The front page of the Monday, June 3, 2013, Wall Street Journal featured the headline, “Risk-Averse Culture Infects U.S. Workers, Entrepreneurs.” The story explores the question of whether our collective fear of risk is stunting the U.S. economy. It also explores theories about why “we” have become so risk averse.
Of course whether “we” are risk-averse depends on how “we” is defined. If it is U.S. citizens, on the whole it is an accurate description. But if “we” includes immigrants, it is less so. The WSJ story nods to the fact that immigrants are less risk averse by noting that one reason for a diminution of entrepreneurship is our restrictive immigration laws.
Many are pushing the Senate bill’s emphasis on employment-related immigration over family-related immigration as a boon to entrepreneurship. That view is popular and probably where we are heading.
But we need to remember that entrepreneurs are not just tech start-ups (as important as those are). They are also the ethnic grocery stores, the name-the-country restaurants, and the many other “mom-and-pop” businesses that immigrants start and grow all over the country, including rural areas where few tech start-ups will ever locate. These businesses hire people and keep neighborhoods vital.
Not to over-generalize, but my observation after years of working with people immigrating is that the very act of immigration requires a certain amount of risk-taking and courage. A person willing to immigrate is much less likely to be afraid to take other risks.
Sound familiar? This is what built America – that pioneer spirit of which we are so proud.
Let’s hope that Congress does not lose sight of it when reforming our immigration laws.