Monday, August 25, 2008

Immigration Forecast

From prefatory remarks to a speech1 given by Larry Summers in January 2005:
It is after all not the case that the role of women in science is the only example of a group that is significantly underrepresented in an important activity and whose underrepresentation contributes to a shortage of role models for others who are considering being in that group. To take a set of diverse examples, the data will, I am confident, reveal that Catholics are substantially underrepresented in investment banking, which is an enormously high-paying profession in our society; that white men are very substantially underrepresented in the National Basketball Association; and that Jews are very substantially underrepresented in farming and in agriculture. These are all phenomena in which one observes underrepresentation, and I think it's important to try to think systematically and clinically about the reasons for underrepresentation.

Given the vastly diverging fortunes of Wall Street—which is collectively scrounging high and low for a second nickel to rub against the solitary exemplar remaining in its pocket—and the agricultural commodity markets, I posit that we may see a substantial shift in the employment data Mr. Summers identifies going forward.

Investment banking and many other sectors of the financial markets have always been characterized by harsh, inhuman working conditions: long hours, abusive supervisors, physically punishing labor,2 and the general social opprobrium attached to being a financial parasite. Now that those conditions are no longer ameliorated by sackfuls of greasy simoleons, the industry seems likely to attract that segment of our population which usually gravitates toward low-paying, low-status, unattractive jobs: namely, illegal immigrants.

As we all know, a very large portion of the illegal immigrants in this country come from Central and South America, where Catholicism holds general sway over the religious beliefs and practices of the laity. Therefore, in a reversal of the trend identified by Professor Summers, I would expect a substantial increase over the intermediate term in the number of Catholics employed on Wall Street. (As an aside, one might wonder whether this will have any improving effect on the attitudes and practices of investment banking in general, or whether it will simply signify the beginning of a widespread corruption of the morals and integrity of a number of previously devout and upstanding citizens. But I digress.)

On the other hand, the recent dramatic rise in the prices of many agricultural foodstuffs has created an impressive economic boom in the formerly moribund and impecunious farm sector. Nowadays, it is difficult to determine whether your typical farmer is harvesting more bushels of corn or of greenbacks. One might even be tempted to update that old chestnut from the 1980s by adding the farmer to the pigeon as the only two creatures who can still make a deposit on a BMW.

I can only hope that farmers are taking full advantage of their current good fortune to reverse generations of socioeconomic warfare in the Grain Belt. They should do this, of course, by repossessing local bank branches in foreclosure, evicting bankers and their families from their homes, and waving merrily as the latter motor dejectedly off to the dust bowls of Orange County, South Florida, and Las Vegas.

Of course, conspiracy aficionados and anti-semitic wackos everywhere know that where there's money, there is or soon will be a large and growing kosher section in the local Piggly Wiggly supermarket and a material improvement in the taste and quality of bagels on offer at the local bakery. Given the impressive creation of remaindered employees on Wall Street and other financial hot spots—and the relatively high percentage of same who profess religious or cultural allegiance to the Tribe—I would therefore expect a rather wholesale migration westward of Jewish ex-financiers to the Elysian fields of Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa. One can only imagine the culinary and cultural cross-fertilization which will result; led, perhaps, by the widespread adoption of gefilte fish as a cracker spread in preference to Cheez Whiz.

All that being said, however, the performance of the Redeem Team in Beijing gives me little expectation for a reversal in the second trend noted by Professor Summers above.

I suppose two outta three ain't bad.

1 Yes, that speech. Surprisingly balanced, even-handed, and unstupid when read in the original, actually, rather than through the lens of an over-facile and unsympathetic media. Worth a gander over a long summer weekend, if you are so inclined.
2 At least in terms of the excess alcohol intake, soaring cholesterol levels, and general inattention to physical health experienced as the usual side effects to such employment.

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