Recently I had the opportunity to talk with a priest from Hong Kong. He told me some interesting facts about this British colony which in July will revert to the Peoples Republic of China. The future is uncertain, but her past is simply amazing-and provides the most succinct response to above slogan.
Back in the early fifties the people of this small territory were called upon to receive a flood of refugees. These were the "poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free" that our Statue of Liberty also welcomed. But Hong Kong was not the expansive territory of a United States, only a few islands and a diminutive peninsula. By the end of the fifties population experts were predicting disaster. Hong Kong was destined to become a showcase for the misery which would result when hundreds of thousands of poor were jammed into such a tiny area.
Forty years later those predictions seem almost laughable. Hong Kong's population has swollen to over six million, but those people enjoy a higher per capita income than we do in the United States. In fact its Gross National Product is one sixth (!) that of China which at 1.3 billion has 216 times its population. As my priest friend told me, on July 1 there will be 1.3 billion Chinese lining up to get into that city. The Chinese will be in the anomalous situation of having to set up border guards to prevent its citizens from flooding into their newest city.
What went wrong with the population experts' confident predictions? The answer is obvious: if given the right opportunity people produce wealth. It is true that we create problems for each other, but we also create opportunities: clinics, schools, libraries, restaurants, theaters, parks, churches and jobs.
Like many others I believe this is an area where the Catholic social teaching can be strengthened. In defending the rights of immigrants, the unborn and those prevented from even being conceived we have perhaps over-relied on the call for distributive justice. I of course agree with need for a certain redistribution through democratic political processes, but above all Christian sharing or Stewardship. I know from my years in Peru and my experience in parishes here how much a helping hand can mean to an individual or family in an emergency. Still, the greatest help in the long run is removing obstacles, giving the other person a chance to invest his talent. We should fight against the envy which says if the other person gets ahead, it puts me behind. The opposite is true: that other person's advancement will create yet another opportunity for me and you. Hong Kong gives us abundant proof.
Please note: I am not arguing here that we welcome people (immigrants, unborn, etc.) because of their productive potential. We accept them because of their fundamental human dignity just as we embrace a Downs Syndrome baby or severely ill older person. Their value comes from relation with God, not from anything they can do for us. Still, this welcoming of others will not in the long run have an overall negative effect on our economy. Just the opposite as Hong Kong demonstrates. Jesus said it 2000 years ago: "Seek first the Kingdom of God and everything else will be added unto you."
More information on overpopulation and immigration
Overpopulation, Hunger & Poverty