The Moment of Truth — May 5, 2006

Illegals and How Work Works

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the way Wonka felt when Charlie gave him back the gobstopper.

About this illegal immigrant thing, can we get together on this, be of one mind about it? No? I didn’t think so.

Here’s what Bill O’Reilly thinks we all think, all of us who don’t think the immigrant protests are evil or that illegal immigrants should be rounded up and deported: Number one, we supposedly think it’s okay for Mexicans to sneak into this country illegally because we stole it from them and, Number two, that if it weren’t for the USA exploiting Latin America, there wouldn’t be so much poverty down there for those Mexicans, et cetera, to try to sneak away from.

He decides this is what we think, then here’s what he calls us: crazy Lefties. Then he says most people, the Right and the Middle, are against the marches and don’t want to tolerate illegal immigrants, even if Liberals think such a position is mean. So, if you aren’t harshly critical of the marches, or if you’d like to see illegal immigrants given other options than being deported, you’re a crazy Lefty, and all others, from normal to exceptionally conservative, think like Bill O’Reilly. Never mind the businesses, large and small, that are against ANY kind of legislation relating to regulating illegal immigrants. I guess THEY’RE crazy Lefties, too.

And here’s what I think:

The idea that illegal immigrants from Mexico are sneaking over here to take advantage of our amazing array of social services is pretty funny. It’s funny because of the sad truth that our social services were inadequate before the conservative revolution and are now an international embarrassment in the advanced industrial world. So, while illegal immigrants may use publicly owned resources while here, it’s certainly not why they come.

Let’s say they’re coming over to steal our jobs. Let me even give some personal insight into which jobs are being stolen. Here I am on a construction site—a place I often work, middle-class know-nothing intellectual that I am, thank you—let’s say it’s in Arlington Heights, where I was working as recently as last week—and whom do I see pouring the concrete? Why yes, it’s a bunch of Mexicans. About a dozen. And I’m willing to concede that at least five of them are here illegally.

Are they taking away jobs from five US citizens? I’d have to say, Yes. Most likely, five Mexican-American US citizens, to whom they’re probably related. From my experience in this area of the economy, I’ve learned that if there’s something to do on a construction site, be it electrical, plumbing, carpentry, flooring, framing, decorating, paving, glazing, masonry, ironwork—whatever it may be—there’s a US citizen who would like to do that job.

Here’s the odd thing: of all the tasks on a job site, the one dominated by ethnic Mexicans is always cement-pouring. Mexicans are notoriously good at this. “How do they do it?” I’ve often heard white union guys wonder as they stood by on one of their many smoke breaks.

They do get the stuff remarkably smooth and level. Here’s the secret: they put extra water in it. Not all of them do this, but many do. It makes it more workable, but the final product is weaker than orthodox cement. Still, for most purposes these days, that’s okay. By most purposes I mean driveways of McMansions and drive-thrus, and curbs and sidewalks around franchise restaurants and malls. You know, privately owned architectural garbage.

Not only do cement crews made up of Mexicans do better-looking if sometimes structurally compromised work, the illegal ones work for less money, thus cutting the overhead of the cement crew’s boss, as well as that of the construction project as a whole—a savings that is passed on to you, the consumer, every time you buy a Subway sandwich or a mouthwatering McMansion. Frequently, of course, the savings is only passed on to the boss, who puts it into the income property he’s renting to same-sex couples who, for all their worldly possessions, are prevented by law from participating in the legal fiction of marriage and thus subject to stumbling blocks to joint ownership of a home.

Because it’s all about who can legally participate. Get it?

It’s win/win for the small businessman. But in the process of winning he becomes a political Dr. Jekkyl and Mr. Hyde. He’s got to be in favor of two things simultaneously: no crackdown on illegal immigrants, and a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. He’s a self-interested amalgam of Left and Right. Politics indeed makes strange bedfellows, although in this case the bipolar contractor is in bed with himself. And once again, reality is more complex than Bill O’Reilly thinks.

Now on to agribusiness. It’s said by people who don’t know anything about how work actually works that illegal Latinos take jobs Americans don’t want, like picking fruit. Well, I don’t know if it’s a job Americans don’t want to do, but I do know that it’s established practice to hire illegal immigrants to do it, and once an institution, illegal or not, becomes entrenched through repetition, it’s very difficult to bring it to a stop without violence.

Even if I wanted to pick fruit, I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to get a job doing it. You have to get into the loop. And by now, people from south of the border are more in the loop than, say, an angry white man who’ll blame his joblessness on anyone and anything except his crappy president.

Consider the case of Prohibition. Drinking was an established institution. Pot smoking, another one. Hiring cheap labor under the table is one, too. Allowing George W. Bush to get away with destroying the nation seems to have become yet another. George W. Bush gives us a miserably chaotic and unwinnable war and an economy on the edge of destruction, while illegal aliens give us strawberries and beautiful concrete.

Personally, I prefer strawberries and beauty. But I guess Bill O’Reilly prefers destruction, corruption, lies and bloody death massacres and torture and rotting corpses and sickening horrible mutilation. Go figure. I guess I’m just a hippie.

Businesses can go wherever they want in search of cheap labor, but labor is not supposed to migrate to find better work? I don’t think that’s a very libertarian attitude, although it is good for making rich people richer, which IS a libertarian value. (Hey! Libertarians are bipolar, too!) And by rich people I mean rich people who would rather sit back collecting untaxed dividends and inheriting untaxed estates than get off their fat asses and pick a god damn strawberry.

Come to think of it, why are there so many restrictions on workers laboring in foreign countries? Ever try to get a job in Spain, waiting tables? It’s hard, and illegal without a work permit, with which the Spanish government is quite stingy. What’s with that? How come Fuddruckers or whatever can go to Spain and hire locals, but I can’t go over to Spain and get a job Fuddrucking? Work permits, my friend. Green cards, work permits, they’re all institutional blockades to labor shopping itself freely on the market. Why? It’s one of the many ways those in economic control keep wages artificially low and the cost of participation in government and the global marketplace artificially high—and you may notice the gap between the wages and the cost of participation widening. At least I hope you do, or we’ll never figure out what to do about it.

If we put our minds to it, and let go of our indoctrinated phobia of bringing fairness to the economy, maybe we can figure out how to preempt events like tens of thousands of auto workers being thrown out of work in a week. That’s bad enough, turning that many lives upside down because of some indoctrinated fear. Do we really want to do that to MILLIONS of people now? Have we no compassion, as a society? Forget compassion; have we no sanity? Are we going to be happier with social chaos? Are we total imbeciles? Or is it just a few nuts who think they can deport eleven million people? I think it’s them. Again, along with the Terry Schiavo thing, I think we’ve found an issue that separates those who belong in society from those who belong inside a building with Serta Perfect Sleeper paneling.

Koheleth, whom the goyim call Ecclesiastes, said this:

“Therefore, my work and achievements became a bane to me, for after my passing, someone else would inherit the fruits of my labor, and what kind of person would he be? A sage or a fool? It’s impossible to know. Everything I’ve labored for he will inherit without labor. It’s an empty thing.”

We’ve inherited the fruits of the labor of generations. Why are we so stingy with those fruits? And why don’t we see that they’re the inheritance of us all, not just the guy who found the way, during his short lifetime, to secure the legal right to profit from them in a rigged system? I understand greed. I understand the greed of the wealthy, who can picture themselves one day controlling all the world’s wealth, if only they wangle the right combination of paperwork and connections and bribery and risk. But the Minutemen? Or Bill O’Reilly? What do they gain by defending the right of the wealthy to control the world’s resources? Why is it so hard for them to look up at the manipulators, rather than always pointing their accusatory fingers at the less powerful?

Say we find some way to accommodate the sector of the economy we’re calling “illegal aliens.” Don’t think of taking the illegality out of the equation as rewarding illegal behavior. Think of it as establishing a way of keeping tabs on a huge sub rosa economy, bringing it into the light of day so its abuses can be identified and stopped and its worthwhile points be left intact or improved. See, you can try to stop it like Elliot Ness, who failed, or you can try to stop it the good old American way, by repealing restrictions on rights and integrating those newly unrestricted rights into society at large, where people will have to discuss the situation somewhat rationally rather than wait in the dark by the border with guns to shoot people who’ve already risked their lives to cross a river hoping to pick strawberries or pave the Burger King drive-thru.

I guess the long and the short of it is this: Bill O’Reilly’s a jerk. Not exactly man-bites-dog, I know. But it’s important every now and then to do a reality check.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!