My take on the Statue of Liberty

That is my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit:

Cleveland described the statue as “keeping watch and ward before the gates of America.” This is not exactly warm rhetoric — the plaque with Emma Lazarus’s poem welcoming the “huddled masses” to America was not added until 1903 — and although Cleveland supported free trade, he opposed Chinese immigrants, as he regarded them as unable to assimilate. The statue was never about fully open borders.

We Americans tend to think of the statue as reflecting the glories of our national ideals, but that’s not necessarily the case. In her forthcoming “Sentinel: The Unlikely Origins of the Statue of Liberty,” Francesca Lidia Viano points out that you might take the torch and aggressive stance of the statue as a warning to people to go back home, or as a declaration that the U.S. itself needs more light. Her valuable book (on which I am relying for much of the history in this column) also notes that the statue represented an expected “spiritual initiation to liberty” before crossing the border, and was seen as such at the time. The ancient Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians all regarded border crossing as an important ritual act, associated with “great spiritual changes.” The Statue of Liberty promoted a transformational and indeed partially mystical interpretation of assimilation.

There are other interpretations of the statue’s purported message based on the details of its design. You plausibly can read the statue as a Masonic icon, a homage to the family coat of arms of Bartholdi the sculptor, a hearkening back to the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, a celebration of Orientalism, Orpheus and Samothracian civilization, and as a monument to the dead of the Revolutionary War. The statue also contained design clues celebrating the now-French city of Colmar (home base for Bartholdi), and threatening revenge against the Germans for taking Colmar in 1871 from the Franco-Prussian war.

And that does not even get us to the main argument.  In the meantime, I would stress what a wonderful and splendid book is Francesca Lidia Viano’s Sentinel: The Unlikely Origins of the Statue of Liberty.  It is entirely gripping, and one of the must-read non-fiction books of this year.


And then they (the open borders people) came for the (free-ish market) economists...

If lady Liberty could speak she would say smash the welfare state and open the borders.

Dr. Friedman, "You can have open borders. You can have the welfare state. But, not both."

Evidently, few here are conversant with reality, including the metaphor of the Trojan Horse." The French gave America the Statue of Liberty. Coincidence?

Well, considering that without the help of the French fleet the U.S. would likely not exist, it does not seem related to a Trojan Horse.

The British might disagree, of course, when talking about French perfidy in ripping British North America apart and creating a nation that no longer sings God Save the Queen, except in bastardized form.

"You can have open borders. You can have the welfare state. But, not both."

Aside from being contradicted by facts, this would make a wonderful theory.

Please share those facts that contradict his statement.

Immigrants either drive down the cost of labor by working hard and cheap, or they loaf around on welfare.

The US still had open borders long after it had a welfare state.

Migration in North America had few restrictions, even after the 1965 immigration act placed the first quotas on the number of new citizens naturalized per year from Canada, Mexico, Cuba, at al. Canadians came into the US to work for seasons with little if any hassle, even after restrictions were placed on brown people coming to work for seasons as they had done for at least a century.

Look at the 2010 census. The US is approaching record immigration levels. Levels not seen by any living US citizens. At the same time at the government expenditures in peacetime are at record levels and growing.

Actually current levels of immigration are about as much to slightly less than the period of 1860-1930.

I will have to check out this book. It’s entirely possible the origins of the new colossus might be varied.

But the plaque itself... the message is crystal clear:

...her name, MOTHER OF EXILES.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! cries she With silent lips.

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

It’s not very surprising that this was added in 1907 given the 50 years preceding it.

Didn’t turn out so bad either.

Curious to know how many readers here have ancestors that come through Ellis island alone? Oh you aren’t sick... come on through.

Clearly we need borders (if eve just for the sake of tranquility and compromise) but the period between 1850 and 1940 was something... and it was a huge benefit to us all.

The period from the end of the Civil War until WW I was the previous peak for immigrants. Starting in 1925 laws were passed to limit immigration.

Given population loss from the Civil War, vast open space, limited government social programs, new immigrants didn’t cost much and easily fit into a period of rapid industrialization.

The growth rate of immigrants is actually higher now. Plus about 25% of current immigrants are illegal. The burden of immigrants on the social safety net is multiples higher. The competition with native workers is greater. The type of jobs available and the skill set of new immigrants are often mismatched.

Mexican farm workers were heavily male, tended to come and go with seasons, on net they were a win win. Top earners could earn over $800 a week.

There is always a reason to be a nativist member of the know nothing party isn’t there. But but but... this time it’s different.

Facts are tricky things for some. Students frequently fall back on prejudices rather than analyze facts.

I think immigrants are a good thing. But the number of unskilled or low skilled immigrants is greater than our economy can absorb, especially given the cost of modern social programs.

The raw number of immigrants is at a level that we have never seen. The only previous time we saw such a percentage of our population change, we were at a very different stage of development. Comparisons between then and now is I regret to inform you, necessary for informed debate.

Yes, there is no possible way to have a market based solution to worker permits or visas without granting total access to modern social programs. It’s just much to complicated.

It’s much easier to build a 6,000 mile fortress along all the borders and end smuggling by brute force.

Please have some understanding of history.

What happened in the 1870 to 1918? Surplus labor, low wages, awful working conditions. Lead to violent often deadly labor conflicts. High urban crime rates. Very real challenges to capitalism. Review the draconian measures President Wilson took against dissent.

Even with a more favorable environment a huge flood of immigrants caused social upheaval. It was not some ideal period.

If you think you can restrict social programs to the new immigrants you are amazingly ignorant.

Corruption in social programs is currently a problem. How you think it is cheaper to police millions of immigrants with constitutional rights and politicians who gain from catering to them ( look at current sanctuary cities) will be cheaper than border enforcement is beyond wishful thinking, it is idiocy.

What happened between the civil war and 1910?

Population tripled. The US went from a second world country to an emerging super power.

Ahh the horror.

Consider the immigration act of 1917. The first bill aimed at restricting immigrants.

The law imposed literacy tests, created new categories of undersireables and banned immigration from Asia.

Why? Because groups like the immigration restriction league worried that non Anglo-Saxons were racially inferior, threatened high wage scales and the American way of life.

Wilson actually vetoed the bill but was over ridden.

This is exactly the same kind of nonsense being spouted off today.

People are always scared of immigrants. Same as it always was.

Yes mass migration lead to a worker’s paradise. In a country with vast untapped natural resources, a depleted population from it’ bloodiest war, with Jim Crow that suppressed regional work forces, it was a peaceful period without strife or difficulties, let’s all turn the clack back and recreate that idyllic world.

Only this time it will all be easier because our social welfare system will be able to find a magic money machine that will make every man a rich man.

And if you doubt the silly students, well you are just an evil person who doesn’t understand magic

Btw when did the US become a leader of the world? After the previous leaders destroyed themselves and the upstart was able cheaply transfer their technologies into new venues.

For someone arguing one should know their history, you certainly do not.

Population grew at over 2% throughout the civil war. Since 1910, there has only been one year with growth rates that high.

Also, again, it is not hard limit access to social services or require one to buy into it in order to access it; just like insurance.

Also, who knew the innovations developed in a freeish market economy with broad inclusive institutions, rule of law, an protection of private property rights were just cheaply imported foreign technology?

You are not evil and it’s not that you don’t understand magic... it’s just that you sound exactly like the nativists of yonder. They were wrong then and they are now.

The greatest asset to a nation is human capital. Let it flow this way rather than elsewhere.

Race, skin color, language, class... all irrelevant. Immigration is a boon to our society. Always has been, always will be.

Scour would history looking for counter examples if u must, they are few and far in between for a reason. Let the people come. Let’s have a secure border, let’s push for rules and codes of conduct... but let the people come.

J David Hackett estimates that 10% of the male populati of the United States died in the Civil War from combat, injuries, or disease. With a negative impact for two generations.

1861-1865 801,723 immigrants came to America.
The current best estimate is that 750,000 died in the civil war.

The 1870 census included blacks for the first time.

Thomas Edison and his workshop found fresh uses for electricity but most of the foundational work had been done in Europe.

First successful gas engine was in France. Rudolf Diesel of Germany devised the diesel engine. Daimler and Benz of Germany created the first prototype automobile. Bessemer of England made the processing of steel in bulk possible. Nasmyth of England created the steam hammer. England invented the electric telegraph. Europe was ahead of the United States in most fields, the United States standardized and expanded the application.

The period after the Civil War allowed immigrants to be successful and America to grow. I have said that over and over.

Some studies have shown that it may have harmed southern blacks and whites. That their earnings saw substantial gains after immigration cutoffs in the 1920's (See the Great Black Migration 1920-60). Poor southern whites also migrated. Absent immigrants from 1880 to 1920 some of those new industrial jobs could have moved and helped rebuild the South.

In any case, the current flood of unskilled immigrants are in such large numbers that they will overwhelm social services, push down wages for the unskilled, and our more than our economy can absorb. We need to reduce the number of unskilled immigrants and control the borders.

"The US still had open borders long after it had a welfare state."

Canada had a similar welfare state then so that wasn't the reason they moved to the US.

Look, there are two key elements to the open borders/welfare state issue. One, it's not the existence of a welfare state in itself, but the difference in welfare between a state people leave and the state they travel to. Two, cheap and ubiquitous transportation is quickly erasing the natural barrier between these two states.

Bangladeshis are arriving in Europe via Libya. Nigerians are walking across the US border into Canada. Sweden's population is growing 1.5 to 2% a year as migrants from Asia and Africa not only reach European shores, but then travel all the way across the European continent.

If the world adopted open borders, there would be no end to mass migration until living conditions between all states reached an equilibrium that removed the incentive to travel. And that either happens when poor countries get wealthier, rich countries get poorer, or a combination of both.

'The statue was never about fully open borders.'

The statue was a gift from the people of France to the people of the U.S., and had nothing to do with immigration at all. Instead, it was about the promise of freedom, which both the French and the U.S. consider themselves to be upholders of.

'points out that you might take the torch and aggressive stance of the statue as a warning to people to go back home, or as a declaration that the U.S. itself needs more light'

Makes one wonder what the opinion concerning the female figure on the flag and seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia would be. The Statue of Liberty cannot hold a candle to that figure's aggressive stance, or the obvious declaration that the U.S. needs less tyranny.

'The Statue of Liberty promoted a transformational and indeed partially mystical interpretation of assimilation.'

Which arose several decades after its initial placement, and mainly due to the fact that Ellis Island became the place where most immigrants (not visitors) debarked. Particularly as in 1886, the U.S. still had fully open borders for all European settlers, and nobody cared much about assimilating settlers willing to farm on the High Plains.

'You plausibly can read the statue'

Prof. Cowen goes po-mo - not a very nice look, to be honest.

>The statue was a gift from the people of France to the people of the U.S., and had nothing to do with immigration at all.

Thank you.

This is all there is to say on the matter, and all there has ever been.

Tyler, I'm sure you understand the statue of liberty is much bigger than the idea of immigration. I'm not sure why your column doesn't address the larger idea of the status in regards to a symbol of the intersection of liberty and the US. The statue is not just about welcoming immigrants but a direct threat to monarchy and big government. The feminine representation may indicate this threat is not one of brute force but of grace. Bartholdi believed that the US (or the motivational ideas behind the formation of the US) was a substantial threat to the old power structure. Lazarus’s poem links the substance of that threat to the rights of the unwashed "huddled" masses. Our open borders represent a larger threat than a closed border. These ideas seem obvious and yet not explored by your article in Bloomberg.

'but a direct threat to monarchy and big government'


'The feminine representation may indicate this threat is not one of brute force but of grace.'

Or simply the statue represents a figure proudly representing liberty. Though it true that some people interpret pride in liberty as an 'aggressive stance.'

'a substantial threat to the old power structure'

Or even newer ones - both the Nazis and the Soviets were defeated by a nation that proudly upheld liberty as a human ideal.

Actually the Statue started out as a proposed gift to the Khedive of Egypt and it was supposed to represent Western science and culture entering Africa and bringing Enlightenment. That is, it was a thoroughly colonial, even Imperialist, representation of the work colonialism was doing to bring progress to Darkest Africa.

Not celebrating bringing Darkest Africa to the West.

I'm sure you have a link to share concerning your fantasy.

Because this is what the hard left wikipedia says - 'Bartholdi was in any event busy with other possible projects; in the late 1860s, he approached Isma'il Pasha, Khedive of Egypt, with a plan to build Progress or Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia, a huge lighthouse in the form of an ancient Egyptian female fellah or peasant, robed and holding a torch aloft, at the northern entrance to the Suez Canal in Port Said. Sketches and models were made of the proposed work, though it was never erected. There was a classical precedent for the Suez proposal, the Colossus of Rhodes: an ancient bronze statue of the Greek god of the sun, Helios. This statue is believed to have been over 100 feet (30 m) high, and it similarly stood at a harbor entrance and carried a light to guide ships.'

But it would certainly make the idea that Statue of Liberty started out associated with immigration at least a tiny bit more plausible if Liberty was actually represented as an Egyptian peasant girl.

Of course, the idea that different projects were intended for different purposes is unlikely to have crossed your mind. You are aware of which nation takes credit for the creation of the Suez Canal, right?

The Statue of Liberty was funded by a group of French Liberals led by Édouard de la Boulaye (liberal in the original sense of libertarians, not the American meaning of leftist) in an implicit rebuke of the populist-authoritarian regime of Napoleon III

And if the Statue of Liberty had been placed in Boston Harbor, no one would have made much of an association with immigration, that association mainly being due to the statue's proximity to Ellis Island.

Isn't the Lazarus poem what makes the Statue about immigration? I suppose the Ellis Island proximity helps.

This has to be an order of magnitude more irrelevant than 'what did Keynes really say' debates. It's the new low watermark of narrative relevance. Should have gotten Dan Brown to write this.

Not one of the most inspired Tyler's columns for Bloomberg. However the link on China in the next post is excellent. Thanks for sharing.

There are broken chains at the Statue of Liberty's feet and so, given the time of her construction, I assumed she was a large black woman.

I wouldn’t say she’s necessarily black, but the statue is clearly a celebration of the Union’s victory and of abolition, and was unrelated to immigration.

Sorry, that link should’ve been to

Cowen's essay and Balding's essay are saying the same thing, just from different perspectives (one from America, the other from China). My observation is that both essays mark a shift in their thinking. Disruption is well and good, but order and stability are essential for individual liberty; and order and stability are not possible in the absence of respect for law/rules/norms.

Thomas Bailey Aldrich, "Unguarded Gates," (1895)

WIDE open and unguarded stand our gates,
Named of the four winds, North, South, East, and West;
Portals that lead to an enchanted land
Of cities, forests, fields of living gold,
Vast prairies, lordly summits touched with snow,
Majestic rivers sweeping proudly past
The Arab’s date-palm and the Norseman’s pine—
A realm wherein are fruits of every zone,
Airs of all climes, for, lo! throughout the year
The red rose blossoms somewhere—a rich land,
A later Eden planted in the wilds,
With not an inch of earth within its bound
But if a slave’s foot press it sets him free.
Here, it is written, Toil shall have its wage,
And Honor honor, and the humblest man
Stand level with the highest in the law.
Of such a land have men in dungeons dreamed,
And with the vision brightening in their eyes
Gone smiling to the fagot and the sword.

Wide open and unguarded stand our gates,
And through them presses a wild motley throng—
Men from the Volga and the Tartar steppes,
Featureless figures of the Hoang-Ho,
Malayan, Scythian, Teuton, Kelt, and Slav,
Flying the Old World’s poverty and scorn;
These bringing with them unknown gods and rites,—
Those, tiger passions, here to stretch their claws.
In street and alley what strange tongues are loud,
Accents of menace alien to our air,
Voices that once the Tower of Babel knew!

O Liberty, white Goddess! is it well
To leave the gates unguarded? On thy breast
Fold Sorrow’s children, soothe the hurts of fate,
Lift the down-trodden, but with hand of steel
Stay those who to thy sacred portals come
To waste the gifts of freedom. Have a care
Lest from thy brow the clustered stars be torn
And trampled in the dust. For so of old
The thronging Goth and Vandal trampled Rome,
And where the temples of the Cæsars stood
The lean wolf unmolested made her lair.

Nor did she stand with bared breast inviting the world to feed at her teat. She does not stand blindfolded allowing all to slip past her. Her flame illuminating the way also serves as a tool to see and judge those who seek admission. She holds a contract in her hand that proclaims our values and a need for assimilation to those values. She does not stand with open arms inviting all. And she must definitely does not stand with dress hiked offering unfettered access

Given immigrants work harder than native born Americans, and build more capital faster for the income they generate, do you see capitalism as feeding on the teat because that is the investment of the mother in her healthy child that supports her in her later years?

I have no doubt that in your case.

NPR this morning reporting that a woman from Mexico with three small children was seeking asylum. She claimed that she wanted asylum because she and her children were facing death threats from gangs. She said that the detention center was too cold and the food was poor. After 6 days of such mistreatment she decided to cease your asylum claim and return to Mexico. What kind of mother returns her children to almost certain death because she didn’t like the food? One who is lying.

BTW. Take Asian immigrants out of the equation and see what the numbers look look like.

What kind of country turns away a mother and children to certain death?

Trumpkins have no sense of shame or decency.

Devil's Advocate: if people want to kill her, maybe it's because she has it coming.

Her asylum claim was bullshit. Her claim of threats on their life’s was bullshit. Only a moron would believe that she left after 6 day because the detention center air conditioning was too cold and they didn’t like the food so she decided she would rather let her children face death at the hands of criminal gangs.

How niave are you?

'Nor did she stand with bared breast inviting the world to feed at her teat.'

Well, there is one figure with a bared breast who, though not as famed as Lady Liberty, is clearly not offering to feed the world either. Though it does appear that Virtus would be willing to take on any former KGB officers planning to meddle in America's affairs, bared breast and all.

It's a French statue. Being so, it's another representation of Marianne, the French embodiment of liberty and reason, perhaps a feminine counterpart to "Uncle Sam". Attempting to find more profound aspects to its design and existence is simply mental gymnastics. Bartholdi was the Christo of his day.

I’m pretty sure she was intended to stand for unrestricted flow of capital; modestly restricted flow of consumer goods; and highly restricted flow of labor.

* unless the labor was willing to work in the factories/mines/railroads, or populate the indian frontier, then maybe

"This statue with the poem at the base, which has meant welcome for over a century, is rather inconvenient. How do we go about rewriting history to change it?"

Trumpism has become a cult almost Stalinesque in its fevered disregard for truth.

Be careful what you wish for, the Trump approach is to simply knock down the whole damned thing just to get that inconvenient poem out of the way.

Trump will replace her with a pornified statue that looks like Ivanka, flipping the world off.

I was surprised when I read Emma Lazarus's poem all the way through as an adult, how combative it is. ""Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she" We will take your huddled-masses an overcome you.

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