Well Aware Delaware: ‘Everyone Complains about the Weather…’


Mark Twain’s well known adage, “Everyone complains about the weather but no one does anything about it,” has found many analogous applications for more than a century, but perhaps none more appropriate than those who would use it to describe our nation’s porous borders. If we think of Twain’s “Everyone complains about the weather” as America’s so-called “border crisis,” we may think of decades-long federal administrations and congresses as Twain’s, “no one does anything about it.” Commentaries related to the nation’s immigration policies date back to Benjamin Franklin and our 13 British colonies. Many European immigrants abandoned 17th, 18th and 19th century Europe to find a new, more abundant life and accessible fertile land in America. Yet, as early as the 1750s, Benjamin Franklin could foresee a crowded America bereft of economic opportunities.  

Franklin’s essay, (1751), “Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc.,” recommends that an overcrowded England send more of their subjects to its American colonies to grow into a much greater and more influential England. He correctly reasoned that population in the colonies grows exponentially (doubles) every 25 years and would soon be greater than that of the mother country. Nevertheless, Franklin recognized the limits to growth even before it had begun because of his observation of Europe’s limited economic opportunity for 90% of Europe’s population. Fertile agricultural land was the primary measure of wealth in 18th and 19th century Europe. Early 19th century novelists Jane Austin and Honore’ de Balzac incidentally describe wealth according to land ownership and its wealth accumulating and income earning potential. Only 10% of Western European society could own enough productive land to achieve financial security and a life of abundance and dignity. In spite of the fact that wealth is much greater in the U.S. today for virtually everyone than any colonial American could have imagined, the pattern of wealth distribution today is disturbingly similar to that of 19th century Europe. 

In 2019, according to the Federal Reserve Bd., approximately 76% of U.S. accumulated wealth belongs to only 10% of U.S. population. Presciently, Franklin forewarned that the limit to economic expansion reached in Europe but not in America in the 18th century, should stabilize in America when the “crowding and interfering with each other’s means of subsistence finally occurs.” This last concept would inspire Thomas Malthus, late 18th century political economist, to write his dire “Malthusian” inevitable overpopulation growth and starvation observations (1798, “Principle of Population”). 

In 1965, the 89th Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act and President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed it into law. This act succeeded the long held immigration National Origins Formula (1924). The “National Origins Formula” admitted a strictly limited number of immigrants based on the percentages of citizens representing the current population of each resident national origin. This formula was designed to preserve the current mix of nationalities. This period was marked by relatively low annual immigration (an average of 231,000 between 1920 and 1970).

Since 1965, the number of immigrants has steadily grown, both legal and illegal. According to the Dept. of Homeland Security, 2.6 million immigrants came to live and/or work in the U.S. (2022), the largest number in American history. In 2023, federal officials encountered 2.1 million unauthorized arrivals. Since 1970, U.S. population has grown from 217 million to 336 million today, primarily immigrant driven. One essential question related to this record flow of immigrants comes to mind. 

If immigration policy should first serve the welfare of the receiving nation, how well is current U.S. immigration policy influencing American environmental/economic sustainability and quality of life: food security, housing security (homelessness), educational opportunities and medical services, to name only a handful of the most serious quality of life issues? Since 1970, land per capita of every description and resource potential has declined by 65% as well as access to our nation’s nationally elected officials which has remained essentially static since Alaska was admitted as the 50th state in the union in 1959 (the Congress limited the number of House of Representatives at 435 in 1911). Nationwide, according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 650,000 are homeless today as compared to 228,000 in 1990 and 18,000 died last year as a result, almost as many as the 19,000 Americans who died of gun murder in 2022. Housing costs in inflation-adjusted dollars has doubled since 1970 and home equity has declined in recent years. U.S. Census Bureau reports of homeownership rates indicate little increase from 1960 (62%) to 2022 (65%). Forty million Americans are moderately or severely food insecure. Limited-English-Proficiency (LEP) students number 10 million in spite of teacher shortages and strained local school budgets. National worker productivity has increased 300% but U.S. workers benefited by only 20%- 50%. While Americans without health insurance has decreased recently, 8% of Americans are still without health insurance and many more are inadequately covered. If mass immigration is ameliorating any of the above socio-economic pathologies, the American people need a detailed explanation of precisely how this has been achieved. Please, no hackneyed expressions: “This is a nation of immigrants” or vague, feckless offers of “comprehensive immigration reform.” Actually, in October 2023, the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey shows that the foreign-born population reached 49.5 million, 15% of U.S. population, the highest in U.S. history. Yet, 85% of Americans are still native born.

Ultimately, both Democrats and most Republicans have neither the consciousness, nor the will to end mass immigration. Those significant minorities of Republicans who do vigorously oppose mass immigration rarely invoke the strongest reason to oppose it - it is the environment, stupid. That is not so surprising. The League of Conservation Voters, year after year, point to the failure of most Republicans to support environmental legislation. Republican laissez faire, supply-side economics is consistent with opposition to perceived environmental legislative interference with what environmentalists call “the hegemony of growth.” Democrats have grown to believe literally and/or philosophically that all eight billion people on this planet have a God-given right to settle in America (U.S. population 1950, 150 million, 2023, 336 million). Current immigration policy is now an integral part of our culture but even if mass immigration has any genuine economic advantage, it is an environmentally/economically unsustainable addiction. Concern about the difference between legal and illegal is clearly valid but immigration is far more about numbers than documentation and a balance between our limited productive environment and our rapidly expanding population (25 million/decade or the equivalent of three New York Cities). One New York City alone built six reservoirs in the Catskill region, three more New York Cities in the next decade alone will need 18 more reservoirs in someone else’s agricultural/forested backyard. Moreover, according to the United Nation Global Footprint Network, the globally available hectares per person (gha/person) for sustainable development are 1.6 gha of biologically productive surface area. A hectare = 2.49 acres. The U.S. has a per capita bio-capacity of 3.76 gha but an actual footprint of 8.2 gha. Therefore, the U.S. is excessively bio-capacity-dependent and economically and environmentally unsustainable and “the hegemony of growth” is tantamount to an environmental Ponzi scheme. In 1960, the U.S. could boast almost 2.5 acres of arable land per capita, today that figure has declined by 50% (1.25 acres). The U.S. currently consumes 25% of global goods and services, owns 30% of the worlds’ accumulated wealth, receives 25% of global income and 13% of all global imports. Yet, we are only 4.6% of the world’s population. Our current environmental footprint exceeds more than 200% of our own land area. For these reasons, please consider in some detail why America needs more citizens from a world growing by one billion every twelve years (95% in the third world), in an already grossly unsustainable national and global environment.

Can the U.S. humanely close its borders if it wished? Yes, if it wished. It could start raising its foreign aid from, shamefully, the lowest (percent of GDP) among the next 27 more generous but less wealthy countries to reduce the “push” factor of desperately poor people to leave their economically declining native land. Two billion people have no access to clean, potable water (diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, typhoid and polio); almost one billion are desperately food insecure, two billion do not have even rudimentary sanitary facilities, three billion people earn less than $5/day. The U.S. could simply vigorously enforce current immigration law and reintroduce “remain in Mexico” style policies. We could revise outdated 14th amendment articles provided to ensure U.S. citizenship to newly emancipated slaves which currently allow foreigners to establish residency by giving birth to “anchor babies” in the U.S. These measures alone would more economically ameliorate life-threatening immigrant journeys across inhospitable territories, by-pass catch-and-release, detention/imprisonment, family separation and enhance national security. We may need a “wall”; but we definitely need a WILL.

Mark Twain knew very well that no one can “do anything about the weather.” Nevertheless, he knew that we could do much about many other things. He cleverly wrote his humorous remark, “Everyone talks about the weather…” to mask his ridicule for those who do little or nothing about everything. Until we understand the primary reasons for an end to mass immigration everyone will “complain about the weather but no one will do anything about it.”

The mantra, “a nation of immigrants” is currently an integral part of the American Zeitgeist (spirit of the times). Many would say that I am on the wrong side of history and social science. In some globalist, moralist, self-sacrificing sense, perhaps I am, yet I prefer to stand on the side of common sense, the “whole truth” and the quality of American life.

Art Siegel resides and works on his tree farm in Walton. Sustainable and productive stewardship are his primary goals. He earned a bachelor of science in biology, a master of science in education at Wagner College and a master of science in school administration at the City University of New York. Art is a retired English teacher and dean of students, certified tree farmer with the National Tree Farm System, Master Forest Owner and filmmaker (EmArt Productions Ltd). He is producer of the films, “Parcelizing the Catskills and the Boiled Frog Syndrome”, “Once Upon a Time on Staten Island”, “Staten Island, Then and Now”, “No Requiem for Mt. Manresa” and “Escape from the Holocaust.” Art produced two more documentary film titles about pilots of the Eighth and Ninth United States Army Air Force (USAAF) in the European Theatre of War during WW II.