February 15, 2012
February 15, 2012
California’s Demographic Revolution: If the upward mobility of the impending Hispanic majority doesn’t improve, the state’s economic future is in peril.
February 15, 2012
California is in the middle of a far-reaching demographic shift: Hispanics, who already constitute a majority of the state’s schoolchildren, will be a majority of its workforce and of its population in a few decades. This is an even more momentous development than it seems. Unless Hispanics’ upward mobility improves, the state risks becoming more polarized economically and more reliant on a large government safety net. And as California goes, so goes the nation, whose own Hispanic population shift is just a generation or two behind.
The scale and speed of the Golden State’s ethnic transformation are unprecedented. In the 1960s, Los Angeles was the most Anglo-Saxon of the nation’s ten largest cities; today, Latinos make up nearly half of the county’s residents and one-third of its voting-age population. A full 55 percent of Los Angeles County’s child population has immigrant parents. California’s schools have the nation’s largest concentration of “English learners,” students from homes where a language other than English is regularly spoken. From 2000 to 2010, the state’s Hispanic population grew 28 percent, to reach 37.6 percent of all residents, almost equal to the shrinking white population’s 40 percent. Nearly half of all California births today are Hispanic. The signs of the change are everywhere—from the commercial strips throughout the state catering to Spanish-speaking customers, to the flea markets and illegal vendors in such areas as MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, to the growing reach of the Spanish-language media.
The poor Mexican immigrants who have fueled the transformation—84 percent of the state’s Hispanics have Mexican origins—bring an admirable work ethic and a respect for authority too often lacking in America’s native-born population. Many of their children and grandchildren have started thriving businesses and assumed positions of civic and economic leadership. But a sizable portion of Mexican, as well as Central American, immigrants, however hardworking, lack the social capital to inoculate their children reliably against America’s contagious underclass culture. The resulting dysfunction is holding them back and may hold California back as well.
Three members of the Crazy Little Stoners, a small but violent drug-dealing gang, are hanging out on a ficus-lined residential street in Santa Ana, America’s largest predominantly Spanish-speaking city (located in what was once solidly Republican Orange County). A white truck filled with members of a local graffiti crew slowly pulls up to check out their gang affiliation; since CLS and the taggers are not at war, the truck passes on.
Salvador, 16, Casimiro, 16, and Michael, 15, joined CLS three years ago and promptly racked up serious criminal records, including convictions for armed robbery and burglary that would have sent them to state prison had they not been juveniles. Casimiro, in red love beads and baggy shorts, is a short, self-consciously cocky tough (“I’ve got people doing my homework ’cause I show ’em my fist,” he brags); he faces 20 years if caught again. Salvador, the most articulate of the three, has a nine-and-a-half-year suspended sentence hanging over him. Michael has been kicked out of school for fighting and now attends an alternative school—but not for long, all evidence suggests. “They don’t teach us nothing; I didn’t know how boring it would be,” he says sullenly. Salvador claims that their long suspended prison terms have taught them a lesson and that they’re “done” with the criminal life; now they just want to make steady money with a job, he says.
The family situations of these young gangbangers are typical of California’s lower-class Hispanic population, characterized by high rates of single parenthood, teen pregnancy, and welfare use. Michael’s unmarried mother is on welfare. The mother of Salvador’s 16-year-old girlfriend recently sent her to Washington State to keep her away from him—too late, since she is already pregnant. “If she has the kid, I’ll stop messing around and take care of it,” he says. Salvador’s father was arrested in January for drug possession and deported after serving time in the Orange County jail; he is presently planning his return. Casimiro claims that his parents tolerate his gang activities: “I be going to parks and I be like, I was like kind of nervous in the beginning but I was like, ‘Get used to it,’ but they were cool with it,” he says. Perhaps Casimiro is accurately conveying his family’s attitudes toward his gang-banging; social workers in Santa Ana and Los Angeles tell of multigenerational gang families in which the fathers smoke pot and take meth with their children. Equally likely, however, is that Casimiro’s parents oppose criminality but cannot keep him away from the streets.
If any of these Crazy Little Stoners is going to turn his life around, Salvador seems to have the greatest chance, based on his ability to make steady eye contact and engage with an interlocutor. He “thinks about” going to college, he says, adding, without irony, that he likes studying criminal justice for “what it teaches you about the world.” Some children do, in fact, put aside their gang affiliations after their first encounters with the law; others muddle through their young adult years in a dim, semi-criminal limbo. As I take leave of the group, Casimiro asks casually, “You got a dollar?”—already displaying the entitlement mentality of a Haight-Ashbury or Venice Beach gutter punk (see “The Sidewalks of San Francisco,” Autumn 2010).
A more plausible candidate for bourgeois respectability may be found on a street corner not far from the CLS hangout. Jessica, a plump eleventh-grader in a low-cut black tank top, has just exited from Cesar Chavez High School, a fashionably industrial edifice, during the last week of remedial summer classes. Her family, too, demonstrates the ravages of underclass culture, including “multiple partner fertility”: her 23-year-old brother, 18-year-old sister, and 14-year-old brother have different fathers from her own. Jessica’s father shows up occasionally from Riverside, but she doesn’t know if he works or not. Jessica’s mother, never married, was born in the U.S. but raised in Mexico. She now works as a security guard but has ceded child-rearing to Jessica’s grandmother. Both parents have roots in Santa Ana’s largest and oldest gang, F Troop…
February 15, 2012
In the past two years, protesters against authoritarian regimes have begun to heavily use social-networking and media services, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and cell phones, to organize, plan events, propagandize, and spread information outside the channels censored by their national governments. Those governments, grappling with this new threat to their holds on power, have responded by trying to unplug cyberspace.
Some examples: In April 2009, angry young Moldovans stormed government and Communist Party offices protesting what they suspected was a rigged election; authorities discontinued Internet service in the capital. In Iran, the regime cracked down on protesters objecting to fraudulent election outcomes in June 2009 by denying domestic access to servers and links, and by slowing down Internet service generally — although protesters and their supporters found ways around those restrictions. In Tunisia, when protests against President Zine el Abidine ben Ali escalated in December 2010, his government sought to deny Twitter services in the country and hacked the Facebook accounts of some Tunisian users in order to acquire their passwords. In Egypt, amid mass protests in Cairo and several other cities in January 2011, Hosni Mubarak’s government attempted to disconnect the Internet. But there, too, protesters found limited workarounds until the doomed regime eventually restored some services.
Authoritarians may have reason to fear cyberspace. It is widely believed that the proliferation of Internet access and other communications technologies empowers individuals and promotes democracy and the spread of liberty, usually at the expense of centralized authority. As Walter Wriston optimistically put it in his 1992 book The Twilight of Sovereignty: “As information technology brings the news of how others live and work, the pressures on any repressive government for freedom and human rights will soon grow intolerable because the world spotlight will be turned on abuses and citizens will demand their freedoms.”
Two decades later, the hope that cyberspace will promote international peace and cooperation shines brighter than ever. To this end, the Obama administration has undertaken a project to promote its vision of cyberspace around the world. It was launched with the 2009 announcement in Morocco of the “Civil Society 2.0 Initiative,” a collection of efforts to help grassroots organizations use cyberspace to advance their goals. As the president explained at a 2009 forum in Shanghai, responding to a question about Internet censorship, “The more open we are, the more we can communicate. And it also helps to draw the world together.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed this sentiment in a 2010 speech at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., arguing that the Internet can help bridge differences between religious groups and create “one global community, and a common body of knowledge that benefits and unites us all.” In addition, she noted, there are the practical economic benefits of connectivity: cyberspace has become a critical ingredient for economic growth — “an on-ramp to modernity” — often by enabling producers to specialize and open new markets, and by generally improving productivity. Secretary Clinton further declared her intent to place Internet freedom on the agenda of the United Nations Human Rights Council; launch a program to use cyberspace to “empower citizens and leverage our traditional diplomacy” in cooperation with industry, academia, and nongovernmental organizations; and strengthen the Global Internet Freedom Task Force formed during the Bush administration.
Since then, the Obama administration has promoted cooperation with the private firms that own and operate the Internet’s infrastructure in hopes of establishing standards to promote freedom in cyberspace; it has protested diplomatically when foreign states impinge on their citizens’ free use of the Internet; and it has resisted foreign attempts to transfer Internet governance from technical organizations to political organizations, most notably to the United Nations. Meanwhile, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor issued $5 million in grants to private organizations developing technologies to enable unrestricted access to the Internet and secure communications over mobile devices. The department hopes to issue $30 million more.
Secretary Clinton’s Newseum speech, and a follow-up address she delivered in early 2011 at George Washington University, are important not only because of the initiatives they launched, but also because they articulate the administration’s perception of cyberspace’s role in international relations. Central to this view is
the freedom to connect — the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the Internet, to websites, or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace. It allows individuals to get online, come together, and hopefully cooperate.
Indeed, Clinton equated the “freedom to connect” with the freedom of expression and association as codified in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
While well-intentioned, the administration’s efforts to advance the cause of “Internet freedom” as a human right should raise some concerns. First, despite the admirable desire to apply the nation’s enduring principles to the rapidly evolving realm of high technology, framing “Internet freedom” as a human right risks weakening the very concept of human rights. Further, by lending its prestige and credibility to the international cause of Internet freedom, the U.S. government may actually make it more likely that tyrannical regimes will crack down on the Internet.
Consider first the administration’s desire to tie Internet freedom to human rights. A simple interpretation of the “freedom to connect” might be as a negative right: freedom from government interference in one’s access to and activities on the Internet — just as the right to free speech protects the individual from censorship but does not guarantee a means of publication. The administration’s way of framing the issue, however, opens the door to something else: a positive right to the use of a technology. That is to say, the right’s existence is predicated on the existence of the technology rather than on our intrinsic humanity. Cyberspace is, after all, a created medium. Someone designed, built, owns, and operates this infrastructure of servers, software, and network operating centers. A “right” to use it is a claim of entitlement to a particular technology and thus is based on the nature of the technology, not on the nature of the claimant.
Indeed, in the case of cyberspace, the administration’s interest in the nature of the technology and its social impact is what led it to assert access as a right. Clinton argues that the Internet differs from other technologies, and is therefore special as it relates to human rights: “the Internet is a network that magnifies the power and potential of all others. And that’s why we believe it’s critical that its users are assured certain basic freedoms.” This is a fair point, but simply in terms of human rights, it is beside the point: tying human rights to the state of technology, however powerful, is an intellectual rabbit hole, at the bottom of which human rights are deprived of the very thing that makes them unique — the fact that we possess them because we are human.
The problem here lies in the larger agenda the administration is promoting wrapped in the cause of rights. Secretary Clinton’s vision for cyberspace is of “a single Internet where all humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas.” Ultimately, she said, “this issue isn’t just about information freedom; it is about what kind of world we want and what kind of world we will inhabit. It’s about whether we live on a planet with one Internet, one global community, and a common body of knowledge that benefits and unites us all, or a fragmented planet in which access to information and opportunity is dependent on where you live and the whims of censors.”
This government-sanctioned vision of what constitutes “community,” “common knowledge,” and “opportunity” for all not only goes beyond the question of protecting basic rights, but in some ways may well be incompatible with the nature of the Internet itself, if not the immense diversity of religious faiths, political beliefs, and moral perspectives by which people live their lives…
When Americans express indifference about the problem of unequal incomes, it’s usually because they see the United States as a land of boundless opportunity. Sure, you’ll hear it said, our country has pretty big income disparities compared with Western Europe. And sure, those disparities have been widening in recent decades. But stark economic inequality is the price we pay for living in a dynamic economy with avenues to advancement that the class-bound Old World can only dream about. We may have less equality of economic outcomes, but we have a lot more equality of economic opportunity.
The problem is, this isn’t true. Most of Western Europe today is both more equal in incomes and more economically mobile than the United States. And it isn’t just Western Europe. Countries as varied as Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and Pakistan all have higher degrees of income mobility than we do. A nation that prides itself on its lack of class rigidity has, in short, become significantly more economically rigid than many other developed countries. How did our perception of ourselves end up so far out of sync with reality?
IN THE 1830S, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that, in notable contrast to the “aristocratic nations” of Europe, the United States was a place where “new families are constantly springing up, others are constantly falling away, and all that remain change their condition.” Karl Marx sounded a similar note in 1865 when he observed that “the position of wages laborer is for a very large part of the American people but a probational state, which they are sure to leave within a longer or shorter term.” But it was two American writers who probably did the most to shape our country’s self-image as the land of unbounded opportunity. They were Horatio Alger, of whom you’ve probably heard, and James Truslow Adams, of whom you probably haven’t. When Alger and Adams were alive—and also, for that matter, when Tocqueville and Marx contributed their observations—American opportunity was a much closer match to their superlatives than it is now.
Alger wrote Ragged Dick (1868), Luck and Pluck (1869), and other dime novels for boys about getting ahead through virtue and hard work. To call these books popular would be an understatement; fully 5 percent of all the books checked out of the Muncie, Indiana, public library between November 1891 and December 1902 were authored by Alger. Adams was a more cerebral fellow who wrote books of American history. His influence stems from the fact that one of these books—The Epic of America (1931)—introduced the phrase “the American dream” to our national discourse. Writing at the start of the Great Depression, Adams envisioned not “a dream of motor cars and high wages merely,” but rather “a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
Born half a century apart, neither Alger nor Adams could claim to have risen from the bottom. Both came from well-established families whose American roots dated to the early seventeenth century. Alger could trace his lineage to three Pilgrims who in 1621 sailed to Plymouth Plantation on the Fortune, the second English ship to arrive there. Adams—no relation to the presidential Adamses—was descended from a man who arrived in Maryland in 1638 as an indentured servant and, within three years, possessed 185 acres. Alger’s father was a Unitarian minister; Adams’s a stockbroker. Both fathers were men of good breeding and education who struggled to make ends meet but were able—at a time when more than 90 percent of the population didn’t finish high school—to obtain higher education for their sons. Alger went to Harvard; Adams went to Brooklyn Polytechnic and, briefly, Yale. Both sons followed their fathers into the ministry and finance, respectively, before they became full-time writers.
Each author was, in his own way, highly successful, but the upward trajectory of these two literary careers would make poor material for a Horatio Alger tale. The circumstances of Alger’s job change are especially problematic. At 34, he vacated the pulpit abruptly when he was charged with “the abominable and revolting crime of unnatural familiarity with boys.” Alger did not dispute the accusation, which was based on the testimony of two teenage boys in his parish, ages 13 and 15, who said Alger had molested them and on rumors that he’d abused other youths in similar fashion. After confessing his guilt privately to William James, the founding father of American psychology, Alger never spoke of it again. Adams left Wall Street under less lurid circumstances. He simply disliked the work and resolved to stop once he amassed $100,000. Reviewing his accounts on his thirty-fifth birthday, he concluded that he’d achieved his goal—the equivalent of about $2 million in current dollars—and resigned the following day. Adams spent much of his subsequent life abroad and wrote The Epic of America in London.
Alger and Adams celebrated America’s capacity for upward mobility, but neither writer idealized his country to anything like the extent that would later be credited to the name Horatio Alger and the phrase “the American dream.” Alger worked into his later juvenile fiction much moralizing against the robber barons’ self-dealing and cruel treatment of the downtrodden. “He has done more harm than he can ever repair,” a character in Alger’s 1889 novel, Luke Walton, laments about a villain modeled on the Gilded Age stock manipulator Jay Gould. Adams deplored America’s tendency to celebrate “business and money-making and material improvement as good in themselves” and its refusal “to look on the seamy and sordid realities of any situation in which we found ourselves.” He even complained about America’s maldistribution of wealth. Still, neither writer had much taste for radical politics. Alger was essentially a mugwump—a good-government Republican distrustful of machine politics and Free Silver populism. Adams was a Tory-minded political independent who became a severe critic of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which he deemed financially irresponsible.
Both men bequeathed to the United States an exaggerated notion of itself as a mobile society because they lived during the peak years of American mobility—the latter half of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth, when the American industrial revolution was wreaking maximum creative destruction on what had previously been an agrarian economy. The best way to measure mobility is to calculate the economic position of an individual relative to the rest of society and compare that with the economic position of that person’s child relative to the rest of society once that child has grown to a comparable stage in life. To calculate mobility for society as a whole, you therefore need income data over two generations for a large sample of American families. The government, alas, didn’t collect income data during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but the Census Bureau did collect data on occupations, which can serve as a rough proxy.
In a 2005 paper, Joseph Ferrie, an economics professor at Northwestern, studied census records about the occupations of fathers and sons between 1850 (the year Alger turned 18) and 1920 (21 years after Alger’s death and the year Adams turned 42). Ferrie then compared these records with father-son data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics during the second half of the twentieth century. He divided everyone into four categories: “unskilled worker,” “farmer,” “skilled or semi-skilled worker,” and “white-collar worker.” To keep both data sets consistent, he limited his inquiry to white, native-born males. Ferrie also made some technical adjustments to allow for the different occupational structures of the two eras. What he found was that the equivalent of 41 percent of farmers’ sons advanced to white-collar jobs between 1880 and 1900, compared with 32 percent between 1950 and 1973. Ferrie’s conclusion held up when he looked at all four job categories and when he compared other stretches of the late nineteenth century with other stretches of the late twentieth. Between the horse-and-buggy days and the interstate-highway era, American society had become significantly less mobile.
These findings are all the more striking because the 1950s and 1960s were a period—the last period in the United States, it turned out—when intergenerational mobility was increasing. The economy was booming, and men born during the Great Depression and World War II were enjoying opportunities that their fathers could scarcely imagine. Even so, mobility in this postwar era was no match for the mobility enjoyed by the generations of workers who lived during Alger’s lifetime and James Adams’s youth and early adulthood…