Orange County Register
In presidential election years, it is natural to see our political leaders also as the brokers of our economic salvation. Some, such as columnist Harold Meyerson, long have embraced politics as a primary lever of upward mobility for minorities. He has positively contrasted the rise of Latino politicians in California, and particularly Los Angeles, with the relative dearth of top Latino office-holders in heavily Hispanic Texas. In Los Angeles, he notes, political activism represents the “biggest game in town” while, in Houston, he laments, politics takes second place to business interests and economic growth.
In examining the economic and social mobility of ethnic groups across the country, however, the politics-first strategy has shown limited effectiveness. Latinos, for example, have dramatically increased their elected representatives nationally since the 1990s, particularly in California. But both Latinos and African Americans continue to move to, and appear to do better in, the more free-market, politically conservative states, largely in the South.
Two Paths to Success
Throughout American history, immigrants and minorities have had two primary pathways to success. One, by using the political system, seeks to redirect resources to a particular group and also to protect it from majoritarian discrimination, something particularly necessary in the case of the formerly enslaved African Americans.
The other approach, generally less well-covered, has defined social uplift through such things as education, hard work and familial values. This path was embraced by early African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey. Today, the most successful ethnic groups – Koreans, Middle Easterners, Jews, Greeks and Russians – demonstrate the validity of this method through high levels of both entrepreneurial and educational achievement.
Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is also executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is also author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.