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Ken Auletta long ago described New York City as “the final test” for the ambitious. More famously, Frank Sinatra sang about New York that “if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere.” New York remains a magnet for the talented who want to test themselves against the very best.

Most reading this who’ve either lived in New York or who’ve thought about moving there would agree that the leap to NYC takes courage. It’s crowded and very intimidating. There’s an argument that while it’s the final test for talented Americans, it’s also the least American of U.S. cities. Which again speaks to the courageous nature of the arrivals whose energy and ambition make New York so different, but also so special.

New York as a lure for the ambitious comes to mind as the inflow of immigrants into the U.S. continues. While many readers will disagree, the view here is that the inflow is overwhelmingly positive simply because human beings drive all progress, and the ability of humans to progress soars once in the United States. And there’s more.

If New York is yet again the “final test” for the ambitious, what is the United States to the rest of the world? It’s no reach to answer that for the world’s ambitious, just getting to the U.S. speaks to enormous drive, while sticking around and making a life signals passage of a similarly very difficult test. Not just anyone moves to New York City from various points around the U.S., and by extension not just anyone moves to the U.S. from all points around the world, and into a fiercely competitive country where they largely lack connections, language, friends, or even family.

Just as arrival into New York for natives has intimidating qualities that seemingly aren’t as evident upon reaching Seattle, St. Louis, or Houston, stop and imagine the intimidation factor for foreigners enterting the United States for the first time. What to do for a living, how to ask for a job when your English is broken or non-existent, how to find a place to live and the funds necessary to pay for it, where to live? Lots of questions with difficult-to-understand answers. It’s not a very popular view right now, but the view here is that for getting themselves to the U.S. and for making a life for themselves once here, U.S. immigrants are special people.  

Take Yonatan Colmenarez, a 31-year old Venezuelan immigrant who is making a living as a moped driver for the various food-delivery companies (think DoorDash, Uber Eats, etc.) that serve the Washington, D.C. area. Interviewed in the Washington Post, Colmenarez said “I’m working really hard to contribute to this country that opened its doors to us.”

As for his delivery work on mopeds in heavy traffic that puts his body and life at risk with every order, Colmenarez comments that it’s “a job many Americans don’t want to do, but I do it gladly because I want to show that I appreciate being here and that most of us are good people. After all it took to arrive, being in the United States is truly a blessing from God.”

About the Colmenarez quote, it will be said up front that anecdote is not fact, nor should it drive policy. Furthermore, the guess here is that many of the most ardent immigration restrictionists would find Colmenarez’s comments uplifting, and would support a lot or at least a little more immigration if it could always be individuals like Colmenarez. Which is understandable.

At the same time, it’s not a reach to suggest that a majority of those risking their lives to get here resemble Colmenarez. Again, not just anyone would take such a major leap in the way that not just any American up and moves to New York City. That New Yorkers are different can be found in the wealth and energy that defines the city. That Americans are different can similarly be found not in ethnicity, but in the wealth and energy that defines the U.S. If you can make it in the United States, you can make it anywhere.

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, President of the Parkview Institute, a senior fellow at the Market Institute, and a senior economic adviser to Applied Finance Advisors (www.appliedfinance.com). His latest book, released on April 16, 2024 and co-authored with Jack Ryan, is Bringing Adam Smith Into the American Home: A Case Against Homeownership

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