Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Build That Wall!

It has been somewhere between mildly depressing and exceedingly annoying to watch and listen to the idiotic "national debate" on the issue of Those Brown People - that is, "immigration" - play out in the media.

The annoying part because of the nursery-school level of the "debate" itself, which as I have pounded on again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and fucking again...is much more complex, nuanced, and difficult to actually resolve (as opposed to using as a ballpeen hammer to ring the empty bell-like heads of racist dimwits and "economically anxious" (i.e. "racist") mouthbreathers) than any of the usual network or cable-news talking heads manages to convey.

We'll leave "FOX News" out of this because asking Pravda their opinion of Stalin's Five-Year Plan is perfectly pointless. And as for Trump, well...asking Stalin about the Five-Year Plan...

The depressing part because this process of relentless hammering on the "OMFG THE SCARY BROWN PEOPLE ARE INVADING!!!" theme is working. Even people like that old war-hating warhorse Ranger Jim are talking about immigration as if it's a "problem".
I want to suggest that we're talking about the wrong problem.

We don't have an "immigration problem".

We have a huge "capitalism problem".

Typically for the people who frame this as an issue of border control and sovereignty, the bottom line is that hordes of undocumented aliens are swarming over the walls like Picts ravening down from the north to ravage Eburacum. Or, in this case, to take jobs from Real Americans and create a sort of lawless free-for-all in "sanctuary cities" and Fifth Column foreign enclaves. The image is one of "American" character diluted, and finally destroyed, by polyglot armies of transients unconcerned with the norms of constitutional republicanism and unwilling to assimilate into (presumably) a sort of Father-Knows-Best suburban conformity, complete with teenagers playing baseball and a cocker spaniel.

This is what is suppose to have kept Trumpkins awake at night, imagining a Smallville full of sharia law, taco trucks on every corner, and a gabble of incomprehensible foreign languages in the Safeway aisles (which are full of scary, smelly foreign food instead of Spam and French's mustard). Which is why, supposedly they 1) voted for him in the first place, and 2) are happy with the knuckling he's giving to people who came here from Mexico as six-year-olds and are Cambodian grannies working the stock at the corner bodega.

I won't rehash all the facts that make this trap-and-drown-the-pesky-brown-people an expensive exercise in futility.

What I do want us to think about is why all the pesky brown people are here.

Because we all want to stay where we are, right? We all want to be with people we know, in places we know, doing things we know how to do. Only a tiny handful of us are so infected with wanderlust that we voluntarily pick up and move hundreds, or thousands, of miles from our homes, to places where the people speak a different tongue, where the food and the clothing and even the fucking weather are different from what we grew up with.

Since we've agreed that these immigrants to the United States are not the Mongol Horde here to conquer and pillage - and if you disagree you can stop right now; first, because your brain is on vacation and living in la-la land and, second, because to consider this issue further you have to start from some sort of rational point, and the idea that these people are an invading army is simply nonsensical - why do these people want to come here?

I get the sense that it's two main reasons; economic opportunity, or physical safety, or a combination of both.

Physical safety drives the people fleeing places like Guatemala, or Syria, or Somalia. Those people are going to try and flee here not so much because they want to be here but because they don't want to be there; there, where they're in the middle of a war, or as in Somalia in a chaotic failed-state that isn't so much in a "war" as in a sort of horrible Hobbesean state of nature where all are preying on and warring against all.

That's not a capitalism issue, directly. Those people are going to go wherever that can to escape mortal fear, and the U.S. is just the biggest, stable-est, wealthiest refuge around. There's literally nothing any U.S. citizen can do about that, other than try and decide what those people's lives are worth. If Our conclusion is "not a moment of my time or a nickel of my money" then that's that. It makes us kind of shitty people, but people are allowed to do and be that if they want to. Nobody has decreed that We the People have to be decent or kind or generous.

But for the refugees it's pretty much all push. We can decide how much we want to push back, but that's pretty much it. The impetus is not under our control.

No, it's the "other" immigrants I want to talk about, the "economic opportunity" ones.

Those are the ones that the Trumpkins are most likely to be angry about, the ones "taking our jobs", many of them from Mexico and the close-by Latin American nations. There's a reason that Orange Foolius' signature issue is that Big. Beautiful. Wall.

For those people the impetus is mostly "pull". There's a hope for a better life here, and, like every human since Olduvai Gorge, they want that.

So...why is that a capitalism issue?

Because the simplest explanation for how and why these people are in, or want to come to, the U.S. is because our economy has been set up to exploit their desire for a better life, and to use that to use them.

None of the people coming here from Sinaloa wants to work for starvation wages and live fifteen-to-a-room. But to do the sorts of jobs we want them to do; to pick the crops, to make the motel beds, to leaf-blow the lawns and sheetrock the cheap apartments, we need to pay them shit and make them suck that up. We the People have been happy to sit by and let our economy change to make that happen.

Look at meatpacking.
Working in slaughterhouses and meat-processing plants used to be decent-paying union work done by native-born (or legal immigrant) citizens largely in cities in the American northeast, midwest, and west. Now it is nearly entirely Southern and rural and almost entirely done by undocumented - illegal - immigrants.


Because, to make a long story short, to run the meat business the old way, with citizens, in union plants, was expensive for the owners. Who would, in turn, pass the expense on to Suzy Homemaker and Sammy Grillmaster.

So outfits like Hormel shuttered the plants in Detroit and New York and San Francisco and moved to Cornhole, Alabama, where they employed first fiercely antiunion Southern whites and then, when the citizens began wanting more money, replaced them with illegals (who could be feared-up with the theat of La Migra).

Is this an oversimplification?

Yes. There's a lot more there over a thirty- or forty-year span of time.

Is it inaccurate?

No. The bottom line is that to keep meat cheap the business had to cut costs, and worker's pay is typically the single biggest cost of any business.

The same is true of nearly any business you look at that employs significant numbers of undocumented people. Construction, landscaping, agriculture, "hospitality" (meaning hotels and restaurants). These are places where cost competition is cut-throat, and the business owners are largely making a buck off the skins of their workers.

This isn't anyone's "fault", or, if it is, it's Our fault, We the People. We've forgotten that it's the nature of capitalism; you can hope to charge everyone a premium and go broke, or you can skin your costs down to the bone and make them affordable to Joe and Molly. It's why commercial aviation sucks. It's why WalMart. It's why the guy running that leaf-blower snuck in from Michoacan.

And, frankly, that's been how it's worked every time We the People have let it. Dickens' mill owners probably didn't WANT to starve people or work kiddies to death. But they had costs and profits, and the best way to make profits was to cut costs, so if that meant that somebody starved or died...well, to make a person all you needed was a man, a woman, five minutes, and a flat piece of ground. There would ALWAYS be more people.

So unless we plan to start paying what we'd need to pay to give all those citizen busboys, maids, drywallers, chicken-gutters, and tomato-pickers a living wage the reality of people coming here outside the legal process is going to continue.

The Trumpkins will hate that. But until they're willing to eviscerate hogs, wipe asses, and wash dishes for what the business owners are paying those Mexicans and Guatemalans?

They can kiss my fucking ass.

So there's only one real, long-term way to "solve" the "problem" of illegal immigration; we need to Build That Wall.

But the Wall is the wall around the "job-creators"; specifically, walling them off from their ability to "create" shitty jobs that pay so poorly that only people who have grown up in a shotgun shack in Sinaloa can afford to work them.
Mind you, given the ridiculous degree to which the "magic of the market" propaganda has saturated the U.S. public the chances of this actually being enacted are damn near zero. The wealthy white guys who designed this country's government made damn sure that there are enough veto points to keep the wild-eyed radicals from roping in the plutocrats. Hell, the bastards impoverished the nation in 1929 but managed to slime their way back into power to the extent that they were damn near able to do it again only eighty years later.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking going full Marxist here.

But the idea that the "market" is magic, that the way the everyone gets to Millionaire Acres at the end of the Game of Life is to just unleash the job-creators is visibly, obviously nonsensical.

Hell, the market isn't working now. For most people their wages have leveled off even as their productivity, and the profitability of the places they work, have gone wild. Untrammeled capitalism has been a misery and a burden to everyone outside the owner class everywhere and every time it's been practiced. Unregulated capitalism produces foul water, filthy air, dirty land, and overworked, underpaid people, because none of those things make "profit".

Corporations are people, my friend; sociopathic people, whose only built-in controlling interest is short-term profit. Intelligent managers and owners can make them act intelligently, but that's a bug, not a feature. We've already seen what happens when they are "unleashed", and it's not pretty.

We should know better by now, and yet, we don't act like it.

So there is a solution to this "immigrant problem". Only it's not with the immigrants, and it's not going to make old, white people happy.

So it won't ever happen.

Update 2/25: Todd Miller has a good summary of the persistence, and idiocy, of this border "war". His take, though, is that it's all About The Money.


Unknown said...

Welcome back, Chief. You nailed it.

Ael said...

I think it is less about "Capitalism" per se and more about productivity and power.

The last 100 years have seen a huge increase in productivity (on a per person basis).
However, the real issue is that in the last 50 years, the owners of Capital have been able to capture essentially all of that productivity rise. This is because Labour, for all sorts of reasons, have been unable to demand an increased share of the pie. If you recall the 70's there was always some strike or another making life inconvenient. Today, not so much.

FDChief said...

The productivity is explicable; the digital revolution (as well as late-stage Industrial Revolution techniques, many of them linked to digital technologies) has helped make us able to communicate more quickly, more clearly, and more efficiently than any time in history.

The wage disconnect? Yes, that has been largely about the ability of the wealthy and powerful to capture the regulatory and legislative state. That's nothing new; the fuckers had it ALL prior to 1932. They've always been pissed off about the New Deal and have worked industriously to roll it back since then. Look up "Taft-Hartley" to get a feeling for how early on the serious effort began. Reagan and PATCO. The GOP enthusiasm for "right-to-work" laws and union-busting.

The current "immigrant problem" is something related but different. This isn't about the plutocratic lust for more profit as much as it is about You and Me wanting cheap meat and electronics and produce and vacations. In order to do that someone has to give up some money, either we do - by paying more, and we've already established we won't do that; we'll drive 20 miles to Home Depot rather than pay more at our local hardware store or to WalMart rather than shop locally - or the retailer does, or the manufacturer does, or the workers do.

Since the retailer and manufacturer don't want to pay more (or make less) either, it comes down to skinning this out of the wallet of the folks on the production line or in the orchard and the field. And undocumented illegal immigrants are PERFECT; they don't dare strike or make a fuss, and if they do you can just call La Migraon their ass.

Businesses like DelMonte and Hormel, motel chains, subcontract roofers and drywallers and carpenters...how long could they last, paying the sort of wage an American citizen could actually live on? Hell, we've already seen what happens with places like WalMart; their employees have to get food stamps and other forms of assistance just to make ends meet.

The "job creators" would happily do that stuff to citizens, too. But illegals are SO much more fun and easy to pay starvation wages. And We the People, happy slobs that we are, are fine with that just like we're fine with having much of our clothing made in Bangladeshi firetraps or our shoes made in Vietnamese sweatshops.

We're greedy that way.