Why Not Reduce Immigration Too?

By Otis L. Graham Jr. on June 8, 2012

Last month, I posted a blog, "Do Immigrants Bowl Together?", an assessment of Robert Putnam's influential 2000 book Bowling Alone. Putnam presented a richly documented argument that America was enduring a decades-long weakening of the bonds of social capital that had commenced in the 1950s. He offered an array of causes, from television to long suburban commutes, but gave almost no attention to the onset in the 1960s of an epochal surge of foreign immigration unleashed by global forces and accommodated by the 1965 Immigration Act. Large-scale immigration would tend to diminish social capital, he conceded, but seemed to disrelish an inquiry that might open him to the charge of blaming the victim.

I write to commend and comment on an article he published in 2007 in a journal I sometimes allow to slide under a pile on my desk: Scandinavian Political Studies. Immigration, he conceded, expands diversity and thus would tend to reduce social capital. But it brings future benefits, so societies would be well advised to reduce immigration's social fragmentation by efforts to "encourage permeable, syncretic, 'hyphenated' identities" through which new citizens might merge more rapidly with the larger group.

This is very earnest, and might be part of a social capital-building program designed in the hope of moderating immigration's inevitable social costs.

What about also, and at the same time, reducing immigration? As Putnam neglects to say, immigration restrictions enacted in the 1920s were a central reason why America successfully assimilated the mass immigration flows of the turn of the century.