Issue of the Century

The Wave That Won’t Break

January 11, 2017

The intellectual arguments against statutory restrictions upon free trade and open borders always assumed practical barriers to slow things down—e.g., relocating a factory to Asia was too organizationally daunting in a world where few spoke English, while relatively few would immigrate because they would miss talking to their relatives and eating their favorite foods and watching their favorite shows. But just as it proved remarkably practical from the popularization of the internet in the mid-1990s onward to outsource factories from America to China, the friction costs retarding the billions in the Muslim and African parts of the world from arriving in the West barely exist anymore.

With the U.N. forecasting that the population of the Middle East and North Africa will increase from 357 million in 2000 to 937 million in 2100, and that the population of sub-Saharan Africa will grow from 642 million to 3,935 million, it ought to be clear that the West can’t just rely on assumptions about inconvenience to moderate the immigrant influx anymore.

In particular, WhatsApp keeps immigrant extended families in much closer contact than in the Ellis Island days, which in turn boosts pressure for more immigration. Jodi Kantor wrote in the Times:

The family was living through the first refugee crisis in history in which people without countries or homes could communicate instantaneously with one another. Previous generations of refugees often ached for any information about relatives, but now messages zipped back and forth around the world on free apps.

Mass immigration tends to work politically like a doomsday machine, a juggernaut progressively cutting down the ability to call off immigration due to diminishing marginal returns. As a Western nation imports more individuals from the self-destructive parts of the world, the demands to admit their extended family members grow as well.

The joy of such regular communication came at a steep cost: constant updates on the misery of relatives left behind, intensifying worry and impeding progress for those trying to carve out a new life. The Hajjes’ phone pulsed with voice messages in Arabic:

“Enjoy every sip of cold water, because I have none.”

To paraphrase Christopher Caldwell’s 2009 aperçu:

“One moves swiftly and imperceptibly from a world in which immigration can’t be ended because its beneficiaries are too weak to a world in which it can’t be ended because its beneficiaries are too strong.”

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