By MANIFESTO JOE
The debate about illegal immigration has focused largely on cost-benefit analysis, with people citing conflicting studies about the effects on wages, taxes, jobs, health care, education costs, etc.
What few seem to be talking about is that this issue stems from two things: Mexico's corrupt, oligarchic system; and, increasingly, our own.
What is the effect on wages? According to Harvard economists George J. Borjas and Lawrence F. Katz, from 1980 to 2000, immigration reduced the average annual earnings of U.S.-born men by nearly 4 percent. The poorest 10 percent of the work force suffered worse, they wrote, with a 7.4 percent reduction. Among high school dropouts, it was 8.2 percent.
What is the effect on jobs? It's been long argued that illegal immigrants take jobs that Americans won't. That seemed largely true in the 1980s, but less so now. In Texas, where I live, it's easy to see how this has changed. Just walk up to any construction site and find out how many of the skilled tradesmen there are equally skilled in English.
But Borjas and Katz point out that such effects are mitigated -- for example, certain types of businesses (hand car washes and landscapers) would not even exist without the cheap labor of illegal immigrants.
Borjas wrote in an April 18 op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal: "A larger pool of competing workers lowers relative wages. This does not imply that immigration is a net loss for the economy. After all, the wage losses suffered by workers show up as higher profits to employers and, eventually, as lower prices to consumers. Immigration policy is just another redistribution program. In the short run, it transfers wealth from one group (workers) to another group (employers). Whether or not such transfers are desirable is one of the central questions in the immigration debate."
It is amusing to see some conservatives who take a hard line on immigration latching onto the Borjas-Katz study. I never noticed that these union-busting, Wal-Mart-shopping types were ever concerned about low wages in the past. Their stand is more likely rooted in right-wing xenophobia, not concern for U.S. workers.
This brings us to the Republican Party's great divide on this issue: the bigots versus the exploiters. Among the more "moderate" elitist Republicans, they don't want to lose their gardeners or their cleaning women -- they work so cheap.
It also brings us to the reason all these millions of Mexican nationals come here illegally, often at great risk: The Mexican economy, mismanaged for decades by a corrupt, oligarchic government, can't provide jobs for its large peasant class. And this may be somewhat by design.
The history of the PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary Party, in Mexico tells the sordid tale of how the 1910-20 revolution was betrayed. In addition to the phony, occasionally murderous one-party "democracy" it operated for 71 years, the PRI eventually gutted many progressive reforms pushed through by legendary President Lazaro Cardenas in the 1930s. It so mismanaged the economy that by the late 1970s and early 1980s, wealthy Mexicans were reinvesting assets abroad because they had little confidence in their own economy. And so, even fewer jobs were created in Mexico. And even when times were better, wealth was hoarded, not shared.
In 2004, the World Bank reported that Mexico, which is considered a middle-income nation as a whole, had a 50 percent poverty rate. Corruption remains endemic, and the country's rich seem more than happy to encourage the jobless poor to cross the U.S. border by the millions.
After fraudulent presidential elections, including one in 1988 that was stolen from Cardenas' son Cuauhtemoc, the voters finally got to throw the PRI out.
But the PAN administration that came to power after the 2000 election has proved to be the Fox in charge of the henhouse. For Mexico's poor, life has improved little, if any, under conservative President Vicente Fox.
And NAFTA's "liberalization" of agriculture in Mexico has been a disaster for peasant farmers there, throwing them into direct competition with more mechanized and heavily subsidized U.S. farming operations.
And still the future looks bleaker. Mexico's leftist hopeful for president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has fallen behind the conservative PAN candidate in a recent poll. And in America, our own steady movement toward a corrupt, Mexican-style oligarchy continues unabated under the sleazy administration of George W. Bush.
So, expect millions more illegal immigrants, and thousands more scofflaw U.S. employers who will gladly hire them. They work cheap; they don't make waves; they can't form unions; they will often work off the books, for cash; and if they get hurt on the job, they can't sue.
Forget about the Cro-Magnon Republican idea to make them felons. This is a government that couldn't handle a Category 3 hurricane in New Orleans. How is it going to round up and deport 12 million illegal immigrants?
Expect this debate to go on a long time. But let's get past peripheral questions of how much it costs to educate the immigrants' kids and provide charity health care, how much in taxes they do or don't pay, how much money they spend here or send back to Mexico.
It's the exploitation, stupid -- there, and here.
MANIFESTO JOE IS AN UNDERGROUND WRITER LIVING IN TEXAS.