Is America on the Way Down? (Round Two)
The big dispute between “declinists” (a rather terrible term) and their critics is over the status of the United States as an economic power. Figures are hurled back and forth, trade deficits versus exchange rates, GNP (gross national product) per capita versus PPP (purchasing-power parity), and even more arcane econometric artifacts. Econometrics is a very imprecise discipline, best suited to dreamy, solitary types with a penchant for mysticism. Those who prefer a scientifically more rigorous approach to the world are better served by poetic intuition. Is the United States a society in decline? Here is a very strong intuition: people don’t fall all over themselves in order to clamber aboard a sinking ship.
This, of course, is literally so in regard to immigration. To be sure, other affluent societies also find themselves pressured by large numbers of would-be immigrants, though the United States continues to be the destination of first choice worldwide. What is more important, though, is that the United States is the only major industrial society that has shown itself able to integrate people coming from just about anywhere—indeed, the only society that is both politically and culturally positioned to favor such integration. The Europeans are agonizing over the problem. As for the Japanese, they are heading quite rapidly toward a moment when a number of trends will converge: their critically aging population (the highest life expectancy and close to the lowest birth rate of any advanced society); their belief that married women should stay at home with the children; their hysterical aversion to letting in foreigners (especially fellow Asians) for longer than brief visits; and their twin illusions that all manufacturing can be moved offshore and that all domestic-service industries can eventually be staffed by robots. Perhaps some economists will someday stumble on the fact (hard though it will be to translate it into mathematics) that American attitudes toward immigrants, and the institutions that embody these attitudes, are a comparative advantage for the American economy.
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