Migrants, Pro-Globalization “Leftists,” and the Suffocating Middle Class

By Enrico Verga, a writer, consultant, and entrepreneur based in Milan. As a consultant, he concentrates on firms interested in opportunities in international and digital markets. His articles have appeared in Il Sole 24 Ore, Capo Horn, Longitude, Il Fatto Quotidiano, and many other publications. You can follow him on Twitter @enricoverga.

International commerce, jobs, and economic migrants are propelled by a common force: profit.

In recent times, the Western middle class (by which I mean in particular industrial workers and office employees) has lost a large number of jobs and has seen its buying power fall. It isn’t true that migrants are the source of all evil in the world. However, under current conditions, they become a locus for the exasperation of the population at twenty years of pro-globalization politics. They are tragically placed in the role of the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Western businesses have slipped jobs overseas to countries with low labor costs, while the middle class has been pushed into debt in order to try to keep up. The Glass-Steagall law and other brakes on American banks were abolished by a cheerleader for globalization, Bill Clinton, and these banks subsequently lost all restraints in their enthusiasm to lend. The cherry on top of the sundae was the real estate bubble and ensuing crash of 2008.

A damning picture of the results of 20 years of globalization is provided by Forbes, capitalism’s magazine par excellence. Already in 2016, the surprise victory of Trump led to questions about whether the blond candidate’s win was due in part to the straits of the American middle class, impoverished as a result of the pro-globalization politics of figures like Clinton and Obama.

Further support for this thesis is furnished by the New York Times, describing the collapse of the stars-and-stripes middle class. Its analysis is buttressed by lengthy research from the very mainstream Pew Center, which agrees that the American middle class is vanishing.

And Europe? Although the European middle class has been squeezed less than its American counterpart, for us as well the picture doesn’t look good. See for example the analysis of the Brookings Institute, which discusses not only the flagging economic fortunes of the European middle class, but also the fear of prosperity collapsing that currently grips Europe.

Migrants and the Shock Doctrine

What do economic migrants have to do with any of this?

Far be it from me to criticize large corporations, but clearly they – and their managers and stockholders – benefit from higher margins. Profits (revenue minus costs and expenses) can be maximized by reducing expenses. To this end, the costs of acquiring goods (metals, agricultural products, energy, etc.) and services (labor) need to fall steadily.

In the quest to lower the cost of labor, the most desirable scenario is a sort of blank slate: to erase ongoing arrangements with workers and start over from zero, building a new “happy and productive” economy. This operation can be understood as a sort of “shock doctrine.”

The term “economic shock therapy” is based on an analogy with electroshock therapy for mental patients. One important analysis of it comes from Naomi Klein, who became famous explaining in 2000 the system of fashion production through subsidiaries that don’t adhere to the safety rules taken so seriously in Western countries (some of you may recall the scandal of Benetton and Rana Plaza, where more than a thousand workers at a Bangladesh factory producing Benetton (and other) clothes were crushed under a collapsing building).

Klein analyzes a future (already here to some degree) in which multinational corporations freely fish from one market or another in an effort to find the most suitable (i.e. cheapest) labor force. Sometimes relocating from one nation to another is not possible, but if you can bring the job market of other countries here in the form of a low-cost mass of people competing for employment, then why bother?

The Doctrine in Practice

Continuing flows of low-cost labor can be useful for cutting costs. West Germany successfully absorbed East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but the dirty secret of this achievement is the exploitation of workers from the former East, as Reuters reports.

The expansion of the EU to Poland (and the failed attempt to incorporate the Ukraine) has allowed many European businesses to shift local production to nations where the average cost of a blue or white collar worker is much lower (by 60-70% on average) than in Western European countries.

We see further evidence of damage to the European middle class daily, from France where the (at least verbally) pro-globalization Macron is cutting social welfare to attract foreign investment, to Germany where many ordinary workers are seriously exploited. And so on through the UK and Italy.

Political Reactions

The migrant phenomenon is a perfect counterpoint to a threadbare middle class, given its role as a success story within the narrative of globalization.

Economic migrants are eager to obtain wealth on the level of the Western middle class – and this is of course a legitimate desire. However, to climb the social ladder, they are willing to do anything: from accepting low albeit legal salaries to picking tomatoes illegally (as Alessandro Gassman, son of the famous actor, reminded us).

The middle class is a silent mass that for many years has painfully digested globalization, while believing in the promises of globalist politicians,” explains Luciano Ghelfi, a journalist of international affairs who has followed Lega from its beginnings. Ghelfi continues:

This mirage has fallen under the blows it has received from the most serious economic crisis since the Second World War. Foreign trade, easy credit (with the American real estate bubble of 2008 as a direct consequence), peace missions in Libya (carried out by pro-globalization French and English actors, with one motive being in my opinion the diversion of energy resources away from [the Italian] ENI) were supposed to have created a miracle; they have in reality created a climate of global instability.

Italy is of course not untouched by this phenomenon. It’s easy enough to give an explanation for the Five Stars getting votes from part of the southern electorate that is financially in trouble and might hope for some sort of subsidy, but the North? The choice of voting center right (with a majority leaning toward Lega) can be explained in only one way – the herd (the middle class) has tried to rise up.

I asked him, “So in your opinion, is globalization in stasis? Or is it radically changing?”

He replied:

I think unrestrained globalization has taken a hit. In Italy as well, as we have seen recently, businesses are relocating abroad. And the impoverished middle class finds itself forced to compete for state resources (subsidies) and jobs which can be threatened by an influx of economic migrants towards which enormous resources have been dedicated – just think of the 4.3 billion Euros that the last government allocated toward economic migrants.

This is an important element in the success of Lega: it is a force that has managed to understand clearly the exhaustion of the impoverished middle class, and that has proposed a way out, or has at least elaborated a vision opposing the rose-colored glasses of globalization.

In all of this, migrants are more victims than willing actors, and they become an object on which the fatigue, fear, and in the most extreme cases, hatred of the middle class can easily focus.

What Conflicts Are Most Relevant Today?

At the same time, if we observe, for example in Italy, the positions taken by the (pro-globalization?) Left, it becomes easier to understand why the middle class and also many blue collar workers are abandoning it. Examples range from the unfortunate declarations of deputy Lia Quartapelle on the need to support the Muslim Brotherhood to the explanations of the former president of the Chamber of Deputies, Laura Boldrini, on how the status of economic migrant should be seen as a model for the lifestyle of all Italians. These remarks were perhaps uttered lightly (Quartapelle subsequently took her post down and explained that she had made a mistake), but they are symptomatic of a certain sort of pro-globalization cultural “Left” that finds talking to potential voters less interesting than other matters.

From Italy to America (where Hillary Clinton was rejected after promoting major international trade arrangements that she claimed would benefit middle-class American workers) to the UK (where Brexit has been taken as a sort of exhaust valve), the middle class no longer seems to be snoring.

We are currently seeing a political conflict between globalist and nationalist forces. Globalists want more open borders and freer international trade. Nationalists want protection for work and workers, a clamping down on economic migrants, and rules with teeth aimed at controlling international trade.

If for the last twenty years, with only occasional oscillation, the pro-globalization side has been dominant in the West, elections are starting to swing the balance in a new direction.

Meanwhile, many who self-identify as on the Left seem utterly uninterested in the concerns of ordinary people, at least in cases where these would conflict with the commitment to globalization.

If the distinction between globalism and nationalism is in practice trumping other differences, then we should not let ourselves be distracted by bright and shiny objects, and keep our focus on what really matters.

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  1. fresno dan

    From the Forbes link:
    “The first downside of international trade that even proponents of freer trade must acknowledge is that while the country as a whole gains some people do lose.”
    More accurate to say a tiny, tiny, TINY percentage gain.

    Nice how they use the euphemism “country as a whole” for GDP. Yes, GDP goes up – but that word that can never be uttered by American corporate media – DISTRIBUTION – that essentially ALL gains in GDP have gone to the very top. AND THAT THIS IS A POLITICAL DECISION, not like the waves of the ocean or natural selection. There is plenty that could be done about it – BUT it STARTS with WANTING to do something effective about it….

    And of course, the bizarre idea that inflation helps. Well, like trade, it helps….the very, very rich

    1. Enrico Verga

      im used to use reliable link ( on forbes it’s not Pew but i quoted also Pew) :)

    2. Off The Street

      Nice how they use the euphemism “country as a whole” for GDP.

      Fresno Dan,
      You have identified one of my pet peeves about economists and their fellow traveler politicians. They hide behind platitudes, and the former are more obnoxious about that. Economists will tell people that they just don’t understand all that complexity, and that in the name of efficiency, etc, free trade and the long slide toward neo-liberal hell must continue.

      1. Heraclitus

        I think the assertion that all economic gains have gone to the very top is not accurate. According to ‘Unintended Consequences’ by Ed Conard, the ‘composition of the work force has shifted to demographics with lower incomes’ between 1980 and 2005. If you held the workforce of 1980 steady through 2005, wages would be up 30% in real terms, not including benefits.

        It’s amazing that critics miss this.

        1. Jean

          But you are ignoring immigrant based population increases which dilutes your frozen population number. How convenient for argument’s sake.

          Not mentioned in the article are rent increases caused by more competition for scarcer housing.

          1. makedoanmend

            “Not mentioned in the article are rent increases caused by more competition for scarcer housing.”

            This argument ignores an entire host of factors that impact accommodation cost. Some immediate factors impacting costs/rents are the cost of money, credit analysis standards applied when credit is issued, multiple property buyers using housing as an investment vehicle, and those companies that game regulations to use private housing as hotels – just to name a few.

            And anywho, isn’t a capitalist society supposed to be cock-a-hoop when assets are bid higher? Show me the money.

    3. John k

      Both coasts have done very well, and mostly don’t understand why those in flyover went to trump. Hillary campaigned on four mor years like the last eight, and still can’t understand why those in flyover are unhappy. But a lot were happy with her promise of more of the same.

  2. makedoanmend

    I think the author has highlighted some home truths in the article. I once remember several years ago just trying to raise the issue of immigration* and its impact on workers on an Irish so-called socialist forum. Either I met silence or received a reply along the lines: ‘that when socialists rule the EU we’ll establish continental wide standards that will ensure fairness for everyone’. Fairy dust stuff. I’m not anti immigrant in any degree but it seems unwise not to understand and mitigate the negative aspects of policies on all workers. Those chickens are coming home to roost by creating the type of political parties (new or established) that now control the EU and many world economies.

    During the same period many younger middle and upper middle class Irish extolled the virtues, quite openly, of immigration as way of lowering the power and wages of existing Irish workers so that the costs of building homes, labour intensive services and the like would be concretely reduced; and that was supposed to be a good thing for the material well being of these middle and upper middle classes. Sod manual labour.

    One part of the working class was quite happy to thrown another part of the working class under the bus and the Left**, such as it was and is, was content to let it happen. Then established Leftist parties often facilitated the rightward economic process via a host of policies, often against their own stated policies in election manifestos. The Left appeared deceitful. The Irish Labour party is barely alive and subsisting on die-hard traditionalists for their support by those who can somehow ignore the deceit of their party. Surreaslist stuff from so-called working class parties,

    And now the middle-middle classes are ailing and we’re supposed to take notice. Hmmm. Yet, as a Leftist, myself, it is incumbent upon us to address the situation and assist all workers, whatever their own perceived status.

    *I’m an immigrant in the UK currently, though that is about to change next year.

    ** Whether the “Left”, such as the Irish Labour Party, was just confused or bamboozled matters not a jot. After the financial crises that became an economic crisis, they zealously implemented austerity policies that predominantly cleared the way for a right wing political landscape to dominate throughout Europe. One could be forgiven for thinking that those who called themselves Leftists secretly believed that only right wing, neo-liberal economic policies were correct. And I suppose, being a bit cynical, that a few politicos were paid handsomely for their services.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I think its easy to see why the more middle class elements of the left wing parties never saw immigration as a problem – but harder to see why the Trade Unions also bought into this. Partly I think it was a laudable and genuine attempt to ensure they didn’t buy into racism – when you look at much trade union history, its not always pleasant reading when you see how nakedly racist some early trade union activists were, especially in the US. But I think there was also a process whereby Unions increasingly represented relatively protected trades and professions, while they lost ground in more vulnerable sectors, such as in construction.

      I think there was also an underestimation of the ‘balancing’ effect within Europe. I think a lot of activists understimated the poverty in parts of Europe, and so didn’t see the expansion of the EU into eastern Europe as resulting in the same sort of labour arbitrage thats occurred between the west and Asia. I remember the discussions over the enlargement of the EU to cover eastern Europe and I recall that there seemed to be an inbuilt assumption (certainly in the left), that rising general prosperity would ensure there would be no real migration impact on local jobs. This proved to be entirely untrue.

      Incidentally, in my constituency (Dublin Central) in past elections the local Labour party was as guilty as any of pandering to the frequent racism encountered on the doorsteps in working class areas. But it didn’t do them much good. Interestingly, SF was the only party who would consistently refuse to pander (At least in Dublin), making the distinction between nationalist and internationalist minded left wingers even more confusing.

      1. makedoanmend

        Yes, one has to praise the fact that the Unions didn’t pander to racism – but that’s about all the (insert expletive of choice) did correctly.

        Your other points, as ever, are relevant and valid but (and I must but) I tend to think that parties like Labour were too far “breezy” about the repercussions about labour arbitrage. But that’s water under the bridge now.

        Speaking about SF and the North West in general, they have aggressively canvassed recent immigrants and have not tolerated racism among their ranks. Their simple reasoning was that is unthinkable that SF could tolerate such behaviour amongst themselves when they has waged a campaign against such attitudes and practices in the six counties. (SF are no saints, often fumble the ball badly, and are certainly not the end-all-be-all, but this is something they get right).

    2. Glen

      It has to be understood that much of immigration is occurring because of war, famine, collapsing societies (mostly due to massive wealth inequality and corrupt governments). Immigration is not the cause of the economic issues in the EU, it’s a symptom (or a feature if you’re on top). If you don’t correct the causes – neo-liberalism, kleptocracy, rigged game – what ever you want to call it, then you too will become an immigrant in your own country (and it will be a third world country by the time the crooks on top are done).

      Don’t get caught up in the blame the other poor people game. It’s a means to get the powerless to fight among themselves. They are not in charge, they are victims just like you.

      1. Felix_47

        Having spent a lot of time in the Indian subcontinent and Afghanistan and Iraq I have to say that rampant overpopulation plays a big part. Anyone who can get out is getting out. It makes sense. And with modern communications they all know how life is in Europe or the US in contrast to the grinding horror that surrounds them.

        1. Louis Fyne

          But Conan tells me that Haiti is a tropical paradise! (my brother too spent a lot of time in Afghanistan and Iraq working with the locals during his deployments)

          “Twitter liberalism” is doing itself by not recognizing that much of the developing world IS a corrupt cesspool.

          Instead of railing against Trump, the Twitter-sphere needs to rail against the bipartisan policies that drive corruption, and economic dislocations and political dislocations. …and rail against religious fundamentalism that hinders family planning.

          But that can’t fit onto a bumper sticker.

          Calling Trump names is easier.

          1. redleg

            But if you actually do that, rail against bipartisan neoliberal policies on social media and IRL, the conservatives are far less hostile than the die-hard Dems. This is especially true now, with all the frothing at the mouth and bloodlust about Russia. Its raised their “it’s ALL *YOUR* FAULT”-ism by at least an order of magnitude.

        2. Oregoncharles

          Actually, that’s been true since the 18th C., at least for the US. TV may make it more vivid, and Europe has changed places, but most Americans have immigrant ancestors, most often from Europe.

      2. makedoanmend

        Very good points, and I agree with all of them.

        However, it does seem that the policy of the EU, especially under the influence of Mutti Merkel, signalled a free-for-all immigration stance over the last several years, completely ignoring the plight of existing workers (many of whom would be recent immigrants themselves and the children of immigrants). That the so-called Left either sat idly by or jumped on Mutti’s band wagon didn’t do them any favours with working people. Every country or customs union has and needs to regulate its borders. It also makes some sense to monitor labour markets when unfavourable conditions appear.

        It appears that only the wealthy are largely reaping the rewards of the globalist direction trade has taken. These issues need to be addressed by the emerging Left political parties in the West. Failure to address these issues must, I would contend, play into the hands of the more right wing parties whose job is to often enrich the local rich.

        But, bottom line, your are correct workers do not come out well when blaming other workers for economies that have been intentionally created to produce favourable conditions for the few over the many.

        1. JTFaraday

          I don’t know, I always saw Merkel as providing a political escape valve that allowed the US and other western powers to keep sowing disorder beyond their own technical borders by suggesting Germany and other EU countries could absorb the runoff. I think she’s mistaken, but the alternative is to confront the US.

          As for absorbing the former communist block countries, well, that’s baked into the EU. Probably the attention there should have been on better developing their local economies, rather than allowing the racist right to rise again, but we know why that didn’t happen. But sadly some of the same right wingers who are going to complain about it probably also think that, say, Lord Keynes is a communist. That’s the way it works in the US with respect to this hemisphere, anyway.

      3. nervos belli

        It’s a blade with two sides.
        There are push factors like the wars and poor countries. However neither of these causes can be fixed. Not possible. Europe can gnash their teeth all they want, not even when they did the unthinkable and put the US under sanctions for their warcrimes would the US ever stop. First there would be color revolutions in western europe.

        As important as the push factors are the pull ones. 90% or so of all refugees 2015 went to Germany. Some were sent to other countries by the EU, these too immediately moved to Germany and didn’t stay where they were assigned. So the EU has to clean up their act and would need to put the last 10 or so US presidents and administrations before a judge in Den Haag for continued war crimes and crimes against humanity (please let me my dreams). The EU would also need to clean up their one sided trade treaties with Africa and generally reign in their own corporations. All that is however not enough by far and at most only half the battle. Even when the EU itself all did these things, the poverty would remain and therefore the biggest push factor. Humans always migrate to the place where the economy is better.

        The pull factors is however at least as big. The first thing to do is for Germany to fix their laws to be in sync with the other EU countries. At this point, Germany is utterly alone, at most some countries simply don’t speak out against german policy since they want concessions in other areas. Main one here is France with their proposed EU and Euro reforms but not alone by far.

      4. John k

        Africa and ME countries don’t use birth control, and now most kids grow up to child bearing age. Massive overpopulation is a cause of wars, and GW brings droughts, the proximate of the Syrian crisis, and desertification… the Sahara is moving both South and north, jumping the Mediterranean to bring droughts to Italy and Spain… and migrants as well.
        It’s excessive pop, more than globalization, that crushes many poor countries… in fact, globalization has brought many third world countries a higher standard of living. Even those working in a factory girded with suicide nets would rather be there than on the rice paddy where they grew up.
        Sadly, all religious leaders, and some political ones, see the tidal wave of babies as a good thing, more worshippers or supporters. They actively campaign against the pill.

        1. makedoanmend

          I don’t have the statistics at hand, but I do know that birth rates, in a broad geograpahical sense, in the regions you cite are declining according to the UN. One of the biggest factors in this decline is education of females. Just plain, good old fashioned abc’s and maths and learning to that one can think independently of authority.

          Of course there are other issues that affect populations and migration. It seems many Western countries (and some others) like to interfere in these regions. I’m given to believe that some Western countries have invaded them, destroyed huge sections of their infrastructure , or sometimes just bought off local government management in order to procure a country’s natural resources on the cheap; denying the economic benefit to local economies. I’d argue that this has a had profound affect on migration in the last two decades and longer.

  3. Ben Wolf

    Nationalists want protection for work and workers, a clamping down on economic migrants, and rules with teeth aimed at controlling international trade.

    Socialism in one country is a Stalinist theory, and falling back upon it in fear of international capital is not only regressive but (assuming we aren’t intentionally ignoring history) relective of a defensive mentality.

    In other words, this kind of thinking is the thinking of the whipped dog cringing before the next blow.

    1. Andrew Watts

      Or perhaps they want to regulate and control the power of capital in their country. Which is an entirely impossible proposition considering that capital can flee any jurisdiction and cross any border. After all, transnational capital flows which were leveraged to the hilt in speculative assets played an oversized role in generating the financial crisis and subsequent crash.

      It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been called a Stalinist though.

    2. Oregoncharles

      And why would we care whether it’s a “Stalinist” theory? For that matter, although worker ownership would solve some of these problems, we needn’t be talking about socialism, but rather about more functional capitalism.

      Quite a leap in that last sentence; you haven’t actually established anything of the sort.

      1. JBird

        …but rather about a more functional capitalism.

        Personally, I believe capitalism needs to go away, but for it, or any other economic system, to work, we would need a fair, equal, just, enforced rule of law that everyone would be under, wouldn’t we?

        Right now the blessed of our various nations do not want this, so they make so that one set is unfair, unequal, unjust, harshly enforced on most of their country’s population while they get the gentle rules.

        For a society to function long term, it needs to have a fair and just set of rules that everyone understands and follow, although the rules don’t have to equal; people will tolerate different levels of punishments and strictness of the rules. The less that is the case the more dysfunctional, and usually the more repressive it is. See the Western Roman Empire, the fall of just about every Chinese dynasty, the Russian Empire, heck even the American War of Independence, and the American Civil War. In example, people either actively worked to destroy the system or did not care to support it.

    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      The Scandinavian countries created semi-socialism in three countries . . . or one semi-socialism in one country in three separate cases. Would you call the Scandinavian countries to be semi-Stalinist?

    4. georgieboy

      “Socialism in one country is a Stalinist theory” is a cute — and vicious — attempt to paint people with the Stalinist brush just because they disagree with you.

      Somehow Stalin forgot all about that one-country stuff once it came time to divide Poland, and then again after the War was won. He had lots of theories, all self-serving. That sound familiar?

  4. disc_writes

    Thank you for the article, a pretty lucid analysis of the recent electoral results in Italy and trends elsewhere. Although I would have liked to read something about people voting the way they do because they are xenophobe fascist baby-eating pedophile racist Putin friends. Just for fun.

    Funny how the author’s company promotes “Daily international job vacancies in UNDP, FAO, UN, UNCTAD, UNIDO and the other Governative Organization, Non Governative Organization, Multinationals Corporations. Public Relations, Marketing, Business Development.”

    Precisely the sort of jobs that infuriates the impoverishing middle classes.

  5. Felix_47

    As recently as 2015, Bernie Sanders defended not only border security, but also national sovereignty. Asked about expanded immigration, Sanders flipped the question into a critique of open-borders libertarianism: “That’s a Koch brothers proposal…which says essentially there is no United States.”
    Unfortunately the ethnic division of the campaign and Hillary’s attack seems to have led him to change his mind.

    1. Andrew Watts

      That’s probably due to the fact that just about everybody can’t seem to differentiate between immigration and mass migration. The latter issue is a matter of distributing the pain of a collapsing order. state failure, and climate change while the former is simply engaging in the comfortable rhetoric of politics dominated by the American middle class.

    2. John k

      Hopefully more a change of focus, though trumps success in appealing to the forgotten may persuade him to move back in the general. But first he needs to win the nom, and he likely wants to avoid further annoying the global clintonites.
      Easy to forget how many enemies he already has. Luckily they can’t attack his age so long as Biden remains a preferred standard bearer.

  6. Enrico Verga

    Ciao .

    Oki lemme see.

    1 people vote they like. im not updated if the voters eat babies but i’ll check and let u know.
    2 My company is not dream job. It is a for free ( and not making a penny) daily bulleting that using a fre soft (paper.li) collect international qualified job offers for whoever is willing to work in these sector.
    i’m not pro or contro migrants. i actually only reported simple fact collating differents point :)

  7. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Economic migrants seek prosperity and are justified in doing so, yet they can also be seen as pawns in an international strategy that destroys the negotiating leverage of workers. The resulting contradictions potentially render conventional political classifications obsolete.

    This appears on the homepage, but not here.

    In any case, the 10% also seek prosperity. They are said to be the enablers of the 1%.

    Perhaps pawns too.

    Are economic migrants both pawns and enablers?

      1. J Sterling

        Marx and Engels coined the term lumpen in the 1840s. The word means “ragged”, denoting poverty, but it can also be punned to mean “torn”, denoting separation.

        The defining feature of the lumpen is their lack of solidarity with their neighbors, that comes either from just not caring, but more often these days from “not being from around here”. Especially when they come from extremely poor countries, the pleas of their neighbors fall on deaf ears, as they think their neighbors have it pretty good.

        So they’re really good candidates to be defectors in the Prisoner’s Dilemma; picket-line crossing strike-breaking blackleg workers.

        Often in these days of multicultural subcommunities, they’re not lacking in consciousness of themselves as a group, but it will be a smaller group within the working class: their fellow worshippers at the local mosque, say. They don’t lack consciousness, but they lack class consciousness, which is perfect for the exploitative upper class.

        1. JBird

          Especially when they come from extremely poor countries, the pleas of their neighbors fall on deaf ears, as they think their neighbors have it pretty good.

          I have noticed that many people refuse to game out the whole system. Instead they look at the little bit right in front of them and used slogans, or sayings, to ostensibly explain the whole. Even looking at the past, even just the immediate past, never mind the future as it relates to the present is mocked, or even just ignored.

          So people are willing and able to travel large distances in hell to find work, or acquire large fortunes and businesses, but refuse to see how, or think about how, those actions might affect others, and eventually themselves, in ways that are not immediate and immediately obvious.

  8. Newton Finn

    Until the left alters its thinking to reflect the crucial information presented in this video, information more clearly and comprehensively spelled out in “Reclaiming the State” by Mitchell and Fazi, resurgent rightwing nationalism will be the only outlet for those who reject global neoliberalism’s race to the bottom. It’s that simple…and sad.


  9. ROB

    To paint this as two pro-globalisation (within which you place the left) and pro-nationalism is simplistic and repositions the false dichotomy of left vs right with something just as useless. We should instead seek to speak to the complexities of the modern political spectrum. This is an example of poor journalism and analysis and shouldn’t have been posted here, sorry Yves.

    1. John Wright

      By “false dichotomy of left vs right” are you implying there is little difference between left and right?

      Is that not one of the themes of the article?

      Please speak to the complexities of the modern political spectrum and give some examples of better and more useful journalism and analysis.

    2. JTMcPhee

      Thanks for your opinion. Check the format of this place: articles selected for information or provoking thoughts, in support of a general position of driving toward betterment of the general welfare, writ large.

      The political economy is at least as complex as the Krebs or citric acid cycle that biology students and scientists try to master. There are so many moving parts and intersecting and competing interests that in the few words that the format can accommodate, regarding each link, it’s a little unkind to expect some master work of explication and rhetorical closure every time.

      The Krebs cycle is basically driven by the homeostatic thrust, bred of billions of years of refinement, to maintain the healthy functioning and prolong life of the organism. There’s a perceivable axis to all the many parts of respiration, digestion, energy flows and such, all inter-related with a clear organizing principle at the level of the organism. On the record, it’s hardly clear that at the level of the political economy, and all the many parts that make it up, there is sufficient cohesion around a set of organizing principles that parallel the drive, at the society and species level, to regulate and promote the energy flows and interactions that would keep things healthy and prolong the life of the larger entity. Or that their is not maybe a death wish built into the “cultural DNA” of most of the human population.

      Looks a lot to me that we actually have been invested (in both the financial and military senses of the word) by a bunch of different cancer processes, wild and unregulated proliferation of ecnomic and political tumor tissues that have invaded and undermined the healthy organs of the body politic. Not so clear what the treatments might be, or the prognosis. It is a little hopeful, continuing the biological analogy, that the equivalents of inflammation and immune system processes appear to be overcoming the sneaky tricks that cancer genes and cells employ to evade being identified and rendered innocuous.

      1. John

        Yes, “invested in a bunch of cancer processes” is a good description of allowing excessive levels of predatory wealth. Thus you end up with a bunch of Jay Gould hyper capitalists whose guiding principle is: I can always pay one half of the working class to kill the other half. Divide and conquer rules.

    3. jrs

      It’s mostly simply wrong. This doesn’t describe the political views of almost anyone near power anywhere as far as I can tell:

      “Globalists want more open borders and freer international trade. Nationalists want protection for work and workers, ”

      Most of the nationalist forces are on the right and give @#$# all for workers rights. Really they may be anti-immigrant but they are absolutely anti-worker.

      1. Rob

        This most accurately captures my critique of this article. The modern nationalist right purportes to care about workers rights, but this is nothing more than a ruse. See: Brexit, Trump.

      2. JBird

        Most of the nationalist forces are on the right and give @#$# all for workers rights. Really they may be anti-immigrant but they are absolutely anti-worker.

        I find that most of the senior political leadership of almost the whole political spectrum of the West, or heck as far as I can tell, the East too, is remarkably alike despite the shouting out their supposed social, an political differences; most of the ideologies of the top whether left, liberal, conservative, or libertarian are remarkably similar in there use of creating the impoverishment of the majority for the enrichment of the already well-off if not wealthy.

        As far as I can tell, the liberal globalists, and the conservative nationalists leadership is working for the top 9.9% or even the 1.0% I think almost everyone across the political spectrum socially and economically in the bottom 90%, have had the people and parties who are ostensibly said to represent their interests, have hijack those interests and connect them to the support of the economic well being of the wealthy top.

        Whatever the problem is, it is always more tax cuts, more austerity, more open borders, more war, more corruption, more pollution, and more security state. More of anything that funnels wealth from the bottom to the top. The “conservatives” look to pin down, dis-empower, and breakup the various local nationalities and their institutions, while the “liberals” want to make labor and financial arbitrage evermore easier. Interesting that.

        So what of the leftist nationalist forces? We do exist. I am not sure if that is a good thing, but maybe we should hook up with the social conservatives who do not think putting people in poverty so that the wealthy can get more wealthy is a conservative value, at least not socially. They do exist too. The whole Sermon on the Mount thing that too many “Christians” convenient ignore. Or for that, far too many of the other major religions’ equivalent.

      3. Seamus Padraig

        Most of the nationalist forces are on the right and give @#$# all for workers rights. Really they may be anti-immigrant but they are absolutely anti-worker.

        I think that’s the whole point of the article: the author shares our lament that there are no left-wing nationalist parties at present, just right-wing ones.

  10. JimmyV

    The middle class does not really exist, it was a concept invented by capitalists to distract the workers from their essential unity as fellow wage slaves. Some make more wages, some make less wages but they all have their surplus value, the money left over after they have enough to take care of themselves, taken by the capitalist and used for his ends even though he may not have worked in the value creation process at all.

    Economic migrants are members of the working class who have been driven from their home country to somewhere else by the capitalist system. While the article does mention capitalist shock doctrine methods for establishing imperialism and correctly notes that economic migrants are victims, it then goes on to try to lay a weak and insidious argument against them. The author goes on citing multiple different cases of worker wages being driven lower or stagnating, many of these cases have differing and sometimes complex reasons for why this happened. But migrants and globalization are to blame he says and that our struggle is nationalism vs globalism. He refuses to see what is staring him in the face, workers produce surplus value for society, more workers produce more surplus value. If society finds itself wealthier with more workers then why do workers wage fall or stagnate? He does note correctly that this is due to the workers now having a weaker bargaining position with the capitalist, but he seems to conclude from this without stating outrightly that we should then reject the economic migrants because of this.

    However, we could instead conclude that if more workers produce more surplus value but yet their wages fall because the capitalist takes a larger share of the overall pot, that the problem is not more workers but instead the capitalist system itself which was rigged to exploit workers everywhere. Plus the workers bargaining position only weakens with a greater number of them if they are all just bargaining for themselves, but if they were to bargain togather collectively then there bargaining position has actually only grown even stronger.

    Also he falsly equates democratic party policies with leftists, instead of correctly noting that the democratic party represents capitalist interests from a centrist position and not the left. The strength of global capitalism can only be fought by a global coalition of the working class. The struggle of Mexican and American workers are interrelated to each other and the same goes for that of European and Middle Eastern workers. The time has come for the left to raise the rallying cry of its great and glorious past.

    That workers of the world must unite!

    1. Outis Philalithopoulos Post author

      You claim, as if it were obvious, that “economic migrants are members of the working class who have been driven from their home country to somewhere else by the capitalist system.”

      Are all economic migrants therefore bereft of agency?

      If the borders of the US were abruptly left completely open, a huge number of people would enter the country tomorrow, for economic reasons. Would they all have been “driven” here, or would they have some choice in the matter?

      When you say, “he refuses to say what is staring him in the face, that […] more workers produce more surplus value,” you are not only taking a gratuitously pedantic tone, you are actually not making a coherent critique. If economic migrants move from one country to another, the total pool of workers in the world has not increased; while according to your logic, if all the workers in the world were to move to Rhode Island, Rhode Island would suddenly be swimming in the richness of surplus value.

      When you say, “we could instead conclude that [..] the problem is not more workers but instead the capitalist system itself which was rigged to exploit workers everywhere,” you are straw-manning the author but also making a purely rhetorical argument. If you think the capitalist system can be replaced with a better one within the near future, then you can work toward that; but in the meanwhile, nations, assuming that they will continue to exist, will either have open borders or something short of that, and these decisions do affect the lives of workers.

      When you say he “falsly equates democratic party policies with leftists,” the false equivalence is coming from you. The article barely touches on the Democratic Party, and instead draws most of its examples from Europe, especially Italy. In Italy, the public figures he mentions call themselves part of the sinistra and are generally referred to that way. You might perhaps feel that they are not entitled to that name (and in fact, the article sometimes places “left” in quotation marks), but you should at least read the article and look them up before discussing the matter.

    2. Oregoncharles

      From the article: “Meanwhile, many who self-identify as on the Left seem utterly uninterested in the concerns of ordinary people, at least in cases where these would conflict with the commitment to globalization.”

      To Be Fair, Verga clearly is skeptical about those claims to be “on the Left,” as he should be. Nonetheless, his initial mention of Democratic exemplars of globalization triggers American reflexes.

      1. Oregoncharles

        Something before this failed to post; was rejected as a double post.

        In brief: corporate globalization is a conservative, Republican policy that Bill Clinton imposed on the Dems, where it has since become doctrine, since it pays. It’s ultimately the reason I’m a Green, not a Democrat, and in a sense the reason there IS a Green Party in the US.

    3. J Sterling

      The middle class does exist: they’re the 9.9%. Calling bus drivers like Ralph Kramden “middle class” was a mistake.

  11. Eduardo Pinha

    The author points to stagnant middle class income in USA and Western Europe but fail to look the big picture. Middle class income has increased sharply in the past decades in Asia and Eastern Europe. Overall the gain huge, even though life is tougher in richer countries.

    1. JBird

      Overall the gain huge, even thought life is tougher in richer countries.

      Please accept my apologies for saying this. I don’t mean to offend. I just have to point out something.

      Many in the Democratic Party, as well as the left, are pointing to other countries and peoples as well as the American 9.9% and saying things are great, why are you complaining? With the not so hidden implications, sometimes openly stated that those who do are losers and deplorables.

      Saying that middle class incomes are merely stagnant is a sick, sick joke as well as an untruth. As an American, I do not really care about the middle classes in Asia and Eastern Europe. Bleep the big picture. The huge gains comes with a commensurate increase in homeless in the United States, and a falling standard of living for most the of the population, especially in the “wealthy” states, like my state of California. Most of us are using fingernails to stay alive and homed. If those gains had not been caused by the losses, I would be very please to see them. As it is, I have to live under President Trump and worry about surviving. Heck, worry about the rest of my family doing so.

      1. jrs

        “Saying that middle class incomes are merely stagnant is a sick, sick joke as well as an untruth.”


        I mean I actually do care somewhat about the people of the world, but we here in “rich countries” are being driven to homelessness at this point and told the goddamn lie that we live in a rich country, rather than the truth that we live in a plutocracy with levels of inequality approaching truly 3rd world. We are literally killing ourselves because we have to live in this plutocracy and our one existence itself is not even worth it anymore in this economic system (and we are lacking even a few of the positives of many other 3rd world countries). And those that aren’t killing ourselves still can’t find work, and even if we do, it doesn’t pay enough to meet the most basic necessities.

        1. Seamus Padraig

          At this point, I’d say we actually live in a poor country with a very, very rich ruling class.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      Their gain was our loss. Their fortune is our misfortune.

      I remember writing to a few people on other blogs how neat it would be if Trump would end his First Inaugural Address with the sentence ” America has Stood Up!” How much even more neaterer it would have been if Trump would have said it in Chinese.

  12. David in Santa Cruz

    Thought-provoking post.

    1. It is unfortunate that Verga raises the rising cost of material inputs but fails to meaningfully address the issue. One of the drivers of migration, as mentioned in Comments above, is the population volcano currently erupting. Labor is cheap and globalization possible in large part because the world population has grown from 2 Billion to over 7 Billion in the past 60-odd years. This slow-growing mountain of human beings has created stresses on material inputs which are having a negative impact on the benefits derived from declining labor costs. This becomes a death-spiral as capital seeks to balance the rising cost of raw materials and agricultural products by driving down the cost of labor ever further.

    2. Verga touches on the interplay of Nationalism and Racism in the responses of political parties and institutions in Italy and elsewhere. Voters appear to be abandoning Left and left-ish parties because the Left have been unable to come up with a definintion of national sovereignty that protects worker rights largely due to the importance of anti-racism in current Left-wing thought. Working people were briefly bought-off with cheap consumer goods and easy credit, but they now realize that low-wage migrant and off-shore workers mean that even these goodies are now out of reach. The only political alternative currently on offer is a brand of Nationalism defined by Racism — which becomes acceptable to voters when the alternative is Third-World levels of poverty for those outside the 1% and their 9% enablers.

    I don’t see any simple solutions. Things may get very ugly.

    1. redleg

      The “left” abandoned the working class. Denied a political champion, the right offered the working class scapegoats.

    2. JBird

      Voters appear to be abandoning Left and left-ish parties because the Left have been unable to come up with a definintion of national sovereignty that protects worker rights largely due to the importance of anti-racism in current Left-wing thought.

      As I understand it, the term “identity politics” originally meant that all identities be allowed to stand on their own as their own individual, or group, identity. For example recognizing that housewives are a group, or even individuals, that should be recognized and treated as separate identities, not as a woman subsumed into the identity of her husband and her children. Recognizing their desires, agency of their own gives them more power and ability. Recognizing that truth about everyone gives everyone more power to be and to interact with others.

      Over the decades identity politics morphed from giving everyone recognition (identity) and thus a greater access to not only their own abilities, and also a better way to connect, to make connections with the other identities, but instead silos and isolates individuals and groups from each other, weakening them. So from recognizing and accepting people’s differences and thus empowering them like a union would or the United States, it is like recognizing and using people’s differences to divide and weaken them in a constant battle over resources like drug gangs or modern day Iraq.

      1. David in Santa Cruz

        Identity, migration, and globalization have been turned from positives into tools of exploitation through their appropriation by the oligarchy and their enablers.

        I once publicly challenged the chief of ICE in the western US to defend the jailing of thousands of migrants while failing to prosecute a single employer for exploiting them: “Sir, you’re an African-American. When we passed the 13th Amendment, did we make it a crime to be a slave?”

  13. PKMKII

    I certainly see that policies tampering down free trade, both of capital and labor, can benefit workers within a particular country. However, especially in the context of said policies in “Western” countries, this can tend towards a, protect the working class within the borders, leave those outside of it in impoverished squalor. Which doesn’t mesh well with the leftist goal of global class consciousness. Much like the racially segregated labor policies of yesteryear, it’s playing a zero-sum game with the working class while the ownership class gets the “rising tide lifts all boats” treatment.

    So how do we protect workers within the sovereign, while not doing so at the cost of the workers outside of it? Schwieckart has an interesting idea, that tariffs on imports are used to fund non-profits/higher education/cooperatives in the country of export. However, I think we’d need something a bit more fine-tuned than that.

    1. John k

      But this means giving flyover a share of the benefits. Haven’t yet seen any political party speak of sharing, pelosi? Schumer? Don’t be silly.
      Only trump and Bernie talk about a new arrangement.

  14. Tomonthebeach

    It has always baffled me that governments enable this global musical chairs game with the labor market. Nearly all Western governments allow tax dodging by those who benefit the most from their Navies, Armies, Patents, and Customs enforcement systems. However, it is the working class that carries the brunt of that cost while corporations off-shore their profits.

    A simple-minded fix might be to start taxing foreign profits commensurate with the cost of enabling those overseas profits.

    1. whine country

      Interesting that a corporation is a person just like us mortals when it is to their advantage, but unlike us humans, they can legally escape taxation on much of their income whereas a human being who is a US citizen cannot. A human citizen is generally taxed by the US on all income regardless of its source. OTOH, corporations (among other means) routinely transfer intellectual property to a non tax jurisdiction and then pay artificial payments to that entity for the rights to use such property. It is a scam akin to a human creating a tax deduction by transferring money from one pocket to another. Yes, proper taxation of corporations is a simple-minded fix which is absolutely not simple to legislate. Nice try though. Something else to ponder: Taxation without representation was said to be a major factor in our war of independence from Britain. Today no one seems to be concerned that we have evolved into representation without taxation. Doesn’t see right to me.

  15. ChrisAtRU

    “Klein analyzes a future (already here to some degree) in which multinational corporations freely fish from one market or another in an effort to find the most suitable (i.e. cheapest) labor force.”


    Our Industry Follows Poverty

    FWIW I don’t think it’s productive to talk about things like immigration in (or to) the US in terms of just the here – as in what should/could we be doing here to fix the problem. It’s just as much if not more about the there. If we view the global economic order as an enriched center feeding off a developing periphery, then fixing the periphery should be first aim. #Wall or #NoBorders are largely incendiary extremes. Ending Original Sin and creating some sort of supranational IOU/credit system (not controlled by World Bank or IMF!) will end the economic imbalance and allow countries who will never export their way out of poverty and misery a way to become equal first world nation states. With this equality, there will be less economic migration, less peripheral poverty and potentially less political unrest. It’s a gargantuan task to be sure, but with rising Socialist sentiment here and abroad, I’d like to think we are at least moving in the right direction.

  16. Anonymous2

    No mention of tax policy?

    If the rich were properly taxed then social tensions would be greatly reduced and if the revenue raised were used to help the poorest in society much distress could be alleviated.

    I worry that debate on migration/globalisation is being encouraged to distract attention from this issue.

  17. JimmyV

    I may indeed have taken a gratuitously pedantic tone and could have chosen a better one, for that i apologise. I do however believe that much of my critique still stands, I will try to go through your points one by one.

    “Are all economic migrants therefore bereft of agency?”

    Not all but many are, especially the ones that most people are complaining about. Many of them are being driven from their home countries not simply for a better life but so they can have something approaching a life at all. While to fully prove this point would require an analysis of all the different migrants and their home country conditions, I do feel that if we are talking about Syrian refugees, migrants from Africa risking their lives crossing the Mediteranian sea, or CentralAmerican refugees than yes i do think these people to an extent have had their agency taken from them by global events. For Syrians, by being caught in an imperialist power struggle which while the civil war may not have been caused by it, it certainly has been prolonged because of it. Not too mention America played a very significant role in creating the conditions for ISIS, and western European powers don’t have completely clean hands either due to their long history of brutal imperialism in the mideast. Africa of course also has an extensive past of colonization and suffers from a present of colonization and exploitation as well. For Central Americans there is of course the voracious american drug market as well as our politicians consistent appetite for its criminalisation to blame. There is also of course global climate change. Many of these contributing conditions are not being dealt with and so i believe that the migrations we have witnessed these last few years are only the first ining of perhaps even greater migrations to come. How we deal with it now, could determine whether our era is defined by mass deaths or something better. So to the extent that i believe many of these migrants have agency is similiar to how a person climbing onto the roof of there house to escape a flood does.

    If the borders of the US were left completely open then, yes, there would most likely be a rush of people at first but over time they would migrate back and forth according to their needs, through the opening of the border they would gain agency. People often think that a country not permitting its citizens to leave is wrong and immoral, but if most countries close their borders to the people of a country going through great suffering, then it seems to me that is essentially the same even if the rhetoric may be different. The likeliness of this is high if the rich countries close there borders, since if the rich countries like the US and Italy feel they can not take them in, then its doubtful countries on the way that are much poorer will be able to either.

    At the begining of your article you stated that “International commerce, jobs, and economic migrants are propelled by a common force: profit.” This is the capitalist system, which is a system built upon the accumulation of capital, which are profits invested in instruments of labor, aka machines and various labor enhancements. Now Rhode island is quite small so there are geographical limitations of course, but if that was not an issue then yes. Wage workers in the capitalist system produce more value than they consume, if this was not the case they would not be hired or be hired for long. So if Rhode Island did not have the geographical limitations that it does, then with more workers the overall pot of valuable products and services would increase per capita in relation to the population. If the workers are divided and not unified into cohesive and responsive institutions to fight for there right share of the overall pie, which I believe should be all of it, then most of the gain to society will go to the capitalist as increased profits. So it is not the migrant workers who take from the native but instead actually the capitalist who exploits and trys to magnify there difference. So if the capitalist system through imperialism helped to contribute to the underlying conditions driving mass migration, and then it exploits there gratitude and willingness to work for less than native workers, than I believe it follows that they will wish to drive native anger towards the migrants with the ultimate goal of allowing them to exploit the migrant workers at an even more severe level. This could be true within the country, such as the US right now where the overarching result of anti-immigrant policies has been to not get rid of them but to drive there exploitation more into the shadows, or through mass deportations back to their home country followed by investments to exploit their desperation at super low wages that will then compete with the rich country workers, it is also possible they will all just die and everyone will look away. Either way the result will still be lower wages for rich country workers, it seems to me the only way out of the impass is for the native workers to realize their unity with migrant workers as exploited workers and instead of directing that energy of hostility at each other instead focus it upon the real root which is the capitalists themselves. Without the capitalists, more workers, held withing certain geographic limitations of course, would in fact only enrich each other.

    So while nations may indeed continue to exist for awhile, the long term benefit of native workers is better served by making common cause with migrants against their mutual oppressors then allowing themselves to be stirred up against them. Making this argument to workers is much harder, but its the most beneficial if it can be made successfully.

    This last point i do agree i may have been unfair to you, historically I believe the left generally referred to anarchists, socialists and communists. So I often dislike the way modern commentators use the left to refer to anything from a center right democrat like Hillary Clinton all the way to the most hard core communist, it can make understanding political subtleties difficult since anarchists, socialists and communists have radically different politics than liberals, much more so than can be expressed along a linear line. But as you point out you used quotes which i admit i did not notice, and of course one must generally use the jargon of the times in order to be understood.

    Overall i think my main critique was that it seemed that throughout your article you were referencing different negative symptoms of capitalism but was instead taking that evidence for the negatives of globalism. I may come from a more radical tradition than you may be used to, but i would consider globalism to be an inherent aspect of capitalism. Capitalism in its algorithmic quest for ever increasing profits generally will not allow its self to be bound for long by people, nations, or even the physical and environmental limitations of the earth. While one country may be able to restrict it for a time unless it is overcome completely it will eventually reach out globally again. The only way to stop it is a prolonged struggle of the international working class cooperating with each other against capitalism in all its exploitive forms. I would also say that what we are seeing is not so much globalism vs nationalism but instead a rearrangement of the competing imperial powers, Russia, China, US, Germany and perhaps the evolution of multiple competing imperialisms similiar in nature to pre- world war times but that may have to wait for later.

    A great deal of your article did indeed deal with Italy which I did not address but I felt that your arguments surrounding migrants was essentially of a subtle right wing nature and it needed to be balanced by a socialist counter narrative. I am very glad that you took the time to respond to my critique I know that putting analysis out there can be very difficult and i am thankful for your response which has allowed me to better express and understand my viewpoint. Once again I apoligise if I used some overly aggressive language and i hope your able to get something out of my response as well.

    1. Outis Philalithopoulos Post author

      I appreciate the more reflective tone of this reply. I believe there are still some misreadings of the article, which I will try to clarify.

      For one thing, I am not the author of the article! Enrico Verga is the author. I merely translated the article. Enrico is Italian, however, and so for time zone reasons will be unable to respond to your comments for a while. I am happy to write a bit on this in the meantime.

      You make two arguments.

      The first is that many or most migrants are fleeing desperate circumstances. The article speaks however consistently of “economic migrants” – there are some overlapping issues with refugees, but also significant differences. Clearly there are many people who are economically comfortable in their home countries and who would still jump at a chance to get US citizenship if they could (look up EB-5 fraud for one example). Saying this does not imply some sort of subtle critique of such people, but they are not a myth.

      I actually found your second argument more thought-provoking. As I understand you, you are suggesting something like the following. You support completely open borders. You acknowledge that this would lead at first to massive shifts in population, but in the long run you say things would stabilize. You acknowledge that this will lead to “lower wages for rich country workers,” but say that we should focus on the fact that it is only within the capitalist system that this causality holds. You also suggest that it would probably lead, under current conditions, to workers having their anger misdirected at migrants and therefore supporting more reactionary policies.

      Given that the shift to immediate open borders would, by this analysis, be highly detrimental to causes you support, why do you favor it? Your reasons appear to be (1) it’s the right thing to do and we should just do it, (2) yes, workers might react in the way described, but they should not feel that way, and maybe we can convince them not to feel that way, (3) things will work themselves out in the long run.

      I am a bit surprised at the straightforwardly idealistic tone of (1) and (2). As for (3), as Keynes said, in the long run we are all dead. He meant by this that phenomena that might in theory equilibrate over a very long time can lead to significant chaos in the short run; this chaos can meanwhile disrupt calculations about the “long term” and spawn other significant negative consequences.

      Anyone who is open to the idea of radically new economic arrangements faces the question of how best to get there. You are perhaps suggesting that letting global capital reign supreme, unhindered by the rules and restrictions of nation-states, will in the long run allow workers to understand their oppression more clearly and so increase their openness to uniting against it. If so, I am skeptical.

      I will finally point out that a part of the tone of your response seems directed at the impression that Enrico dislikes migrants, or wants other people to resent them. I see nothing in the article that would suggest this, and there are on the other hand several passages in which Enrico encourages the reader to empathize with migrants. When you suggest that his arguments are “essentially of a subtle right wing nature,” you are maybe reacting to this misreading; in any case, I’m not really sure what you are getting at, since this phrase is so analytically imprecise that it could mean all sorts of things. Please try to engage with the article with arguments, not with vague epithets.

      1. JimmyV

        Sorry it’s taken me awhile to respond, I had some things I needed to take care of. I see the term “economic migrants” as somewhat problematic. For one it could be used to refer to all migrants regardless of the conditions they may be leaving, or facing in the country they migrated to. Since all migrants, even if they are refugees, are likely going to have to work, then all migrants to a certain extent could be called economic migrants. While you are rightly pointing out that some migrants come from relative comfort. When the author states that “they are willing to do anything: from accepting low albeit legal salaries to picking tomatoes illegally” this paints a picture of migrants that are coming from much harsher and desperate conditions.

        I do support open borders eventually, but not without taking into account the cultural and economic context of the specific border, as well as gradual steps leading up to it. In the case of the US border with Mexico, it used to be, a decade or two ago, much more open than it is now. In the 90’s it was much easier to cross and indeed millions of Mexican nationals did do so. Going back even further in time, from what I understand it was even more porous. This did not result in chaos, while now with a much tighter border with a larger detention and deportation infrastructure, the word chaos could easily be used to describe the situation. Families being broken up, parents be deported while their citizen children have to be cared for by someone else, increasingly militarized border security forces, reports of migrants having to work in the detention facilities for ridiculously low wages and more violent drug cartel conflict. This of course does not prove that any of these things were caused by a tighter border, I only point this out to show that the idea that tighter borders equals better security and that open borders equals chaos, may not necessarily be true.

        However, I was not arguing so much for open borders but rather that an increase in the supply of labor from migrants does not necessarily equal weaker wage conditions for native workers and to the extent that it does, that this is more the result of either the macroeconomic policies being followed by the government and the second class legal status of the migrant. If the supply of labor increases but there is also an increase in the demand for labor then wage conditions should not deteriorate, but if the supply of labor increases with a weaker increase in the demand for labor then wage conditions could get worse. This however can be responded to by the government with monetary policy or some form of fiscal stimulus, in order to try to be at full employment. since if the supply of labor was stable but the demand for labor dropped then this would also cause weaker wage conditions for native workers even if there was no migrant labor adding to the supply.

        With my second point, the relative status of the migrant under law, I’m saying that the second class labor protections covering migrants who may or may not be documented creates a wage arbitrage between migrant workers and native workers. This wage arbitrage, the capitalist class exploits, allowing them to make greater profits from migrant workers who work for low pay, while also creating downward wage pressure upon the native workers. Which the capitalist class of course also exploits.

        The response of right wing parties, like Lega and the Republicans, to this problem is to increase the amount of deportations while trying to make life more difficult for migrants. They argue that this will increase wages by shrinking the supply of labor. However, I believe that due to the large amount of migrants and the realistic rates of deportation that could be achieved, that this will ultimately have the opposite effect upon native worker wages. While they may be being able to deport large amounts of migrants, will still leave a very large migrant labor pool available to the capitalist, the true effect of this will create an atmosphere of fear for migrants which will cause the wage arbitrage between them and native workers to increase thus worsening native workers wage situation. While I can’t know for sure, I would not at all be surprised if over the next few years we hear more and more stories of migrants held in detention centers being used as practically slave labor.

        It is here where leftist political forces need not try to win over workers with a lighter version of the same but instead can and should offer workers a much better alternative. The alternative that I am proposing is not open borders, but rather that the migrant workers should receive the same labor protections (unions, the same minimum wage, good labor arbitration etc) as native workers receive and that by doing this will decrease, or cause to disappear, the wage arbitrage between native and migrant workers. I would think this would have the effect of providing support for native worker wages, and could cause them to increase since that they are now at an equal level with the migrants but probably have better skills. This is what I mean’t when i said that they needed to understand their essential unity as workers.

        If leftist forces and parties took this logic to workers, along with bold macroeconomic policies, that this would prove a far more appealing and better path to resolving weak wage conditions than the deportation complex the right has to offer. So not so much open borders but rather an equalization of worker protections to include not only native workers but migrant ones as well.

        When I wrote that “Capitalism in its algorithmic quest for ever increasing profits generally will not allow its self to be bound for long by people, nations, or even the physical and environmental limitations of the earth. While one country may be able to restrict it for a time unless it is overcome completely it will eventually reach out globally again.” I think you thought I was calling for unrestrained capitalism, this is not the case. The idea that I was trying to express was that since the capitalist class is largely in control of government and other institutions of power, that whether it is globalism or nationalism, it is simply the capitalist class struggling within itself to obtain greater profits. This agenda of the capitalist class whether expressed nationally or globally is not in the interest of the working class. I would in fact say it is directly opposed to it. Due to capitalism’s ability to travel internationally, to fight it will require workers to not just organize within countries but also across different nations. By the workers begining to organize on a international level this will allow them to be able to strike up and down international supply chains.

        I did not think that the author disliked migrants or that he was unsympathetic to their plight, but I do agree that I misread his analysis of right wing political victories, being supported by the migrant situation, as an endorsement of these policies. Which after multiple readings of the article, I now think it was simply his neutral analysis of the political situation and not his own viewpoint. So I think many of my arguments were misdirected towards him, when what I was really trying to do was to provide a counter to the mass deportation politics that most right wing parties have.

        1. Outis Philalithopoulos Post author

          Thanks for these clarifications. It seems like we are now in a position to talk less about the article, and more about your own views.

          In your first paragraph, you suggest that the term “economic migrants” is “problematic” because many migrants are willing to work under desperate conditions, and this shows that such migrants “are coming from much harsher and more desperate conditions.” However, you later point out that a major reason why migrants are willing to accept poor working conditions is the “second class legal status of the migrant.” This partially undercuts your earlier reasoning, because it provides an explanation for how migrants can be involved in labor arbitrage independently of conditions in the nation of origin.

          Like most distinctions, the one between “economic migrants” and “refugees” and other categories is not a hard and fast one, but it can still be given some content. A “refugee” is someone fearing that horrible things will happen to them if they don’t emigrate; an “economic migrant” is someone hoping that settling in a particular country will ultimately improve the standard of living, if not of themselves, at least of their children. For example, if an Italian wants to move to the US (and many would like to), then except in unusual circumstances we might assume that the reasons are economic.

          I agree with you that having additional immigrant workers does not always and everywhere have to destroy the bargaining position of workers, but that this outcome is dependent upon the economic system in which the immigration takes place. I do think that one has to include in one’s analysis the current economic system (even if one is trying at the same time to modify it), and I also think that if the borders of the US were opened tomorrow, the results would be chaotic.

          Your principal suggestion is of requiring minimum wage and other worker protections to be applied to migrants as well. If this were feasible (and under appropriate conditions it might be), then it would potentially at least reduce the detrimental effects on native workers. It would be a way to impose costs on migration that are not directed at the migrant, but at the employer. I wonder what sort of response you would get if you proposed this sort of thing to Lega or Republican voters – my guess is that at least on the idea of imposing costs on employers you might find some common ground.

    2. JTFaraday

      Yeah, I thought some of these comments– they don’t think about how their actions impact others. etc– were a little ridiculous. Like the next time the sainted working class salt of the earth and center of the known universe gets a job, I hope he thinks about how he destroyed the lives of those he took it from. And their families.

      It’s not hard to be a right winger. All proper right wingers know that the working class slob who “takes a job” is a parasite who takes from the job creators. You can make a logically consistent argument that this is the case.

      I could go out there tomorrow and start talking like this & etc, and have a great career. But I don’t. Honestly, I expect the working class salt of the earth to do the same with respect to others.

  18. Raulb

    There is a bit of a dissonance here. Human rights has been persistently used by neoliberals to destabilize other regions for their own ends for decades now with little protest. And when the standard playbook of coups and stirring up trouble does not work its war and total destruction as we have seen recently in Iraq, Libya and Syria for completely fabricated reasons.

    Since increased migration is the obvious first consequence when entire countries are decimated and in disarray one would expect the countries doing the destruction to accept the consequences of their actions but instead we have the same political forces who advocate intervention on ‘human rights grounds’ now demonizing migrants and advocating openly racist policies.

    One can understand one mistake but 3 mistakes in a row! And apparently we are not capable of learning. The bloodlust continues unabated for Iran. This will destabilize an already destabilized region and cause even more migration to Europe. There seems to be a fundamental contradiction here, that the citizens of countries that execute these actions and who who protest about migrants must confront.

    Maybe they should pay trillions of dollars of reparations for these intervention so these countries can be rebuilt and made secure again so migrants can return to their homes. Maybe the UN can introduce a new fund with any country considering destabilizing another country, for instance Iran, to first deposit a trillion dollars upfront to deal with the human fallout. Or maybe casually destabilizing and devastating entire countries, killing millions of people and putting millions more in disarray should be considered crimes against humanity and prosecuted so they are not repeated.

    1. Seamus Padraig

      I’ve heard this complaint before, but I don’t buy it. You seem to assume that invading ME countries and keeping their refugees out are two policies supported by the exact same set of voters, but I’ve never seen any polling evidence of that–and it definitely goes against my own, anecdotal experience.

      You may also be overestimating how much actual control voters in the west have over their respective governments. In the case of the Libyan régime-change, for example, no vote was ever taken on the issue in the countries that participated. (And it has often been pointed out that the “no fly” resolution they claimed to be enforcing did not authorize any régime-change to begin with.)

      And then there’s the case of Syria. The polling on direct intervention was lopsidedly negative – with nearly 90% against it in the US! In the end, both the US Congress and Britain’s House of Commons voted against it. To me, this strongly suggests that, when given a say, voters in the west will typically oppose such operations.

  19. Sound of the Suburbs

    When did it all go wrong?
    At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

    The classical economists had observed small state, unregulated capitalism in the world around them and it was far from ideal.

    The neoclassical economists changed everything and capitalism became a self regulating system.

    Neoclassical economics got ditched in the 1930s as they discovered capitalism doesn’t self regulate, and the US stock market boom had led everyone into a false sense of security. People lost faith in the markets and this version of capitalism.

    After many years had passed this was all forgotten and US free market fundamentalists resurrected this old and failed economics. They went from a corrupt base to develop wild ideas about liberal democracy being a natural order for the world.

    A BBC documentary, “The Trap”, captures these lunatics at work in Russia and Iraq.

    Part 3 – “We Will Force You to be Free”
    36 mins. on


    It’s not fake news, it’s the BBC.

    When Eastern Europe joined the West these nutters got in there and made a right mess of things. Today’s problems hark back to this terrible introduction to capitalism.

    The EU then got someone from the University of Chicago to design the Euro.

    “The putative “father of the Euro”, economist Robert Mundell is reported to have explained to one of his university of Chicago students, Greg Palast: “the Euro is the easy way in which Congresses and Parliaments can be stripped of all power over monetary and fiscal policy. Bothersome democracy is removed from the economic system” Michael Hudson “Killing the Host”

    We have to remember the ridiculous, fundamental assumptions that he would have used to design of the Euro.

    1) Governments and the public sector are the problem
    2) The private sector and the markets are perfect
    3) Capitalism and the markets naturally reach stable equilibriums
    4) Debt doesn’t matter as it’s just one person lending their money to someone else (banks are just intermediaries)

    He never imagined the banks getting into trouble due to the assumptions he had made.

    When did it all go wrong?
    At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

    In “The Shock Doctrine”, Naomi Klein charts”shock therapy” being administered across the world.
    No wonder it’s all going wrong.

  20. Roland

    The term, “middle class,” as popularly used in the post-WWII Western world, is very misleading.

    Most of the people in that so-called “middle class” never had any control over their means of production. Most of those people sold their labour to the owners of capital.

    In other words, most of the people who in the post-WWII West referred to themselves as “middle class” were, in fact, proletarians.

    However, these proletarians sold their labour at a price that was high enough to allow them to enjoy a very good standard of living. They were a well-paid proletariat, whose consumption level had become similar to that traditionally associated with the petty bourgeoisie.

    The hallmarks of this high consumption level were individual residence ownership, individual vehicle ownership, access to higher education, and the possibility of travel-for-pleasure.

    But there’s an enormous difference between one’s consumption level and one’s control of the means of the production.

    The history of the post-WWII mixed economy welfare states of the Western world provide a series of lessons on the contradiction between consumption levels and control of the means of production. The former ultimately depends on the latter.

    The post-WWII welfare states posed a contradiction for the proletariat in the Western world. The proletarians were offered a high consumption standard, but the bourgeoisie remained in an ownership and control position over the economy as a whole.

    Post-Cold War, we’ve seen how that scenario turns out. That’s why in the Communist Manifesto, Marx raised the possibility of a welfare state (which he refers to as “bourgeois socialism”), and then dismissed the idea in less than a single page of text.

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