163 Comments
Feb 18, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

Why is it that Capital can freely move but labor can't?

Immigration, diversity and ability to have at least some "melting pot" has been a US superpower for over a century. So many of our scientists, engineers, entertainers and the people who built the railroads, cities and just about everything else was from the huge pool of immigrants.

We should be celebrating, promoting and turbo-charging immigration. We should have programs to teach English, help people find (and build) housing (Mexican immigrants are already the backbone of construction). We should open up H1B visas for engineering and science with fast tracks to green cards and citizenship.

At the same time we need to change our education system with alternatives to College are available for all our Citizens and immigrants to learn job skills needed for manufacturing and everyday life (plumbers, electricians, HVAC, Solar, etc). At the same time make college affordable again and make being Educated something that people want to be.

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Feb 24, 2023·edited Feb 24, 2023

"Why is it that Capital can freely move but labor can't?"

...Because national borders exist? No, dude, we don't have free international movement. If you tried that, housing shortages would mean that landlords and other rentiers would capture every dime people made beyond bare subsistence. (Which already happens in coastal cities.)

It'd also completely collapse social welfare programs, as old people flock to whichever country has the best medicare program and young people flock to wherever they can get away with paying the least into said program.

But the bigger issue is that both parties (and especially the Fed) will happily burn the whole country to the ground before they let returns to labor rise against returns to capital and/or land.

Hence why it's only Bernie that makes a peep about windfall profits, while everybody loses their shit if they can't get labor at the lowest possible price.

Noah, of course, is personally fine with all of this. He's not worried about competition, as he's built up a bunch of personal brand capital, and therefore has no sympathy whatsoever with anybody who's competing to sell labor. Seems like you are, too, and I suspect it's because you don't rely on selling your labor.

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The primary economic advantage that the US and Canada have over much of the rest of the world is that we have proven to be able to take in immigrants and allow them to be productive citizens. If the US stops being able to do that, it could very well lead to economic decline. Then we would be the same as Japan, China, and many European countries that cannot allow immigrants to become full-fledged members of society.

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Removed (Banned)Feb 19, 2023
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Take your medicine, bro

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Feb 18, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

immigration is a (proven) pillar of sustainable economic growth.

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Yep

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Japan has one of the best economies in the World. They have no immigration.

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Feb 19, 2023·edited Mar 6, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

1. Our population density is much lower than most countries

2. Immigrants drive domestic innovation

3 immigrants are the only real super power the US has

This topic needs to be much much more prevalent. It’s so important.

We need 1B Americans. Ask Matty.

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1 billion dollars of Americans!

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Good catch. Typo.

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Industrial nations aren't infertile. We use contraceptives.

In the 1960's the government said our our population was growing too fast. In the 70's they told us to have no more than 3 chikdren for sustainable growth. Resource limits were a concern.

Why replace the children we were told not to have with immigrants?

Lake Mead is shrinkkng, not from climate, but from human water use. If it gets smaller Hoover Dam won't have water flow to generate electricity for the millions using it today.

The Great Salt Lake has 73% less water volume than before. Not from climate, but from human water use of its tributaries.

That won't hurt humans much, just toxic dust from the lake bed. Migratory birds will suffer and the brine shrimp will die.

Of course we have a number of elderly; It's the huge baby boomer population beginning to die off. They'll soon be gone.

No, we don't need more people. Besides, not just sending healthy young workers are coming,, chikdren, elderly & disabled are too

Even slaves had a place to sleep, food to eat and clothes to wear. So many say we need them for labor. Many will have low wages. They'll be just able to afford a place to sleep, food to eat and clothes to wear. Slave Wages. What people are really asking for is a new group of slaves.

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Feb 19, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

Thank you for writing this. The positives of immigration seem so obvious to me, and it's one of the policy areas where the hard-nosed economic arguments line up with my own warm and fuzzy feelings (as the child of an immigrant myself) about how anyone can become an American and how, despite everything, countless people around the world still want to. I really wish we had a vocal contingent of the public debate championing immigration, but it feels like ever since Trump it's been hard to find many besides than Matt Y making that case. All the pushback you're getting in your own comments here is pretty disheartening, so I wanted to throw in my two cents on your side of the issue!

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It is disheartening, but I think the silent majority is on my side!!

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I'd believe it if I didn't see threads on reddit of software developers complaining about H1b visas being negative for them.

Some random threads I just googled:

https://www.reddit.com/r/cscareerquestions/comments/hfbdfj/experienced_developers_perspective_on_h1b/

https://www.reddit.com/r/programming/comments/6fn98h/silicon_valleys_h1b_secret/

Someone wrote: "I know that as a foreigner I don't have the inherent right to work and live here, and can't complain if I have no other option but to leave. But after having lived here for 5+ years, made friends, and integrated my life with the US, I can't help but feel a little entitled to some sort of clear path to citizenship that doesn't involve having to marry a citizen or having to be H1B sponsored."

Response? "With all due respect, you're not entitled to US citizenship at all. You're permitted to apply for it, to which it could be rejected for any reason without recourse for yourself (...) You chose to come to the US to study, but when you finished you didn't want to leave. The same is true for tons of other foreign students. The issue here is when their desire to stay creates adverse working conditions for both existing Americans, and themselves."

------

Frankly, I feel rather screwed over by globalization. Big tech is located in the US, yet it makes money on the European market as well. There's no European equivalent, and I can't get employed on equal terms as someone who was born in the _correct_ place and now feels entitled to labor protectionism. Why couldn't EU extort Google/Meta/etc. to the point where it makes sense for EU-based alternatives to exist?

And somehow, despite remote work being the norm now, salaries didn't really equalize across the globe. Why?

Oh, and while I'm not _entitled_ to living in the US... if I do something US doesn't like, I can be arrested, and incarcerated based on American laws. If sentence is not life, presumably I'd get deported after serving it. Wonderful system.

At least that's how I interpret the message US law enforcement left when they seized Lizard Labs domain[1]: "It is unlawful to manufacture or distribute [scheduled drugs or their analogues] intending, knowing, or having reasonable cause to believe that [it] will be unlawfully imported into the United States. (...) offenders convicted of a crime under these statutes may face up to life in a U.S. federal prison (...).".

For reference, Lizard Labs, based in Netherlands, was manufacturing stuff like LSD analogues, legal in Netherlands. But I guess if a substance is illegal in the US, it's illegal everywhere because when would you not have "reasonable cause to believe" it will end up in the US? You don't control what others do.

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/herpetology/comments/yrplse/lizard_labs_shutdown_by_a_us_dept_homeland/

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Mmmm you can always tell when someone's making an excellent political argument when they start talking about the "silent majority"

Definitely has a great track record, that one

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There’s also Bryan Caplan, whose great book Open Borders covers all the arguments.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42867903

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The challenge is that so many grass roots movements are driven by vitriol and negativity, rather than optimism and forward movement. There are grass roots anti-immigration movements, but I don’t know of grass roots pro immigration groups--business sponsored groups, yes, but not citizen driven. The anti immigrant hate pushed by the far right inflamed, emboldened the grass roots lobbysists. We just may be setting up a country where the pro-hate folks on the far right may hate themselves out of jobs and social security due to a shrinking economy/tax base. I get and support the securing of the border argument to keep people out that we didn’t ask for. Great. Let’s not conflate that with our need for a variety of immigrants/disciples from around the world in order to push our country forward. The math is pretty simple. People are accretive. You probably lose money on them the first generation but then you profit from that point forward. Let’s not be shortsighted. We need more pro-immigration voices in high places to influence policy and encourage grass roots. People in 2016 were brainwashed into thinking immigrants are an existential threat, but it’s the lack of new immigrants that truly is.

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Feb 19, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

The anti-Chinese state land-buying restrictions do not IMO pass the constitutional smell test from due process to the 14th amendment and beyond. Just another anti-woke GOP political game.

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I'm on board with more immigration if you show me 2 things:

1) We are capable and willing to assimilate immigrants into the historical, Enlightenment culture of America. Note, that doesn't mean libertarian capitalism, Noah; it means Judeo-Christian / Greco-Roman / Lockean / Smithian / Burkean Western civilization. As Teddy Roosevelt said, "no hyphenated Americans".

2) We choose who to let in based only on the best interest of our current citizens (all of them, not just the laptop class who needs cheap gardeners, roofers, and nannies).

I see no evidence that we are capable of either today. We don't believe in our own culture enough to assimilate people, and we are intentionally making immigration decisions based on the needs of the top 20%.

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Your average immigrant is going to be more Judeo-Christian than your average native-born American, man. Are you sure you're not using "culture" as a stand-in for something else here?

And yes, our current citizens, including both the rich and the poor, are going to get old and they'll need people to take care of them. Nor will the working class be served by an exodus of high-tech industries from the U.S.

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Of course I am, Noah. America was settled by European Christians; that is our historical culture. Thomas Jefferson certainly wasn't a modern Evangelical, but he and the rest were so steeped in Judeo-Christian philosophy that they didn't even realize when they were relying on it. Enlightenment liberalism doesn't actually make a lot of sense absent a Judeo-Christian or at (least monotheistic) backdrop: if you don't have a Creator, where did you get those rights? If you want to look at why it matters, go look at the rape gangs in England, the Paris barrios, or many Germans cities. Cultural compatibility is important.

As I said, I have no problem with bringing people in, but under specific conditions. We're already at the highest foreign borne percentage in American history. Do you have a stopping point?

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America was settled by British people, but later we took in German and Irish people, and America remained America. Later we took in Italian and Russian and Greek and Polish people, and America remained America. Now we've taken in Mexican and Chinese and Indian people, and America remains America.

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The actual ethnic history of the United States does not bear this out: tinyurl.com/bdefbbsb For 180 years we were essentially a country of European immigrants (the Germans, Italians, Russians, Greeks, and Poles that you mentioned). In 1960 we were 85% white (European) and 10% black. In the last 60 years, that has changed, and that change has paralleled a significant drop in Enlightenment values like tolerance, freedom of speech, religious liberty, etc... Polls bear this out, and polls of Gen Z indicate it's likely to get worse. Yes, correlation is not causation, but it's certainly worth asking whether there might be a connection. No one is asking this though, because tolerance (a core liberal value) has eroded to a point that no one dares to.

I believe you are conflating libertarian economic positions with Enlightenment, secular liberal values. The former requires only legal rules; the latter requires a shared cultural framework. One which we appear to be (for reasons you and I might disagree about) in the process of losing.

I don't want to argue further, since this is your forum and I respect that. I read you because you challenge me, Noah, even though I sometimes disagree. So please don't take anything I said personally.

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" In the last 60 years, that has changed, and that change has paralleled a significant drop in Enlightenment values like tolerance, freedom of speech, religious liberty, etc... "

I realize this is a tangent but . . . what?

I am not an expert, but looking back on 1st amendment Supreme Court cases it appears that the 60s-80s saw a major shift _towards_ freedom of speech and religious liberty.

In the late 18th Century there was a law (the "Sedition Act") that made it a crime to make false or malicious statements about the federal government.

At the beginning of the 20th Century the court supported the constitutionality of convicting people for distributing leaflets protesting the draft (from Wikipedia: "The Wilson administration launched a broad campaign of criminal enforcement that resulted in thousands of prosecutions. Many of these were for trivial acts of dissent. In the first case arising from this campaign to come before the Court, Baltzer v. United States, 248 U.S. 593 (1918), Schenck had signed a petition criticizing his governor's administration of the draft, threatening him with defeat at the polls.")

One of the major religious liberty cases (upholding the right of Jehovah's Witnesses to decline to say the pledge of allegiance was in 1943 (reversing an earlier 1940 decision). Again from Wikipedia: "In the United States, children of Jehovah's Witnesses had been expelled from school and were threatened with exclusion for no other cause. Officials threatened to send them to reformatories maintained for criminally inclined juveniles. Parents of such children had been prosecuted and were being threatened with prosecutions for causing delinquency. In 1935, nine-year-old Carlton Nichols was expelled from school and his father arrested in Lynn, Massachusetts, for such a refusal. "

Then there are bunch of major cases in the late 60s and on, but I'm not seeing the golden age of Free Speech and religious toleration that you describe in the first 180 years of the Republic.

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Louisiana had a significant number of French people when it was purchased by Jefferson (Cajuns). Texas to California had a large number of Spanish people from a couple of centuries of Spanish colonization prior to those areas being absorbed in the 1800s. A lot of economic power shifted from Spanish to English Americans after the 1862 Great Flood in California wiped out the Spanish ranchers.

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founding

Asians in San Francisco will sook pass the White population and they have no Judeo-Christian background, nor are they monotheistic. They are supercharging the regional economy and are less like to break the law or commit violent crimes than the native born population.

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deletedFeb 20, 2023·edited Feb 20, 2023
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Of course we have a large number of elderly; the huge population of baby boomers have aged. Once they are gone, the percent of elderly in our population will drop.

Frankly, if we want more young people we will stop using contraceptives, then love and raise them.

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The idea of a religious litmus test for new Americans is one of the most appallingly anti-American positions I can imagine. It's an enlightenment society deeply skeptical of received wisdom. We were founded on the heels of centuries of people murdering each other over this stuff and decided to stop making such a big deal about it, let's not reverse that.

Knowledge of enlightenment and proto-enlightenment philosophy is more laudable, but lack of knowledge there is hardly unique to immigrants. You go ahead and poll the median American on whether Leviathan was responding to Locke or vice versa, or to contrast Hume and Mill. Or just ask them to just name a single philosopher the founders read. I wish it weren't so, but the bar here is subterranean.

If you read any assimilation statistics at all you find a great convergence in attitudes by the second generation, the same as it has been for over a century. The main things immigrants don't conform to are crime rates and median incomes, where they tend to commit far fewer crimes and have far higher incomes than the median American for generations.

Fears about assimilation always strike me as projecting. My family came here with the pilgrims, fought in the revolution, against slavery, and in both world wars. Yet I have far more in common culturally with my second gen office coworkers than the conspiratorial fringe from the rural areas near where I grew up. American culture now includes boba tea and pad thai and carnitas and hot yoga and k-pop and JRPGs and anime and zen meditation retreats. It is fluid and just swallows a new basket of global cultural products every decade, and that's fine and wonderful.

Nobody is in charge, nobody gets to ossify American culture at some specific point in history they particularly liked. Nobody gets to tell my family what our cultural and social project has *really* been about, we've been here actually building and bleeding for it, and I don't really care for your interpretation of our work.

If anything, the "assimilate now!" crowd seems the most deeply out of step with contemporary American culture, which has always adapted rapidly to global trends, much more so than it has ever imposed any straitjacket on the cultural habits of its inhabitants. Maybe that's where the anxiety is coming from, the thing you assumed America is never really existed in the first place.

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Feb 19, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

Well said!

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If Enlightenment liberalism is important to you (and it sounds like it is, for good reason, since it's the best -- perhaps only -- way for a culturally diverse people to coexist), how do you intend to defend it? Because to a great many people in the world, those "self-evident rights" aren't so self-evident. In fact, much of the world doesn't even view them as "good", let alone obvious and universal.

Secular liberalism is a culture, and like any culture, it requires intentionality to pass it on to new members of your society, whether native children or immigrant. This is what Ronald Reagan meant when he said: "freedom is only one generation away from being extinguished."

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Matt Stewart makes a pretty compelling case that the founding fathers were far more deists/pantheism than judeo-christian adherents

https://mwstewart.com/books/natures-god/

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I said above, Thomas Jefferson was hardly a modern evangelical. But 18th century Europeans were completely saturated in a culture of Christianity, specifically highly individualistic, rational, nominalist Protestantism. Whether they believed specific theological claims is moot; the overriding culture proved fertile ground for the secular, individualistic, rights-based philosophy of the Enlightenment.

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The Founding Fathers broke away from royalty, but also religion as the foundation of the state. They were in a period of time when the King of England was the head of the Anglican Church and many of the European countries were solidly Catholic with the Popes firmly embedded in European politics for centuries. Many of the immigrants to the US were looking for religious freedom from both of those church hierarchies which is why the First Amendment has freedom of religion which was essentially unheard of in the late 1700s. People could be executed for being a different religion in many places in Europe at that time.

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Great question, but let me flip it around:

How do you intend to defend liberalism from ever lower standards and aspirations in the native born population?

If you want to ensure future generations have eloquent, full-throated defenses of liberty, become a beacon on the hill welcoming those attracted to the American ideal or fleeing authoritarianism. That remains the best and possibly only approach here. The most stalwart defenders of liberty have fled tyranny, they remind everybody else what's at stake.

But honestly, I reject some of the implied premises you tuck in there. I don't believe that if a certain percentage of society stops reading Rousseau then society immediately devolves into chaos. I wish more people would read what the founders read, I do, but I'm too old and cynical to pretend that has ever happened in great numbers throughout our country's history. The experiment hobbles along because it was set up by some "philosophers" who thought deeply about governance and individual liberty, then put up safeguards, guardrails against our worst excesses. They made it a zero sum game to tear down any one of the competing power centers, so to try is to embolden your opposition. How many later Presidents or Speakers thought so deeply about the very nature and system of government? One in ten? The system works in spite of our natures not because of them.

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Personally, I think people who have imbibed too much Rousseau and Descartes are part of the problem. :-) I would tend more to Aristotle and Aquinas.

It sounds like you and I are pretty much in agreement, actually. You call it "becoming a beacon on the hill welcoming those attracted to the American ideal." I call it "assimilate immigrants into the historical, Enlightenment culture of America". In practice, those two are probably pretty similar.

BTW: Good conversation. Thanks.

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> It sounds like you and I are pretty much in agreement, actually.

A lot of this comes down to emphasis, sure, maybe some substantive marginalia.

Thanks for the discussion. Let's be sure to dig into the merits and deficits of classical and medieval philosophy next time we pick it up.

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There is no need to query the median American on knowledge of Western enlightenment and Judeo-Christian principles upon which the US was founded. That knowledge has been built into our culture and institutions over the intervening years and refined since its founding. Cultural assimilation occurs over a few generations, but like any system it can be overwhelmed and breakdown. Unchecked immigration will certainly lead to breakdown before assimilation.

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> We are capable and willing to assimilate immigrants into the historical, Enlightenment culture of America.

Well, you're clearly not willing to do so. Did the anti-immigration people actually do something to make immigration from Europe easy for people who contribute to the economy? I'm from the EU, and the immigration process seems ridiculous enough I didn't bother.

Tho later you said you want Christians, so I guess as an atheist I don't qualify. It's rather hilarious when religious people claim Enlightenment is somehow Judeo-Christian, when its values are clearly in opposition of religion.

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The idea that the Enlightenment was opposed to Judeo-Christianity is a myth. Lockean liberalism is formulated as a way out of the European wars of religion of the 16th and 17th centuries, but the philosophy itself is profoundly indebted to the Judeo-Christian view of man. "Man made in the image of God" becomes "man endowed by his Creator with certain inalienable rights". Absent at least monotheism, that doesn't make any sense. If your rights don't derive from a metaphysical source of some kind, they derive from a human source, which means they can't be inalienable and universal, since anything granted by man can be taken away by man.

I understand that this assaults your secular, atheistic view of the philosophy that undergirds Western civilization. But this thesis is hardly original. I didn't come up with it. If you're interested enough, read Why Liberalism failed by Patrick Deneen or The Demon in Democracy by Reszard Legutko. The latter is a particularly unique perspective, as Legutko has seen both communism and secular liberalism up close, and sees similarities that are invisible to those without that experience.

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Feb 19, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

Hear, hear!

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Other countries have policies on immigration that are enforced. Ever try to get into Australia or Canada or New Zealand? Strict quotas and special needs of the country are applied. Very organized. No crony capitalism by opportunistic corporations looking for cheaper labor to undercut natives. There is respect for those who filled out the forms and got in line. By the same token, those who were lucky enough to meet the challenge are supported with social benefits, housing, and education as needed to help them fit into society. Things are the way they are in America because the powers in place like the way it is .

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Australia absolutely has crony capitalism by opportunistic corporations looking for cheaper labor to undercut the natives.

I feel like you don't actually know anything about Australia.

10% of Australia's entire workforce are migrant workers and the situation is so bad there was a federal Migrant Workers Task Force report in 2019 to try to correct the many abuses.

Google "Australia fruit picking jobs with visa sponsorship" or "Australia farm jobs with visa sponsorship" or just look at the entire for-profit university industry with student visas for bullshit courses of study.

Australia also doesn't "enforce immigration" in the iron-clad way you imply. There are over 100,000 people in Australia illegally and two-thirds of them work in agriculture.

The only thing that keeps Australia having relatively low amounts of illegal immigrants is that it is an island far from anything else. You need to buy a plane ticket to get there. Enter on a tourist visa. Never leave. Not exactly rocket science. But it requires buying a plane ticket and not, you know, walking.

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It is easier to legally immigrate.

Continued tolerance (and even encouragement) of illegal immigration has poisoned the well in the US.

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David Schneider raises a very valid point, IMO.

It is plain flat obvious that US population growth cannot continue FOREVER.

The US population WILL stop growing at some point. The only question is how pleasant or unpleasant that stoppage will be.

This piece does not address that issue at all.

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It's just not an issue right now and won't be for the foreseeable future. Our population density is so much lower than other rich countries.

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Feb 19, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

But Noah, what happens when the American population reaches 10 quadrillion and there's no space left? What will you do then? I'm disappointed that your piece doesn't address this.

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Noah, I love your Substack and I generally share your policy views, but if you'll pardon me, "Our population density is so much lower" is an unserious take. There is a *reason* why US population density is low, and it's because lots of the US landmass is a) not suitable for human habitation (deserts, mountain ranges, etc.), b) necessary for growing things we need (food, lumber), or c) set aside as protected wilderness. Also, I live in So Cal and I assure you that shortage of potable water absolutely will be an issue in the (very near) foreseeable future. What are all the new Americans supposed to drink and wash in, desalinated ocean water pumped hundreds of miles inland?

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Do you think other rich countries are nothing but fertile lowlands and river basins?

The U.S. has far more arable land and water per capita than other rich countries. They have their own uninhabitable regions as well!

We are nowhere near full. Any argument that we're even close to nearing capacity is a deeply unserious take!

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So, this means that unrestricted immigration is not a problem because there is plenty of uninhabitable land that the uninvited immigrants will gravitate to, or does it mean that uncontrolled immigration will spur technological innovation to make those vast uninhabitable lands fertile to accommodate the uninvited immigrant. No, neither will be the case because migration, legal or illegal, is always going to trend to the populous city centers where the opportunities/services are or where the illegal immigrant can disappear into.

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Southern California has no shortage of water for people. The substantial majority of the water used in Southern California is used for agriculture. And of the water used in cities, the majority is used for watering lawns. If you think it is essential for people to have lawns, and essential for alfalfa to come from California, then I guess I could see why there might be a water problem. But if you think it would be ok for people to live without a lawn, and for alfalfa to be imported from the Midwest, then California absolutely can well over double in population with zero water issues.

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Many people (including me) live in deserts and mountain ranges. We could build 100s of cities the size of Los Angeles all over the country and we would be much more wealthy. More people means more brains, ideas, progress and yes resources including water (desalination can easily be done with cheap solar or nuclear power). Read the 2022 book SuperAbundance for proof that this works.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/59395031

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I’ll need to read. Much of the issues with water, floods are climate change issues. Survival of economy may be difficult if we fail to act

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This is irrelevant. Density needs to be computed in relation to resources such as arable land and water, not raw square footage. Plenty of square feet in northern Alaska, but so what?

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author

When it comes to arable land and water per capita, the U.S. is even further ahead of other rich countries.

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Alaska will have plenty of arable land by the time our population is big enough to need it due to the great benefits of global warming .

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Show us the math your way! Take out Alaska. Compare us to England or Germany or wherever.

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It's not easy, it depends on a lot of details, and has to be done on a regional scale (at least). For example, drosophilist below points out the severe water issues in the southeast US. And it's not as if Europe has no environmental problems. The more people there are, the harder these are to mitigate.

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If you believe the problem is that bad regionally (and that individual humans are the main problem) then America probably shouldn't allow Americans to move *within* the country!

Why not set up a Chinese style Hukou-system where you need to have an internal passport to move anywhere?

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Oh please. All I'm saying is that the "immigration ALL GOOD fuck yeah!" position that Noah and you are espousing is way too simplistic.

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The others are right to say that national population density is irrelevant here. But they don’t notice that our population density at the urban level is also lower. Every city could have a lot more people, with no issues of space (and if lawns are reduced then no water issue either).

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When someone advocates "population growth", I understand them to mean changing the demography so as not be a disproportionally old society. I think the article addresses that.

An aging or aged population is a problem because we lack the wealth to enable a few workers to support all of those can no longer participate in the labor market. BUT this is very much a can that we can kick down the road. And as long as productivity increases more quickly than the portion of the population that does not work, we will, in time, reach a point where we can sustain the elderly without worrying about the cost. My best guess for when that occurs is a few years after fusion becomes commercial.

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Well, since fusion will NEVER be commercial, that's going to be a problem!

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a smaller population would be good for the country. We are short 5 million homes/apartments already and a larger population means destroying more open land for apartments, condos, houses, etc. Social Security has a major design flaw being that is assumed there will always be more workers than retirees - having kids in excess of the death rate. FDR ignored the fact that over time, people will live longer. You want a young population? Try Pakistan, how is that working out?

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author

OK Thanos. We *could* just build some more homes, but instead let's SHRINK OUR POPULATION, that's brilliant...

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This is an unworthy answer. The question is legit.

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author

It's really not. America has a very low population density.

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What question is legit? Is Pakistan doing okay with a young population?

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and when does it stop? When there aren't any trees left, no blades of grass? Referring to me as Thanos is something someone with a junior high school education would do. But I am sure your junior high school is top notch.

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author

I did, in fact, go to junior high. You caught me! 😂

Anyway, the U.S. has a very low population density compared to other rich countries. We're nowhere near full.

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Also, Thanos may have bad ideas about population and growth, but he is my favorite Marvel character, and I've followed Thanos comics since I was a kid!

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founding

I prefer Iron Man. He is kind of a prick but also a techno-optimist.

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Feb 18, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

'When there aren't any trees left?'. US has way lower population density than most industrialized nations and unlike Canada and Russia vast swaths of US lands are not covered by ice. Germany's population is 7 times that of US and it's not running out of land or resources. People like you have scaremongering about lack of resources since 19th century aka malthusian theories and they have been proven wrong time and time again.

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As technology progresses, the limits of population growth get pushed out in time. But wonder how all those new people will manage to fit on less land when ocean levels rise by a foot. Actually I don't wonder. And no, Germany does not have 7 times the population of the US. So far nobody has wanted to address the design flaw from day 1 of social security. I have been to many cities in China where the population density is quite high. No surprise that China's fishing fleets have to scoop up fish in areas that they are not supposed to be in - many mouths to feed. It also costs a lot to raise a child, and a lot of families are struggling. If we went back to a birth rate in the US of say....2.7 kids per couple, will you pay for the childcare of the children? How about the food and clothing? Oh don't worry, the government will pay? I guess the world will soon have more livable land since the ice on Greenland is melting away and Greenland is quite large. Oops, goodbye Florida etc

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Sorry I meant to write population density instead of population.

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Implying that increased population would wipeout all vegetation is logic not even worthy of junior high, let alone Thanos. Addressing lack of housing by reducing population is even less so.

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How about you tell us your plan.

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Human ingenuity is the most valuable thing in the world. I would much rather build more houses than have fewer people. However, it's also important that the people in those houses have skills that we need and come ready to adopt American culture instead of importing the one they came from.

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" ... adopt American culture ..."

They and their children largely do, sooner or later, whilst adding to the blend. Continuing a process which has made American culture what it is today.

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What about all the people already here who don’t have the skills we need, do you want to get rid of them too? And you want to keep other cultures out? Restaurants and music would be so much less interesting in that case.

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Of course not. It citizenship means anything, it is that I (as a fellow citizen of your nation) have a greater obligation to you than to others. It doesn't mean I have no obligation to others, but my responsibility to my fellow Americans comes first. This is hardly original or complicated.

Ethnic food and music are fairly minor manifestations of multiculturalism. Far more serious ones are disagreements on the proper role of women in society (something which Germany and France are both dealing with extensively right now) or what view of man should be taught in schools.

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The situation in the US is not comparable to the one in Europe though...AFAIK migrants (particularly refugees, be they legitimate or not) are a drain on the welfare state in many European countries, but the US does not have a massive welfare state unlike most of Europe...

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I'm not talking about economic drain. We're talking about cultural similarity and assimilation.

However, sticking to your economic tangent here, most native born, blue collar, workers (whether in America or France or Sweden) view high levels of immigration very different economically than the laptop class does. It doesn't mean those people objectively correct, but as our fellow citizens, we have an obligation to consider and respond to their concerns instead of treating them like deplorable Luddites.

Please note, I'm not suggesting you personally treat people that way, but this is broadly the attitude of the educated (a class that I suspect you and I are both part of) about those who are not.

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Careful, TJ. You're sounding like a Hungarian. :-) I actually think this is one of the great things about this forum (Substack in general, and Noah / Aaron Renn / Bari Weiss / Paul Kingsnorth / and others in particular): it connects serious and mostly educated people, akin to the 18th century Republic of Letters. If Noah can help a progressive Swede an a conservative Californian discover that they agree on something... that's valuable!

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How do you expect to fix the housing problem without a lot of builders?

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We are short housing because of local zoning codes. There is plenty of space to build affordable housing within our urban areas. There is a lack of will to allow it to be built. I live in a town next to al local village where both routinely turn down rezoning requests to take abandoned industrial/commercial properties on the main street and turn them into apartments. They have no problem rezoning farmland for single family homes. There are the usual excuses that they don't want the traffic apartments would generate or additional kids for the school system. That doesn't stop new subdivisions though. The houses will typically require greater than median income to live in them where the apartments would be affordable for people somewhat over poverty level. It is pretty clear why people really don't want the apartments, but local restaurants are closing because they can't find people in the community who will work for $15/hr. Affordable housing allows for affordable staff to exist in a community.

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founding

What is your solution for taking care of the elderly when there is a declining population of young people? Deflationary economies don’t do that well.

Your example of Pakistan as a young country is a straw man. You should instead compare the US with Japan.

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Could not agree with this more! More support for immigration from the public almost paradoxically requires stronger enforcement of borders as well as work and public service access. Without that, trust between all groups breaks down.

The immigration-asylum seeking fuzzy boundary is a knotty problem. My hometown hosted Kosovan refugees back in late 1990s. Several of the children joined classes in our school. Their stories of being driven out by armed soldiers are exactly what most people imagine when you say refugee. And it seems to be what the laws and conventions on refugees have in mind. Fortunately, they were able to return home after a couple of years. The problem is that for most people seeking to enter as refugees in USA or Europe it is not so clear cut and simple. We don't have good ways to assess whether those arriving were really under threat, nor whether they will stay temporarily or permanently, or whether legal immigration is a better route for them. No political parties seem willing to try to draw clear lines because they wish to avoid blame from all sides. Meanwhile people arriving are left in limbo and discontentment grows.

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Noah, I am a bit perplexed that someone who has written extensively about AI and automation would fail to mention that factor in the argument for human labor resources. If what we're being promised (and the advancements I have seen in my lifetime) are fairly accurate, a smaller population can support a proportionally larger total population. A huge increase in productivity is certainly achievable and the need for human capital will diminish. We are already seeing that in general wage stagnation and a massive shedding to high tech workers recently.

Yes, population will continue to decrease as automated productivity increases. As the Industrial Revolution shifted labor from humans to machines, a new revolution is brewing that will hasten the demise of human labor requirements. What I think folks are missing is how the tax system has to evolve to meet this transition from taxing human income to taxing automated production.

Your comment: "Without immigrants, our population will grow older and older on average. Each worker will need to work more days out of every year just to support the growing ranks of the elderly." Currently almost one quarter of Americans receive some form of social assistance benefits. As automation shifts away from the need for human labor, this percentage will naturally increase. Our current tax system is a Ponzi scheme based on shorter lifespans and an abundance of younger workers. AI and automation may hasten the crumbling of this pyramid unless changes happen.

During the Industrial Revolution, a hand-me-down from feudal society meant that workers were taxed a portion of their 'yield' and the landlords received incentives to purchase more machinery and hire more taxable 'serfs.' An industrial robot can do the work of dozens of humans yet the company owning the robot is given a tax write-off rather than taxing the robot a the same rate as a dozen humans. It is not just a declining birthrate that is threatening social support programs, but a disparity of taxation between individuals and corporations. We are all aware of multi billion dollar corporations and individuals who pay no or minimal taxes while the burden continues to increase on a diminishing number of middle class workers feeling the growing burden. Meanwhile corporate coffers expand at exponential rates due to increased productivity and beneficial tax rates and loopholes.

The future is shaping up to be all of us doing more with less. The world's population needs to decrease and our tax system needs to change from the old feudal system of taxing serfs to benefit an elite aristocracy to a new system based on supporting human life by taxing technology rather than the other way around. We need a new Teddy Roosevelt, a digital 'trust buster', to lead a new fight to curb the wealth disparity and give the power back to humans rather than the Robber Barons. Tax the 'bots'!

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"we don't need immigrants because AI will replace humans" is science fiction, my man!

We need as many robots as possible, in order to make America the center of high-tech manufacturing. Subsidize the bots!!

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If all the high tech manufacturing is done by bots, then is it really “American” or “Botian”? Again, the problem is not demographics. We cannot fix it by simply importing more human labor. We will work side by side with computers and robots yet only the human is taxed to support government and social services. The shift clearly is to more automation and less need of human labor. Our financial system is not keeping pace with our technology.

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deletedFeb 19, 2023·edited Feb 19, 2023
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The number of homeless people in any American city will belie your income disparity argument. Computer coding is a computer task and is a natural to be replaced by a computer program. Again, throwing more people at the problem is clearly not the solution.

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It's not xenophobic to enforce a orderly imagination policy

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“Immigration has always been a problem. Ask any Indian.” -- Will Rodgers

The advanced countries/economies have an immigration problem. More people than ever before in history are migrating as refugees and the reasons are manifold: climate change leads to lack of food and water, leads to civil wars or populist-driven autocracies . . .

“Show me a 12-foot wall and a I’ll show you a 14-foot ladder.” -- former Secretary of Immigration.

There is no greater incentive to migrate as a refugee than starvation or death via civil war or gang violence. There isn’t an immigration policy that can stop the worldwide rising tide of refugees. The root cause of the Arab Spring was failure of the Ukrainian wheat harvest, which caused a bread shortage in the Mideast. An empty stomach is an angry stomach.

I have no idea how to mitigate worldwide migration, but I don’t think an immigration policy will stop this increasing trend.

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author

Will Rodgers should have known the difference between immigration and conquest.

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How about we just do something? Nothing doesn't seem to be working. The 2013 bill plus revised Amnesty rules seems like a good start. There has to be a way to process preliminary Asylum requests before they leave their home country by using mobile phones to validate their claim and complete a background check. We need to put left and right idealogies aside, use technology, and innovate ourselves out of the problem.

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"Research continues to show that immigration of manual laborers doesn’t hurt the wages or the job prospects of the native-born." - probably true in general, but no doubt not true in lots of specific and geographic instances. Thinking of construction industry.

Why when people talk of immigration/border problems don't we talk more about the problems in the countries the immigrants are coming from? If you live in a country where the 1-5% own and control 95% of the land and the economy, nothing you can do except try to immigrate to a better place when things go sideways. thinking of "How Asia Works" and the primal need for land reform before any wide spread economic growth.

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