Friday, December 09, 2011

A hideous anti-immigrant attack

Dhammika Dharmapala is a law professor at the University of Illinois. My friend David Agrawal at UMich (one of our strongest job candidates this year) says that Professor Dharmapala is "the reason I'm an economist."

So I'm sad and disgusted to report that Professor Dharmapala was slashed in the throat yesterday, in what is pretty clearly a hate crime. Fortunately, and somewhat miraculously, Professor Dharmapala will live, and is making a faster-than-expected recovery. But that does nothing to diminish the awfulness of the attempted murder.

Here are the details:

Joshua Scaggs, 23...has been charged with attempted murder and two counts of aggravated battery, alleging he slashed the throat of Anurudha Udeni Dhammika Dharmapala, 41, of Champaign at the Illinois Terminal on Wednesday morning...
A male witness told police the men were both seated in the waiting area when one man suddenly jumped up and shouted that this was his country and attacked Dharmapala.
The attacker, later identified as Scaggs, then grabbed Dharmapala around the neck and appeared to be choking him. He then forced the victim to the floor. 
The witness intervened by pulling the attacker off Dharmapala. The witness then noticed that the attacker was holding a utility knife and the victim was bleeding. 
Ziegler said Dharmapala was waiting to take a train to Chicago. He had no information on why Scaggs may have been there. Police recovered the box cutter believed used to injure Dharmapala. He said Scaggs had another folding knife in his pocket.
So this guy Scaggs went out with a box-cutter and a folding knife, obviously intending to attack someone. He sees a random non-white guy in a train, jumps up, screams "I want my country back," and cuts the guy's throat. Bizarrely, the crime is not being prosecuted as a hate crime. If that's not a hate crime, what is?!

Hate crime or no, Scaggs will certainly rot in jail, as he deserves. But I hope I'm not alone in thinking that this kind of attack is a very bad sign for America in general. For two reasons.

First of all, as I've written before, I believe that racial animosity is wreaking havoc on this country's political process. Tribal animosity makes people paranoid that any government policy represents an attack on their group by another group. And so you hear people blaming "those lazy [insert nonwhite race here]" for the financial crisis and the recession, which reduces our ability to fight the recession with government policy. And you hear people saying that government spending is racial redistribution...so our roads and bridges and research institutions crumble and decay.

But taking a longer view, I believe that immigration - particularly from Asia - is key to our nation's economic success. In a globalized world where companies choose their locations based on access to large domestic markets, having a dense population will be important. Also, high immigrant fertility is the only reason why our country is managing to avoid the demographic disaster looming over East Asia and Europe. Finally, immigrants are a tremendous source of entrepreneurship.

So the idea that non-white immigrants are "taking America away" from whites is by far the most pernicious force in America today. This idea is slowly but steadily making itself an unwelcome fixture in our public discourse.

Now the reason I am saying this is not to make political hay, or to lay blame for this attack on anyone but the perpetrator. It is simply to point out that the murderous hate crimes of a few isolated psychos are not simply isolated and independent random events. They are warning signs of larger forces of hate lurking within our society, corrosively eating away at the foundations of our national polity.

Anyway, best wishes to Professor Dharmapala for a speedy recovery.

20 comments:

  1. Unfortunately, for some people it is more important to feel that they are better off than someone else than for things to be going well in general.

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  2. "Demographic disaster?" The real demographic disaster is that human population has grown to the point where it is burning (defoliating, drying, exterminating, etc) the planet up. We need to get back to about 1 billion humans by about 2100 and probably will get there eventually, one way or another, and the longer it takes, the more overshoot there will be on the downside. Europe is one of the few areas making progress in this regard, largely due to liberal social policy, but even they're not progressing fast enough. Unless this is done in a civil way, it's likely to happen in an uncivilized way like this heinous attack. A civilized way probably needs to include both incentives and mandates (such as forced sterilization after so many kids); while liberal social policy works (i.e. education of women) it doesn't work quickly and has a tendency to be undone by rising conservative replacement.

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  3. Anonymous10:53 PM

    This is really bad. It is getting worse and worse by the day. The US used to be a welcoming and tolerant country to immigrants. Unfortunately, this is changing. Hope Prof. Dharmapala recovers fully...

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  4. @ "First of all, as I've written before, I believe that racial animosity is wreaking havoc on this country's political process." Truly so. Which is why we might consider a pause in mass immigration to give us time to assimilate and integrate the 30-to-40 million foreign-born immigrants we already have.

    We've been in this situation before, c. 1880-1920. An immigration time-out in the 1920's led to the Greatest Generation, which struggled through the Depression, fought the Second World War, and then established a democratic version of the American Dream in the 1950's, including the Civil Rights movement.

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  5. I don't want to diminish just how awful this crime was, because it really is just terrible, but have we really seen an increase in similar crimes since 9/11 and to any one particular ethnic group? No doubt that there is increased tension, but I would like to see proof that there's a considerable problem.

    On a more economic note, have you ever read any of the proposals, informal or formal, for allowing anyone who wants a green card to get one if they buy a house? Makes you wonder just what that would do to attitudes about immigration if the effect is as positive as I suspect it might be.

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  6. Anonymous1:27 PM

    The attack on the Professor is abhorrent and all right thinking people will wish him a rapid and full recovery.

    That said, I disagree with your view on immigration. It does not matter if the country is economically powerful in aggregate if the standard of living is low or if the country loses its soul in the process.

    I do not care what the color of a man's skin is but I do care what his values are. I look at China and India and I see attitudes to authority, the relationship between the individual and the state and relationships between neighbors that I do not want to see brought to the West. I look at the values in much of the Muslim world and I am appalled. Why would I want to encourage these people to move into my neighborhood?

    I think you under estimate how deep and important the cultural differences between the West and the East are. There may be some cultural conceits on your part that make you think that your culture is the obvious and overwhelming choice for everyone when it is manifest that 3/4 of the world does not wish to make the cultural choices the West has made.

    If we need more workers we have millions languishing in prisons and in impoverished neighborhoods who should be invited and helped to join the advanced societies of the West.

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  7. @Anonymous:

    I could not disagree with you more.

    First of all, I think it is clear that, even if you were right, cultures and values change when people move to new countries. Cultural assimilation is very rapid.

    Second of all, I think a lot of the apparent cultural differences between "East" and "West" are really just differences between poor countries and rich countries. And those differences also go away when people emigrate.

    Third of all, having lived in Japan, I think a lot of the purported cultural differences between "East" and "West" are overblown. Japanese culture is just not that different from American or European culture. It looks more different than it is. Don't believe the hype.

    But lastly, I think that even when there are cultural differences, I don't think America "loses its soul" by incorporating those new cultures into its own. Did we lose our soul from the massive waves of Eastern and Southern European immigrants a century ago? No. Did we lose our soul from the massive waves of German and Irish immigrants a century before that? No. And we won't lose our soul from waves of Indian and Chinese immigrants either.

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  8. Anonymous2:20 PM

    Noah

    Japan has a long history as a cohesive nation with central authority. Japan made a conscious decision in the 1860s to partially Westernize and went through a process of further forced Westernization after the Second World War.

    The Germans, the Irish, the Eastern and Southern Europeans were all fundamentally Western before they came to the United States (and assimilation of the Irish was not easy).

    India and China are poor largely because of the cultural choices they have made over the last five hundred years. Their culture drives their poverty, not the other way around.

    If immigrants embrace scientific rationalism, the Enlightment, individual freedom, religious tolerance, democracy, the rule of law, the rights of women etc then fine. If they reject any of those things then they should not come to the West.

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  9. Anonymous5:27 PM

    I like the immigrants and welcome high skilled immigration personally.

    But I think there is a problem with the way the working stiffs in this country are abandoned to twist in the wind. The fact that this is a country of a tiny upper crust (supported by neoliberal and free market ideology in believing they got their goodies because they are Better) while the rest of the country is being left to rot in terms of social welfare, education, housing, etc, is going to lead to hate, racism, and hate crime.

    Get used to it. Hate is a consequence of winner take all.

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  10. Last Anon - Yes, poverty and inequality often leads to hate and blaming out-groups (or fans the flames of existing hatred and paranoia, which is what I think is more likely going on here). That's why in bad times, we have to be especially vigilant about bigotry, xenophobia, etc. Getting used to it isn't the answer.

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  11. If they reject any of those things then they should not come to the West.

    Were your forbearers subject to such a litmus test? (Got any Puritan in you??)

    Just to take one example (not claiming expertise here), there are many troublesome aspects to some Muslim culture such as attitudes towards women. But there are also some true jewels in Muslim culture, such as traditions of hospitality to strangers, for example.

    A tolerant culture welcomes people of all sorts, seeks out their strengths, (gently) discourages their weaknesses and encourages mutual exchange. We have a lot to learn from each other if we're open to it.

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  12. "The Germans, the Irish, the Eastern and Southern Europeans were all fundamentally Western before they came to the United States (and assimilation of the Irish was not easy). "

    Please read anything written back in the day about this. Start with 'How the Irish Became White', then read what Ben Franklin said about German immigrants, and then google for what was said about Eastern/Southern Europeans back then. You could read Gould's 'Mismeasure of Man'.

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  13. "If immigrants embrace scientific rationalism, the Enlightment, individual freedom, religious tolerance, democracy, the rule of law, the rights of women etc then fine."

    Hell most people born in this country fail can't fulfill several of these requirements

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  14. Anonymous2:10 AM

    "Were your forbearers subject to such a litmus test?"

    My forebears came from Scandinavia and arrived believing in democracy, the rights of women, the power of science, the virture of hard work and actually came with generally socially liberal attitudes.

    "Hell most people born in this country fail can't fulfill several of these requirements"

    I know. The Enlightenment is always and everyway a struggle against the forces of irrationality and magical thinking.

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  15. My forebears came from Scandinavia and arrived believing in democracy, the rights of women, the power of science, the virture of hard work and actually came with generally socially liberal attitudes.

    Didn't answer my question.

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  16. Scandinavia was not a democracy when most immigrants to the US came here. It was a classist, sexist society that lots of people left because they had no opportunities. And many of the people who went to other countries, did so without the proper documents.

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  17. Anonymous1:13 AM

    mattski - If my forebears had been subjected to the proposed litmus test they would have passed. We are not talking about what immigration policies the US had in the past but what those policies should be in the future.

    Ms. Bushnell - Denmark became a constitutional monarchy in 1849, the Norwegian constitution dates from 1814 and the Swedish constitution dates from 1809 (and possibly earlier). England was a classist and sexist country then too and the US is a classist country now so I hardly think you should be throwing stones at the Nordics - they were then and are now miles ahead of most of the world.

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  18. Automation, trade with China, and mass immigration are all hammering the middle-class today. Just because immigration was good for America in the past doesn't mean that it always is.

    Isn't this fundamental economics?

    Or does political correctness trump the principles of economics on this blog?

    I condone that vile act of violence by the way. But I also recognize it as a symptom of something deeper.

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  19. Condemn not condone. I apologize. I condemn all acts of violence, period.

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  20. mattski, your argument is completely ahistorical. Scandinavian immigrants had a reputation in the 19th century of being stupid brutes. The US routinely assimilated all kinds of different people from all kinds of different cultures, and it will assimilate Muslims just as easily. This isn't hard for us -- it's what we do.

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