The More Things Change…

In 1768, the composer Franz Joseph Haydn wrote Lo speziale, an opera that depicted a Jewish apothecary, a work that was later revived by Mahler and Hirschfeld at the end of the nineteenth century as Der Apotheker [The Apothecary].

In the opera, non-Jews rail against the immigrant Jews for taking the jobs of the locals, and blaming them for all the misery that befalls them. Of course, in the 1930s in Germany, Hitler used the same theme, and that led to the Holocaust. Today, in the United States, a similar chorus is once more rising, as it did in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, first against the Germans, then the Irish, and finally the Italians, citing each immigrant group as the source of crime and social woe – just as many people and politicians are doing today with the U.S. Latino population. Of course, the Jews are scarcely blameless, either, historically regarding the Moabites and the Samaritans rather disfavorably

It appears to be an all-too-human trait to blame the “outsider” when matters aren’t going well in a society, and because the United States is facing the highest unemployment since the Great Depression, everyone is looking to blame someone or something else. Despite this chorus against immigrants, recent studies indicate that manufacturing employment in the U.S., the economic area where the job loss over the past two generations has been the greatest, is now and has been relatively stable for the past several years.  Because the U.S. population is growing, of course, the percentage of manufacturing jobs compared to total employment continues to decline, and because jobs have been cut in all areas of the economy manufacturing jobs have been cut as well, but such cuts are different from those resulting from basic structural changes.

The structural reasons for the losses in manufacturing employment are various, ranging from the ability to produce goods more cheaply overseas to a growing reliance on automation and robotics.  Regardless of the reasons, however, those seeking to immigrate to the U.S., either legally or illegally, did not cause the problems.  They were caused by U.S. citizens operating in response to those great American ideals – the profit motive and the bargain.  Those job losses were caused because Americans want the best good at the cheapest price, and all too many goods can be manufactured more cheaply – and more profitably — either through automation or through overseas outsourcing.

Yet all over the country, more and more blame is laid upon the immigrants, both for crimes and lack of jobs.  More than a few studies have shown that crime rates are far more related to poverty than ethnic origin and that crime rates in poor white communities are little different from crime rates in poor areas of other ethnicities. Poverty and crime go together. Yet blaming immigrants continues, despite the fact that in many areas, non-immigrants won’t take the lower-paid and often physically more demanding jobs that immigrants will and the even more important factor that the U.S. economy requires fewer and fewer unskilled and semi-skilled jobs and more and more jobs requiring education or additional training.  The days when a semi-skilled auto worker could make more than $100,000 are vanishing… if not gone, but, rather than recognizing these facts, once again, we have politicians and demagogues seeking to blame those who aren’t the cause, but who only want what everyone else wants.


4 thoughts on “The More Things Change…”

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    No problem with legal immigrants. Two problems otherwise: legal immigration is too burdensome/difficult, and no serious effort is made to stop illegal immigration, whether because of the PCness of the left or those that wish to employ the cheapest possible labor. And a third: we _can’t_ take everyone on the planet that wants a better life, there are more poor people than we need to do the bottom-end jobs.

    Open borders is tantamount to meaningless borders. Don’t hate, just enforce the law!

  2. The problem is, as I’ve observed before, that we can’t enforce the law without becoming the western equivalent of East Germany and its wall. Our borders are too long, and to pick up illegal immigrants once inside the USA and deport them all would merely be an endless conveyor belt funded by taxpayers.

  3. R. Hamilton says:

    Not at all; East Germany’s wall was to keep their own citizens in; ours would be to restrict the flow from outside to those that it is in our interests to admit.

    There are those that would say mass migrations are unstoppable. I don’t buy that. Fly an AC-130 gunship along the border, and less lives will be lost by having it act from time to time than die in the desert. Extreme, but relatively cheap. More (superficially, at least) humanitarian solutions would also be possible, but more expensive.

    It would of course help if we also required legal residency (or at least a legal visa for emergency services) for all benefits, entitlements, and services. And prosecuted those who employ illegal immigrants no less vigorously than we otherwise encouraged them to follow a lawful and orderly process or depart. And required ID at polling places.

    It would also help if we either got serious about ending our own drug problem (treatment first time, _execution_ of dealers and second-offense users), or else just gave up and legalized it so as to take the profit out of it…except that then we’d have too many self-incapacitated people to take care of, or getting into traffic accidents, or…

    I acknowledge that there are no easy solutions. But that is doubly true when every solution has its opponents. _No_ solution will please everyone, so why not pick one that’s in our interests, rather than attempt to please everyone by doing nothing?

  4. Joe says:

    @R.Hamilton: Yes, legal immigration is a real pain, even for those with PhDs in High Tech. You’re suggesting a larger barrier against a larger flood. I would suggest reducing whatever is causing the flood to build up. (Eg: subsidies for US & European farmers, making it impossible for farmers in other countries to compete, fewer wars so that fewer Iraqis flee their country, etc).

    @L.E.Modesitt Jr: Totally agree. Mass markets gain their efficiencies from mass volumes. When most jobs are automated there will be too few consumers for the mass market to function. How then do we keep our economy rolling? It would make sense for us to determine a new economic system to replace capitalism.

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