October 12, 2013
to be posted on nobabies.net

Paul Collier
Director, Centre for the Study of African Economies
Economics Department
Manor Road, Oxford QX1 3UQ

Dear Paul Collier:
I recently published a paper (attached) in African Entomology concerned with a possible way to help reduce malaria.  That idea has led me into a byway that might be of interest to you.

I read Exodus.  Of course it is entitled from an African perspective.  I might have said, Joshua.  I do like your idea of arriving at an immigration policy through reason and evidence instead of the usual prejudice.  So I tried it.  The first principle was, “Don’t do evil.”  So do we know the future?  Never.  Do we need immigration at all?  The Japanese have proved the answer to be no.  So that ends the debate.  One would never take an irreversible step that is unnecessary and involves risk.

All right, then, the second principle was, “Is this a free country or not?”  If it is, then one listens to the people.  Those with “power” are simply clerks there to do the bidding of the people.  The people don’t want immigration.  End of debate.

I tried a few more principles and always came up with the same answer.  When I read that immigration forces the indigenous population to hunker down and reduce their trust in each other I screamed myself hoarse.  Immigrants network all the time.  I have been trying to network for years (that paper, don’t you know?) but without success.  Everybody is hunkered.  I would wager I shall not hear from you, for instance, in spite of the importance of the idea. 

So if there really is debate and I always come down on the most extreme possible of one side, maybe I’m prejudiced.  So I took another approach.  I asked what the worst possible result of immigration could be, and of course the American Indians came to mind.  Europeans migrated there and produced what I call a “regime change.”  That means a group in power leaves and another takes over.  Regime changes are accompanied by Trails of Tears (TOT) and Rivers of Blood (ROB) so routinely that it’s boring.  So I look at your workhorse diagram, in which you graph immigration rate against diaspora size.  The Indians were of course way up in the right hand corner.  Clearly we need to stay away from there.  So let’s try another regime change.  How about the Nazi takeover in Germany?  The diaspora was big and immigration zilch, lower right hand corner, another blood bath.  Then the allies swept in.  Obviously an invading arm is an immigration.  There was anther bloodbath.  This time there was no diaspora, the troops didn’t bring their families.  Upper left hand corner.  Then there was the Terror of the French revolution.  No Immigration.  No diaspora.  Bottom left hand corner.  When regime changes happen, as they inevitably will, it isn’t migration patterns that bring on the TOT and ROB.

But there is a bit of a quirk in this that I think is important.  You take the position that a functioning society depends on having the appropriate institutions and “narratives.”  A narrative is a quick little sentence one uses for making decisions rather than thinking matters through.  As you say, “I am a good plumber,” working in the right head means there is going to be good plumbing work done.  I fear we differ a bit.  I think the narratives are everything.  I have seen enough institutions function so that I believe that they can be made quite cheaply and quickly.  During colonial days there was, I think, an honest attempt by rich countries to introduce the right institutions and narratives in poor countries.  It was called colonialism, and it didn’t work. 

But not to worry.  Let’s just agree that the narratives are important.  So concider two of them.  1) It’s just fine to marry somebody from a different ethnic groups or country; there is no biological downside, and pretty much everybody has the same emotional makeup.  2) It’s the sweetest thing in the world to marry a kissin’ cousin (third cousin to sixth cousin). 

Number 1) is based on facts that are indisputable.  2) is based just on tradition.  Now I make my leap.  Please forgive the capitals.  NOBODY CAN BELIEVE BOTH OF THOSE NARRATIVES AT THE SAME TIME.  So when the government uses its monopoly on violence to enforce conditions that will inevitably mean 1) is accepted, 2) gets pushed out of existence for those who have respect for that government.  (Which of course isn’t everybody; a diaspora may cling to 2) but it is probably at the expense of any respect of the government.  I don’t know.  It just seems logical from the assumption that I made in capitals.)

So what is the problem with losing narrative 2)?  It turns out that the second narrative really does have biological implications.  Here’s my best summary of the evidence so far: http://nobabies.net/A%20December%20summary.html
From what I can make of it, under conditions of random mating, a population of humans (or mice and probably any mammal) that numbers over a thousand will suffer a fertility crash.  I don’t know whether it always goes extinct, but that apparently is the case.  At all events it will decline to the point that it cannot be regarded as a society, just a handful of extremely infertile survivors, which handful may or may not die out. 

And there is your prescription for a regime change.  Those in power cannot produce enough offspring to hold things together.  Decisions get made that are progressively more desperate and more foolish.  By the time the barbarians roll in or the peasants rise, the case can be made that the collapsing regime richly deserves what they are going to get. 

The funny thing is that your really ought to be able to see it coming.  Fertility among the ruling class falls, then levels off below replacement.  There is a lull while nothing much changes except that people start to have their children at a later and later age.  That cannot continue forever.  Eventually the number of children falls again, essentially to zero.

Short of regime change apocalypse (and I am truly sorry to be taking this alarmist tone, but this is a valid scientific issue that is being ignored so I feel obliged to point out that it really shouldn’t be ignored) let’s considere how the members of a diaspora get seamlessly absorbed into a indigenous population.  Both among the diaspora and the locals there are smallish more traditional communities that will remain rather tight and just might be able to survive.  Let’s hope so.  But those who “assimilate” will find themselves excluded from both traditional groups, becoming “citizens of the world” or at least citizens of the country rather than their own group.  So they and whatever offspring they have for a few generations really have no choice but to marry strangers, and this applies to their offspring for a few generations.  But going multiple generations marrying strangers – that’s where you get into trouble.  In any one year any effect of consanguinity is rather small, let’s say about 50%.  That’s no problem if you are one of eight children, but three generations later it does seem to be a problem for an only child.

The whole issue is totally dismal.  I only pursue it because it seems obvious that there is a very serious question and nobody else will touch it.  We might wake up some day fifteen or twenty years from now and find that rich countries and their assimilating guests simply cannot have a significant number of children.  Somebody would be unhappy.  “You killed our babies.”  How does that sound for a narrative with legs? 

That at least is my reaction to your most impressive book.  What, pray tell, is your reaction to me?


M. Linton Herbert MD

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