Three models of immigration – which one will win?

I attended the last lecture of ‘Immigration Law and Policy,’ a class I audited this semester at Georgetown Law School. As someone who is interested in Law, Policy and Immigration issues, I got a lot out of this class. As a wrap up, Prof. Andy Schoenholtz reminded the class that the U.S. has followed (and still follows) three distinct models of immigration.

:Immi article

1. The Virginia Model : This one is based on limited rights for workers. The plantation workers in Virginia did not want to give rights to the slaves who worked on their farms and were not too excited about emancipation. The country fought a war for that and ironically, this debate still continues, despite much legislation and public opinion having changed.

2. The Massachusetts Model : This model, historically wanted only the ‘believers’ aka Puritans. This eventually led to the national origins quota system and it was only finally abolished in 1965 with the Hart-Cellar Act.

3. The Pennsylvania Model : Inspired by the Quakers, who were pluralists and who believed that anyone could adopt ‘American’ values and become American. This system ha been place since 1965, when national origins quota ended.

As a society, America is going through some fundamental changes – both demographically and socilogically. Values are being informed by greater moral pluralism. But it looks like systems of administration and certain legal norms are not keeping pace with these changes. “Why are we at cross-roads? ” Prof. Schoenholtz asked. One answer could be that our society and economy has changed. But the  Congress hasn’t changed laws to keep up with this, he answered.

While congress has spent money, they have failed to address why immigrants come – both legally and illegally. There are 12 million undocumented workers because they haven’t been made ‘legal.’ The reason that Congress hasn’t legalized their status is a reflection of the VA model, he suggested. Also, as he was talking, I was thinking about the issue of power and political expediency. There are political movements that stand to gain by keeping these people outside of the ‘mainstream.’ If they could vote, participate in American society legally, it would hurt their interests. While all of this seems common-sense, it is not perceived.

Amidst the calls for ‘protecting American jobs’ and ‘securing the border’ we tend to forget that humanitarian grounds are forgotten. Historical precedents are lost and talking points take over.  Progress isn’t always linear and there is a risk that the VA model might take over again, if people let the status quo prevail. The real challenge sometimes is to know that the status quo is dangerous. Sometimes, one to question the very basics of what we accept to be fundamental truth to get to the ‘truth’ that is just, honorable and dignified.

Finally, I came across this blog post by Marketing Guru, Seth Godin, who has asked some interesting questions, about ‘Closing the Gate’. His questions are a good way to wrap up this short post :

Do outsiders get the benefit of the doubt?

Do we make it easy for outsiders to become insiders?

Is there a clear and well-lit path to do so?

When we tell someone new, “that not how we do things around here,” do we also encourage them to learn the other way and to try again?

Are we even capable of explaining the status quo, or is the way we do things set merely because we forgot that we could do it better?

Is a day without emotional or organizational growth a good day?


Should Government be run like a business?

Should government be run like a business? We grappled with this question, during our Master of Public administration (MPA) degree at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in 2011, the year I graduated. It was a question that was as relevant then, as it is today – with a certain presidential candidate arguing that we must just focus on America’s interests and run the show like a business. In this world-view, there is no reason why the goods of government – governance itself – cannot be bought and sold. Afterall, this is a market-based economy. This approach to running government can be best described as New Public Management (NPM), which gained ascendance in the 1970s and 80s.


In part, this view is right. There are benefits to running a government like a business: focusing on market efficiency as the God, with bureaucrats as the angels, serving this deity. Margaret Thatcher, Manmohan Singh, Ronald Reagan are the prophets, who pushed for NPM as an approach to governance and this push has had mixed results, in each of the countries. The market is seen as being all-wise, omnipotent and omniscient.  Especially, if you grew up in India or a developing economy during the 1980s, you could see the rampant nepotism, the corruption that was eating away at the bureaucracy and business sector. NPM did come as a breeze that brought some relief to this desert of non-governance.

I have seen it in work in three countries, where I have lived and interacted (and worked) with the bureaucracies, rather closely – India, U.S.A and the U.A.E.  There is more to NPM than just trains running on time. Passports are issued quickly, business licenses are done more efficiently and life becomes smoother for the ‘consumer.’ A ‘citizen’ is transformed into a ‘consumer’, as many scholars and thinkers have pointed out. This is good, at least, in part. It is good that citizens are taken more seriously, are treated in a dignified manner and their views are considered, beyond just their vote giving potential. Their lives have meaning, beyond just a four year cycle of casting their ballots.

On the other hand, this very philosophy can lead to problems – very severe at times. Consider this: What if efficient decisions come at the expense of a democratic process? What if the department head/ the head of government – President in our case, decides that the most efficient decision is to take all decisions by him/ herself? What about consensus building? What happens to democratic norms and values? These two are often in tension and this is a key reason why some resist this push for ‘business-like’ thinking. Also, what about those consumers who cannot ‘pay’ to be consumers? This philosophy of business also assumes that the cost of doing business is borne by the ‘consumer’. But if the consumer is unable or unwilling to pay, what happens to him? Should he/ she be left out of procuring the goods of governance? Should the government not serve him/her?

These are not theoretical or abstract ideals, but very real ones – and we are witnessing the breakdown of many systems – in education, law enforcement and the like, in many government agencies, where New Public Management has been enforced.  This push for NPM is as much a vision, as its counter-part; Keynesian model of economic development, which has government intervention and spending at the heart of economic management.

The cut in government spending in research, education and healthcare have had disastrous consequences, as the market has not stepped in to correct these differentials.

Want to know the real consequence of this trend? Just look at the drop in funding for basic research. As this article by Eduardo Porter points out foundation ‘points out, the consequences in dropping federal funding for basic research are very real – it could mean lesser innovation in technology and other areas, that have made America great, in the first place. Want to make America great again? It may, ironically, have to start with funding more of federal programs, not by cutting them.

Are we witnessing the end of ‘community’?

Is the word ‘community’ meaningless? Are we living in the most ‘individualistic’ moment in American history? Given the debates about how unequal we have become, as a country; do we  just need a ‘each man on his own’ mindset or do traditional systems such as family, neighbors have any relevance in our lives? I ask these basic questions in an attempt to map out the contours or individualism and community in America, in 2016. This is by no means an easy task and I don’t mean to provide all answers nor all perspectives.

Diverse generations
Multi-ethnic multi-generation group of people from young children to 95 years old.

Steeped as it is, this debate about individualism and Communitarianism is at the heart of many other larger debates. The most important one is that of what are called ‘Culture wars’ in America. Note my use of the word ‘America’ and not ‘The U.S.’. I’ll come to that in a moment. But indulge me for a bit. Be patient and I promise the rewards will be worth your time.

As several scholars, journalists and pundits have argued and continue to argue, we are witnessing the corrosive impact of individualism. Those who don’t agree point to the ‘communities’ that are cropping up, as it were; driven by technology, mass rapid transit and other new-age mechanisms that are bringing us closer ( and also driving us apart). Note that Face Book is cited as one of the leading causes of divorce, by couples in the U.S.

My intention in this project is to look at how ideas of community and individualism are being impacted through philanthropy – the most ‘American’ of values. The discourse of philanthropy is perhaps the most influential one, in the public sphere. After that of God. Infact, more people give to charity, than go to a place of worship; according to several studies. Perhaps there are some surprises in store for us here: just like Muhammad Ali (the boxer) claimed that he was more famous than Jesus Christ – and there is some grain of truth in that. Or perhaps not!

Using philanthropy as a lens, I will argue that the idea of community is no longer irrelevant – whether you are a liberal or a conservative, this notion is very powerful and is reasserting itself in the public sphere. Even if you throw it out of the window, this idea of community will enter through the door.

The trend towards moral pluralism is manifest in areas such as LGBTQ rights, immigration justice movements, as much as they were for racial equality, during the civil rights movements. One can see how this trend for expanding the idea of ‘who belongs’ to the U.S. is in stark contrast to nativist and extremely individualistic notions of belonging.

I will be posting updates on how this project is progressing and invite you to participate, in any way you want. Write to me, call me or talk to me – I need your inputs!

More Charity, less Philanthropy?

Do we need more ‘Charity’ (unorganized, personal giving) and less of ‘philanthropy’ (organized, scientific philanthropy)? While scholarship in the last 25 years of so indicates that there is a growing trend towards philanthropy, we are witnessing new arguments that what we need is really more ‘charity’. Bureaucratized and ‘scientific’ ways of giving don’t really work. Don’t believe me? Look at Give Directly, one of the leading proponents of charity. They do claim, however, to be doing ‘scientific’ philanthropy, but in reality, it is direct one-to-one giving, and per one definition, would count as ‘charity.’

Their argument is simple: give the poor money directly, unconditionally and they will figure out how to use it. To the best of their knowledge. There is some wisdom in that. This is not traditional charity or caritas, which focused on ‘character development.’ The assumption in this model of thinking of the individual was that the poor were poor because they were lazy, drunks or just stupid. This is the traditional Christian view of caritas, practiced in the settler colonies in the founding days of America or any traditional society. But there are other ways to imagine how the poor live and work. Poverty is a complex topic, and I will not attempt to analyze it here. But let’s just say that the poor have a bad reputation. Most poor people I know – and have dealt with – are decent, hardworking people. Many of them have not had opportunities to advance, in some cases, they have been dealt with heavy financial blows that keep them poor and in some cases, they are victims of structural issues. So, how does on help the poor, overcome their poverty? There are several possibilities – one is to fund ‘strucutral’ changes in the system and the other is to fund the individual directly.

When it comes to immediate impact and results that can manifest themselves, there is nothing faster than individual giving. While there are limitations (and many assumptions) on how this works, it is a model that seems to have attracted a lot of attention, especially given the criticism of large international NGOs that spend a lot of money, on overheads. As Paul Niehaus, President of GiveDirectly argues in this paper, the donors usually are concerned with ‘warm glow’ or don’t really care about learning what happened after the donations were made. The cost of such learning is high, he argues. “The well-intentioned benefactor has a limited desire to learn. He always prefers to avoid ex-post feedback as this constrains his beliefs.”  This means that the intermediaries – i.e., NGOs create a ‘need’ for the service and attract donations. This is not a case of misleading donors, but one of asymmetric information and also a different theory of change. GiveDirectly offers one model of giving that is direct, (seemingly) impactful and something worth a try. My mom did this for many decades and it seems to have worked – at least in the case of many of my cousins, who have better jobs, education, thanks to my mother’s ‘giving’ directly.