Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Immigration and the Global Economy - Part 1

We have a problem here in the States with immigration, specifically the illegal immigration of dirt poor, desperate Mexicans across our borders, where they are able to get low paying jobs, have children, and "take advantage" of social services, such as basic health care, food stamps, free education for their kids, free lunches, etc. And if their kids are born in the States, then they automatically become citizens, though this is now being hotly contested.

This situation has become highly politicized, with liberals supporting the idea that immigration has always been part and parcel of the American way and that the willingness of illegals to do the sort of work American citizens refuse to do is good for the economy. They also point out that millions of illegals are now, for better or worse, established in this country, many with children, which means that enforcing the law too strictly and forcing them out (as in Arizona) produces an intolerable humanitarian crisis.

Conservatives typically see it differently. For them, these immigrants are taking jobs away from US citizens. They also make the point that illegal immigration happens to be (duh!) illegal, and if we let some get away with it, then where will we draw the line for the rest? And since most conservatives are devout Christians, the humanitarian aspect of the liberal argument falls on deaf ears, because after all, what did Christ care about the welfare of the poor? Didn't he preach "enlightened self interest"?

I'd like to delve a bit beneath the surface of this debate, because as I see it, the basic issues have a relevance that goes far beyond the politics of one country, even the US of A, and have much to tell us about what is happening in the world economy as a whole.

The first thing I want to point out is the strange attitude of liberals regarding the economics of immigration. There is something wrong with the argument that the sort of jobs illegals are willing to do are jobs US citizens refuse to accept. And it's surprising that liberals would take a position which, to my ears, sounds far too close to a justification for slavery. If these jobs are too arduous, inhumane and low paying for US citizens, then why aren't liberals fighting to improve the working conditions and the pay rather than making this an excuse for accepting illegal wage-slaves into our society?

And by the same token, it's surprising that conservatives, usually aligned with business interests, would attack a system that provides all sorts of businesses, both small and large, with peons willing to do backbreaking, debilitating and often humiliating work for less than minimum wage.

I don't have the answer to these questions, except to observe that there is something very unusual going on here and that we are now living in a very different, more complicated and confusing world than that of the 20th century. Moreover, as I see it, if we pull back to take a larger view, we see essentially the same dynamic, and the same contradictions in the global economy generally.

More on this next time.

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