Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Global/Christian Idenity and Immigration Policy

Political economy, especially global political economy, is an exciting mess.

My friend at the Mystical Atheistjust wrote an article on immigration and its effects economically and socially.

I hope to throw a few helpful and friendly rejoinders into the ring: 1) a discussion about global objectified human identity 2) the need for immigration control as it pertains to economics.

First, there is a concern that late-modern capitalism has, in its ability to dissipate and dissolve political sovereignty created neo-colonialization. Such that, colonialization in its almost defining role of dehumanizing local people, so too (some argue) capitalism had eroded the 'Real' subjectivity of peoples around the world; now being reduced to mere consumers and producers working in/for a capitalist machine that has stripped any discernable marks of authentic humanity.

Yet, this is not the case. This argument, and its cottage-industry ilk, posits a type of vague essential subjectivity for humanity. Yet, this ontology is not only vague but conspicuously weak in light that capitalism has ostensibly crippled it from its role in defining what it means to be man.

Further, let me suggest that the only ontology that can be historically sustained is one that can both fully envelope the character of humanity while at the same time express the transcendental nature of humanity, which of course is reality that humanity is both creature and made in God's image.

I have strayed from the conversation. The point to consider is that globalization has certainly eroded the 20th century's fascination with national identity. The nation state is a relatively new political concept and one that has had devastating consequences. All of this is to suggest that culture, language and geographic boundaries may never be able to suffice in constructing a harmonious identity - and certainly does not seem strong enough in creating a holistic identity that will lead to economic-parity of pay. Yet, perhaps, religious identity can; that we all share the same ontological grounding in the fact that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. If interested the post-humanist literature is both fascinating and deeply, deeply troubling (and that is another one of the reasons I have yet to give up hope for faith).

2) There is a need for immigration control, and the reasons are counter-intuitive. The desire to open borders for labor (as we do now for capital) is an idea that has long been championed by truly staunch capitalists. The increased fluidity and liberation of capital has certainly helped development in the world (though has also led to gluts and dumps) around the world. Stiglitz in his new book states that if we are serious about free trade, then we should also be serious about being more amenable and open to more fluid and unrestrained immigratory/emigratory labor markets. This certainly seems the case in E.U. as one of its final economic unifying decisions was to open immigration between countries (though let's remember England).

Yet, for all the economic reasons that seem to scream for open labor markets, let us examine two concerns: 1) immigrant country infrastructure 2) emigrant country brain drain.

It seems the liberal bleeding-heart issue of the day is immigration; specifically, how ruthless it must to not allow immigrants into the United States and allow them to work towards the 'American Dream.' However, proponents should realized that capping the number of immigrants into the country is not necessarily a heartless policy nor a veiled attempt at keeping the population fair skinned. No, there are infrastructure concerns that must be considered. Cities inundated with high numbers of immigrants (especially illegal immigration) do not have the resources to properly deal with the unexpected, and often sudden increases in the population. These increases especially affect already crowded public schools that often may not have quality ESL transition teachers who can give the type of assistant many of these immigratory students will need. Often illegal immigrants lack the ability to procure health care leading to little if any preventive medical treatment and increased ER visits which are dramatically more expense, while the costs are left to the local hospital or local municipal government to cover. Finally, if labor was free to move into this country freely without restraint the labor market that was initially so (relatively) lucrative for them would fall. Increased cheap labor would lead to (inevitably) falling wages. Minimum wages might mitigate some of these effects, but such a glut of cheap labor would almost surely intensify the already potent incentive of black market labor.

However, this is not the worst. The worst is that opening the United States to world labor will emaciate the labor pools of other countries. The state of Indiana was concerned with what they dubbed the ‘brain drain’ in the late 1990’s. They were concerned with the high percentage of high school and college graduates that immediately left Indiana for employment in other states. I am one of those ‘brain drain’ students from Indiana. Michigan has talked of a similar problem, too. With unfettered boundaries for labor there is a risk the best and brightest of developing countries will flock to the United States or Europe eschewing more limited economic, educational, and occupational opportunities in their native countries. The global draw of the American university system has already begun such a process, one that could have unforeseen, but still devastating effects on developing countries that find themselves with a perpetual dearth of human capital.

Thus, there are – I think – convincing, if not counter-intuitive, reasons why immigration policies should continue to set limits on how many aliens are naturalized annually and how many visas are granted each year.

Finally, let us turn our eyes to Stiglitz (and who so unfortunately wrote an overly-apocalyptic op-ed for the New York Times today). In his more sober and somber moments, specifically in his book, “Making Globalization Work” he articulates that the problem with globalization is not that there is too much of it, but not enough. Pointedly, there has not been enough globalized-banking mechanisms nor globalized-political power. So, while the 1980’s and 1990’s innovation in telecommunications marketedly increased the ability of business to globalize, political institutions have been much, much more resistant to such a change. Inroads have been made, but usually political unification is the last step in the process, while economically driven trade agreements are the first. The development, if not strange development, of the EU is a text book example; it started out as trade agreement for steel and coal. Global political governance will certainly be able to set humanitarian and environmental standards, which are currently undermined by single national governances that have little control in forcing regulations on transnational corporations lest the businesses leave for a country that offers more amenable (less restrictive) policies on labor and the environment.

Ultimately, let us turn back to the presidential race as a way to find an end to my rambling. I cringe every time Barrack Obama (and Edwards and Clinton) that NAFTA was a mistake. I cringe every time my friends say the same. Truly free trade is fair trade. Continuing farm subsidizes is undermining the competitive advantage of South American countries, but the blue collar jobs that are moving across oceans are not coming back (unless transportations costs skyrocket), and the American citizens needs to accept our own competitive advantage which rests in a highly educated work force. As much as I love Obama he falls into the old and evil necessity of playing to the whims and wills of the American unions’ worries.


Mark said...

Thanks for the response Jason. I'd love to "shoot the breeze" with you over some of this stuff we've tossing back and forth in digitally intellectual volleys.
What do you make of the fact that the EU and its expanding free-trade and free-labor "economic zone" has not yet lead to an economic collapse? And, in fact, we might even claim that slow and steady measures have been put in place to promote "global" or "holist" progress?

Mark said...

If we turn the question to the American presidential election (I'm still working on a blog entry on "casting my vote") said that Obama lacks in economic precision in simply repeating "old school mantras," but doesn't Obama's lack of clarity and ultimately intellectual hollowness relate to the fact that he is a populist in his campaign and that he lacks certain deeper convictions (for example on the same level as the ethical and moral "edge" that Nader had and that Kucinich seems to have now)? I find Obama's speeches empty and his press conferences and interviews lead much to be desired in "on your feet" thinking and, worse perhaps, he's lack in days, months and years spent in college dorms, traveling, reading, and reflecting about real problems with real people. He often seems to me to like the Eliot's poem "a headpiece filled with straw." Even in Kucinich is on the crazy side, at least he's thinking outside of what is expected to be said.

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