Economically anxious countries are tightening borders and imposing trade barriers but to no avail.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was hailed as the beginning of the end of all walls and barriers separating individuals and peoples. Yet as of 2007, just eighteen years later, Europe and its Eurasian margins saw the creation of about 16,600 miles of new political borders, which means that for every mile of one dismantled border (the Berlin Wall), 107 miles of new borders have been built.
Why so? Because the new international disorder, precipitated by the dissolution of the Cold War, has led to more wars, more walls, and a more disunited world. It has also accelerated the shift of power from the old industrialized countries to the “emerging” nations: starting in the 1970s, the countries that used to dominate the world witnessed the rise of an increasing number of new international competitors. The top global companies of the Fortune 500 between 2001 and 2017 reveals the trend: the number of North American and European companies that make the cut have declined, while Asian-based companies (from China in particular) have steadily filled the breach.
For growing sectors of the American population and, more generally, the population of the old industrialized countries, this shift of power translates into uncertainty and fear. This is not necessarily because their living standard has worsened; on the contrary, in terms of per capita product, the United States is the ninth richest country in the world—a distinction it held in 1999 at the pinnacle of the economically robust Clinton years. But compared against its performance in 1999, the United States slightly closed the gap between itself and the other eight richest nations in 2016, when it experienced an increase in its per capita product relative to those countries. What these populations feel, fear, and know, however, is that their living standards cannot improve anymore, and that sooner or later they may very well worsen.
Many of those same countries eager to close their borders and expel foreign-born residents could stand to benefit greatly from immigration.