At a time when questions about U.S. immigration policy are taking center stage in the presidential race, Robert Guest argues that increased migration makes the world a better place.
Guest, foreign editor of The Economist magazine, told a luncheon meeting of the World Affairs Council of Jacksonville, that foreigners wanting to make it in America is a positive for the country.
“That is undeniably America’s greatest advantage in the world,” Guest said at Tuesday’s meeting in the Terrace Suite at EverBank Field.
“The greatest weapon that generates your future is the welcome mat,” he said.
Guest wrote a book titled “Borderless Economics” that highlights the advantages of migration around the world.
The best evidence of the advantages of an open migration policy, he said Tuesday, is the difference between North and South Korea. North Korea does everything it can to keep foreigners away from its citizens.
“Because they’re shutting people out, they’re shutting ideas out,” Guest said.
Meanwhile, the people of a more open South Korea are 40 times wealthier than the people of the North, he said. “I think there’s a lesson there,” he said.
Guest is concerned the refugee crisis in Europe could close down borders between countries.
“There’s an element of moral panic that has been set off here,” he said.
“You can’t dismiss these fears out of hand,” he said.
Guest, who is British, said the U.S. remains the most enticing destination for foreigners.
“Fundamentally, there is something about America that appeals to the rest of the world,” he said.
“It is the easiest place in the world to find a niche that is congenial to you.”
By that, he means any immigrant can find a neighborhood somewhere in America that shares his or her values and ethnicity and feel at home.
“The more you travel around the country, the more you see how many niches there are,” he said.
Guest believes migration could eventually turn China into a democratic country, as many Chinese leaders send their children to the U.S. for an education. The generation of Chinese now spending time in the U.S. are China’s future leaders.
“There will be a large cadre of people in China who have seen how democracy works,” he said.
China’s economy has been a major source of world consternation in early 2016 as investors try to gauge if a slowdown there will affect the rest of the world.
China on Tuesday reported its economy grew by 6.9 percent in 2015, which is not as good as it sounds.
“That’s the slowest China has grown for 25 years,” Guest said.
Even worse, most analysts think the Chinese are exaggerating their growth rate, he said.
“This (6.9 percent) is not real,” he said. “Pretty much everybody thinks it’s lower than that.”
Guest expects China to have a “soft landing,” rather than a recession, but there’s no guarantee.
He said China is undergoing a period of “serious transition” from years of “catch-up growth” to an economy more like other industrialized nations.
“You have a recipe for instability. I’m a bit concerned,” he said.
The other major global economic issue is the sharp drop in the price of oil.
“The benefits of cheaper oil are enormous,” not only for consumers paying lower gas prices but also in geopolitics, Guest said.
“Some of the nastiest regimes out there are propped up by oil,” he said.
That includes Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
“In the short-term, this is very dangerous,” Guest said, pointing to Putin’s response of “ramped up nationalism” that resulted in the annexation of Crimea.
However, “in the long-term, it weakens them and in the long-term, that has to be a positive,” he said.