Immigration, character, welfare, and economic destiny
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.
Culture can matter economically in America too. As I alluded to a few paragraphs ago, and as Kurt Schlichter develops at some length in his marvelous Militant Normals: How Regular Americans Are Rebelling Against the Elite to Reclaim Our Democracy, America is developing a very strong class system at the upper end thanks to our university caste. These are people who believe that their Womyns, Queer, and Race Study degrees entitle them to impose Marxism, both cultural and economic, across America. These grads are the virus that infect America’s business sector with the “wokeness” that took over America’s college campuses as they take over management positions. Once embedded in corporate America (or, even worse, in government bureaucracies), these “woke” grads secrete their ideological toxins into the workplace. They depress economic growth because their big government ideology is antithetical to a dynamic marketplace.
We see too that culture matters in the African-American community. When I see charts showing that African-Americans consistently score lower on SAT tests, I do not think, “Oh, black people aren’t as smart as others are.” Instead, I think, “Darn it! I wish they could get their cultural ducks in a row.” I wish that they would work hard in school, get a job, get married, and have children — in that order — and that they would then encourage their children to work hard in school. These values are how generations of Jews and Asians arrived in this country dirt poor and not even speaking the language, only to see their children move up and up the economic ladder, leaving the ghettos for the suburbs. The problem isn’t race; it’s culture.
We have other downscale culture problems in America. As I blogged about at length in the context of the Obamacare debate, there’s also a culture of poor people who have no desire whatsoever for economic mobility. I have a friend who is part of this culture, so I’ve seen this play out first hand.
When Obamacare came along, while my friend did take advantage of it because she has middle class values about preventive medicine and was indeed very grateful for low-cost, subsidized insurance, many of her friends were deeply offended that they would be forced to buy insurance. This was not because they were libertarians who objected to the government forcing them to make a purchase in the marketplace. It was because, no matter how heavily subsidized their Obamacare, they would still have to pay something every month. They preferred their existing system, which had no preventive care, but had them going to the ER for everything from colds to broken bones to appendicitis. That treatment was subsidized 100%, which was a better deal to them than paying $50 a month for insurance.
I wrote then that the Obamacare architects were operating on the assumption that everyone in America wants a middle class lifestyle, with a nice home, a new car every six years, college for the children, and insurance that covers not just emergencies but childhood vaccinations, colds, migraines, arthritis treatments, etc. In my friend’s circle, though, people had different goals: welfare checks, food stamps, free care at the ER, access to their recreational drugs of choice (and beer), and to be left alone. There was no part in their ethos that included working for any of the benefits they received courtesy of taxpayers. These people are the takers and they feel very, very entitled — especially because they are willing to have a very low standard of living in exchange for those benefits.
And then there are the immigrants. As Ben Shapiro said on his Friday podcast, he supports Trump’s plan to move immigration to a standard that looks at what the immigrant can do for America, rather than what America can do for the immigrant. The reason he does is because we live in a welfare state. Before the welfare state, Shapiro noted, people who came to America were (at least in theory) committed to working their way up the economic ladder. They were strivers, innovators, and risk-takers. Now, though, with the welfare state, people come here expecting to get better welfare than in their home countries.
Take Muslims, for example. In 2015, Jeff Sessions’ office prepared a chart showing how dependent “Middle Eastern” (i.e., Muslim) refugees are on welfare in America:
That’s not just the case in America. Muslims take disproportionate advantage of welfare in whatever First World country they land. Not all are like that, of course. I wrote last year about the absolutely delightful Afghani couple I met. When they finally immigrated (legally) to Canada, Canada extended them one year of benefits, plus loans. They learned the language, got skills, worked like crazy, paid back the loans, and now they and their children are thriving. However, this same couple looks at the latest batch of Syrian Muslim immigrants to Canada and is disgusted: the newbies are takers and very aggressive takers at that.
Overall, in a 2015 study, 51% of immigrant households got some welfare, compared to 30% of American households. (I suggest following the link I just provided; the data are fascinating.)
I’m not saying that legal immigrants to America shouldn’t receive some assistance, at least while they are adjusting to living in a new country. That Afghani couple was a good example of people being given a hand up and then rocketing off on their own.
Nevertheless, it’s worth pointing out that immigrants of late come here expecting social services. Muslim immigrants especially come from a mindset that says that they are entitled to jizya — a subsidy from non-believers. In other words, too many modern immigrants come to America to take, not to work and create.
All of which is to wrap around to my original point, which is that, when it comes to whether our country’s economic does well, the debate shouldn’t just be about free market versus managed economies. Instead, culture matters too.
In England, it mattered that people knew that they could never rise above their class.
In America, it matters that too many African-Americans organize their lives in ways that are antithetical to economic success. It matters that native-born Americans on welfare are completely happy to live at the very bottom echelons of society, contributing nothing, provided that they don’t have to work. And it matters very much in immigration, when we open our doors to people, both legal (chain migration and lotteries) and illegal, who come here determined to take advantage of America’s generous welfare programs without feeling any corollary obligation to contribute their energy and innovation to the American economy.
* Obviously, any mistakes I make here are mine alone, whether because I misunderstood the good professor or because the passage of time has warped my memory about what he said.
Image credit: A Fool and His Money, by David Goehring. Creative Commons; some rights reserved.