A Plea for Openness

While I was doing some random reading, I came across this observation made by French economist Thomas Piketty:

“The American population was 3 million at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and it stands at more than 300 million today. The French population was around 30 million at the time of the French Revolution; it now stands at 66 million. The American population has not doubled, but has increased a hundredfold over the same period.”

As most of you may know, Thomas Piketty, who prefers to be considered a researcher in the social sciences, is the author of the international best-seller of the year: “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.”

This 976-page book, published by Le Seuil in Paris in September 2013, was quickly translated into English, Chinese, Korean and 30 other languages — despite it being very difficult to read.

Considered to be one of the publishing house’s sensations of 2014, the book has already sold around 1 million copies.

Like many of you, I was not aware that the population of the United States had increased a hundredfold in under two and a half centuries. And by taking a closer look at the figures, I found that the American population boom was even more spectacular than what Thomas Piketty wrote: It has actually grown from 2.5 million in 1776* to around 320 million today, and is thus 128 times greater!

President Obama’s decision last week to regularize 5 million clandestine immigrants whose children born in the U.S. are American [citizens], is likely to improve on this figure, and confirms that the United States is still a nation open to migrants.

France had 28 million inhabitants in 1789, and has 66 million today: This is a solid doubling rate, resulting from normal demographic growth and a few relatively modest waves of immigration.

Thomas Piketty is also known for this principle:

“I believe in the power of ideas, I believe in the power of books … To me, the balance of power is also political and intellectual.”

The reason he compared and contrasted the demographic evolutions of two major countries over a two-and-a-half-century-long period is to make this important conclusion. This is also my own conclusion.

Advances in medicine and health have allowed most countries throughout the world to experience an average annual regular demographic growth of 1 percent or 2 percent over the last two centuries. But our world is made up of nations that, for geographic and climatic reasons, do not attract immigrants or refuse them, like Japan and Korea.

It is also made up of some that are open to immigration.

Since its birth, the United States, comprising more than half of a continent, formed an open country, and the reason it was able to increase its original population a hundredfold is because it knew how to remain open for around two centuries.

The country has overturned major European powers and become the world’s leading economic, financial, technological and military power because decade after decade, it knew not only how to attract but how to retain and integrate millions of men and women from all continents searching for a future, a land where they would be able to unfurl their energies and display their talents.

Supplemented by those who force the door of this “loving country,” legal immigration is the sap that has allowed the American tree to grow faster and stand taller than the others. This country is one where innovation is at its most brilliant; its universities, reputed to be the best in the world, continuously attract hundreds of thousands of students from all horizons.

Yet like Europe and prosperous countries in other continents, the United States expends much effort in defending itself against migrants from poor countries. Millions of them gather at its borders, but America “cannot take care of all the woes of the world…”

However, the United States is the land of Silicon Valley, Harvard, Princeton and Yale, Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Intel.

Its needs for a qualified work force and foreign students — the best of whom remain in the U.S. and become American — are pressing, almost overwhelming. As such, this week we have seen and heard powerful lobbies react to Barack Obama’s decision to regularize half the number of clandestine immigrants by saying that “it’s not enough.”**

Commissioned by “headhunters,” they asked the federal government to open the floodgates and demanded “more visas, hundreds of thousands of work permits and the freedom for companies to attract and hire foreigners.”**

What lesson can be drawn from the French and American examples illustrated above following Thomas Piketty’s comparison?

Even though its population only doubled in two centuries, France is a country of immigration, though it refuses to acknowledge it, and a country, moreover, that underestimates what it owes to the waves of immigrants that have fertilized it.

As for the United States, it would not be what it is if it did not know how to attract, retain and integrate the 200 million or so immigrants that it has welcomed since the first 2 million claimed ownership of this vast land of plenty that is blessed with very rich subsoil.

The divergent example of these two countries shows all the others the path to follow: Get a part of your diaspora to return, and do not close off your borders to goods or people.

Cautiously, of course, but also with determination, open yourselves up to others and enrich yourselves with their differences.

*Editor’s note: In 1776, a census of European migrants was taken, though not of the indigenous community — the Indians that would have been driven back and ignored by the new arrivals. Two countries with more acute immigration, Australia and Canada, grew from a few thousand immigrant colonizers to 22 million inhabitants for the former, and 34 million for the latter, in the same period of time.

**Editor’s note: Accurately translated, these quotes could not be verified.

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