Pundits and intellectuals across the ideological spectrum have long struggled with a seemingly unanswerable question about Argentina: How did Argentina go from first-world status in the beginning of the 20th century to third-world hellhole several decades later?’

And as a corollary: How did Argentina and the United States end up having such radically different levels of national success, given that both countries were blessed with large territories and rich natural-resource endowments?

So far, the typical conservative answer to the question has blamed bad government, i.e., the statist policies that became a staple of Argentine politics since the mid-20th century.

However, this begs the more fundamental question: Why did statism become the essential staple of Argentine politics?

What caused the widespread popular support and continued hegemony of those policies since Juan Domingo Peron irrupted in the political scene in the mid 40’s to the military juntas in the 70’s, all the way through until the return of democracy in the early 80’s and beyond?

As usual, the enigma starts to evaporate if one dares to ask yet another question, albeit of the politically incorrect kind: Were the Argentines that brought about the country’s early glory the same Argentines responsible for its decline?

History seems to indicate that the answer is a clear and resounding “no”:

Argentina became independent from Spain in 1816 just after Napoleos occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. After a period of struggle between caudillos, the country was unified with a constitution inspired, in part, by that of the United States. A generation of brilliant thinkers led by Juan Bautista Alberdi and Domingo Faustino Sarmiento saw European immigration as the key to modernity, and this was enshrined in Article 25: “The Federal Government will encourage European immigration; and may not restrict, limit nor tax in any way the entrance into Argentine territory of those foreigners, who have the purpose of working the land, improving industries, and introducing and teaching sciences and arts.”

In those days, many thought Argentina was called to be the United States of the south. By 1914, it had the sixth highest GDP in the world. Thanks to immigration, it went from a population of 800,000—mostly mestizos—in 1852, to 8 million in 1914. Eighty-five percent were white, and most of the remaining 15 percent were light-skinned mestizos, completely assimilated to Western culture. The concept of multiculturalism did not exist. Buenos Aires became known as the Paris of South America, with wide avenues, mansions, palaces, theaters, museums, schools, excellent universities, and renowned scholars and researchers.

In 1913, the Argentine GDP was almost as great as that of the rest of South America combined. Per capita income was 50 percent higher than in Italy, 85 percent higher than in Spain and Norway, 170 percent higher than in Japan, and more than 4 times greater than that of Brazil. Our Armed Forces were the most powerful, well equipped, and best trained in South America. The Military College of the Nation, where army officers are still educated, was at a level that rivaled that of West Point.

Very little is left today of that Argentina. It began to fade during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Many historians blame the closing of international markets after the Wall Street Crash—that was certainly a factor—but there was another cause: European immigration stopped. Instead, there was migration of Mestizos and Amerindians, both from the country to the city and from neighboring Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, and Chile. These new arrivals were prolific and ringed the main cities—Buenos Aires, Rosario, Cordoba, Mendoza—with belts of poverty. Unlike the Europeans, whose arrival was planned and encouraged, Amerindian migration was uncontrolled. White Argentina looked the other way.

With no European immigration, Paraguayans became the largest foreign community, followed by Bolivians, Peruvians, and Chileans. During the 1990s, Paraguayan immigration increased by 30 percent, and during the same decade, Peruvian immigration increased fourfold, from 16,000 to 88,000 per year. Between 1980 and 2001, Bolivian immigration grew 62.3 percent.

Official figures show that by 2001 there were around one million foreigners of Latin American origin [1]—about 3 percent of the population—but this figure is not reliable, since it reflects only legal immigrants. Nor is there any information about second, third, and fourth generations of arrivals since 1930. Argentina now has an underclass of people essentially outside the system, with unreliable housing, no sewers or clean water, bad food and health care, and few clothes. According to Argentine Catholic University’s Social Observatory, 4.5 million people were living in such conditions of extreme poverty in 2016. That was 10 percent of population; 60 percent of them are probably foreign born, with the other 40 percent mostly second- and third-generation foreigners.

In 2004, the socialist government of Nestor Kirchner passed a new migration law, implementing what was known as the “Patria Grande” (Big Homeland) program. This included amnesty for all illegals, as well as a relaxation of income requirements for immigrants. It also guaranteed free access to public education at all levels, free medical care, family reunification, elimination of the obligation for public officials to report illegal immigrants, issuance of residence permits with only a sworn statement rather than proof of income, and voting rights in local elections. These measures were clearly meant to win votes from non-whites.

A 2005 executive order went further, granting residency to anyone who simply declares he is a relative of either an Argentine or a permanent resident. In just a few months, the Patria Grande program added 442,000 legal residents to the population, and encouraged many more to immigrate illegally. This was done without any consideration for how these people would be housed, what jobs they would take, what taxes they could pay, or what schools and hospitals they would use.

In light of immigration over the last 80 years, my own calculation is that 18 million inhabitants—nearly 40 percent of the population—are not white. There are very few genetic studies, but the foremost one [2] comes close to confirming my estimate. The results probably inflate the figure for whites, with an estimate of 65 percent. The estimate for Mestizos or Amerindians is 31 percent, and for Africans, 4 percent. It is undeniable that Argentina has declined; I believe it is at least in part a consequence of the decline in the number of whites.

The white middle class pays taxes for public schools but almost never uses them, preferring to pay a second time for private schools. Many whites also avoid public hospitals because of poor treatment. Absurdly, tourism agencies organize “medical tours” to bring sick foreigners to Buenos Aires, where they enjoy free treatment of a quality not found in their own countries. Just two months ago, a senator complained to the media that a major hospital was fully booked for an entire month by people coming from Paraguay.

Culture, music, food, and other customs are changing. Tango and Argentine Rock are being replaced by Cumbia and other foreign rhythms.

Most non-whites live in poor neighborhoods, which shade imperceptibly into shanty towns and slums. There are no streets; just passages too narrow for an automobile. This is a perfect environment for hiding criminals, for drug trafficking, and for child lookouts who warn when strangers—especially the police—enter the area…

Eighteen million people get a social welfare check from the government each month, and 50 percent of the labor force is in the public sector. A small number of taxpayers must support all these people. Unemployment is over 10 percent and the poverty rate is 33 percent. Poverty, moreover, is at a Third-World level of misery—not the relatively comfortable “poverty” of the United States. Unlike Europeans, Amerindians and Mestizo rarely achieve upward mobility, even after decades in the country. The enormous sums spent on public schools seem to make little difference.

And as far as these questions go, perhaps the most relevant thing to do is turning some of them around: Will the American people wake up before it is too late for their country to avoid Argentina’s fate?

In 30 years, a good migration policy transformed Argentina into one of the best places on earth. From 1880 to 1910, six million Europeans chose to come to my country rather than to the United States. Later, a bad migration policy—or the absence of any policy at all—drove the same country towards fragmentation and chaos. The decline accelerated between 1990 and 2017.

In both North and South America, Hispanics are pushing relentlessly towards the higher latitudes. You Americans still have a Hispanic population that is only 17 percent of the total, a figure we reached in the 1970s. Argentina is a mirror that shows what your country will be like when that figure reaches 40 percent.