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    America Needs More Refugees

    The cheap fear-mongering about Syrian refugees loses sight of some basic facts. The United States has taken in refugees before, and that decision has worked out really, really well for us. In fact, taking in refugees has been great for America, and we should take in more whenever we get a chance.

    More than two-thirds of Americans were opposed to allowing refugees fleeing Hitler into the United States. But we eventually, grudgingly, mostly, did the right thing, and the influx of refugees into our country was wonderful for us. The United States got a huge infusion of European scientists, artists, and intellectuals, and an even larger group of bright, skilled professionals, tradesmen, business people, students, and workers. Those refugees helped us win the war, and they helped build America's postwar boom. They enriched America culturally and intellectually. They enriched America scientifically, in our universities and labs. And they straight-up enriched America, beginning new businesses and starting new careers.

    Our gigantic economic expansion after World War Two also benefited from a big, free bonus helping of educated workers, educated on other countries' dimes. Our classic Hollywood movies are filled with refugee actors, written by refugee screenwriters, and directed by refugee directors. And refugee scientists helped win America win the war, not least the race for the atomic bomb, because we could count on Hitler and Mussolini for regular shipments of world-class physicists. Does the name "Fermi" ring a bell? Or perhaps some of you might remember this fellow:
     


    The European intellectual migration of the 1930s and 1940s was unprecedented and historic, because the upheaval in Europe was unprecedented. But America has been harboring refugees since before it was the United States of America, and those refugees have made enormous contributions to our society and particularly to our economy. All those people who didn't want to accept European refugees in 1938, those people who looked at all those Jewish doctors, scientists, filmmakers, and engineers and just saw some stereotypical rabble of ghetto urchins without shoes, were not just being un-American bigots, which they were, but also (like most bigots) they were being suckers. They were being given an enormous gift, a migrating flock of golden geese, and they could only see their own racist fantasies.

    Refugee populations, now as then, include large numbers of people whom you could ordinarily never induce to leave their own countries for yours, including people who under ordinary circumstances would stay put because they were so successful in the old country. People with high degrees of skill and education, whom you could never manage to recruit otherwise, are forced to start over. Immigrants are a huge boost to the economy, period, but refugee groups include a heavy share of super-immigrants whom you're only getting because of historical disruptions. Their hard luck becomes our good luck. We should grab as many of those people as we can.

    The Syrian refugees are also people who would not be going anywhere in the normal course of things. They are disproportionately educated, middle-class types who were comfortable and successful before the civil war tore their country apart. (And they are also typically more secular or cosmopolitan; these are the people "ISIS"/Daesh hates.) They are, in short, super-immigrants, with a much higher percentage of doctors, scientists and engineers than you see in standard immigrant populations. We should grab them. We should grab them now. These are people who could make our country grow. We would be stupid not to grab this chance when we can. And I never want to hear Americans kvetching about a shortage of math teachers again, ever.

    I can accept that many of our politicians and our talking heads don't want to do the right thing. I've gotten used to that. I also accept, with my routine disappointment, that those people don't want to do the American thing. (But I will note how many Bible-thumping politicians are hellbent against doing the Christian thing.) But could we at least not do the stupid thing? Could we not be enormous suckers? Only a sucker would let a chance like this through our fingers. We have made it more than obvious over the past few days that we don't deserve good luck like this, but we should at least have the good sense to take it.

    Is there a short-term cost to taking in refugees who need to start over? Sure. But that short-term cost has enormous long-term benefits, and will reach the break-even point pretty soon. Taking on short-term costs for long-term gain, or what people call "investing," is what capitalism is. And the United States is uniquely situated to make that small investment. Last time I checked, the US had the largest economy in the world, and next time I check that will still be true. Do you know how we got to have the largest economy in the world? Taking in refugees. It is our national business. It is our edge. It is what got us where we are, and we should stick to it. We would be idiots not to.

    We have been building our country on refugees' industry, ingenuity, and prior education since before we called ourselves a country. I have particularly warm feelings for one group of refugees, fleeing religious persecution and political turmoil, who settled in my own native Massachusetts. Perhaps you might have heard of them yourself:
     


    And with that, let me be the first to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.

    Comments

    When those humanoid ham and eggers at Brookings try to convince us that Social Security benefits need to be cut, they generally cite demographics as the unassailable evidence of their position.  Critics can't just wish away the fact that America's working population is in decline as its retired population is on the rise.  They also assume that, like the weather, demographics are something that you can't alter and can only prepare for.

    This is nonsense.

    First, and most obviously, we could spark a baby boom by making Prince president.  The only problem with that idea is Prince's willingness.  As he has said before, "My name is Prince. I don't want to be king, because I've seen the top and it's just a dream."

    The second solution, actually relevant to your piece, is immigration.  Let more people into the country.  Bring in new ideas, bring new vitality to our culture and, more than anything, change the demographic math to support and enhance our current system.

    Either that, or my Prince idea.


    God, yes, the endless cut-Social-Security-because-demographics thing. As if their obsession actually had a reason, beyond their deep belief that grandma should be hungrier.

    And yes, of course, the people who say we have to cut social security also say we have to turn away immigrants. Because this is not really about reasons.

    As for Prince becoming President: there's a long riff about exactly that in an experimental novel by Kathy Acker from the 80s.


    As for Prince becoming President: there's a long riff about exactly that in an experimental novel by Kathy Acker from the 80s.

    Doc, I am so happy I know you.


      I do not wish to sound cheap but....

      We should not wish to live like refugees

      Somewhere somebody...

      Treated us like A REFUGEE...


      There is a whole lot of stupid in this country right now.  

      I live in a very diverse community.  Four languages are spoken in public.  We have lots of extra holidays that are celebrated.  It is communities like mine that are the first places that immigrants come to live.  This makes a community socially richer and smarter.  In so many ways it makes up for the poor economy,  

      I see how my grandchildren preform better in school and don't expect everything to be handed to them. They know that they can't have everything they want. They know to stay off the streets because of over policing.  Young drivers don't own cars many don't even have license. So their lives revolve around bus schedules and having a family member for transportation.  The last bus is at 10 PM so that get them home early.   

      Many here use only cash. The banking industry don't serve small savers and lending needs.  I have learned much from watching people here navigate through the economy.  I save more and not reach for the credit card as often.  

      People depend on each other more. If a car breaks down, you can depend on help because you have helped them through needs. I still marvel at that because when I lived in white suburbia it was every man for themselves.  If you broke down you better have AAA and money to pay a mechanic.  If you didn't then it was your fault.  People who had to risk leaving their homes behind think differently about that. Right now this country needs a lot more of that kind of thinking. 

      I think we need immigrants as much as they need us.    


      While I agree with much of your post we, as always, seem to be focused on a short term crisis while we're ignoring long term problems. For me the larger long term problem is over population. Here's a powerful graphic illustration of what we have done to our planet. I wish I could reprint it here but I urge you to click on the link. It's a representation of Earth's Land Mammals by Weight separated into humans, our pets and livestock, and wild animals. This is not the planet I want to live on. This is not responsible stewardship of our planet.

      I lived in Japan for two years, population density 337 per square kilometer. There are no wild spaces left anywhere. All that's left of "wild animals" are massive temple grounds populated mostly with thousands of deer and tourists that buy corn and feed them by hand. I don't want to live there either. I love the wide open and somewhat wild spaces of the US, pop 31 per square kilometer. I haven't lived in any European country but from my experiences in Japan I can guess. UK, 254 per square kilo. How many people do you think can fit on those small islands? Germany 230 per square kilo.

      I know that the US can easily absorb a million or more refugees. Yes, the increase in population density in the US from a few million immigrants is a trifling problem but its a trifling step in the wrong direction. We're constantly making dozens of trifling steps in the wrong direction that add up and not even talking about the long range problems they cause. You can't have infinite growth on a finite planet. That's a problem we're close to being forced to consider. I'm against anything that makes it easier for high population density countries to ignore that problem. I want the US to begin to face the issue of over population before we become a high population density country.


      There should be more zebras than horses.

      you were on a roll there, until you suggested that we needed more puritans..

      We gotta fight somebody...


      But how do we keep terrorists from sneaking in with them? It isn't really foolish to be concerned about that, even though nearly every refugee is surely innocent.  One of the Paris terrorists is said to have showed up in Greece posing as an asylum seeker--although he was born in Europe.


      It's not foolish it's a legitimate  but overblown and misplaced fear. If there were 20 attacks in Paris that each killed 130 people it would still be less than the 3,000 fatalities in France from car accidents every year.


      That's just it... how do we fight a potential criminal?  The way we always do.  Try to set reasonable laws, try to keep our eyes open, try not to let our fear of what might happen interfere with the lives of people who might just be different but have done nothing wrong.

      This doesn't really have to inform our immigration policy.  The current law enforcement system in the US is highly effective.  It can be handled.


      Since many Daesh terrorists have easier ways into the West, the possibility of a few extra among the refugees don't actually make a lot of difference. Many of them have Western passports. And many of them are already in the West, where they were born. Most of the Paris attackers were French or Belgian. The extra Daesh fighter who may have been using a Syrian passport wasn't enough to stage that attack himself. He was extra muscle for a home-grown terror cell that would have launched pretty much the same attack if he were not there.

      The test isn't whether something could bad possibly happen. If you insist on zero possibility of danger, then you can't do anything at all. And turning away tens of thousands of people for fear of one terrorist will end up creating more than one terrorist.


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