Reviewing Paranoia

We often hear about “movies that are better than the book,” but rarely of “book reviews that are better than the book.” Cato’s Alex Nowrasteh has just published one such book review.  Here’s Nowrasteh on Reihan Salam’s Melting Pot or Civil War? A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders:

The gap in quality between the book described by reviewers above and the actual book Melting Pot or Civil War? is wider than in any other book that I can remember reading. Descriptions of “calm” and “reasonable” are the most perplexing. True, he appeals to Americans “who are willing to meet others halfway” to solve the problems that he’s identified. On the other hand, he also argues that we need to follow his policy recommendations or face a racialized civil war. That is the very opposite of a “calm” or “reasonable” argument. A better description would be “hysterical” or “paranoid.”

Hysteria and paranoia aside, what’s wrong with the book?  Salam engages in extreme reverse engineering, where even the most favorable facts about immigration somehow become extra reasons to oppose it:

For example, Salam disagrees with himself over whether the goal of immigration policy should be to increase wages and employment for low-skilled immigrants and their descendants, or per capita productivity growth in small sectors of the economy. He rightly claims that immigration barely affects wages in the United States, but then argues that a major benefit of stopping low-skilled immigration is higher wages for native-born and immigrant dropouts. Salam correctly points out that low-skilled immigrants today compete mostly against other low-skilled immigrants, so he wants to help low-skilled immigrants here by stopping more from immigrating in the first place.

Much of the book, moreover, is simply odd:

Forgetting everything that he wrote about labor markets, Salam praises a science fiction-esque scenario of “virtual immigration” where workers would work remotely by operating robots in the United States from their home countries — even though the labor market effects of that would at best be economically identical to allowing them to immigrate and work here. Salam argues that “virtual immigration will do more good than harm for U.S. workers, provided we have the right safeguards in place [emphasis added].” Salam does not explain what those safeguards are, how they would prevent competition in labor markets, and why the government couldn’t just apply those same safeguards to prevent labor market competition between low-skilled immigrants and low-skilled natives.

And:

Salam mentions the enormous economic cost to those foreigners who would be locked out of the United States under his preferred immigration policy. He proposes a package of U.S. foreign aid to bribe foreign governments to establish charter cities so that low-skilled immigrants can go there instead of the United States. Oddly, he predicts those charter cities will become “fonts of entrepreneurship and public policy solutions” and that excellent new ideas developed there will enrich America. If low-skilled immigrants are entrepreneurs who will create fantastic new ideas in these charter cities that will eventually make it to America, why not just let them come here in the first place? Why spill so much ink supporting a utopian scheme of charter cities as a solution to global poverty when immigration is a tried and true method?

You might think the “civil war” stuff is just hyperbole on the book cover, but no:

To his credit, Salam does admit that there is no private political violence in American today that is comparable to the chaos before the Civil War, but that “it is hard to shake the feeling that our luck might soon run out.” Civil war is a deadly serious topic and perhaps this reviewer is being too nitpicky, but I require more than Salam’s difficultly in “shaking a feeling” to take his worry seriously. He should have done more to show that the choice is really between his “melting pot” or a “civil war.”

Better yet, Salam should have proposed a bet.  I say that America – indeed, the entire First World – is not only too rich, but too electronically sedated, to physically fight about much of anything.  The risk of civil war in the First World is small enough to make even the trivial danger of terrorism look big by comparison.

If you think me naive, come take my money.

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What Parents Can Really Do to Help Prepare Their Teens for Success

While reading about the student-led climate protests last week, a statement jumped out at me from the 16-year-old Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, who is credited with launching the walkouts that occurred in over 100 countries. In an interview with The New York Times, Thunberg, who says she was a shy but good student who was overcome for years with adolescent depression, claims that her climate work has added fulfillment to her life. She says: “I’m happier now…I have meaning. I have something I have to do.”

Teenagers Crave Purpose

Regardless of how you may feel about climate activism, the key message to parents is that school can be stifling and anxiety-inducing for many teenagers who crave and need meaningful work. Adolescents are meant to come of age within the adult world, surrounded by a diverse group of mentors and engaged in authentic, real-life pursuits. This gives them both experience and personal reward.

Instead, teenagers today are spending more of their time confined in school and school-like settings than ever before. Teenage employment has plummeted, with part-time jobs abandoned in the all-out quest for academics and college admissions. Summer jobs, once a signature activity for teens, are no longer valued. Schooling has become the priority—even in summer. In July 1985, only ten percent of US teens were enrolled in school; in July 2016, over 42 percent were.

Thunberg also isn’t alone in her teen depression. Mounting data show skyrocketing rates of adolescent anxiety, depression, and suicide over the last decade. Some researchers point to technology and social media as the culprit, but they ignore other, recent cultural trends—like more time in forced schooling and less time engaged in jobs and meaningful work—that could be contributing to adolescent strife.

Job Experience Could Be A Solution

In a recent Harvard EdCast podcast interview, Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising at Stanford University and author of the book, How to Raise an Adult, said that she has heard from several admissions officers that they, regrettably, rarely see work experience described in student essays or otherwise touted on college applications. Young people and their parents now believe that academics and extracurriculars are more important than good, old-fashioned teenage jobs.

Not only is this increased emphasis on school over work likely contributing to teenage angst and disenfranchisement, but it is also not serving them well for the adult world they will ultimately enter. A report by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation revealed that employers are disappointed that today’s highly-schooled graduates lack basic proficiency in simple tasks like drafting a quality email, prioritizing work, and collaborating with others. Other studies have found similar results, with employers frustrated by their new hires’ lack of communication skills, poor problem-solving and critical-thinking abilities, and low attention to detail.

While parents and teachers may think that piling on academics is the key to adult success, the lack of genuine work experience can be more hindrance than help for today’s young people. If parents really want their children to have a meaningful and successful adolescence and adulthood, they should consider trading a well-schooled life for a well-lived one. They can encourage their teens to get jobs and gain beneficial work experience—and make sure that their kids handle it all independently, learning through trial and error. As Lythcott-Haims warns in her book:

Helping by providing suggestions, advice, and feedback is useful, but we can only go so far. When parents do what a young employee must do for themselves, it can backfire.

In addition to encouraging part-time work, parents can also help their teenagers to develop an entrepreneurial mindset that focuses on customer satisfaction and value creation. By looking at her job (even if it’s in retail or food service) from an entrepreneurial perspective, a teen can learn a lot about business and value-creation and may be inspired to become an entrepreneur in adulthood. Unfortunately, entrepreneurship is woefully neglected in schools and standard extracurriculars.

As parents look ahead to summer vacation, they may want to pause and take a closer peek at their teenager’s plans. Will she spend those warm months getting ahead on her AP classes? Will he do a foreign language immersion program that will look good on the college transcripts? Maybe getting a job or learning how to think like an entrepreneur would be a more beneficial and rewarding way to enjoy a summer—and a life.

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Patrick Newman: The Progressive Era and the Rise of Crony Capitalism (45m)

This episode features a lecture by economics professor Patrick Newman from 2018 on the United States’ Progressive Era and the rise of political entrepreneurship, or crony capitalism.

Listen To This Episode (1h7m, mp3, 64kbps)

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All Hail the Entrepreneurs (and the Carnitas They Bring Us)

Those of you who regularly visit my Facebook page or see my posts at The Beacon blog may recall that I have posted from time to time about Lucio, my hero and savior.

His heroism pertains to his dedicated entrepreneurship in the service of the consumer (that’s where I come into the story, as a purchaser of the fruits, vegetables, and assorted other foodstuffs he brings to my gate three times each week from markets more than a hundred miles away).

His salvation has nothing to do with my immortal soul, but everything to do with my mortal body, which, thanks to him, I am able to nourish regularly with high-quality food.

A few days ago, in response to our special request, he brought something we had never bought from him before: a substantial portion of carnitas (a dish akin to pulled pork in the USA), along with some serious salsa picante and a bag of delicious pico de gallo. I used the tortillas I had on hand to make these ingredients into two outstanding tacos for my lunch that day, and I ate more of the meat with boiled eggs for dinner. I still had enough left for another two or three nice meals. And the price was certainly affordable.

This might all seem completely ordinary to you, but bear in mind that I am able to enjoy these culinary delights even though I live at the ends of the Earth, at the far reaches of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. For Lucio’s making it possible for me to live here so well, I feel much indebted to him.

All hail the ordinary, unsung entrepreneurs of the world who feed not only Paris and New York, but also poor little Xcalak. Markets don’t arise and function automatically. Entrepreneurs establish them and keep them going incessantly. It’s not the government that stands between the people and starvation. It’s the entrepreneurs.

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The Call to Entrepreneurship and Our Excuses

Think starting up your dream business is a daunting task?

Imagine going straight from being on vacation to starting up a complex refugee rescue mission under the nose of the Nazis – with no prior experience and no preparation.

That was 29 year-old stock broker Nicholas Winton’s entrepreneurial story.

From 1938 to 1939, Winton successfully organized the evacuation and foster care assignment of 667 Czech Jewish children – without special skills, with funds he raised, and without more than a few staff. He dropped everything, “cut all kinds of corners,” and worked furiously against time and the Nazis and the restrictive immigration policies of the Western democracies.

As he explains drily in a documentary made (much) later (rough quote):

“We even had (fake) passports made because the Home office was moving a bit slow. . . We didn’t bring anyone in illegally – we just sped up the process.”

This man had every reasonable excuse in the book to not take action. We certainly wouldn’t have blamed him if he had deferred action until he had returned from vacation and set up a nonprofit first.

But Winton was not that kind of human. And neither should we be.

I have lots of excuses for why I haven’t started a business yet: I’m looking for the right idea. I’m building skills. Im building capital.

My excuses will allow me to feel OK about delaying this challenge until I look examples like Winton in the eye. They saw clearly that their call to entrepreneurship was a matter of life and death for some people – and they acted accordingly, without the slightest preparation.

Oh, and Winton? At the age of 89 he was working on (not staying in) a home for the elderly. If you let yourself start as well as Winton did, it will be pretty hard for you to stop.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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The Changes in Culture

I don’t believe in the power of culture as much as most people. I tend to rank it: economics, technology, and then culture in a distant third. I believe the vast majority of the changes in culture are a response to economics and technology.

While I believe that culture is highly responsive to economics and technology, I believe it isn’t nearly as responsive to “movements,” and this makes it so I don’t believe it is very changeable. I think we recognize “renegades” because they are the ones who often seem to trigger the changes in society. However, I think this is only the visible representation of something deeper.

It took a radical change in the economy and radical economic growth to make women a more equivalent economic resource (within the market.) This shift happened gradually from the mid 19th century to today. This shift in economic power naturally meant that social and political customs would accommodate change. We can point to renegades, “movements,” political actions that changed things to a degree, but this is usually just a surface analysis that misses the big picture.

We see the same thing with almost every shift in mankind. Something shifts in technology or in human incentives (economy) to radically shift the balances that previously existed. Then some people, or institutions tilt the scale more towards a new balance and we credit those people and institutions more than the incentives that are really due the credit. In fact, most of these movements were inevitable.

Of course, I could take this analysis way too far. Political changes and individual people have had radical effects over the economic, and migratory effects over a region and this has radically shifted the incentives and culture. I just tend to think people tend to overweigh this phenomenon.

In conclusion … I like a lot of Thaddeus Russell’s analysis. I believe he is right that people who run against tradition trigger many of the changes that occur. However, in the US, entrepreneurship and invention advanced the world in many realms. It has always been visionaries and people who ran against trends that did this. It would be problematic to say that the people in the US are just special, or the root of it was American’s being innovators at their core. The better answer is that the incentives of 19th century US harvested something incredibly unique throughout human history and this has made it so individuals could trigger amazing and interesting things. So, he is right, but I just think people often overvalue individual contributions without acknowledging the underlying trends and forces.

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