About Immigration

  • My own ancestors were immigrants, of course, in the 1800s, just like most of the US population; and recalling “Irish Need Not Apply”;
  • NYT’s David Leonhardt about the global immigration backlash, without wondering why these migrations are happening;
  • Paul Krugman on how immigrants are saving the economy;
  • And how immigrants into NY City are benefiting the economy, despite politicians’ scare tactics that appeal to tribal mentality;
  • How this plays into human survival, a race between Savannah morality and the global mentality needed to solve global problems.
  • And “Seven Years” by Natalie Merchant.


As I’ve written in my pages on this site about my Family History, and especially on the Family Trees page, my ancestors came from a variety of places in Europe, primarily the Isle of Man and Sweden on my father’s side, presumably with some Irish influence along the way, since the name. My mother’s line was French, German, English, and Swiss. They were all immigrants, beginning as early as 1830 on my mother’s side, 1868 on my father’s.

There was a backlash in the United States in the 1860s against the dirty immigrant Irish, though given the timing, it may not have affected my family line. I’ll copy a section from my Family Trees page:

I’ll end this section about with some observations about my father’s Isle of Man/Irish ancestors, to note that they came to the US at a time when many Irish emigrated to England and the US, in the wake of the potato famine of the 1840s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Famine_(Ireland)), and were subject to anti-immigrant bigotry, as recalled in the famous phrase “No Irish Need Apply”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Irish_sentiment#No_Irish_need_apply.

At the same time, I have no evidence in these family trees that my ancestors were affected by those attitudes, or even that they were motivated to come to the US by the fallout of that famine (after all, they didn’t come from Ireland proper, so perhaps the famine didn’t affect them at all). Still, it’s worth noting this theme, since at the time the ‘Irish’ were regarded in the US as non-white, dangerous immigrants, in an attitude that has played itself out over and over again in the centuries and decades since. Human nature. People demonize outsiders. The latter link above has this striking quote from the esteemed Benjamin Disraeli (born 1804, who later became Prime Minister of the UK in 1868) in 1836.

[The Irish] hate our order, our civilization, our enterprising industry, our pure religion. This wild, reckless, indolent, uncertain and superstitious race have no sympathy with the English character. Their ideal of human felicity is an alternation of clannish broils and coarse idolatry. Their history describes an unbroken circle of bigotry and blood.

As I said, this theme plays out again and again; it’s part of human nature to fear and demonize outside ‘tribes.’ Donald Trump returned this attitude to the fore back in 2015, with his famous descent-down-the-escalator speech, which I quoted in this post, about how the Mexican immigrants are drug dealers, criminals, rapists, and so on. We’ve seen how many people, receptive to base tribal thinking, ate it up. At the time, I predicted Trump wouldn’t win the general election, but as we’ve seen, his kind of racist bombast attracted enough votes in key places to win the electoral vote.

And so in my current formulation of human nature, in which I contrast the basic tribal “Savannah morality” with the modern global sensibilities needed to survive the modern world, we see how dangerous such attitudes are. They are part of human nature, and so difficult to overcome.

Three items today about immigrants, not just in the US.


NY Times, David Leonhardt, 11 July 2023: The Global Immigration Backlash, subtitled “Left-leaning parties in both Europe and the U.S. are often out of step with public opinion on immigration.”

I’m worried where this piece is going. Is public opinion the final arbiter? First of all, it’s not a US problem, to be blamed on the current president; it’s a global problem. MAGA-ites don’t realize this, of course, and reflexively blame the current Democratic president.

The piece begins:

The global migration wave of the 21st century has little precedent. In much of North America, Europe and Oceania, the share of population that is foreign-born is at or near its highest level on record.

In the U.S., that share is approaching the previous high of 15 percent, reached in 1890. In some other countries, the immigration increases have been even steeper in the past two decades:

Followed by a graph of the rise in foreign-born population in various countries. Leonhardt goes on to make some key points:

This scale of immigration tends to be unpopular with residents of the arrival countries. Illegal immigration is especially unpopular because it feeds a sense that a country’s laws don’t matter. But large amounts of legal immigration also bother many voters. Lower-income and blue-collar workers often worry that their wages will decline because employers suddenly have a larger, cheaper labor pool from which to hire.

Today, though, many progressives are uncomfortable with any immigration-skeptical argument. They have become passionate advocates of more migration and global integration, arguing — correctly — that immigrants usually benefit by moving from a lower-wage country to a higher-wage country. But immigration is not a free lunch any more than free trade is. It also has costs, including its burden on social services, as some local leaders, like Mayor Eric Adams of New York and officials in South Texas, have recently emphasized.

OK, fine. But I came to the end of the piece not finding one whiff of interest in understanding *why* this increased immigration is happening. Of course immigration to certain countries is much lower than that to the US or Europe. Leonhard doesn’t wonder why.

The answer, in great part, is climate change, how it is becoming unbearable to live in many southern nations in Central America and Africa. Not to mention the corruption in many nations in those areas, which the US government has done little to ameliorate.


Even if we never mind why, the panic and alarm in the US and Europe over migrants is a key example of short-term, Savannah-morality thinking imposing its priorities on the modern world, which in fact can benefit from immigration.

Paul Krugman, NY Times, 13 Apr 2023: How Immigrants Are Saving the Economy

Although many politicians will never admit it, the U.S. economy is currently performing far better than most analysts expected. We’re still adding jobs at a rapid clip; while inflation remains unacceptably high, it’s probably coming down. How are we pulling this off?

There are surely multiple reasons. But you may not have heard about one ingredient in the economy’s special sauce: a sudden, salutary rebound in net immigration, which soared in 2022 to more than a million people, its highest level since 2017. We don’t know whether this rebound will last, but it has been really helpful. It’s an exaggeration, but one with some truth, to say that immigrants are saving the U.S. economy.

Politicians, especially the conservative ones like DeSantis, are transactional, short-term thinkers. He just wants to be elected, and plays off the fears of his relatively ignorant MAGA base to do so. Krugman is a long-term thinker, who understands the big trends.

Let’s take the 30,000-foot view of the U.S. economy over the past three years. The story goes like this: Faced with a pandemic that temporarily shut down a large part of the economy, the federal government responded with huge aid programs to help laid-off workers, troubled businesses, and more.

These programs greatly alleviated what could have been severe economic hardship, but they also maintained or enhanced the public’s ability to buy goods and services at a time when the economy’s ability to supply these goods and services was reduced by pandemic-related disruptions. The result was inflation.

Now, many of those pandemic disruptions have been resolved; the kinks in the supply chain have mostly been straightened out. And the big aid packages are receding in the rearview mirror. But until very recently many people were arguing that the pandemic had done long-term damage to the U.S. economy’s productive capacity, largely by reducing potential labor supply.

And goes on:

There the case for increased immigration is even stronger. Long-run concerns about U.S. finances are largely driven by a rising old-age dependency ratio, which considers the growing percentage of seniors relative to people of working age. If we define working age as running from 18 to 64, the overall U.S. old-age dependency ratio — calculated from the same census data — is 27.5 percent. For foreign-born residents who arrived after 2010, the ratio is only 5.8 percent. Basically, new immigrants pay into the system, but they won’t be drawing much in the way of benefits for many years to come.

It’s long been my thought that those immigrants, however dismal they look struggling over the southern border, actually have more fortitude and determination to succeed in life, than all the obese, beer-swilling MAGA supports sitting on their porches complaining about immigrants.


Here’s the latest one, concerning New York City in particular.

NY Times, 13 Jul 2023: As Politicians Cry ‘Crisis,’ Some Migrants Are Finding Their Way, subtitled “New York City’s leadership says housing and caring for migrants is costing billions, and ‘destroying’ the city. But economists say their arrival will eventually be a boon.”

It begins:

At around 7 a.m. one day last August, the first migrants sent to New York City by the governor of Texas arrived with little warning on a bus, and walked sleepily into their new lives.

They joined others who moved into shelters, then hotels, then white tents on an island in the East River and, as more came, into empty office buildings and school gyms. They enrolled their children in nearby schools, ate boxed meals served by the city, and clothed themselves in castoff pants and shirts donated by volunteers.

By June, the city had counted more than 80,000 newcomers. Roughly half moved into public shelters, and the city’s shelter system reached 100,000 that month. City officials added up the costs of housing them: an estimated $4.3 billion by next summer. Mayor Eric Adams begged for federal help, disparaged President Biden and warned that the city was being “destroyed.”

But unseen and unheard were economists and social scientists, who point out that the immediate controversy has overshadowed an established truth: The city was built by waves of migrants who settled in, paid taxes, buttressed a labor force, started businesses and generally lifted the communities they joined.

This latest group will do the same, they argued.

Without immigrants, New York City would be shrinking. Even if New York never recovers what it spends now, the economists and historians say, the migrants will eventually be good for the city.

“In so many ways, immigrants have always made and remade America,” said Nancy Foner, an immigration historian at Hunter College. “And they’re doing it again.”

Many heart-warming, individual stories follow. True, these are anecdotes. Let’s conclude with a few more statistics:

At the moment, New York City is facing a labor shortage and is in need of 10,000 bar and restaurant workers, while the state needs 40,000 home health aides and 70,000 nurses and nursing assistants, according to researchers and industry groups.

Growing labor shortages are due in part to the demographics of the American population, which at 38.9 years is the oldest median age in the nation’s history.

In just one sector — construction companies in New York State — the retirement of middle-aged workers may cause job vacancies to more than triple, to more than 150,000 in the next five years, said Brian Sampson, president of the Empire State chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade group.

Immigrants will be crucial to filling those vacant positions, industry leaders said.

“Immigrants tend to come in prime working age, so they are filling exactly where we have a gap,” said David Dyssegaard Kallick, director of the Immigration Research Initiative, a nonpartisan think tank.

Not all new migrants will stay. Some have already left for other parts of the country or for Canada, which has encouraged legal migration to boost its economy.

Of course the problem is you will never convince most people with statistics, or even anecdotes, those driven by tribal morality who instinctively reject anyone different or foreign.

Human survival is a race between tribal mentality on the one hand and the global mentality needed to solve global problems. With all the news this week about climate extremes, are any climate change skeptics changing their minds? I’m guessing not.

–At the same time, taking an even broader picture, immigration, moving people around the world from one country to another, is not going to solve the problem of the expanding human population and its damage to the planet, which this by the end of this century is approaching a no-return point.


The last track from Natalie Merchant’s album Tigerlily.

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