WASHINGTON TIMES — Greg Ip of The Wall Street Journal had a provocative piece in the paper last week in which he debunks the myth — as myth it surely is — that economic considerations drive most of the opposition to the country’s immigration policies. The current backlash against immigration, suggests Mr. Ip, “has less to do with jobs and wages and more to do with concerns about national identity and control of borders.”
In other words, it’s mostly about cultural sensibilities — or, as Mr. Ip puts it, “worries about ‘social, cultural, and linguistic cohesion.’ ” He quotes two academics — Stanford’s Jens Hainmueller and the University of Pennsylvania’s Daniel Hopkins — as saying there is little evidence of a link between economic circumstances and anti-immigration attitudes. The professors call this a “zombie theory.”
Yet this zombie theory undergirds Hillary Clinton’s view of the issue. As Mr. Ip points out, the putative Democratic presidential nominee typical explains the success of Donald Trump’s anti-immigration stance by saying such things as: “These are hard times that folks are going through.” True, but that’s not why the presumptive Republican presidential candidate has managed to force the issue to the forefront of American politics at a time when most mainstream politicians wanted to keep it in the shadows. Mrs. Clinton doesn’t seem to get the underlying cultural force of the issue. Mr. Trump does. It’s about “culture and assimilation,” as Mr. Ip puts it.
He suggests the same was true of the “Brexit” vote in Britain. Britons likely would have stayed in the EU’s single market if they could have confined cross-border movement to goods, services and capital — in other words, if they could have opted out of the single market just for labor. But that wasn’t an option, so they pulled out entirely. Mr. Hainmueller and Mr. Hopkins write that the growth in any country’s immigrant influx also drives voter sentiment. When governments seem to lose control, anti-immigration sentiment rises.