A tale of two pueblos

San Agustin Oapan and Ameyaltepec both lie in the Mexican state of Guerrero.  They share a language (Nahuatl), a common agricultural heritage, and essentially the same gene pool.  Ameyaltepec split off from Oapan in the late eighteenth century; since then interbreeding has continued.  The villages are close together; "forty minutes by foot, or an hour by car," a villager once told me.  Oapan is roughly twice as large: 3000 inhabitants to about 1500 in Ameyaltepec.  Both feel remote.

San Agustin is filthy.  The streets are full of pig **** and drunks.  Ameyaltepec is not quite Geneva, but it is clean.  The pigs are kept off the street.  Drunks are nowhere to be found.  Homes are much better maintained.  Families are at least twice as rich as in Oapan.  Residents of Ameyaltepec work together to construct trade networks (for artisan works) spanning the entire range of Mexico.  They were "colonizing" Cancun while Oapan residents were still cultivating the nearby Cuernavaca.  Ameyaltepec is much more interested in charismatic religion.  Oapan residents criticize them for "saving all their money."  Town politics are much more fractious in Oapan.

I don’t know why the two pueblos are so different.  I do know that many people see some of the worst features of Oapan in Mexican migration to America.  Much of this is rooted in fact; problems with gangs for instance are very real.

When I look at Ameyaltepec I see contingency, culture, and incentives at work.  I don’t see why most parts of the United States cannot manage a comparable success with regard to Mexican-Americans.  Obviously we have greater institutional capabilities. 

In Mexico there are many Ameyaltepecs, albeit with differing details.  There are also large parts of Mexico with virtually zero crime. 

Latino immigration has gone better in Virginia than almost any other part of the United States.  I again see variation and contingency, of course without guarantees of success.

The tale of two pueblos is one reason – but not the only one — why I think large numbers of Mexican-Americans in the United States will work out well.

Comments are open but please make your points without attacking the other commentators.


I don't know why the two pueblos are so different.

Obviously the difference is the most interesting part! If anyone knows what is the matter here, please inform the rest of us!

I travel to Mexico twice a year for pleasure and speak Spanish well. I love Mexico and Mexican food and people. I share my property with some Mexicans at the moment and have friends in Nayarit, Morelia, and Tampico.

But I believe the continued influx of Mexicans into the United States is weakening to both countries. It allows Mexicans to avoid dealing with structural weaknesses in their own government and economic system and for American corporations to keep a lid on wages, thus keeping wages low for the most vulnerable segment of society, including lower class blacks and immigrants.

Economic arguments aside, massive immigration is putting a huge burden on local schools, roads, and contributing to sprawl. At the very least, we need a breather to allow assimilation and an upgrading of our infrastructure.

Clark, I'd agree people may have more of a wish to leave San Agustin than Ameyaltepec, but it takes more than wishes to leave for the US:

Knowledge--in a poorer place with weaker external networks, hearing about opportunities is less likely. "My friend's cousin makes US$6/hr blowing leaves. He'll set you up, just get to his apartment in Houston on Bissonnet between Renwick and Chimney Rock." In addition, in a poorer place someone is less likely to know where Houston is or have the knowledge and connections to get there.

Money--I've heard coyotes charge around US$1500 to smuggle someone into the US. People in the wealthier village are more likely to have that money or borrow it from family or firends. I don't know how much fake IDs cost but I'm sure they aren't cheap either.

Expectation--if you've grown up poor, in a town full of drunks and pigsh!t, you're less likely to have an expectation that life can be better than if you grew up in a town where hard work is better rewarded.

Us vs. Them--"here in San Agustin we're not like them. They hoard their money and they disrepect the Virgin and the saints with their charismatic religion. Let them sell trinkets to tourists in Cancun or scrub floors in Phoenix. We don't do that."

How were the people who founded the newer pueblo different from the ones who stayed?

What about institutions of self government? The names alone suggest one town would be influnced by Catholic forms of social organization and the other by indigenous forms. Subsequent to the naming of the towns, Protestant evangelism could have made inroads in one of the towns but not the other. Those religious/cultural backdrops would influence institutional development over time and the institutions would sustain solutions to collective action problems (or not). Having lived in Latin America and having studied instituional heterogeneity in American Indian tribes, that's where I'd want to look first.

In The Reformation of Machismo, a study of evangelical protestantism in Colombia, the author found that in traditional Catholic families, the man of the house might send upwards of 20% of the family income on alcohol. The evangelicals, generally prohibited from consuming alcohol (and discouraged from substituting Coca-Cola) would have that much more money available to spend. There were also differences in family harmony, as the evangelical men were more likely to consult with their wives before making big decisions. Fundamentalist protestantism advances feminism in parts of Latin America.

Thanks, very interesting.

Why is the population of the bad village twice as great? Do the people with the dysfunctional culture have more children than the people with the functional culture? Would that have implications for American immigration policy?

My suggestion is simple population size. The various traditional ways of managing interaction may only work up to a certain population size. Since Mexico's overarching institutions are so poorly functioning, once a pueblo gets too large for traditional structures to manage, the badly functioning general institutions are unable to take over the burden of managing interactions.

I wonder how much remittance money from the US the two towns get? I remember reading about a program involving Pemex, the Mexican cement company, where Mexicans working in the US can pay money into a fund that will be used by Pemex back in Mexico to build additions onto the remitters' families' homes. Such programs could make a substantial difference in the look of two towns. But the basic problem is that, if the remittance factor is critical, Mexico as a culture and society just isn't working very well. Without the US, all the villages in Mexico would look like San Agustin Oapan.

For a glimpse of America's future under its new mestizo/indio majority, I'd ignore both pueblos. Remember all those illegal alien demonstrators carrying portraits of Che Guevara last month? Take a look at what's going on in Bolivia this month, and make the appropriate comparisons with Zimbabwe. If you own anything that a campesino might covet, the potential consequences of mass immigration ought to frighten you.

It has been my observation that advocacy of Open Borders is essentially a matter of faith. In other words, it is better understood as a religion rather than a matter of rational debate. For better or worse, the microcosm of San Agustin Oapan and Ameyaltepec provides yet another example of this phenomena.

A trivial analysis shows that 2/3rds of the target population lives in the "bad" town of San Agustin Oapan which Tyler Cowen describes as "filthy". Now if 2/3rds of the immigrants from Mexico follow the Oapan model, exactly what sort of country do we end up with? A better one? Or a distinctly worse one?

Now of course, we can hope that only immigrants from (or like) Ameyaltepec come to the USA. However, no evidence is presented that this is the case. Nor is any evidence provided that Oapan type immigrants will somehow morph into the Ameyaltepec model on arrival in our country.

Instead what we get is a statement of hope, or better stated faith that "most parts of the United States cannot manage a comparable success with regard to Mexican-Americans". Somehow we are expected to believe that Mexican immigrants will follow the Ameyaltepec pattern in spite of considerable evidence that they don't.

Given that Cowen/Tabarrok go to pains to claim that mass migration is not reducing the wages for American workers, the labor demand curve must be essentially flat. This means that we are gambling on Ameyaltepec outcomes, for a set of economic transactions that are clearly unprofitable given the negative externalities associated with unskilled immigration (see prior posts on this subject).

Does this make sense? If so why? Why would anyone contemplate economic transactions whose unprofitably ranges from great (Oapan) to merely large (Ameyaltepec).

As for immigration in Virginia, I offer two points. First, a recurring theme worldwide is that immigration looks better in the short term than over time. Europe thought it had a great deal with Arab/Muslim immigrants thirty years ago. They were the "useful cheap labor" of the time. Second, Virginia is already tragically burdened by the immigrants it has. Check out "Lawyer Admits Client's Guilt in MS-13 Killing of Pregnant Teen" and "The Most Dangerous Gang in America" for the pleasures of Open Borders in Virginia. Some American states have very low violent crime rates. Notably they are mostly homogeneous.

As for the future, check out the NAEP data for 8th graders in Virginia.

Given the evidence, let me suggest that support for Open Borders and mass migration is better understood as a matter of faith/religion than a careful examination of the factual evidence in favor or against.

But also note that many other waves of immigrants historically brought big social problems, including crime, drunkenness, bad sanitation, bad work habits, etc., with them to the US. We managed pretty well with most of those waves of immigrants.

That's not to say we will manage well with another wave, or that we can bring as many people in as we like without hurting anything--those are separate, and ultimately empirical, questions. But simply pointing to social pathology, low test scores, etc., in an immigrant population isn't all that strong evidence that that population won't do well, since we have seen instances before where the same kind of problems resolved themselves over time.

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