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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Elitist Fools and Hopeless Blowhards

A failed attempt to change Lou Dobbs mind on immigration:

Broken Borders and Dover Sole: My Lunch With Lou Dobbs, by Lawrence Downes, Commentary, NY Times: So I was having lunch ... with Lou Dobbs..., locked in disagreement over who cared more about working people, him or me.

Him: CNN host, biggest and loudest gun in the battle for tougher immigration policies, leader of a nightly crusade to expose the misdeeds of those he views as elitist fools and scoundrels.

Me: editorial writer whose views on immigration qualify, to Mr. Dobbs and many others on his side of the debate, as elitist, foolish and scoundrelly. ...

Among people whose immigration views I admire, Mr. Dobbs has a reputation as a hopeless blowhard. I did not dwell on that...  I was looking for something better than an argument. I wanted to convert him.

An honest person must concede a lot when arguing immigration with Mr. Dobbs: Yes, the borders and ports are insecure... Yes, illegal immigration hurts some Americans, globalization causes many global problems and big corporations love to stick it to the little guy.

My point to Mr. Dobbs was that the little-little guy — the “illegal alien” crossing our “broken borders” — was the wrong target. His overriding emphasis on solving globalization’s many ills by urgently sealing the borders strikes me as populism gone astray.

First, it’s ineffective, because the country will never be ziplocked as tightly as he wants it to be. The price of trying is too high, and it ignores the millions who enter the country legally but overstay. Most shamefully, it does nothing to resolve the fates of the 12 million undocumented already here.

Second, the obsession with enforcement dovetails with the agendas of some nasty people: the nativists for whom immigration is a simple case of brown and white...

Third, it does too little to attack the evil corporate elites that are Mr. Dobbs’s sworn enemy. What makes illegal immigrants so delectable to big, bad business is their illegality — their willingness to work cheap and under the table. So why not legalize and tax them? Assimilate the good guys, as this country has always done, and save law enforcement for the bad ones.

The idea is to confront abusive corporate power with worker power. If day laborers end up in our suburbs, where the money and jobs are, then give them safe places to gather and help them work together to keep from driving wages and working conditions down. If companies take advantage of workers, empower the workers to fight back: as union members, legal residents, citizens.

But that’s “amnesty,” a Dobbsian expletive. It’s the opposite of the crackdowns endorsed by him and the hard-liners he praises, like the Minutemen.

Mr. Dobbs listened graciously and budged not. He said he respected immigrants, even illegal ones... He reminded me of his fondness for Cesar Chavez.

Then he repeated his immigration credo. It went like this: the 1986 immigration law was an amnesty promoted by corporate interests waging war on the middle class. Thus the 2006 and 2007 reforms were also amnesty, pushed by the same self-serving plutocrats. So nothing they want is worth doing — at least not until the border is sealed.

That could be a long time. While we wait, I am going to keep trying to convince Mr. Dobbs that a comprehensive solution — enforcement plus assimilation — is the best expression of the populism he espouses.

Mr. Dobbs admits that mass deportation would never work, although if you press him on what to do about the 12 million, he has no answer. He wants to hold that question “in abeyance” until the border is sealed. I find that oddly passive for someone so convinced of the dangers from the aliens in our midst.

I told him that, and he smiled. The lunch was over. ...

Fences don't stop economic forces from working. I think the only viable long-run solution to the immigration problem is to reduce the economic distance between Mexico and the U.S. Obviously, we don't want to do that by reducing our income, so we need to do what we can to help Mexico develop and raise its standard of living. In that regard, I would like to hear more from the presidential candidates on how the U.S. might help to promote business and job development in Mexico. Proposing a tax credit to companies willing to invest in Mexico would be political suicide - tax breaks to U.S. companies willing to move jobs to Mexico probably wouldn't go over well - but if we are going to solve this problem we will have to realize that such investment must take place. If nobody from the outside ever locates in Mexico, if we wait for development to spontaneously erupt on its own from within, it could be a long wait with a high fence repair bill. But tax breaks are but one small part of the government's arsenal, and I would like to know what the candidates plan to do to promote economic development in Mexico. So I checked their websites to see if they say anything about this (in each case I clicked on issues, then immigration):

Obama: "Work with Mexico: Obama believes we need to do more to promote economic development in Mexico to decrease illegal immigration."

Clinton: Doesn't explicitly say anything about development, closest statement is "greater cross-cooperation with our neighbors."

McCain: "Recognize the importance of building strong allies in Mexico and Latin America who reject the siren call of authoritarians like Hugo Chavez, support freedom and democracy, and seek strong domestic economies with abundant economic opportunities for their citizens."

I have to give this one to Obama. I have no problem with promoting free market policies, but McCain is essentially adopting the Washington Consensus as a development strategy and that's not what I had in mind, and it's not a strategy that has been successful. Clinton doesn't mention development in Mexico as a means of stemming illegal immigration - I'm sure she'd give the right answer if asked but it's not on her website - and only Obama makes the clear link between the U.S. helping Mexico to develop and decreases in illegal immigration.

    Posted by on Thursday, February 21, 2008 at 12:55 AM in Economics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (173)

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