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12th September 2012

Immigration and population decline – Could America have the answer?

Antonia Jennings looks into the problem of immigration and population decline.

Europe have many intermediate and long term concerns, including two that are closely interlinked – immigration and population decline. A natural population decrease seems inevitable from Europe’s low birth rates, a decrease that is unlikely to be reversed by immigration. To put it mildly, many Europeans are not very enthusiastic about their main sources immigrants today, namely North Africans and Muslim countries more generally. Just in the last month we have seem major clashes in Greece, France and Germany between the natives and Muslim immigrants.

Europe’s falling birth rate will prevent the continent from keeping up with the emerging markets in Asia and Central and South America. ‘Keeping up with’ may be overly optimistic, ‘not falling too far behind’ may be more realistic. With a steady and stable population growth rate Europe has a better chance of developing a competitive level of human and physical capital, crucial for continuing our collective relative strong economic position.

With China’s birth rate soaring, and there even being some talk of their one child policy being reversed, their supply of cheap labour is huge, increasing and eager. Indeed, many Chinese are setting up businesses all over the world, at no cost to the Chinese economy in China. Societies in the East generally are becoming more educated, rapidly catching up to the levels enjoyed by the Western world. Admittedly the mean educational level is still a long way off, but Europe is wise to prepare now for the eventuality: where the gap becomes minimal.

Europe is facing some serious demographic challenges. An increase in birth rate in the region is unlikely, leaving a search for immigrants from other areas the most likely solution. So, why the US? Perhaps somewhat naively, the ‘European Dream’ seems to still have many American enamoured. Many elements of it appeal to the leftward leaning American psyche – stakeholder capitalism, a bigger welfare state and easier upward mobility becoming ever easier on this side of the Atlantic. These are all aside from cultural and social benefits they could enjoy, for example the retirement age increasing on average at half the rate than the American’s, and the ability to puff away without anywhere close to as much moral opprobrium  from society.

If anything, Mitt Romney is encouraging emigration to Europe to the democrats of the USA. In recent weeks he has stated that the November elections for the main part revolve around America either moving towards a ‘European –style social-welfare state’ or back to a state which is ‘more like America’. Mitt Romney speaking French in an advert has also been criticised by fellow Republicans, apparently demonstrating his lack of commitment in America. As ridiculous as it may seem, this mentality among many Republicans is surprisingly not uncommon in the sense that any opportunity to exemplify Europe as a failure is taken. These Europhilic sentiments are not going down well with the Democrats, who see them as a direct stab at much of which Obama has fought for over the last few years: a healthcare system that can help all, more benefits for the poorest in society, and generally creating a more redistributive and equal society.

With so many Americans discontented with their current nation’s trajectory, recently shown, for example, with the Occupy Wall Street movement, Europe may well appeal to a surprisingly large proportion of the country. Many trace their ancestors back to Europe, identifying themselves both as American, but also in some sense European.  Let us not forget the other fringe benefits of living in the continent – football, rhythmic gymnastics and of course, The Eurovision Song Contest.


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