There Ought to Be a Nobel Prize in Demography

By David North on October 14, 2009

There should be a Nobel Prize in demography to go along with those for studies in economics and other fields.

Were there one, it might encourage more attention to studies of what happens to the environment during population increases, and, more pertinently, how international immigration impacts population growth in an area of in-migration.

Rarely do demographers have a chance to study controlled experiments -- you know the ones where there are two populations, all else being equal, except that one variable of interest impacts population A, but not population B. Medical researchers do it all the time, often using matched groups of white mice.

There is, however, under the U.S. flag an example of what happens in two very similar territories when one is exposed to virtually unlimited international migration and the other is subject to the (fairly loose) restrictions of our basic immigration policy.

All else is pretty equal when you examine the two U.S. territories in the Western Pacific, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. They are about 20 minutes apart by air. They have roughly the same land area (176 square miles for CNMI and 209 for Guam). Both have few natural resources other than tropical climates, attractive scenery, and the closest warm beaches to Tokyo.

Both spent the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries under sleepy Spanish colonial rule; the indigenous population in both are the Chamorros; both throughout the period 1970-2005 were under the U.S. flag. But the population growth rate in those 35 years was very different, as the following U.S. Census data show:

Territory 1970 population 2005 population Ratio of increase
Guam 84,996 169,000 (est.) 1.99
CNMI 9,640 80,000 (est.) 8.30

Why the enormous difference? As we noted in a previous blog, CNMI's local government had its own immigration policy in this period, with no federal oversight. The locals allowed Asian sweatshop owners to bring in unlimited numbers of migratory workers recruited -- and exploited -- by Chinese Communist provincial government agencies, while Guam operated within the framework of the federal immigration program.

Most workers on Guam are U.S. citizens; most workers in the CNMI, other than the coddled ones working for the local government, are temporary alien workers who could not, under CNMI law, aspire to either citizenship or permanent legal status. So, in the CNMI we have the highly unusual situation, for America at least, where most workers cannot vote.

As a result of a long, drawn-out Congressional effort to bring U.S. immigration rules to CNMI (and to its major island, Saipan) on November 28 a transition to U.S. laws will begin. Perhaps, with a little adult supervision, CNMI's population explosion will end.