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GP 12 April 2006: The Czeching Rangers

The Rangers Revive.  At last, the New York Rangers will make the playoffs.  Despite  some successes in 1996 and 1997, this team has been in a trance since 1993-94 when the marvelous Captain Mark Messier and his pals scooped up the Stanley Cup.  Since then, it’s been a puzzle and a mystery.  New York has the richest franchise in the business with a payroll that knows no bounds.  But money’s not the whole answer: the Minnesota Wild, for instance, has turned in some steller hockey with no bucks at all under the great Jacques Lemaire

For a while the moguls in the Ranger organization tried to prevail by bringing in over-the-hill stars with sumptuous egos, but that left them out of contention more often than not.  One suspects that this is a sign of a dysfunctional management at the highest ranks of the Ranger and Madison Square organization.  Now a Czech contingent led by Jaromir Jagr and complemented by Petr Prucha, Martin Straka, Michael Rozival, Marek Malik, Martin Ruckinsky, and Petr Sykora has put them in the playoffs.  What’s working here is not just the mass of talent but the close bonds between them that lead intuitively to winning on the ice.   The Czechs room together on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and often have a meal together at Koliba in Queens.  Of course, rookie goalie Henrik Lundquist of Sweden has been a vital defense component in this winning combination. 

The Rangers have now earned a 100 points plus for the season, something they have not done since 94 and a mark achieved only 6 times in their history.  Jagr’s team- record-breaking run of goals and personal points has been the catalyst for this performance, but all the rest have starred as well.  Immigrants, as has so often been the case in New York City history, have conquered the day. 

Jagr, incidentally, plans to return to Europe when his contract runs out in two years, after a long career in Pittsburgh, Washington, and New York professional hockey.  He is that new kind of immigrant—a global citizen who is at home in several places. 

The Global Citizen.  One private equity financier we know has a very eccentric, but very telling, test of when he has an entrepreneur on his hands who will really succeed bigtime.  He’ll ask a multilingual over-achiever from Greater China, or a Scotsman, or a South African, “How are things at home?”  If the chap looks at him quizzically and replies, “Which home?” he suspects he has a winner on his hands.  Global managers literally keep homes in several lands, and are at peace wherever they happen to have landed for this week, month, or year.  As business becomes a tightly integrated global matter, we are looking more and more for managers who can quickly shift gears and adjust to the tempo of Rio, Shanghai, or Dublin. 

Likewise, even our workforces are starting to adopt some global characteristics.  It’s not certain that those who come to work in the States—or go to school here—will stay forever, or stay anywhere forever.  The mobility that used to characterize the workforce within the United States now is increasingly and necessarily becoming a driver for workers everywhere.  Instead of moving around inside a country, they move around the world.  Even with national borders, we are becoming global citizens, constrained only by outmoded governments caught in an outdated, static model of how the world works. 

Aging Workforce.  For virtually all the developed nations this issue of a globalized workforce is an acute question, because we are running out of workers.  All the advanced countries are simply getting senile, and the populace is thinking of easing up.  There are less and less workers to keep the mills and the computers running, and more and more retirees drawing down benefits from the host of pension and retirement schemes offered by various societies.  Several countries, particularly in Europe, now have birthrates that have tumbled below replacement levels, though that has not happened in the U.S. due to immigrant populations.  But the U.S., and many other nations, need immigrant workers. The difference from ages past is that it is no longer certain the migrants should remain forever in their new land and that a fluid model where people move more than once may be the best for all concerned. 

The Wrong Model.  Our policymakers then are operating off the wrong model, in trying to shape immigrant legislation, in trying to think about our workforce, and in trying to think about how we move knowledge across borders to maintain our global competitiveness.  Neither open nor closed borders will keep our economic engine humming or guarantee our national security.  A great deal more imagination is required than was evident during the recent debate in Congress over immigration. 

We’re not up-to-date on immigration statistics, but, last we looked, seven nations accounted for well over half our new Americans—Mexico, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Korea, India, and the Dominican Republic.  Again, we don’t have current numbers, but our immigrant population as a percent of the total is not that high.  The foreign-born seem to represent 8 to 10 percent of our population—versus the 15 to 25 percent inflows of, say, Australia and Canada.  What’s arguable, we think, is not so much that our influx is too high, but that it is not diverse enough to bring in the skills and creative factors that will nourish our culture and economy. 

You only have to visit in the less cosmopolitan areas of the United States to see the transforming effect immigrants can have.  In one such area, you can now find Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Singapore, Greek, etc. restaurants that offer food that is both healthier and more aptly cooked than local fare.  They were not there 10 years ago.  Conspicuous amounts of the construction work are done by foreign nationals.  A German bakery offers the best bread—and a café that is a meeting point, a local UN for those from several nations.  In other words, this backwater is being globalized by stealth.  Today it is economically stagnant: globalization is its real hope. 

The Mexican Problem.  It’s evident that a great deal of the recent tempest in Congress was a confused effort to deal with the overflow population surging in from Mexico.  Since World War II, the growth rate of the Mexican economy has handsomely outstripped our own, but its population has tripled, always running ahead of that nation’s resources.  Its GNP would have to grow at a 8 or 9 percent rate to accommodate its soaring numbers.  That’s unlikely.  It cannot suitably employ its labor.  Fortunately, we need to add to our labor force.  But with all sorts of caveats. 

A legal brick wall will not work.  California’s Proposition 187 in 1994 did not stem the tide of illegal Mexican immigrants.  According to Gregory Rodriguez in “Homing Pigeons Have Landed” (registration may be required) it mainly provoked the establishment of a strong Latino voting force.  “In 1996, there was a 212% increase in the number of Mexican immigration naturalizations over the previous year.  In the late 1990s, the annual number of new Mexican-born U.S. citizens remained six times higher than the average between 1980 and 1993.  In a 10-year period, California alone gained no fewer than 1 million new Latino voters.”  Recent rallies around the country that have brought out hundreds of thousands looking for eased immigration rules suggest that shortsighted measures just won’t fly. 

We need to look at Mexico as a problem that can be turned into a vast opportunity—a thorn that is attached to a rose.  Spicelines, our sister site, has just paid a visit to Veracruz and environs, simultaneously a troubled but wonderful colonial city.  You will see there the same conspicuous affluence that decorates America—a plethora of laptops, cellphones, and Vuitton handbags that adorns an upwardly mobile middle class that can’t get enough.  But, as well, there’s a underclass that’s barely getting by. 

In other words, Mexico’s still a poorly governed not quite a democracy that can become a jewel, if its institutions can grow healthy enough to master its opportunities.  America in turn will be required to think of it as something else than a source for cheap labor.  More than a new immigration law, we need a substantive Mexican policy that helps that country fulfill its promise. 

Immigration: Help or Hindrance. In a survey on emigration, The Economist, back in October of 2002, claimed “On balance, host countries benefit only slightly from immigration, whereas immigrants benefit hugely.”  That sums up the problem in a different way for lawmakers.  How do we shape laws and direct our relations with nations in ways that make immigration more of a win-win for all hands?  As politicians, intellectuals, and thinktanks drift away from our open door policy on trade, immigration, and many other matters, it becomes the task of leadership to make global integration work, and not rely on the invisible hand of market forces to somehow make things go right. 

As American history has demonstrated, immigration can be and has been a bonanza, but the windfall is not guaranteed: a little commonsense and a lot of international collaboration must come into play.  Just as wrongheaded management by the Rangers organization so often snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, lockjaw governance in the United States and Mexico can turn a winning combination into a bickering morass. 

Back in the 1850s, America had a short-lived political movement informally called the Know-Nothings.  It had a anti-immigrant bias, though it took on different colorations in various part of the country.  But its inclinations weren’t right for America then, and they are not now. 

P.S.  A better-run Mexico might be in the catbird seat in a host of niches.  Its top quality Arabica coffee grown at high altitudes should fetch top dollar, but the country is only getting commodity (robusta) prices for its output.  Madagascar has displaced Mexico as the top producer of vanilla beans, but the Veracruz region produces the top vanilla.  Branding would earn its farmers some extra margin. 

P.P.S.  To learn more about Czechoslovakia’s gift to the Rangers, read “Hockey; Prague on the Hudson,” New York Times, November 3, 2005 and “The Rangers’ Color Scheme Translates Easily into Czech,” New York Times, February 10, 2006.

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