If 2017 was the year of Trumponomics (deregulation, tax cuts, and a generally pro-business attitude in the administration), 2018 is turning out to be the Year of the Nationalist. Economically, it’s been about trade wars, tariffs, and rewriting agreements. And, while Trump has yet to get funding out of Congress for his wall, recent events have shown us that Trump hasn’t forgotten the key to his electoral victory: playing on some voters’ animus towards immigrants (illegal and legal).

The caravan of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers working its way up through Mexico, intent on entering the United States 9via sheer bum-rush, it seems), has apparently spawned a couple copycats, and has prompted state and federal governments to mobilize in anticipation. It also handed Trump a nice wedge issue for the mid-terms, as demonstrated by the (not-so?) surprising silence of the Democrats on the matter. It’s natural for people to feel discomfort at the sight of thousands of people intent on “invading” the nation, normal channels and processes aside.

Trump is Trump, however, and he’s not one to take a wait-and-see on anything. So, perhaps seizing a moment, or perhaps simply letting his untethered id pick the next hot button, he’s declared that he will, via executive order, end birthright citizenship.

The WTF?! shock of this came and went pretty quickly, and now we have competing legal scholars arguing whether the 14th Amendment and subsequent Court decisions actually validate birthright citizenship or not. It’s laughably easy to figure out who supports what position – just look at their attitude towards Trump for your answer. His fans and supporters are all-in, and spinning their narrative. His detractors are asserting a plain-language reading (making for many, many jokes about how the Left finally discovered originalism and textualism), and also asserting that he can’t do this via EO – that it would take either Congressional action or an actual Amendment.

After a bit of digesting, I’ve drawn back from the “if a baby is born in our borders, it’s a citizen” belief I’ve assumed was unchallengeable. I’ll wait and see how the Court (and if Trump goes forward with his plan, this will end up at SCOTUS) figures it out.

Legalities aside, there’s a question of a practical nature for those who support Trump’s action and, more generally, want to stanch the inflow of immigrants, via this method or others. The question is a simple one:

Do you want to get your Social Security and/or government pension when you retire?

If so, you should be declaring loudly that America bring in more immigrants, especially young ones, for it is those immigrants who will keep the population growing and the workforce filled, so that the government can collect the taxes it will need to pay you what it has promised you.

America’s “native” population fertility rate is 1.80 children per woman. This figure, while not nearly as low as that in many European nations (and some other First World powerhouses, like Japan and Korea), is below the 2.1 steady-state replacement value. This means that, over the years and decades, the nation’s population, absent an influx from outside, will age and decline. More and more retirees will have to be supported by fewer and fewer workers. In the aggregate, this means less wealth creation. To you, the life-long contributor to Social Security, it means that the “promise” (and I use scare quotes because that promise can be broken with a simple bit of legislation) made by the government to take your money (by force, by the way) so that it can give it back to you when you retire will be increasingly difficult to keep.

Talk to many conservatives, and you’ll hear concern about the national debt, about deficits, about excessive spending, and about government profligacy. But, even suggest that the government’s mismanagement of Social Security means they’re going to be short-changed come retirement, and you’ll hear screaming and wild anger about how it’s “their” money and that they’d better get it all. Too many conservatives continue to cling to the falsehood that Social Security is “their” money, to be “returned” upon retirement. Fact is, SS was always a pay-as-you-go system, a Ponzi scheme that relied on continued contributions from workers to pay retirees.

And, like any Ponzi scheme, it requires a continually growing population to make good on its promises.

Much the same can be said for many state and local public pension systems – systems that have promised to pay public workers when they retire. Many of those systems are under-funded, relying on rosy growth predictions to balance out actuarially.

The government is going to need more money to pay its obligations to retirees in future years and decades. Because of the phenomenon dubbed Hauser’s Law, where government revenue as percentage of GDP oscillates around a long-term steady average, no matter what income tax rates, brackets, etc, the legislature writes, the only way to keep funding the Ponzi schemes is to keep growing the economy. While some of that growth can be derived from productivity improvement, the fact is that robustly growing the economy requires more than the (successful) measures Trump ushered in last year. It requires more able bodies in the work force. Already, we see that we’re near full employment. Already, we hear that employers are finding it harder to find workers. Already, we see wages growing in response. While we can be happy for workers earning more money, if that wage growth is due to labor scarcity rather than productivity, it’s going to dampen the economy’s growth.

This will be bad news for SS and pension funds, and it will advance the day of reckoning, where something will have to change. Major changes in SS will eventually be necessary – unless the government works around Hauser’s Law by instituting a national sales tax or VAT (and even then, that might not be enough). But, if it does that, it’s no different than cutting your SS benefits, because everything you spend money on will suddenly become a lot more expensive.

All this can be mitigated with robust immigration. No, they don’t have to be high-skilled immigrants, they just need to be young. They can, of course, be very young, as in born here, so that they reach working age in a couple decades (coincidentally, around the time that SS is going to feel a real pinch).

What does all this have to do with birthright citizenship? Obviously, eliminating it will reduce the number of people who join the nation going forward. If the supporters of this change were in favor of immigration reforms that would add to the working population, the impact on population growth would be mitigated. But, in my travels, I’ve found that this is rarely the case. Far more often than not, people I’ve encountered who are inclined to argue against birthright citizenship are also inclined to argue that we need fewer immigrants in general.

It looks like this is going to be the case, at least for a while. If Trump follows through with his promise (and he’s actually pretty good at keeping promises), there’s a nonzero chance that the Court sides with him.

I won’t make predictions or offer odds, but anyone who thinks this is a slam-dunk (in either direction) isn’t paying too close attention to the matter.

I get the sense of indignation that many have when someone sneaks the border (or flies first-class a week before she’s due), has a baby on American soil, and becomes insta-citizen, given how difficult gaining citizenship though normal channels is, but I’d caution against cheering for a policy change based on personal affront. It may very well not work out as you hope, and it may very well cost you part of “your” retirement money years or decades from now.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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