Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 27, 2006

Letter to Paul Krugman on immigration

Filed under: immigration — louisproyect @ 5:47 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on March 27, 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. 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.



  1. Yeah, I noticed that Krugman seems to have done a 180. At least he can admit that he was wrong. The other neolibs all have their heads in the sand.

    NAFTA has caused some similiar to what my British ancestors went through with the enclosures. However, I would rather see these people protesting in Mexico and changing their native country first, that is the only way labor will ever get any traction.

    Comment by la — March 29, 2006 @ 5:03 am

  2. I just discovered your blog and, in general, am very impressed by your insight and humanity. However, I must take exception to a statement you make in this post.

    You are correct to contextualize immigration as primarily a symptom of a deeper problem, which is causing the other side of “immigration into someplace,” that is, “migration away from some other place.”

    But then you state, “The real solution to reducing immigration is economic development…” I’m not sure if this comment was an oversight, or Marxist reflexivism, but clearly it is absurd. 300 years past the industrial revolution, all that development, and we still cannot provide adequate, meaningful jobs for everyone. The earth is reaching its ecological limits: global warming, pollution, resource depletion, water, fish, topsoil depletion, and yet you call for still more development to solve the problem? Could you quantify exactly how much more development is needed, and how we are to sustain it?

    Fortuitously, the facts you evince prove that it is too much development, and of the wrong kind, which is causing the problem: namely, the artificially subsidized agrobusiness export of GMO corn, and the expropriation of land for export vegetables, which is driving peasants from their land. One could characterize this forced redistribution of land and production away fom the peasant and indigenous people as a war against them, as the Zapatistas indeed have.

    It seems that short of overthrowing neoliberal capitalism, which thrives on the overstock of labor, a policy of deliberate de-industrialization would better solve the problem. As Alonzo Moran states, he would rather return to Mexico as a farmer, than work a crummy job in the US.

    In any event, vastly increased immigration primarily benefits the rentier and corporate classes in America, by fueling yet more unsustainable economic expansion and resource consumption. Every person in the US posseses an economic footprint much larger than a Mexican peasant.

    I agree that, from a social justice standpoint, since “America” caused the problem of the desperate immigrant, then “America” is responsible for the welfare of those immigrants.

    But, I do not see large amounts of immigration as, in way, benefitting poor, or working class, Americans. So I believe it is too easy to ascribe the motive of rascism to any, or all, who are oppossed to unrestricted immigration.

    As corporate control of land worldwide increases and population pressures increase, I’m afraid we will be seeing this scenario more and more frquently.

    Comment by Malooga — April 17, 2006 @ 10:49 pm

  3. Every new consumer in the US, even Mexican immigrants, who purchase Mexican melons or asparagus, only fuels the vicious cycle which will kick even more peasants off their land.

    The only way to fight this cycle, is to contextualize it within the horrors of neoliberal free trade, educate others, and fight the whole neoliberal cycle of debt enslavement, commodity export economy, and structural readjustment.

    Comment by Malooga — April 17, 2006 @ 10:57 pm

  4. Hello Louis,
    I enjoyed this post, as well as others. I am a former subscriber-lurker to Marxmail. Something seems strange though. You do not seem to post responses to your commenters here, on this post or others. Which is very different from your behaviour on Marxmail. Malooga seemed to be begging for a response, yet you are strangely silent. What’s up? Just curious.

    Comment by Sheldon — September 16, 2007 @ 3:37 am

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