I’m seeing more and more variations of this argument lately, especially on American sites:

World immigration is a direct response to abortion throughout Europe and North America. Workers from poorer countries are always going to come to replace our lack of labor due to abortion here.
Abortion and birth control are the culprits, not immigrants wanting to work. So, blame ourselves. We cannot have our cake and eat it, too.

Talk about a reductio ad absurdum. The labor shortages that immigrants generally address are in the menial service sector and the low-paid agriculture and factory sectors. These are stressful and often dangerous jobs which have few benefits over and above the wages made, and which don’t allow families which depend on them any surplus to build social capital (via saving for their children’s education) without extraordinary sacrifice. This is hugely difficult, and the immigrant families that do it anyway are admirable in their tenacity. Nobody wants to have these jobs if they could have better ones, whether they are native citizens or immigrants.

If there are more native-born citizens, the economy will expand due to their consumption demands, and none of them will want to work menial jobs unless they have no other options. So there will still be gaps for immigrants to fill, always, in the hope that their children will have a more financially secure life than they do and won’t have to work menial jobs either.

Of course, there is one way to ensure that an increase in native-born citizens doesn’t result in an increase in either the blue-collar or white-collar middle class who raise their children to refuse menial jobs unless absolutely desparate – implement social policies which squeeze the middle class like the last decades of Chicago School/Monetarism/Economic Rationalism policies have done. Push more and more families out of the financial security of the middle class and watch your supply of workers willing to take on menial, stressful and dangerous work grow!

The tried and true way to get the voters to accept this reversal of the last few generations of social expectations is to provide them with a fear that gets the adrenaline surging more than a fear of future financial insecurity. Bring on the latest FUD bogeyman: this time it’s immigration (with a dash of especially Islamophobic scaremongering about possible terrorists in their midst). And what’s the cure? Sure, be tougher on immigration, but somehow the magical cure also always involves some tax cuts for the CEO class, tax cuts which squeeze the middle class tighter, bloat the corporate welfare from the government even more obscenely, and increase financial insecurity for the masses generally.

income-inequity.jpgSome of you may have already seen this graph, which I found on Club Troppo, and which Nick found via Kevin Drum on the Washington Monthly. The figures for Australia are not so stark as they are for the States, but the pattern is similiar. As Kevin puts it:

the total share of national income going to the super-rich has more than doubled over that time. The merely well off have also gotten a slightly bigger piece of the pie, while everyone else has funded this free-for-all. “Everyone else,” in this case, means 90% of the country. Our share of national income has gone down in order to make sure that virtually all the fruits of economic growth over the past four decades could go to the well-off, the rich, and the super-duper-rich.

There’s a very good reason that the economic right screech and moan about anyone daring to discuss income disparity as engaging in “class warfare” rhetoric. They don’t want the masses to catch on that they have been indulging in class warfare at the expense (as always) of the lower classes but also increasingly at the expense of the middle classes as well for the last three decades. They don’t want people to realise that their policies are making it harder and harder for social mobility to take place through the traditional path of working hard, saving, and educating your children: if these trends continue we’ll be lucky if our children can have the same financial security with two-white-collar-income families that their great-grandparents did with a single solid blue-collar income.

Don’t let the real culprits distract you with noises about abortion and immigration.

Categories: culture wars, economics, ethics & philosophy, history, social justice, work and family


10 replies

  1. That graph is – striking – isn’t it? I’d really like to see these figures, laid out the same way, for Australia.

  2. Me too. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to access the discussion at Club Troppo to see what folks there made of it – their server seems to be playing up at the moment.

  3. I often enjoy your blog but this is a fairly silly post.
    The low wages in the US among the unskilled can be attributed to very high rates of immigration there over recent decades as well as to the importing of most manufactured goods from low-wage countries like China. These are among the most widely commented on contemporary economic phenomena.
    This isn’t class warfare by the rich – its ‘free trade’ and liberal immigration policies which concentrate economic gains among the well-to-do and those with capital and non-labour resources. Paul Krugman and others have discussed this at length.
    The US is not a communist socieety – wages are determined in markets not by the ruling class. Net wages can be impacted on by tax cuts but this does not explain the huge increase in US inequality that has occurred.
    On the abortion idea you are allowing naive feminism to override basic logic. Abortion (and just reduced fertility) will tend to raise the productivity of labour at the margin and hence wages. This will lead to an increased supply of migrants attracted by the higher wages and an increased demand by firms for more liberal labour migration policies. The low wages you observe are equilibrium outcomes after migration has occurred – low birth rates will tend to raise wages but these increases get swamped by huge flows of legal and illegal migrants.
    harryclarke’s last blog post..Obama the first African-American President?

  4. “The foreigners are coming! Oh my gawd, it’s all because we have birth control. If only we reproduced like rabbits and had children only to have them work in the fields, that would solve all our problems!” Sadly, the authors don’t realize that it’s precisely what they are saying.
    Thanks for delving into the quoted piece of absurdist prose.
    The foreigners, the pet “others.” Only no one asks who is the “we” exactly. And, as you rightly point out, few are cool enough to be “us.”
    Januaries’s last blog post..Persona

  5. On the abortion idea you are allowing naive feminism to override basic logic.

    *crosses off first square*
    *taps pencil*
    Lauredhel’s last blog post..Being single?stinks?

  6. Hahahaha. Lauredhel, that last comment made me laugh out loud.
    Cara’s last blog post..They?re Coming for Your Uterus

  7. Above theory in potted form: Because of the birth vacuum, the developed nations suck. Thus increased immigration.
    Helen’s last blog post..Image for 2007: Activist Angels

  8. This isn’t class warfare by the rich – its ‘free trade’ and liberal immigration policies which concentrate economic gains among the well-to-do and those with capital and non-labour resources. Paul Krugman and others have discussed this at length.

    Different government policies over the last few decades could well have been implemented so that the market share accruing to the top 1% of earners remained near the 8% level instead of its current 15% as the economy expanded. That such policies were not implemented (and dismantled where they previously existed) is because of Chicago School economic ideology.
    Are the rich sitting around mwahahaing at the plight of the poor, and deliberately thinking up new ways to make their lives worse? Of course not. The rich are however demonstrably complacent about income inequity and more than content to live in an “I’m all right, Jack” world, where they accept the dogma that possession of surplus income to invest means that they deserve to receive a higher and higher share of market income, and are unwilling to examine how the growth in their proportional share affects others. Sitting on the sidelines accepting the best cuts while others trim the carcase may not be actually conducting the warfare, but is profiteering off it any more morally defensible?
    The cynical history buff would note that increased income disparity makes both the bottom and top of the wealth distribution classes easier to manipulate via FUD: fear of financial ruin for the poor (and now the middle classes) and fear of popular resentment leading to reprisals for the rich. There will always be political sharks in the system who prefer it that way to satisfy their own greed and power ambitions. Friedmanite economics feeds the sharks.

  9. So its what governments didn’t do that is the problem? Hence take any explanation at all for increased inequality. That governments didn’t act to offset these effects mean that government is responsible for the increased inequality. And that governments represent the ideology of the ruling class means that these actions are ‘class warfare’ from the top.
    I sorta agree with the first bit. I think active immigration policies provide overall gains to the economy but these gains are concentrated away from low wage earners. This is one reason governments should be loathe to cut high income tax scales and capital gains tax. But I don’t think there is a ‘class warfare’ rationale. Its the way the world is – globalised so our unslkilled workers compete with those in low wage countries.
    Look I play golf and almost all golf equipment is imported from China for a fraction of its cost of a few years ago. I am a middle income earner who gets good gains from this. The poorer developed country workers who originally produced golf clubs lose out. Arithmetically my gains are bigger than the worker’s losses but that doesn’t help them unless they are compensated by lower taxes and higher transfers. That’s the bit I agree with you on – I think these compensations are reasonable.
    But it isn’t class warfare by the rich. People – including non-traditional supporters – voted for the conservatives in Australia and the US because they believed they would run the economy better. Rudd only won the recent election in Australia by 1.5% of the vote. I don’t think this has much to do with the Chicago school.
    harryclarke’s last blog post..Growling frogs & barking owls

  10. So its what governments didn’t do that is the problem?

    As mentioned in the original post, it’s also the dismantling of taxation structures and social programs that were redistributing some wealth. Is that active enough for you?

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