A 21st Century Immigration Policy for the West: A Reason Foundation-Michigan State University Conference

Will the future problem of the West be too little rather than too much immigration? And what should we do about it?


No one doubts that Donald Trump rallied anti-immigration resentment to the White House. Likewise, anti-immigration politicos from both the left and the

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right have made rapid gains in Europe. Politics is usually a lagging indicator of socio-cultural problems. But when it comes to immigration, is it perhaps not just lagging but also directionally wrong? Is it possible that the West's future problem might be too few immigrants flocking to its shore rather than too many? Are we fighting the last war?

The process of modernization has tended to produce an initial burst of population increase as infant mortality rates drop but birth rates don't. After that, a nation faces steady declines. In the near future, as the developing nations complete this "demographic transition" and liberalize themselves, they might send fewer and fewer immigrants to the shores of the developed nations at the very time when the latter, facing serious depopulation thanks to aging and lower birth rates, will need them more.

Thus, the great "problem of immigration" as we have known it might undergo a reversal: the problem will be not how to restrict immigration, but how to court and facilitate it. But the outcome of that debate may depend on whether there is a defensible normative case for relatively unfettered mobility rights. It will also require that we examine and resolve the cultural, political, and institutional concerns that immigration raises: Will large numbers of immigrants be able to rapidly assimilate, will they uphold our commitments to liberal democracy, will their presence strain or strengthen the welfare system? Can automation relieve a tight labor market? What are the tradeoffs of different postures that various developed countries are deploying?

All of these issues will be thoroughly thrashed out in a three-day conference this week, Oct 11 to 13, titled "A 21st Century Immigration Policy for the West, that I've organized on behalf of Reason Foundation and Michigan State University's LeFrak Forum and the Symposium on Science, Reason and Modern Democracy in the political science department.

After the kickoff keynote by Princeton's Douglas Massey, "Doubling Down on a Bad Bet: Immigration Policy Before and After Trump," there will be a series of six panels, each set up like a debate. The point is to invite speakers from across the political spectrum – right, left and center – to air all sides of the issue.

Among the luminaries will be Reason's beloved and uber-smart, Ron Bailey, Volokh Conspiracy's Ilya Somin, George Mason University's Robin Hanson, Cato Institute's Alex Nowrasteh and many, many more.

The confab was preceded over the last academic year by seven lectures by Harvard's Lant Pritchett, George Mason's Bryan Caplan and Jack Goldstone, University of Colorado's Mike Huemer, Migration Policy Institute's Alan Kraut,'s Dara Lind and London School of Economics Chandaran Kukathas.

All of the lectures will be published in an anthology, but, meanwhile, everyone who can should come for what in the words of Center for Global Development's Michael Clemens promises to be an "electric and highly informative" conference. It is totally open to the public: No walls. No visas. No entry fees. So let the mass migration begin.

Go here for more program details.