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Streets of Gold: Immigration and the American Dream Over Two Centuries (with Leah Boustan, PublicAffairs 2022)

book cover: streets of gold

Immigration is a fraught and misunderstood topic in America’s social discourse, with much of what we believe based largely on myth. Ran Abramitzky and Leah Boustan have spent the last decade searching for the facts, and their pioneering research digs deep into the data on immigration, linking the experiences of immigrants from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to those of immigrants today. Using the tools of modern data analysis, they provide new evidence about the past and present of the American Dream that will change our thinking and policies.

Where you come from, they vividly illustrate, doesn’t matter. The children of immigrants from, for example, El Salvador, Mexico, and Guatemala today are as likely to be as successful as those from Great Britain and Norway 150 years ago. And in a pattern that has held for more than a century, the children of immigrants from nearly every country, especially those of poor immigrants, do better economically  than children of US-born residents.

Immigration changes the economy in unexpected positive ways, staving off the economic decline that is the consequence of an aging population. Closing the door to immigrants harms the economic prospects of the US-born—the very people politicians are trying to protect.

Endorsements

“This wonderful and highly readable book provides the facts and sets the record straight about the hot-button issue of immigration and is a must-read for anyone who care about this important issue. Immigrants benefit from coming to the US, but so does the country from the diversity, skills, and energy that they bring. Remarkably, most existing evidence suggests that native workers are not harmed by immigrants.” Daron Acemoglu, Institute Professor of Economics, MIT, coauthor of Why Nations Fail and The Narrow Corridor

“In this fascinating book, Abramitzky and Boustan ingeniously employ the tools of data science to construct the first "big data" account of immigration in America. Combining rigorous statistical analysis with thoughtful narratives, they weave a compelling story about how millions of immigrant families achieved the American Dream over the last century-and-a-half. The result is a set of timely and concrete insights that will help reshape the narrative about immigration and opportunity in the United States.” Raj Chetty, William A. Ackman Professor of Public Economics, Harvard University

“While Americans are intensely polarized about immigration, facts and history can help change minds. And Streets of Gold has the facts, millions and millions of them about the amazing and often surprising history of American immigration. It is a splendid testament to the power of big data to illuminate our past and what it means for the future.” Angus Deaton, Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of Economics and International Affairs, Princeton University, coauthor of Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, Nobel laureate in economics

“Migration myths are contributing to tear our nation apart. This gem of a book, grounded on deep original research and made lively by moving personal accounts is an essential read. It shows that little has changed in this salad bowl that is our country, neither the migrants' travails, nor their successes, nor, sadly, the prejudice they encounter”
Esther Duflo, the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics, MIT , Nobel laureate in economics

“Complex in its coverage, uplifting in its message, engaging in its composition, and powerful in its significance, Streets of Gold is A New World Symphony in words and numbers. Immigrants today, as in the past, make a better life for themselves. But upward mobility comes through generations, and the success of the immigrant child does not come at the expense of the one with US-born parents. There is greater continuity and harmony in this version of the American Dream than discontinuity and dissonance.” Claudia Goldin, Henry Lee Professor of Economics, Harvard University; author Career & Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey toward Equity

“With Streets of Gold Ran Abramitzky and Leah Boustan have written a highly engaging book on the enduring but underappreciated success story of American immigration. Interweaving anecdotes drawn from many sources, including their own personal stories, with conclusions drawn from systematic big data analyses using tools from modern economic research, they paint a vivid and wide ranging picture of the changes in immigration over time and the effects on America society. They take us to meet not only spectacular success stories like Tino Cuellar who quickly moved from being born in Mexico to graduating from Harvard and becoming a justice on the California supreme court, but also the more common story of Louis Bilchick whose family moved slowly but steadily up the economic ladder. Along the way they separate fact and fiction, and bust many of the myths that pervade and confuse the current discussion on immigration policy. As an immigrant and American citizen I highly recommend this inspiring book for anyone interested in the debates on immigration.” Guido Imbens, The Applied Econometrics Professor, Stanford University, Nobel laureate in economics

“Unprecedented data, empathetic personal histories, joyous writing, practical solutions and a compelling counter-Zeitgeist narrative make Streets of Gold an essential read for all Americans confused by the partisan rancor surrounding immigration. Abramitzky and Boustan demonstrate the travails of first-generation immigrants, the startling economic success of the second generation, the rapid pace of cultural “Americanization”, the lack of wage threat to American-born workers, and the similarity of these patterns for the two waves of immigration bringing Europeans (late 19th century) and Latin Americans (late 20th century) into our country. Despite all the rancor, we who are of immigrant heritage are reminded how remarkable a country is America.” David Laitin, Watkins Professor of Political Science, Stanford University

“The optimism that runs through Streets of Gold – immigrants are and have always been a “grand bargain” for America – is based on the rock solid-evidence of Ran Abramitzky and Leah Boustan’s rigorous deep dive into millions of census records and ancestry.com filings. The stories they tell then become a powerful means of communicating the truth about the unique phenomenon of the American immigrant experience.” Doug Massey, Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs, Princeton University

“Two of the most respected and accomplished scholars of economic history demonstrate that much of what you thought you knew about the historical experience of immigrants coming to the United States in the past turns out to be wrong. Armed with reams of new data, elegantly written, and meticulously researched, Streets of Gold revisits many of the most pertinent and perplexing social and economic issues in the history of immigration with often surprising results. A book as timely as it is magisterial.” Joel Mokyr, Robert H. Strotz Professor, Northwestern University; author of Culture of Growth: the Origin of the Modern Economy

“Streets of Gold is the conversation you always wanted to have about where Americans come from. Abramitzky and Boustan have discovered new ways of answering that question, in this fascinating and hard to put down history of American immigration, based on new sources of data, and conveyed by powerful storytelling.” Alvin E, Roth, Nobel laureate in economics, author of Who Gets What and Why

“Streets of Gold is a pathbreaking book. Mining a treasure trove of big data over more than a century, Ran Abramitzky and Leah Boustan manage to show the surprising continuity between past and present patterns of immigrant integration in the United States. Their data show that most immigrants, even across widely different backgrounds, achieve success over two to three generations, much as in the past. This book is a must read for those interested in the role of immigration in American society.” Andrew Selee, President, Migration Policy Institute

“An absolute treasure, the perfect book on immigration - substantive and data-driven, but leaving room for the stories of immigrants, good and bad. This is a timely book, but will be read for many years.” Zack Weinersmith, New York Times Bestselling author of Soonish

 

 

The Mystery of the Kibbutz: Egalitarian Principles in a Capitalist World Princeton University Press (February 2018) 

book cover:  mystery of kibbutz

Winner of the Ranki Biennial Prize for the best book in European Economic History in 2018/2019 (awarded by the Economic History Association)  

Order book here

EconTalk Podcast with Russ Roberts | Jewish History Matters Podcast | Stanford Magazine | HaaretzBook lecture  (Hebrew) | The Marker (Hebrew)| Seder Yom with Keren Neubach (starting 1:14:35, Hebrew)|  Yediot Kibbutz (Hebrew) | Hadaf Hayarok (Hebrew)

How the kibbutz movement thrived despite its inherent economic contradictions and why it eventually declined

The kibbutz is a social experiment in collective living that challenges traditional economic theory. By sharing all income and resources equally among its members, the kibbutz system created strong incentives to free ride or—as in the case of the most educated and skilled—to depart for the city. Yet for much of the twentieth century kibbutzim thrived, and kibbutz life was perceived as idyllic both by members and the outside world. In The Mystery of the Kibbutz, Ran Abramitzky blends economic perspectives with personal insights to examine how kibbutzim successfully maintained equal sharing for so long despite their inherent incentive problems.

Weaving the story of his own family’s experiences as kibbutz members with extensive economic and historical data, Abramitzky sheds light on the idealism and historic circumstances that helped kibbutzim overcome their economic contradictions. He illuminates how the design of kibbutzim met the challenges of thriving as enclaves in a capitalist world and evaluates kibbutzim’s success at sustaining economic equality. By drawing on the stories of his pioneering grandmother who founded a kibbutz, his uncle who remained in a kibbutz his entire adult life, and his mother who was raised in and left the kibbutz, Abramitzky brings to life the rise and fall of the kibbutz movement.

The lessons that The Mystery of the Kibbutz draws from this unique social experiment extend far beyond the kibbutz gates, serving as a guide to societies that strive to foster economic and social equality.

 

Endorsements

 

"Ran Abramitzky has written a fascinating, important book infused with both deep personal insight and incisive economic analysis. I predict it will be a lasting contribution to the literature on the kibbutz movement." -- Al Roth, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics 


"This beautifully written book brings economics alive through the lens of a unique social experiment in communal living, teaching us how economic incentives and social contracts shape our society today. Highly recommended both for those well versed in economics and those looking for a lively introduction to the field." -- Raj Chetty, Stanford University

 

"The Mystery of the Kibbutz is a brilliant economic analysis of how individuals’ equality in income and consumption in a collective-production society could survive but eventually collapse. Ran Abramitzky provides a touching and enlightening description using unique data on almost the entire population of the kibbutzim from 1910 to 2000." -- Zvi Eckstein, IDC Herzliya, Israel, coauthor of The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History, 70-1492


"Can egalitarian and voluntary communities thrive within a capitalist society? Bringing together social sciences and modern economic tools, this book provides a fascinating and rich analysis of the Israeli kibbutz experience." -- Emmanuel Saez, University of California, Berkeley 

High school lesson plan and teachers' guide on creating equal sharing society (by Carla Young Garrett, based on The Mystery of the Kibbutz)

Book's webpage at Princeton University Press

Data on Kibbutzim

Additional Regressions