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Tuesday, February 03, 2004
Decent analysis, horrible conclusion.

NAFTA has thousands of impacts, even if you just look specifically at labor conditions at the US/Mexican border. One of them is the horrific wave of murders of Mexican women in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua since NAFTA's onset. Another is a labor market that totally depends on paying workers in devalued currencies -- the exportation of immiseration that is America's great historical invention in "world systems." One effect of that is that the urge to find ways to make a buck rather than a peso for a work-unit skyrockets. This effectively guarantees an influx of unskilled and undocumented workers, who have no legal recourse once they cross the river. Combine this with a systemic sexism (on both sides of the border) which just plain cares less what happens to women, and it's boom times for the sex trade. This is just one example of ways that the *legal* organization of our country provides for such outrages. We should all worry about the villains we folks mostly never meet. But if we supported Bill Clinton, engineer of GATT/NAFTA, we shouldn't feel too proud of, say, thinking the current president is a dick. So (a) being on the side of the law has no moral authority here, and (b) changing lawmakers within current structures won't make a difference. Believing in the law, or the lawmakers offered us as choices, is a defensive delusion here; change won't happen at that level; we're complicit, among other ways, in every moment that we imagine sex slavery and rape culture can be dissolved without massive, deep shifts in social organization. It's gonna take a riot, and then another, and then...

Boy oh boy.

First, let's follow this logic. A Democratic administration institutes a policy that results in what leftists would consider negative consequences.[1] Despite the fact that these consequences are undeniably unintended (say what you will of Bill Clinton, it's unlikely he sat in the Oval Office rubbing his fingers together and gloating about how NAFTA would encourage sex slavery), and that unintended consequences, while eminently condemnable, are probably more a result of poor policy design than malevolent intentions, this proves that Democrats don't care about the poor, and since obviously the Republicans don't either, this means the government is of no help and the only alternative is rioting.

Now, there's a few problems with this. One is that rioting has almost never led to more freedom; even 99% of the successful revolutions throughout history have relied on organization and hierarchical structure, to say nothing of riots. You may have problems with the particular policies of our organized government, but it's a bit odd to extend that to a problem with the idea of organized government itself, although if you honestly think that entrenched attitudes toward women are better changed by violent revolt than by a tragically slow process of acculturation, well, I guess it starts to make a bit more sense.

There's also the issue of confusing de jure with de facto. No question that NAFTA has effectively, i.e. de facto, made it easier for illegal aliens to enter the country and for employers to pay those undocumented workers without giving them any benefits. And, true, no question that this phenomenon benefits owners financially and they have an incentive to discourage enforcement of immigration policies. But the fact remains that, de jure, these workers are still illegal, and so, in fact, if you support the law, you're still right so long as you simultaneously acknowledge that enforcement has been extremely problematic, and I'm unsure that anyone in the debate hasn't been doing that; indeed, that's sort of the problem that we're dealing with. This is to say nothing of the idea that the US-Mexico border is orders of magnitude more porous than, say, the Russian border, or the Bosnian border, or any number of other borders in areas of the world where countries are a lot more tightly packed-in than they are here.

There are a whole host of problems with America's immigration policies right now, and they urgently need to be addressed. But if I'm implicated in sex slavery--and I'm not denying that in some ways I am--it's unclear why taking to the streets, or ceasing to buy pornography and treating women better, is going to do more to alleviate the problem than me running for public office and working to address the problem along with the non-systemic root causes, or learning everything I can about human trafficking and immigration issues and devising a sensible policy to address those issues. If it's a problem of enforcement, and all signs seem to point to this being the case, then why would you abandon the policy in favor of, well, nothing at all, instead of trying to improve the enforcement?

The problem I have with the "I've said it before: democracy doesn't work!" line of just not trusting the government to do anything ever is that it mainly seems to alleviate us, the right-thinking and right-acting left, of actually doing anything, since we're so disempowered as citizens that it's not even worth the effort to, you know, organize and vote and run for office and like that. If the only option is rioting, and, let's be honest, our pussy asses ain't rioting anytime soon, then what do we do? Buy organic food and hope everything gets better? Doesn't sound like responsible citizenship to me.

No denying that purely statist solutions are a bad idea in general. But purely non-statist ones are, too. In my view, and in the view of not a few other smart people, civic democratic government is one of the most amazing inventions of the human race, and it would be a shame not to use it to improve conditions that we see as negative. At the very least, it would seem like the state can do what it's done for a while now and override the dumb rights-ignoring attitudes of sexists and homophobes and racists and so forth and insure that these people are actually treated according to standards of human rights. Does that seem like too much to ask?

[1] Not that righties wouldn't, but they're not the issue here. I think it's fair to say that conservative ideology considers undocumented workers flying under the radar of government minimum-wage and worker-protection regulations less of a bad thing than liberal ideology would, though.