The American Dream, Guatemalan Edition

Great NY Times piece on the growing Guatemalan immigrant population in Brooklyn. The story itself is just an update of a very familiar one, but it shows the enduring appeal — as well as the brutal reality — of the American Dream. Every time I see an image of a U.S. Army platoon outpost in Afghanistan, I shudder at the thought of what we’re asking young Americans to live through over there. I had a similar, if not identical, reaction upon reading of a 39-year-old day laborer who hasn’t seen his family in 14 years.

It’s also true that this story is as much a typically human one as an American one, with its progressive waves of immigration among a given population. But for the past century and a half, America has functioned as the world’s shock absorber, providing a release valve when local poverty or living conditions became unbearable. (Western Europe has played a similar role in the post-War era.) Obviously that will take a hit in the near-term future, if the kind of jobless recovery being projected materializes.

But this is a potential consequence of America’s long-term relative decline that hasn’t gotten much attention: A lot of countries around the world will find their ability to export poverty and import cash-transfers greatly reduced, not just during this downturn, but perhaps into the future. China doesn’t need this kind of cheap labor-fueled population inflow,in fact it would be enormously destabilizing given the country’s needto integrate its own rural poor into the economy. But it’s also hard tosee China exercising the same kind of compelling attraction that Americahistorically has.

In addition to some of the more obvious harmful effects, any resulting decline in immigration could also drive a greater demand for development and responsiveness to local needs at home. So it’s not necessarily an exclusively hand-wringing scenario. But I’d be interested in seeing some more analysis on the potential long-term scenarios, so if you have a link to something, send it along.

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