Tuesday, August 10, 2010

From Taboo Breakers, to Taboo Makers (Part II)

Honestly assessing the costs and benefits of demographic change, in its present form, is but the first of several taboos that must be broken if we are to reach the goal of creating policies that maximize the long term social and economic welfare of all Americans. Once we acknowledge specific examples were the costs of demographic change may be unduly high, the next step is to determine the causes and formulate a solution.

A racist will attribute it to what they believe are fundamental defects in a racial or ethnic group, a position which I absolutely reject. Most progressives will exclusively attribute poor socio-economic outcomes to external forces, such as racism and oppression. Indeed, there are instances in which racism is a real factor, however more often than not it is but one factor in an equation. For example, Jews faced severe discrimination in much of Europe, but in most cases their educational, cultural and economic output surpassed that of their Christian neighbors. And no one can say that East Asians have enjoyed social or legal privileges in the United States, yet by and large they have surpassed whites in educational and income levels. And while racism is a significant factor in the socio-economic difficulties that African-Americans face, one cannot ignore cultural factors, such as the 70% rate of out-of-wedlock births and attitudes towards education and money management. So, how do we explain the fact that otherwise astute progressives ignore the obvious? I believe that it stems from the strong progressive taboo against offering any form of criticism against "the underdog." And on an even deeper level it represents the progressive tendency to view individuals and groups as passive agents, rather than active agents whose choices shape their circumstances.

So, if we reject racist or progressive explanations of the positive or negative socio-economic outputs of different groups, to where can we turn? Economists and "culturalists" understand that at its core, immigration policy implies the selection of a particular segment of a nation, either through the allocation of visas or through the non-enforcement of laws. To say that 10,000 Iranians immigrated to the United States tells us very little. To determine their social and economic impact, we would have to know: what segment of Iranian society predominate in the select group? The highly educated elite or poor, uneducated Persians? Secular, western oriented Iranians or deeply religious Shi'ites that support theocratic rule? Urban or rural? Each of the said groups emphasizes very different aspects of Iranian culture and would have a markedly different impact on economic and cultural life of the United States. The same goes for any other ethnic group, be they European, Latin-American, African or Asian. An economist will declare that the level of education of an individual is the greatest determinant of their economic output. A "culturalist" will agree, but also ad that certain cultures may predispose their members towards educational achievement and social mobility, more than others.

Naturally, the world view of racists, progressives, economists and culturalists engender different solutions towards difficulties brought on by demographic change. A racists would simply ban the further immigration of groups that they deem undesirable; a solution which I completely reject. Most progressives completely reject moves to alter or limit the flow of immigration, instead proposing 101 costly programs to bridge the socio-economic gap between different groups. There are two problems with this approach. First, its proponents fail to realize that altering the flow of future immigrants and promoting positive social and economic among present immigrants and their offspring are often inseparable policies. For example, there is not a government policy or program in the world that can improve wages and employment opportunities for California's low skill immigrant workers, without first curbing the perpetual increase in the supply of low skilled labor. And in order to improve the educational opportunities for the children of working class immigrants, the last thing in the world we want to do is to increase the number of students that already overcrowded and underfunded schools have to educate.

Second, progressives often avoid troubling demographic issues, by circumventing the facts on the ground. For example, when presented with the troubling statistic that the drop out, incarceration and out-of-wedlock-birth rate for Hispanics is over 200% greater than that of whites, the sole progressive solution is the expansion of federal government initiatives to address racism and the educational gap. While these programs may be noble in intent, there is no evidence that they are effective. So, when we explore the impact of projected demographic change, we must base our calculations on the facts on the ground; we cannot base them on the assumption that any group will improve their social and economic output, either through government intervention or through their own initiatives. The does not mean that we as a nation shouldn't do all that is possible to bridge the social and economic gaps faced by our Hispanic brethren. We must boldly pursue educational initiatives to assist Hispanics that already reside in the United States, while altering our selection of future immigrants. Our economy will continue to offer diminishing returns for all unskilled workers, so the most logical course of action is to shift our focus to highly skilled, highly educated immigrants. To ensure the prosperity of the United States, it's vital to bring in the best and brightest workers and entrepreneurs from all over the world, regardless of their race or national origin. This will ensure that increased diversity will not be exacerbate our growing levels of poverty, economic and educational inequality. Cowering behind progressive taboos may spare us from difficult discussions, but it does little to address the social, economic and political challenges that we as a nation must face.

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