Sunday, October 4, 2020

Thinking Bigger


Dumpling truck, via New York Street Food.

Cheered and even kind of pumped by a radio appearance from Matty Glesias (as I like to think of him—it's how it looks on his Twitter handle) promoting a book, One Billion Americans: The Case For Thinking Bigger, offering some pretty big thinking indeed: that if you really wanted to make America great again, you'd want to do it with a greater population, say tripling it to a billion by the year 2100, through a combination of policies: not just making immigration much easier rather than much harder as the Trump administration has done, but also making it much easier for existing Americans to raise kids, and generally working the infrastructure to support a bigger population, because

the United States is not “full.” Many of its iconic cities—including not just famous cases of collapse like Detroit but also Philadelphia and Chicago and dozens of smaller cities like Rochester and Erie—actually have fewer residents than they had decades ago. And virtually all of our thriving cities easily have room to grow and accommodate more people.
And we should accommodate more people. Immigrants of virtually all stripes help make native-born Americans richer, make our retirement programs more sustainable, and offer the fuel for innovation that can help the country grow. Housing shortages are endemic in many parts of the country, but the tools to surmount them are easily available and—like immigration—would cost taxpayers nothing. Providing adequately for America’s families—by offering not just paid leave but financial assistance, preschool and aftercare services, reasonable summer programming, and affordable college for all qualified students—would cost money. But it would greatly benefit America’s children and make it much easier for middle-class people to have the number of kids they say they want.
Germany has twice the population density of a United States with a billion people, he calculates, and France and Switzerland would too, and they have plenty of mountains and forests, and pleasant small towns all over the place; they aren't jam-packed. And there's water, as Yglesias pointed out; the real water problem is the intemperate way it's used in industry and agriculture, not so much people taking showers and watering their lawns. And as he didn't quite say, a matter of regulation, favoring individuals over corporations and infrastructural investment over quarterly profits.

And so much of America, in the Great Plains states and the shallow South of West Virginia and Tennessee and Kentucky and the Southern-ish parts of bigger states from Pennsylvania through Illinois, has been more or less depopulating for years. Newspaper stories tell you every day how an influx of immigrants changes the whole character of one of those depopulating towns with their own enterprises and the auxiliary industries of medical care, education, food supply, and construction, creating employment where it seemed impossible. And the presence of life—restaurants and schools and the ability to buy a house—brings people who aren't immigrants and want to have kids in comfortable places.

What Yglesias and his interviewer didn't directly talk about at all is the Trumpian elephant in the room, which is that the necessary immigrants won't come, as Trump might say, from Norway, but from what he might refer to as "shithole countries" in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean, black and brown people, which is the primary reason behind the Trump-Sessions-Miller effort to stop immigration where it is which has just gotten worse and worse, as the administration works to stop the virus like Newcastle trying to ban imported coal. The nasty open secret is that some white folks have fallen into a 19th-century fear of "race suicide", as Teddy Roosevelt called it, of the extinction of the "white race" in North America, as our more fecund brothers, Chinese and Vietnamese, Dravidian and Indo-Aryan, Aztecan and Mayan, Semite and Hamite, West African and East African, descend upon us, and breed, perhaps with our innocent sons and daughters! Heaven forfend!

Or, maybe putting it another way, neglecting the historical lesson of the 19th and 20th centuries (down to 1924), that it doesn't do any harm. Because this story, which is difficult to talk about rationally because nobody rational is ever willing to talk about it, is the secret story of the 19th century, which the incoming "whiteness" began to disappear in favor of something new as the Germans (something like half the population of Pennsylvania at the time of the Revolution), and then Catholic Germans and Poles and Magyars (starting in the European revolutionary year 1848) and ever darker successive waves of Irish, Italian, South Slavic, Chinese, and Eastern European Jewish migrants invaded our shores and compromised the whole definition of what "whiteness" was.

The lesson being, long-term, that you just can't hold on to that stuff, it's going to change no matter what you do, and if whatever it was is worth hanging on to there will probably be some left. Meanwhile, we can have prosperity, stabilility, beating China, and taco trucks on every corner (not to mention the falafel stands, halal purveyors, even Chinese dumpling vendors). In Iowa! and Arkansas! Resistance is futile!

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