Emigration filters

Steven has a long post about differences between America and Europe, in the context of which he makes the observation that immigration to America from the old country was in effect, a kind of filter:

When you're doing a cost/benefit/risk analysis, you may be in a situation where the risk and consequences of inaction are so crummy that any alternative is virtually certain to be better. In that case, you can and should choose some alternative even if it's not at all well understood. Part of the willingness to do such a thing is confidence that as problems with the alternative start turning up, you'll probably be able to deal with them, and part of that is a recognition that even if you can't, the consequences will still be less severe than what you'll face if nothing happens.
a filter on the source, not the target

Sometimes when the status quo is intolerable, the best answer is to chuck everything and strike out into the wilderness. If life in the slums of Europe is terrible, the best answer may be to save enough money for a steamship ticket and move to a strange land across the ocean, where they speak a strange language but where there's more opportunity. The great wave of immigration in the sixty years after the American Civil War was a filter; those who said, "It might be better!" were more likely to go than those who said, "It might be worse!"

It's probably over-stating to claim that all the pioneer spirits in Europe left for America, but certainly enough did that the center of mass shifted. The effect on America was profound - isolationist conservatives' claims to the contrary, its immigrants' energy and commitment to the freedom and opportunity and promise of this new land that the success of America was built on. And the great fortunes of the corporate elites were also built on exploitation of that same teeming surge of raw human power and will.

Also note that immigration waves from other countries and during other times were quite different. From China there were two waves, one of immigrant laborers, and a second of educated professionals fleeing the communist revolution (causing no small amount of culture clash in San Francisco's Chinatown). From India it has been mostly the educated professionals, the so-called "brain drain" who realized that they could earn more money and live better with their skills in the US than try and ocmpete against the hordes back home. My own parents are examples of this, they came here so that their children would have access to the opportunities that a rich nation can provide. In India, you're lucky to even get seated in a college, regardless of grades (the Dalit quota is a necessary investment in the future, but it comes at great cost) - in contrast, I went through the standard ritual of throwing away bags upon bags of college literature. All of these immigrations left a mark upon America, but they also left a mark upon the home countries, often subtle but never insignificant.

And now it's Israel's turn - 760,000 Israelis are living abroad:

According to Prigat, some 60 percent of them live in North America, 25 percent in Europe, and 15 percent elsewhere. Prigat had no statistics as to the number of Israelis who had left during the three years of the intifada, but she noted that an estimated 550,000 Israelis (400,000 adults and 150,000 children) were living abroad in 2000.
Statistics show the return rate of Israelis is influenced by the economic and security situation in Israel. From 1993 to 1999, a relatively high number of Israelis returned each year (between 4,700 and 6,500). But in 2000, apparently as a result of the intifada and the economic downswing, the number of returning Israelis declined. In 2000, 3,956 Israelis returned; in 2001, 3,546 Israelis returned; and, until October of this year, the number of returning Israelis stood at 2,771, Prigat reported.

This is an early Exodus, not a late-stage one, and the primary factor is economic. The lavish per-capita spending on the settlements amounts to a tremendous drain on Israel's resources.

Of course, security has a psychological effect, the economic situation is the real threat to Israel's existence. It is a massive drain on the country's resources and the reason that many domestic problems simply cannot be addressed.

The problem is simple. Democracy, Jewishness, and Greater Israel. Pick any two. Since the the two that Sharon seems to have chosen are Jewishness and Greater Israel, many Israelis are finding that the only way to preserve the promise of a free society (as opposed to a broken one) is to leave. And most of them are coming here, to the US - a good filter for America, but at what cost to Israel? Not to mention the radicalization of those who stay behind...

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