The Corner

Immigration

A Reply to a Puzzling Review of Melting Pot or Civil War?

Over at Reason, I’ve been accused of suggesting “that low-skilled families are poor because they don’t believe in delayed gratification and therefore don’t invest in education” and of suggesting that Hispanic Americans “have all the wrong values” in my book Melting Pot or Civil War? For the most part, I’ve avoided addressing reviews. Fortunately, most of them have accurately characterized the contents of my book, some of which I’ve compiled at my personal website, so I’ve felt no need to weigh in. This latest review marks an exception. Truthfully, I didn’t recognize my book in the review, and so I thought I’d clear a few things up.

Briefly, I forcefully reject the notion that, as I write in the book, “the intergenerational transmission of poverty is only a concern among immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean,” not least because “the notion that Hispanic families are the only ones facing serious obstacles to upward mobility insultingly implies that there is something defective about their culture. In fact, high-skill immigrants from Latin America are thriving, and low-skill immigrants from Asia and elsewhere face an uphill climb.” And that’s not the only passage where I address what we might call the “defective values” thesis. Elsewhere, I write that, “It is not superior ‘Asian values’ that account for the fact that, for example, second-generation Chinese Americans earn much higher incomes than second-generation Mexican Americans. A more parsimonious explanation is simply that Chinese immigrants are far more likely to have come from their country’s educational elite than Mexican immigrants.” Respectfully, I don’t believe coming from a more elite background means that you have superior “values.” What it does mean, however, is that there’s a good chance you will have an easier time climbing the ladder in a new country, as discussed in the literature on “class-specific resources” and intergenerational mobility.

The review contains a number of other omissions, e.g., it implies that I neglect the “well-acknowledged methodological problem of ‘ethnic attrition’” without acknowledging that I discuss it in some detail towards the end of chapter three. Among other things, I note that intermarriage rates among Americans of Latin American origin are stratified, with college-educated native-born Hispanic adults far more likely to out-marry than their less-educated counterparts. “If this pattern persists,” I warn, “Hispanic ethnicity will become more closely associated with disadvantage than it is today. The ranks of white people would continue to grow as the children of whites and upwardly mobile Hispanics come to identify as white. So too would the ranks of self-identified Hispanics, who’d tend to be less affluent and educated than those who self-identify as non-Hispanic, and who’d thus find themselves locked out of the corridors of power.” As I’ve written in this space, I believe that representation in the governing elite matters, and that groups excluded from the elite will, for good reason, question the legitimacy of our civic and economic institutions. You’d never get that sense from this particular review.

Throughout the book, I emphasize my support for promoting integration and upward mobility among low-income immigrants and their children, regardless of their ethnic background, by boosting public investment in human capital and adopting a more generous child credit. Suffice it to say, there are plenty of sound arguments against my approach, and it’s a safe bet that many libertarians would be inclined to oppose it. But there is no mention of this aspect of my book in the review, despite the fact that it is central to my argument. Rather, the author claims that I ignore “policy barriers that have stymied Hispanic progress.” This is demonstrably false. For one, I argue against policies that strip low-income immigrant households of access to safety-net benefits, which have had a particularly pronounced effect on households of Hispanic origin.

Granted, the reviewer does get one thing right. I embrace automation and offshoring, as I believe they can, if handled thoughtfully, greatly contribute to the productivity of the U.S. and global economies. Otherwise, I’m afraid reading this particular review wouldn’t give you a clear sense of the book’s contents. All the more reason, then, to read it for yourself!

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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