On Thursday, the Russian Duma held its first reading of a new bill: “On the Citizenship of the Russian Federation.” According to the newspaper Kommersant, the government has prepared a paper representing a “first step toward a serious review of immigration policy.” Included is the idea that:
Russia should be open not only to Russians and Russian speakers, but to anyone who is loyal and willing to integrate into Russian society.
Russia, you see, has a serious problem with population decline. They’re expecting a 28 percent plunge in women of childbearing age by 2032. Their population peaked at about 148 million, in 1991.
You might notice that as the year of the collapse of communism. After the revolution, a series of factors — including introduction to the joys of international capitalism, with the accompanying loss of free health care, spiking economic inequality, accelerated substance abuse, etc. — caused Russia to begin shrinking.
The average life expectancy of Russian males plunged six years, from a pre-perestroika high of about 70 years to a low of about 64, in 1994. Soon, while American men had a 1 in 11 chance of dying before the age of 55, the dice roll for Russian males was about 1 in 4. The economic catastrophe of the Nineties resulted in at least a few million premature deaths and possibly more, depending on what study you believe.
Sharp increases in mortality seemed directly tied to economic events, like the 1998 collapse of the ruble. Specifically, increased deaths were most commonly tied to alcohol consumption, followed by associated health complications, homicide, suicide and booze-related accidents: flying passenger liners under the influence, forgetting you’re on an ice floe while fishing, guzzling methanol-spiked bath lotion when you run out of vodka, etc.
Russia introduced a series of reforms beginning in 2006 designed to make drinking oneself to death harder. They also introduced economic changes designed to reverse the damage of the Nineties, aiming to reduce poverty, increase access to health care, etc.
Reforms had some effect, and Russia’s population eked up to about 144 million for a while. It stayed there for about 10 years, before beginning recently to plunge anew.
Citizens are fleeing to other countries in search of better jobs, and not just to the West, but to places like Kazakhstan. As Bloomberg writes, even the recent addition of 2.3 Crimeans “won’t offset” the statistical trend, and the UN expects Russia’s population to drop to 119 million by 2050, unless it begins opening up its borders.
Hence the new immigration policy!
Meanwhile, here in America, the entire country is up in arms about a caravan of 7,000 people who actually want to come here. This is despite the fact that we suddenly have a lot of the same problems that hit Russia decades ago.
Our own life expectancy rates have begun decreasing, and for a lot of the same reasons that struck Russia: drug and alcohol abuse, poor diet, despair, pessimism, suicide, lack of social mobility, poor access to health care, high income inequality.
Political factors are also playing a role. Native-born Americans are beginning to get bummed out by the current environment to the point of looking to relocate to other countries like France. At the same time, would-be skilled immigrant workers are looking elsewhere, to places like Canada, because of, among other things, our surging “antagonism” toward foreigners.
Remember how Trump was so mad that so many people from “shithole” countries wanted to come here? (“Why do we need more Haitians?” he asked). Remember how he wanted more people from Norway?
Well, people from Norway aren’t coming for the simple reason that their country does not suck, and ours increasingly does. As the Atlantic put it:
Norway is the world’s happiest country (the U.S. ranks 14), the place with the most political freedom (the U.S. ranks 45), most press freedom (the U.S. ranks 43rd), and most prosperity (the U.S. ranks 18).
Forty-third in press freedom! Forty-fifth in political freedom! Awesome. And those numbers are sure to plummet further. Within a few years, migrant caravans will be asking for passage through the U.S. to Canada.
A generation ago, Russia and America were the world’s only hegemonic powers. Now we are inarguably both in decline, although we’re taking very different approaches to facing that reality. Perhaps our two nations could help each other.
Since many Americans appear determined to wall the country off from the outside world, maybe we could ask for Russian help in unlocking the secrets of being unwelcoming.
Russia spent upwards of a century mastering the art of disinclining visitors. Anyone who has ever been near a Russian border can testify to this. Guards stare at your passport like they’re reading something vile you wrote about their mothers. One step in the wrong direction and you’ll have just enough time to see a flash of teeth before a dog the size of a horse starts pulling out your carotid artery.
The Russians are going to need to fix all of this if they’re going to get a wave of “loyal” new immigrants to come in. It won’t be an easy rebrand. Maybe they could send all their scary pogranichniki to work on the Rio Grande. It’d make their borders cheerier, and for us, it’d be a hell of a lot cheaper than a wall — and probably more effective.
On the flip side, since we clearly don’t need or want her anymore, we should send the Statue of Liberty to a key Russian border city like Zhanaul or Zabaikalsk. With her help, Russia could properly welcome new generations of Uigurs, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, Kazaks, Chinese and others to help supplement the Russian gene pool.
We’ll just need a good translation of “The New Colossus” so the “huddled masses, yearning to breathe free” will go that way now. We might have to engrave an extra line or two in the spirit of, “We’re sorry about all those jokes about Bulgarians” to help certain peoples along Russia’s border get over some hard historical feelings.
The main lesson in all of this: If we want to keep foreigners out of America, we probably don’t need to take drastic steps of any kind. Just being ourselves will be deterrent enough. Once we reach the stage of being a heavily armed, paranoid ex-superpower whose citizens are more likely to overdose out of self-loathing than reproduce — Russia’s already been through this, and we’re pretty much there — people will stop coming on their own.
After a few years of that, we might get back to remembering why seeing lots of immigrants headed our way was once considered good news. Not being wanted is a great cure for xenophobia.