Friday, July 27, 2007
Promoting the Popular Understanding of Economic Issues

July 27, 2007

The Economists Voice

Letter to Editor

Samuel Bowles and Arjun Jayadev, authors of The Economists Voice essay, “Garrison America”, rightly sound the alarm over the United States’ expanding guard labor population, but do not mention at least two possible causes of the social and economic inequalities they cite as its basis. Endemic to U.S. society—and that should be fertile areas of research—are the cultural disparities and resultant conflicts that result from the fact that the U.S. has always been an ethnic melting pot.

Secondly, the authors do show a high correlation between U.S. guard labor and political conflict (in Figure 3 of the essay). But why? It could be because the U.S. as the world’s first modern democracy has a fairly primitive winner-take-all political system (based on our more than 200-year old Constitution) that discourages and even excludes minority ethnic and cultural groups. More recent Western democracies have a parliamentary system that allows a greater number of political parties (and viewpoints) than our two-party system. The result is special interests rule U.S. politics that research has shown lead to very low voter participation rates. (Which is why conservatives resist modernization of our constitution, which would create a more participatory democracy.)

New York City contains the largest Russian, Chinese, and maybe Latino populations outside of their native countries (and/or hemispheres). Los Angeles may contain an even larger population of Latinos, when illegal immigrants are included. Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies’ 2006 “State of the Nations Housing” report estimates that 10 percent of the U.S. population are now first generation immigrants.

Our largest influx of immigrants occurred during the late 1800s, due to chronic shortages of domestic labor in our dynamic and fast expanding economy. Hence the establishment of National Guard Armories during those times (and the 20 armories situated in New York State alone with its Ellis Island, the immigrants main gateway to America). The Harvard study estimates that one million new immigrants continue to enter the U.S. per year.

The remedy might be more methods of cultural assimilation, especially for those most affected with ‘culture shock’, which can mean extreme disorientation for those not able to readily assimilate. (This is another fertile area of research, by the way.)

We are seeing more attempts in our educational system to include cultural assimilation, such as a growing number of universities’ ethnic studies departments that study ethnic and intercultural differences. But it is not a priority in our society. What if we could create more programs that assist assimilation? Would that reduce the guard labor population?

Harlan Green

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