Immigration. The Economic and the Cultural

Photo by Spencer Davis on

Tough subject.
We are a nation of immigrants and should remain so, but there’s a lot of anger stirring on the subject.
Are we overpopulated? No.
Is there room for more people? Absolutely.
Who wants to keep the door open to new entrants? Business.
Who doesn’t want to? Those who perceive themselves as being left behind, feeling the newcomers are taking something from them, something they deserve because they were here before.
Business is clear in their position. Jobs are going unfilled. New talent is needed, from manual skills, caregivers, farm labor to physicists, engineers, scientists, technologists, mathematicians. Business wants them all, without unnecessary delays.
Their argument – we will move forward faster, create more wealth, stay ahead in the ruthless competition for advantage. They have a point.
The other side, the side who feels they’re being left behind – the cultural side – also has a point.
‘Why are we still behind, why are we not catching up?’
Some of the left behind may have the capacity to move up while others may not. Or they may not have the motivation. But did they have the opportunities? If they haven’t, why not?
If we’re going to start solving the immigration problem, we must listen to their side too.
Theirs is a more complex side than that of business because it exposes deep weaknesses in our system of government.
If in a given town, a business chooses to pull up and move elsewhere, that is their choice. Some of their workers will go with them but some won’t. Some will say, ‘Okay, that industry was the only game in town, so now I have to get going and move to another town, so I can make a living and feed my family. Others may not have such initiative or have yet to find it.
Sound government has a responsibility to the left behind. A responsibility to provide the necessary training for them to enlarge their capacities to work in a changing environment. That task must be done on such scale that it includes most of the affected.
When that is done then there will be less room for resentment.
I was in Germany in September of 2021, and in one of the cab drives I took I spoke to the driver. He was an immigrant from East Asia. ‘How was he adapting to life in Germany?’ I asked.
He loved it. He liked his cab driving because he could pick the hours he worked. His children were going to school. Life was good. Then there was this cousin of his, who after being laid off from his previous job during the pandemic, found out that the government was offering training programs in IT. The cousin jumped at the opportunity. A year later or so the man was making nearly 4 times the salary he had been earning before.
Not all the left behind will have the spunk the cousin had, but many will. If the opportunities are offered.
But to not have opportunities for advancement while seeing that our borders are overwhelmed and in perpetual chaos, is to inflame whatever resentments exist.
Thus the importance of dealing squarely with the immigration issue.
The perception of an orderly transition to coming into this country must be restored.
Right now the impression is that cheating is rampant. People overstay their visas. Others are allowed to stay in the country while their cases are processed but then they don’t show up for their hearings. Meanwhile, they use government services that the left behind finds intolerable.
‘Why not us?’ they ask.
Some politicians have made careers exploiting the resentments of the left behind without offering solutions. But demonizing the immigrant is not acceptable.
Building a wall is not either. Separating parents from children abhorrent.
Reason and compassion must prevail.
So we have to act. Otherwise the perception of lawlessness at our borders undermines our trust in government.
The task of solving this problem is urgent.
It will require compromises and bipartisan support but it should not be delayed.
Otherwise the problem will fester and deepen divisions we cannot afford.
The more we convey to the world our capacity to solve problems, the more we can inspire others to do the same and deter our enemies from challenging us.
Yesterday I listened to a 50 minute taped presentation sponsored by the US Chamber of commerce. It was held last year, during the pandemic.
Two US representatives, one democratic, the other republican, spoke on their views. They both agreed on the importance of tackling the problem. I heard them say that the last change to the law occurred in 1986, while Reagan was president.
I heard about legalizing those who’ve been here for years without papers yet making a contribution, all of which is important. Heard also of the importance of not demonizing the immigrant. But didn’t hear a single word about acknowledging and addressing the mounting resentment of the left behind or how to channel it.
It must be done.
It’s a cultural issue.

Trump vs Sanders. Let Us Not Demonize. The Importance of Explaining Trump.

So far, on the road to election day in November, Sanders is heading the democratic pack. He is, of course, a devout believer in government intervention. Trump, on the other hand, is a strong advocate of deregulation. Deregulating everything. Even morals.

Sanders tells us that he will pass Medicare for All, the undocumented included and, please, no billionaires. They should be outlawed. So let us be pious and self sacrificing, says the good man, give me the sick from all over the world and we will cover you.

Trump shouts proudly to his followers, ‘I am a billionaire! Be like me!’ Of course, the fantasy will be out of reach for the vast majority of his fans but something about the possibility of achieving it makes it hard to give up.

Who do you think will win in November? Not Sanders.

No matter how rough the road to riches, no matter how filled with obstacles, we want to make sure it is still there. And if we choose not to go down that path, or if it is not for us, then do allow someone else to go for it, someone with the imagination, tenacity and daring.

Sanders’ overemphasis on government intervention will block that road.

Is Trump a problem? Yes.

How are we going to defeat him?

We must explain him. Not demonize him.

What did Trump do to gain the loyalty of his followers in 2016?

He said to his audience, ‘never mind piety, you have for too long been shackled by it. Had you not been so pious you would have complained loudly about globalization taking away your jobs, had you not been so pious you would’ve marched on your state capitals and demanded action. And so I say to you, cast aside your piety and follow me. I will show you the way. I will sin for you and spare you such burden so you may be all you can be. In return, I only ask that you pledge your complete devotion to me, and with the power of your wind beneath my wings we will soar as high as you wish (just keep blowing hard). Make America Great Again. Be not afraid for together we shall not fail’. And, entranced by his grand incantation, they gave their devotion to him. Him, who, in spite of his riches (we haven’t seen the tax returns), had no track record whatsoever of ever helping anybody but himself.

What else did Trump do to gain his loyal following in 2016?

He appropriated immigration. Made it his own. Mounted on his big white horse, clad in his gilded armor, his hair nicely in place, the great man said to his audience, ‘How dare these different colored people come to our land and prosper when you have been left behind? We must not allow it. If we do, one day soon they will become our masters. Would you like that?’ And the enchanted crowd sprang to its feet, pumping their fists high in the air, ‘No, we will not!’ They cried in fury, surprised that they had so much of it in them. And Trump, himself, struck by the fervor he had ignited, thought to himself, ‘dammit, I have them in the palm of my hand, don’t I?  I had no idea I was this good. I’m no longer the sorcerer’s apprentice, I have become the sorcerer himself.’ 

And returning to his crowd, which stood agape, hungering for his wisdom and guidance, he said, ‘No, we will not allow it. So let us ban these different colored people who have invaded us with the blessing of the traitorous democrats, let us ban them and build a wall to keep them out forever. And yes, I will sin if I must, and in return, I only ask that you pledge to me your complete devotion’. And they roared their approval.

With their devotion, Trump now could do as he wished. And he did.

After all that hoopla, however, has Trump really empowered his supporters? No. He has started to build a wall and wages have gone up a little with improvements in the economy for which Obama had laid the groundwork. (the massive benefit from the tax cuts Trump passed in 2018 went to the wealthy and have yet to trickle down to the lower classes. Don’t hold your breath)

True empowerment comes from lasting changes but Trump is a man for the moment, not a man for the future. He is not a man who sows the land but a man who harvests what is already there. In fact, he wouldn’t know what to plant, for planting in people’s souls is no easy task.

If he knew how to do it, he would’ve said to his followers, ‘you have made some mistakes, my fellow Americans, and I will help you overcome them. I will work to make you stronger, better educated, better advocates for yourselves, so you can get what you need in an increasingly complex world, where the power of knowledge and creativity is what allows us to compete effectively and succeed. I have faith in you and will work with you. There is no need to pick a quarrel with the rest of America or with foreigners, no need to claim a monopoly on virtue. Only hard work will set us free’.

Trump wished he could have said that. But it was beyond his grasp. He saw the world in a narrower way. ‘I’m 70ish and running out of time’ he said to himself, ‘I want to get on top while I can and will do what I must’.

But let us not demonize.

Regardless of his coarseness, his bullying and narrow mindedness, Trump has stirred up energies in his supporters that democrats should be careful not to brand as merely racist and white supremacist.

There are layers of that present, indeed, but there is something more that Trump is awakening. When he says to his supporters, ‘let’s have it all, right now, let us make America great again, let us be all we can be and the hell with everybody else!’ he is firing up the driving force of self interest.

There’s something very strong about that position. It is devoid of suffocating restraints and hindrances. It is not pious.

We do need rules, mind you, fair rules and decency, so we can live together in peace, just not as many as Sanders want us to have.

We do need to be respectful to others so they will be respectful to us in turn, but we do not need to be as pious as Sanders wants us to be.

Trump has strengths and they have to be acknowledged.

Demonizing him will not do.

Explaining Trump, on the other hand, will help us see how he went about exploiting human frailty and how he keeps doing it.

The good news is that there is still time.

One final note on immigration.

Immigration is too powerful a cultural and economic force to be appropriated by one man. No one leader or group should claim the power to decide its future. Instead, the issue needs to be addressed by the entire nation. Holding a National Referendum on Immigration Reform will be one way to empower all Americans on the matter. Each citizen, one vote. Let us not be afraid of it.

Trump, Tariffs and the Reelection Bid.

Battle for the Nation (3)

There is no question that the tariffs Trump is imposing on China and the threat to impose them on Mexico are a burden to the American taxpayer. Both sides are hurt by them but Trump is betting that they will hurt the other side more than us. Tariffs have not yet derailed our economic expansion but they may well do so.

Are there problems with our trade with China? Of course. Do they need addressing? No doubt. But what happened to gradualism? Wouldn’t that approach give our industries and every other nation’s enough time to make the necessary adjustments?

Yes, it would.

The reason Trump is rushing headlong with tariffs is clear. He is convinced that they are his ticket to reelection. He appears to think that pushing tariffs will project him as the great American gladiator, the sublime avenger of all injuries inflicted upon us.

But we will not beat China on tariffs. They will fight back and even endure much pain rather than bow to Trump’s demands. In the 80s we could impose tariffs on Japan and stem their rise because we had defeated them in WWII. We did not defeat China. She was not even a nation.

China has become a formidable opponent. Their brand of state sponsored development, their drive and ambition, has challenged our position in the world.

Their commitment to technological superiority, their advances in 5G and artificial intelligence, all make it evident that their push for world dominance is here to stay.

Should we be frightened? It depends on how capable we perceive ourselves to be. 

China’s rise and defiance should be seen as a warning that we have to reorganize our economy and the way we connect to ourselves and to the world.

To do that we need to think clearly as to what our priorities are.

Take immigration: immigrants have contributed enormously to who we are now and what we have. A Russian immigrant is Google’s cofounder. Apple’s Steven Jobs’ father came from Syria. Intel’s Andy Grove, a leading figure in the company’s growth, came from Hungary.

Present day Silicon Valley is filled with first or second generation Indian entrepreneurs.

I live in California. There are several buildings going up near where I live. The major component to the labor force pushing up those structures are Latinos.

When I go for medical care the likelihood is high that the nurse or doctor assisting me will be a first or second generation immigrant. And so too when I go to the pharmacy to pick up my meds.

Same at the bank or when I go for coffee or to get something to eat.

We are immigrants. That’s who we are. We have needed the numbers and immigrants have provided them.

China’s story is different. They have the numbers. But they started to thrive quickly only when they opened to the world. It was that influx of ideas and technologies that, coupled with their drive and ingenuity, lifted them to their present status.

Again, openness.

In China’s case, however, selective openness. They have not been willing to import democratic ideals and so their population remains severely bereft of individual liberties.

The West bet that trade with China would inevitably stir a strong desire from within to transform their communist ideology. It hasn’t happened but it does not mean that it will not.

We got wrong the time table for political change but the central concept remains. Sooner or later China will open up politically.

Trump’s intemperate push for tariffs betrays a sense of panic.

China announces their desire for being the worldwide leader in technology and Trump frets that we will be at their mercy.

He bangs his tariff drum – the louder the better – thinking that it will deter China.

It will not.

The Chinese must love that our president is showing so little confidence in all the pain and effort that it has taken to build America. But Trump has little sense of history.

Our concept of liberty is the distillation of hundreds of years of thought and discussion, struggles and wars.

China has not done that work. They went from a near feudal economy to world prominence in a very short time. Much like South Korea did, except that we could exert political influence there because we fought for their freedom.  

Why then are we panicking with China’s rise?

There is no need to do so. In fact, it is counterproductive.

To panic is to doubt that our model of governance is effective.

It is effective not only because of our economic and military strength but because it keeps attracting millions of people from all over the world. And yet, it needs to be fairer.

As we embrace greater fairness we will help release the fullness of our citizens’ productive capacities.

Rather than panic with China’s rise, we should welcome it, for it challenges us to remake our society.

Let us not forget that our society is not in its final form. Far from it. It is designed to be in a continuous state of flux because the complexity of life demands it.

China’s spectacular growth has contributed to the rise of nationalism both here and abroad. But reacting in such way is going in the wrong direction. We must not lose faith in man’s thirst for freedom and how it unleashes their creative forces.

China lags way behind the West in allowing the fundamental freedom that man has long aspired to. In time, and with visionary leadership, they will come around.

Immigration needs reform in that the nation must have control of its borders. Let’s tackle that. Let’s discuss it. Let’s do a referendum on the issue.

But let us not allow a leader without a sense of history, to throw us into a state of panic that leads us to question the fundamental values that we have struggled so hard to maintain.

Oscar Valdes