My neighbor Clive is possessed of an increasingly rare quality: He’s neighborly.
Clive is a naturalized U.S. citizen hailing from Jamaica. The first time I invited him in he was with his 16-year-old daughter. Surveying my bookshelves with a curious eye, the kid noticed my modest classics collection. Pulling out a dog-eared paperback Xenophon, she made some insightful comment, to which Clive added his own. This led to a lazy afternoon debating such matters as the applicability of Thucydides to modern Iraq over Red Stripe. Asked how he became so well-versed in the classics, Clive simply replied, “the nuns.” I’d made a friend.
Clive is in the construction business. During a subsequent visit the conversation was the impending election and my refusal to vote for McCain. Clive urged me to reconsider. I countered that I should like John. After all, both he and my father were Vietnam aviators and this fact alone goes a long way with me. But it doesn’t go far enough to get past ideas about reinventing the 100 Years War and, even more, Paths to Citizenship, which like the poet’s paths of glory, “lead but to the grave.”
My neighbor concurs about the Middle East, but differs on immigration. “Dey got to do sometin’ about dis’ situation,” he exclaims. He’s a law-and-order man he tells me, and that means he only hires U.S. citizens and green-card holders for his construction crews. This, he laments, is killing him. “Every bid me put in, one dem’ wit’ the illegals underbid.” McCain’s plan will “level the pitch” argues the avid cricketer.
The stalwart House Republicans, like Xenophon’s 10,000, staved off McCain’s 2007 effort to assist Teddy Kennedy in finishing off what he couldn’t in 1965. But their anabasis will be renewed soon enough, and it remains to be seen if Tancredo’s cohort can beat off yet another assault.
And if they don’t? Will Clive’s dream of a level pitch be realized? I suspect not.
Under any McCain-like plan, millions will go to bed an obedient cash-in-hand roustabout and awake a newly minted American Worker. And with that metamorphosis come minimum wage guarantees, unemployment insurance, workers compensation, and a host of other costly protections. They will also enjoy unrestricted movement within the labor market–i.e. they’ll be able to quit without fear of deportation. The limitless reserve of brown-skinned helots will sharply contract.
In the mythical model economy of my undergraduate economics studies the cost of labor rises as the labor supply contracts and these costs are passed on to the consumer. Thus we would expect across the board rises in the price of goods and services after Messrs. McCain and Kennedy have realized their dream. But this is America in the 21st century, not a model market.
We have grown accustomed to cheap, whether we acknowledge it or not. A friend recently spotted Lou Dobbs in a modish Manhattan eatery. “What a hypocrite,” he screams, “he knows illegals do all the kitchen work.” What was Mr. Dobbs guilty of? Eating. If you don’t want to encourage illegal hiring, stop eating.
So far the Department of Homeland Security has yet to hire any illegals, but damn near everybody else has and this, we are told, keeps things cheap. And to maintain this we’ll import the world’s poor and circumvent labor protections previous generations of workers, many immigrants themselves, struggled for. In the last decades we have taken a giant step backwards: From Servitude to Sinclair’s Jungle to Suburban Working Man and now back somewhere just past the Jungle. Rather than taking us forward again, McCain’s plan will lead to importation of new poor to replace the ones strolling down the Path. The transformation of America ratchets up irreversibly.
Freed slaves of past centuries often put freedom to use by buying their own slaves. Upon manumission the new American Worker will want his own cheap labor. Having learned the fundamentals of running restaurants, lawn care, 99 cent stores, and massage parlors, many will venture out on their own and in so doing cease being the help and start being El Jefe.
It is said in immigration law circles that the most predatory lawyers are those who were once immigrants themselves because they know the language, culture, and mindset well enough to cash in on hopes and fears with precision. The same principle will apply to these new employers, who will employ knowledge of the patria and personal experience as the smuggled to gain an unfair advantage over other American importers of humans. There will be many a Clive in the post-legalization era.
There will be other beneficiaries of a McCain-like plan. Those coyotes of the Rio Grande who can retool in light of any new gestures at border security will have boom times as the demand for new helots rises as the current crop sets foot on the Path to Citizenship. Hadrian’s Wall kept the barbarians out. The Soviets hemmed in half of Berlin with theirs. We are told that Israel’s fence is essential to that nation’s future. But here those who don’t want a fence tell us with sly certainty that fences are a futile waste of tax dollars and a threat to pygmy owls. On the latter I am uncertain, but the former has a note of truth: A fence means more income tax for the elites south of it and more payroll tax for those to its north. The result is likely to be patchwork fence just annoying enough for the coyotes to justify a fare hike.
Clive tells me he’s contemplating returning to Jamaica once his kid gets through college. He’ll sell the house and what’s left of the business and head back. “Me wall me self in and live like Priam.” I point out that we already live in a gated community. “You see? What’s the difference man? Jamaica don’t turn more like ‘dis place. Dis’ place turn more like Jamaica.”