Tuesday, March 12, 2019

North America Is Much Richer Than Latin America. Is This Fact Relevant For Immigration Policy?

Economists measure gross domestic product per capita (at purchasing power parity, PPP) as the value of all final goods and services produced within a country in a given year divided by the average (or mid-year) population for the same year.

The International Monetary Fund (with similar results from the World Bank) calculates the PPP per capita income in international dollars of all the countries in the world.  Below are the 2017 numbers for the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, and South America, along with the ratio, in percent, of each country’s per capita PPP GDP to the United States.

Country                                    Percent

United States        59,495
Canada                 48,141           80.9%

Mexico                 19,480           32.7%

Panama                24,262           40.8%
Costa Rica            17,149           28.8%
El Salvador            8,934            15.0%
Guatemala            8,173            13.7%
Nicaragua             5,823              9.8%
Honduras              5,499              9.2%

Chile                    24,588           41.3%
Uruguay               22,445           37.7%
Argentina             20,677           34.8%
Brazil                   15,500           26.1%
Colombia             14,455            24.3%
Peru                    13,342            22.4%
Venezuela            12,388           20.8%
Ecuador               11,234            18.9%
Paraguay               9,785            16.4%
Bolivia                  7,543            12.7%

These numbers meet the intra-ocular impact test—they hit you squarely between the eyes.

Scholars have examined numerous factors that have held down growth and income in Latin America.  These include, among others, different colonial institutions and practices of Portugal and Spain compared with Great Britain, patterns of immigration and settlement, property rights, land ownership, resources, and political stability.

Latin America’s political culture, built on its Southern European colonization,  differs from the U.S. (and Canada), which were  colonized by Britain.  The U.S. drew in most of its 17th, 18th, 19th, and early 20th century immigrants from Northern Europe, who readily assimilated into the dominant Anglo-American culture.

Daniel McCarthy, editor-in-chief of Modern Age, has written a very thoughtful commentary on the dominant civilizations of the world.  Here is an except on Latin America.

“Latin America…may over time be open to Westernization—yet there is also the risk that the West will become more like Latin America….Latin America is what Western civilization looks like when it doesn’t work, when economic disparities are too wide and political and civil institutions fail….Mexico, Central America, and South America have great potentialities, yet their institutions have not been able to fulfill them.  Western institutions have been highly successful—but there is no guarantee that such will always be the case.”

The failure of institutions in Latin America has produced a political culture with a lower standard of living and political instability.

A political transformation is gradually taking place in the United States.  In 1940, Hispanics constituted a miniscule 1.5% of the American population.  Whites, at 88.3% defined America’s political culture.  By 2019, Hispanics have increased almost thirteen-fold to 19% of the U.S. population (surpassing Blacks at 13.5%), with Whites falling to just under 60%.

Projections for the U.S. population in 2060 put Whites at 42.6%, Hispanics at 30.6%, Blacks at 14.7%, Asians at 8.5%, and mixed race at 6.4%.  These projections will vary with different assumptions about fertility rates and immigration trends.  But it’s clear that Hispanics will
emerge as a powerful ethnic force in American politics.

There are signs that this large increase in Spanish-speaking immigrants may not assimilate into the dominant culture as did previous generations from Europe.  As Hispanics grow in number and are perceived in group terms, the quest for the “ethnic vote” could play a larger role in American politics.  This would generate  greater degree of nationwide ethnicization of American politics than in previous generations, when ethnic differences tended to be localized to individual regions, states, or towns.

Latin Americans will bring the dysfunctional political culture of their upbringing.  Their children will be attracted to the People of Color coalition seeking greater political presence and power vis-à-vis Whites, Blacks, and Asians.

Even as Hispanics learn English, bilingualism doesn’t imply biculturalism.  I can learn French but I am unlikely to be assimilated into French culture (nor would I want to be).  This trend toward greater national ethnicization of America will threaten the institutional fabric that makes Western civilization successful in America.

3 comments :

Henry Cate said...


Lawrence E. Harrison explores similar thoughts in his book "Underdevelopment Is a State of Mind: The Latin American Case."

Allan J. Lacayo said...

I share these concerns as a first generation Hispanic in origin, but more Conservative in fiscal terms and Libertarian in political terms.

Most Hispanics of Latin American origin like me have not blended into the range of mainstream currents of cultural Americana as did Northern and Central European migrants.

What some call "pride in their heritage and cultural roots", I view as the "vanity of vanities" (the complex psychological inferiority complex brought about by the forceful integration of "Mezo-american" and "Roman-Catholic Iberian" values in the "Mestizaje" that ensued from the crumbling of Spanish, Portuguese and French inept, incompetent management of their colonial entreprises.)

Chris Elhardt said...

Perhaps we should consider what happens to Hispanic cultural identity when the border migrates, rather than the people. Thinking of California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Texas. California and Texas are the 8th and 10th largest economies in the world, and both with significant Latin heritage.