President Obama’s recent “do it myself” immigration reform plan, predictably dissed by conservatives and nativists, reveals just how clueless the nation’s leaders are about demographics. Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on Arizona’s immigration crackdown also broke down along predictable lines, with both parties claiming ideological victories.
Yet the heated debates are missing the reality of immigration and its role in America’s future. In reality America needs more immigrants, but with a somewhat different mix.
Rather than an issue of “values” or political sentiment, we need to look at immigration as a matter of arbitrage, a process by which rapidly aging countries bid for the skills and energies of newcomers to keep their economies afloat.
Nowhere is this immigration arbitrage clearer than in the world’s most rapidly aging region, Europe. By 2050 the workforce there is expected to decline by as much as 25%. Yet this diminishing resource is now increasingly on the march as young Greeks, Italians and Portuguese flee to stronger economies in Europe’s Nordic belt and elsewhere. An estimated half million left Spain last year alone. Ireland, which in recent decades actually attracted new migrants, was exporting a thousand people a week last year. In recession-wracked Britain, a 2010 poll found nearly half of the population would like to move elsewhere.