Though historians can find many similarities between the Middle Kingdom and the West, one difference stands out since Roman times. China is a mono-culture and Rome was a multicultural empire. That difference remains. America, the eventual inheritor of Greek and Roman culture, gathers its strength from immigrants, primarily those speaking Romance languages and variants of Indo-European — from India to Poland.
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While Rome and China were connected by the Silk Road, neither knew about the other. In the early 15th century China began building large ocean-going ships, then abandoned their Pacific fleet after a series of canals were completed and the Song dynasty turned inward. At the end of the 15th century the Italian Columbus set sail and discovered the New World for Spain. The result was an English-speaking North America, a Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking South America and a few French-speaking enclaves.
By far the greatest English-speaking country is the USA, which has absorbed waves of immigrants — Irish, Italians, Lithuanians, Poles, Africans, Mexicans, Canadians, Germans, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Haitians, Cubans, Jamaicans, Slavs, Ukrainians, Finish and Scandinavians, Puerto Ricans, Indians, French, Dutch, Armenians, Russians, Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians.
Immigrants not only enrich our culture and cuisine, but they tend to be younger and have more children. The advantage is that there will be more paying into the Social Security system as the 75 million baby boomers retire.
China’s mono-culture, by contrast is a demographic time bomb. By 2030 — 16.5 years from now — it will have more people over the age of 65 than the U.S. has people.
According to Timothy Beardson, author of “Stumbling Giant,” when the U.S., Japan and South Korea reached similar levels of aging, “they each had per capita GDP of around $15,000; the figure for China in 2011 was $4,300.”
The book’s reviewer, Howard French, wrote, “The actuarial implications of this are staggering. China stands to become the first aspiring global power that becomes old before it can become rich.”
China’s one-child policy has reduced its fertility rate down to 1.54 babies per average woman. America’s isn’t much better at 1.6 among Caucasian college-educated women. The replacement rate is 2.1. That’s why America needs to continue inviting immigrants — though, it should be restrictive about letting immigrants in from countries with an anti-American jihadi populace. With a higher fertility rate among Hispanics, America’s total fertility rate is 1.93, according to Johnathan Last, author of “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting.”
Other countries facing shrinking populations are Germany with a fertility rate of 1.36, and Japan at 1.4.
Worse off is Russia. The U.N. predicts that by 2050 Russia’s population will lose 30 million, dropping to 114 million. Last year there were almost 24 million Russians in their 20s and in a decade’s time that figure will drop 40 percent to 14 million. Russia, with its falling life expectancy is a different case — a country self-destructing on vodka. And no one’s emigrating to Russia, except maybe Edward Snowden.
The Wall Street Journal asked Stephen Goss, Social Security’s chief actuary, about the effect of 1.08 million legal and illegal immigrants that come to the U.S. each year, if allowed to pay into the Social Security system. He pegged the benefit at a $500 billion surplus over 25 years, adding up to $4 trillion over 75 years.
“The numbers get much larger because that is when the additional children born to immigrants really help,” Goss said last month.
A totalitarian society, China doesn’t attract much in the way of immigrants, certainly not young immigrants.
We’ll close with the best reason why America attracts immigrants, pointed out by George P. Schultz as he quoted from a President Ronald Reagan statement Jan. 19, 1989: “We lead the world because, unique among nations, we draw our people — our strength — from every corner of the world. And by doing so we continuously renew and enrich our nation.
“While other countries cling to stale past, here in America we breathe life into dreams. We create the future and the world follows us tomorrow. Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we’re a nation forever young, forever bursting with new ideas, and always on the cutting edge, leading the world to the next frontier.
“This quality is vital to our future as a nation. If we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.”
The Chinese are hard workers. They’re smart. But they don’t have a Statue of Liberty. Demographically their days as a big power are a generation away from doing a slow fade.