“The economy stupid,” the infamous quote by James Carville during Bill Clinton’s 1992 run for president is an idea at the heart of our nation’s current debate about immigration. Much has been made of the changing demographics of our country and the rise of nationalism, racism and autocracy. There is a lot of hand wringing, myself included, among those on the left. Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt are experts in what makes democracies healthy — and what leads to their collapse. They warn that American democracy is in trouble. Certainly immigration is at the heart of this struggle. The overarching concern may be that the white straight male patriarchy don’t go down easy – as the white population will become a minority in little than twenty five years.
Is it simply racism? Sort of. But maybe more importantly it’s economic concerns. U.S. immigration policy throughout history has been tied to the economy. Our country has been historically generous during times of prosperity and restrictionist during downturns – this despite the fact that studies show that immigration is a primary engine in our economy and does not create job loss.
Indeed many on the left are arguing the issue backwards. Sort of like the chicken and the egg challenge. The relevant discourse, for the general public, is not what effect immigration has the economy – folks already have preconceived if not incorrect notions about this. The better discussion is what effect the economy is having on immigration policy as well as the greater divide and hostility between factions in the USA. The “American Way of Life” for many folks has been under threat for decades. Particularly for those on the lower end of the economic spectrum. Jobs have been out sourced to other countries and automation has replaced workers. Folks are hurting and as a result they retreat to tribal, racialized thinking and lash out in irrational ways. Ironically much of the job loss can be blamed on the right and the Republican party whose members are champions of Capitalism. They privilege profits over people and now we’re reaping the unintended consequences of psychopathic pure capitalism.
The immigration problem and probably the greater divide in the country is better addressed by looking at the “economy stupid” rather than name calling and reactionary panic.