Melting Pot or Civil War?

melting-pot-or-civil-war

Well, that’s a loaded question, isn’t it?

Actually, it’s also the title of Reihan Salam’s recent book on immigration and the full title is Melting Pot or Civil War?: A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders Many might feel the title says it all and there’s no reason to read the book. Well, if all you’re interested in is swapping opinions then, yes, you don’t have to read the book.

However, Salam offers a lot of facts and expert analysis, his own and others, that deepened my understanding of U.S. immigration trends and demographic data that I hadn’t known.

In general, I tend to prefer the golden mean and to extreme solutions. I took out this book hoping to find new solutions, and Salam provides some. He often uses his own family’s experiences in addition to research data to differentiate various kinds of immigrants and outcomes. Immigrants who’re among the first to come to a country tend to assimilate well. It makes sense as they must learn the language and customs since there aren’t many people to talk with and living out the past lifestyle is tough because small numbers don’t make running a business geared to a very tiny subculture profitable.  As the numbers from a country increase it’s easy to live in an enclave where you can speak your own language, eat your homeland’s food, etc.

Because Salam’s parents came to the US when few other Bangladeshi’s lived her, the family soon assimilated. Those who came later, arrived in a New York that had plenty of shops, social opportunities and Bangladeshi influence, that it was possible to live comfortably within an enclave. (Now I see assimilation as a personal choice, but it does have costs in terms of opportunities. For example, Americans can go to Asia and teach English and get by, but if they want more career opportunities, they need to speak the local language at a high level.)

(My own experiences bear this out. When I worked in Japan, I was the only non-Japanese person in my workplace who only spoke English. I had to learn Japanese and I did. I also adapted more to Japanese culture. In other countries there were more people who spoke English and hence my proficiency in Korean or Chinese never got to the level of my Japanese.)

Salam examines the need for low skilled labor and the economic results of various ways of getting such labor as used in the US, South Korea, Sweden and elsewhere. He also does a good job of considering how the increase of automated labor will impact low skilled workers. He explains how the influx of low skilled labor impacts the current workers who are on par with them.

What is the solution — or solutions? Salam proposes a few including the development of charter cities and new ways of supporting poor children.

Yes, Salam is a conservative, but his tone is rational and his ideas, for me were new. He sympathizes with immigrants and acknowledges people’s desire to find a solution that is kind and fair.

A good summary of with more details is here.

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