Americanism, I

A nationalism that’s actually based on our values could help usher in a new American century, to the benefit of the world…

“To be a Frenchman is a fact; to be an American, an ideal”

–Carl Friedrich

Carl Friedrich was/is my grandfather.  Born to a father who invented the surgical rubber glove and a countess of the von Bulow family, he received an elite German education focused on classical languages and literature, studying under the brother of Max Weber at the University of Heidelberg. Nevertheless, he emigrated to the United States in 1925, forty years after Friedrich Drumpf made the same journey, though not for the same reasons, to take a position as a lecturer in Government at Harvard, where he became one of the world’s leading authorities on constitutional government and law.  When Hitler came to power in his homeland, he decided to become an American citizen, and spent much of the 1930s in a classically American way, spiriting Jewish scholars, lawyers, and journalists out of fascist regimes to resettle in our country, though not Jewish himself.  Among those he helped was the pianist Rudolf Serkin, whom he persuaded to play a concert at his farm in Brattleboro, Vermont, which led to the creation of the Marlboro Music Festival.

After the war, he helped write the constitutions of both West Germany and Israel, as well as many other countries striving to emulate our system of government, and became one of the early advocates for a united Europe, modeled on the success of our federal system, as a way to ensure ongoing peace and prosperity for a continent dominated and hamstrung by division for centuries.  How strange and disappointing he would find what’s happened to our country since his passing, as a German who saw the American way as the future for the world, and a definitive answer to the totalitarianism he saw arise where he was born.

We agree with him, and while many of our compatriots are made uneasy by the spectre of nationalism, we believe that a nationalism actually based on our values as a nation could usher in a new American century that would be to the benefit of all.  Here would be its pillars:

Open, Wide

What could be more American than being blunt?  The efforts been made to decrease legal immigration to our country are flat-out economic malpractice in the current global economy, and shocking coming a self-made billionaire who knows more about business than everyone else in the world combined. Our ability to assimilate immigrants from all over the world has been our not-so-secret competitive advantage over every other nation literally for centuries, and is especially so now.  We take in more immigrants than any other country in the world, we have throughout our history, and we’re one of a small handful of nations–and by far the largest–where all but a small fraction of our citizens can trace their ancestry back to immigrant forebears.  As the most recent Republican president observed, “every immigrant makes our nation more, not less, American.”  Instead of closing the gates, the American way, Americanism, would be taking in as many hearts and minds as possible.

This would seem to be obvious, but let’s break it down in ways that even those standing behind the Occupant at his rallies can understand:

Defusing & confusing the bomb

Thanks to slowing birth rates and, in China’s case, its one-child policy, virtually all the largest economies in the world–the US, western Europe, China, Japan, Korea–face a “demographic time bomb,” meaning their populations appear destined to age to the point where there will not be enough workers actively in the work force to support those who have retired out of it, which, if you’re a Trump supporter, may well include you.

Other countries understand this, and further verstehen that immigration may be the only way, short of turning their nations into Gilead, to avoid a long economic decline that ends in the fiscal equivalent of palliative care. Angela Merkel, for example, didn’t take in all of those Syrian refugees just because she felt bad about the Holocaust  Yet only the US of A has the experience and expertise to hoover up an epochal cornucopia of huddled masses, entrepreneurs, artists, and engineers from around the world. Case in point: three years after so much of Syria washed up on German soil, They Might Be Nazis has been charting with bullets among the Volk there, albeit with a current pause for the pandemic while the neue-reich works up the proper messaging to blame it on the new folks. As we know from having to brush up on our German history lately, they’ll just need a superspreader anecdote or two to get that old-time xenophobia rolling again. Not so here. Despite Donald Trump’s best/worst efforts over the last four years, or maybe because of them, Gallup recently found support for immigration at an all-time high.

Still, well-spoken critics of increased immigration like David Frum feel that even we will be chasing fool’s gold like the Germans if we view immigrants as a solution to our demosclerosis; we’ll only be kicking the can down the road a generation at most, he believes, because the new immigrants will get old, and then we’ll be right back where we started. We admire and respect Mr. Frum for seeing the modern Republican Party for what it is, but he really needs to get out and break more bread. He’s making the huge assumption that immigrants–in a single generation, no less–are going to adopt our own current lack of fecundity, a point it took us 200+ years to reach.  The reality is that the cultures we’re most likely to draw immigrants from (as opposed to Norway) all place far more value on family than our society does, some taking these beliefs to almost appalling extremes.  Views held that strongly are not going to just disappear in a generation.

In any case, there are nearly eight billion people in the world now, and there will be nearly 10 billion by 2050.  Our share of the population is 4% and falling.  Immigrants are responsible for 75% of our current population growth, which means that if we truly declare our nation “full,” by 2050 only 3% of the world’s population will be American. Can we be the dominant economic superpower, with the only fiat currency (accepted everywhere, allowing us to spend our way out of any debt), with only 3% of the world’s population?  Ask Germany and Japan–that’s about the proportion of people in the world who were German or Japanese after World War II.

And the world is not standing still in other, potentially much more economically significant ways, either–three times as many people have been lifted out of poverty in the last twenty years than live in our country.  By 2015, the world was five years ahead of schedule in eliminating extreme poverty entirely by 2030, and given how much better literally the entire rest of the world has handled the current pandemic, that’s likely to be only a pothole in the still unpaved road to progress, even as our own poor performance narrows the gap in reverse.  In short, there’s a reason why even then-Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney admitted–just before he was axed–that “we are desperate–desperate–for more people.”

Time to stop playing whack-a-mule

Immigration opponents like to seize upon lurid, sensational instances of illegal immigrants’ involvement in grisly crimes to cast visions of hordes of criminals carrying new quantities and levels of criminal activity like viral load.  Reality: study after study from the most credible and conservative of sources has shown “illegals” are actually much less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens. Which makes sense–if you came here illegally and wanted to stay, why would you want to draw attention to yourself by engaging in criminal activity? It makes even less sense, btw, for the undocumented to even try to vote, let alone succeed–the idea that more than 3 million did so in the last presidential election, besides being not supported by a chad of evidence, is a complete violation of “common sense” that conservative friends used to plea for, often with good reason.

Even the right’s favorite nightmare, the notorious Salvadoran gang MS-13, all 10,000 of them (less than 1% of gang members in the US, and responsible for a similar proportion of gang crimes), started in Los Angeles decades ago, not Latin America, initially taking form as a group of delinquent heavy metal fans.  They only radicalized into a gang as a result of the racism they witnessed and experienced against a Salvadoran community only here to escape a burgeoning civil war.  And they only gained the strength they have today when we deported many of their leaders back to the old country–in other words, we created and exported the MS-15 problem to San Salvador and the rest of Latin America, not vice versa.  Maybe they should have built a wall.

In any event, if you’re still genuinely worried about bad hombres, you should be in favor of more legal immigration, not less. By closing off so many venues for legal immigration, the current administration has created a scenario where, pre-pandemic, hundreds of thousands of desperate migrants, more than a few of them ‘good people,’ felt compelled to cut through the 10% of the wall that’s actually been built with $100 power tools in the places where it hasn’t fallen over or been blown over by the wind.  Your bad hombres were using them for cover, in effect as human shields against the Border Patrol, as they poured across the Rio Grande. By opening up legal immigration pathways for the innocuous, the innocent (until we criminalize them with political original sin, that is) to pursue–paths which criminals will be unable to follow–we can reduce the flood of illegal crossings from a hundred-year flood down to something more like the Rio (not so grande, in other words). Which will greatly assist our overwhelmed border agents do what they signed up for–find, pick out, and interdict those who really do have criminal intent. The alternative?  Well, we could continue to treat mask-wearing and social distancing as political statements, and as long as there’s no vaccine or treatment for COVID, we probably won’t have to worry about any new caravans on the Yucatan horizon any time soon.  We’ll just have to wonder whether today’s the day that That Dry Cough begins.

 

 

Better to fight them here

The old adage internationalists use to convince isolationists–that it’s better to fight them there than here–couldn’t be more mistaken in today’s global economy.  Our workers’ competition isn’t the undocumented, it’s the millions of skilled workers around the world who would love to come here but can’t because of current restrictions on legal immigration.  Pre-pandemic, there were hundreds of thousands of jobs sitting idle they could have filled and our own workers couldn’t or wouldn’t; in fact, it’s been estimated by Moody’s that our immigration curbs are costing us as much as 4% GDP/year–or more.  If you’re a Trump supporter, you surely believe that post-pandemic is coming soon, and with it, all those jobs again.  How would you like to see 4%+ GDP growth as your extra scoop or cherry on top, something your man in the White House promised you, but has never come close to delivering?

If you’re in the manufacturing sector, you may think these new workers are going to take your jobs and depress your wages, and you’re right.  As long as they’re working in places like China or Vietnam or Indonesia, they surely will.  There they’re being paid pennies on the dollar, and the companies they work for likely don’t have to spend a dime on protecting them or the environment.  Unless your company makes something in the supply chain we’ve just realized we can’t safely offshore, it’s likely going to tell you it can’t compete unless you take wage and benefit cuts, and then, sure as winter follows fall, that it can’t compete at all operating out of our country.

Furthermore, the 2017 tax bill, which was supposed to end offshoring in every form, actually made this an even more likely outcome.  Formerly, companies founded in our country had to pay American corporate taxes on all their worldwide income, in recognition that they couldn’t have built their businesses from start-up to worldwide empire to the extent they have anywhere else in the world, accomplishments to which all of we, the people, contributed to.  Of course, gratitude is not a strong suit of international conglomerates, so predictably companies had been subverting this obligation by simply never bringing any profits they made overseas into the US where they could be recognized as income and taxed.

To its credit, the GOP tried to fix this problem in their bill, but to paraphrase “your favorite president,” their cure–eliminating US taxes on monies earned by the subsidiaries of US companies–is likely to be worse than the disease, because it incents companies to move operations to wherever tax rates are lowest.  Perhaps this is why this new salvific has brought back only a fraction (25%) of the money we were told it would, despite a “one-time” (if you don’t count the last one, in 2004) “repatriation holiday” that lowered the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%, a.k.a. the same rate individuals making $9,000–$38,000 were forking over before the law passed. Unfortunately for the haphazardly-scribbled plan, 15% is still a lot higher than 0% on either side of the dateline, a tax rate plenty of countries and “countries” are willing to offer.  It could also be why, after a brief sugar high, the manufacturing sector resumed its steady decline–even before the pandemic hit–not just in jobs, but in hours/week of employment.

The bottom line (before we hit bottom) is that if you want a fair fight with your foreign counterparts, the best way to get it is to bring them here, onto our home field and court.  As a side benefit, consider this: one global advantage we’ve continued to enjoy is that our workers are substantially more productive and skilled than those in the sweatshops we’re now surrounded by.  If we open our doors in an orderly fashion, rather than holding them shut for would-be citizens to spill over and around them, 300+ years of experience tells us it will be almost exclusively the best, the brightest, the most ambitious who come walking in (or we can arrange for this to be so, because we’ll be in a position to better exercise quality control), creating a brain and productivity drain from their countries to ours that will potentially re-widen our advantage to the point where the difference between “Made In China” or “Made In Vietnam” and “Made In the USA” begins to become economically dispositive once more.

Want a competition that’s even fairer? To the extent immigrants are taking away jobs and income today, it’s the undocumented who are doing so, because they work in a shadow economy, often off the books, and get paid less than minimum wage, without benefits, because who are they going to complain to?  Legalizing immigration, like legalizing drugs, should bring many more of these workers into the light of a level playing field, but to insure a tilt of zero will likely require a stick to accompany the carrot: laws against hiring undocumented workers need to be enforced and made significantly more prohibitive.  If you’re as concerned about criminal activity as the typical Trump supporter, then you surely know why the War On Drugs has failed (except for the police departments funded with confiscated property).  It’s because it focused almost exclusively on disrupting the supply without eliminating the demand for mind-altering substances. In other words, Economics 101; as long as there’s demand, supply will find a way to satisfy.

So no more fines–those can never be made punitive enough without hurting a lot of innocent employees and customers; senior executives at the companies engaged in these practices need to be held criminally liable, with no Club Fed at the end of their moral arcs.  As we like to say, a high-level perp walk is worth a thousand pages of regulations (and the costs of enforcement that go with them).

They’re the new, new thing 

The reason why immigrants are capable of driving such literally incredible increases in GDP is that they don’t just fill jobs, they create them.  For decades now, every net new job in our economy has been created by small businesses, not big corporations, though you wouldn’t know this from the way they’re treated by policy-makers. And whether out of naive fresh-off-the boat enthusiasm or, more likely, the steely self-selection that’s imperative to leaving everything you know behind, immigrants start more than a quarter of all new businesses. In our fastest growing and most globally competitive industries, they’re even more literally vital: for example, more than half the tech start-ups valued at a billion dollars or more have at least one immigrant founder.

And this is only one of the reasons why rigorous state-by-state analyses are showing that the net effect of immigration is not just GDP but jobs, jobs, jobs.  In addition to starting new businesses, immigrants increase consumer demand for products produced by the native-born.  By providing daycare and other services, immigrants free-up citizen moms to get better jobs and increase their earnings. More generally, the jobs immigrants “take” from Americans often result in shifts of our citizenry to better, and better-paying, jobs–addition by subtraction.  The willingness–and expertise–of immigrants in taking on manually intensive work Americans don’t want, especially at the wages available, keeps many businesses, who would otherwise offshore, firmly planted with both feet (remember, they’re people) on our soil, with attendant economic benefits that we–rather than some other country–get to enjoy.

Overall, researchers at the University of Virginia and Indiana University estimate that every immigrant creates an average of 1.2 new jobs; in other words, an influx of 1,000 immigrants into a community is likely to result in 1,200 new jobs there, which is more than many a sweetheart deal states and localities have given to big corporations to lure them to relocate or build new facilities in their communities actually end up producing, and at much lower cost. Compare Wisconsin’s incredible shrinking FoxConn deal, for example, with its six figure (and climbing) cost per job, with the 250,000+ working class jobs alone that immigrants created in the Great Lakes region between 2010-15.

As more and more of the world approaches middle class status, how is America going to continue to differentiate itself and stay ahead of the pack? Populous economic rivals like China and India are avidly seeking ways to disrupt, disintermediate, and dislodge us from our current status.  They see our entrepreneurial culture as the missing piece of their puzzle and are seeking, for example, to adopt innovations like project-based learning our educational system used to be known for, even as we’ve rushed to adopt the centralized standardized testing regimes they’re now questioning.

The good news is that, as high-end business research has shown, the real key to an entrepreneurial, creative business culture is diversity.   In fact, in every domain from high finance to elementary schools, it’s been found to be fundamental not only to innovation, but more fundamental cognitive, social, and emotional development, in ways the justices of 1954 could never have imagined.  Which really shouldn’t surprise us–all over the planet, in every part of the kingdom of plants and animals, diversity has been evolution’s Rosetta stone, its easel, brushes, and oils–even ameobas “get it,” even if 40% of our fellow citizens don’t, yet.  The political economy (a.k.a. the invisible hand/the wisdom of crowds), to the extent we can view it as an organism with a life of its own, not only “gets” the value of multiculturalism, it seems to be mainlining it like adrenalin–diversity has been flowing through the country like water over the course of the last 40 years.  It’s an advantage authoritarian capitalists won’t be able to replicate with a few educational diktats–unless it’s an advantage we choose to throw away.

 

AssimiNation

All that said, in fairness to David Frum and and any Trump supporters who may be reading this, the case for immigration is not as QED as we’ve just described it.  But that’s a good thing.  If it were fácil chícarosy,
it would be easy for other countries to follow our playbook and wipe out our advantage.  What’s always distinguished immigration to America from any other nation is assimilation, the extent to which immigrants become fully part of our national fabric, which is, in turn, driven by the extent to which this tapestry has become a blend of their cultures with “ours.”  A few examples:

Japanese culture has driven both our love of gadgetry and movements towards minimalism, simplicity, decluttering, and miniaturization; inspired the strong trend towards greater collaboration and teamwork in business; provided vision to futurism; impacted the layout of our homes (and, with other cultures, persuaded many of us to remove our shoes when we enter them), influenced the Arts & Crafts and Prairie movements of design; inspired the use of asymmetry and deliberate imperfection in fashion (as well as specific, now-standard fashion elements such as the v-neck–derived from the kimono), pushed the development of animation and graphic novels as art forms, introduced us to much of what we consume from the sea, and so much more.

Leaving aside foundational inventions such as paper, gunpowder, pasta, moveable type, porcelain and a dizzying portfolio of others that collectively made the Renaissance and Enlightenment possible–and an equally dizzying array of products in our everyday life today that were made partially or completely in China, the first oil derricks used Chinese deep drills as a model; the manufacture of American steel was based on ancient Chinese not-so-secrets; the concept of meritocracy, and credentialing, especially by exam, the professions of scholar and civil servant all have Chinese roots, as do both zen states and every fight scene in every Hollywood movie you’ve seen since the 1970s, much of what we’re willing to put in our mouths, the therapies we’re willing to endure, etc. etc. etc.

A taste of the impact of Indian culture on America, ideally with all manner of spices for seasoning, can perhaps be best expressed by some of the Indian words in our language, including atoll, avatar, bandana, bangle, bazaar, bungalow, cashmere, catamaran, char, cheetah, chintz, chit, cot, cummerbund, curry, dinghy, dungarees, guru, hullabaloo, jodhpur, jungle, juggernaut, jute, khaki, loot, nirvana, pariah, pashmina, polo, pundit, pajamas, sari, shampoo, shawl, swastika, teak, thug, toddy, typhoon, veranda, and yoga.

The influence of African culture on our own is arguably too ubiquitous to be worth describing, except in those uniquely satisfying cases where it includes objects, arts, and pracitices white supremacists typically consider to be their own: bluegrass, rock, and country music, for example, the banjo, the fiddle, Southern cuisine (which is virtually synonymous with soul food), the speech patterns of Southern English, the Charleston, the Lindy Hop, the Jitterbug, swing, the sermon style and many of the more dramatic elements of Southern evangelical services, and we could go on…

So it’s perhaps both surprising–and not–that the primary reason so many in the nation of immigrants have turned against immigration, and its transformational powers have begun to wane, is that every element of true–meaning bilateral–assimilation, starting with who we admit into the country, is broken, and it will take the village of all of us to fix it. The solution that Frum and others would propose is to go slow, but we don’t have time; we’re going to have to become an assimination.

In part two of this series, we’ll discuss what this means, how immigration is a microcosm of the larger values that must drive what we’re calling Americanism, and why Americanism is not only good for the nation, but for the world.

 

In honor of my father, Baker’s grandfather, who escaped East Germany by bicycle, met my mother in the West, and followed her in steerage to Cambridge, MA, reading Beatrix Potter books along the way to bone up on his English.

 

Creative Politics is the world’s first community-based political incubator, synthesizing the best of liberal and conservative ideals with technology and history to generate policies, strategies, applications, and actions for the post-modern era that are well outside the beltway, and well beyond just talk. 

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