“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, September 05, 2015

immigration: what is to be done?

Recently, the NYT has been running the occasional article about how bad the low paid sector in the American economy is doing. Without fail, the comments sections will fill up asking, pointedly, why said article doesn’t consider immigration.
Of course, partly this is the Trump effect. But I am suspicious of the good liberal response that leaves it at that – those rednecks and racists out there, the end. After all, the immigration thesis seems kin to the Marxist thesis about the reserve army of the unemployed. And it also seems to hook up to a recurring pattern in American history, in which racism is used to undermine labor solidarity and lower wages. In the 19th and 20th centuries, mining companies would often recruit african americans to break up strikes.The unions were, at the time, extremely white nationalist. Thus, they would fall for the bait, and instead of recruiting among black laborers, they would battle with them. In the thirties, the “communist dominated” CIO unions tried to break out of this vicious circle. It was one of the reasons they became the special target of both the FBI and the AFL. In Texas, for instance, the CIO union led a successful strike of pecan shellers, who were mostly Hispanic, in San Antonio – and the leadership was mercilessly red baited.
Etc. Such is the historic background. But what is the current foreground? We know that, particularly among African Americans who have no high school degree, there’s been a collapse of earning power and high levels of unemployment. The article to go to here is Patrick Mason’s 2014 “Immigration and African American Wages and Employment: Critically Appraising the Empirical Evidence” in the Review of Black Political Economy. Mason goes over the neo-classical theory of immigration, unemployment and wages which is, I think, behind the liberal response: yes, there may be a short term downturn among “native” laborers in regard to wages and higher unemployment, but immigrants don’t simply swallow their wages, they spend them. Thus, over time, not only will the holders of native capital benefit from lower wages and higher demand, but native employment will adjust as well in an expanded economy.

Mason shows that, at least in the short term, this theory is flawed as regards African American laborers”

“If immigrants and native African Americans are substitutes, the canonical neoclassical model of immigration predicts a negative relationship between native wages and increases in immigration in the short-run, as well as a negative relationship between native participation and employment and increases in immigration in the short-run.
However, African American malewages, employment, and participation did not decline in the 1990s as the immigration share of the labor force increased. Instead, the African Americanmale employment-population ratio rose from 64%to 71%during 19931999, while mean weekly workhours increased by 2 h from 30.6 to 32.6 during the same perioda 6.5%increase in weekly workhours. Mean wages of African American males
rose from about $702 in 1993 to $866 percent in 2002.”
“The labor market outcomes of African American males did decrease during the 2000s, but this was a period of much slower immigration than during the 1990s. Rather than immigration, the recessions of 20012002 and 20072009 appear to the primary factors pulling down the employment, participation, and wages of African American males.”

However, these correlations don’t exactly give us our solution. Perhaps immigration in the 90s was a clog on the even further rise in African American wages and employment, and similarly wei ghed on same in the terrible Bush years. As for the post 2008 years, the climb upward has been extremely slow. Low skilled black male laborers have in effect lost 12 years, more than a decade, of economic gains.

As I said above, we can’t really take unskilled black laborers as proxies for the unskilled native labor market, because there has always been a racist quotient – the difference between white and black wages.
An overview paper by Harry Holzer at the Migration Policy Institute attempts to mediate among various conflicting studies. On the one hand, we have George Borjas, a Harvard economist who claims that there are substantial costs to low income native workers that accrue from the availabilty of immigrant labor. On the other, there is the work of David Card, at Berkeley, who disputes that conclusion. Interestingly enough, a study by Patricia Cortes takes the question and turns it upside down: who benefits most from the lower prices and wages that are the effect of immigrant labor?

“She argues that highly educated or high-income consumers benefit more because they use more ‘immigrant intensive’ products (like child care, restaruant foood, landscaping, and the like) than do lower income consumers. Furthermore, Cortes calculates that since immigrants also lower the wwages of less educated US workers (with much bigger negative effects on earlier immigrants than on the native-born), the net effects of immigration overall are positive for the highly educated and negative for the less educated, though both magnitudes are modest.”


From the working class perspective, then, what is to be done?

Thursday, September 03, 2015

the matthew effect candidate

I'm starting to resent Trump. I had it all figured out. The establishment in the GOP always wins, almost. So, Bush would be their candidate. Nobody would stop Clinton. It would be Bush versus Clinton, with the victory going to Clinton by about 2 percentage points. But I had misunderstimated Jeb Bush. I thought he was sposed to be the smart one! He has run a rotten, no good campaign, and he himself makes his brother look like a genius. This must panic the establishment. Emotionally, they probably do think they are going to win, as they thought with Romney, but I can't believe they can't read the numbers like anybody else - on the national level, the GOP faces a very uphill struggle. But at least with Bush they could have a decorous loss and maybe pick up some seats somewhere, as the Dems hugely suck at state and local elections. Now I am starting to doubt. I still think the odds are with Bush, but how is he going to do it? If as looks very possible he loses Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, he is going to look like a loser. The only thing he really has going for him is that he looks like the inevitable winner. He's the Matthew effect candidate (hey, you read it here first! That's a great phrase, surely somebody more important than me needs to steal it). If he isn't propelled into inevitability by April of next year, I have no idea who will pick up the establishment banner.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

On the sliming of Corbyn

The runup to the invasion of Iraq was, as is well know, accompanied by a complicit and cowardly press that rolled out every lie as though it were golden and adhered strictly to the Bush administration guidelines. I think it was the moment when the liberal readership, which is really the core newspaper readership for the majors, became disenchanted – and have never returned. Though the right entertains itself with a narrative about a timelessly liberal press, in reality, that liberal moment endured for around 3 decades in the U.S., and was spotty, at best, in criticizing the Cold War foreign policies it reported on.
However, the level of distortion in the British press coverage of Jeremy Corbyn’s bid for the Labour leadership is, to my mind, unprecedented. I’ve never seen anything like it. While Britain, famously, has a suck press culture that mostly entertains itself by hounding celebrities to death on the tabloid level, and bloviating with Oxbridge pomposity about the wonders of neo-liberalism, on the other, it mostly adheres to a code of at least ersatz neutrality when reporting the news. Corbyn, however, has the effect on editors at the Guardian, the New Statesman, the Independent, the Telegraph, and the Times of very bad acid. Remarkably, Corbyn seems to have the hide of an elephant. Normally, a politician subject to abuse like this would get so tied up with denials and explanations in response to these bogus slings that he ends up looking like Laocoon. Corbyn, though, doesn’t really seem to care. Which truly eggs on the press hysteria. The reports of his antisemitism, of his sympathy for Osama bin Laden, of his advocacy of segregating women in trains because of his inherent sexism, etc. – which all are childish distortions of things he has said – have had no effect on his popularity. They have had an effect on the press however. Unable to accept the fact that their circle jerk is not working, they now bemoan the end of the Labour party and the inevitable thousand year Reich of George Osbourne.
Well, the election is in five fucking years. And my guess is that a lefty anti-austerity program is going to look pretty good under two scenarios: a., Britain’s economy continues to generate benefits for the richest and stagnation for the medium income set, or b., Britain is caught, like the rest of the world, in a downturn emanating this time from China, which will make the British bet on the finance as their leading economic sector seem extremely stupid.
Surely I am not the only person who suspects the business cycle might not be too kind to the Tories. This is another driver, I suspect, of the establishment hysteria. They really hate Corbyn’s policies because they suspect they might seem pretty attractive under these scenarios.
I am prejudiced. I think most of what Corbyn supports should be pretty standard. Including revamping the foreign policy to emphasize peace rather than war, which, so far has the century traveled into insane violence, seems radically pacifistic to New Labour ears.    
Those much laughed at demos of 2003? I’m hearing an echo in this race. Maybe ignoring a million people wasn’t the greatest idea after all.