Capitalism Is Not A One-Way Street

For all of you conservatives who love to praise the “free market”, let me call bullshit on this enduring lie that the President frequently cites to sell his immigration plan. From yesterday’s speech :

As we enforce our immigration laws, comprehensive immigration reform also requires us to improve those laws by creating a new temporary worker program. This program would create a legal way to match willing foreign workers with willing American employers to fill jobs that Americans will not do. Workers would be able to register for legal status for a fixed period of time, and then be required to go home. This program would help meet the demands of a growing economy, and it would allow honest workers to provide for their families while respecting the law.

The “jobs Americans won’t do” lie was also recently advanced in the Washington Post by a spokesman for the Labor Department and a “panicking” farmer (via Kevin Drum) :

“There are just some jobs people don’t want to do,” Nassif said. “It’s the most developed nation in the world using a foreign workforce, and people need to recognize that. We need to make them legal.”

Jack Vessey said he listed openings for 300 laborers at the state office of employment last week to prepare the lettuce fields for harvest. “We got one person,” he said. “He showed up and said, ‘I’m not going to do that.'”

The key to unraveling this bullshit is that the anonymous laborer quoted above likely ended his gripe with “unless you pay me more”. The President wants you to think this is because American workers are shiftless elitists, but it’s the employers and their shills who are the assholes here.

What people like the George W. Bush don’t understand is that capitalism is not a one-way street. When the demand for workers is high and the supply of laborers is low, the rational solution would be for employers to raise wages, increase benefits, or both to ensure that supply catches up to demand. But that would mean actually spending more money, and we can’t have that.

Instead, employers have found a way to get around their obligations by employing “undocumented” workers (and thus creating a demand for illegal labor). Why are these men and women willing to do the same job that Americans are unwilling to do for less money? Well, they’re here illegally, for one. They probably don’t speak English well and have little familiarity with existing labor laws. They’re doing a job that’s unskilled while under the constant threat of deportation. Sounds like the new face of indentured servitude to me, but the President and his allies are trying to figure out ways to make it acceptable.

But here’s the key to all of these proposals : These illegal workers aren’t being offered citizenship, but membership in a “guest worker program”. Bush and co. don’t give a damn about the working class in this country, they just want to make sure that the crooks aren’t penalized for breaking our labor laws. The solutions bandied about would create a pseudo-citizenship which will protect employers but do little to lift immigrant workers from the bottom rung on the economic ladder. When residence is closely tied to employment, the threat of deportation doesn’t go away, it just gets hidden a little better.

Which makes this whole debate even more galling. Immigrants are being exploited, American workers are getting screwed, and the whole debate is happenening as if these two groups of victims are on opposite sides. If you want to stop illegal immigration, you don’t need to build a fence. The supply of illegal labor will go away once the demand for it ceases. We don’t need new plans, we need to rigorously enforce the laws already on the books. If that means that employers are going to have to pay more to the people doing the jobs that “Americans won’t do” and pass those costs on to the consumer, then it’s hardly our place to question the wisdom of the invisible hand, right?

Also, it should be stressed again that George Bush and his allies should be ashamed of themselves for slandering us with their anti-worker rhetoric. Aren’t you paying attention, America? The President of the United States just called you an indolent snob. He thinks you’re too lazy to do an honest day’s work and too effete to do work that will get your hands dirty. Doesn’t that piss you off? It should.