive, but I’d like to see immigration stop except for rare cases of uniting families, sourcing critical labor (and then with a guest-worker program) or, maybe, for a limited number of bona-fide political refugees. Current immigration provides an all too easy way for poorer countries to export their excess population yet still get financial “relief” for their own poorly managed economies with sent-home cash. That arrangement also creates “artificial prosperity” in places like the United States, which expands beyond its means on the back of cheap labor. But expansion can’t go on forever as the backbone of any economy. We humans need to stop acting, as hologram Agent Smith accurately observes in The Matrix, like a virus that spreads into every available space.
Ultimately, governments have to make the same choices families do. It’s not that we don’t want more kids. We just don’t have anywhere to put them or the means to feed them. If that means immigration policies (and even taxation policies that no longer favor large families) that seem austere, it’s still a route we have to consider.
Maybe we’re going to have to edit Emma Lazarus’s poem on the Statue of Liberty. It would be nice to be able to take all the world’s “tired and poor,” but we have a surplus already. Compassionate and reasonable immigration reform really is needed, and what results from the debate won’t please everyone. Elected officials have some tough choices to make. So do we in choosing them.