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James Hong

Friday, September 04, 2009

What will the US be like for Asian Americans over the next 50 years?

A country's economy lies in shambles. Debt owed based on a decade or two of bad behavior have crippled the country. Unemployment reaches extreme levels never seen before, hyperinflation starts to rear its ugly head based on the government's decision to print more and more money.

Is this a description of where the US is headed? Quite possibly.

But it's also a description of the Weimar Republic, also known as Germany from post World War I through the ascension of Adolph Hitler (who unofficially but effectively ended the Weimar Republic and began the Third Reich via the passage of the Enabling Act which rendered their parliament impotent)

A nation depressed, under debt loads inconceivable of ever being paid off... and who could the Germans blame but themselves?

Aha, but that's the problem. It's almost human nature not to ever blame yourself. It's much easier to blame others, especially when your peers are doing it too. A psychological scapegoat is needed, the perfect defense mechanism. It was this energy of the people that Hitler captured so adeptly that led to his spectacular rise in power.

Anyone who has studied cults understands this, because it's the same thing. Take people who are downtrodden, likely with low self esteem. Put them together in a group. Tell them it's not their fault, it's the god damn [insert common enemy].

In the case of the Nazis, the common enemies were the Allied nations who imposed the Treaty of Versailles upon the Weimar Republic (basically made them pay back for all the damages from World War I ), and of course mixed in with that was a healthy dose of anti-semitism.

So let's say the US economy does collapse further. (Some people believe we have recovered. Others believe the current recovery is not real and point to the fact that the stock market recovered by similar amounts during the Great Depression just before the second wave hit. In either case, for this scenario, let's presume that things do get worse.) There are a lot of arguments being made that inflation, and perhaps hyperinflation, are down the road for the US. Regardless of the inflation/deflation argument, it is hard to argue with the fact that unemployment is at an extremely high level right now, and it is still increasing.

This leads to a POTENTIAL scenario that the general mood in the US will match that of Weimar Republic citizens. At that point, all that is needed is an extremist leader who is willing to point fingers at an appropriate common enemy...

... and who is the most likely common enemy going to be? Take a look at this video:

This video is not about Asians, but rather about the United States Debt Crisis... but with the mention of China in the pledge and the focus on China when the person says the US owes money to "Foreign Governments", it's not hard to figure out who the best common enemy is going to be. Of course, it's going to be the people we owe money to, and more importantly, to the people who are doing well in the face of us not doing well.

Of course, the Chinese can hardly be blamed for our bad behavior right? Even if that's true, at some point in time the Chinese have made it fairly clear that they would like to see the US Dollar not be the world reserve currency anymore. They are already shifting their reserves away from the dollar (in relative terms, not yet absolute). Some day, they may drop what they themselves refer to as "the nuclear option" by basically abandoning the US Dollar completely in a move to make the Chinese RenMinBi the world's reserve currency.

Keep in mind, I am not saying that this scenario is likely, but it is definitely a possibility... and that action would only make it easier to blame the Chinese.

I am reminded of the stories I read in the late 80's and early 90's about anti-Japanese violence in the midwest. That was when American jobs in the car factories really started getting lost to the Japanese, and movies like Gung Ho started coming out. As an Asian American growing up in those days, the attempts to ridicule and emasculate asian males were quite obvious. Goodbye Bruce Lee, Hello Long Duk Dong.

If this scenario plays out, there's a chance that the United States is not going to feel like a very welcoming melting pot for Asians. In a country that has a history of racism, and policies that were entirely race based (Japanese Internment Camps, harsh anti-immigration laws targeting asians, slavery), it's not hard to imagine a bleak future for my son. The Japanese internment camps were less than 70 years ago. And I was shocked to hear a neighbor of mine make a subtly racist comment a few days ago, which led me to the realization that she was probably 20 years old in the 1960's.. which means she grew up in a country fraught with racist attitudes. Somehow, living in San Francisco had made me somewhat oblivious to racism. It was saddening to have that veil lifted.

A massive amount of value and jobs created by companies founded or cofounded by immigrants in this country (for example: Google, Paypal, Intel, eBay, Nvidia, and Yahoo.. and before you start saying it is a recent tech phenomenon, let me also mention Dupont, Proctor and Gamble, Pfizer, and US Steel). Making things hard for immigrants in the US may lead to a negative feedback loop where fewer immigrants leads to less innovation and fewer jobs created, which in turn increases racism, which leads to fewer immigrants, [REPEAT].

So as I prepare to go on my year long trip around the world, the way in which I view my trip has taken an added dimension. Unfortunately, I'm no longer just going abroad to see what life is like in other countries, I'm also contingency planning an escape route.

I was born in this country and love being here, so I really hope this scenario is wrong.. I think the odds of things playing out this way are low, but it is clearly not impossible.


Blogger Dennis Yu said...

Wow! James, that is a hilarious commercial. More seriously, I think that difficult economic times will breed greater entrepreneurship.

As for racism, companies that discriminate are at a hiring disadvantage. The more difficult the times, the more severe the penalty for not being efficient in every way possible.

Have fun on your trip around the world!


2:11 AM  
Blogger George Zachary said...

James you make a lot of sense here. And I do agree with you.

One new wrinkle is that the internet will lead to an entirely different propogation of how such a phenomena could play out.

Rapidly emerging fragmented groups could emerge that look more like tribe behavior than large scale group. Phenomena. More like Al Qaeda than Hitler.

On your economic view, I am getting more convinced that we are entering a depression driven by deflationary decay. Look back at the headlines from the 30's and you can see very similar media and public reactions to the initial recovery in the early 30s.


11:26 AM  
Blogger Mike Belshe said...

To fix this, we should make a law that you can't marry or have children with someone of your own race. That way you'd only have on more generation to worry about.

By the way, do you think it's easier to be a white kid growing up in China, or an asian kid growing up here? I honestly have no idea. I bet it's pretty similar, with a slight advantage to America's melting pot. But that is just a guess.

8:26 PM  
Blogger fattik said...

Hiya, stopping by via Shilman's recommendation --

Thanks for the interesting post. I am a Korean native married to Michael. I recently raised the issue of re-evaluating the US as our home base for a different reason, that the US costs us a lot in taxation while not offering the social security and the cultural density we want.

The trigger that made me even think about it was my recent trip to Seoul whose relative vitality made SF and Boston look like a graveyard.

While my concern primarily translates to "what are we missing out," going deeper, the question becomes "will we be valued and respected considering what we bring to the table; will we enjoy being here?"

At the moment, we don't know of a good alternative to the US (specifically the Bay Area). But we'd be interested in hearing what you find out from your world trip.

I am also curious if you considered experiencing Central/South American cities for your trip.

Thanks for the post, and have a fun time!


12:01 PM  
Blogger james said...


I think it's probably better to be a white kid growing up in China than an Asian kid here, particularly if the Asian kid doesn't live on the coasts.

But not because Chinese are less racist. They are just as bad if not worse.. It's just that they don't see white people as low on the totem pole. Being a Southeast Asian or an African in China is probably pretty bad.

1:06 PM  
Anonymous Chris Witmer said...

Without intending ANY justification for Hitler, it should be noted that there was more of a basis for anti-Semitism in Weimar Germany than there is for anti-Chinese sentiment in today's America, due to the Jewish banking connection. In fact, I would be more worried about a resurgence of virulent anti-Semitism today than virulent anti-Chinese sentiment in America today. Although one can never say for sure, since (then and now) most such enemies are manufactured at the convenience of the government. If the government needs a whipping boy, it will invent one if necessary. However the age of the Internet makes it harder to demonize groups without cause because the grip of the mass media has been largely broken as a means of leading public opinion. It still has power but nothing like back in the half century from the 1930s through the 1980s.

3:31 AM  
Anonymous bill said...

I share you view on this. With two young little ones, I too have been thinking about where we should live. The government has been manipulating the market. Our economy is far from recovery. It's almost inevitable that there will be a major backlash against Asians, fueled by the economic warfare between China and the US.

But, the problem is where to live. :-) The quality of life in China, Hong Kong or Taiwan are not as good as the US (e.g. air pollution, public infrastructure, etc.) Singapore might be a good compromise. I have also had friends who get condos in Panama, which seems to be a good place to escape for retirement (not sure about raising a kid. :-))

Look forward to learn what you find out from your world tour 2009. :-)

10:22 AM  
Blogger Gemfinder said...

True, SF and environs are special.

After the GSB and some years in Silicon Valley, I returned my mixed-race family to a surprisingly self-segregated Orange County. Sad decay.

Yet I'm optimistic. Consider the critical differences between the US and Weimar Germany.

1. America is explicitly an ideology, not an ethnicity.

2. Equal rights are defended in law for over 140 years, expanded in law for nearly 50 years, with nearly monotonic improvement in enforcement over that time (outrageous exceptions like Manzanar stipulated).

3. American racism is largely generational, with most offenders over age 55.

Germany was quite different. It was overwhelmingly Germanic. Extremists could easily manipulate desperate citizens by exploiting an existing feeling that Germany was traditionally defined by Germanic blood. This was easy to exploit because it was historically true. Contrast this with America, which will soon celebrate the semicentennial of the Civil Rights Act.

Two risks: first, our protections mainly apply to citizens, and second, the country is much more homogeneous in religion than in ethnicity.

A more likely American Dark Age might involve anti-immigrant or anti-Muslim sentiment driven by extremist churches. I think those are legitimate risks. I'm much less worried for ethnic minorities. America is getting over that, it seems.

3:03 PM  
Anonymous Ian Mayman said...

This is the best blog posts I have seen in a long time.

I really hope James listens to Adam Curry who has been talking about this for years and really knows what he's talking about.

I am shocked to think anyone can see humor in that video however because it is a realistic possibility.

1:36 AM  
Blogger james said...

Haven't talked to Adam in like 7 years, so not up to speed on what he is thinking aobut this kind of stuff.

1:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>> A more likely American Dark Age might involve anti-immigrant or anti-Muslim sentiment driven by extremist churches. <<

You heard it here first. Argh.

9:57 AM  

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