The Immigration Question: A Conceptual Rebuttal
Thank you, pollyannalana, for this question: "Is anyone else as excited as me to see America is waking up? Will it be in time to stop this lunacy?"
The question pertains to the issue of immigration into the United States, and in particular, addresses recent reports about thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America illegally crossing the border into the United States.
Let me set up the examination of this question in the terms I suggested in the summary above: labor versus capital.
It seems to me that the discussion of immigration into the United States is imbalanced because expectations and punishment are disproportionately leveled at labor, in rhetorical terms, relative to capital. In other words. what I want to do is contrast the general harshness of the American conversation about immigration, especially undocumented immigration from Central America (on both ends of the spectrum), with the generally indulgent permissiveness extended to capital; and I want to do this by, very briefly, looking at three areas: criminality, disease (pollyannalana, in another question I saw, mentioned something about undocumented workers and the Ebola virus), and jobs.
1. The discussion about undocumented persons from Mexico and Central America emigrating to the United States involves the issue of crime (some say that such undocumented persons are a concerning source of crime coming across our borders into the United States; and the other side works to refute that).
2. The discussion about undocumented persons from Mexico and Central America emigrating into the United States involves the issue of disease. Advocates of a zero-tolerance, strong borders policy say that such undocumented persons are a disproportionate source of disease.
3. The discussion about undocumented persons from Mexico and Central America emigrating into the United States involves the issue of jobs. Advocates of a zero-tolerance, strong borders policy say that such undocumented persons take American jobs away from Americans.
Before we begin, please allow me to define my terms.
Capital: When I use this term I am talking about people on the boards of directors of financial and non-financial corporations. I am talking about people who control the means of production and the means to finance the means of production.
Labor: When I use this term I am talking about people, individuals who have no other way to earn money but from their physical ability to do work; the only way they have to earn a living is through the work they can generate from their body---(and to a decreasing extent)---and mind alone.
First of all, I think it is fair that I make this comparison because, under American law, corporation are 'persons,' entitled to the protection of the U.S. Bill of Rights. In 1886 the U.S. Supreme Court made a ruling, in Santa Clara County V. Southern Pacific Railroad, that a private corporation is a "natural person," under the Constitution and therefore entitled, as I said, to the protection of the Bill of Rights (1).
Furthermore, precisely this logic has been embraced openly and in the most vulgar way by certain elite sectors, almost explicitly so, it seems, in American libertarian quarters. For example, in the mid-1980s, The Washington Times published a column by Daniel Mitchell of the Heritage Foundation, in which he actually argued that: When the government prevented companies from, say, acquiring a Bermuda mail drop for the purpose of escaping taxation, this was akin to the Supreme Court's 1857 Dred Scott decision, which said that black slaves did not get their freedom by fleeing to non-slave states (2).
I. Don't Illegal immigrants take American jobs away from Americans?
Even if this argument had validity (and I am by no means conceding that it does), why don't we compare this to the way corporations take American jobs away from Americans.
A few weeks ago, I believe, Microsoft announced 18,000 layoffs. Why? Because they had bought Nokia, and those jobs became, therefore, redundant. Not an undocumented Mexican fruit picker in sight on that one (3)!
I should point out, as well, that it is well known that companies will arbitrarily fire employees for the sole purpose of short-term stock market manipulation of their share price. The economic journalist David Cay Johnston put it like this in one of his books: "In less than three decades presidents of companies have gone from apologizing when they had to lay off workers to boasting of the riches they obtained through mass firing. We sing the praises of investors who owe their wealth not to creating businesses but to buying companies in deals that required destroying lives and careers, just so that they could squeeze out more money for themselves" (4).
Scholar Kevin Phillips points out that this phenomenon has been a subject of formal study. He refers to a book published by the American Management Association, penned by Alan Downs, then a senior corporate consultant: "Corporate Executions: The Ugly Truth About Layoffs: How Corporate Greed is Shattering Lives, Companies, and Communities." The thesis of the book was this: partly out of management greed and partly out of pressure from Wall Street, corporations were downsizing or 'right-sizing' as a tool for short-term hikes in the stock price. Based on a study of 22 corporations that had announced large layoff in 1994, Downs found a strong correlation between the size of the layoff and the compensation of the CEO (5).
Its is known that between the late-1970s and early1980s, one-out-of-twenty (1/20) workers who voted to have a union at their workplace, were illegally fired. Some estimates put the number at one-out-of-eight (1/8) (6).
Moreover it is also known that between 1980 and 1999 the five hundred largest U.S. corporations eliminated almost five million jobs; and they did so as they "tripled their assets and their profits and enlarged their market value eightfold as measured by stock prices" (7).
This essay is simply a plea for what I will call proportionality of consideration. If you want to make the argument that individual and groups of individual Mexican and Central American undocumented workers "take American jobs away from Americans" (again, I'm going on record as saying that I find the thesis dubious and unsustainable), then let us do so alongside a discussion of what we know to be the effect of U.S. corporations on American joblessness.
II. Don't Mexican and Central American undocumented workers (and their children) represent a disproportionate danger of a transmigration of criminality?
Even if you want to try to seriously make that argument (one I find to be highly dubious at best), then let us lay that right alongside about what is known about the criminality of those "natural persons" known as corporations.
Well, in his book, The Outfit: The Role of Chicago's Underworld In The Shaping of Modern America (2001), Gus Russo makes reference to another book by a scholar called Ferdinand Lundberg, The Rich and Super-Rich (1968), in which the latter talks about the way in which the fortunes and social standing of people like Carnegie, Whitney, Rockefeller, McCormick, and others, was dependent on what Chicago gangster, Al Capone, called 'legitimate rackets.' Among the white collar crimes Lundberg attributed to the "country club set" were: 'embezzlement; big fraud; restraint of trade; misrepresentation in advertising and in the sale of securities; infringement of patents, trademarks, and copyrights; industrial espionage; illegal labor practices; violations of war regulations; violation of trust; secret rebates and kickbacks; commercial and political bribery; wash sales; misleading balance sheets; false claims; dilution of products; prohibited forms of monopoly; income tax falsification; adulteration of food and drugs; padding of expense accounts; use of substandard materials; rigging markets; price-fixing; mislabeling; false weights and measurements; internal corporate manipulation, etc.' (8).
One conservative study noted that 60 percent of the Fortune 500 are convicted of one offense annually. Many are simple misdemeanors (9). It seems that British American Tobacco and Phillip Morris knowingly lied about the dangers of tobacco. According to the World Health Organization, about four million people die every year from tobacco-related illnesses, and yet no one has ever been brought to trial for this (10).
Johns-Manville and the Cape Company knowingly exposed millions of people to poisonous asbestos. Eighteen percent of the exposures are estimated to result in life threatening diseases. The manufacturer A.H. Robins knew that its intrauterine contraceptive device would let loose organ-affecting bacteria when inserted into women. Many miscarriages resulted (some deaths). The company later went bankrupt but no one was ever prosecuted (11).
Nestle got women in poor countries to use their powdered milk for their babies instead of breast-feeding them. When the powder was mixed with impure water, large numbers of babies got sick, some dies. Again, no charges (12).
Royal Dutch Shell, Unocal, Talisman, and Occidental Petroleum have been implicated in the murderous practices of various repressive regimes in Aceh, Nigeria, Burma, Sudan, and Columbia. A subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum poisoned the Love Canal community in Upper New York. A subsidiary of Union Carbide mass gassed Bhopal. ExxonMobil "despoiled" the Alaskan coast with a massive oil spill; and then, their "recklessly engineered" gas plant in Australia exploded, killing workers and leaving the whole state without gas for three weeks (13).
"[T]hen in Alabama these oil barons deliberately scammed the government out of $3.5 billion and went on to steal fresh water from New York's Hudson River and replace it with polluting bilge" (14).
Firestone made tires for the Ford SUVs. The deaths caused when the SUVs flipped over, are blamed on tire defects engineered Firestone. In the 1970s Firestone produced steel-belted radials that it knew had a tendency to separate. With 24 million on the road, at least 41 people were killed and many more were injured when the tires blew out (15).
There is what Harry Glasbeck calls a "spectacular rate of recidivism" (16).
Again, the plea is for proportionality of consideration. If you want to talk about Mexican and Central American undocumented workers as representing a disproportionate danger of a transmigration of criminality (and again, such a thesis is shaky) then we must, to be "fair and balanced," lay this alongside of the documented criminal behavior of corporations and the damage they do.
Indeed, as David Cay Johnston so aptly put it, in reference to thugs with briefcases, "They differ from bandits only in that they wielded pens to steal stock options instead of pointing pistols, while demanding cash or jewelry. Their techniques were subtle and not overtly violent, but for society they are worse than street robbery, for their actions undermine the legitimacy of society's rules in ways that bandits cannot" (17).
What is Johnston talking about here? This: The late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Computer, had, on one occasion, was awarded and accepted millions of dollars in stock options at a board meeting that never took place. Instead of correcting the mistake, Jobs arranged to have the fraudulently issued stock exchanged for restricted stock, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The government brought civil charges against Apple's general counsel and its chief financial officer, the latter of whom admitted wrongdoing, gave up $3.5 million, and said that he had warned Jobs about the improper pay. Anyway, yada, yada, yada, Jobs was portrayed as the unknowing victim of complicated rules---even though these rules had been in place since before Apple went public decades before (18).
In fact, this kind of thing was routine. Stock option scandals involved thousands of executives and hundreds of corporations (19).
III. Don't undocumented workers from Mexico and Central America represent a disproportionate threat of the transmigration of disease into the United States?
Even if that were true (and I am not conceding that it is), we're not having a very balanced discussion about the relationship of borders, transmigration, and disease unless we put up concerns about individuals alongside of the health hazards routinely posed by corporations.
Very briefly now.
The World Trade Organization was created on January 1, 1995. The WTO was created via an agreement by GATT (General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs) (20).
According to David C. Korten: "A key provision in some 2,000 pages of the GATT agreement creating the WTO is buried in paragraph 4 Article XVI: Each member shall ensure the conformity of its laws, regulations and administrative procedures with its obligations as provided in the annexed Agreements'"(21).
The 'annexed Agreements' refer to multilateral agreements on trade in goods and services, as well as intellectual property rights (22). By the way, any corporation that feels that its business has been interfered with, under these terms, can bring a challenge against a nation with a particular law that seems to do so (23).
David Korten gives us an example to show us the bottom line of what that means. "For example, a U.S. company growing fruit in Mexico uses a pesticide that leaves a toxic residue on the fruit that complies with the international standard but is greater than the standard of the state of California. That corporation might convince the Mexican government to bring a case against the California standard under the WTO. California would have no right to appeal an unfavorable WTO decision in either California or U.S. courts" (24).
That quote kind of speaks for itself, doesn't it?
IV. Economic Policies
I have to say that it is well known that the economic policies that the so-called global North pursues against (and against is the word) the global South does have something to do with why it can be so hard to earn a living in the countries of the "third world" in general.
Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Noble Prize-winning economist and former Clinton Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors and chief economist at the World Bank, offers his perspective:
"Clearly something was amiss in the way we were leading the world into the new international order" (25). He's talking about globalization.
He goes on: "The international agreements, for instance, reflected our concerns, our interests: we forced those abroad to open up their capital markets, say, to our derivatives and speculative capital flows, knowing how destabilizing they could be. But Wall Street wanted it, and what Wall Street wanted, it most likely got" (26).
We demanded developing countries to open up their markets to us, Dr. Stiglitz says, while at the same time, keeping our markets closed to third world producers. "We scolded the developing nations about their disrespect for intellectual property laws that we, too, had scorned in our days as a developing nation. (The United States didn't get to protecting the rights of foreign authors until 1891)" (27).
The rich countries of the global North impose agricultural tariffs and hand out some $300 million a year in subsidies to their own farmers. Cutting these tariffs and subsidies could increase African agricultural profits by $100 billion, which is $20 billion more than the advanced industrialized countries sent to Africa, in aid, in 2006 (28). By the way, speaking of foreign aid, it is known that 70 percent of what we call foreign aid loans go to purchasing goods and services from western corporations (29).
At any rate, ending the subsidies and tariffs in the developed world would allow African products into our markets, possibly creating an inflow of $500 billion, enough to lift 150 million Africans out of poverty by 2015 (30).
By the way I mention Africa because immigration is not just a U.S. issue right now, but Western Europe is concerned as well. African migrants usually make their way into Western Europe; and a couple of months back or so, Europe had continent-wide Parliamentary elections. Some onlookers expressed concern and some surprise at the strong showing by so-called 'Euro-skeptic' and anti-immigration candidates.
There is also a small issue of biopiracy. It seems that the genetic richness is largely in the global South. Western corporations know this and take advantage of it.
To give one example, the American multinational Genencor International took from the lakes of the Rift Valley in Kenya, a bacterial microorganism used in the production of blue jeans. When this microorganism is mixed with laundry detergent, the fade the cloth, creating that chic, expensive, fashionably faded look. A 2006 report on biopiracy commissioned by the African Center for Biosafety showed that Genencor earned $3.4 billion from the use of that bacteria without paying any taxes to the local administration (31).
There is one more small item I want to mention before wrapping this up (although there is so much more we could say about this issue). In her book, Rogue Economics (2008), Loretta Napoleoni writes: "After 1989 the 'leisure class' moved to London to take advantage of a Victorian fiscal law. This law allows wealthy people to set up or maintain a British 'residency' and move their financial domicile abroad. They are only taxed on that income they bring back to England. It was a law first designed to protect the profits of British plantation owners across the empire" (32).
Question: How does one obtain British 'residency'?
Answer: Simply deposit a large sum of money in a UK bank and leave it there. Americans, however, cannot directly benefit from this because the United States taxes its citizens on world income (33).
Its interesting to note, as a side issue, that this is the principle that is applied at the Coutts Bank, where the Queen of England and the aristocracy do their banking. The portfolios of some of the notorious Russian oligarchs were restructured, at Coutts, on precisely this basis (34).
One wonders if there are any additional benefits to such 'residency.' Does capital get to vote in foreign elections on this basis?
And speaking of democracy, it is important to note the following: In 1971 90% of all international financial transactions were related to the real economy, by which is meant trade and long-term investment. Only 10% of those transactions were speculative. By 1990 those figures were reversed; and by 1995 about 95% of vastly greater sums were speculative and only 5% were related to the real economy. Daily flows regularly exceeded the foreign exchange reserves of the then seven biggest industrial powers---over on trillion a day, and very short-term. Eighty percent of those taking a round-trip of a week or less (35).
I don't know what the figures are today, but I'm sure they have only magnified. What we're looking at here is an indication of the ascendancy of finance.
Anyway, this phenomenon I'm pointing to has consequences for democracy around the world. That seems to be the judgment of Noble Prize-winning economist, former World Bank chief economist, and former Clinton chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, Joseph E. Stiglitz.
From the same book by Stiglitz, I referenced earlier, we read: What happened in the Roaring Nineties was that a set of longstanding checks and balances---a balance between Wall Street, Main Street (or High Street, as it is called in the United Kingdom), and labor, between Old Industry and New Technology, government and the market---was upset, in some essential ways, by the new ascendancy of Finance. Everyone deferred to its judgment. Countries, including the United States, were told to accept the discipline of the market. Longstanding wisdom that there were alternative policies, that different policies affected different groups differently, that there were trade-offs, that politics provided the arena through which the trade-offs were evaluated and choices were made, was shunted aside" (36).
Let's keep reading: "...in the Nineties, America set itself up as the role model for the rest of the world. America was looked to for its views about the right balance of government and the market and about what kinds of institutions and policies are needed to make a market economy work well" (37).
And still quoting Stiglitz: "Those countries which did not voluntarily mimic America, in the hope that their economy too would experience a boom, including those that thought America had not gotten the balance right, were cajoled, badgered, and in the case of developing countries dependent on assistance from the International Monetary Fund, effectively forced to go along with what was described as the sweep of history" (38).
And for good measure, still quoting Stiglitz: "Asians were told to abandon the model that had seemingly served them so well for two decades, involving lifetime job security---and had led to new ways of business that we had imitated, such as just-in-time production---but was now seen to be faltering. Sweden and other adherents to the welfare state appeared to be abandoning their models as well, by trimming state benefits and lowering tax rates" (39).
I think Dr. Stiglitz's evaluation speaks for itself. I will only say that I have brought this up because one frequently hears talk---in the United States---from the right-wing of the political spectrum, this concern about maintaining the integrity of our local and national elections, so that not one single person who is not eligible to vote is properly barred from fraudulent ballot-casting. It is interesting to lay that discussion alongside a discussion about the reach of liberated international finance and its implications for the ability of other governments to do social and economic planning; if they offend international capital, this 'virtual parliament' (40) will take its money (as well of the interest it has accrued) out of the country, leaving it worse off before the infusion of the capital in the first place.
It really must be said that it is well known that the Mexican economy collapsed in 1994, thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Now, in 1989, according to American scholar, Noam Chomsky, U.S.-owned plants in northern Mexico, employing few workers and with virtually no linkages to the Mexican economy, produced more than 33 percent of engine blocks used in U.S. cars and 75 percent of other essential components (41).
Now, in the 1990s, according to Dr. Chomsky, over half of U.S. 'trade' with Mexico was reported to be intra-firm transactions (this means movement of products from one plant owned by a corporation in one country to another plant in another country, owned by the same corporation; since the product happens to cross a border it is called 'trade'), and this was up fifteen percent since the imposition of NAFTA. The result of this was to transform Mexico into a very cheap source of manufactured goods, with industrial wages at one-tenth those of U.S. workers (42).
Notice: that's the Mexicans lucky enough to maintain jobs!
By the way, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that NAFTA took force on January 1, 1994 (43). The bolstering militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, in the form of Operation Gatekeeper, was announced by then Attorney General, Janet Reno, on September 17, 1994, and then actually launched on October 1, 1994 (44). There does seem to be something prescient about the timing of the border operation, a few months after the launch of NAFTA, in retrospect, and I am not the first to say so.
What in the world am I talking about? What am I trying to say?
The reason I used the picture, up top, of the man made out of dollars (from GEICO commercials), driving a speedboat, is to underscore my basic theme: labor faces borders and capital does not. Labor must conform to the law; and the law conforms to capital.
A very small but telling example of this is the Citigroup merger with Traveler's Insurance, a corporation that owned and controlled the investment bank, Smith Barney. This merger was announced on April 6, 1998, and was, by the way, then illegal under existing Glass-Steagal law from the 1930s. The House of Representatives "scrambled" to put a "reform" bill together, but the issue died in the Senate. The bill was not passed. Nevertheless, the corporate chiefs did not let a little thing like the law get in their way. The merger went ahead. The new company would sell securities, take deposits, make loans, underwrite stock, sell insurance, and operate an "enormous variety of financial services, all under one name: Citigroup." Lobbyists paid out millions to Congress and eventually, by November 1999, more than one year later, the necessary bills were passed, by veto-proof margins, by both houses of Congress (45).
You see how the corporations did what they wanted, as the government scrambled to legalize it? One cannot help thinking of the way Napoleon I crowned himself emperor at his coronation, snatching the laurel out of the Pope's hands (46).
In talking about 'Immigration Reform,' I, personally, find the discussion to be very narrow. To my way of thinking: How can you talk about the supposed criminality of 'illegal aliens,' (again, a thesis I believe to be dubious and unsupportable) without laying it alongside the well known, documented, and considerable greater in depth and breadth criminality of multinational corporations?
How can we talk about the supposed increased risk of disease that illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America, without understanding that corporations posed a far greater risk, that they make far, far, far more people sick (and cause death) with what they put into the ground, water, and air?
How can we talk about the supposed fact that 'illegal aliens' pose a threat to American jobs (a highly dubious claim at best) without putting that alongside the substantially more profound effect of corporations themselves, on American joblessness?
Whom should we really be afraid of? Whom should be watch and regulate most closely?
I'll leave it there. Thank you so much for reading!
1. Korten, David C. When Corporations Rule the World. Berret-Koehler & Kumarian Press, 1995. 59
2. Johnston, David Cay. Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign To Rig Our Tax System To Benefit The Super Rich---And Cheat Everybody Else. Portfolio, 2003. 235
3. Retrieved August 4, 2014 http://www.pcworld.com/article/2455106/microsoft-lays-off-18000-including-a-third-of-nokia-in-largest-ever-job-cuts.html; http://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyclay/2014/07/20/microsoft-layoffs-also-impact-thousands-of-contractors/; http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/18/business/microsoft-to-cut-up-to-18000-jobs.html?_r=0
4. Johnston, David Cay. Free Lunch: How The Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves At Government Expense (And Stick You With The Bill). Portfolio, 2007. 15
5. Phillips, Kevin. Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich. Broadway Books, 2002. 112
6. Krugman, Paul. The Conscience of a Liberal. W.W. Norton, 2007. 150
7. Phillips, Kevin. Wealth and Democracy. 112
8. Russo, Gus. The Outfit: The Role of Chicago's Underworld In The Shaping of Modern America. Bloombury, 2001. 51-52
9. Glasbeck, H. (2009). White Collar Crime is Morally Wrong. In K. Wand (ed.), White Collar Crime: Opposing Viewpoints: Opposing Viewpoint Series. (pp.43-46). Greenhaven Press. 43
10. ibid, 44-45
11. ibid, 45
13. ibid, 45-46
14. ibid, 46
15. ibid, 45
17. Johnston, David Cay. Free Lunch. 16
18. ibid, 16
20. Korten, David C. When Corporations Rule the World. 173-174
21. ibid, 174
24. ibid, 175
25. Stiglitz, Joseph E. The Roaring Nineties: A New History of the World's Most Prosperous Decade. W.W. Norton & Company, 2003. 21
26. ibid, 22
28. Napoleoni, Loretta. Rogue Economics. Seven Stories Press, 2008. 195
29. ibid, 196
30. ibid, 195: Dr. Napoleoni published her book in 2008, so I suppose she was saying that this feat could have been done in about seven years, had the subsidies and tariffs been ended by the Northern countries.
31. ibid, 114
32. ibid, 52
33. ibid, 53
35. Chomsky, Noam. Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order. Seven Stories Press, 1999. 23-24
36. Stiglitz, Joseph E. Roaring Nineties. xiv
37. ibid, xv
38. ibid, xv-xvi
39. ibid, 4
40. Reference pending for term 'virtual parliament.'
41. Chomsky, Noam. Profit Over People. 110
43. Retrieved August 6, 2014 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_Free_Trade_Agreement
44. Retrieved August 6, 2014 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Gatekeeper
45. McDonald, Lawrence G. (with Patrick Robinson). A Colossal Failure of Common Sense: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers. Crown Business, 2009. 6-7
46. Retrieved August 6, 2014 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coronation_of_Napoleon_I
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