Marshmallow Man Speaks for All Liberals

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Ok, first I’d like to applaud and welcome this new-found concern among conservatives for the working poor. This is as interesting a twist as “liberals siding with big business.” At the macro level, the impact of immigration is less discernible, and it’s likely that 6 years of a waffling economy has had a larger impact on low job growth and wage increases. However, immigrants from Latin America are largely unskilled laborers, so it’s reasonable to assume that unskilled workers with US citizenship rights would be the first to feel the effects of these undocumented workers.

Having said that, we ought to keep in mind that adding people to an economy will also create jobs. Yes, we have millions more laborers in our economy because of immigration; we also have millions more consumers. For this reason, any suggestion that each job filled by an undocumented worker is one job less for domestic unskilled labor is based on an overly-simplistic application of “supply-and-demand.”

While studies of the economy have failed to establish a strong link between immigration and low wages to unskilled workers, anecdotal evidence that immigration is damaging our economy does exists. Yet all this seems to miss the point. I think ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ can agree that there is a problem. The trouble is that solutions proposed by conservative groups don’t address the root of the problem. They seek a solution to the problem as it exists in their home town, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. “Build a wall” they say, “crack down on businesses who hire them and landlords who rent to them!” What will these things accomplish? What benefits to our society will come from further marginalizing the 13 million people living and working among us who don’t have citizenship rights?

The solution must involve the governments of Mexico and Latin America. NAFTA is a failed experiment. The Mexican economy was not ready for such strict free trade with the biggest economy in the world. While we prosper under NAFTA, we are literally driving people in Mexico out of work. NAFTA was originally meant to bring the cooperative model of the EU to North America, but it has instead become a model of regional hegemony.

So I think we all care about the working poor. The question is WHAT working poor? The working poor in our own community? Of course. But does that include undocumented working poor? What about the working poor in Mexico? Surely, being poor in the US is a life of luxury compared to the experience of poverty in Mexico. True, we are a sovereign nation with laws and etc., and so we are in no way obligated to concern ourselves with the destitution which exists beyond our borders (even if our policies contribute to its proliferation). But, since when is America a country of people who are only concerned with the well-being of others only to the degree that we are obligated to be? What in our Judeo-Christian heritage (which is so often touted here) allows us to rationalize this lack of concern? It seems odd that the same people who were so idealistic and optimistic about our ability to transform the Middle East into a modern, democratic and capitalist region are so quick to write off our own neighbors as a lost cause, and advocate walling ourselves off from them.

So yes, we should address this problem, by reevaluating our trade arrangements with Mexico, by investing in the Mexican economy, working with businesses as well as the Mexican government to address the disparities that exist between our two countries. On the home front, we need to accept that because of these disparities millions of people are now living their lives in this country who don’t have the same rights as we do. Do we want them to be as marginalized as possible? To what end? The more we drive members of this community from working in legitimate jobs, the more we force them to live on the fringes of society, the more pressure they will feel to turn to lives of crime. This is true of any community, regardless of citizenship status.

At the same time, I believe we SHOULD crack down on employers. Any employer who is paying their employees less than the minimum wage should be subject to penalties. The minimum wage is just that, the MINIMUM. When multiple US citizens apply to a minimum wage job, they don’t engage in a race-to-the-bottom bidding war. What employer would hire someone who said, “They expects to be paid minimum wage, but I’ll work for a dollar less!” That would make the minimum wage meaningless. Regardless of who they’re hiring, employers should be made to observe the minimum wage!

So are ‘liberals’ concerned with the working poor? Yes, albeit in a broader context. Do we want to see a solution to the problems which force people to choose between abject poverty and life in the margins, alienated and without rights? Yes, we want a REAL solution, not a wall, and not a set of policies which allow us to pretend that 13 million people don’t deserve access to the American Dream! We also want cooperation with our neighbors, economic prosperity throughout the region, and recognition of the core American value that ALL people, not just US citizens, are equals!

That’s all I’ve got.

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5 Comments

Now we're getting somewhere. We might agree on more than we disagree about.

NAFTA has been a disaster for Mexico in many ways - although Mexico was a disaster before NAFTA, which is why the Salinas government pressed for it.

So, yes, fixing Mexico is the only way to really solve the problem.

But you are being a wee bit oblivious to suppose U.S. citizens negatively impacted by the phenomenon are going to sit back and wait for governments to provide a fix to a part of the world that's been broken since approximately the beginning of time.

I suppose it has been a failure of communication, that those who favor more restricted immigration have not managed to convey the humanitarian aspect of their side of the story. Something to work on ...

Loudoun Conservative said:

Even when we share an understanding of the problem, we can't seem to make much progress on the solution. Mexico's problems are our fault, according to you? You want us to fix Mexico? How exactly do we go about that?

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man said:

well, I don't suppose people are going to sit back. but that doesn't mean that their actions are moving us any closer to a real solution.

I don't know if the troubles with Mexico predate time, but they've certainly been ongoing, and that makes them all the more difficult to fix. however, if we opt for a quick fix, it'll only come back to haunt us one way or another. People, especially en mass, can do things that don't make much sense. This applies to anti-illegal immigration folks and also to immigrants themselves. We don't want to create a situation where we have two factions within our society who feel things are spiraling out of control and that they're powerless to do anything about it.

An ad hoc community-based response to the issue could do more to exacerbate problems than to solve them. But I don't think that means that we're totally dependent on governments and financial institutions to save the day. What NGO's are active in promoting economic development in Mexico? What can be done to shift the focus of the national dialogue from superficial 'solutions' to discussion of the root causes of the situation?

There's a Peruvian economist called Hernando de Soto. I have a feeling he might have some good ideas...

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man said:

LC: whether Mexico's problems are our fault or not is beside the point. There's no easy answer for how to fix them. But I think it would be a mistake to opt for a more simple yet ultimately ineffective course of action.

Prof. Gozer: thanks for the de Soto reference, once again you have provided some good reading.

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