Competition takes place at many spheres of our lives. One important area is competing for work. We compete with each other for better-paying jobs. We compete for promotion in the workplace.
One class of people, however, seems to be facing more-intense competition than others. I am talking immigrants: legal and illegal.
I am an immigrant. Documented. So let me open by stating: The entire immigrant experience is about competing harder. Immigrants face a lot of hurdles that natives don’t. Is it fair? The question itself is wrong. Luck plays a huge role in our fortunes, and being lucky to be born in the US (or Australia, or Switzerland) is just one such factor. We must accept that luck is amoral (not immoral!). Immigrants are lucky to make it here, one way or another. Immigrants forever will be less accepted compared with the locals due to a variety of factors from accent to education to prejudices to whatever. But here is a shocker: it is not necessarily bad. Immigrants are willing to risk it, work harder, compete harder. They do not need help, they do not ask for help.
Not everyone shares in my perspective. Deepak Chopra, an MD who emigrated from India to the US, did not like his immigrant’s experience. Despite being enormously successful entrepreneur/guru, he thinks this country is treating immigrants badly. In a recent Opinion piece Deepak Chopra and his brother (yes he has a brother, also a doctor) published in the USA Today, they lament the “slippery ladder” immigrants have to climb to success in this country. (Friday, May 31, 2013: “Fix Immigration Slippery Ladder” ). Since they made the climb, they claim, it has become much harder for immigrants to do the same. When they came to the US, American-trained doctors looked down at those with medical degrees from India. Today it is much worse. The blame, according to the Chopras, is the widening gap between rich and poor, the decrease in upward mobility (we now lag behind Canada and many unspecified European countries) and the hostility to illegal immigrants.
The Chopra brothers call for making it easier for immigrants to climb up the ladder. Ironically, Deepak ignores his own advice on his website: “Allow yourself and others the freedom to be who they are. Do not force solutions — allow them to spontaneously emerge. Uncertainty is essential and your path to freedom.” He calls for less uncertainty for new immigrants and less spontaneous, market-based advancement. This is the wrong strategy because it overlooks the value of competition in creating prosperity for immigrants.
This country was built on immigration. The waves of immigrants — Irish, Italians, Germans, Nordics, Jews, Koreans, Vietnamese and so on — never asked for anyone to shore up the ladder for them. On the contrary, the immigrant experience is a tale of hardship and ambition to make it better for the next generation without asking for the unicorn of “equal opportunity.” The Jewish kids in lower Manhattan could not afford to go to the private schools of the elite WASPs, but their kids added wings and endowed chairs to those institutions.
But why look to ancient history? Let’s look at the recent experience in Europe and Canada which is admired by the Chopras. On average, 24,000 Canadians immigrate annually to the US. Between 1986 and 2012, 394,000 Canadians ignored the gap between rich and poor here. In contrast, Americans’ immigration to Canada, which reached a peak in 2006 of 10,000 (up from about 5,000 only in 2005, and as little as 4,000 in 2004) is one-twentieth the flow south relative to population. Apparently, the immigrants do not care that Buffet is 10²³ times richer than they are. But the Chopras do.
In more-recent news, the riots in Sweden, a country known around the world for its “fixing of the ladder” for immigrants, have shown an interesting side to that slogan. Add the riots in France and the UK, countries high on equalizing opportunities through government policies, and the Chopras’ recipe seems to be based on personal resentment of their own experience but not on the real motivation of newcomers to compete to ensure a better future for their kids.
Those who climb the fence and risk their lives are actually telling us something about what really matters. Those who have it less easy, who face obstacles and unfavorable attitudes but persist in climbing the ladder based on skill and entrepreneurial necessity are acting on a perspective that says their alternative of staying in their familiar home country was not as good. As cynical as this may seem, it is a selection mechanism based on competition.
I came here with nothing to my name, I made it, and I feel extremely lucky despite an accent I wish I could lose. Build a ladder for groups who actually need it.