Tuesday, August 26, 2003

I was going to post this as a comment on Nathan Newman's site, in response to his criticism of Tapped for their 'almost nativist' arguments on immigration. I understand his points -we've talked about them in the past- and I think he understands mine, but I still think his reaction is more too much of a reflex. I respect his knee-jerk responses much more than I do Tapped's concerned sincerity however because Nathan's opinions are based on an obvious sense of decency, while Tapped when responding to questions about class often comes off as arrogant and condescending.
With all this in mind:

How many of you have worked along side illegal immigrants on crews with substandard wages and no benefits?
How many of you have ever been physically threatened by union workers?
How many of you have hired illegals to do work for you for cash?

I live the contradictions of this system far more than most of you. You want to know my friends and competition? Here they are:

I can get you a Trinidadian carpenter for $110 a day, and his son, homeboy/gangmember/apprentice for $75. I can get you a Polish contractor who will underbid any competitor who's not either Chinese or a con man (the Chinese beat out everybody and the quality can be fair). Plasterers you have a choice: Jamaican or Irish. Demolition? With a few phone calls I can get you some 16 year old Ecuadorians and a dumpster or a crew of homeboys with a truck. Don't ask where it goes from there.

Clients don't give a shit about morality, most simply want the work done cheaply, and most want only the image of good workmanship; the odds are it'll are be torn apart in 10 years' time.  On the other hand if you want to go for quality I can get you the finest cabinetmakers in the United States, direct from Paris and trained in the best workshops in the world. Their employer pays them $35 an hour with no benefits but if you're willing to wait six months you can have a beautiful end table for $95,000. I can also get you a painter, a graduate of the best East German trade school and the paper hanger of choice for clients of Sotheby's; you have to be careful whom you use to install those $20,000 antique wallpapers.  More than half the people on this list are illegals.

The politics of educated liberalism is the politics of reassurance, of protecting your own interests while wanting to be liked. If you're a leftist, even the bourgeois variety, you need to make the hard choices. This country feeds off the energy of new arrivals, who trample its exhausted native underclass. But I love these new people, who live a double life of greed and community, a double life Americans of any class seem unable to understand.  Of the immigrants I know who've been both here and Europe, most would live there if they could. They don't love the American dream, but they need American money.  I'm rewriting this on June 17, 2005, softening the tone, but I'll leave the original punch line just for laughs. After American workers gain the imagination and the pride that immigrant tradesman bring with them, I'll move back to this country; because once they close the borders, I'm leaving.