September 5, 2006


City, Thank Your Immigrants (EDWARD GLAESER, September 5, 2006, NY Sun)

The Republican attraction to nativism isn't new. The party was formed in the 1850s on the ashes of the Whigs, the Free Soilers, and the American Party, a.k.a. the Know-Nothings.The Whigs defined themselves, like the English Whigs, by their opposition to governmental tyranny embodied by Andrew Jackson. The Free Soilers moved towards liberty for all Americans. But the Know-Nothings were defined by opposition to immigration. While I revere the Republican heritage of freedom and limited government, I despise this heritage's dark doppelganger — the anti-immigrant legacy of the Know-Nothings.

One reason all this should matter to New Yorkers is that an attack on immigration is an attack on cities. Thirty-seven percent of New Yorkers are foreign-born. For centuries, New York City has been the country's main port of entry. Not coincidentally, Manhattan was at its largest relative to America in 1910, at the height of American immigration. New York's ethnic neighborhoods still provide a way-station for immigrants combining American urban prosperity with old country comfort. Just as in 1900, it is still a lot easier to keep kosher in Brooklyn than in rural Minnesota. Native Americans have fled to car-based living in the exurbs but less wealthy immigrants value the ability to take the "7" train all the way from the immigrant enclaves in Flushing to Times Square.

Just as cities are good for immigrants, immigrants are good for cities. Agglomeration economies are the essence of urban productivity — more people make cities more productive. But New York City's population only grew in the 1990s because of immigrants and the city seems to have lost almost 50,000 people since 2000. Unless immigration increases, New York will continue to decline.

Nativism is tied to the view that immigrants pose a threat to our culture. But immigrants are New York's culture. Since 1655, when the Dutch West India Company welcomed New York's first Jews, the cultural heritage of every New Yorker has been a heady brew made from scores of societies. German hot dogs, Italian pizza, Dutch place names, Yiddish epithets, Latin music, and English pretension (okay and literature and musicals about felines) are all intrinsic parts of New York's cultural heritage.

Meanwhile, those demographic shifts have made NY a Republican city.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 5, 2006 12:01 AM

I'll believe that when I see it.

Posted by: erp at September 5, 2006 12:16 PM

They are against illegal immigrants, not immigrants per se. The key word is "illegal".

Posted by: ic at September 5, 2006 2:34 PM

No, it isn't. That's why they oppose amnesty.

Posted by: oj at September 5, 2006 3:12 PM

I wouldn't say a totally Republican city, but one that understands the concept of enlightened self-interest to the point that they will not walk off the cliff and elect a completely anti-business Democratic mayor because they believe government is the answer to all the world's problems.

Posted by: John at September 5, 2006 6:04 PM