Calvin and Hobbes lemonade stand


Don’t blame the foreigners.

Immigrants have always been a fundamental part of the ‘American Dream’. And yet, with the Dream crumbling in so many respects, many Americans have been tempted to look for culprits behind this demise. If anything, cheap overseas labor and cheap immigrant labor have been critical fuel to sustain the American Dream in the past few decade longer than it would have otherwise have survived healthfully.

When people go through the grieving cycle, eventually you hit ‘Anger’. And when the American Dream dies, that anger is often directed at scapegoating. It must have been murder. And all the usual suspects are trotted out. Usually, foreigners. It’s a lot easier to get angry at someone you don’t know and isn’t like you.

Unfortunately, the American Dream’s demise is the result of a set of congenital defect – free market and free elections (not to mention a number of aggravating lifestyle factors). Democracy is the rule of maths. The maths of adding up self-interests expressed in votes. In a rule of majority, then one displaced worker is going to struggle against the political power of the many customers and the business owner (not to mention the immigrant worker themself) from cheaper ingredients like labor.

You can try to put up fences to keep these immigrants and imports out, but then you expose yourself to a cascade of retaliation by the foreign countries. In today’s globalised world, no country can stand alone and every country is too dependent on resources found in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, you can make semi-porous fences that only let in the stuff you want and don’t let in the stuff you don’t want (in short, you can’t have your cake and eat it).

The displaced worker has two choices: accept a lower living standard or learn a new skill (a new dream) that commands a premium. Both are an embrace of failure. Both are painful, but either is inevitable.