The Wages of Xenophobia24 Feb 2010
If you listened to the shouting of the nativists and xenophobes in the United States, you might believe that no immigration is good immigration, and that America would be altogether better off without immigrants. Here is a cautionary tale for the anti-immigrant fear mongers: if you think xenophobia is the answer, look at Europe. An article in the March 1, 2010 edition of Newsweek discusses the “surge of intolerance” toward foreigners in Europe, spurred by the recent economic upheavals. According to the article, anti-immigrant sentiment is on the march in Europe, and politicians are doing their best to get in front of this movement, promising to kick out the foreigners and maintain the ethnic identities of their countries. [See The Incredible Shrinking Continent, by Stefan Theil, 19.Feb.2010 (1.Mar.2010 issue).]
As the article points out, the problem is that intolerance – aside from being morally wrong and small-minded to boot – is actually bad for business, especially with European countries facing a long-term labor shortage as birth rates decline. As the Newsweek article notes, “By 2050 the EU [European Union] will have 52 million fewer people of working age,” and right now, “[b]usinesses across Europe are already facing severe shortages of engineers, technicians, craftspeople, and other skilled professionals, with 4 million unfilled jobs across the continent.”
Efforts to shut foreign workers out of European economies has largely backfired, the article says, driving foreign workers into the low-wage underground economy, while the generous European welfare systems cause large numbers of unskilled workers to immigrate there. We should learn from the Europeans’ mistakes, and ask ourselves honestly: is this the future we want for the United States?
For all the problems with the current U.S. immigration system – and there are many – we still are better off than the Europeans, the article demonstrates, with the U.S. “attracting 55 percent of the world’s educated migrants,” as opposed to the 5 percent Europe has attracted. Europe’s dismal performance is no reason for us to rest on our laurels. Quite the contrary. If anything, it suggests that competition among nations for the brightest and best is likely to increase over time, particularly once the EU countries begin to remedy their current immigration problems. We should seek to attract an even greater share of the world’s supply of highly-skilled workers, and we should redouble our efforts to educate lower-skilled immigrants and integrate them into our economy and society. As the European example shows, anything else could be a recipe for disaster.
America is, and should remain, a nation of immigrants, not just to honor our long history as the world’s melting pot, but to maintain our core values: openness to new ideas, new cultures, and new people, without prejudice to their origins. If we pull up the welcome mat, the best and brightest will simply go elsewhere, and it will be our loss.