I have told several people on the Internet that Gov. Perry was inaccurate in calling Social Security (SS) a “Ponzi scheme.” That’s because what’s morally and also legally objectionable in a Ponzi scheme is that sooner or later the scheme runs out of late investors, or rather, investments, to pay off early investors. Whether SS will so run out depends entirely on two things: 1 Whether fewer late investors may provide large investments to pay off early investors. This may even happen painlessly given high economic growth. 2 Whether there will be many more late investors in SS than mechanically (dumbly) prolonging demographic trends would predict.
The US population may rise much faster than it is now growing through natural increase, including through natural increase fomented by deliberate economic measures. Or the American population may rise suddenly and healthily because our immigration policy is transformed. This could happen overnight and the beneficial effects on SS could be nearly instantaneous. Let me concentrate on this scenario.
Imagine that Congress and the President (not this one, maybe another) decide to admit each year for ten years 100,000 additional healthy and literate foreigners age 20 to 35. Solid research suggests that such a selective opening of borders might aggravate unemployment initially but that it would shortly spur economic growth. The effect of adding one million new people in the best of their working years over ten years would make the fear that we are running out of workers to support the non-working population considerably less relevant. Of course, I am selecting the low number of 100,000 per year deliberately to avoid causing panic without a name. (Numbers admitted legally each year in recent years were about 1,1 million.) In fact, there is no obvious reason why the new immigration could not comprise 200,000, or even 500,000 people annually. Certainly there are sufficient reservoirs of potential immigrants worldwide to achieve such numbers.
My monitoring of talk-show radio leads me to suspect that many conservatives think that if this could happen it would already have happened. This misconception in turn is rooted in the bizarre ideas conservatives tend to entertain with respect to our immigration system.
There are two main bizarre ideas: One regards who is allowed to come into this country (legally, I mean); the other strange misconception has to do with how aliens become US citizens.
The system by which the US admits immigrants is a little complicated and its description relied on a specialized legal jargon. In my considerable experience, few people have the patience to sit through a lecture on American immigration policy. So, let me cut to the chase:
There is no way, zero way, the average married Mexican can legally immigrate into this country.
There is only one way the average married Irish man or woman may immigrate into this country: Winning a lottery. In 2008, only about 48,000 people, all from Europe and Africa, gained admission on the basis of winning that lottery.
That’s it, folks. If you want to know more about the raw numbers, study the relevant pages in the Statistical Abstract of the US.
So, contrary to what I suspect is a widespread idea among conservatives, it is not the case that there is an orderly, wide-open legal way to immigrate into this country that illegal immigrants perversely ignore. Illegal immigrants are not rudely jumping to the head of the line; they come in trough a side-door we don’t seem able to close.
Instead of the present admission policies (plural) based on viciously absurd selection we have, we could take a page from the Australian and from the Canadian playbooks. That is, we could coolly decide what kind of immigrants we want and tailor a door to those precise dimensions. Presently, we are doing very little of this, however unbelievable it may sound.
Incidentally, I am a product of a rational immigration policy myself. I was admitted on merit alone. I rest my case!
On to the next misconstrued idea: In fact, in reality, to be allowed to become a US citizen, to take American citizenship, requires several years of residence in this country after being legally admitted.
Hence, personal preference plays little role in determining which immigrant does not become a US citizen. I don’t have the numbers but I am sure that, as a rule, the vast majority of legal immigrants adopt American citizenship shortly after they are legally empowered to do so. It is true that, in theory, some hesitation, some problems may arise in connection with some countries of origin who do not wish to recognize dual nationality. In practice, depriving anyone of his passport is low on the list of priorities of all countries from which new US citizens originate.
The consequence of this scenario is that, contrary to what I think is a widespread notion, there is no horde of legal immigrants living in this country and peevishly and disloyally refusing to take American citizenship.
It also follows that there is no mass of illegal immigrants who obstinately refuse American citizenship. It’s not available to them, period.
If follows from these simple observations that with simple changes in the laws governing immigration, you can modify profoundly the prospects of SS. Conservatives have given this solution essentially not consideration. Yet, contemplating significant policy changes is more dignified and more in line with conservative seriousness than are gross and self-defeating exaggerations as employed by Governor Perry.
Incidentally, at this point, hours before the third Republican debate, I would vote for Perry.
If you want more thinking material about immigration, there is a direct link on this blog to my co-authored article on immigration published in The Independent Review: “If Mexicans and Americans….”
[Editor's note: this essay first appeared on Dr. Delacroix's blog, Facts Matter, on September 23rd 2011]