[Marxism] Dear Paul Krugman

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Mar 27 10:09:02 MST 2006


Dear Paul Krugman,

I was dumbfounded to read your op-ed piece in the NY Times today echoing 
many of the themes of the nativist right.

You refer to a number of "facts" that should strengthen the case for a 
"need to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants." They include:

1. A questioning of the economic benefits immigrants bring to the economy, 
which in your estimation has raised the total income of native-born 
Americans by no more than a fraction of 1 percent since 1980.

2. An assertion that immigrant workers have depressed the wages of 
unskilled native-born workers, such as U.S. high school dropouts, who would 
earn as much as 8 percent more if it weren't for Mexican immigration.

3. Worries about low-skill immigrants threatening to unravel the safety net 
of the U.S. welfare state by taking advantage of our generous medical care 
and educational system.

Although I understand that you have earned many awards for your writings 
and have been appointed to some of the most prestigious universities in the 
U.S., I would have to give you a failing grade for omitting the most 
important economic factor in the immigration debate. I speak specifically 
of your failure to examine *why* people such as the Mexicans pour into the 
United States in search of jobs. By calling for stricter enforcement 
(implicit in your demand that the "inflow of low-skill immigrants" be 
reduced) without examining the root cause of the flight from Mexico and 
other such countries, you are adopting the same kind of stance as 
politicians who want to crack down on Islamic terrorism without looking at 
the oppressive conditions that breed extremism.

Fundamentally, immigration is a result of too few jobs in Mexico and 
elsewhere. People come to the U.S. because it is preferable to starvation. 
Free trade agreements of one sort or another have devastated the Latin 
American economies. The real solution to reducing immigration is economic 
development, not Draconian laws.

And why have jobs disappeared in Mexico? It is because the U.S. has 
disappeared them. When NAFTA began, nearly 8 million people were involved 
in farming, but that number fell to approximately 6.5 million by 2003, 
according to a report on the Public Citizen website 
(<http://www.citizen.org/trade/nafta/>http://www.citizen.org/trade/nafta/). 
One can surmise that in the succeeding 3 years, things could have only 
gotten worse.

Turning the clock back 6 years to July 5, 2000, you wrote a column hailing 
the election of Vicente Fox which you described as a "cause for rejoicing, 
not just for Mexico, but for everyone who hopes that this time around we 
may be getting globalization right." You also saw it as a vindication for 
NAFTA.

Turning the clock back another 3 years to February 13, 1997, we find you 
boosting globalization just like your colleague Tom Friedman. In making 
your own case for "the world is flat," you scoff at worries about job loss 
in the U.S.:

"Of course, international competition plays a role in some downsizings, but 
as Newsweek's list makes clear, it is hardly the most important cause of 
the phenomenon. To my knowledge there are no Japanese keiretsu competing to 
carry my long-distance calls or South Korean conglomerates offering me 
local service. Nor have many Americans started buying their home appliances 
at Mexican stores or smoking French cigarettes."

However, this is a rather U.S.-centric view of the problem which ignores 
the impact of globalization on other countries. By focusing on whether 
Americans will buy home appliances at Mexican stores, you seem to miss the 
other side of the equation, namely the impact of free trade *inside* Mexico 
rather than inside the U.S.

An October 30, 2005 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article filled in the details 
that were woefully neglected in your op-ed pieces:

Alonzo Moran earns more money driving a fork-lift in a cotton gin in 
Missouri's Bootheel than he could make in almost any job back home in Mexico.

But after 13 months as a migrant farm worker, Moran is eager to return to 
the 30 acres he owns in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.

There, his land lies fallow, not worth planting because of depressed corn 
prices he blames on the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"What is my dream for the future? I want corn prices to be high again so I 
can go back to Mexico to farm," said Moran, 42. "But I don't know if that 
will happen"

There are many reasons for the recent record migration from Mexico to the 
United States. But many Mexicans say a prime motivation is the difficulty 
in making a living on small farms in rural Mexico.

A favorite destination is Missouri, where migrants -- legal and illegal -- 
find farm work in fields and slaughterhouses.

Many stay. From 2000 to 2004 alone, Missouri's Hispanic population -- 
mainly Mexican -- grew by nearly 25 percent, after a 92 percent increase 
from 1990-2000, according to U.S. Census data.

Illinois' Hispanic population grew 16 percent in the first four years of 
this decade after a 96 percent increase in the '90s.

And those are just the Hispanics who get counted.


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