Immigration: Could It Be Too Much of a Good Thing?

by Wim de Vriend

Recently, Eric Shierman wrote about the RAISE Act, a proposal by US Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue and favored by president Trump, to reduce immigration by half while making it more selective, by prioritizing the education and skills of would-be immigrants instead of their family connections.  Shierman condemned the RAISE Act as ‘an anti-immigration bill’.  He also condemned his ‘conservative friends’ for supporting RAISE, even though like him they see immigration as ‘a good thing’.  And he explained: “When I apply my free-market, limited-government worldview to immigration, it makes me pro-immigration.”

But instead of ‘pro-immigration’ Shierman is clearly prounlimited immigration, with no RAISE Act or border wall or other impediments to check the huddled masses streaming in.  This we can tell from his retorts to the critical comments following his article.  For instance, he asserted that limiting immigration will damage our economy, and that there’s no need to worry about excessive immigration in the first place, because it will find an “…  equilibrium, an optimization between too little and too much.”  Trust in optimal equilibriums may be induced by looking at simplistic graphs in economics textbooks, which are usually qualified by the disclaimer ‘All other things being equal’.  But in the field of immigration things will not stay equal because it can become an intense issue of public concern.  This will happen when, in the face of large-scale immigration, people see it degrading the nation’s culture, social norms and customs, employment and job security, public spending, even national defense.  But to justify his love of open borders, Shierman argues that “Historically, we’ve had much higher levels of immigration than today”.  And he invites his critics to overfly America’s ‘vast open territories’, to see for themselves that we have plenty of room for more immigrants.  He even asserts that immigration cannot possibly harm American workers, since: “…  immigrants tend to fill gaps where our domestic talent is lacking”:

“College graduates have no trouble finding employment.  I don’t know how trained you are in economics, but here’s an important concept you should master.  Immigrants tend not to be substitutes for American workers.  Immigrants tend to be a compliment.”

He likely intended to convey that immigrant workers merely fill in gaps where Americans lack skills or motivation.  But such a sweeping claim cannot be true, as I will show.

Finding a job? No problem!

In addition his claim that American college graduates today have no trouble finding employment sounds like the premature reports of Mark Twain’s death: greatly exaggerated.  As a recent report explained:

While sustained but slow improvements in economic conditions in recent years have brightened young graduates’ job prospects, the labor market is still far from recovered from the Great Recession – and is even further from the full employment economy of 2000.  …  The high share of unemployed and underemployed young college graduates and the share of employed young college graduates working in jobs that do not require a college degree underscore that the current unemployment crisis among young workers did not arise because today’s young adults lack the right education or skills.  Rather, it stems from weak demand for goods and services, which makes it unnecessary for employers to significantly ramp up hiring.

The share of young graduates who are “idled” by the economy—neither enrolled in further schooling nor employed—remains elevated in the wake of the Great Recession.  This indicates that many graduates are unable to take the two main paths—receiving further education or getting more work experience—that enable future career success.

Among young college graduates, 9.7 percent are neither enrolled nor employed (compared with 8.4 percent in 2007).[1]

This assessment can be supported by a stack of anecdotal but meaningful evidence, which suggests that the 9.7 percent is too low, and the real figure much higher.  We’ve all heard about college graduates who are can’t find work that fits their academic qualifications, and about those still living in their parents’ basements, because they have given up on finding work.  It’s also known that official unemployment rates only count people looking for work, which is a requirement for drawing unemployment compensation.  This means that people who have given up and simply dropped out of the working population are not included in the unemployment statistics, but that doesn’t mean they would refuse work if offered.  Moreover, the American custom of teenagers working after school and during the summer seems to have gone extinct.  I doubt that the only reasons are too much homework or the lure of video games; another big one must be competition by low-paid immigrants, especially in agriculture, gardening and fast food, all jobs which once instilled a work ethic in languid teenagers.  And, for those who have eyes to see, why is it that a country once praised by foreigner visitors for having no beggars, now seems to be overrun with beggars and homeless people?[2]  Yes, I know that some of them have mental problems and some deliberately chose their lifestyle.  But some are people who used to live paycheck to modest paycheck, lost their jobs, and being without financial reserves ended up on the street, or in the woods behind my house.  All these social phenomena suggest a job market far weaker than it is made out to be.

Economic Man in his Borderless World

To enable the application of his libertarian beliefs to immigration, Shierman seems to equate the average American with Economic Man, a placid, utterly rational being who despite temporary inconveniences caused by excess immigration believes that all will be well in the long run, so he will practice patience and stay calm and keep a stiff upper lip, as the British famously did during World War II.  Economic Man is who gives Shierman confidence that his immigration ‘equilibrium’ will materialize in due course.  But Economic Man does not exist because, except for a few highly unpleasant Scrooges, people are much more than profit-and-loss ledgers.  Besides, as John Maynard Keynes, himself no slouch in concocting economic theories, observed long ago: “In the long run we’re all dead.”

Now, I happen to believe that by and large, Americans are a welcoming, open-minded people, not much given to prejudices against foreigners.  And I speak as a recovering foreigner who finds the far-left mania for spouting ugly accusations of intolerance at Americans very strange; the accusers themselves seem to be the intolerant ones.  That said, there are limits to everyone’s tolerance, so the key question is how much immigration-caused unemployment and inconvenience and social disruption and crime[3] the American people will put up with before they revolt in ugly ways, as to some extent they already have done during the last election.  The question must be asked because we face a serious risk of balkanization in this country; and to see what balkanization can lead to, check the bloody history of the place where the verb originated: the Balkans.  Pushed by rabble-rousing opportunists, identity politics has reached sickening proportions in America, and mass immigration can only make it worse.  As Teddy Roosevelt put it, now over a hundred years ago:

“The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English-Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian-Americans or Italian-Americans, each preserving its separate nationality, each at heart feeling more sympathy with Europeans of that nationality, than with the other citizens of the American Republic … There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American.  The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.” [4]

Even if Theodore Roosevelt was a bit of a blowhard, on this topic he was prophetic.  Granted that his fears about the hyphenated Americans of his day were not fulfilled, today they have a better chance.  That’s because too many American politicians at all levels have forgotten their main job.  That job is the defense and maintenance of a peaceful, reasonably stable society, without major conflicts, whether caused by armed invasions or domestic insurrections or the mass-importation of impoverished foreigners, unwilling to integrate but eager to dominate and to sponge off Uncle Sam.  Those who promote open border policies, who include virtually all Democrats, plus snobbish Republicans and the libertarian Cato Institute, seem to be deaf and blind to such risks.  But when it comes to their jobs and their homes and their neighborhoods and domestic peace, a lot of average Americans are likely to lose patience while waiting for a hoped-for ‘equilibrium’ to emerge from the mayhem.

Too much of a good thing?

Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood, because in principle I do agree with Shierman’s description of immigration into America as ‘a good thing’.  After all, plain logic dictates that immigration has been ‘a good thing’, since without it, neither our ancestors nor we would have lived in this great country.

But he wants to bring back the past, complaining that “Historically, we’ve had much higher levels of immigration than today.” True, and it’s also true that from the 17th through most of the 19th century, America had no trouble absorbing anybody who showed up in its harbors.  For one thing, the country was mostly empty then, and excellent farm land could be had for almost nothing.  That, plus total economic freedom, according to the historian Paul Johnson, caused economic development in the United States to progress much faster than in the other major immigration destinations, i.e.  Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, even though they had the same natural advantages or better.[5]  In an amazingly short time the unhampered settlement of America’s interior turned the United States into an agricultural powerhouse, exporting its bounty through the Mississippi river system.  But that eruption of the farming economy is done, and employment in American farming is a fraction of its former self.  And the remaining vast open spaces that Shierman talks about filling with immigrants are unsuitable.  They are red herrings.  In addition, the huge industrial development that followed the agricultural settlement of the interior came just in time to absorb the huge influx of people during the late 19th and early 20th century.  But that was a one-time event.  Those days are gone too.

And just because a lot of things – including immigration – may be ‘a good thing’, getting as much as you can does not always work out brilliantly.  Swallow a pill, and it may do you a world of good.  Swallow the entire bottle, and you may not see tomorrow.  Food is a ‘good thing’ too, but overconsumption has weighty downsides.  The ‘Too-much-of-a-good-thing’ warning even applies to something more essential to life than food: water.  Do without water for a few days, and you are likely to die.[6] On the other hand, there was that woman by the apt name of Strange, who tried to win a water-drinking contest promoted by a Sacramento radio station:

Jennifer Strange, a 28-year-old mother of three, was among 18 people who entered the “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” competition.  They tried to drink as much water as they could without urinating in a bid to win a Nintendo Wii gaming console.

Strange drank nearly two gallons of water in over three hours on Jan.  12, 2007.  During the contest, she could be heard complaining about pain to disc jockeys at 107.9 “The End.”

“Oh, it hurts,” Strange said, while one male disc jockey remarked that she looked pregnant and another, a woman, said “That is so funny.” [7]

But the stunt turned out neither funny nor in very good taste.  It was not without cost to the radio station either.  A few hours after winning second prize (a couple of concert tickets), Strange died in her bathroom.  And in due course a unanimous jury awarded her family $16.5 million, at the expense of the radio station which, as the jurors had learned, was well aware of the dangers of ‘water intoxication’.  Listeners, including nurses, had called in, warning against the contest, but had been dismissed.  The disc jockeys had even cracked jokes about a university student who during hazing at his fraternity had died of a heart attack, from having to drink gallons of water.  Drinking too much water, it appears, can dilute the blood so much that it carries too few electrolytes and salt to keep vital organs going, including the brain, heart, and muscles.[8]  And the final result of that is – well, final.

Next, Part 2: Absurd philosophies and immigration.

[1] “The Class of 2016 – The labor market is still far from ideal for young graduates”, Economic Policy Institute, April 21.  2016.  – http://www.epi.org/publication/class-of-2016/

[2] Writing about the period 1815-1850, Paul Johnson notes: “What all observers noted was the absence of begging.  As one of them put it in 1839: ‘During two years spent in traveling through every part of the Union, I have only once been asked for alms.’ To Europeans that seemed incredible, the real proof of a benevolent prosperity.” Paul Johnson, A History of the American People, New York: HarperCollins, 1997, p.  388. 

[3] With regard to crime, it should be noted that while the share of the U.S.  population that is foreign-born is about 13%, according to “U.S.  Foreign-Born Population Trends” – Pew Research Center, September 28, 2025 – http://www.pewhispanic.org/2015/09/28/chapter-5-u-s-foreign-born-population-trends/, the share of foreign-born in the federal prison system is almost twice as large, at 24%.  The vast majority of these have not acquired citizenship but are immigrants, legal and illegal, but mostly illegal – “DOJ: One in Four Federal Inmates Is Foreign-Born – Justice Dept.  says cost of incarcerating non-citizens in federal prisons exceeds $1.2 billion” Polizette, May 2, 2017 – http://www.lifezette.com/polizette/doj-one-four-federal-inmates-foreign-born/ Another source cites a government study that puts the percentage of criminal aliens (legal and illegal) at 27 percent of all federal prisoners (The difference may be accounted for by different years), and cites the Center for Immigration Studies’ claim that non-citizens are only about nine percent of the nation’s adult population.  Putting the two together, it appears that non-citizens commit federal crimes at three times the rate of citizens.  “What the Media Won’t Tell You About Illegal Immigration and Criminal Activity”, The Heritage Foundation Commentary, Mar 13th, 2017 – http://www.heritage.org/immigration/commentary/what-the-media-wont-tell-you-about-illegal-immigration-and-criminal-activity I have noticed that pro-immigration media dispute these data with claims that ‘immigrants’ commit crimes at rates lower than the native population.  That may well be true, but it’s misleading because they don’t include illegal immigrants. 

[4] Theodore Roosevelt, speaking to the Knights of Columbus at Carnegie Hall on Columbus Day 1915.

[5] Paul Johnson, A History of the American People, op.  cit., p.  97 (“ …  growth-rates which made Canada …  seem almost static.”) and p.  293: “Freedom worked.  In South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, the British authorities interfered in the land market in countless ways and from the highest of motives, and as a result these countries – some of which had even bigger natural advantages than the United States – developed far more slowly.”

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dehydration

[7] http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/jury-rules-radio-station-jennifer-strange-water-drinking/story?id=8970712

[8] “CHICO / Fraternity pledge died of water poisoning / Forced drinking can disastrously dilute blood’s salt content” SFGate, February 4, 2005 – http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/CHICO-Fraternity-pledge-died-of-water-poisoning-2733418.php

While the above article talks about ‘salts’ carried by the blood, the one below talks of ‘electrolytes’: “Water Intoxication”, Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_intoxication

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to LinkedIn Post to Reddit

Posted by at 07:33 | Posted in Illegal Immigration | 2 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Bob Clark

    I generally agree Eric went too far. The thing about there being physical space for increased immigration is somewhat impractical because for one many major cities/states put up land use restrictions. In the case of Portland’s Metro, for instance, it really does force and induce population growth to become more and more concentrated in the places we native Oregonians have long lived. That’s just the way it is, and its hard to get folks to get this urban fixed boundary loosened.

    Then too, I read recently like 25% of working age white guys are no longer in the labor force whereas it used to be like 90% plus. In essence, our culture has become less oriented to the work ethic which was so good to us and was inculcated into new arrivals from overseas. Now new arrivals see a welfare state, and they might want to get a shot at this federal money printing press too. Or immigration becomes an excuse for many natives to not apply themselves, and just go to the sidelines of entitlement dependence.
    To me the answer lies somewhere between Trump and no limits. We shouldn’t be erecting more barriers to immigration as the Raise Act, but we shouldn’t just say come all.
    There’s also the tendency for new arrivals favoring the democrat party which will never have enough of increased government power and dominance over our individual lives. So, politically unmitigated immigration is also a negative.

  • Bob Clark

    Thank you for the RAISE Act information. But cutting legal immigration in half as RAISE, seems not the answer. Immigration adds a dynamic component to our economy and cultural perspective, just as free trade helps us find additional efficiency. Japan grew sharply after the war and before the war even as it had no immigration, but this is due to its opening to trade, technology spirited by contact with overseas markets and other factors. These factors played out, and now, lack of immigration looks to be hurting Japan.
    I would suggest here again the U.S needs to keep and probably bump up its net legal in-migration, as natural population growth goes flat
    In conjunction with this, the government should stop sitting on vast amounts of mostly unused lands and loosen if not rid itself of all these land use restrictions like the urban ‘fixed’ boundary (the media refers to it as the urban growth boundary…but this seems a joke). And new arrivals need to have a job, and not depend on pro longed government assistance.

Stay Tuned...

Stay up to date with the latest political news and commentary from Oregon Catalyst through daily email updates:

Prefer another subscription option? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, become a fan on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Twitter Facebook

No Thanks (close this box)