The Other I

January 28, 2017

Immigrants made America rich

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:26 pm
Image result for the Statue of Liberty
It’s not just people who voted for Donald Trump in the U.S. or for Brext in the U.K.  
In countries around the world, there are strong populist demands that their borders be closed to immigrants.  Here in Britain, the argument for this policy I hear most frequently is that immigrants coming in from eastern Europe are doing jobs for less pay and in worse conditions than British men and women demand, and so are basically making them unemployable.  In the United States, Trump and his followers argue that big companies have exported factory jobs to China and Mexico and other countries where people are willing to work for less money and in poorer conditions, and in the process disenfranchising hundreds of thousands American workers.  In both countries there is fear that terrorists are getting into the country under the guise of refugees.  In other areas, the argument is one of culture and the fear that our language, our values, our rule of law are all being threatened.
All these fears are legitimate, if often exaggerated or distorted.
What seems so strange to me though is how it is possible to overlook the huge benefits of immigration.
  •  Immigrants are twice as likely to begin their own companies than people already living in the United States, and employ 1 out of every 10 people in the country.
  • Immigrants or their children have been included in start-ups of  41% of the Fortune 500 companies in the U.S., and a third of the top U.S. tech companies.
  • immigrants have been included in start-ups of Google, AT&T, Goldman Sachs, ebay, Radio Shack, Pfizer drugs, Yahoo!
  • the chances are that all of the readers of this blog living in America are descendants of immigrants.  I am.
Are all immigrants so wonderful?  Of course not.  Native Americans might reasonably argue that the first European immigrants to America engaged in ethnic cleansing, bringing disease and war with them, and appropriating the land by force belonging for centuries to Indian tribes.  European refugees landing on Ellis Island might suggest that assessing them with intelligence tests in English reflected the same kind of xenophobia responsible for building walls today.
And the men and women who voted for Trump because they believed they lost their jobs in late middle age when it was too late to find another job have a right to feel betrayed by both of the main US political parties.   The Democrats claimed to represent the workers but signed major trade deals while doing little to help American workers whose jobs were outsourced to other countries.  The Republicans were even stronger defenders of international trade and its many benefits, but they too did nothing to help the Americans their policies made unemployable, hiding instead behind the argument that these people should not be given free medical help, food stamps, or housing when they were made jobless but provide for themselves.  That, they argued, is the American way.
Oh yes?
We woke up this morning to hear that Trump is claiming to address the immigration issue through executive order with wholesale stopping immigration from 7 Muslim countries.
If you think this is a good idea, I’m sure you won’t be convinced by anything I can say about American values or the importance of immigration to developing and maintaining the economy.
Personally, I’m hoping that Trump’s executive orders are illegal.  In 1965, standing in front of the statute of Liberty, President Lyndon Johnson signed a bill into law which had been passed by Congress making it illegal to deny immigration rights on the basis of sex, nationality, religion, or place of birth.


  1. I am an immigrant too.
    I see you trying to be evenhanded, when you acknowledge that the fears of the disenfranchised may be fair. But through the 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s, the West has ruthlessly pushed open market economics to third world countries – to India, Argentina, Brazil, Thailand, Malaysia, and many African countries – insisting that it was the only fair system in the world, that protectionist policies were outdated and plain wrong. Governments were severely leaned on by the US via the IMF and World Bank to open up their markets to Western imports, to not protect their own fledgling industries. Thousands of businesses failed in the 3rd world because of these policies and were replaced by American and European multinationals.
    It seems patently unfair that the west becomes squeamish about open markets just because we now happen to be losing (to China, mainly). Developing countries were told that losing builds character, that local firms need to lose, and lose again, and learn to compete or die in the process. Are Americans too frail and weak to compete, while starving Indians and Chileans did so without complaining? Or is it OK for the west to change the rules whenever it suits us? I am an American citizen now, and I am very disturbed by this thought. I firmly believe that if we (Americans) need to compete against the Chinese, we need to grow up and learn to work as hard as them, and if we cant succeed, we should learn not to whine like wimps, not throw our toys out of the pram and refuse to play just because we are losing. And if we can’t take failure, we should publicly apologize to the whole world for the bullshit we fed them for fifty years in the name of economics, for telling them that losing was good for them. And if might is actually right, and it is OK to force things on others that one cant handle oneself, if those are indeed true American values, then we totally deserve Trump. In fact, he is a mirror to our face. We have created him in our image. We should get on our knees immediately and worship him as our True Master. America should come first, elbowing humanity out of the way.
    I’m sorry. I am not feeling particularly good-natured right now, thanks to that Trump exec order. I don’t enjoy thinking or writing like this. I’m hoping this feeling will pass, but I doubt it will. Feel free to delete it if you’d like.


    Comment by psriblog — January 28, 2017 @ 9:57 pm | Reply

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a rich comment. Under no conditions (apart from your asking me to do it) would I consider deleting it. It’s too valuable.

      Yes, I too am personally aware of the job losses and economic disruption caused in many underdeveloped countries where globalized trade has destroyed swathes of local commerce and entrepreneurs. Governments there, like those in the Western world, tended to look at the increases in their national GDP while ignoring the people made unemployed, and worse, made unemployable. In addition, we tend to see the downside of international trade as it is exhibited in the countries we know well, while thinking that all the gain is on the other side. But it isn’t. And it hasn’t been.

      But there’s no going back to the old ways.

      Globalized trade, when it has involved moving factories to less developed countries, reflects changes instigated by technological developments which are far from over. Just as the auto displaced the horse-drawn carts and ploughs, robotics and artificial intelligence is going to continue to disrupt the old ways. Just this week, The Economist’s cover story describes a movement that began unnoticed some years ago: companies are now finding it more productive to produce goods in the countries where they are actually being sold. This isn’t bringing the old jobs back. Post-modern factories are now staffed by robots, first developed and now monitored by men and women with technological skills.

      And as your PSRIblog post in November reviewing Behaving Ourselves suggests, economists themselves are rethinking their own assessments and predictions. In light of economic events since the end of WWII, and especially since the 1980’s, they are realizing that much of their thought was based on false assumptions and restricted data.

      I think my biggest problem with Trump isn’t that there isn’t a problem arising from much of globalized trade. It’s that he seems to think that the only people for whom it has a downside is the Americans. That’s going to make his proposed solutions awfully one-sided. And in the end, all of us will be worse off for it.

      Again, thank you for your honest and stimulating comment.


      Comment by theotheri — January 29, 2017 @ 3:16 pm | Reply

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