Sweet home Alabama

>> Friday, October 14, 2011

This was part of the news when I was getting up this morning: employers in Alabama are suddenly having trouble finding workers thanks to the state's harsh new immigration law. I am shocked.


I love the idea that the United States is a nation of immigrants from prehistory to present, but I have to look at the silver lining here and say that what Alabama has here is a fantastic opportunity: by making it more difficult for employers to hire migrant workers for shit wages (often paid under the table), one of the most progressive states in the Union has made it possible for workers backed by the state's strong labor unions to negotiate higher wages for workers, which of course will be passed along in the form of higher prices for consumers; higher prices for consumers is bad, of course, and will eat into those higher wages; but, thankfully, Alabama is a state known for being perceptive and open to change, with a rational legislature attuned to the needs of its citizens. We should be able to expect Alabama to offer residents comprehensive, state-funded healthcare and other basic utilities, presumably funded through a progressive restructuring of Alabama's tax structure so that those who have gained the most benefit from Alabama's excellent schools, laudable highway system and efficient public safety services can repay society by taking on an appropriately larger proportional share of the costs of civilization.

Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?

Okay, but seriously. Alabama's governor, Robert Bentley, is heard saying in the NPR piece, "I think it's almost insulting to say that people in Alabama won't do a hard day's work for a decent day's pay--and they'll do it and all we have to do is provide them that opportunity." Which is great stuff--I think he must have hired the writer Jay Leno fired to help him polish his material. The rub, of course, isn't that Alabamians are lazy, although I'm sure that's all a lot of them will hear out of this; the rub is that little bit he slips in about "a decent day's pay". I'm a little surprised he doesn't fake-cough his way through that part of his statement, tell the truth. I have no doubt Alabamians are hard working and willing to do a hard day's work, I just suspect most people don't spend their childhoods aspiring to debeak chickens when they grow up (I imagine it does come in second place after "dinosaur-riding astronaut", though). Just like I expect most people would rather get paid more than minimum wage if they're going to spend all day harvesting peanuts in the sun, or if they're going to spend a businessman's dinner hour mopping office floors and scrubbing office toilets after thhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gife other fellow went home at five.

I've come to feel a little more ambivalent about the whole immigration thing than I used to be. On the one hand, I think this country ought to welcome in every single person who wants to live here; it's a big country and it's full of big ideas, and I love the romantic image of starry-eyed men, women and children walking across the border and suddenly being a part of all these heroic ideas about dignity and freedom and the Natural Rights Of Man and all that. I know the reality is that this country has mostly been a bunch of xenophobic, terrified crackers from the get-go, from the Puritans coming here because they were terrified their kids were going to turn Dutch while they were holing up in exile in The Netherlands, all the way through to the terrible treatment of the Irish, Germans, Italians, Poles and other refugees and then to the present froth all those immigrants' descendants are lathering about economic refugees from Central and South America. But I like the romantic notion, even if I know it possibly goes in the same storage unit as Santa Claus after you shine a sharp light on it. On the other hand, I realize that what we have now is this vast, basically endless supply of cheap labor, and simple supply-and-demand principles pretty much guarantee that if somebody can get a good or service--a ten hour day of nasty work in the heat, for instance--cheaper and with less guff by tapping that supply, they're going to do it because that's sound business, however amoral it may be. I guess what a big part of this boils down to is that I'm not mad at people wanting to come here from whatever horrible place they're trying to escape (and that's not patronizing or culturally myopic: if these countries and villages were swell places offering lovely opportunities, folks would be crazy to leave, wouldn't they?), and I'm not really that mad at the horribly confuse people who end up blaming the immigrants for coming up here and taking less money to do a job probably nobody in their right mind would want if they had a choice (the bigots and xenophobes are just not thinking clearly and they're getting upset at the wrong people for the wrong reasons); who I'm really mad at would be the people in business and politics who perpetuate this awful, unsustainable system and then profit from it, who aren't willing to pay the decent wage, the people who stoke anger at illegal immigrants but wouldn't actually dream of thinking about the kinds of systematic reforms that would smooth things out.

I mean, you'd think it would be obvious that you really can't have both, and that this applies either way. You can't have sustainable wages and this limitless supply of cheap labor undermining the wage base--and you also can't cut that limitless supply of cheap labor off at the tap and then expect industries dependent on that cheap labor to just tick along like nothing's happened. Or maybe it isn't obvious, seeing as how these idiots in Alabama have passed a legal package which would have immediate and predictable detrimental effects on the economy, and yet they apparently didn't see this coming. I'd love to blame it on cynicism, actually, because that would suggest these fools were rational and thoughtful and just didn't care or had done some kind of amoral calculation where the end sum was that screwing up the state economy would have some kind of personal payoffs down the line that made it all worthwhile; but, really, I think they're probably just stupid. And I'm afraid I don't think it's just them, confined to that one misbegotten state.


vince Friday, October 14, 2011 at 2:39:00 PM EDT  

People think they should be paid a decent wage if they work their asses off? How shocking!

And a federal appeals court has blocked enforcement of parts of the law, including requiring state officials to check the immigration status of students in public schools, and making it a misdemeanor for immigrants not to complete or carry an alien registration card.

Seth Friday, October 14, 2011 at 5:40:00 PM EDT  

No, it's not just that state. Georgia has the same issues.

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