What Happened to the Left? I don't think the following statement by Sen. Kennedy--in the debate on Sen. Dorgan's amendment to curtail the proposed "guest worker" program--has drawn enough attention:
"I would like the chicken pluckers to pay $10 or $15 an hour. They do not do it. They are not going to do it. Who are you trying to kid? Who is the Senator from North Dakota trying to fool?
These are the realities, the economic realities. No one has fought for increasing the minimum wage more than I have. But you have got realities that employers are not going to pay it." [E.A.]
Weren't Democrats (especially liberal Democrats) the people who wanted chicken pluckers--and others doing lousy jobs at the bottom of the pyramid--to be paid $10 an hour? Yet here we have the putative lion of liberalism declaring this modest goal (less than $3/hour above the new scheduled minimum wage) to be impossible. Employers just won't do it! They'll hire illegals instead. But what if the flow of illegals is curtailed--something Kennedy's immigration bill promises to do. Why not see if a tight labor market can boost wages above the new $7.25 minimum--instead of caving and providing employers with cheap temporary "guest workers" from abroad? If chicken pluckers organized and their union went on strike demanding $10 an hour, would Kennedy ask them who they were "trying to kid" (and support breaking the strike with "temporary" employees)? They told us in the '60s that Kennedy was the tool of the bourgeoisie!
Most of the vocal opposition to the immigration bill, so far, has come from the right. What's important, for the coming debate on immigration, will be the strength of opposition on the left. Does anyone on the Left think the Grand Bargain will on average improve the earnings of those Americans now making $6, $7, $8 and $9 an hour? Paul Krugman doesn't seem to. A year ago he wrote [$]:
[W]hile immigration may have raised overall income slightly, many of the worst-off native-born Americans are hurt by immigration -- especially immigration from Mexico. Because Mexican immigrants have much less education than the average U.S. worker, they increase the supply of less-skilled labor, driving down the wages of the worst-paid Americans. The most authoritative recent study of this effect, by George Borjas and Lawrence Katz of Harvard, estimates that U.S. high school dropouts would earn as much as 8 percent more if it weren't for Mexican immigration.
That's why it's intellectually dishonest to say, as President Bush does, that immigrants do ''jobs that Americans will not do.'' The willingness of Americans to do a job depends on how much that job pays -- and the reason some jobs pay too little to attract native-born Americans is competition from poorly paid immigrants.
P.S.: Yglesias suggests it's "baffling" that I oppose "comprehensive" reform on the grounds that it will increase income inequality given that (in his characterization) I'm "the author of a book about why we shouldn't care about income inequality." That's a reasonable challenge to raise--I'll defend my position on inequality later. But I'm not talking about inequality here. I'm talking about wages at the bottom, and whether Democrats are going to endorse something that makes them significantly, measurably worse.
Update: I Rest My Case! Kevin Drum sneers about my "new role as champion of the common man," arguing that if, in fact, chicken pluckers unionized and struck demanding $10 an hour I'd "denounce Democratic support for a strike like this." I might! I think Wagner Act unions bring unnecessary inefficiencies, and wages (above the minimum) are generally best set by the market. If the market sets the wage at $7.50, the better way to boost the incomes of those workers is through the Earned Income Tax Credit, which I've consistently supported. But when the market raises wages above $7.50--due to the sort of tight labor supply we had in the late 90s--I'm all for it. Kennedy isn't. Confronted with the possibility of a natural market increase in wages at the bottom, Kennedy reacts by attempting to prevent it by importing additional "guest workers."
How pathetic is it that, instead of defending the position of low-wage workers when they finally might have the market on their side, earnest leftish bloggers like Drum are suddenly more concerned with snarking at people like me!
(And here I thought it was Kinsleyesque neoliberals who hunted for hypocrisy while Rome burned.)
Of course, Drum has written, we're only talking about "high school dropouts." And