Monday, October 21, 2013

The Myth of the Self-Made Man, Debunked Again

My Dad fled to Texas in 1957 with $100 sewn into his underwear. He washed dishes making 50 cents an hour to pay his way through the University of Texas, and to start a small business in the oil and gas industry...

Government is not the answer. You are not doing anyone a favor by creating dependency, destroying individual responsibility. 55 years ago, when my dad was a penniless teenage immigrant, thank God some well-meaning bureaucrat didn't put his arm around him and say let me take care of you. Let me give you a government check and make you dependent on government... That would have been the most destructive thing anyone could have done.
Ted Cruz tells the inspiring life story of his father that unfortunately elides some important information, and in so doing, draws the wrong conclusions. In other words, it's bullshit.

Fifty-five years ago, $100 would have paid a year's tuition at University of Texas. Fifty-five years ago, working at only fifty cents an hour,  Rafael Cruz could pay for a semester at UT in just two and a half weeks.

How? What? Well, it turns out that in 1960, eighty-five percent of the cost of higher education at UT was paid by the government. In other words, government was an essential part of Rafael Cruz's success story. And nowadays, most unfortunately, the government does not help with higher education like it did when Cruz's dad migrated to the United States - thanks largely to Republicans like Ted Cruz. Pulling up the ladder indeed.

At today's minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, it would take almost seven times longer to earn enough to pay for college than it took back in Rafael Cruz's day. If you wanted to earn your semester's tuition in the same amount of time it took Rafael Cruz, you'd have to make $50 an hour

If we re-wrote Rafael Cruz's story in terms of the cost of a year's tuition at UT in 2013, here's what it would sound like: Cruz's lawyer friend bribed an official to stamp Cruz's exit permit, he took a first class flight to Texas with a briefcase filled with $10,000 cash, and worked for $50 an hour as a consultant to pay for his college education.

You'd shrug your shoulders at such a story. Rich guy is rich.

Now, I happen to believe that Cruz's dad's story is genuinely inspirational, even if he is now an insufferable asshole: he was imprisoned and tortured before he escaped to the U.S., where, although poor, he worked hard and became wonderfully successful. Most of us can't imagine such hardship. But his "happily ever after" outcome was made possible by a well-funded government with a strong sense of community and shared responsibility. Again, Rafael Cruz's story is a lot less feasible today, not because the poor and immigrants are less capable, but because our nation has been crippled by anti-government zealots: these days, we lack the fundamental infrastructure than enables success.

Was there ever a myth more seductive and yet more deceptive and destructive than the myth of the self-made man?


aimai said...

Hey, this is a really good post. Really good. Clear and to the point. Can I ask whether Cruz's father also benefitted from the advantage that the government gave immigrants from Cuba over other kinds of immigrants from other countries? Didn't he, in fact, jump the queue for immigration as a privilige itself? His status as a legal immigrant able to attend the U of T with tax breaks (instate tuition) was also a direct result of government "hand outs."

Knight of Nothing said...

Thank you! Great question - I'm not sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if that turned out to be the case. If I have some time later, I might have to do a little more research.

Knight of Nothing said...

I did a little research on your question, but didn't find anything to support the idea that Cruz's father got any preferential treatment as a Cuban immigrant. Of course, had Rafael Cruz been a black Cuban, his time at UT might have gone very differently.

My cursory search didn't turn up anything specifically about University admissions either. Here's the Center for Immigration Studies: "before 1979, immigration policy remained largely a consensus issue. Republicans and Democrats believed that an open door policy posed the host country no challenges that could not be overcome easily."

So there's my answer: it probably wasn't a big factor in his case. On the other hand, if Cruz's father had come in a later wave of immigration, he probably would have received some preferential treatment: in the 1980s and 1990s, well-connected and wealthy Cubans routinely advocated for an open door-policy for Cuban refugees, and continually pushed for sanctions against Castro's Cuba.

skaterina said...

excellent post / came over from Charlie's

Knight of Nothing said...

@Skaterina - thanks, and thanks for stopping by!