Upward and downward mobility exist, but…

“Ellis Island can teach us about which policy best promotes upward mobility.”  Good column from Michael Barone – A Path Forward on Immigration:  Upward and downward mobility exist, but typically at a glacial pace.  An exception is…

…America in the period from 1892, when the Ellis Island immigration station opened until mass immigration was ended by World War I in 1914 and restrictive legislation in 1924. Ellis Islanders and their descendants rose rapidly up the educational and economic ladder.

The opening of Ellis Island coincided with a shift of immigration from northwestern Europe to southern and eastern Europe. These people were not just seeking economic opportunity. Rather, as I argued in my 2013 book Shaping Our Nation, they were second-caste residents of multi-ethnic states—Jews from the Czarist and Austro-Hungarian empires, Poles from those nations and Germany, Czechs and Slovaks, Slovenes and Serbs from Austria-Hungary and the Balkans, southern Italians from a recently unified and northern-dominated Kingdom of Italy.

For these second-caste citizens, America’s prime attraction was the principle of equal citizenship. As George Washington told the elders of the Touro Synagogue, toleration in America was not a favor from the majority but a recognition that “all possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.”

As Clark notes, there was lots of upward mobility among these groups—most spectacularly among Jews, but also among Italians, Poles and other minorities who exceeded national income averages by the 1950s. It was matched during these years also by the cumulative but slower upward mobility of Irish Catholics who arrived between the 1840s and 1890s.

The Ellis Islanders, blocked from upward mobility at home, brought to America advantages of genetic endowment and cultural tradition—nature and nurture—which enabled them to move upward unusually rapidly.

Asian immigrants seem to be moving upward similarly today. But not the group the Census Bureau calls Hispanics. In my 2001 book The New Americans, I predicted that Hispanics would move upward much as Italians had a century before. That was overoptimistic. There has been little or no upward mobility among third- and fourth-generation Hispanics.

Why the difference? One reason is that current Hispanic immigrants seem to be characterized by economic need rather than second-class status. This is especially so among immigrants from Mexico and illegal immigrants (also mostly from Mexico).

The second reason is that the America that welcomes them today is no longer a nation with equal citizenship for all, but a nation that shunts them into a special, supposedly privileged but also stigmatized, minority group. Anomalously, racial quotas and preferences benefit those never discriminated against in the United States.

Some preferences have hurt more than helped. Steering mortgages to non-creditworthy Hispanics produced foreclosures and personal tragedies — and a financial crisis. As author Michael Gonzalez notes, Hispanic advancement has been minimal in California with its high welfare spending and taxes. Hispanics have done better in low-welfare, low-tax, high-economic-growth Texas.

There’s an obvious lesson here for immigration policy. Immigration can promote social mobility, but not always. The United States got high-skilled immigrants in the Ellis Island period largely by happenstance. Today Canada and Australia profit from upward mobility because their immigration laws admit only those with high skills. If we want similar results, we should follow their lead.

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Is it “guid to support Caledonia’s cause”?

scotland_36In The Scottish Disease Kevin Williamson writes “the Scots aren’t along in dreaming of secession,” and that the false & utopian allure of secession is that “it promises to [remove] those who do not share our values and our priorities from the polity.”

Bigger is not always better, and there is a time to break away, as our Founders did, and as people have from time to time for as long as history has recorded. But the United States functions remarkably well at both the federal and state level. There are many deep and important criticisms to be made of it, but, difficult as it sometimes can be to believe, we live in one of the most stable and coherent societies that the world ever has seen. There are a few countries today that can boast of being better-governed — Switzerland, Canada, and Australia, for example — but not one that has been governed so consistently well for more than two centuries. Liberty and democracy are remarkably fragile things: Nearly every nation in Europe that had them lost them at some point during the 20th century, and much of the rest of the world has never quite gotten the hang of them.

What is often difficult for Americans on opposite sides of our political divide — which is mainly a cultural divide — to admit and appreciate is how deeply we need each other. A United States without a Manhattan does not quite work, and neither does one without a wheat belt. The roughnecks and the Web developers need each other more than is generally admitted. But they do not necessarily share a vision of the good life.

Even very early American colonial society, relatively homogeneous though it was, contained within it distinct and irreconcilable cultural currents: Massachusetts saw the world in a different light than Pennsylvania did. The genius of the American order was — was — that there was no reason to try to change that. The model of federalism that was operational for the first part of our national history meant that certain irreconcilable differences did not in fact need to be reconciled. (Some of them did.) We live in an America in which a teacher’s saying “God bless you” when a student sneezes is cause for a federal lawsuit — but we can have cities called Sacramento, Corpus Christi, and Santa Fe. Strange as it may seem, it is worth remembering that we had actual established churches at the state level for years, and nobody thought that a Christian Taliban was emerging. Quakers and Congregationalists managed to negotiate their differences.

The centralization of political power — whether in Washington or in London or in Brussels — means that such differences must either be reconciled or, should they prove truly irreconcilable, erupt into conflict. The allure of secession is that it promises to abate such conflicts by removing those who do not share our values and our priorities from the polity. Talk to a secessionist in Texas for five minutes and you’ll appreciate that he does not so much want to launch a new republic as he desires to exile the powers that be in Washington, and perhaps those on Wall Street or in Hollywood. Six Californias appealed to some Silicon Valley progressives, but also to more conservative Californians in rural and agricultural areas, who resent that their well-being has been subordinated to that of the delta smelt.

Scotland may make a kamikaze run at what it believes to be independence. But that is not really an option for Texas, the proposed state of Jefferson, the Upper West Side, or libertarian-leaning techno-utopians. We are going to have to figure out — to keep figuring out — how to live together, with liberty and justice for all” without “one size fits all.

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What’s a non-assault weapon look like?

Interesting background on the campaign to outlaw assault weapons.

In 1988, the gun-prohibition strategist Josh Sugarmann of the Violence Policy Center analyzed why gun-control advocates should pivot away from handguns, a topic on which the media had grown bored. “Assault weapons” enjoyed the advantage of novelty. Moreover, as he explained: “The semi-automatic weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons — anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun — can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.”…

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote that the “assault weapon” ban was “purely symbolic. . . . Its only real justification is not to reduce crime but to desensitize the public to the regulation of weapons in preparation for their ultimate confiscation” (April 5, 1996).

Always known that, but nice to see it in B&W.  The distinction between “semi-automatic” and “machine-gun” is lost on most casual advocates of gun control.  Most of the time I explain it to them, I’m greeted with an “are you sure?” because to concede that point would more or less lose the argument.

I’d never heard about the “NATO doctrine” in the context of the 2nd Amendment.  Makes sense.  At the rate Putin’s going it may outlast NATO…

American gun owners basically had the same idea as Krauthammer. After Czar Bennett’s import ban, they mobilized under what the Second Amendment Foundation calls the “NATO doctrine”: an attack on one form of gun ownership is an attack on all. This is one of the most important reasons why the American Second Amendment movement has been so politically effective for most of the last nine decades: American gun owners defend the right to own types of guns that they do not personally own and may have no interest in owning.

This is very different from the behavior of gun owners in some other nations. For example, in the United Kingdom, shotgun owners have paid little attention to the rights of rifle owners, and neither ever did much for handgun owners. So, today, handguns are gone, while long guns are legally owned by less than 5 percent of the population.

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There is no clean energy

I did not know that the thorniest issue with fracking is not well contamination but wastewater disposal.  Huh. Interesting.

What the author says about fracking is true about most green debates:

The debate over fracking is a pretty low-quality one, driven by emotion, invented evidence, gross distortion of the facts, and general intellectual dishonesty. This is a shame for many reasons: Inflicting unnecessary stupidity on the world is a sin, for one thing. For another, it is important that we actually understand the fairly thorny environmental problems presented not only by fracking but by other methods of drilling for natural gas.

He (Kevin D. Williamson) also points out the inescapable trade-offs involved in every source of energy:

Every discussion of the environmental issues related to energy should begin with an appreciation for this indisputable fact: There is no energy source that does not present serious environmental challenges. Oil and gas have their problems, coal has what seem to me to be very serious problems, nuclear energy (which I strongly favor) presents some pretty hairy disposal challenges and safety concerns. Even the fuzzy, cuddly energy sources have problems: It takes a tremendous amount of poison to make those “green” solar panels. The general hideousness of wind farms requires no explanation.

The question isn’t “clean” energy. There is no clean energy. The question is how we go about prudently and intelligently managing the risks and problems associated with energy production. Posting pictures of flaming sinks on your Facebook page is not the way to go about understanding those problems. This is a discussion best left to the grown-ups, but the children have the floor most of the time.

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In economics, you can’t subsidize everybody – but we’re trying

Holman Jenkins’ Business World column today is characteristically outstanding.  The man thinks and writes so powerfully and succinctly.  Why did we prioritize a charliefoxtrot health care law over so much else?  And what are the ramifications of the means used to pass it?  As Victor Davis Hanson put it back in March of 2010, “the means live on; the ends are ephermeral.”

(Speaker Pelosi) railroaded through an unpopular, sweeping piece of legislation without a single opposition vote, and through the sort of tawdry legislative bribery and procedural gimmicks we haven’t seen since the 19th century.

Here’s Mr. Jenkins today in ObamaCare and American Resurgence:

The non-surprise revealed here is that ObamaCare turns out to be just another subsidy program, throwing money at health care. In economics, you can’t subsidize everybody but we’re trying: 50 million Americans get help from Medicare, 65 million from Medicaid, nine million from the Department of Veterans Affairs, seven million (and counting) from ObamaCare, and a whopping 149 million from the giant tax handout for employer-provided health insurance.

Much of this money (which will total about $1.3 trillion in 2014) is shoveled out regardless of need, driving up prices and spurring production of services of dubious value. The spending is less effective at improving the nation’s health. An “Affordable Care Act” worth its title would have gotten us off this kamikaze mission. It didn’t.

Then there’s Halbig v. Burwell . This is the latest legal threat to ObamaCare’s improvisational unfolding. At issue is whether the words in the law mean anything—i.e., whether Congress in fact authorized the subsidies the administration has been doling out to users of the federally run (as opposed to state-run) health-care exchanges.

A cosmic test of any administration is whether it can escape town before its misplaced priorities catch up with it. An obvious Halbig solution would be for Congress simply to clarify what the words mean—except the House is now controlled by a party not a single member of which voted for ObamaCare.

The president, meanwhile, is weakened by a deteriorating world situation while he focused on “nation building at home”—by which he meant ObamaCare. He is weakened by U.S. companies accelerating their flight abroad from an unreformed U.S. tax system—because the only reform Mr. Obama was interested in was ObamaCare.

What will the president’s legacy be if not ObamaCare? A fracking boom he had nothing to do with? His threadbare claim to have rescued the economy from the 2008 meltdown?

ObamaCare has become his Ukraine. It cost his party control of Congress. It might have cost him re-election if Republicans hadn’t nominated somebody who reminded Americans of everything they hate about Wall Street. It barely squeaked past the Supreme Court. It got him sued by the House speaker. It has required ever-more flagrantly lawless exercises of executive power. Even the IRS scandal has its roots in ObamaCare—recall that Lois Lerner was allegedly tasked with suppressing tea party activity in the runup to 2012.

Halbig, which remains to be adjudicated by the appeals system, may be a very big deal for the administration (to modify Joe Biden‘s phrase). But it’s not a big deal for healthcare reform, the unstarted work of closing the gap between cost and benefit so the U.S. can avoid bankrupting itself. Suddenly luminous is the true historical significance of ObamaCare: A left-liberal president, in the backwash of a global economic crisis that he could plausibly blame on Wall Street, could not get a “public option” through an all-Democratic Congress.

The high tide for single payer has come and gone in America. The action now moves permanently to the challenge of paying for existing welfare programs, not creating new ones.

This connects to another Obama legacy, a more dangerous and disorderly world. A world in which America needs to tighten up and toughen up. A world in which rising powers (e.g., China) no longer can be expected to finance endless American deficits so Americans can spend somebody else’s money on health care. Election 2016 can’t come fast enough for an America that needs a radical change of direction to cope with a changing world.

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With small expeditionary forces and steady resolve

It was a noble idea, and one which I supported:  help plant democracy in the region to serve as an attractive example that empowered moderate leaders.  Next time, “rubble doesn’t make trouble.”  Sigh.

Bing West puts it well.  I hope he’s correct because if we have to disabuse them of their ideology, a la Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan, it’ll be much worse.

“Islamic extremism is a virulent cultural disease. It will run its course until snuffed out by moderate Muslims. Until then, with small expeditionary forces and steady resolve, America can contain the epidemic. For years, our military has recommended leaving residual forces of about 12,000 in both Iraq and Afghanistan, in order to avoid precisely the collapse that has forced Mr. Obama to return to Iraq.”


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Did Germany’s cultural avant-garde cause World War I? Or vice versa?

So asks John O’Sullivan in the thought-provoking essay War, Culture, and the Minds of Nations:

Kimball raises the question of whether cultural, psychological, artistic, and social movements were, not the consequences of the Great War, but instead among its causes. Without going overboard on this — since the upsetting of Europe’s balance of power by Bismarck’s creation of the German Empire in 1871 and then by Kaiser Wilhelm’s bid for world power outside Europe were plainly important non-cultural causes of 1914 — Kimball makes a persuasive case that 1914 emerged in part from the explosion of radical cultural modernism that was symbolized especially by the riots of enthusiasm and rejection that greeted Diaghilev’s 1913 production of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring ballet.

The earliest signs of this cultural revolution appeared in the late 1880s, but they gathered force and speed in the decade leading to the Great War with the Futurist movement in Italy, vitalism in French philosophy, Vorticism in Britain, Freud and Freudianism in Vienna, the emergence of Picasso and James Joyce, the huge enthusiasm that greeted Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes throughout Western Europe, and much else. Though these are very different phenomena — some self-consciously primitivist, others self-consciously complex and obscure — they all share a common sensibility: a rejection of the traditions, restraints, values, and standards that characterized the Victorian age in favor of spontaneity, instinct, and the breaking of barriers. “We want no part of the past,” said Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, whose “Futurist Manifesto” was inspired in 1909 by a night of reckless driving that ended with the car in a ditch and the poet calling ecstatically for the triumph of speed and machinery and the closing of museums.

This rebelliousness did not long confine itself to aesthetics. It soon manifested itself in a more general rejection of restraints and standards in morality, law, politics, business, and other aspects of life that had previously been regarded as distinct from the cultural realm. And though this sensibility and its accompanying movement spread throughout Europe, it found its most receptive audience in the cultural, bureaucratic, and even military classes of the new German Empire, which, since its foundation in 1871, had shown extraordinary progress both in industrial power and in technical innovation. One of the oddest expressions of this receptiveness was the death by heart attack of the deputy head of the German General Staff while — clad in a tutu — he performed a ballet routine before an audience that, for earlier performances, had sometimes included the Kaiser. Odd though it was, this performance symbolized the marriage of technical brilliance and cultural rebellion that characterized the apparently traditional regime and society of Wilhelmine Germany.

In retrospect, the absurdist moment actually symbolized the brevity and death of this combination. But when it first came into being, this marriage produced a vivid and powerful national egotism in the German mind, which under its influence saw Germany as a new and revolutionary power with a right, even a duty, to break through existing orders in everything from economics to international law. Some of the expressions of ecstatic revolutionary nationalism by German academic institutions and prominent intellectuals welcoming the outbreak of war are scarcely credible. Here, for instance, is a statement from the Rectors and Senates of Bavarian Universities on August 13, 1914:

Students! The muses are silent. The issue is battle, the battle forced on us for German Kultur, which is threatened by the barbarians from the east, and for German values, which the enemy in the west envies us. And so the furor teutonicus bursts into flame once again.

Kimball acknowledges an important guide in his exploration of the rise and fall of this extravagant cultural nationalism both before and after the Great War:

In a remarkable book called Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age, the historian Modris Eksteins . . . shows how sentimentality and a species of extravagant mythmaking mark the points of contact between avant-garde culture and burgeoning totalitarianism. This was especially true in Germany, the country that had advanced the radical program of the avant-garde most enthusiastically. England, by contrast, was a conservative power. Where Germany started the war to transform the world, England fought the war to preserve a world and the culture that defined it.

If England won the military war, Germany won the cultural conflict. Its revolutionary spirit transformed all the combatants and, as we have seen, midwifed a world in which states and governments increasingly disregarded conventions, rules, treaties, and whatever else restrained their immediate interests. Within Germany, defeat meant that the cultural nationalism of 1914 revived in even more poisonous form. As Eksteins’s superb book shows, and as Kimball’s important article underlines, the traditional liberal confidence in rationality, moral law, and progress was further undermined by political movements that mistook art for morality and politics. As a result, in the words of Carl Schorske (quoted by Kimball), “art became transformed from an ornament to an essence, from an expression of value to a source of value.” Germany told itself lies about the past and the future and then tried to live the lies in history. At the bottom of that slippery slope lay the kitsch of Nazi cultural propaganda and, behind that stage curtain, Götterdämmerung.

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