Policy Papers: The US and Rome

As the United States enters into a renewed and heated debate about immigration policies and reform, it is worthwhile to question how immigration changes our society. What would open borders mean for social values in the United States? Will an influx of people change how we view ourselves? Rome had a distinct outward movement until it was invaded in the fifth century AD by “barbarians,” but before then it still assimilated people from the lands it conquered, and gave them paths to citizenship especially if they served in the military. It seems that Rome’s approach to assuming new people was to accept them only once they were sufficiently “Roman.” Would Rome have fared better with its outlying territories if it had treated its borders differently? If the United States loosens immigration laws, we will have more people from more countries participating openly in our society; if we continue to make it nearly impossible for immigrants and refugees to come to the United States legally, the population we gain cannot freely and openly participate.

Rome suffered grave consequences when it could not maintain and juggle its foreign interests and territories because it had too few soldiers, and that, conversely, it suffered civil war when it had too few farmers and generals with strong, loyal armies. Cullen Murphy cited the loosening criteria for the military here in the United States, and the increasing privatization of federal government agencies. Meanwhile, liberal and progressive politicians have increasingly called for more affordable (even free) and accessible college education for future generations of Americans. If the United States were to adopt a policy of “college for everyone,” how would this affect our society? Large portions of the United States are primarily agricultural, and in the past we had strong centers of heavy industry and manufacturing; these jobs have largely disappeared, and we see the impact in our trade deficits with countries like China. College for everyone is beneficial to the individual and the family, as Gibbon argued, and in the very long run it might lead us toward a Scandinavian-style state that cares more comprehensively for its workforce. But it could create an imbalance within the workforce, and it could change the way people between the ages of 18-35 move into their eventual fields.

A workforce where young people front-end their training for many years in their youth could create a ripple effect: more free time and intellectual growth for the individual, but fewer resources for the country. Would we create more intellectual property, like software, to sell around the world, and transform our society from a military-industrial nation to a bastion of ideas? Or would we create a void that might cripple our very American “go-ahead,” ambitious work ethic, our farms, and our industry? How would this change the way that we view our country’s future? Would we be less ambitious around the world, and more isolationist, if we focused on education more than on wealth and power?

Farming or agricultural study ought to play a significant role in the “free college” programs of the future. Institutions should continue to offer a liberal arts education with core programs, but students should also have the choice to attend purely technical schools. Graduates of such specialized programs will be able to enter the workforce as apprentices to skilled experts. The United States should use this system of “free college,” if it adopts it, to take its success in exporting intellectual property like software, electronics hardware design, and renewable energy technology a step further, and cement its place as the world leader in idea creation, building out and manufacturing its ideas domestically instead and selling the blueprints for innovation overseas.

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