The related issues of immigration and trade have been "front burner" issues lately, but Congress appears gridlocked and no one seems to have a comprehensive solution. In that regard I wish to make a modest proposal.
No one's happy with the current system. NAFTA and the other free trade pacts negotiated by Bill Clinton and endorsed by both Republicans and leading Democrats have done a good job of providing multinational corporations with the cheap labor and freedom from over-restrictive labor and environmental laws that they need to keep shareholders happy, but those corporations are wasting good money shipping their goods from factories in India to their consumers here at home. American workers are understandably upset when their jobs are moved to other countries. The current system encourages illegal immigration, because as all the poorly-paid, dangerous, dirty work is outsourced to third-world nations, the relative quality of American jobs increases: foreigners come to America to work because our jobs are safer and better-paid than they are in their home countries. Employers want immigrant labor because it accepts lower wages and works harder despite worse working conditions than we coddled Americans will. And environmentalists have sagely noted that shipping goods long distances from overseas factories to U.S. consumers wastes energy.
But there's an easy solution to all these problems, and it lies in the realization that those illegal immigrants may be on to something after all. When they come here and displace well-paid, union-protected American workers by taking low-paying jobs under the table, they're really just importing outsourcing. What's the difference between legal free trade agreements that move American jobs to poor countries, and illegal immigrants from the same poor countries taking our jobs here at home? Does the American worker who's replaced by the foreigner really care whether that foreigner lives next door or in Bangladesh?
I say, let's run that ball! If we're going to export jobs and pollution, let's export them to America!
We can protect both American workers and American business by creating a free-trade zone RIGHT HERE IN THE U.S.! We're Americans, dammit, the best and the brightest; we can run maquiladoras as well as anyone. If Disney's California Adventure can recreate ALL OF CALIFORNIA on about thirty acres in Orange County, then our talented corporations should be able to recreate the Third World somewhere in the Arizona desert or the Monongahela Valley rust belt. In our new domestic free trade zone, we can have sweatshops as good as any in Honduras, China or Vietnam. If foreigners can harness 1950s pollution-control technology and 1800s labor practices for the 21st Century, then so can we!
WalMart customers' money support some Chinese seamstress, when No Child Left Behind and the underfunding of Head Start have created our very own underclass of impoverished young women willing to work for a penny a seam? And since Mexican pollution blows right across the Rio Grande to pollute our air, and water always finds its own level anyway, why should we worry about environmental degradation and melting ice caps? If anyone's going to get rich by crapping on the environment, then bless it, it should be us!
As to the illegal immigrant problem, well, once we've leveled the playing field by making America's environment, job opportunities, and social safety net no better than they are in Guatemala and Guam, those people probably will pack up and head home of their own accord. Problem solved.
Some may think this is a far-fetched idea, but it's already being done in American protectorates like the Mariana Islands, where foresighted patriot Tom Delay has made sure that immigrant young women are able to freely find employment 18 hours a day churning out high-quality underwear proudly bearing the "Made in the U.S.A." label. Some say they don't get "benefits", but they do get free abortions, subsidized by their employers, which should please both conservatives who want to keep the welfare rolls lean and liberals who generally seem to like killing the unborn. Bottom line is, if free trade, unencumbered by environmental laws, unions, labor laws or safety rules is good enough for the little brown people we're protecting, then it darn well is good enough for honest, hardworking Americans in need of the same jobs!
I honestly can't think of a better plan. After all, the alternative -- negotiating the fair trade riders that should have been incorporated in Clinton's free trade agreements in the first place, backed up by protective tariffs on goods imported from countries that don't protect their workers and the world's environment the way we do -- is just anticapitalistic protectionism. And voters hate anticapitalistic protectionism.
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Linktos: Immigration Trade Immigration Trade Immigration and Trade Immigration and Trade: A Modest Proposal