Monday, May 01, 2006

American economic insecurity

It is a commonly accepted view that the American upward mobility and economic opportunity is partly the result of self-reliant attitude of individuals. Such individuals do not look for help or safety of social arrangements but boldly go and carve out a piece of the frontier for themselves. Such is the cursory view of the American ethic. Many of those individuals are characteristically immigrants - more or less unattached to the country where they have arrived.

In the times of the actual frontier there were truly numerous independent entrepreneurs uprooted from the old country that no longer would provide anything for them. In a way these people were emancipated from old dependencies. They were actual risk takers. The success of the few was as usual ransomed by the failure of the many. Rules of the game - one would say - romanticizing the harsh American reality of a chance of success without the safety net.

But that raw social reality is long gone. Everybody wants some social safety net - the citizens and the immigrants. However flimsy that social security net is for the citizens they fight for refusing access to it for immigrants - legal or illegal. The current immigrants are the lower-economic underclass that is somewhat deprived of social services in the host country, but since they maintain ties to the country of origin and families there, send them money - they somehow pay for a social safety structure, unofficial but real, that would protect them in case of failure in the land of opportunity. Perhaps it is even possible that the American land of opportunity is subsidized from abroad - as the immigrant workers can accept low-wage work as a result of protections that are extended to them from foreign societies.

These are thoughts shared by a friend and coworker at the occasion of a collapse of an American startup enterprise where the disgruntled workers asked themselves if their medical insurance is still in force or not. Foreign readers of this blog may not realize that for most American workers their medical insurance is chosen and purchased by their employer. So much for the former great self-reliant risk taker.

No comments: