Opinion

Dr. Trump's Anti-migrant Vaccine Will Make the American Economy Sick

The terrorist threat from Muslim refugees is fictitious. America doesn’t have a serious domestic terrorism problem, certainly not compared to Europe, but it does have a serious gun problem.

A protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's order temporarily banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., outside of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017.
Eugene Hoshiko, AP

One thing you can say with certainty is that Donald Trump's decision to temporarily bar refugees from entering America isn't going to make the country safer.

Even more certainly, the president is undertaking a pointless policy based on fear and alternative facts. And you can say with the greatest certainty of all that Trump's hostility to immigration will cost the American economy dearly.

Coincidentally, the day before Trump issued the order, a study by Duke University's Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security reported that since 9/11, exactly 123 Americans have been killed by Muslim-American extremists – a third of those in a single attack last year in Orlando, Florida. That sounds like a lot, but during those years 240,000 Americans were murdered.

America doesn’t have a serious domestic terrorism problem, certainly not compared to Europe, but it does have a serious gun problem.

The gun problem will, of course, be ignored. Instead, the facts supporting the move will be cooked up, as evidenced by the fact that the Department of Homeland Security will now, after the order has been issued, prepare statistics on foreign nationals who commit acts of violence. Dr. Trump writes his prescription and then gets the diagnosis he wants.

In any case, the real problem, however, isn't the temporary ban, which is already being diluted by court orders and the White House's own pullbacks. The real problem is Trump's attitude toward immigration in general.

Silicon Valley rises up

Pay attention to the fact that the normally apolitical Silicon Valley is in an uproar over the issue. It's not concerned about Somali refugees whose numbers are tiny and don't include many software coders or future startup entrepreneurs. But the tech industry knows full well that last week's order is just the beginning of a wider clampdown on foreigners living and working in the United States that's going to hit it hard.

If it weren't for foreigners, Silicon Valley wouldn't be giving the world iPhones, Snapchat and other wonders. A 2012 study estimated that close to a quarter of American's startups had at least one foreign-born founder. In Silicon Valley itself the rate was 44%.

Sergey Brin, Google founder, immigrated from the Soviet Union when he was six. Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, and Peter Thiel, a Paypal cofounder, venture capitalist and Trump supporter (!), immigrated from Germany with his parents.

Israelis were the fifth-largest source of America's foreign entrepreneurs, which benefits not just America but Israel. Those entrepreneurs hone their skills in Silicon Valley and create networks that serve them and the Israeli economy well when, as many do, they return home.

Further down the tech ladder, vast numbers of Indians, Chinese and others form the rank-and-file of the U.S. tech industry, which relies heavily on the H-1B visa program to ensure it has enough highly skilled workers like software engineers.

Start having babies, or –

The threat to Silicon Valley is just the start of the problem. All of the world's developed economies need immigrants because their birthrates and labor forces are shrinking. Even in the U.S., which is relatively prolific, the birthrate is below the replacement level.

Last year probably marked the first time since 1950 that the working-age population of the world's developed economies began shrinking. By 2050 it will 5% smaller than it is today.

With life expectancy rising, the number of working-age people supporting an ever-growing number of pensioners will decline even more sharply – in America, from 5.2 to 3.0. That will mean lower standards of living and much slower economic growth in the long run.

Unless they want to start having a lot more babies soon, the challenge for America and Europe isn't how to keep immigrants out, but how to win in the intensifying competition for the best immigrant labor.

In that respect, Canada is in front. Its borders are relatively open – with just a 10th America's population, it took in three times as many Syrian refugees as American did last year – but the Canadians are doing it with a hard-nosed attitude, carefully vetting prospective immigrants. (Though it bears adding that the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, quickly delivered a blanket response to Trump's ban on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries by tweeting, "To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.")

Like other advanced economies, Canada's population is aging and its birthrate is low. Immigration policy is geared to filling the immediate needs of the labor market and attracting foreign students to its institutes of higher education in the hope that graduates will opt to remain in the country.

That requires a tolerant attitude toward different people and cultures, and the bombing of a Quebec mosque on Sunday suggests not everyone has them. But unlike America's, Canada's leaders aren't setting policy based on fear but on facts.