REIHAN SALAM IS not a grim guy. In fact, he comes across as preternaturally ebullient in person. Yet his book Melting Pot or Civil War?: A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders predicts a dark future for this nation of nations if it doesn't rethink its immigration policies to keep out the wretched and huddled masses.
Salam admits no costs or unintended consequences to his program--only benefits that, in his telling, include making the country more socially cohesive, as conservatives want, while paving the way for a new egalitarianism, as liberals want. The cost of ignoring his advice, meanwhile, would allegedly be nothing short of a racial civil war.
THE BASIC STORYLINE goes something like this: Admitting large numbers of poor, linguistically challenged immigrants with nothing to offer but the sweat of their brows was one thing when America was transitioning from a rural to an industrial economy. Its factories and mines needed imported labor because "free American workers had the escape valve of the frontier." And manual work paid well enough that the immigrants could eventually propel themselves into the middle class. But things are different in a knowledge economy that puts a premium on cognitive skills. Today, America allows more low-skilled immigration at its peril.
Salam, whose parents are Bangladeshi Muslims, doesn't peddle the common restrictionist myths about the negative economic impact of low-skilled immigration. He invents new ones. He readily admits, for example, that there is no evidence low-skilled immigrants decimate the wages of poor natives. He agrees that these immigrants increase the real incomes of high-wage workers, especially in cities, by lowering the prices of goods and services that professionals consume. In New York, where Salam lives, they have put affordable dog walking, housekeeping, nannying, cleaning, cooking, and transportation services at his beck and call. This, he acknowledges, has allowed him to "enjoy the lifestyle of a Rockefeller."
He then adds two plus two and gets minus five. This ready availability of foreign labor isn't good but bad, he says, because it is producing structural changes in America's economy that will thwart automation and cost the country its long-term technological edge.
Labor scarcity has historically been the mother of innovation, Salam declares. If America relieves its labor pressures by importing more low-skilled workers while advanced but aging countries such as...