Trump Can’t Make America Great Again without Immigrants

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In 2016, the US birthrate fell to 59.6 births per 1,000 women, the lowest ever recorded. Birth rates rise and fall over time, so the rate may not stay stuck at that level. It seems clear, however, that white nationalists like Trump’s evil genius Steve Bannon are doomed to be disappointed if they think that white birth rates can fuel the country’s economic and demographic growth.

Birth rates tend to level off in wealthy, industrial societies. The number of children per woman falls with urbanization and rising women’s status and education. Rural birth rates are often higher. Children are free farm labor, for instance, and farmers have lots of room for a family. Farmers have no retirement fund for the most part, and lots of children will support them in their old age. In the world’s farming towns and villages, women often marry early, dropping out of school if they were ever in school in the first place. That they are poorly educated and often lacking in societal esteem means that their husbands can keep them barefoot and pregnant. I have seen these conditions in rural areas of the global South. But I’m also the grandson of Appalachian farmers and my great-aunts had 12 and even 16 children.

The countries with the highest birth rates in the world still have large rural sectors. Egypt is over 50% rural. India is an astonishing 70% rural. Although China is 40% rural, fairly high, its government instituted a one-child policy decades ago, with some success. As a result of this artificial intervention, China is now declining in population and faces the prospect of greying.

But city people most often have social security, so they don’t need lots of children to support them in their old age. Urbanites most often are not involved in forms of economic activity that benefit from child labor. In the city, apartments are cramped and there is no place for very large families. Urban children are expensive, requiring post-secondary education to make it in the complex and varied urban economy. Urban women are much more likely to be educated, to work outside the home, and to have the sort of status where they can tell their husbands that no, they don’t want that 5th child.

Highly urbanized societies such as Japan often now face the prospect of a declining population. Japan has lost a million people in the past 5 years, which is unheard of in its recorded history. It is down to 127 million. Japan is expected to shrink from 127 million to 82 million over the next 80 years. This is an experiment that has never been run. Who will work in Japanese factories? Who will pay into social security to support all those elderly people?

Germany, Sweden, and Italy face a similar conundrum.

The great powers of the 21st century will be demographically large countries. China, India, Indonesia and Brazil have a shot at that status. Innovative youth increasing productivity will be important to their fortunes.

There is a strong possibility that Japan and the other shrinking, greying states will decline in standard of living and in global importance.

Based on the birth rate of whites, the US would join this club of the amazing shrinking and aging countries if it did not take in immigrants. And so it would lose its global position, economically and geo-strategically.

The reason for which the US has continued to grow and to remain politically competitive with the big boys is not the birth rate of the groups who consider themselves “white.”

It is because since 1965 the US has let in about 1 million immigrants a year. About a third of those nowadays are from Latin America and about a third are from Asia. (Trump’s obsession with Latinos reflects an earlier period when they were are larger proportion of immigrants). Although within a generation these immigrants’ birth rates fall to the same levels as the native born, they initially still have large families, since many of them had been rural back home.

Immigrants don’t typically compete for jobs with the native born, since they don’t have the language skills or technical training to do so in the main. The small towns in the rural stretches of some states have been revived because of Latin ranchers and farm hands willing to do work that locals no longer will.

I don’t have strong confidence that the white nationalists will be able to get this through their heads, but making and keeping America great requires an open door to immigrants. Otherwise the US population will start falling and spiraling down, and the country won’t be able to retain its economic and political advantages. In other countries, offering women tax breaks or money grants to have more children hasn’t usually worked, and anyway the Republican Party would never go for such handouts.

Another thing that would help the US birth rate is strengthening, not abolishing the Affordable Care Act, and adopting policies that reduce income inequality, so that young people have well-paying jobs and feel they can afford to have children. Very large numbers of Millennials have faced chronic under-employment and been forced to move back home.

Of course, I hasten to add, the US can only really benefit from these immigrants if it moves quickly to sustainable policies and net carbon zero. Over time, the world will likely move to robotics for most labor and so we will need a basic income and some way to distribute the profits generated by robots. In the meantime, demographics is still of great geo-political significance.

None of the policies the Trump administration is adopting is pro-natal, and if it begins reducing immigration, as Bannon is said to favor, then the country will be set on the same path as Japan is presently on, of facing the likelihood of dramatic decline and a crisis of an inverted age pyramid.

And that is why we should be welcoming young, on-the-ball immigrants, including, yes, Muslims. Nor can you hope for “white” immigrants– the population in many European countries is falling, and people have a fairly high standard of living. It is from the global south that you’d get these volunteers. Immigrants are twice as likely to found a company as the native-born. Contrary to Trump’s fearmongering, most immigrants, including Muslim ones, are extremely law-abiding, and you are thousands of times more likely to slip and hit your head in the shower than you are ever to be menaced by an immigrant terrorist.

Ironically, it is white nationalists, with their hatred of foreigners and xenophobia who are endangering American competitiveness in the new century.

Related video:

Newsy: “US birth rate falls”

25 Responses

  1. The rural areas of the USA will continue to depopulate for several very valid reasons . . .

    – The boomers are dying off and are not being replaced and the jobs they did are not being done any longer.

    – Due to the ubiquitous media (TV, Radio, Film and cell based Internet), most farm/ranch kids are well aware that they can have much easier and generally more fulfilling lives by moving to the cities. My own family saw this 15 years ago when the family cattle ranch was sold because the older members of the family were dying (ranching is hard) and none of the kids in the extended family wanted to run the ranch. BTW the ranch was purchased for the water rights and was taken out of production of cattle and animal feed).

    – Due to technology, farms and ranches are becoming much more efficient and much less labor intensive. When I added computers to the family ranch, the records were much more accurate and the profitability increased. Now there are many inexpensive systems that work even better than the relatively primitive stuff I used 25 years ago. Things like GPS guidance systems for field preparation that increase yield by 10% just by accurately spacing crops for optimal growth. Now drones can be launched over the farm every few days (or daily if need be) to measure things like moisture content, solar radiation and even sugar content then this data is downloaded into a laptop where it is analyzed showing areas that need more or less watering and when crops are at optimal harvest.

    – With fewer people on each ranch/farm and with Internet shopping, there are fewer reasons for towns to exist, so the jobs and people leave the towns. In a way, Internet shopping is a new twist on the ancient “catalog shopping” that was done in the 1800s & 1900s. Back then, the small town store only stocked what could be sold in a year and everything else was a catalog purchase and was shipped in from “back east.” We did a lot of “catalog” shopping on the family ranch because the nearest town was over 75 miles away and the nearest big cities were each about 350 miles away (the USA west has LOTS of empty space). Now pretty much anything a ranch/farm person wants or needs can be found with a few clicks and will typically arrive in less than a week (FedEx, UPS and USPS deliver pretty much anywhere in the USA).

    – As Juan notes, robotics will eliminate most jobs in the next decade. There is no way to prevent this. What jobs that remain will be located in cities where people have much nicer environments. Right now, there are high skill jobs that go begging in the Midwest and south because the people that live in the area do not have the skills and the people that have the skills take one look at the weather (often bad) and the culture (often none) and the education (extremely BAD) and say “no Way.” For example, there is a small agricultural robotics company in southern Wisconsin that is looking for engineers with no luck. The jobs look like fun for a “hands on” type of engineer, but what do the spouse and kids do while the engineer is playing with the robots? I suspect that the little agro robot company in southern Wisconsin will have to eventually move to either Madison, WI or the Chicago area to have a better hiring pool even though their customers are on farms all over the Midwest.

    The bottom line is there is zero reason for many people in the USA to produce kids or live in rural areas. As a result, the GOP has a huge demographic problem. While most of the land in the USA is GOP territory, that land is depopulating, where as the population centers are being badly mistreated by the GOP, so the GOP has no long term chance.

    BTW – Women have been controlling their fertility and terminating pregnancies for a mere 50000 years and they are not about to stop just because some men tell them to. So, the USA birth rate will continue to decline regardless what draconian laws are put in place. The lesson humans can not seem to internalize is if there is a human need for some product or service, regardless of the laws, that market need will be fulfilled. Given the technology we now have to control fertility and terminate pregnancies, there will always be people and organizations that will fill that market need. Again the GOP is shooting itself in the foot by trying to satisfy a minuscule part of the USA population.

      • No.

        Who could they revolt against?

        – Big business? They NEED the goods and services that big business provides and big business will simply ignore any rules the Luddites put in place. Remember that merchants have been ignoring trade and tax rules for over 200 years.

        – Government – there is nothing a governments can do to stop technological progress that doesn’t negatively impact their citizens.

        – Each other?

        As CGP Grey notes in his very well done video, the Luddites ALWAYS LOSE.

    • I feel compelled to change the subject. I hope nobody objects.

      “…the family cattle ranch was sold because the older members of the family were dying (ranching is hard) and none of the kids in the extended family wanted to run the ranch.”

      For as far back as I can remember Republicans have promoted elimination of the estate tax, the “death tax” as they deceptively call it. Their justification is that families have to sell off productive farms (and other businesses) to pay the estate tax. Nothing could be more false. Family farms are sold off after principals’ death because the next generation, for any number of reasons, would rather do something else. And sale of the family farm might just provide the capital to fulfill their dreams.

      In case you haven’t noticed I’ve twice accused the Republican Party of lying.

      • Any farm or ranch that is not a family corporation has extremely incompetent lawyers and CPAs.

        Every state and the USA government give LOTS of benefits to family farm/ranch corporations such that any farmer/rancher would be a fool to not take advantage.

        A family farm/ranch corp (typically a C-corp or S-corp) is immune to Estate taxes. To transfer who controls the farm/ranch, it is a matter of redistribution of the stock and there are zillions of non-taxable ways to do that.

        If you know of any one that still has a single proprietor farm or ranch, tell them to get new lawyers and CPAs and form a C-corp (it costs a LOT less than people imagine).

    • I have this horrifying hunch that we have not yet seen the worst White people can do when it comes to having their cake and beating it too.

      It is interesting that we are seeing a plague of ethno-nationalist regimes and parties grasping at power, at this moment when we basically have the chance to lick overpopulation. This is because ethno-nationalists are usually nativists. They view women’s wombs as the barracks of their future armies; it is their duty to reproduce their tribe to outnumber its enemies. What do the US, France, Germany, England, Israel and Russia have in common? Those falling (White) birthrates. But even Indian Hindus have a falling birthrate, and there again we see ethno-nationalists looking to beat down demographic challenges.

      In America the Christian Right have (as usual) been given the duty of calling for something in the name of Christian culture that otherwise would be recognized as racism: the Quiverfull movement, Biblically concocting the demand that (the right kind of) Christian women have more babies to outreproduce the Moslem threat (actually Black/Latino). However, the downfall of this scheme is the ideological unreliability of the children; the Christian Right is having a hard time reproducing itself due to defections.

      I’ve gone on about this before, but what I’m instead suspecting will be instituted is a restoration of debt serfdom biased to target non-Whites. This means re-establishing the Southern caste system, with the actual ownership class in their fortified villas, and the, to put it crudely, redneck class elevated to the middle caste as enforcers by cycling them thru the military & mercenary contractors. Then it won’t be a problem that there’s not enough of them, but a problem of finding enough people to profitably oppress to make their own standard of living higher than currently regardless of the Medievalization of our nation.

      Now this gets us into some interesting territory regarding caste systems. It’s possible for a privileged someone of a higher caste to be poorer than someone from a lower caste. We know about that in India, but even in the Jim Crow South some Blacks had some wealth despite the massive disadvantages they were under. Under a rigged system (via all-White juries) debtors with the advanced skills required by the 21st century economy might be tried and sentenced to divergent paths. The White middle class would be allowed to stay in their homes, but their income would be permanently garnished in the manner of peasant rents. The non-Whites would be exiled to these abandoned wasteland communities you mentioned. Maybe like Jews in the Russian Pale. I’m thinking that while robots have won out in factories, in a resource extraction/real estate bubble economy, the vast wilderness lands now being schemed for privatization must be developed, and robots aren’t going to be cost-effective in Montana in January. Nope, it’s Gulag time, millions of Black & Latino laborers cared for by Indian doctors and Asian teachers, all enthusiastically condemned as debt parasites repaying the “damage” they did to Real Americans.

      So when I watch the stumbling attempts at resistance – and at justification – in the age of Trump, I’m trying to gauge how far ordinary Whites and their assault rifles will go in mind-boggling, all-time-villain mass atrocity. How many of them will really resist the bizarre nightmare I just described? Once they are cornered into an us-or-them zero-sum confrontation? And more importantly, how many will fight for it with all they’ve got because, all along, they’ve never really had any sense of identity or pride except as the Master Race?

      • The structure you describe can be pretty stable for long periods of time. The top layer of the 99% is militarized and, in exchange for a few privileges granted by the 1%, suppresses the rest with savage violence. Everyone else is basically a serf.

        This was the classic feudal order, and we see something similar in parts of Africa, South/Central America and elsewhere, with some complications due to globalization.

        What is questionable is whether that social structure can be the basis of an industrial economy.

  2. Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll (January 30) reports more surveyed Americans approve Trump’s actions than disapprove. link to . Earlier similar polls show the majority believe immigration strengthens the society (same page). These two are not necessarily contradictory if one takes into account the vast, and widely publicised, recent increase in mass emigration due to political turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa. What people are really opposed may actually be an unintended consequence of foreign policy decisions made without regard to the consequences, and once that all settles down, a lot of things, immigration included, can go back to more natural levels. Trump may be handling the situation with his characteristic lack of sense or sensibility; employing a mallet to crack a walnut, but that’s him; ham-handed, insensitive, narcissistic, etc. Here, by the way, is a global initiative to confront him over this latest folie, psychoanalytical madness, call it what you will. link to

  3. Sassycatz

    He’s probably going to mandate more white women have babies. I see “hints” of Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” in this Administration

  4. While I agree that immigration strengthens our country, not weakens it, we really should welcome declining populations. The planet currently has over 7 billion and is on track to reach 10 billion. How many humans can the planet sustain? At 7 billion we see vast amounts of environmental degradation and loss of species habitat. Human kind as a whole should be seeking to reduce populations on the whole. Taking in refugees into a developed country should aid in that as large families are less needed in developed countries and those going from a third world country to a developed country will likely produce fewer children than if they had stayed in their rural areas.

      • No! Trump just agreed to take the immigrants that Australia rejected. Trump added 1,600 immigrants to the US that have little education and cannot speak English.

    • This debate can never be resolved rationally. Those who believe population can go on growing and will adjust itself are responding from something like religious conviction (or its scientific equivalent). Others feel our cultural heritage and values are irreversibly diluted by the loss of the personal and community space that comes with increasing population; one of the first things the inordinately wealthy seek to acquire is space, private space with its potential for selective solitude. Yes, of course, science, modified foods, and careful planning can keep millions more alive. But is that all there is to human existence? I remember the Duke of Edinburgh crying in the wilderness on this issue back in the 1950s since when the population has increased by some 5 billion. While declining population introduces difficulties for aging generations, that surely is a problem of a completely different order. In the end perhaps it doesn’t matter, human life may be destined to spread bacterial life to other parts of the universe and then do a dinosaur.

  5. I have now learned from Juan Cole that Greatness will be Thrust Upon our nation only by international competition of population growth. A sort of “Mother Universe” pageant. That is the utter failure of our current socio-economic and financial system. “Multiply and import or die”. Stunning!

    • Yes,

      Robots and technology in general INCREASE in capability in a near exponential way and robots and technology DECREASE in cost in a linear fashion.

      It is completely impossible for humans to adapt and avoid being replaced with technology.

      This video encapsulates the problem . . .

      link to

      The Luddites ALWAYS lose.

  6. I respectfully disagree, Mr. Cole – both with the notion that immigration is the definition of what ‘made America great’, or that in being a North Carolinian that I am ‘an American’; – a definition largely moulded by New England culture.

    No, as a North Carolinian, I live in a land whose history is that our forefathers did not ‘immigrate here’, but, came here, forcefully took it from the Indians, settled it; and, along the way, reconstructed a traditional antiquated Britain, which, at that time, that country was in the process of abandoning.

    We, Tarheels, have our own world; and, thus, are in need of neither additions to fulfill us, perpetuate us, nor to ‘remain competitive’.

    Thank you, though, for your article.

    • Quoting Junius Daniel -2/2/17 09:15

      “I live in a land whose history is that our forefathers did not ‘immigrate here’, but, came here, forcefully took it from the Indians, settled it; . . . “ basically, immigrants murdering native Americans for their land.

      “We, Tarheels, have our own world; and, thus, are in need of neither additions to fulfill us, perpetuate us, nor to ‘remain competitive’.” The inbreeding in “our own world” has long been having an effect.

      link to

      Fortunately, Junius, you write on behalf of a small, angry, RACIST portion of the good people of North Carolina who “have their own world.”

      Quoting Professor Cole – “Ironically, it is white nationalists, with their hatred of foreigners and who are endangering American competitiveness in the new century.” And not all that is being “endangered.”

      When it comes to immigration, attitudes like the one posted here – IS the problem because it empowers an egomaniac, nut-case in our White House to act on the ignorant, threatening xenophobia of a few.

  7. Whenever I read that a country (like Japan) is worried about having a graying and declining population, I always think—what’s the issue? There are young people in populous nations all around the world who would be happy to move to Japan and make their lives there.

    That is what humans have been doing for millennia. We migrate. We mix. After a few generations, we have a more diverse genetic make-up even if we have managed to pass along the same set of traditions and call our regional “tribe” by the same name.

    The people that we consider traditional Anglo Saxon Brits today have the blood of Germans, French, Spaniards, Italians, Turks, etc. flowing in their veins—just watch the current PBS Masterpiece show “Victoria” to remind yourself of the true nature of the British royal bloodline.

    As for population, consider that during the time of Christ, the entire human population across the whole planet was about the same as the current population in the United States.

    In 1964, when the Beatles came to America, the U.S. population was around one-half of what it is now. Even if some terrible plague swept our country and killed 50% of the population, we would only be set back to 1964.

    That white supremacists fret about white people dying out—when far more white people exist today than ever existed in the history of Earth—shows only that the white supremacists have no idea how numerous humanity is and that there are plenty of people, of every color.

    • At the moment, there isn’t a groundswell of support in Japan for bringing in 50 million foreigners and naturalizing them.

  8. Hello, Juan–
    Yes, what you say about Japan being reluctant to naturalize foreigners is certainly true. But when I used to teach English classes to young people from Japan, I found many of the younger generation more open to the idea. Here’s a website with some statistics about Japanese international marriage trends: link to

    Necessity may prompt the Japanese–and many other nations–to open their doors. I hope that will happen in a gentle way around the world instead of the door-slamming that we saw this week in the U.S.

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