Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Immigration Controversy: Part II. How I found out that I was a member of the overclass.

Somehow, without my even realizing it, I discovered that I “fell” into the overclass.

We’ve had 6 children in 13 years of marriage, and as you can well imagine, my wife’s life is a very busy one. A few years back, she asked if she could, on an irregular basis, have a Brazilian woman with her own cleaning business come in every once in a while with her maids to help keep the place clean (I am not commenting on the woman’s status). She’d heard from a friend that this woman and her crew did a great job.

I hated the idea. It goes so against the grain of the way that I was brought up, that even the mere thought of it was jarring. I’m a guy who still thinks that people who play golf should probably have a yacht and a polo pony too. Us, with a maid? I retain my own grandparent’s immigrant mentality to a fault. Having vestiges left over of that mentality, I am uncomfortable having someone doing that kind of servile work for me. I don’t like that kind of pampering. I don’t even like it when a waiter or a retail sales clerk is hovering over me unless I ask them to. I get squeamish about the idea of a stranger coming in, working over our toilets, stripping down our beds, and going through the things on top of my dresser (my biggest pet peeve… I can never find where they put anything). Our mess is our mess. Like many husbands, though, I am hen-pecked enough to know that arguing this point was not going to be in my best interest. So… the maids came in while we could afford it. Wonderful young ladies.

Therefore, it was with some chagrin, when I read Michael Lind’s 'Up from Conservatism', that I discovered that I was a member of the “overclass”. Shown below, from pages 36-38 of that book, Lind describes what the overclass is, and how the crisis in illegal immigration in this country came to be. I think the analysis is pretty solid.
Here, then, is a simple test of overclass status. Americans who do not have advanced degrees and cannot afford maids or nannies are middle class; Americans who have advanced degrees and can afford maids or nannies are overclass. It's as simple as that.

The "nanny question" shows the extent to which American public policy reflects the interests of the American overclass, in direct opposition to the desires of the American majority. Since the 1960s, according to every poll, a substantial majority of Americans has favored the restriction or ending of legal immigration. It is often said that middleclass opposition to immigration is a recent phenomenon that reflects frustration with stagnating wages. This is simply not true...

Even so, the consensus position of the conservative establishment remains one favoring high, or even increased, immigration. The editors of the Wall Street journal have gone so far as to call for a five-word constitutional amendment- "There shall be open borders" -that would permit hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of impoverished people from the Third World to resettle at will in the United States. Neoliberals like Bill Clinton support a policy of high immigration. So do many left-liberals. The political, intellectual, and journalistic elites of the United States are almost unanimously in favor of maintaining the present immigration regime in which there is a constant influx of low-wage labor from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia into the United States, at a rate of approximately a million legal immigrants a year.

Why is a high immigration policy opposed by most middle-class Americans but favored by almost all members of the overclass of all persuasions-left, right, and center? I discovered the answer after publishing a book in which I argued for reducing immigration levels in order to raise wages among unskilled workers in the United States. Friends and acquaintances of mine of various political viewpoints, all of them highly educated and affluent members of the overclass by my definition, found elements of my argument convincing. From both liberals and conservatives, however, I heard a similar complaint: "I don't agree with your idea about restricting immigration, though. We need our nanny!" In every case, it turned out that the objecting individual and his or her spouse paid a maid or nanny from Latin America or the Caribbean to look after their children while both parents worked at professional jobs. Take away the elaborate moral arguments of the overclass left for immigration, and the equally elaborate economic rationales of the overclass right, and what remains is the naked economic interest in maintaining a supply of poorly paid, nonunionized foreign women whose labor permits overclass parents of all political persuasions to enjoy a lifestyle like that of the aristocrats of the past with their nannies and governesses.

The continued access by affluent overclass families to poor Latin American and Caribbean domestic workers by means of a generous immigration policy is not the only issue that divides the overclass (left, right, and center) from the middle class (left, right, and center). Free trade is another. The right to unionize is another (supposedly "liberal" newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times are more liberal when the subject is a racial minority or an endangered species than in the case of unionized, blue-collar workers). The economic interests shared by the left, right, and center members of the overclass explain the fact that controversy about social issues, since the 1960s, has been accompanied by a curious consensus on economic issues among elites across the political spectrum.

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