Sunday, August 15, 2010

I despair, again


The reason why I have lost interest in the issue of illegal immigration is that I've come to view the current debate as all form and no substance. Opinion makers in and out of Washington weigh in on treatments for the symptoms but not the disease. I consider this to be characteristic of today's American political landscape. We have become a people afflicted with a national case of attention deficit disorder. What we want are the quick fixes and the easy answers - as if some social phenomena, evolved over generations, are no different from a leaky faucet or a loose floorboard.

Just over 40 years ago, as a young man of 18 living in the proto-typical town of Marion, Indiana, I could have easily quit school and gone to work at any one of a dozen big factories. A determined man who took this course would not have gotten rich overnight, but with hard work and a little common sense could have bought a home and a couple of cars, started a family and eventually sent his kids to college. Health care? Such a man would probably have been covered from day one - 100% that is, with no deductibles or co-pays. And when he got married, his wife and kids would have been covered too - at no additional cost. Steve, most of even the smallest local businesses offered some form of health insurance. Not that it really mattered that much - in those days a guy without health insurance could visit a doctor and afford to pay for it.

My Dad worked as a white collar employee in the personnel department at the Marion RCA plant. I myself worked summers there while I was in high school and later on between semesters at Indiana University. The plant was constantly expanding. I can remember many occasions when management had to go out into neighboring communities on recruitment drives. Imagine that. Today, when any factory announces a few precious job openings, you always see hundreds, if not thousands of applications for every one position. In those days however, just about anyone who wanted to could easily have worked at least 20 or 30 hours of overtime a week - no matter what factory he worked at. I know, I was there. And by the way, you were too.

How did it all end? Back in 1987, Thomson SA, a French company, bought RCA. Eventually, due to the high cost of labor, the closed the Marion plant and moved most of its operations to Mexico. Isn't that ironic! Today we sit around complaining how illegals from Mexico are stealing our jobs. Here's a case over twenty years ago where they didn't even have to bother with coming up here to get them. A French company courteously shipped the jobs down to them.

What happened at RCA also happened to just about every other big factory in Marion - usually by the same scenario. And this in turn has been repeated in just about every city and town across America.

Now you can talk all you want about your housing bubbles, the CRA and sub-prime lending. You can finger the Barney Franks and the George Bush's for stupid government policies. Make the whole thing as sophisticated as you want, with all the dastardly villains a man could care for. But the reason why nobody can pay for or sell a home in Marion is a lot simpler than that. Steve, it all happened because the factories left town.

Steve, there has to be an incredibly important lesson in all of this. Today, we live in a dramatically changed America. Those blue collar jobs which constituted the bedrock foundation of our economy have all but disappeared. We still need TV's and computers and lawn mowers, but now we pay other nations to build them for us. This can't go on.

Blame? Sure, why not. Republicans are going to blame the unions. It was the greedy unions who literally priced their own people out of jobs. Democrats on the other hand are going to blame corporate America: the WalMarts, the Targets, and so on. None of this really gets to the essential truth that a successful society, like ours, will eventually achieve a standard of living so far above the rest of the world's that it cannot be sustained indefinitely. Sooner or later, someone hungrier than us is going to work harder for less.

When that happens, we begin to substitute the real wealth of manufacturing for the phony wealth of borrowing. And that is exactly what is happening now. You can rant all you want about how taxes are too high or too low. You can claim government spends too much or too little. But if you can get high enough above this whole charade, you begin to see that most of government taxing and spending is nothing more than a massive, communal effort to maintain a standard of living which is no longer possible. Sooner or later its going to catch up to us, and we'll be hauling our dollars in wheel barrows down to the supermarket to buy a loaf of bread.

OK, let's build our fence along the border - and not let so much of a mouse in. Lets send all the illegals back home and start over. Steve, the only thing this is going to do in the long run is force businesses to bring them all back into this country by way of a "guest worker" program which already exists. Oh and, *surprise*, that program is actually counter-productive - not just for the businesses which would find themselves paying more for labor, but for you and me too - average citizens who would inevitably foot the bill.

So, send them back, or give them amnesty and keep them here. Whatever. As a moral question, I would favor amnesty. These are the same, hungry people who are doing the jobs most Americans don't want anyway. At a minimum, they just might teach us how to get by with a whole lot less: a skill all of us are going to have to learn in the coming years.


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