Refugees From Capitalism

Blogging on the misnamed "immigration" issue, Angel Of Mercy furnished this link to an article by the esteemed George Lackoff regarding the cheap labor conservative framing regarding refugees from, well, from cheap labor conservatism. But we’ll develop that here in a minute. Lackoff of course, perfectly identifies the frames carried by such terms as "illegal immigrant," "undocumented worker," etc. For the latter he proposes "un-enfranchised worker." I like "disenfranchised" better, but I’m not going to quibble. I’ll go with whichever version prevails.

Since AOM included this in one of his "odds and ends" posts, I hope he won’t mind if I amplify this particular issue. You see, once again we have one those rare opportunities to recast an issue in such a way as to smash cheap labor ideology into rubble. Let me show you how.

Let us begin in what you may perceive to be an unusual place. Let us consider the Berlin Wall. Everyone should be familiar with the infamous "wall of shame," erected to keep the denizens of communist eastern Europe from fleeing to freedom — and prosperity — in the west. And indeed, that was precisely the purpose of the Berlin Wall. Living in Eastern Europe, hundreds of thousands of people "voted with their feet," fleeing an oppressive and economically stagnant political system. Without the wall, East Germany would have faced a serious drain of its labor pool.

Interestingly, cheap labor conservatives will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the Berlin Wall. It was after all, Ronnie Raygun himself, who famously asked "Mr. Gorbachev" to "tear down this wall." That wall of course, symbolized the failure of communism, and the success of capitalism.

Or did it? Specifically, was it Ronnie Raygun’s version of capitalism? Was it Grover Norquist’s "McKinley era, without the protectionism?" Actually, it wasn’t cheap labor conservative heaven those eastern Europeans were fleeing to. In fact, cheap labor conservatives regularly decried all of the "socialism" we practice in the social democratic mixed economies of western Europe and the US. They cheered eastern European refugees fleeing from "Stalinism," and then, in other contexts, called the social democratic societies they fled to "Stalinist." What can I say? Cheap labor conservatives are always good for talking out of both sides of mouth.

What has that got to do with economic refugees from Mexico? Everything, actually. It’s the very same phenomenon — only Mexican refugees aren’t fleeing from communism. They’re fleeing from capitalism. These NAFTA refugees are fleeing from precisely the "McKinley era" style capitalism Grover Norquist says he wants for us.

Make no mistake, northern Mexico is a Grover Norquist wet dream. They do have a minimum wage, but it is ridiculously low. They have no unions to speak of. They have no unemployment compensation, no Social Security, no eight hour work day, and generally none of the protections American wage earners take for granted. Norquist calls our comparatively wage earner friendly economy "socialism," and looks forward to the day when we in America do business the same way our own American corporations already do business in Mexico.

The result is millions of refugees from cowboy capitalism. Norquist, and Dubya, and Limbaugh, and all the rest of the cheap labor cons tell us that "less government" is the ticket to prosperity. They tell us that if we’ll just dole out a few more tax breaks, and stop "pampering" our work force, we’ll all be better off — just like they are in Mexico.

We don’t need to speculate about what "the McKinley era" will look like, if we’ll just return to it. They’re doing it — American corporations are doing it — as we speak in Mexico. Mexican wage earners are "voting with their feet," just like the refugees from Eastern Europe did. Cheap labor conservatives saw that earlier migration as an indictment of a failed system. Funny how they fail to reach the same conclusion about their own Dickensian social vision — the one you can see at work, just over the Rio Grande.

So there’s your frame to describe Mexican wage earners, risking their lives to flee from Norquistland. They are "refugees from capitalism." That term is guaranteed to start a fight — a fight the cheap labor conservatives are destined to lose. Their ideology is bankrupt. The proof is the "Berlin Wall on the Rio Grande," and the 6000 soldiers being sent to keep Mexican workers chained to the oars of American corporations — the very same corporations who also exploit their "illegal" status, when they get up here.

What do say to that, Grover?

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