(The Claremont Institute) “We believe our diversity, our differences, when joined together by a common set of ideals, makes us stronger, makes us more creative, makes us different,” Barack Obama pronounced at a citizenship ceremony last Fourth of July. Until half a century ago most serious historians would have called such an opinion ignorant or naïve. Ethnic diversity implies cultural diversity—if it did not, ethnic diversity would soon disappear. Cultural diversity means division, division means weakness, and weakness means, eventually, unfreedom. Such, at least, is the traditional view, and history appears to vindicate it. “Diversity” has been an attribute of subject populations: medieval elites communicated in Latin, laborers in various vernaculars. Diversity has been the form of belonging that typifies empires, just as nationality has been the form that typifies republics. The British Empire, the Roman Empire, and the Habsburg Empire—these were diverse. England, Italy, and Austria, until recently, were not. The motto E pluribus unum is a sign that the founders saw diversity as a challenge to be mastered, not a resource to be tapped.
Yet “diversity” today is a sacred term. It carries lots of power but resists easy definition. It entered popular constitutional understanding with the Supreme Court’s decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978). Justice Lewis Powell held that an affirmative action program that reserved spots for minorities at the U.C. Davis medical school violated the equal rights of white applicants, but that “the goal of achieving a diverse student body is sufficiently compelling to justify consideration of race in admissions decisions under some circumstances.” Diversity thus became a euphemism, allowing authorities to connive at public-policy goals that they could not openly avow.
The Brookings Institution demographer William Frey would seem a good candidate to lead readers to a clear, propaganda-free understanding of what diversity is. The title of his new study on ethnicity and population change is Diversity Explosion. While he never defines the word explicitly, he means the decline—in both population and vitality—of America’s European-descended population, and its replacement by more recently arrived population groups from everywhere in the non-European world. Frey sometimes describes this change as “the browning of America.” More than half (53%) of the country’s 3,100 counties had declining white populations by the first decade of the century. In the current decade the white population has begun to decline in the nation as a whole. Metropolitan New York and metropolitan Los Angeles have each lost a million white people since 1990. Fewer than half the babies born in 2011 were in the U.S. Census category of “non-Hispanic whites.” Three years from now most Americans under 18 will be “minorities” of one kind or another. In 1970, there were only two cities with more than a million black residents: New York and Chicago. Now there are seven. Los Angeles County and adjoining Riverside County have 6.1 million Hispanics.
In days when people spoke more freely about such matters, dramatic change in the dominant population of the world’s dominant power would have been occasion for speculation and worry. About whether, for instance, as more of its citizens come from non-European backgrounds, the United States will change its idea of its cultural heritage. Or whether, considering the occasional tawdriness of whites’ behavior toward minorities in centuries past—displacing Indians, enslaving Africans, deporting Chinese—there is cause to worry about race relations once the shoe is on the other foot. Or whether European civilization, which from the time of Columbus to the time of Goodbye, Columbus, seemed to roll ever westward as if by a law of nature, is now beginning to ebb.
Frey’s attitude toward these changes is much the same as President Obama’s: demographically, America is bound for glory. “Rather than being feared,” Frey writes, “America’s new diversity—poised to reinvigorate the country at a time when other developed nations are facing advanced aging and population loss—can be celebrated.” Any “resistance” to diversity can be explained by Americans’ “fear of change, fear of losing privileged status, or fear of unwanted groups in their communities.”
Now there are certainly good reasons to be glad of the size of our recent immigration. The U.S. labor force will grow 5% between this decade and 2030, and it would have shrunk considerably otherwise. Yet Frey could do with a reminder that what he is celebrating in passages like these is youth, not diversity, that natives ought to be as capable of bearing the next generation of children as the foreign-born, that their failure to do so may be an effect of something dire rather than the cause of something to be “celebrated,” and that policymakers have seldom been able to predict the outcomes of wholesale demographic change.
Clashes await. Frey sometimes has a sharp eye for them. Only 23% of those born in the Baby Boom generation and before believe America’s new diversity is a “change for the better”; 42% call it a change for the worse. The interests of America’s aging, infertile white population and its young, fecund immigrants will necessarily diverge, in ways that have nothing to do with anyone’s good or ill will. Both groups are dependent on government services, but in different ways. Sixteen percent of whites are over 65, versus 7% of minorities. The former, broadly speaking, want cheap drugs, lavish pensions, and a labor market in which young people will push wheelchairs and fix meals for next to nothing; the latter want new schools for their children, government-funded day care, and a so-called living wage. This year, for the first time, white families are supporting more dependent seniors than children. For them, the welfare state is no longer in any sense an “investment,” the way its social-democratic designers used to claim. It is, to use an appropriately Baby Boom expression, a drag.
Such statistics lend themselves to reflections about decadence and to questions about what it is we are really importing. It is not so much diversity, perhaps, and not so much labor, as traditional families. A third of Hispanic households consist of families in which a married couple lives with children, and a third of Hispanics are under 18. A third of Asian-American households consist of these families, too, and the country’s Asian population is now ten times what it was in 1970. Among whites, by contrast, such families make up only a fifth of households—except in those rare communities nationwide where the white population is growing. There, white habits resemble those of immigrants, with a third of families consisting of married couples and children.
Frey notes that over time Hispanics “tend to become ‘Americanized’ with regard to family and household relationships.” But, for now, new immigrant groups—or at least those individuals visible to the IRS—bear a disproportionate burden. Pay-as-you-go welfare states, in which all benefits are drawn directly from present earnings, are spectacularly unfair to those who procreate. Everyone, in time, has a claim to the benefits. But one group pays almost all the costs of producing, nurturing, and educating the next generation’s workforce: parents. For taxpayers, welfare states offer massive disincentives to having children. Both the old (who have already paid for others’ benefits) and the young (who will pay in the future) have legitimate but incompatible claims on the welfare state. Trying to honor both is one reason the country is now in such a fiscal predicament. Frey’s solution is to “persuade seniors that the key needs among striving young minorities—education, affordable housing, and steady employment—will work to benefit the Social Security and medical care programs that seniors will need in retirement.” Persuade all you like, but it’s not true, or at least not soon enough. In a pay-as-you-go system, there’s a lag of half a generation or a generation before education produces benefits (which, of course, not all education does). Politicians might reasonably ask seniors to consider posterity; but if anyone were capable of doing that, we wouldn’t have got ourselves so deep in debt in the first place. An economy built around mass immigration may lead to underinvestment in the future. Indeed, this may constitute an off-balance-sheet liability that makes the apparent economic benefits of immigration illusory. READ MORE…