‘Other People’s Babies’

Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2017

Japan is an excellent place to test the proposition that countries do better with low levels of immigration. In a land of 127 million people, there are just over two million foreign residents, and only a third of them are here for the long term. The number of illegal immigrants, which peaked at a modest 300,000 in the early 1990s, is down by 80%.

As for refugees, in 2016, Tokyo entertained 10,000 requests for asylum. It accepted a grand total of 28. Steve Bannon would smile.

The result, say immigration restrictionists, is plain to see. Japan’s crime and drug-use rates are famously low. Life expectancy is famously high. Japanese students put their American peers to shame on international tests. The unemployment rate clocks in at 3.1%. All this is supposed to be a function of a homogeneous society with a high degree of cultural cohesion—the antithesis of cacophonous, multiethnic America.

Just one problem: The Japanese have lost their appetite for reproduction. To steal a line from Steve King, the GOP congressman from Iowa, the only way they can save their civilization is with “somebody else’s babies.”

Japan’s population shrank by nearly a million between 2010 and 2015, the first absolute decline since census-taking began in the 1920s. On current trend the population will fall to 97 million by the middle of the century. Barely 10% of Japanese will be children. The rest of the population will divide almost evenly between working-age adults and the elderly.

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But whatever their other benefits, “pro-family” policies won’t reverse the demographic trend. Only large-scale immigration can do that, and the Japanese won’t countenance it. The flip side of cohesion is exclusion. The consequence of exclusion is decline.

Which brings us back to Mr. King and the U.S. immigration debates. A decade ago, America’s fertility rate, at 2.12 children for every woman, was just above the replacement rate. That meant there could be modest population growth without immigration. But the fertility rate has since fallen: It’s now below replacement and at an all-time low.

Without immigration, our demographic destiny would become Japanese. But our culture wouldn’t, leaving us with the worst of both worlds: economic stagnation without social stability. Multiethnic America would tear itself to pieces fighting over redistribution rights to the shrinking national pie.

This doesn’t have to be our fate. Though it may be news to Mr. King, immigrants aren’t a threat to American civilization. They are our civilization—bearers of a forward-looking notion of identity based on what people wish to become, not who they once were. {snip}

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