Culture Wars in America

Monday, July 1, 1996

Economic necessity forces immigrants and minority members to acquire the culture and speak the language of the majority. A non-English speaker who lives in a community in which many speak the language of his native land may never learn English. The same person might learn English quickly were he or she to find him- or herself in a community where only English is spoken.

Culture wars threaten to diminish America's ability to absorb new immigrants and to benefit from the diversity already present in our country. Much of the conflict is generated by government policy that reduces the incentives to become assimilated and exacerbates differences in the population. Education in one's native language, unbalanced immigration policies that result in large and stable ghettos, welfare availability, and encouragement of a multilingual society by allowing citizens to vote in languages other than English all reduce incentives to become assimilated. This essay explores patterns of cultural assimilation over time and makes policy recommendations that may bring a quicker end to the culture wars.