Immigration, our demographic crisis and America’s future

Robert Maynard

According to demographer Phillip Longman, the world now faces a long-term global demographic crisis of aging and declining populations brought on by a rapidly falling birth rate. He has made this argument in his book “The Empty Cradle” and in a 2004 article for Foreign Affairs entitled “The Global Baby Bust.” This is a looming global crisis that few care to talk about, but it will determine the coming global power structure in the 21st century.

With a population of over 1 billion people each, China and India are the choice of some experts to replace America as the world’s top superpower. Will America relinquish that role, and what would it mean if we did? Would our values of individual liberty and opportunity still thrive in a world where we are not the power that others look to?

At least one futurist has a different view of America’s future. Joel Kotkin is a fellow in urban studies at Chapman University in Orange, California. In 2010 he wrote “The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050,” in which he argued that America’s growth potential is far greater than its would-be competitors. While India is still growing, China is slowing down. India’s growth potential is limited by its high population density, while America still has a lot more room for growth.

Geopolitical affairs analyst George Friedman argues that other factors point to the North American continent as a future growth magnet due to its relative political stability and ability to assimilate new immigrants. From this perspective, the era of American dominance is just getting started.

The question that we should concern ourselves with is, which view of America’s future is more likely to prevail?

One of the visions that the early American setters had was populating “the new world” and turning it into a great power to usher in a “new order for the ages,” or a “city on a hill.” As noted in the Declaration of Independence, the king of England was aware of their vision and sought to hamper it by restricting immigration to the new world:

He has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States; for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their Migrations hither, and raising the Conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

Given that our population density is far below that of the many places around the globe and we still have an abundance of natural resources, the American vision of populating the continent is a far from finished task. In addition, there are places in the world with high political instability, which creates a high demand for migration to America. The question is whether we can take advantage of this opportunity by continuing to be an engine of assimilation for those “huddled masses yearning to be free.” It is in our national interest to be able to keep this heritage alive.

The raising of this question will prompt a series of commentaries examining the various forms of immigration to America, as well as the concerns some have expressed about our ability to assimilate immigrants. We will start with refugees and take a look at the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program.

Robert Maynard is the co-ordernator 

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