The Shining City on the Hill

Ideological government structures, such as those Bernie Sanders is advocating, eventually lead to ruin because productivity goes down and the nation as a whole follows once you take away the motivation fueled by the "dream" (the hope for a success which anyone can achieve). Today, even bustling nations putatively based on socialism, like China, operate under capitalism or state capitalism.

Setting aside the very important social, international, environmental and other issues which we would all gladly take endless servings of if they were free, progress in all of these areas can only be fueled when the economy, and therefore business, is healthy. Immigration, properly handled, can be an important ingredient in this formula, as it has always been in our history.

Debate about immigration policy is very much in fashion this year, although in some senses it hasn't been out of fashion for the last 25 or 30 centuries. In the US, Donald Trump promises to build the Great Wall, following the course of a peculiarly oversized moat called the Rio Grande. He also wants to brazenly use religious preference as a method of preventing certain undocumented immigrants from entering the country. No one can accuse Trump of putting a high polish on his comments, particularly when it comes to immigration. But I am confident that the ultimate execution of his utterings would demonstrate as better thought out and consistent in a pro-economy policy.

Although many people on both sides of the aisle have debunked the Trump immigration policies -- either as being unconstitutional or un-American or unrealistic -- the simple fact is that rancor over immigration has reached a new medium-term high, and there are plenty of Americans who will vote for Trump precisely because he is so seemingly anti-immigrant. In the US, it isn't uncommon for immigration to be debunked. In fact, America went through at least a century of successive immigrant groups bad-mouthing their predecessors. One can only hope that, given Trump's unwillingness to endorse an increase in the minimum wage and his other pro-business stances, that his policy on immigration is more about beefing up the country's ability to handle the influx rather than prohibiting it.

The US is not alone in its struggle, as feelings about immigration seem to be running high around the world.

The Syrian diaspora has caused a great deal of strife, and anti-immigrant sentiment can be found in many Middle Eastern countries and elsewhere. The sheer number of refugees -- estimated to be at least 6 million -- is overwhelming the bureaucracy of those countries, and is perhaps overwhelming their sense of decency as well. Although the major complainants about Syrians are in the Middle East, pressure is being felt throughout Europe as well, particularly in countries where there has been violence attributed to radical Islamic groups, such as France.

Syrian refugees are hardly the only immigration problem evident in the EU. In fact, immigration -- of Eastern Europeans, not Syrians -- is one of the major reasons for the movement to push the UK out of the European Union. Recent surveys have demonstrated that the most persuasive argument of the eurosceptics is that immigration, which is at an unprecedented high into the UK, is ruining a relatively rich England for the benefit of poorer countries in the east. The argument is simple: the only way to control the borders of the UK is to exit the union. Otherwise, free immigration between and among the 28 member states is a given.

The rise of this anti-immigration sentiment is growing prodigiously on both sides of the Atlantic, and beyond. As might be expected, comparisons to ancient Rome by proponents of both sides of the issue have recently been heard in notable places. Former mayor of London, Boris Johnson, wrote in his 2006 book, "Dream of Rome," that a successful policy to reduce immigration would make the UK less like Rome and more like Sparta. On the other hand, Ted Cruz compared Obama to Catiline on the Senate floor  following the November, 2014 announcement of the President's executive order delaying the deportation of undocumented parents of children who were here legally (either by virtue of citizenship at birth or legal permanent residency). This, despite the fact that Obama has been the "Deporter-in-Chief," compared to any other American president.

There is an interesting schism in the scholarship about the consequences of Rome's open immigration policy. On the one hand, writings from the left claim that the greatness of Rome lay in its ability to accept and assimilate widely varying immigrant groups, from conquered territories or otherwise. But on the other hand, a professorial group from the right argues that a too-liberal immigration policy is what ultimately caused the fall of Rome in 476 A.D. They argue that the edict of Emperor Caracalla in 212 A.D., which granted Roman citizenship to as many as 30 million immigrants, was the beginning of the end.

In fact, the beginning of that end came more than a century and a half later when, in 376, the Romans allowed a large group of Gothic immigrants to occupy Imperial territory across the Danube. Their reasoning was that the new "immigrants" could be impressed into the Army, where manpower had been severely depleted. Rome was unable to feed and supply this new army, which ultimately led to revolt in the ranks and the beginning of the continued pounding of Rome that ensured its fall a century later.

Wherever you come out on whether the inpouring of immigrants to Rome contributed to its ultimate demise, proper government management of the inflow would have likely averted starvation and other issues. As is the case today, Rome had the resources to produce enough food and shelter to accommodate the increase in population, had it only undertaken appropriate planning.

Getting back to the modern era, it certainly seems that the scholarly proponents of immigration have more relevance today. Many important historians, beginning with Livy and going through Machiavelli to Gibbon, make the better argument that xenophobia precedes decline. A rough, modern-day equivalent to the events of 376 A.D. would be the US deciding to allow the occupation of Key West by a large and hostile group of North Korean soldiers and scientists -- an event which seems highly unlikely.

What is not important is the analogy between 21st century America and fourth century Rome, nor is the continuing debate about whether immigration is a good or bad thing, in Europe or elsewhere. What is important is that immigration in 21st century America is absolutely necessary to preserve the much-bemoaned American dream. We are a country not just built upon immigrants, but built upon a singular notion: that anyone who works hard enough can achieve material success, and that freedom fosters that goal, as well as mobility within society.

The vitality of the American economy depends upon immigrant groups, and perhaps it always has. More importantly, as the descendants of 19th century immigrants find it increasingly difficult to outdo their parents, new immigrants, starting from a more easily attainable set of goals, can achieve a "success" in more manageable terms. The "dream," after all, is more likely achieved if one aspires to owning a modest home, versus owning a modest jet. Simply put, "the melting pot" needs to be stirred from the bottom up, and more realistic expectations of immigrant groups will keep the water boiling. The strength of America is that belief in freedom combined with the ability to succeed monetarily. Together, they are far and away the most critical cultural requirements of citizenship.

While both are considerations in all territories, the immigration concerns in the US are weighted more towards their impact to our labor force and the economy as opposed to crime and security concerns. As was the case in Rome, we have plenty of land and resources to accommodate a Roman level of immigration. For instance, a significant percentage of farmable land remains unoccupied. So, if we decide that we want to have the same open door policy which our country was built on, we could manage it.

Today the underlying resistance to large-scale immigration, if controlled, is the perceived threat that it would have on wages. Everything else, like burdens on our social systems, can be easily managed if immigrants are allowed to work -- which, for the most part, they are willing and anxious to do.

America has already priced itself out of many industries which rely on labor. While some may point to cheap labor in other countries as the reason for this, it is actually inaccurate. Factors such as this can be handled with import/export taxation policies and other tools available to our government. The industries in the US which have been shattered are those specifically where unions were strong and wage and benefit requirements were imposed on their employers, thus pricing them out of markets such as steel, automotive, basic manufacturing and others.

If these constraints were removed, and the market allowed to decide what each industry could afford to pay, the result would be, following perhaps a few years of transitional pain, growth to industries such as manufacturing, farming and other industries that have been badly impaired in the US as a result of union and other labor lobbying efforts. These industries could be allowed to once again grow and flourish here, thereby creating both an increase in jobs and GDP. This would also help return a once valued strong work ethic and reduce our reliance on other countries.

Looking back only a few centuries into the history of powerful nations, we mainly find what amounts to an autocratic albocracy. Today, on most state levels and even at the federal level, the working class and what we still refer to as minority groups collectively have the largest political voice. This is one of the great aspects of our democracy. However, while one might expect that these powerful groups would advocate (relatively) open immigration, an honest account of their cumulative positions today indicate the opposite. They have instead taken to a protectionist approach against anyone, even their own, participating in our success.

We should not fear immigration, but instead control, embrace and encourage it not only in the interests of humanity, but in our nation's own self-interest. The dream that was Rome is the same as the dream that is America. Hadrian's Wall, and hopefully Trump's, was not meant to keep out immigrants.