America’s economic growth will benefit from an immigration policy that sees people with skills come to work, not to latch onto America’s welfare benefits.
A few decades ago, when I was getting my history major at Cal, something very rare and special happened: I had a brilliant professor. Every lecture he gave was fascinating, so much so that, while I’ve forgotten most of what my other teachers told me and that I memorized for just long enough to pass the exams, I remember an amazing amount of what Professor Rothblatt had to say.
One of the things that especially stuck in my mind over the years was how he explained the fact that the British industrial revolution petered out (even before WWI and the Great Depression sank their talons into Britain), while the American industrial revolution kept going and going and going, rather like the Energizer Bunny.* According to Professor Rothblatt, the problem was the English class system. It wasn’t that the government used the class system to limit people’s economic opportunities. It was that the workers themselves felt constrained by the class system. It wasn’t a glass ceiling for them; it was a cast iron ceiling.
In many industries, once the abuses and upheavals of the first half of the 19th century wound down, especially in the late Victorian era when classic liberals in government started instituting some basic workplace protections, working people were able to make a decent enough life for themselves. Their definition of a “decent life,” though, was limited by class mobility. Within the confines of their working class neighborhood, their decent life meant that they could have enough food on the table, money for Sunday clothes in addition to work clothes, a snug home, etc.
What they could not do with earning and saving money, or with innovating and creating new ways of doing old work or creating new products altogether, was move into the next class. They could not move to better communities or get into better schools. There were, of course, exceptions as there are to every rule, but for the vast mass of working class Brits, Henry Higgins, channeling Alan J. Lerner, summed it up: “An Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him. The moment he talks, he makes some other Englishman despise him.” Thus, there was no benefit to be had from working longer, harder, or more creatively. In real estate terms, the working class person who made this extra effort would be in the unenviable position of having the fanciest house in the neighborhood — he could never get a return on his investment.
In America, at least before the modern era of college-/university-educated elitists dawned, there was a tremendous amount of social mobility. People were applauded for leaving their class of origin, not denigrated for doing so. With Americans, whether native-born or immigrant, always believing that there was room at the top, they were willing to spend the time and energy to work harder and to innovate. This is why in America, once the brutalities of the early industrial revolution were tamed, that same revolution, rather than reaching a stopping point, was an endless springboard for rising classes of workers, allowing the disciplined, the diligent, and the creative to move up the economic scale.
Put simply, British culture contributed significantly to its industrial slowdown. [Read more…]