Friday, June 12, 2009

Lesson's from The European Parliament Elections

I meant to post a link to this earlier this week, but didn't get around to it. From Salon, here is Michael Lind's take on the victory of rightist parties across Europe in the European Parliament elections last week: "A warning for Democrats? The right just won all across Europe, thanks to nationalism, populism and recession. It could happen here too.".

Below is an excerpt from Lind's essay, followed by a few thoughts by me.

[I]t has become something of an orthodoxy among bien pensant progressives on both sides of the Atlantic that territorial nation-states are immoral because they privilege the identity of one cultural nation over others (the nation part) and because they favor the well-being of their citizens over foreigners who may be poorer (the territorial state part). Most progressives favor ending agricultural subsidies in Europe and the U.S., claiming that this would help poor peasant farmers in the global South export their way to prosperity (of course this would really benefit multinational agribusiness, not romanticized peasant farmers, but never mind). In debates about immigration, as in debates about trade, elite progressives whose own positions and incomes are secure frequently demonstrate their altruism by suggesting that it is acceptable if immigration somewhat lowers the wages of their less-fortunate fellow nationals, as long as poor foreign immigrants and receivers of remittances are thereby made better off. How generous of them!

The new pro-capitalist, anti-nationalist center-left finds allies in investment banks and college campuses but has little to offer ordinary people who view the nation-state as their agent and protector in a dangerous world. Nobody should be surprised when, in a period of economic crisis, significant parts of the population should turn to unabashed nationalists of the right, as opposed to progressives who fret that helping out their fellow citizens might be a form of discrimination against more deserving foreigners. It's true that toxic forms of racism and illiberal nationalism drive the anti-immigrant politics of the far-right parties that have benefited from protest voting in Europe. But the economic case for limiting the inflow of new workers into an economy at a time of mass unemployment is likely to seem commonsensical to many non-racist voters who do not share the new center-left's unease with national patriotism.

Lind makes some astute observations here, and Republicans can draw some lessons from this if they are willing to part company with Democrats on some of their shared orthodoxies (e.g., embrace of large scale unskilled immigration). The way to do this would be to acknowledge the challenges posed by globalization to the American middle class and offer some constructive solutions. In a recent post ("How Not to Create Broad-Based Prosperity"), we mentioned one Democrat (Matt Miller of the Center for American Progress) who acknowledged these challenges but didn't offer constructive solutions to them (e.g., Miller's proposed replacement for manufacturing jobs lost to outsourcing was to replace them with service jobs such as hospice aids; Miller proposed this without acknowledging the extent to which these jobs are currently filled by immigrant workers). I've made these points before, but two specific areas where Republicans can draw a contrast with Democrats are on immigration policy and energy policy.

On immigration policy, Republicans would be smart to buck the Chamber of Commerce's demands for cheap unskilled immigrant labor and advocate a transition to an immigration system similar to those of Australia or Canada, one that selects for immigrants with high levels of human capital. While unemployment is high, immigration should perhaps be further limited to foreign entrepreneurs who have the capital and intent to start businesses here and create jobs for American workers. To counter the inevitable accusations that anyone advocating an economically rational immigration policy is advocating it because of racism, Republicans ought to do two things. First, they ought to scrupulously distance themselves from anyone who advocates restricting immigration based on race. Racist immigration restrictionists may win elections in Europe, but they will be the kiss of death to any plans to institute a Canadian- or Australian-style immigration policy in America. Second, Republicans ought to point out that it is often minorities who are most harmed by the effects of our current immigration system. Let Democrats explain why we should import more unskilled immigrant laborers when, for example, 39.4% of African American teens are unemployed (Hat tip to Dr. Mark Perry for the chart below).

On energy policy, Republicans would be smart to continue advocating efforts to develop more domestic sources of oil, gas, and coal, while advocating an increase in nuclear power as well. Increasing domestic supplies of energy would create more high-paying jobs in the energy sector, and ensuring a large supply of relatively inexpensive energy would facilitate the creation of jobs in energy-intensive industries such as manufacturing (we noted the effect of lower energy prices on employment in a post last fall, "A Tale of Two States: Utah versus Rhode Island").

A third area where (some) Republicans may be able to draw a favorable contrast with Democrats, if they are willing to do so, is by running against Wall Street, or more accurately, running against the incestuous relationship between some major Wall Street firms and Washington. I suspect New Jersey's GOP gubernatorial nominee Chris Christie will try a version of this while running against our incumbent governor, former Goldman Sachs CEO Jon Corzine. Republicans would be smart to look for economic advisers from among the smart bankers and investors who haven't required government rescues. I don't know what John Hussman's politics are, but to the extent his policy prescriptions (e.g., making big banks eat some losses) have been ignored by the current administration, I bet Dr. Hussman would welcome a chance to advise a Republican candidate willing to listen to him. Another potential economic adviser might be Andy Beal, the self-made billionaire Texas banker who successfully navigated the credit bust.


JK said...

Good post.

Regarding immigration, it is hard to distance oneself from the vociferous fringe when they are making the same argument with almost the same reasoning and examples, the only difference being a hateful mean streak. If you visit many paleo-con anti-immigration websites, it seems they only exist to fume about how much they think minorities suck. Not going to win brownie points there in a country with a charitable spirit and where multi-racial americans (those dadgum miscegenators!) are the fastest growing portion of the population. Your suggestions are good but another good way to make anti-immigration positions more palatable to the mainstream public, is to emphasize how illegal immigrants are used and abused by unscrupulous employers, and make a case that illegal immigration isn't that great of a deal for many illegal immigrants themselves, many end up as little more than indentured servants or slaves. Immigrants who have suffered bad injuries on the job in unsafe work conditions have been left to die in a few extreme examples, being told that they will be arrested if they seek medical treatment. Even if the case has to be overstated somewhat, more investigating and publicizing instances of immigrant abuse by the right would help take the teeth out of racism charges. If immigrants are legal, it is a lot harder to take advantage of them. Once you make sure everyone is legal, then all you have to do is raise the bar for immigration requirements and the unskilled problem is gone. As with chess, it is best to think many moves ahead and sacrifice a pawn or two when you need to.

Still, it will be hard to do anything with much impact when there are already millions upon millions of illegal immigrants already in the country. Advocating a new Trail of Tears for Native Americans back to Mexico won't fly over. It could be too late for the right to realistically get much done on this front. That's the consequence of being reactive instead of proactive. I guess better late than never though.

Supporters of nuclear energy need to make sure that the new reactors built are state of the art fast breeders, and/or thorium based. Thorium is a much better fuel, and a PR campaign explaining to the public how new nuclear technology is safer and more efficient than old reactors is needed. Increased use of high-tech nuclear power around the world also supports a bull case for India, which has about a third of the worlds thorium reserves. Now that the Marxists have been pushed out of the government, I'm glad I was a buyer of Indian securities a few months back.

Your third suggestion is right on the money, and basically illustrates how our two main political parties are beholden to the same interests. Maybe it is because the successful Andy Beal types tend to be more cynical and apolitical and therefore less likely to fund a political party by throwing questionable favors around. Instead, get a few Andy Beals to start a well financed 3rd party, which is really what this post seems to be describing. IMO opinion our system is overripe for a pragmatic-minded 3rd party to give the major two some competition.

DaveinHackensack said...

Thanks, J.K.

"Your suggestions are good but another good way to make anti-immigration positions more palatable to the mainstream public, is to emphasize how illegal immigrants are used and abused by unscrupulous employers, and make a case that illegal immigration isn't that great of a deal for many illegal immigrants themselves..."

The problem with this is that I don't think it's really true, for the most part. Illegals generally make more than minimum wage and seem to be treated decently, so it's not a bad deal for them. Your comment did remind me of another argument that can be used against illegal immigration, which is to counter the claim by open borders advocates that remittances help illegals' hometowns in their countries of origins. Academic studies suggest that these remittances actually have negative distorting effects. In any case, from a political standpoint, it should be sufficient to show that unlimited unskilled immigration is bad for most Americans, particularly for those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.

No trail of tears would be necessary to encourage the majority of illegals (most of whom are fairly recent arrivals) to head home. The bust in the residential construction industry is already encouraging some to self-deport, and if our employment laws were actually enforced, it would encourage many more to do the same. Another helpful incentive would be one-way plane tickets. I remember reading somewhere that an illegal alien from Guatemala was thinking of going home but was wary of the danger of traveling through Mexico by bus. As a sweetener, we could throw in a voucher for a few hundred dollars of pocket money, to be picked up at a U.S. consulate in their home countries.

Re getting an Andy Beal type to fund a third party, I hadn't thought of that. One challenge with that sort of thing is that guys like him are often turned off by politics, but maybe it could work if he could delegate the actually running of the organization to someone else.

JK said...


Regarding immigrant safety, you should check out some of the Tyson processing plants out my way. They've gotten in quite a bit of hot water for their unsafe conditions.

Also a contractor friend of a friend of mine told me about catching one of his subcontractors about to crudely dispose of a severely injured migrant worker on-site instead of taking him to a hospital. (The worker had fallen from quite a height and landed on his head without wearing a helmet). The man ended up being taken to a hospital and surviving, but he was almost thrown in a ditch.

Illegals may make more than minimum wage in certain instances, but they don't enjoy all the worker rights they would if they were citizens.

Anyway, I am told it is different out west, but it's been hard for me to muster any animus toward Mexican immigrants, most that I've encountered are hard working and friendly kitchen or janitorial staff just trying to raise money to wire home to their families.

You're right that cracking down on employers would encourage self-deportation, and perhaps the fare for plane tickets (and other expenses!) could be funded by the fines of violators so the taxpayer wouldn't have to foot the bill.

DaveinHackensack said...


I don't have any animus toward immigrant laborers either. It just doesn't make any economic sense for us to have them, given our unemployment rates, wage pressures on native unskilled workers, and our rising entitlement costs.

Half Sigma said...

In the month of May, teens should be in school and not looking for a job.