Thank a Local Immigrant for Your Public Services
by Benjamin Studebaker
Regular readers may recall that I wrote about Japan’s poor birth rate earlier in the week. I engaged in a conversation with a friend of mine about the subject (here’s his view on Japan) during which I observed that Germany’s birth rate is actually slightly worse than Japan’s, yet there’s we’re all writing about Japanese birth rates rather than the German ones. I wondered why that is, and he pointed to the immigration figures–Germany gets many more move-ins than Japan does, so the birth rate crisis in Germany has not translated into a population crisis on the same scale. This has made me want to investigate to what extent the EU and US have mitigated the effects of a birth rate slowdown with immigrants, so that’s what I’m on about today.
Germany has the lowest birth rate in the developed world, so I’ll make extensive use of it as an example. Here’s the German birth rate:
As we can see, both rates are hovering between 8 and 9 births per 1,000 people per year. Immigration is a whole different story–via The World Factbook, Japan breaks even on immigrants while Germany receives 0.89 immigrants per 1,000 people per year. This makes a significant difference to population projections.
The Japanese government projects the population to fall by 30% by 2050:
The German government only foresees a 10-17% fall:
So despite a worse German birth rate, Japan’s forthcoming population problem is twice as bad, and the Germans have only their immigrants to thank. But are the German people appreciative of their immigrant population? Not in the slightest–a global survey on attitudes toward immigrants finds some interesting results:
- 54% of Germans believe immigration has had a very or fairly negative impact on Germany, while only 16% registered a corresponding positive view.
- 53% of Germans agree that there are too many immigrants in Germany. Only 20% disagree.
- 58% of Germans believe immigrants have placed too much stress on public services. Only 18% disagree.
- 37% of Germans think that immigrants have made it harder for people to find jobs in Germany, with 34% disagreeing.
- 23% of Germans agree that immigration is good for the German economy, with 44% disagreeing.
What’s so very stunning about all of this is that German immigrants are unquestionably propping up the German population and consequently Germany’s tax base and economic growth. German immigrants are not placing strain on public services, they are keeping public services running. The fact that nearly twice as many Germans think immigration is bad for the economy as think it good shows that the average German citizen has no meaningful comprehension of the role immigration plays in Germany.
What’s more, Germany is not unique in its inability to appreciate what immigrants bring to our societies–the numbers for the United States are similar, and in some cases worse. This despite the fact that, if not for immigrants and minorities, the United States would also be experiencing the beginning of a shrinking population, as per The Economist:
Thankfully, the United States enjoys a comfortable 3.64 immigrants per 1,000 people per year, and those immigrants (who are mostly Asian or Hispanic) tend to have lots of babies when they get here. Indeed, thanks to immigrants and their ravenous sexual appetites, the US is projected to make significant gains in working age population over its main economic rivals:
Thanks to their one-child policy, even the Chinese are headed down the demographic dead end. Provided America gets its political and economic institutions in order (and doesn’t allow China to become a developed country), its immigration advantage should allow it to remain the most powerful state, both economically and militarily. If Germans have immigrants to thank for making their population problems only half as bad as Japan’s, the United States has immigrants to thank for its next century of potential dominance.
Nonetheless, citizens on both sides of the Atlantic continue to support politicians and political parties that promise to reduce immigration figures. This mentality is a self-destructive pathology. It is grounded not in any reasoned understanding of the role immigrants play in our economies and in funding our entitlement programs. It is entirely a function of xenophobia, of a failure to adjust to, understand, or appreciate a pluralism of ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds.
The CBO even found that the additional immigration that would be spurred by immigration reform would shrink the deficit by $197 billion–fiscal conservatives should be planting big wet kisses on the lips of their Asian and Hispanic brethren, not planning to erect large walls manned by drones.
I’ll close with a brief reply to the inevitable Malthusian or steady state theorist in the audience who believes my whole argument wrong from first principle because he thinks that a larger population is a bad thing, that Japan really has the best society. These arguments invariably rely on the claim that we have a finite biosphere and/or that we have obligations to the planet’s ecology such that larger populations only mean that more people will compete over the same quantity of scarce resources and/or that the planet will be polluted at an increased pace. These individuals are tragically mistaken for reasons I discussed in detail here and here. To put it very briefly for those of you uninterested in padding my blog statistics:
- Developed countries are spectacularly efficient at farming and produce large food surpluses, so much so that the amount of land used for farming has begun to decrease. If poor countries farmed in the same way do or were wealthier and more able to purchase food from developed states, they would have no food problems.
- If we want to make efficient use of renewable energy (solar/wind/geothermal/fusion/etc.), reduce land use (vertical farming/high-rise buildings), and consequently reduce our environmental impact, we need technology, and that means we need economic growth, and it takes people to grow the economy–Japan’s economic growth has been held down for some time by its falling population.
- In the long-run, if we want to avoid extinction, we need to colonize other worlds, and that will require quite a bit of economic growth.
There are some who are morally unconcerned about other human beings, or even actively despise them, and who consequently are not moved by any of the broadly humanist arguments I advance above. These positions are nihilist and misanthropic and should be rejected on that basis. However, another form of argument has been advanced by David Benatar, who argues against population growth on the belief that human lives are bad for human beings themselves. This is commendably neither nihilist nor misanthropic, but it’s also wrong, as I argued over here.
I largely agree with this, but with a caveat. Large numbers of immigrants are good for several macro variables, but they do not help others. One of the benefits of slow population growth (when coupled with wider economic growth) is that it keeps the wage high; scarce labor means the price of labor is high. Countries with fast population growth experience downward pressures on wages.
This is offset and sometimes even overwhelmed by the demand the new population creates, but that largely depends on the makeup of the new population and the existing economic conditions. The point being, low-income Americans, unfortunate tendency to couch it in racist terms notwithstanding, do not necessarily /personally/ benefit from the population trends. (And I think this holds true for certain classes of Germans, but I don’t know Germany like I know the states!)
I agree with those caveats–if populations grow at very rapid paces, it is impossible for the economy to expand at a sufficient rate to supply the required jobs. Fortunately, we appear to be well below those rates.
And yes, there is a minority of workers who may be out-competed on wages, particularly in a case like the states in which many immigrants are illegal and are not paid minimum wage–that should be corrected with immigration reforms. In any case, I’m confident that more people report that their countries are worse off for having immigration than have been personally impacted in this way. Immigration figures are not sufficient for more than 50% of the various populations to be driven out of work by immigrants, so most people hating on immigrants are still doing it without personal economic justifications.
Loving your insights unravelling complex geo-political issues, please keep it up.
Thanks Owen, glad you enjoy my stuff.
Hi Benjamin, really insightful and interesting piece, which can be said for everything that you write. One thing that has been niggling me is how you present the argument of needing human population growth to allow for the development of sustainable, technologically advanced solutions that will ultimately give us a way out. All the literature in my field (conservation biology) is pointing to the fact that while technology is advancing at unprecedented rates, it is not enough (not even close) to counteract the adverse effects of a changing environment. I hope we can both agree that climate change and the wide scale destruction of the worlds ecosystems are bad things. And these changes are occurring now at an increased rate , despite the advances in technology, increases in sustainable development and somewhat more alarmingly despite the exponential increase in the level of active biodiversity conservation in the past 60 years. I do definitely agree with you that technology has the potential to get us out of jail if we advance quickly enough, but there in lies the problem. It does not seem that we are advancing quickly enough at the moment, and was wondering where you stood on this issue? What do you think needs to happen from an economic stand point to allow for these changes?
I absolutely agree that climate change and the environment are very serious issues, but I also think it is very possible to constructively respond to these issues without compromising the moderate population growth we need to keep our welfare states and public services viable. So much of this just comes down to simple policy changes governments could be making right now:
1. Close down the fossil fuel power plants and replace them with new nuclear, solar, and wind plants.
2. Make large scale public investments in new alternative energy technologies, like Thorium plants.
3. Encourage the use of genetic modifications to reduce the need for pesticides and other potentially dangerous chemicals.
4. Make big public sector investments in vertical farming to reduce the amount of arable land needed to feed the population.
5. Make big public sector investments in desalination technology to ease the burden in regions with limited water supplies.
6. Make big public sector investments building infrastructure to support electric vehicles.
7. Tax emissions
Right now governments are not only failing to do these things, they are in many cases subsidizing and protecting old, high-emissions technologies and industries. If we embraced the right reforms, we could make it possible for additional human beings to have marginal effects on our Carbon footprint. We need some population growth, but there’s no reason it can’t be made sustainable aside from government incompetence, and the significant investment these programs demand would stimulate economic growth and create high-paying jobs.
[…] Prime Minister Abe must feel that the immediate financial and social burden on Japan would outweigh any long term benefit Japan may gain from a large number of refugees and immigrants to the country. But, as Paul Krugman pointed out in his “analysis meeting” with the Prime Minister in May 2016, the demographic fundamentals do count for the strength of economy in a long run. For detail, see http://www.shasegawa.com/archives/14353.(Source: BENJAMIN STUDEBAKER) […]