There is no such thing as unemployment. Not in America.
There is, instead, a mismatch among our skills, our expectations, and the political value of work.
Go into a restaurant. Order lunch. Now, if you can, go into the kitchen. Chances are most of the people there will be Mexicans – cooks, dishwashers, everyone behind the scenes. Mexicans probably butchered your meat, picked the vegetables on your plate, packed the fruit. It's likely they, or their Central American brothers and sisters, mowed your lawn today, and wiped the butt of your aging mother in her nursing home. They may be caring for your kids right now.
Mexican labor is everywhere. Wherever there are employers who want to exploit workers in order to increase profits and keep prices down, you'll find Mexican labor. In Europe, it's Turkish and Serbian labor. In Japan, Philippine or Chinese labor.
It's not an immigration problem. It's a market problem. Employers aren't paying wages Americans will accept. If Americans took those wages they'd be living like Mexicans.
But when you drive labor costs down, you degrade the market you're selling to.
Go into any Mexican neighborhood. I stayed in one last week in Sonoma. We have many here in Atlanta. What are you going to see? Tiny houses, filled with people. Few possessions. Lots of security protecting very little. Mexico, in other words.
Mexico's market isn't like ours. Ours is built like a fat man. The money is in the middle. Theirs is a triangle – the money's at the top.
The stronger your middle class – the more broadly wealth is distributed within a society – the bigger the market and the more its rich can make. When everyone is poor there's no one to sell to.
This is the key lesson of the New Deal era, the lesson today's Republicans seem so anxious to wipe out. When you drive wages down, when you forbid workers with fungible skills from organizing, when you skew the tax system so the poor are paying for the government order the rich enjoy, you're eating your seed corn.
What has to happen next is that the rich battle one another, and some of them fall, until there's only one left standing. That's the way capitalism works. Unchecked by any outside force, it moves steadily toward monopoly or a closely-held oligopoly. More and more of each industry held in fewer-and-fewer hands.
The word for that isn't freedom.
You know who the richest man in the world is today? It's Carlos Slim. A Mexican. He's the final piece of evidence that driving all your wealth to the rich doesn't make you into a vibrant, competitive, capitalist society. It turns you into a feudal society, where progress is blocked, and where the only way up is out.
So Mexico exports people, we import them. But what we're really importing is Slim's disease. We're driving the value of our own market down, by devaluing our own labor, and rewarding only those who play games with assets, like pieces on a chessboard.
None of this is a call to communism, or socialism. Trading Carlos Slim, who at least knows how to make money for himself, for Fidel Castro, who never knew anything about making money, won't improve society. Giving Carlos Slim's money away to hungry Mexicans won't make Mexico into America.
The question is how we keep America from turning into Mexico. And the answer to that lies in our own Constitution. Checks and balances.
The Constitution includes some. But our history has created others. Whenever a small group has tried to seize power and control everything, the larger society organizes against it and applies counterweights. Anti-trust laws. Regulations. Income taxes. Government.
The most important job of any government is maintaining order by maintaining balance among all the interests within society. Its legitimacy is based on the acceptance of that role by everyone, the belief that they will be heard, in a court, in a legislature, somewhere.
The tools to reverse Mexicanization, to add value to labor so it becomes of interest to Americans, to restore balance to the market, they're all in our hands. We can raise the value of American labor so Americans will want to do it. We can raise its skill level, automate it, so Americans will go to school to do it. We can have a progressive tax system where those who benefit most from order pay more than those who benefit less, because they have less. We can have public schools that work because we invest in them, health care for all, especially the elderly and young whose work can't pay for it. We can make sure of one man one vote, not one dollar one vote as the Supreme Court has ruled.
And the most important such tool?
You're soaking in it.