Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Unstated assumptions

Scott Tribe writes about immmigration:
...despite criticism of the system from the right-wing (and some from those who consider themselves left-wing as well), Canada is going to need such a system for continued population growth in Canada.
And why does Canada need continued population growth?

Before I go any further, I'll just state the obvious: I'm wildly pro-immigration. My mother moved to this country as a young girl, my paternal grandmother moved here after serving as a Red Cross nurse in WWII (where she met my grandfather.) My girlfriend's parents came here for school when they were young, something I'm immensely happy for every day. So I'm in no way opposed to immigration. My reasons are just different from Scott's.

But for some reason we all seem to assume that Canada needs to keep growing, an assumption I don't think we tend to think about critically, if at all. What are the arguments for continued growth?

The most common one -- the one Scott uses -- is economics. Population growth is one aspect of economic growth. It is not, however, the most important one. That would be productivity, right? The economy could keep growing with a shrinking population -- see Russia since 1998. "GDP" really is just a number, and even if the aggregate GDP were static, in a shrinking population we'd all be getting richer.

We need to recognize that as much as we want there to be more Canadians in the world, there's a flip side to having more people in Canada -- those people live like Canadians. Inefficient, intensely polluting Canadians. It's even more problematic if we keep doing immigration the way we have been, with immigration channeled in to a small number of large cities that are already choking on urban problems -- sprawl, waste disposal, mass transit.

Let's assume, however, that we solve the environmental issues and we decide we still want Canada to growing (in numbers of people) as rapidly as possible. There are other alternatives: the French have successfully reversed their slumping birthrates by pursuing policies that are extremely family-friendly: guaranteed paid maternal leave, cheap national day care, and others. In then next few years, France should see it's birthrate exceed the replacement rate for the first time in decades.

So immigration isn't the only means for reversing a population slump. You want people to have large families? Make it easier for them to have larger families. Baby bonuses, subsidies for larger homes, try and direct some jobs in to smaller towns so people can afford houses more easily... there's plenty of alternatives.

Despite the environmental issues (which, if anything, deserve more time than I'm giving them here) I'm still, as I say, wildly pro-immigration, and I do think Canada should try and keep it's population growing. If nothing else, because we've got the room and I genuinely think that Canada is one of the finest places to live anywhere, and I was raised to share.


Oberlinblogger said...

Hm. I'm not sure I get your point. I'm generally anti-immigration for the environmental reasons cited above. The "we've got the space" argument seems relevant, but only in terms of maybe having space for people who don't have enough where they live, like immigrants. Similarly, if you're going to have a growing population, why would "family friendly" policies be a good thing when there are plenty of immigrants who would kill to have a chance to make a living in Canada. I certainly don't see the point (excluding xenophobia) of other population measures when immigration is a possibility.

-Sam L

Oberlinblogger said...

ACK!!! Make that anti-population growth. I love immigration, as I hope was clear from the rest of the comment, and think we should have more of it, especially to places with the space like USA and Canada.

-Sam L

john said...

If you posit that a positive growth rate is good/necessary/whatever, then I don't see why you would set up an immigrant/native born dichotomy. Pursue both or either until you have the desired rate of growth. My only argument was that there's little reason to favor immigration exclusively.

(Immigrants would probably be cheaper, as usual, than paying baby bonuses to native-born Canadians.)

And, as a domestic political matter, people are generally more comfortable with immigration when it's less socially disruptive. So it may be necessary to have high native birth rates if you're also going to have higher rates of immigration.

Oberlinblogger said...

I don't know much about Canada, but for the USA there's a huge surplus of people who would love to come here because it would allow them to freely express themselves without fear of political retribution or allow them to feed their families or get emergency medical care or because they are fleeing war or racial or gender or class related oppression or because they want to send American dollars back home to Mexico or wherever. Assuming that there is an upper limit to desired population growth (and I bet you think there is), it seems to me cruel not to favor immigration, which would improve the lives of millions of people, over family friendly policies.

-Sam L

john said...

"Assuming that there is an upper limit to desired population growth (and I bet you think there is)"

Not really. I vaguely think there's an upper limit to a desirable level of absolute population -- but for a country like Canada, that number might well be in excess of the hundreds of millions, depending on technology. (And here I'm thinking roughly about how many people can be sustainably, er, sustained on the land. For Canada, the crucial variable may be water, it may be food, I actually don't know.) How fast we get there -- again, sustainably -- doesn't really bother me. Besides, given that Canada's population is a measly 30 million, we've really got plenty of room -- 10x more than the US, per capita.

I think Canada could both welcome all the immigrants who can make it here -- not the same as welcoming all those who'd theoretically like to come -- and pursue family friendly policies, most of which (like guaranteed maternity leave and daycare) I'd support even if there were no population bonus, without hitting any ceiling.