He is also the author of the new book "One Billion Americans: The Reason to Think Bigger, "by advocating massively increasing the population in order to maintain global economic dominance and prevent China from overtaking the US."
Yglesias spoke to the Business Insider columnist by phone this week Anthony Fisher about new approaches to immigration, the use of government to encourage larger families, and holding elections during an economic disaster.
During their conversation, edited for clarity and length, they also discussed why Yglesias signed the "notorious Harper & # 39; s Letter" that caused a stir in June about freedom of speech and the limits of acceptable discourse, including at Vox.
Anthony Fisher: Most of all, the book feels like a political argument for mass immigration. There are a lot of things that can be done to promote reproduction by increasing family benefits, but what is the elevator distance to add 700 million Americans?
Matt Yglesias: The United States is increasingly embroiled in some kind of international competition with China. Politicians in both major parties are talking about it. And if you are wondering, "Why is China a major force on the international scene?", Then mostly because its population is so much larger than ours.
The height difference of the book is this: we should try to fill this void, and we should fill it by either of the main two means available. By doing more to support parents and children here at home, and by doing more to host immigrants from around the world.
There are some downstream questions about housing and transportation, and the book is about exploring these and showing how we can deal with these issues and act not only as a stronger country overall, but also as a richer, more affluent country in many ways Respect a more fulfilling country.
Fisherman: Why is a global economic power so closely connected to the population?
Yglesias: The Chinese market has grown larger than ours. People can have a shaky debate about purchasing power parity and exchange rates. But I was really impressed with a controversy over one NBA executive tweeted support for the Hong Kong protests. Suddenly the whole league fell on him like a ton of stones because the Chinese market is so important to the league.
A week or two ago, PEN America released a report on how Chinese censors are no longer blocking which films can be shown in the People's Republic. The Chinese market is so big that Hollywood is censoring its own films according to Chinese requirements and is showing these censored films here in the US.
These are little things. I mean, we're talking about movies and basketball. But they show that the philosophy of engagement and economic integration with China – that all of this will be okay – really did not work. Even if you don't suspect horrific military confrontations or anything like that, the size of the Chinese economy creates a problem for American core values.
And being number 1 is important. Just the extent to which our soft power suffers from the lack of scalability has become increasingly clear to us in recent years.
How to get a massive surge in immigration
Fisherman: Mass immigration is controversial, especially in the Trump era, and immigrants are often scapegoated for lowering the wages of low-skilled workers. Even if the data shows that it is only a short-term effect, how can you convince the low-skilled workforce that they should support mass immigration as this will work for them in the long term?
Yglesias: There is a perfectly reasonable argument that we should try to change the skill profiles of the immigrants that we have. President Trump is talking about it. He often does not speak accurately, but claims that he admires the Canadian and Australian immigration systems.
What he is actually proposing is a 50% reduction in legal immigration. However, when you look at what they are actually doing in Canada and Australia, they are heavily targeting their immigration system towards people with English proficiency, people with college degrees and technical skills, but they accept more immigrants relative to the population than we do.
Not every city likes or wants immigrants, but there are many mayors of medium-sized cities that have lost population due to deindustrialization and who would like to see more foreign-born college graduates join them. Can we create a system where you can sponsor them?
Instead of sending outsourcing work to India, maybe we could build these facilities in Cleveland. These companies could be here. Because we see when people get H-1B1 visas, wages go up four or five times compared to what they would earn abroad. And then companies that get more H-1B1 visas are actually hiring more Native Americans, not fewer, because that's just good for business. You want to grow.
I am aware of the backlash against immigration. We should take that seriously. But we should also take seriously research into the tremendous benefits of immigration. We should try to find places that want more immigrants and categories of immigrants that we can agree on. Because at the moment our system is very bureaucratic and there are a lot of arbitrary numerical limits. It prevents us from being as successful as possible.
Fisherman: It seems like you are advocating for better educated, higher skilled immigrants.
Yglesias: I advocate ruthless pragmatism with regard to immigration. My reading on the situation is that even unskilled immigrants are actually very beneficial on the net. I am incredibly favorable to immigration, but the political reality is that the public is just more skeptical about immigration than it should be. Hope by reading this book you will learn a lot about all kinds of studies, maybe change your mind and think immigration is great. But we also do politics in the real world.
There are pretty good reasons to believe that better educated immigration will receive more political support. People are not that concerned about foreign children with high SAT scores studying and graduating from select American universities and finding employment here. Maybe we could have open borders with Canada. Is that what worries people on the border that nice, polite Canadians flock here to keep doors open for us or to take advantage of our poor health system? I do not believe that. It's about figuring out what works politically to achieve some of the important goals that immigration can make possible.
Fisherman: To be clear, I am very pro-immigration even on a political level. But I often stumble upon this argument because the data suggests that Native American wages may be lowered in the short term by low-skilled migrant workers entering the market.
For people just looking at their next paycheck, the country's long-term economic growth doesn't matter. How can you convince them that this thing is temporary and won't hurt them in the long run?
Yglesias: As part of the compromise, it might be necessary to put the brakes on on less skilled immigrants. Unskilled, low-skilled immigration has fallen sharply because there is much less unauthorized immigration. I am not entirely clear how much people's views on it are determined by reality.
Immigration policy in the last few decades has been shaped by the idea of a hard overall visa limit. Any idea of creating new visas must be offset by eliminating other visas, which leads to political paralysis. Even undisputed groups of people are not creating new visas for them because they would have to be taken away from someone else.
Then it becomes a whole matter of interest group politics. I want to encourage people to just open up to a higher target number, and if we have to reshape exactly who it is, who is in, that's fine. However, we should aim for greater flow of law.
Fisherman: You wrote that tripling the population in the lower 48 states would still leave the continental US about half the density of Germany. However, this assumes that the population is not just concentrated around a few areas. Why shouldn't a billion Americans just create some hyper-dense super-cities like a bunch of Shanghai's?
Yglesias: It could. Much of the book is about doing more to help people have more children. I don't think of crazy, super-breeding families, just a little more on average. I have a child. I live in town, in DC. I grew up in Manhattan and am not averse to it. Empirically, many people find it better to raise children in less dense environments for a variety of reasons. If you had more political focus on family growth, it would, to some extent, pull some people away from the densest cities.
We know, however, that immigrants like to come to these large port cities. There's nothing wrong with that. We should ask ourselves why the New York subway used to be the largest city in the world. It was a long time and now it is no more. And not because New York has gone bad. We just gave up growing there. A number of suggestions in this book include changing the zoning rules to allow more housing and investing in transportation.
Finally, we should try seriously to decentralize aspects of federal employment and the accumulation of big businesses in some cities. We should have an immigration policy so that heartland cities that want more people will accept them. If you have growth, that will be growth in all types of communities, at least if we are halfway sensible about it.
Fisherman: You write about how the US could get family benefits that would benefit more children. I don't think it's realistic to believe that the US government will move to a European model of months of paid vacation and government support. But what could the US realistically do to make it easier for Americans to have more children?
Yglesias: This book is not about being politically realistic. This is a book about trying to get people to increase their aspirations.
At the moment we don't have any paid vacation. I think sensible people cannot agree on how much paid vacation is. I don't think that a reasonable attitude is that a parent should spend zero days at home with their newborn child. Nobody believes that a new mom should spend 36 hours at home with a newborn baby before going back to work. That's ridiculous.
As in every European country, there should be child benefit in cash. The Trudeau government introduced one in Canada. We have kind of a facsimile of this in the form of the child tax credit, but the child tax credit has an odd phase-in and then-phase-out structure. It's not that generous. I don't like leaking either. I mean, let rich people with kids get some extra money.
American politics has a paranoia about the idea that somewhere a rich person is benefiting from a universal welfare program. Who cares? It's good. Let's all win.
Fisherman: Vote for a minute –
Yglesias: Do you know who will win?
Fisherman: I don't and I don't dare. We are in the midst of an economic disaster. But it feels like social unrest got a lot more attention, at least for the summer.
I am not asking you to predict anything, but do you feel that the voters' attention is more focused on the social or economic upheaval?
Yglesias: It's complicated, isn't it? Because in the second quarter we had the worst job and GDP numbers that anyone has ever seen. But when you went into personal income statistics, people were actually doing pretty well. We had this kind of economic freak-out, coupled with actually a lot of people who were in good shape. Now that we're in the third quarter, it's a little bit the other way around. People are losing benefits and there is growing concern about evictions, foreclosures and the like. But the GDP numbers are really good because businesses are reopening. The stock market is back at record levels. Big international companies are fine. The pandemic doesn't rule out Google or the like. People are still searching the internet.
At the macro level, the economy is getting better. What we have to worry about is that once the things that easily reopen have reopened, you will hit a stall point, and then there are smaller retail items left over. You can reopen the cinemas, but I just don't think they'll be full no matter what. We'll have a problem there unless there is another round of government support.
Fisherman: One of the things that the Trump campaign and its supporters hit Biden with is the idea that a vote for the Democrat is essentially a vote for the AOC and the Democratic Socialists to move forward with economic policy. Do you have the feeling that the party is tough economically?
Yglesias: I'm old now, but in 2003, when I first came to DC and started covering politics, Nancy Pelosi was believed to be the leader of the left House Democrats. Now she is the leader of the mainstream House Democrats group. And not really because it has become more conservative. The party has moved to the left. It hasn't shifted to the left. It's moved to Nancy Pelosi. The presidential candidate was seen as a Liberal Democrat in the 1980s and 1990s. Until the 2020 race, he is considered a moderate democrat.
The whole point of Barack Obama's vice presidency is that when he becomes president there will be great personal continuity with the people who ran the government during the Obama years. If you've found they're left uncomfortable, you'll think the same about the Biden team. But if you like them, you get what you like.
Fisherman: Earlier this summer you signed what has become "the infamous Harper letter". Can you talk a little about why you signed it?
Yglesias: Is it "Notorious"? I guess.
Fisherman: I don't think it's particularly notorious. I only see this descriptor in most places where the letter is discussed.
Yglesias: I know. Everyone says it's notorious.
Why did I sign it? Read the text of this letter. It's the most mundane, harmless thing you can imagine.
(The Atlantic writer) George Packer and I sent an email about the abolition of the police – which I don't think is a good idea. And then he sent me this letter. Nobody had ever asked me to sign an open letter before. I was kind of flattered and I think the text of this letter is completely solid. When I signed it I was a little nervous. I said, "Wow, are you going to make a big deal out of it and then nobody's going to care because it's so mundane?" And instead it became this bizarre, raging controversy. That surprised me about the whole thing. Now that I've signed an open letter, I don't think I'll sign anymore because I think it's better to just speak for yourself.
Fisherman: Was there any particular criticism of the letter that you took to heart or one that you thought was unfair?
Yglesias: When the dialogue about the letter broke out, I was frustrated because such a letter was such – I did not write in every detail and it was co-signed by a number of people who may have other things in mind.
I was a blogger. I am an active Twitter user. I like an independent voice and I like to speak for myself. And in hindsight, I think that kind of the idea of logging into things may be a little old-fashioned and gone out of style for good reason.
Fisherman: Were you inspired to sign the letter because you saw certain things that restricted acceptable discourse?
Yglesias: I wrote a piece about David Shorwho is a friend of mine and loses his job. What worried me about this incident was not that a person lost their job – because people keep losing their jobs – but rather the arguments that were put forward to highlight the criticism of him, simply some academic research carried out by became a Black Princeton professor. He was faced with this stream of criticism that boiled down to saying, "You shouldn't say real stuff if it goes against what some activists are doing." That impressed me very much.
I thought that much of the dialogue that was going on at that moment to defuse the police, abolish the police, or protest tactics to get the police to reform police – there was a lot of pressure in the air, so to speak, not to think about strict terms on these issues .
Since this letter came out, I honestly feel a lot better about my situation. I do not think we have seen the problems escalate in this regard. Perhaps the letter was a helpful intervention; maybe it wasn't.
Fisherman: It has caused controversy for some of you Vox colleagues. Were there any internal warnings or discipline when signing the letter?
Yglesias: Not really – I mean no.
Fisherman: There was a kind cryptic tweet You sent Ezra Klein what seemed to indicate that you had promised to remain a mother over it. If this is the case?
Yglesias: What I had promised was not to have a disagreement with colleagues in public.
Something that connects my book with some of the speeches is that part of my view of the world is that progressive people need to connect to the politics of patriotism at some level.
That doesn't mean to deny that terrible things have happened in American history that they obviously have. Successful politics indicates a love of the country and the ideals of a country and tries to highlight aspects of those ideals, aspects of history that are consistent with the values you are trying to address. It would be a big mistake for the left to abandon the idea of American greatness Donald Trump and the right completely.
Even if you look at this book and say, "I don't think this S-Bahn thing makes sense" or, "I don't really agree with Yglesias about childcare," I think that the general practice is To Framework The case for making America bigger is a useful and relevant thing. And that politics of negativism about your own country just doesn't really get you anywhere. It's a conceptual and political dead end.
Everyone in politics wants to change something. There is no one who actually runs a campaign that says "Everything is perfect!" But you choose elements of the national myth that you like or appeal to the people or support the values that are important to you. And you talk about her. They talk about why they are important and what they have to do with the country and its role in the world and things like that.
That's really what the book is about. And the book, which is purposely a little off the wall, ties in very directly to the topics that make the headlines every day.