Z Sustainer question: Have you been following the new explosion of activism on the immigration issue? It’s a really exciting time to live in Tucson. I’ve been involved in this issue for over 6 years and I’ve never seen anything like it before…
Noam Chomsky: It certainly is becoming a major issue, and as you say, the lines are drawn in complicated ways. The business community wants cheap and easily exploitable workers, who will drive down wages and benefits especially for the poor. There’s a jingoist element that wants to keep the country "pure." The immigrants here want basic human rights.
There’s a huge flow from south of the border, who want the right of free movement of labor (according to Adam Smith, the core of free trade, but the "trade agreements" permit only free movement of capital, consistent with the primary goals of their designers).
Also, more privileged sectors have the power to evade the impact of cheaper competition. A Mexican doctor, journalist, professional can come to the US to be a dishwasher or pick fruit, but not to pursue his/her profession at much lower wages; various barriers against that. Economist Dean Baker has written a lot about it.
All of this takes us back to the (mostly suppressed) debates about NAFTA. The media constantly claimed that the labor movement was crude, nationalist, backward, etc. (Anthony Lewis and others), but were very careful to suppress — entirely I think — the
actual proposals of the labor movement, which issued a detailed study in favor a "North American Free Trade Agreement", but not the executive version — the only one allowed to be mentioned — which, they plausibly argued, would lead to low-wage low-benefit
economies for all three countries. They proposed instead quite constructive measures, some modeled on EU expansion, which could lead to high-wage high-benefit high-growth economies. Their detailed critique and proposals were quite similar to those of Congresses independent research Bureau (Office of Technology Assessment, since abolished), which was also banned from the media and general discussion. The results are about as predicted. That’s a large part of the "immigration problem." When economies are destroyed, people will flee. Worth remembering that Clinton militarized the border (Operation Gatekeeper) just as NAFTA was instituted.
I wrote about this in Z at the time, more in World Orders Old and New, which came out at that time And there’s other work.
These and other such issues have to move to the center of the agenda if there is to be constructive approach to these issues, I think.