How Immigration Patterns From 100 Years Ago Help Explain Different Policies

My article about states and political culture appeared in Pacific Standard last Friday.

Almost all Americans believe that individuals have certain natural rights, including the right to self-defense and the right to own property. We believe that the purpose of government is to serve the citizens, and we believe that citizens have a right to replace a government when it ceases to protect those citizens. Thomas Jefferson borrowed those concepts from English and Scottish Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke and John Hume and then neatly summarized them in the Declaration of Independence. Now, they are engrained in the American imagination.

At the same time, you’ll see a lot of variation in the details of American political life during that drive. You can buy pot for recreational use in Colorado—but make sure to smoke it all before you enter Utah. If you are gay and married in New Jersey, that marriage will all but disappear as you cross the border into Pennsylvania, and then suddenly re-appear as you drive into California. In Texas, carrying a concealed weapon is easier than ever before, but you should lock up your weapon at home while visiting New York City.  Apparently, Americans interpret those broad Jeffersonian concepts of government, rights, and freedom in different ways, largely depending on where they live.

It’s a really geeky topic that I tried to rework for an Internet audience. Not going viral. Note to self… The next topic has to be “ten surprising facts about Food Stamps.”


3 thoughts on “How Immigration Patterns From 100 Years Ago Help Explain Different Policies

  1. Fun description, but what I got was the 3 different “there are two kinds of people” categories described, and I kind of feel like you did that on purpose. The premise, that people who settled an area had significant influence on the development of the variations on the american theme in those areas seems a plausible hypothesis. But, the categories and the data behind them (how much variability and consistency was there in the settlement in the first place, how significant an influence did subsequent waves of immigration have, . . . .) don’t seem to have the strength of data behind them (though maybe there’s more, but often there isn’t, because people are doing marketing style analysis).

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