Dear "Forgotten America" Hand Wringers, Please Meet Mirza Hussain Haidiri

Dear "Forgotten America" Hand Wringers, Please Meet Mirza Hussain Haidiri
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File
Story Stream
recent articles

“I was wounded in war. This is the way I manage to drive.” Those are the words of Mirza Hussain Haidiri, resident of the Afghan city Bamian. As New York Times reporters David Zucchino and Fatima Faizi explained it, an Afghan officer at a police checkpoint was “startled” upon seeing the gear shift of Haidiri’s Toyota, which was “wrapped in blue tape and attached to a metal contraption sprouting wires and cables.”

You see, Haidiri tragically lost both legs five years ago while serving in the Afghan Army, but according to Zucchino and Faizi he now “earns his living in a taxi, which he has fitted with a homemade mechanism that allows him to drive with his hands – or what’s left of them.” That’s the other challenge facing Haidiri: not only has he lost both legs care of a land mine, that same mine “blew off four of the fingers on Mr. Haidiri’s left hand, leaving only his thumb.” And while he still has a right hand, it too is “damaged.”

Haidiri is one of thousands of wounded combat veterans in Afghanistan. As Zucchino and Faizi describe their situation, “Some are cared for by families. Others survive on military pensions. A few beg in the streets, or sell trinkets or phone cards.” In Haidiri’s case he chose to make the best of a very awful situation despite his physical situation, despite occasional ridicule, and despite the sad fact that some choose to leave his taxi upon realizing that he has no legs.

Haidiri’s remarkable story rates more publicity amid ongoing attempts by conservative writers to seemingly match the left when it comes to appearing “woke,” or whatever, about the downtrodden in the United States. A few weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal, Michael Lind lamented the economic struggles of American workers in “forgotten” parts of the U.S., and stressed to readers how “snobbish” it is for some to expect them to relocate within the U.S. to better economic opportunity. A week later, Harvard professor Edward Glaeser offered the Journal his ideas for “policies” that might cause more Americans to embrace capitalism. And then just this past Saturday AEI scholar Michael Strain, writing correctly in the Journal about how the “American dream” isn’t dead, oddly felt the need to justify the previous assertion with routine calls for government to do more to enhance economic opportunity for those in “the towns and communities left behind.” Oh dear.

Thinking about Glaeser, it’s evident based on the size of the American economy, along with the massive inflow of investment capital from around the world, that Americans very much embrace capitalism. That Glaeser’s primary focus is on ways for government to encourage more housing consumption just adds to the puzzlement about the professor’s insights. The consumption of housing doesn’t boost capitalism precisely because capitalists by definition must compete with consumers to attract capital necessary to start and expand businesses. Yet Glaeser wants more directed toward consumption? After that, it’s worthwhile to watch what Americans do, as opposed to what they say. No doubt the University where Glaeser teaches is full of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren supporters, but the punchline to the “socialist” riddle when it comes to young people is that those same Warren and Sanders supporters will migrate in high numbers to Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco once graduated from Harvard, only to the compete in three of the most meritocratic, capitalistic industries the world has ever known.

Considering the three scholars more broadly, one hopes they’re made aware of what Haidiri overcame just for the opportunity to support himself. About this, let’s not forget that work itself, regardless of the nature of it, is its own reward. Work is the driver of happiness simply because as humans we need to feel like we’re doing something to attain a sense of fulfillment. Money can buy security, but it can’t necessarily buy happiness. The latter is earned, and usually is a consequence of work done well. Haidiri, despite being disabled in an unimaginably cruel way, chose to support himself anyway. While it’s a safe bet that not all his days are good, and while he told Zucchino and Faizi that sometimes “I wish I had been killed by the bomb” since he faces “a lifetime of torture,” Haidiri has plainly decided to make the best of a tough situation; one that rates even more thought.

Not only is Haidiri disabled, one guesses that he “convalesced” in a hospital that every American, regardless of economic circumstance, would look askance at in the most contemptuous of ways. What choice did Haidiri have? Afghanistan is realistically all that he knows.

Yet having recovered as it were, Haidiri didn’t stop there. Though he could have gone the beggar route, he instead chose to develop “a homemade mechanism that allows him to drive with his hands,” even though what’s left of his hands isn’t much to speak of. What a story!

And it’s one that hopefully gains more publicity in the conservative community as a counterweight to the hand wringing of scholars like Glaeser, Lind and Strain. They lament the opportunities that exist for Americans who’ve been “forgotten,” “left behind,” or who just aren’t sure about capitalism. Oh please. Such expressed sadness is hard to countenance in consideration of what people like Haidiri are doing do to better their lives in Afghanistan.

The country is italicized simply because opportunity there is a microscopic fraction of what it is here. While Americans are free to migrate to opportunity in the greatest zone of prosperity the world has ever seen, and they’re free to do so in cars, trains, buses and airplanes that cost fewer and fewer dollars to access all the time, Haidiri has to get by while attracting “startled” glances, ridicule, and people jumping fares once they realize he’s legless.

Sorry, but American whining is no longer acceptable, and never was. Relative to Americans, all Afghans are forgotten economically. More realistically, no American is forgotten when it’s remembered that all Americans are free to pursue their bliss sans police checkpoints at any time. The scholar class needs to get out more.

As for Haidiri, where are the U.S. immigration officials? Where are the politicians? They should make him an American citizen yesterday. Someone like him driving for a living in the U.S. might remind self-proclaimed “forgotten” Americans just how good they have it.

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets and a senior economic adviser to Toreador Research and Trading ( His new book is titled They're Both Wrong: A Policy Guide for America's Frustrated Independent Thinkers. Other books by Tamny include The End of Work, about the exciting growth of jobs more and more of us love, Who Needs the Fed? and Popular Economics. He can be reached at  

Show comments Hide Comments

Related Articles