Why Doesn’t The Left Talk About Immigration’s Impact On Inequality?

Ian Smith Immigration Reform Law Institute
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In the September issue of Harper’s, renowned left-wing economist Joseph Stiglitz dresses down million-selling sensation Thomas Piketty for his false diagnosis of America’s yawning income disparity gap. According to Stiglitz, the problem is not a natural outgrowth of the capitalist system, as Piketty contends, but more a part of our “modern deviant” form of capitalism where big corporations privatize profits at the expense of the little guy, example, the post-crisis bailouts. To rectify this, Stiglitz says, we don’t need a “global wealth tax,” which Piketty calls for, but merely a “sensible reform of our domestic tax code.” Tinkering with the tax structure, says Stiglitz, would “improve not just inequality” but “joblessness” as well.

Glaringly absent from either’s commentary is the effects of mass immigration on the wealth gap. Most economists pin the rise of income inequality to the early seventies, which is the same time we dramatically changed our immigration policy from restricted to open. Intake-numbers, especially from the Third World, leapt as a consequence and we’ve been letting in over a million people annually ever since, swelling the bottom end of the labor market just a little more each year.

That an increase in labor supply leads to pressure on wages is supposed to be a basic, ironclad rule of economics. As Labor Secretary under President Carter, Ray Marshall, wrote, “there can be no doubt that immigration displaces workers since elementary economics suggests that increased labor supplies depress wages and reduce employment opportunities.” Noting the corporate windfall generated from our shift to open-borders in the decades previous, President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors reported in 1994, “immigration has increased the relative supply of less educated labor and appears to have contributed to the increasing inequality of income.”

Stiglitz and Piketty’s failure to mention the effects of immigration on labor is even more striking given their left-wing pedigree. Their socialist forebears were making the above arguments and agitating against open-borders since the first immigration wave hit the country at the end of the 19th century. The current open-borders position of the contemporary left is actually such an about-face from the old left one could say it has totally broken away from its traditional moorings.

Founder of the American Federation of Labor and San Francisco native Samuel Gompers single-handedly pushed through America’s first immigration restriction laws in the early 1920s. In a letter to Congress at the time, Gompers said that the most hostile force to working people is their corporate employers “who desire to employ physical strength (broad backs) at the lowest possible wage and who prefer a rapidly revolving labor supply at low wages to a regular supply of American wage earners at fair wages.” No doubt Gompers would be aghast at the open-borders position of his torchbearers today.

The same goes for Gompers’s East Coast ally, A. Philip Randolph. A black union leader from New York, Randolph declared in a 1924 editorial, “it’s time to call a halt on this grand rush for American gold which over-floods the labor market, resulting in lowering the standard of living, race-riots, and general social degradation.” “The excessive immigration” he said, “is against the interests of the masses of all races and nationalities in the country — both foreign and native.”

Meanwhile, Cesar Chavez, the original minuteman, met incoming illegal immigrants at the border with clubs and said in 1979 that the nation’s failure to keep a lid on immigration had led to people “being hurt and being destroyed with the complicity of the federal government.”

The worries these men had about flooding the labor market are being borne out today. As Samuel Gompers predicted, unionism began to flourish immediately after the first immigration wave was halted. It began to collapse in the late sixties when the open-borders policy that we have now was put in place.

As former Cornell economics professor Vernon Briggs, points out, mass immigration tends to hurt black people most. One half of all foreign-born people live in just five cities, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Chicago and San Francisco-Oakland, all of which are heavily black. The worsening situation for black laborers, mostly males, passes onto their households and affects the entire social structure of black society. Today, almost half of black women ages 25-44 are not married compared to 15 percent of white women. No doubt this is at least partly due to the increasing difficulty black men have in finding a traditional standard of living in an overcrowded labor market. Such concentration also puts stress on urban schools. Per-pupil spending greatly decreases as bilingual programs and special education classes for underprepared Latin American students diverts resources. It’s as if the end of the Restriction Act era in the mid-sixties evaporated the pent-up gains from the civil rights struggle.

To the detriment of its traditional core, the contemporary left has simply stepped over their restrictionist past. So ideologically incoherent has the left-wing elite become, they even ascribe to the idea of a “rights-markets” coalition or the supposed complementary alliance between immigration rights activists and free market proponents. Apparently, the motives of labor-owning capitalists are no longer a concern for the party of the working class.

With the left abandoning their core constituencies, Republicans could have a major winning issue on their hands. Working people of all races could come out en masse and vote for a party that answers their calls. It all depends on whether the GOP’s willing to listen.

Ralph Nader just wrote an entire book about bringing the non-Establishment Left and Right together, which, he argues, is best done by attacking corporate subsidies. There is no larger a subsidy to the bottom line of Big Business than mass immigration, a fact best proven by the hundreds of millions spent annually by the open-borders lobby. That Nader completely fails to mention this in his book shows how embedded he is among contemporary left circles and how cut off he’s become from working-people.

This can’t be said for a small but growing number of conservatives, people like Rick Santorum, Congressman Mo Brooks, and Senator Jeff Sessions. Each regularly articulates their commitment to working-class Americans, a feature their Republican colleagues could emulate. Last week, when he tried to table an amendment that would block another Obama amnesty, Senator Sessions asked, “where is your allegiance?” The “American worker” or the “open-border lobby?” We know how the elitist left answers this question.