Forbes on Immigrants

I’m not sure I understand the tenor of this piece. If the conclusion were “let’s invest into our high schools to make sure that all kids learn about science” or “let’s make sure everybody has access to an afterschool science program,” it would make more sense. But the way it is, it sounds more like “the kids we have right now are defective; let’s bring in a better model that conveniently fits an easy stereotype.”

I’m giving a lecture on Tuesday on how the plan, hatched in the XIXth-century Argentina, to displace the local population and bring in “better”, more hard-working, neater and more civilized folks from elsewhere worked out. Short answer: not that hot.

Also: it’s not a big favor to immigrants either to write this kind of article. It’s so boring to be seen as any kind of a walking stereotype, even a good one. Do you know how many times I heard, “Ukrainian?? You must be so good at chess!” I don’t play fucking chess! I’m hopeless! And I’m sure not every Indian immigrant kid is good at science.

I know, I know, what can anybody expect from such a source? But you don’t think I read Forbes, do you? I only read it because two well-meaning folks forwarded it to me / tagged me with it.

10 thoughts on “Forbes on Immigrants

  1. It perfectly fits within a framework where people are valued primarily for being good workers and is a logical endpoint of the immigration system’s current design.
    (Yes, I know: Canada is more merit based. But I would expect more of this even in Canada.)

    In this discourse when they’re talking about “good immigrants” they mean “skilled immigrants” which means “people on H1-B or student visas” which translates to “people who get STEM degrees.” Many of these people are from countries which had severely restricted or non-existent legally allowed permanent immigration into this country before 1965. In addition, in many of these countries, higher education is super restricted and sink or swim in a way that would make all of these native upper middle class parents shriek in terror. A lot of these H-1B visa recipients marry people who are equally skilled (let’s be real, the spousal visas are mostly women), but they are barred from working (that Obama program that lets spouses of H1-B holders work is…toast). They volunteer but where does all of that competitiveness go? Into the kids.

    So yes, you get a bunch of immigrant parents who are likely among the brightest, well educated in their native country pushing their kids who often above average intelligence to do well in school in a particular way because that’s what they know. My closest cousin’s children are going to be great in school no matter what because she’s a professional and her husband is going through law school while working as a patent agent after getting a Ph.D. She has the older kid do Kumon worksheets and she’s going to be four in a month. Thank goodness she apparently has no learning disabilities.


    1. This all sounds kind of sad. It makes a lot of sense and explains a lot but. . . I don’t know. I’m obviously also an immigrant but I’m wary of the narrative of “I made all these sacrifices so that you could have a better life and now you are obligated to get the best grades and academic awards.” It just feels wrong.


      1. Well yes it’s wrong, but life isn’t fair.

        But also did you not say once that an immigrant needs a lot more in terms of social prestige than a non-immigrant?

        This also applies to children of immigrants, especially if they’re non-white. The wide and deep networks that other similarly educated native professionals have, especially white people, just aren’t there many times. Credentialing counts for more. And in college applications if you come from a high achieving ethnic group, you’d better keep pace because they won’t compare you to the overall pool of applicants. They also seldom have the benefit of legacy admissions. Guess what does more for you in terms of getting into Harvard undergrad: being an OverAchiever ™ or having a relation who also went there?

        I dated someone once who was very easy going about going through law school and failing the bar three times, who wasn’t stressed that he went back for another degree. I thought was just his personality.
        His mother, an only child, didn’t worry about rent or live in help in NYC for her 100+ year old father. Grandpa would give my ex money for his birthday, which I found incomprehensible I only found out much later that grandpa inherited money from all of his siblings including from an older brother who ran a rare Persian rug business. It’s not just money: it’s a different mentality.


        1. On the Harvard question, I don’t know the answer but I’m hoping it’s the latter. I want my Klara to go to Yale, and I’m an alumna,so…. Imagine that admission essay. “This is the place where my immigrant parents met and fell in love over the stories of shared activism and hardship overcome. . .” It’s a little half-baked but I’ve got 16 more years to work on it.


  2. “it sounds more like “the kids we have right now are defective; let’s bring in a better model ”

    That’s been a consistent theme in discussion of immigration. Don’t you remember Bill Kristol: “…if things are so bad as you say with the white working class, don’t you want to get new Americans in?
    Basically if you are in free society, a capitalist society, after two, three, four generations of hard work, everyone becomes kind of decadent, lazy, spoiled, whatever.
    Then, luckily, you have these waves of people coming in from Italy, Ireland, Russia, and now Mexico, who really want to work hard and really want to succeed, and really want their kids to live better lives than them, and aren’t sort of clipping coupons or hoping that they can hang on and, meanwhile, grew up as spoiled kids and so forth. In that respect, I don’t know why this moment is that different from the early 20th century”

    or Brett Stephens: “The United States has too many people who don’t work hard, don’t believe in God, don’t contribute much to society and don’t appreciate the greatness of the American system.
    They need to return whence they came.
    I speak of Americans whose families have been in this country for a few generations. Complacent, entitled and often shockingly ignorant on basic points of American law and history, they are the stagnant pool in which our national prospects risk drowning…
    Maybe they should leave, so that we can replace them with new and better ones: newcomers who are more appreciative of what the United States has to offer, more ambitious for themselves and their children, and more willing to sacrifice for the future.”


    1. This is almost verbatim what Domingo Faustino Sarmiento,one of Argentina’s presidents and leading intellectuals of the 19th century was saying. This plan was implemented in Argentina on a massive scale. This is why today Argentinians look, sound and feel so different from the rest of Latin America. So did the plan work? Did this massive swapping of people for an “improved” version have the desired effect?

      “The answer is absolutely not. Argentina in the 20th century had all of the exact same problems with dictatorships, weak democracy, flailing economy, left-wing guerrillas battling right-wing militarized governments, disappeared and tortured dissidents, etc that the rest of not only Latin America but the entire Spanish-speaking world. And you know why? Because moving crowds of people around never solves anything. You bring new people into the same old structures, into the same old system that had created all the previous problems, and in no time at all you’ll have new people going through the exact same problems but with a different accent.

      The experiment conducted in Argentina at an enormous cost of human suffering and death should have demonstrated to us once and for all that this method doesn’t work.”

      This is a quote from my lecture on Tuesday. 🙂 Since we are swapping quotes. 🙂


      1. The modern approach seems like it’s treating human beings as an extractable resource… the mine that is America is exhausted, let’s mine India and China for a while!
        It’s incredibly dehumanizing for all concerned.

        “you bring new people into the same old structures, into the same old system that had created all the previous problems”

        And/or the new people bring the same problems that prompted their emigration in the first place (see Germany where factions of Kurds are fighting it out)


        1. We were talking just yesterday with colleagues how bad the teaching of sciences is in the US. There is a lot that can be done to improve it but why bother, you know? There are kids someplace who already magically know science, so it’s all good.


  3. \ There is a lot that can be done to improve it but why bother, you know? There are kids someplace who already magically know science, so it’s all good.

    Well, the capitalist principle is “minimum investment, maximum results” and if citizens are no longer needed in the new post nation state reality, why bother indeed?


    1. Of course. But what’s really curious is that this is presented as the ultimate in progressivism. Is there any progressive thought any more that is not blind worship of fluid capital?


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