Law Professor Proposes Bringing Back Indentured Servitude

Joe Patrice is an editor at Above the Law. Originally published at Above the Law; cross posted from Alternet

It’s 2018, so of course we’re about to discuss the possibility of rejuvenating indentured servitude. The practice, which until recently only came up when Irish-Americans wanted to explain why they think they had it just as bad as Black people, settled into the dustbin of history a long time ago, but Chicago Law Professor Eric Posner, along with Microsoft Research’s Glen Wyel, have a new proposal in Politico to bring it back in a new form as the Visas Between Individuals Program.

Here’s how the program would work: Imagine a woman named Mary Turner, who lives in Wheeling, West Virginia. She was recently laid off from a chicken-processing plant and makes ends meet by walking and taking care of her neighbors’ pets. Mary could expand her little business by hiring some workers, but no one in the area would accept a wage she can afford. Mary goes online—to a new kind of international gig economy website, a Fiverr for immigrants—and applies to sponsor a migrant. She enters information about what she needs: someone with rudimentary English skills, no criminal record and an affection for animals. She offers a room in her basement, meals and $5 an hour. (Sponsors under this program would be exempt from paying minimum wage.) The website offers Mary some matches—people living in foreign countries who would like to spend some time in the United States and earn some money. After some back and forth, Mary interviews a woman named Sofia who lives in Paraguay.

It’s like indentured servitude, but with a Silicon Valley spitshine as a gig economy solution.

While it’s easy to recoil in horror when people start talking about making immigrants live in your basement and perform menial tasks for you for less than minimum wage, Posner and Wyel offer a few reasonable observations about the program that everyone should consider.

First, whether you like it or not, America already allows this program to the relatively affluent. The J-1 cultural exchange visa, which Posner and Wyel correctly brand “in reality a nanny migrant-labor program used by upper-middle class American families” is thriving in America. Why is the notion of a 20-year-old French girl changing diapers for wealthy people acceptable while the idea of a 40-year-old Paraguayan walking dogs for a high school dropout problematic? For that matter, why can corporations use H1-B visas to secure high-end talent to enrich their overflowing coffers while Mary the Wannabe Dog Whisperer can’t get her dream off the ground?

Posner and Wyel think migrants would be prepared to spend upwards of $6000 for sponsorship, allowing working-class families to boost their incomes even before the hypothetical Mary sees her dog business take off.  Stripping away the H1-B and forcing corporations to pay people like Mary to sponsor the software engineers they’re bringing over could offer another revenue opportunity. Posner and Wyel also suggest that people who interact with immigrants on a day-to-day basis are less racist about migrants.

This is a thoughtful suggestion that should be commended for thinking outside the box on an important issue. But it’s also the sort of libertarian pipe dream that only makes sense after polishing off a brick of hashish and thumbing through Atlas Shrugged.

A baseline assumption of this proposal is the libertarian article of faith that everyone is an entrepreneur and every idea — no matter how stupid — will make money if you just will it into being. Are there enough people with enough disposable income in Mary’s neighborhood to make her dog business work? That seems like a big deal regardless of how many crumbs her personal immigrant assistant is getting. In a nod to the variation between demand in different markets, Posner and Wyel suggest that people might move to areas that need more migrant labor to take advantage of that market. Except people don’t pull up stakes and move across the country for $6,000 — especially when they’re likely moving to somewhere with a much higher cost of living. While a family of four could make $20K by sponsoring 4 migrants, they claim, I seem to have overlooked the glut of working-class families that have two or three spares rooms available to put up strangers.

For anyone questioning the existence of the Overton Window, the concept that the public only accepts a narrow window of discourse and that radical shifts make previously extreme ideas normal (here’s an entertaining primer), consider the straight line that runs from the White House trying to build a wall and law schools conflating slurs with policy debate to a high-minded discussion in a major publication about Uber-fying indentured servitude. This is a relatively tame and thoughtful proposal about immigration and the fact that we’re saying that with a straight face is way, way, way crazier than the idea itself.

But this is where we are in 2018.

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  1. Anti-Schmoo

    Does not surprise me in the least; indentured servitude fits exactly where the U.S. is heading. In some ways, we’ve arrived there already; the very suggestion speaks volumes.
    IMO, we’re already living in the outskirts of 1984 (Orwell); every step closer becomes easier as we go down the rabbit hole.
    Count me out. No thanks. Hell no!

      1. Tomonthebeach

        I think most Americans are already indentured, but our clever neolib financial system nicely cloaks the fact as normal living.

        Current estimates indicate that the average American’s carried-creditcard debt exceeds $16K. Anybody carrying a balance that large is clearly not paying 9.5%APR, but in excess of 20%APR. Thus, credit card minimum payments likely hover around $300/month. Assuming people want to buy down that bill, they are more likely paying $500/month. (After all, we are still charging on that card debt).

        In the background, there is that US average mortgage of $222K with a $1,061/month drain on the average paycheck of $3,800. Next there is the monthly outflow for that F150 in the drive – an additional $500/month. Now fold in another $800/month for taxes; and health, car, and house insurance premiums.

        With roughly 3/4 of your paycheck spoken for, one cannot but help hearing Tennessee Ernie Ford singing 16 Tons in the background. Tomorrow you’ll be “another day older and deeper in debt.”

        1. Anti-Schmoo

          Yep, you pretty much covered it. I got hip to the game 20+ years ago; no credit card, and zero personal debt.
          I got over Edward Bernays and his galoots.

          1. Anti-Schmoo

            Indeed one might; but where are the galoots who support this travesty of justice?
            Elected representatives who ram through illegal interest rates, while raking in major bucks.
            It’s interesting that the US is not considered a corrupt country; wtf?.

  2. flora

    This new proposal wants me to believe working class Mary Turner is a Galtian entrepreneur held back only by her inability to import cheap labor? I think Mary probably needs a decent job with decent wages. Not sure how increasing the numbers of underpaid and easily exploited workers will help her and her neighbors’ real employment prospects.

    1. Clive

      And no explanation, not even a handwave, about what happens if Sofia gets hit by a vehicle while doing her dog walking shift. It doesn’t sound like Mary will be providing employer healthcare so Sofia has to pay for an ACA policy? But if it is low cost in terms of monthly premium, it’ll have a mega deductible. Sofia doesn’t sound like she’s starting out with $5-10,000 in savings.

      So… Sofia is either in the ER and trying to blag her way into getting treated or will be a medical bankruptcy but with no assets to chase. Or perhaps it would just be kinder to let her bleed out in the street. Oh, but then the county has to pay for her cremation? Or is there an app for that, too? What a time to be alive.

      Even Ayn Rand got Medicare.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Clive, for bringing up the Rand. How’s her toy boy, the world’s greatest ever central banskster, doing?

      2. Katy

        So… Sofia is either in the ER and trying to blag her way into getting treated or will be a medical bankruptcy but with no assets to chase.

        That one’s easy: Debtor’s prison!

    2. lyman alpha blob

      That, and why does Mary Turner need to start exploiting immigrants if, as the thought experiment posits, Mary is already making ends meet by taking care of the neighbors’ pets?

      I swear, the greed of some people knows no bounds and they seem completely oblivious to it.

    3. PKMKII

      In Libertarian praxology fantasyland, government regulations and taxes are the only barriers to entrepreneurial growth. All other entry costs, market forces, re-location costs, etc., can just be dismissed as noise. Equal parts justification for their ideology, and catch-all excuse for any failures in their professional life.

      1. LifelongLib

        IIRC there’s been info posted here on NC about how countries with better government benefits and milder bankruptcy laws than the U.S. also have higher rates of entrepreneurship. Seems people whose kids can still go to the doctor and who won’t lose the house if things don’t work out are more willing to risk starting their own businesses. Who’d a thunk?

  3. RossC

    Welcome to New Zealand without indentured servitude our economy would not be growing as it is. Everyone from the corner shop and little restaurant to large manufacturers and telephone providers rely either in a small way or completely on such people.

    $50000 I have heard to buy a job to get citizenship just we call it training or internship or when we have no name to cover it we just ignore it.

  4. The Rev Kev

    The first comment that I was composing I had to delete as it basically consisted of several strings of swear words so I will try again. First, this is not a new idea. Early America was built on indentured servants ( and you see them mentioned in the early records. It is reckoned that one-half to two-thirds of European immigrants to America between the 1630s to the 1780s were indentured servants. My own guess is that they are something that you see in a developing colony and that they are self-terminating by nature ie after the contract is finished the acclimatized servants then become colonist in their own right. Not something you see in an advanced economy.
    The abuses that such a program could be subjected to would be epic. Can you imagine? ‘Needed – a dozen young, attractive females – no English skills needed’. And who would apply to come to the US at $5 an hour? They could never save on that amount and would have nothing to show for it right up to the day the ICE agents would turn up to haul them back to the airport. Legally these servants would always have their ’employer’ holding the ability to threaten them with early releases. I could give you chapter and verse on the abuses going by historical records from the UK and Australia but that would require something the length of “War And Peace” so let it rest that it is really bad – m’kay?
    And living in a basement. How about a shed? In the attic? Under the staircase like Harry Potter? I have seen fotos of servant’s ‘rooms’ in 19th century England and can guess how this will all turn out. Of course bringing all these people in would further add strain to any infrastructure, goods and services in whatever community that they ended up in. I have read the original article. They say that a benefit would be to increase consumerism due to their purchasing power. For the good of the economy, you know. I have a different proposal. Pay Americans working wages and THAT will increase purchasing power and demand. There – problem solved!

    1. Carla

      “Pay Americans working wages and THAT will increase purchasing power and demand.” Really the only platform the Democrats would need if a.) they could be believed; and b.) they actually wanted to win.

      1. Altandmain

        If they weren’t paid by Wall Street and the billionaires, then this would have been the Democratic Party platform years ago. Alas, it is due to corruption and not ignorance that the Democratic Establishment has a platform that is very neoliberal.

  5. Jeremy Grimm

    I think it would be wonderful to send some Chicago Law professors and Microsoft Researchers to Saudi to work as indentured servants at less than minimum wage for 10-20 years without the possibility for parole. If the shoe fits as they say.

    Gosh! What might these guys think of next? A new trade-triangle as of old?

    1. pretzelattack

      i would settle for them working a couple of years at a chicken processing plant, and supporting themselves off the wages, and then get laid off and prove they can lift themselves by their bootstraps by a neighborhood dog walking business. people that get laid off from chicken processing plants don’t live in affuent neighborhoods, with people eager to hire others to walk their dogs, assuming they have any, while they work 3 jobs trying to get by.

      1. taunger

        You might be surprised at what rationales good neighbors can find to be helpful for someone down and out. Few want handouts, just a good job, and many are willing to help create the fantasy.

      2. tegnost

        …people that get laid off from chicken processing plants don’t live in affuent neighborhoods, with people eager to hire others to walk their dogs
        yeah that screeched out to me as well, let’s see, how to make rich people able to have servants (how exactly is $5/hr going to increase consumerism, other than to add more goods to the affluent employers amazon prime account?) and make it seem like it will be good for everyone….oh yeah, you can hire a servant to go to work for you for $5/hr and pocket the difference between $5/hr and the minimum wage, hire ten underlings and you are well on your way into the oligarchy woo hoo. Every single idea these useless morons come up with can be summarized “more for me and less for thee, aren’t I a great and smart person?”

    2. Eclair

      Ah, Jeremy, your comment on sending certain law professors and Microsoft researchers to work as indentured servants makes one nostalgic for the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Not being sarcastic here.

  6. ambrit

    No mention of the original reason for indentured servitude; the increase of ‘acceptable’ populations in the ‘New World.’
    Secondly, this scheme has a logical second step; the use of the same process to undergird the movement of underutilized ‘human resources’ from one part of America to another part of America. In essence, an internal indenture system. The result would be the rise of a formal class of serfs. People locked into one area and type of lobour for a period of years. Combine this with the Internet of S—, and we will have people wandering around with the electronic equivalent of “slave collars.” Social and class consequences will be severe. How about let’s make “Indentured Citizens” have to give their vote to their ‘owners?’ Indentured ‘whipping boys?’ Someone hired to go the jail for massers’ or mistres’ criminal actions? This can unravel into pure ‘D’ chaos, quickly.

    1. hemeantwell

      Barbara Fields had an excellent article in New Left Review, “Slavery, Race, and Ideology in the United States of America,” discussing the transition from indentured servitude to slavery in colonial agriculture. Here’s a snapshot of indentured life:

      Indentured servants served longer terms in Virginia than their English counterparts and enjoyed less dignity and less protection in law and custom. They could be bought and sold
      like livestock, kidnapped, stolen, put up as stakes in card games, and awarded—even
      before their arrival in America—to the victors in lawsuits. Greedy magnates (if the term is not
      redundant) stinted the servants’ food and cheated them out of their freedom dues, and often
      out of their freedom itself, when they had served their time. Servants were beaten, maimed, and
      even killed with impunity. For expressing opinions unfavourable to the governor and the
      governing council, one man had both his arms broken and his tongue bored through with an
      awl, while another lost his ear and had to submit to a second seven-year term of servitude— to a
      member of the council that had judged his case.

      One question brutally raised by Fields is the form punishment for “contract violations” would take. Short of tongue boring, would a recalcitrant worker be forced to pay their employer a labor penalty? What else could they pay? Historically, that sort of punishment was not limited to the indentured. British courts were imposing such fines on regular workers in the middle of the 19th c.

      This proposal is like a wayback machine of social regression.

  7. J Sterling

    This didn’t let poor Americans bootstrap themselves into wealth the last time, and it won’t this time. During the nineteenth century a big working class dream was to scrape enough money together to get yourself a slave and then live a life of ease off the back of the slave’s labor. That’s what it stayed for almost all working white Americans, a dream. The existence of slaves kept free workers lower paid than they would be if it weren’t for slavery.

    A business is capital. Who’s most likely to get capital in our world? It isn’t a woman laid off from a chicken factory. Why was she laid off, anyway? If people aren’t buying chicken, how are they going to be buying dog walking services? If I’m thinking of investing capital in her business, or granting a loan, why her and not one of the other 200 people that were laid off? More to the point, if underpaid immigrant labor is now a part of the economy, would I not buy shares in Uber For Slaves instead? Seems a more common investment response to an opportunity for labor exploitation: find a giant corporate machine for exploiting it, and support that.

    But remember, it’s very important to repeat, over and over again, that immigration has nothing whatsoever to do with reducing wages on the native working class. Perish the thought!

  8. Clive

    I wish I was making this up but this is true. In my middle class, or whatever is left of it, neighbourhood, there is a lady a couple of houses down who really is a dog walker / groomer / looker-after. She is a bored housewife with a rich husband who doesn’t want the misery and commitment of a salaried job. But, with no children, sitting round the house all day apart from shopping and lunch with the girlfriends gets very tedious.

    And, like Mary and the less salubrious Sofia, she adores dogs. So she set up her business. I occasionally talk about how things are going and am informed, reliably I think, that the business only just about breaks even. While she can charge a reasonable rate for taking care of the animals (and there is a local pheasant shoot which provides regular semi-contracted work in looking after the gun dogs), the cost of goods sold is high.

    Among her regular expenses are:

    * A dedicated small van to transport herself and the dogs (ah-hem, small dogs especially cannot walk far, so you have to go to their owners’ residence to pick them up)
    * Commercial insurance on her vehicle (considerably higher than for personal only use)
    * Public liability insurance (several thousand a year)
    * Dedicated clothing and cleaning
    * A website and maintenance of this (a neglected website looks awful)
    * A dedicated mobile phone account (it is tiresome getting business calls on your personal phone)
    * City fees for walking dogs in parks and public amenity areas for commercial gain (our local authority charges for this, understandably)

    There are probably other costs she’s not complained, sorry, told me about.

    The writers of this nonsense have obviously never in their guilded lives ever had to run a business themselves.

    1. Geophrian

      Or, Mary needs to use these tech bros method of running a business: do an initial fundraising round for a few hundred million (she can sell investors on the fact she’ll be collecting tons of valuable data on the dogs and their owners) then after a few months sell her worthless business to Facebook or Google for a few billion.

      1. pretzelattack

        a dog walking app you simply download to your household robot. includes the dog’s favored fire hydrants, cats to avoid, etc.

      2. Liberal Mole

        There’s already an App for this. It’s called You can get dog walking, visits, house sitting, from a pet lover near you. I used it for my cat and found a lady within walking distance.

    2. Arizona Slim

      Clive, I know a Tucson lady who had the same kind of business. And I couldn’t figure out how she was making money. Your comment reminded me of the fact that she also had a rich husband.

    3. visitor

      Švejk — from famed “Brave Soldier Švejk” — had a more profitable, if riskier for being less licit — business model with dogs. He would recover animals that did not seem to belong to anybody (a process also known as stealing), prop them up and then re-sell them with fake pedigrees. Prague being a large city, he was fairly confident that both categories of victims would never meet, satisfied at the proceeds while everything worked, fatalistic when the scheme eventually floundered.

      Unfortunately, many countries require pets to have chip implants nowadays, so some imagination is required to overcome that difficulty for a similarly disruptive business plan to work.

    4. Enquiring Mind

      The writers of this nonsense have obviously never in their guilded lives ever had to run a business themselves.

      Oh, they lead guilded lives all right. They want to protect their gelt from those living gelded lives, all without guilt since that is so 20th century. To paraphrase George Carlin, There is a guild, and we ain’t in it.

  9. Expat

    This sounds like an academic’s ideal proposal since it will never work in reality and pleases no one. The left will find this quasi-slavery abhorrent. The right doesn’t want those kind of people in the first place.

    1. begob

      The right doesn’t want those kind of people in the first place.

      I wonder. My sister-in-law is from Pakistan, and she sometimes remarks that her wider family has more ease of life there than in the UK because of cheap servants. (They’re also very worried about water supply and rising temperature in the summer.) She boards a nanny from Nepal in a converted garage at her house in London – the nanny paid for her parents’ new house in Nepal and was able to help them after the recent earthquake.

      I imagine that’s one of the aims of the ultra Brexiteers – maybe not to build a Raj-style model at home but to revive the Indian indenture system as applied to the Commonwealth. Abolished as recently as 1917:

    2. tegnost

      plenty of progressives hire immigrant labor. This program would make them feel good about themselves for providing opportunity to their peasant. And as I was looking to see which party posner belongs to I came across this gem from a blogpost comparing democrat donating to republican donating law professors (can’t figure out which party he favors but I’m guessing dem)
      (1) Democrats honestly write liberal papers that accurately reflect the world as it is, while Republicans do so only occasionally.

  10. OldLion

    I suppose there is no way a hard-working super big mall owner would abuse the system at some point ?
    You could build small bedrooms next to the mall, and help lots of poorly paid workers.

    Oh, and probably hire some security personnel at some point to make sure everything goes smoothly. For their security you know.

  11. Eustache De Saint Pierre

    People who only dream nightmares – reminds me of a stunning & poignant article I might have read here, about a lifelong Korean female slave, who with a host family once came to America.

  12. Terry Humphrey

    Why wasn’t this fool fired upon publication of such drivel. We’re beginning to enter the society that gave Marx an audience.

  13. knowbuddhau

    Mary most certainly does not need a job. Mary needs a livelihood.

    Is getting and having a job really the be-all and end-all of being human? Then why have we made it so?

    Patrice nails it when he points out this proposal is groundless. Not in the figurative sense, but in the literal sense. Look at the energy that represents it. It’s only in their heads. It doesn’t go to ground.

    The illusion is dispelled by grounding it. How will Mary’s idea be embodied where it actually goes to ground?

    Mary is an organism, not a cost of labor. She comes into being as an expression of her environment. She needs to be in synch with that, not some cultist’s fantasies.

    What are jobs? Jobs are things you do for money wouldn’t be doing otherwise. Jobs are what make more money for those who already have so much there isn’t enough to go around. F jobs. We don’t need no stinking jobs.

    A livelihood is an endeavor that has the actual magical power of giving you more than you give it. The big mistake I see most people making, and I used to make, too, is to think that giving the least maximizes getting the most. It doesn’t. That’s what bad parasites do.

    Making people do what they don’t want to do, only for survival, not actually living a fully human life, is monstrous. There’s just no right way to do the wrong thing. But these guys are well paid to fantasize for their fellow cultists.

    1. Louis Fyne

      with the proliferation of journals and the internet and short attention spans, the path of least resistance to gain publicity is with ‘shock value’ ideas aka moving the overton window.

      much of the non-empirical academic world has become like modern-postmodern art.

      and/or that Microsoft Research author is genuinely lauding his pet idea

  14. Paul Harvey 0swald

    Posner and Wyel also suggest that people who interact with immigrants on a day-to-day basis are less racist about migrants.
    This statement does not hold water. We fought a war over this, a president was assasssinated over this, and 150 years later we are still arguing over this.

      1. ambrit

        The old war was the aforementioned “War For the Confederacy.” The “American Civil War” has been ongoing in a socio-economic form for several generations now. Still no end in sight for it.

  15. a different chris

    I hope the commenter above that said they were “trolling” is right.

    In addition to all the good replies above, just note this sentence (as Adam Smith spins furiously in his grave):

    >but no one in the area would accept a wage she can afford

    Well then you don’t have a business, do you? Everybody else has found something better to do. You need to also look for something that I recommend doesn’t involve buggy-whips.

    1. ambrit

      A quibble, if you will.
      “Everybody else has found something better to do.” Demonstrably false, unless “doing nothing” is a choice. I have ‘declined’ to take jobs during my lifetime because said jobs actually cost me more, in dollar terms, not just the old ‘time and money’ category terms, than staying home and ‘pretending to be a Nigerian Prince’ would. (Not to be too sanguine here. One real Nigerian Prince I do like is King Sonny Ade.)
      In this instance, as has already happened here in the American Deep South, the solution to the “no one…would accept…wage she could afford” problem is to import a new ‘underclass’ of workers who initially consider the new new ‘improved’ (lower) wages as acceptable. The history of this in the American Deep South goes way back. This solution requires an influential class of politicos who can be ‘induced’ to support the government intervening to support the narrow interests of the ‘owning class’ in the field of the socio-economy. Sound familiar?
      As long ago as the early 1980s, construction companies in the American Deep South were giving their field operatives English Spanish phrase booklets. So, you don’t have to, really, add that ‘proficiency in English’ clause to the ‘guest worker’ contract. I see an opening for a Multi Lingual Business Contract Translation app. Time to get my ‘MLBCT Kickstarter Campaign’ going.

      1. polecat

        I don’t have paying gig personally, but I do do mountains of laundry, change the sheets, clean the toilets, split the kindling and stack the wood, keep the hearth warm, pick the fruit, cook the meals, and tend my hives… I have neither a pension, nor health unsurance, but I’m a prince none the less .. to my wife and daughter, but I’m what you might call a Carniolan Prince ! .. to my other 20,000 barbed n hairy babes.
        So I guess one could say that I live a kind of indenture, but then I don’t aspire to be a credentialed 20%er thumbing my nose @ the lessor eloi !

  16. JEHR

    The world described in the article is not so far away. As the world becomes more and more run by financiers and all the risks they wish to foist off on others, the upper-middle class will eventually be joining the 1% and the lower-middle class will be joining the working poor. Then one half of the world will (logically) become the servants of the other half. That seems to be where we are going when more and more jobs are becoming precarious or disappearing altogether and where decent pensions (defined benefit) are becoming risky enterprises that the rich can either control or avoid.

  17. Kurtismayfield

    This sounds exactly like the argument that I have had with family members about immigration. They “need” their lawns mowed and houses cleaned on the cheap, consequences be damned. Oh and these are the same people who complained about packaging being bilingual. The hypocrite does not see past their nose.

    1. Arizona Slim

      Do these people have kids? If so, they need to learn how to do chores.

      Heck, one of my friends would crank up the stereo and the whole family would clean house together. And she chose great Broadway musicals to clean to. Knowing her kids the way I do, they probably sang in harmony while they were dusting, vacuuming, and mopping.

      1. Kurtismayfield

        No this is strictly the 50+ set..and yes I was told by my father when I was young that the only reason he had kids was the free labor. Your experience sounds much more enjoyable.

    2. Eclair

      I love my kids and they are what they are partially due to the way I raised them. (Sigh. Mom’s guilt)

      But they have for years hired immigrants (we don’t enquire too closely into their status, but if they have a recommendation from a local judge, then all must be well, yeah?) to work as nannies, housecleaners, gardeners and dog walkers . One pays cash. And none of them has aspirations for political office, which is just as well.

      I, on the other hand, having lived in Southern California for decades before moving, have never paid cash to a gardener or house cleaner. Never.

  18. John Wright


    “More than 43.7 million immigrants resided in the United States in 2016, accounting for 13.5 percent of the total U.S. population of 323.1 million, according to American Community Survey (ACS) data. Between 2015 and 2016, the foreign-born population increased by about 449,000, or 1 percent, a rate slower than the 2.1 percent growth experienced between 2014 and 2015.”

    “Immigrants and their U.S.-born children now number approximately 86.4 million people, or 27 percent of the overall U.S. population, according to the 2017 Current Population Survey (CPS).”

    This seems to indicate there is a good supply of USA workers already provided by immigration, coincidentally accompanied with little median wage growth over decades.

    Wages for “other” people can never be too low enough for business owners, the elite and the neolibs.

  19. Synoia

    I see a trend. Reversion to the 17th or 18th Century, with an aristocracy, attendant servants, a large group of the poor, rigid class structure and vicious punishment for those who upset their “betters.”

    Driven by Parliamentary system, or Governance, which is Democracy in Name Only, or DINOs.

    It’s all a part if the “TINA” revolution.

    Stand back and look at the trend.

    1. Kurtismayfield

      Two good quotes from one of Lambert’s favorites:

      Frank Herbert Children of Dune:

      Governments, if they endure, always tend increasingly toward aristocratic forms. No government in history has been known to evade this pattern. And as the aristocracy develops, government tends more and more to act exclusively in the interests of the ruling class — whether that class be hereditary royalty, oligarchs of financial empires, or entrenched bureaucracy.

      Frank Herbert God Emperor of Dune:

      Scratch a conservative and you find someone who prefers the past over any future. Scratch a liberal and find a closet aristocrat. It’s true! Liberal governments always develop into aristocracies. The bureaucracies betray the true intent of people who form such governments.

  20. Jean

    Just the *latest* profit making app to save humanity. Eye roll.

    The nanny visas are more of thing that ski lodges use to get foreigners to work cheap for just the summer. Jackson Hole is full of Eastern Europeans waitressing because the restaurant owners just won’t pay wages that an American would accept.

  21. ChrisPacific

    I think this article is best viewed as a kind of reductio ad absurdum refutation of the neoliberal idea that people should be treated as exploitable resources. We see these all the time (Mankiw’s comment about how it would be irrational for CEOs not to loot is another example) but most people are so heavily indoctrinated that they don’t recognize them for what they are.

  22. JerryDenim

    “First, whether you like it or not, America already allows this program to the relatively affluent.”

    Exactly, except it’s not just for the affluent. This is what sanctuary cities/states are all about in the Neo-liberal grand scheme. Why would anyone be foolish enough to pay six grand just to land in jobless, broke, opioid-addicted West Virgina when you can show up in California undocumented/illegally, get a legitimate drivers license, receive social services and education for your kids, get paid more than $6.00 an hour, but cash, no tax, under-the-table, and NEVER have to worry about being deported as long as you avoid racking up a long list of felonious crimes?

    There’s a bright future in helping our overlords undercut anyone in the workforce who is interested in making demands like workplace safety laws be respected, collective bargining, minimum wage, etc.

  23. JustAnObserver

    One of the – many – reasons I come to NC is to see comprehensive teardowns in the comments section of the specious neoliberal drivel that passes for intelligence amongst our “thought leaders” (*).

    So … I went off to the original article on Politico to see the comments there. Clicked the “SHOW COMMENTS” bar – nothing happened.

    I can see no – explicit – indication that comments are disabled though there are some words in the
    Editor’s note (a gem in its own right) at the top that might imply this.

    Is it just me ? Firefox on MacBook Pro.

    (*) Doesn’t that phrase make you want to reach for the nearest sick bag ?

  24. sharonsj

    My, how times have changed. I remember reading a long time ago about a bunch of lady knitters in, I think, New England, who earned small amounts of extra money by knitting a variety of items for several small businesses. The state governments decided that the women were self-employed entrepreneurs and taxed them accordingly. That put them, and the companies for which they knitted, out of business. I wonder if those genius professors have taken into account how the indentured servant will be reclassified in the gig economy, thereby rendering their brilliant ideas unworkable?

  25. Kilgore Trout

    “…the sort of libertarian pipe dream that only makes sense after polishing off a brick of hashish and thumbing through Atlas Shrugged.”

  26. RBHoughton

    The thing that should be made pristinely clear to every employee is that his legal rights are expressed under a group of statutes called “Master/Servant Law” wherein he is the servant and his employer is the master. Its very much like the old coolie trade that shipped Asian populations to South America and Indians all over the British Empire in Africa and Australia.

    Two centuries ago, Britain fought over 20 years of war against Republican America and France to maintain this employment system of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ and the owning class have become so inured to its presumptions and advantages they are ready to fight another 20 years to keep them.

    Disappointingly, governments have fallen into the trap of supporting this oppression by the simple expedient of letting the employers collect the government’s tax free of charge. By inserting themselves between tax-payer and government the employer gets an improved position with government and the employee is just a cash cow to be milked.

    1. HotFlash

      Two centuries ago, Britain fought over 20 years of war against Republican America and France to maintain this employment system of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’

      Why, yaas, suh, we had our own peculiar institution.

  27. Peter Boardman

    While some people might see indentured servitute as simply another name for slavery it’s really what “the market” is becoming.

  28. Tom Denman

    My first thought was that this modest proposal was mooted in the spirit of Jonathan Swift. But then I noticed that Posner is at the University of Chicago Law School, where such progressive scholars as Barack Obama and Cass Sunstein taught.


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