The Resilience of Immigrants

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Ego
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Post by Ego »

This commercial made me laugh.
http://youtu.be/toUiCVs2--w
Then it made me think.
Why is it that some have the ability to bounce back while others cannot?


jacob
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Post by jacob »

Agency vs learned helplessness.
Likely has to do with how children are raised and taught to associate effort with results. Agency requires two things, namely that outcomes are often random but that effort increases one's chances at success. Learned helplessness happens when wins come easily, losses are covered and the connection between effort and improved outcome is never realized.
It could be argued that those who exhibit learned helpnessness never "grow up".
Immigrants are somewhat self-selected in agency because they made the decision to emmigrate. Thus they made an effort to improve their situation rather than sit around and wait for help.
I think an enormous amount of our social problems can be explained this way. I wouldn't blame the children per se. I've seen how some parents telling their kids that "reading is stupid" and "they'll never amount to anything". It's also common for parents to helicopter in and bail kids out when they screw up. Both of these lead to learned helplessness. It's really a kind of institutionalization where someone grows up thinking that he has no agency/responsibility for his own destiny; that existence is all that matters.
For fear of getting political, I think the learned helplessness is found mainly on the social left. To a large extent the discussion seems to be dominated by 1) A group of relatively well-off people (typically in cushioned positions, universities, governments,...) who feel sympathy towards those who struggle and prefers to helicopter in. 2) A group of people who keep making choices without regard for the consequences and expect help when things [predictably to wiser people] go wrong. Conversely, agency is found on the social right. This is why the right caters so much to "small business owners" as they have the connection between results and effort down to a tee.
Can it be fixed? Well, the problem is essentially that a large part of the adult population has simply been raised wrong (unless we can think of some positive group-fitness provided by helplessness). And so we're back to "how does one raise adults?"
Two things are needed ...
1) Outcomes are random. (More precisely, they have a random component.)

2) Effort can increase one's chances.
Watching the Olympics, I don't think the media is helping. We have a winner takes all society where all the focus is on winning. Second place is "first loser". Hence, the cultural attitude completely destroys (2)---not in the minds of the athletes but probably in many who watch it. Just imagine if the TV portrayals focused on the effort prior to the games and the long run results of those efforts while more or less ignoring the victory ceremony or specifically pointed out that "it was Bob's turn to win this time; with all that effort it was bound to happen sooner or later."


secretwealth
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Post by secretwealth »

I think it has to do with trust. Americans have learned to trust the market to always provide. I don't think this is so much a matter of social welfare producing helplessness but a faith that there will always be money, somehow.
Americans think they will always be able to make money, so it doesn't matter if they get a huge mortgage or rack up credit card debt. No biggie--they'll make more money because they have a job, or they'll make more money at another job if they get fired. It's an irrational confidence that you could also dismiss as arrogance.
This is how people in an expanding wealthy economy will naturally think. 2008 changed that, which is why personal savings rates are up.
I think the children metaphor is unhelpful and overused. Back in the days of empire Asians and native Americans were dismissed as children or child-like. So to were the poor, and Jacob sounds a lot like a Victorian moralizer dismissing the unwashed masses as children. Also, the child metaphor leads to think in terms of solutions that work for children.
The fact is that people will tend to look for the easiest route between point A and B. Sometimes that leads to efficiency and sometimes that leads to laziness. In this case, it has always been easier to think that the market will provide, so there's no problem in going into debt and not saving. Now--not so much.
Immigrants, on the other hand, know real poverty. My wife is an immigrant and the stories she tells me of her childhood shock and sadden me. She also knows how to save and would never go into high levels of debt. Because, from her perspective--and this Cuban's perspective, I bet--life is difficult and you need to protect yourself. From an American's perspective, life is easy and there's always a way to make good money.


jacob
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Post by jacob »

Yeah, maybe this got derailed by bringing the upbringing into it.
I still think it's a question of agency vs helplessness. I consider "something will always provide" to be part of the learned helplessness. It doesn't matter if it's wellfare or the presumption that jobs will automagically appear whenever needed. I also think that the social right's tendency to moralize fits into this.
It's simply two very different ways of looking at the world.
One thing I remember from Stanley's book is that 1) Immigrants tend to get richer than natives. 2) Immigrant wealth is always lost in subsequent generations. I think this supports the idea of agency (but also that it's meanreverting---culture, not just parents, has a big say in what model someone adopts.)
Personally, I think neither of the two popular political solutions work. There's a third way that doesn't involve either bailouts or 2) letting people fail completely. Education is unfortunately probably not it. It's too intellectual and only works on the rational brain. What's needed is some form of propaganda...


secretwealth
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Post by secretwealth »

Yes, I do agree that the core problem is helplessness, and I think human beings tend to try to find some greater power to hand responsibility off to so that they don't face the prospect of failure. That greater power can be the government, God, or the free market.
What book are you referring to? That sounds quite interesting.
Personally, I never had the mindset that the market or the government would always provide, because both let me down at a young age. I couldn't get a real job after graduating, and I was too rich for welfare, so I kept getting more degrees. I learned to think like an immigrant, and traveling around the world helped a lot too.
I'm not so sure education won't work, but I don't know if people need to be nudged in any direction--if we continue to have massive unemployment like we do now, people will lose faith in the market and the government. God isn't much of a solution either, so self-reliance will become the necessary evil.


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Post by jacob »

The Millionaire Next Door, chapter 1 :)


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Post by jennypenny »

I don't think a person's background or experience has much to do with how resourceful or helpless they are. Several people on the forum talk about family members that are quite spendy and might need financial help some day. Their experiences and education are probably very similar to their ERE family members, as well as their ethnicity, and yet their spending patterns are different. I think we're all wired one way or the other and our experiences can only confirm or challenge our predisposition.
I find the image of immigrants curious. When you ask people about immigrants as a group, people in Stepford would first toss in "illegal" and then talk about them "flooding" the country and mention things like anchor babies. When you ask the same people about immigrants they know personally or (usually) who work for them, they always say hard-working, family-oriented, nice people, etc. It never occurs to them (my neighbors here) that they're talking about the same people.


Dragline
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Post by Dragline »

Yeah, overgeneralizing is usually a mistake, especially when it leads to the idea that there is a magic or global solution that will "fix" things.
I suppose it would be nice if kids were taught some personal finance in school, but I tend to think that's more of a parent's job and more of a leading-by-example issue.
Something like this would be good -- perhaps with some updating and animation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdEZD4nrmds

Skip to the ten minute mark where the meat starts.
As for immigrants, I don't think people really appreciate how lucky the U.S. is to have a steady stream of them as a form of human energy and renewal. They get stuck on fearing the changes they may bring, which is a very old meme. In the next century, some societies are going to be dying out for lack of replacement like the Shakers.


secretwealth
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Post by secretwealth »

I have a feeling wealthy countries are going to compete for immigrants in the 21st century. George Friedman writes convincingly on this in "The Next 100 Years".


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Ego
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Post by Ego »

secretwealth... I believe we've been competing for desirable immigrants for years now. As we should be. Right now we are on the receiving end of a demographic sucker punch. The punch has landed but the sensation has not yet reached the brain.
We need young people who are able to pay in more money to our systems than they will take out. For years illegals were the perfect immigrants. Fifty people would all use the same Social Security number to get jobs. They all paid into the system with various taxes and whatnot. The government shrugged. These people never tried to collect from that system, knowing they'd be promptly ejected from the country if they did. E-verify and enforcement are cracking that golden egg.
I live just a few miles from Mexico and most weekends I cycle with a group that rides inland along the border. Every once in a while we'll see a group of illegals/undocumented people crossing the road or sitting in a shady area waiting. I often wonder what it would be like if the average gringo (me) had to go through the survival-of-the-fittest test that these folks have to endure just to get a less-than-minimum-wage job.
Makes me inclined to allow gringos to fail completely... as Jacob suggests in his excellent posts above.


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Ego
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Post by Ego »

JennyPenny, if people's background and experience does not have much to do with how resourceful or helpless they are, then what does?


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Post by Christopherjart »

I don't think being an immigrant makes one any more likely to succeed since you'll have disadvantages vs citizens. The successes are the immigrants who stay because they don't give up and they learn to be responsible for themselves.

People who want to be taken care of or babied or supported will go back home to their families or to social programs left behind. I've always known that I have to work hard and save as much as possible since I know no one will take care of me. I can't move in with family when times are tough because they aren't here.


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Post by jennypenny »

@Ego--I think whether our first instinct is to rely on ourselves, or reach out to others for help, is probably inate. It reminds me of Buffet's description of inner and outer scorecards. I think we're predisposed to be one way or the other, and then our environment influences how extreme our traits become. I don't think environment or education can change our default settings.


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Post by J_ »

@jacob "Personally, I think neither of the two popular political solutions work. There's a third way that doesn't involve either bailouts or 2) letting people fail completely. Education is unfortunately probably not it. It's too intellectual and only works on the rational brain. What's needed is some form of propaganda..."
You said once to me " be an example is effective but not efficient". And then now a further clue: a form of propaganda. It immidiate recalls the dangers so well described in Elul's book.
But I agree with you, how can we find a more efficient way to show the ERE path, which not has the dangers of propaganda, but is efficient other than the ERE book, blog and forum and many people who live already ere-wise?
To live ere-wise is not that difficult at all...once you mastered it, but why do so little people practise it? Apparently the road must be difficult otherwise were ere's not so rare.
Please elaborate a little further on the third way..


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Post by ktn »

On the theme of immigrants - this time about the success of Indian motel owners in USA: http://www.boblonsberry.com/writings.cfm?story=3364
I remember, back in 1997, living in a small southern California town where the local downmarket motels were being bought by Gujarati families. My American landlord was certain they were able to buy it by running drugs or doing something illicit. I tried pointing out that it could be just hard work and bank loans or borrowing from relatives, but he was convinced their source of investment had to be illegal means.


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Stahlmann
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Re: The Resilience of Immigrants

Post by Stahlmann »

<no one expects bumps from Eastern Europe guy>

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Re: The Resilience of Immigrants

Post by 2Birds1Stone »

"Stahlmann, who is currently on your ignore list, made this post.
Display this post."

Yes or no?

nomadscientist
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Re: The Resilience of Immigrants

Post by nomadscientist »

@jacob

Great sports analogy. With hindsight it is really striking the difference the way academics and sports were presented to me at school.

Academics: if you work hard over a long time, you will slowly get better, and at the end of the year you could be a lot better in time for the exam [agency]

Sports: if you try really hard in this game, you will win if you deserve to win [looks like agency... actually is learned helplessness]

Since I was not born athletic, but have a strong will, I tried really hard, failed badly, and essentially gave up on athletic side of life completely: it was for people born better than me or who had superhuman levels of willpower that I doubted most of the people who were better than me actually had. If sports in school had been presented in "agency" style with progressive training producing slow compound growth in ability, I would probably have gone into a physical profession rather than an academic one.

ertyu
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Re: The Resilience of Immigrants

Post by ertyu »

In another post someone recommended a book about cognitive dissonance, and how a lot of who we are is just the combined effect of our attempts to resolve it. I agree with many of the points mentioned above, so won't repeat them. This is what I have to add:

I agree it starts with self-selection: you need to be one of the most ambitious (doesn't necessarily mean most hardworking, just most motivated to earn) or most desperate in your home country.

Then you arrive in your new country, and life *sucks*. It completely blows, it's hard, you're the lowest of the low, you don't know the language--let's face it, it's just a really really shitty experience. Yet you put yourself through it. Cognitive dissonance resolution: the goal must be really really worth it, then. (Similar effects were found with people who voluntarily go through hazing rituals to join a group - they end up valuing and esteeming group membership higher, and they are more committed to the group).

The immigrants who never make it, you never hear of. Those who do make it end up having their pre-existing ambition and willingness to take risk be even further strengthened by their shitty circumstances. Children are a factor, too: "group membership is really worthwhile, and i am doing this for my child, so that even if i cannot attain full group membership status, my child can"

Most children of such parents are deliberately and consistently brought up to see successful integration in New Country as something worth struggling for. Their parents tell them they're expected to do well in school, so they do -- earning love from parents is tied to valuing full group membership in new country.

Note that this works when the immigrant community is small and cannot really rely on others - that one Asian family that opens a restaurant or a dry cleaner's in our middle-of-nowhere town. When immigrant communities are larger, the group can do for you. So belonging to the immigrant group becomes more important -- everyone has met this lady; she's someone's mom and she never really made the effort to learn english because her children will do for her,, or this high school student - his parents don't expect much in the way of academic success from him, but they do expect him to integrate well in the local (usually latino, in the states) community: when you were crossing the border and working crappy minimum wage jobs, your safety success and survival depended on being *together* and on other fellow immigrants' help.

As a gastarbeiter, I have many opinions about this. One of the opinions I have is that the people who bitch about immigrants, legal or otherwise, tend to not have half the balls needed to do what an immigrant does. These are the people who've never been outside their home town or country. These are the people who whine and get loudly confrontational when something trivial doesn't go their way at Disneyland. These people wouldn't make it an hour in an immigrant's shoes--having to integrate into a new culture, make friends according to unfamiliar rules no one tells you, endure hardships. I do not have much respect for such people.

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Jean
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Re: The Resilience of Immigrants

Post by Jean »

Ertyu, your description looks pretty accurate, but do thou think that the second phase were they start to behave like an invading force(loyalty to common origin instead of indigenous population) is avoidable without any bitching from the indigenous population ? Or does it require a more ballsy form of bitching? Or is a multiplication of rape and stabbing something trivial?
Its very hard to see each others perspective, but i don't see how issues Can be peacefully solved without even trying to see it.

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