Saturday, May 20, 2006

America the (Over-?) Populated

Amnesty. No amnesty. Temporary guest worker. Earned path to citizenship. In all the swirling debate and heated rhetoric on the problem of immigration, there's an important question that is never asked and never answered: With respect to America's population, how big is big enough? How big is too big?

Does the world really need more Americans?

I say, No.

Consider: With our high standard of living and wasteful ways, Americans consume (in absolute terms and on a per-capita basis) an inordinate amount of the world's resources. For example, with only four percent of the world's population, the U.S. is responsible for 25 percent of the world's energy use. Think about that next time you contemplate high energy prices or global warming. Already we live unsustainably. How much worse do we want things to get?

With close to 300 million Americans, isn't it time we said "enough"? If not, then tell me what you think would be a reasonable upper limit.

Immigration accounts far and away for the biggest part of U.S. population growth. Around a million people immigrate to the United States every year; once here, they reproduce at higher rates than established Americans. Why, then, do we never discuss how big we want to be when immigration is debated?

The immigration debate is characteristically replete with illogical assumptions. One is that we can keep on growing forever. Another is that there is unlimited economic opportunity in America. But like everything else in this world, economic opportunity is finite. An influx of workers willing to work for low wages drives down wages in general, and even more so for the poorest Americans. We simply cannot be Mexico's economic safety valve.

As columnist and economist Paul Krugman points out, "the willingness of Americans to do a job depends on how much that job pays -- and the reason some jobs pay too little to attract native-born Americans is competition from poorly paid immigrants."

If we choose to rely on an influx of unskilled and low paid immigrants to do the "jobs that Americans won't do" (as President Bush always puts it), then as those workers assimilate and move up the economic ladder, they will have to be replaced--in perpetuity. Which gets us back to the question of population growth.

America: How big is big enough?

Copyright (C) 2006 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved