Minorities Rising

January 29, 2014

Multiple Pages
Minorities Rising

Amy Chua, the Chinese Mom America Loves to Hate, follows up her 2011 bestseller The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother with a new book coauthored with her more laid-back husband and fellow Yale Law School professor Jed Rubenfeld: The Triple Package: Why Groups Rise and Fall in America. Their essential point is that being a minority in 21st-century America can be a pretty sweet deal.

A few years ago, I came up with the idea for a sitcom called Korean Mother-in-Law, about a nice Stuff White People Like white guy (picture Joaquin Phoenix in Her) who has to live with his (wait for it) Korean mother-in-law, who regularly punctures his liberal American delusions with her bleak, Malthusian cackling.

Chua, however, more or less beat me to this shtick with Tiger Mother.

But it’s probably just as well, since Korean Mother-in-Law would have been the lowest rated show ever, judging by how only Charles Murray and I noticed that Tiger Mother was awfully funny. Most of the press, which is heavily driven by the primal resentments of Jewish women writers and editors, was outraged by Chua’s act. First, she steals our husbands, and then she steals our children’s spots at Harvard!

Now Chua has gone back to the theme of her first book, World on Fire: market-dominant minorities.

Here in America, we assume that discussions of minorities, ethnic and/or sexual, controlling certain industries is just conspiracy theory crazy talk. But in many countries that don’t have long histories of intelligent nationalism, a majority of business assets actually are owned by enterprising but insular outsiders, such as the Lebanese in some West African countries or the Chinese in Southeast Asia.

“Perhaps it’s time, for the good of your family, for you to study the secrets of successful minorities.”

Chua herself comes from a family of Overseas Chinese who got rich in the Philippines. This hasn’t made them popular with the locals. When her aunt was murdered in Manila by a native servant, the Filipino police made only nugatory efforts to track down their compadre.

Market-dominant minorities understand that it’s crucial to stay close to the centers of power to protect them from the masses.

For example, one of my readers married into an Overseas Chinese extended family in Indonesia that was tight with the Suharto regime. When the Indonesian economy collapsed and the dictator resigned in 1998, a native mob began looting and raping in the upscale Chinese quarter. As the furious locals approached ever closer to the family compound, my reader, being a white American guy raised on action movies, tried to organize his in-laws to defend themselves from the pogrom.

But they looked at him as if he were crazy. They weren’t fighters; they were dealmakers. They’d live or die based on the connections with the authorities they had bribed their way into during the decades of mutual exploitation. Finally, my reader’s father-in-law succeeded in paying off an Indonesian army officer to deploy a platoon with an armored half-track in front of their estate. So the mob instead looted somebody a little less connected.

Similarly, the Lebanese Carlos Slim launched himself on his improbable ascent to challenging Bill Gates for the title of World’s Richest Man by being a close personal friend of Mexican president Carlos Salinas when privatization was the fad in the early 1990s.

It’s extraordinary that Slim has been able to squeeze so much out of the supposedly poor country of Mexico, but he understands that Mexico, lucrative as it is, is still the minor leagues compared to having influence in America. Over the last half-decade, Slim has moved closer to the center of global power by bailing out the agenda-setting New York Times. He now may own as much as a fifth of the stock. His investment in the Grey Lady has been lavishly paid back, both in financial instruments and in Narrative. The telecom monopolist profits exorbitantly from phone calls between illegal immigrants and their friends and family in Mexico, and the Times has dutifully demonized all immigration restrictionists as despicable racists.

Now, Chua has turned her attention to prosperous minorities within the US, focusing upon eight groups presumably chosen for their diversity: Chinese, Lebanese, Jews, Asian Indians, Iranians, Nigerians, Cubans, and Mormons.

Granted, Chua’s eight minorities constitute a somewhat silly list. Many of these groups’ success in America is less the product of culture than of simply skimming the intellectual and financial top off of foreign societies. Many Indians (total population back home: 1.237 billion) and Nigerians (169 million) in the US are here because they are related to somebody rich enough and smart enough to pursue graduate study in the US.

Cubans and Iranians (like the Vietnamese whom Chua leaves out) are refugees from the rich ruling class of extinct pro-American regimes. Cubans have recently been reinvigorated politically by the increasing ethnicization of politics. With all the emphasis on amnesty for illegal Mexican immigrants, blow-dried Cuban politicians have elbowed their way to the front as the Hispanic Talented Tenth, a mediagenic elite more TV-savvy than actual illegal aliens, who tend to be short, round, and inarticulate in any language.

In fact, many Iranians didn’t even have to start over. They’re not just benefiting from their superior human capital; they’re living off their financial capital they looted from their native land during the oil boom of the 1970s. Years before the Shah fell, numerous rich Iranians relocated much of their fortunes to Beverly Hills.

Moreover, the current Iranian government isn’t ideologically anti-capitalist like Cuba, so many Iranians in the US (including, perhaps surprisingly, many Jewish Persians), continue to profit from enterprises back home while enjoying the good life in the Hollywood Hills. I’m sure you would similarly find that, say, Russians in Cyprus and Monaco are doing pretty well for themselves, too, without looking too hard for their cultural secrets.

How can we compare these groups’ accomplishments? The ultimate test of success in America is making the Forbes 400 of richest people, which remains majority northwest Europeans: 51% in 2012, according to the surname analysis by race/history/evolution notes.

Europeans with distinctive names include Italians at 4.25%, Eastern Europeans at 1.75%, and Greeks at 1.5%, and one Basque (0.25%). For most purposes of 21st-century identity politics, these 7.75% would all be lumped into the general white gentile population for a total of 58.75%.

Middle Easterners (such as Lebanese, Iranian, and Armenian) only make up 1.75%. At present, they are legally classified as white by the federal government and have traditionally been considered white by other American whites. But I’ve been noticing the initial signs of a Flight from White among West Asians who are recognizing that in 21st-century America, membership in the white category doesn’t come with the legendary Invisible Knapsack. Instead, “white” is what they call you when they’re going to try to frame you on second-degree murder charges.

East Asians number only nine of the Forbes 400, or 2.25%. South Asians represent a mere 1.5%.

The two numerically largest minorities constituted less than 1% of the Forbes rich list. The colossal Hispanic minority was only 0.5%, and blacks were represented solely by Oprah.

The most remarkable aspect is that people of Jewish ethnicity, who only represent about 2.2% of the US population, make up about 35% of the Forbes 400.

Judged from the lofty perspective of the Forbes 400, there are really only two main ethnic loci of achievement in the US: the large, diffuse identity group of white gentile Americans and the more concentrated identity of Jews. The rest is more or less Miscellaneous.

But Chua and Rubenfeld’s analysis looking at a number of other ethnicities as control groups is useful for comparing the two most important powerful groups in modern America.

Their foundational realization is that in 21st-century America, it’s better, all else being equal, to declare yourself a minority than to get stuck in the majority.

They argue that successful minorities benefit from three psycho-cultural blessings.

First, each successful minority cherishes its own quasi-racist Group Superiority Complex:

…all of America’s most successful groups believe (even if they don’t say so aloud) that they’re exceptional, chosen, superior in some way.

Second, they suffer an Individual Inferiority Complex: They “tend to feel insecure, inadequate, that they have to prove themselves.” They worry that they are letting down their ancestors and that the majority is out to get them.

Chua and Rubenfeld write:

It’s odd to think of people feeling simultaneously superior and insecure. Yet it’s precisely this unstable combination that generates drive: a chip on the shoulder, a goading need to prove oneself.

Third, these chips on the shoulder combine to make them more disciplined and focused than their more trusting rivals:

America today spreads a message of immediate gratification, living for the moment. But all of America’s most successful groups cultivate heightened discipline and impulse control.

Chua and Rubenfeld note that these three common traits—which I would call ethnocentrism, paranoia, and self-repression—are not liberal virtues:

Paradoxically, in modern America, a group has an edge if it doesn’t buy into—or hasn’t yet bought into—mainstream, post-1960s, liberal American principles.

And yet of the eight minorities, only Mormons are uncool enough to admit they reject liberalism.

Mormons are interesting because they are the minority among minorities—an odd group out whose members publicly aspire to being ordinary Americans, as Americans used to define themselves before the 1960s.

Being an insular sect that pretends to be regular Americans, the Mormons are the only minority that publicly dissents from the reigning worldview that minorities are inherently morally superior to the majority.

But do Mormons actually benefit financially from their strong moral culture? Or does their notorious niceness, their lack of a chip on the shoulder, their shortage of hostility toward the majority keep them from fully cashing in?

It’s not hugely clear that Mormons are particularly high achieving these days. My guess is that Mormons are strong at building a decent community in the absolute middle of nowhere, but whether they are outstanding at navigating 21st-century America is a different question. For example, a Mormon blog finds four Mormons on the Forbes 400, plus a Hungarian immigrant with a Mormon wife, so that’s barely over 1% of the total.

Back in 1981, George Gilder noted that Mormon Utah, with its orderly, self-sufficient communities, was deservedly more prosperous than neighboring Nevada, which Gilder viewed as a society of predatory grifters out to fleece passersby. Yet a generation later, grifting Vegas-style seems to increasingly strike Americans as mainstream and respectable than whatever weird family-oriented non-diverse stuff is going on in Salt Lake City.

In 2012, the Mormons put forward their champion as the GOP nominee. His election, like JFK’s in 1960 for Catholics, would prove once and for all that Mormons were finally accepted.

But Mitt Romney was beaten solidly by Barack Obama’s Coalition of the Fringes. The defining feature of who voted for Obama in 2012 was identity distance from the traditional norm. The further you saw yourself from being a white Christian married parent, the likelier you were to rebel against the oppressive majority by voting for the president.

Granted, the elements of Obama’s majority of minorities don’t like each other, but a savvy political machine can goad them into hating white men who have their acts together even more.

At least for a while. But the trawling for oppressed minorities has reached the point of comedy with the recent outbreak of World War T, with the self-esteem of “transgendered” individuals becoming the new most important issue in world history.

But how many voters can still get the joke?

Until a half-century ago, it was assumed that the central trajectory of American history was toward greater majority rule. But the moral glamor of the 1960s civil-rights struggle by blacks has been hijacked by an endless string of ambitious groups claiming to be oppressed minorities, even if they make up, say, 35% of the Forbes 400.
But the present minoritarianism is not a principled position. Even when whites become a minority, as in California, there’s no relenting: instead, Hollywood simply switches into overdrive to recount the historic sins of the former majority.

Perhaps it’s time, for the good of your family, for you to study the secrets of successful minorities. Granted, they won’t make America a better country, but maybe it’s a little too late to worry about that anymore.


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