By George Melloan | DMN
George Melloan, former deputy editorial page editor and columnist for The Wall Street Journal, where he had an award-winning 54-year career, died late last month before this column, written exclusively for The Dallas Morning News, was published. He was 92. Melloan was a highly respected journalist and the author of, among other books, “When The New Deal Came to Town” and “Bogus Science,” which is due to be published early next year. We are honored to publish what is very possibly the last piece he wrote for publication. His voice, wisdom and optimism will be greatly missed and fondly remembered.
Immigration remains as much a political issue as ever in this election year and one might think that restriction is the order of the day. But that would be wrong. America is as much a nation of immigrants as ever and there are strong economic arguments for it to remain that way.
The foreign-born are 13.5% of the U.S. population, according to the latest census data. That’s the highest share in 110 years, when millions of Europeans were heeding Emma Lazarus’ invitation, engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty in 1906: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
But that “huddled masses” is a bit out of date. There are still plenty of impecunious strivers seeking opportunities and greater freedom, but also a lot of well-paid tech wizards laboring in rich neighborhoods like Silicon Valley.
Indeed, in an age of globalization, the number of foreign-born CEOs has been rising. A 2017 survey by Boardroom Insider counted 11.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs who were born abroad. They included Sundar Pichai of Google and Satya Nadella of Microsoft, both from India.
The Democrats call President Donald Trump a xenophobe, and his border wall and “America First” rhetoric has often invited that charge. But as a former businessman with global holdings, he probably has the most international experience of any president we’ve had. The current pandemic travel ban distorts the data, but the numbers above suggest that he hasn’t done much real damage to immigration.
Perhaps more than ever before, the economic health of the U.S. relies upon the productive skills and talents of men and women born elsewhere. The fertility rate in the U.S. is at a historic low as young people choose to forgo or postpone marriage, or opt for small families. At the other end of the life cycle, baby boomers are retiring in large numbers, taking themselves out of the labor pool.
Mechanization of manufacturing and new methods of delivering services such as retailing and finance ease the pressure somewhat. But working-age immigrants are needed as well, and particularly now that many levels of government need to expand their tax bases to make up for the budgetary blow-outs during the pandemic. The danger will be that high taxes will drive migrants away. Machines don’t pay taxes.