July 9, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Those lazy (Mexicans) Americans

"Because of their Catholic culture and the tropical climate in which they live, Mexicans tend to be lazy and averse to hard work." A generation ago, such a blatantly racist statement would have been accepted as conventional wisdom by most people, and hardly anyone would have raised an eyebrow. Today, the tables are turned, and most people would agree that Americans are the lazy ones, whereas Mexican immigrants are the industrious workers on which our economy has come to depend. That notion is perpetuated, implicitly, by Ruben Navarrette Jr. of the San Diego Union Tribune; reprined in today's News Leader. He cites the "straight talk" from Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, who warned that American workers could lose jobs to foreign workers who are willing to work for lower wages, and "often have better skills, and better manners." Well!

Frankly, I wouldn't argue with that impression at all. Americans of all walks of life are in dire need of serious behavioral modification -- and a good spanking by "Super Nanny" would be a good place to start. Both of the above-mentioned stereotypical impressions (lazy Mexicans and lazy Americans) are very misleading, however, as they are based on a fundamental logical fallacy: ascribing individual characteristics to groups or whole populations. If most American workers or young people seem lazy or irresponsible or unfit, it is probably because existing institutions, customs, and laws encourage such behavior, or undermine the "normal" corrective incentives. In Mexico's case, the problem centered around the mercantilistic, anti-competitive economic system that still persists to a large degree. If you had to boil our current problems in the United States down to one fundamental cause of anti-social behavior, it would be the "nanny state" engendered by the Great Society welfare monstrosity -- which, contrary to Bill Clinton's January 1995 proclamation about Big Government, has not ended. Indeed, the intrusive "compassionate conservative" agenda of President Bush has reinforced that pernicious corrosive effect on the American work ethic. When you add to that the discouragement that results from widespread cheating by employers (hiring workers who are not protected by the laws), it is no wonder that so many young people in America shun the ladder of success.