For our debates about immigration and all important aspects of life today are rooted in beliefs and not in knowledge. Two great tribes struggle for power. Their ideology affects everything.
"Secure the Border" is a cultural and tribal battle cry as is "Racists".
Neither side can hear the truth in the other. Both sides make the other angry. The result is that America is splitting apart. Civic discourse is dying and it is nearly impossible to get anything done anymore.
So how do we escape this trap?
I think that we need to change the rules of the game entirely. What might help is to shift the underlying metaphor.
The metaphor we use today is "Fortress America".
In the Fortress you are in or out. There is a wall. All that matters is the wall. You make it perfect or you leave holes in it. Motive or the circumstances for people outside the wall or inside the wall mean nothing. This is a mechanical and a simple model that is not suited to a complex and organic problem.
Being simple, such a metaphor insists on a right or a wrong answer and so can never produce what is demanded in a complex problem.
It is like 14th century Catholicism when confronted by Galileo. Facts mean nothing. Only dogma and tribal loyalty count.
Competing dogmas can only fight.
Don't we have to find another way of seeing the issue that does not trigger a tribal response?
I think that a better metaphor might allow this. I think that a better metaphor might enable us to keep our tribal beliefs but to agree with others about things that do not need beliefs to understand and agree on.
A Better Metaphor - Our Body and its Immune System
A better metaphor is our body and our immune system. It represents the dynamic reality of America and Immigration much better than a wall. It can show us ways of seeing our response that are not in the realm of ethics but in the realm of system dynamics.
For our body, like all real systems has not a sealed but a porous border. It has open portals such as our nose and mouth and a porous skin.
The most important line of defence that we have is inside the body is our immune system. It is our immune system that regulates our body and that reacts to "newcomers". It is our immune system that allows the familiar and rejects the unknown.
The healthier it is, the more it can defend you against real threats and the less it will overreact to small threats or even to good things. A Balanced immune system will protect you from flu and will not over react and kill you from toxic shock if you eat a peanut.
The Immune System is also affected by the scale and the power of the newcomer. Large scale and sudden intrusions will cause a reaction. Small and slow will tend not to.
Newcomers who want to enter our body have their own dynamics too. They have pathways, life cycles, reasons to get inside and reasons to leave where they were.
Our bodies are a dynamic system that interacts inside and with the outside. So is America.
We know a lot about how best to make adjustments to the immune system and to the lifecycle of newcomers. We know a lot about what works and what does not. So this metaphor also gives us a strong direction for problem solving. It enables us to find the best points of intervention to give us all the best result.
So I am going to use this complex and non political metaphor to look at the Body America and Immigration today.
First let's look at the 3 main entities that seek to enter America and then let's look at the health of the Host Immune System.
1. Refugees - who have been given a place in America by the Federal State - who have come from a very bad situation in their home state - usually involving civil war - who are allowed into America by the Federal Government - who land in relatively large numbers in a place - a city - that has to adapt to large and sudden shifts caused by their arrival. The Federal Government steps aside early and all the burden of assimilation is born by the local place where the refugees find themselves.
We see this impact on both sides in Gran Torino where the Hmong, allies of the US in Southeast Asia, change local neighborhoods.
These people often had good lives before their own place blew up. They value their old culture a lot. They are thankful to be in America but, if they had a choice, many would prefer life at home.
They came to America because the alternative was death or a life in a camp.
The environmental pathway here is global violence and America's generosity. A challenge is that the people in the host city had no say on who would come and how many. The local city has to cope with the process of assimilation is under appreciated by the Feds who set the rules.
2. The Best and the Brightest - These are well educated people with drive and ambition - who often are attracted by the American Education system and by the wonderful nature of the US culture and economy to suit entrepreneurs.
Sergey Brin came to America aged 6 - His father came for the Dream - Google FounderMany of the most competitive US companies seek these people so that they too can remain globally competitive. Many of these people become the founders of large companies, such as Ebay or Google that create the most jobs for native Americans, or small and medium sized companies such as your local restaurants that also employ a lot of natives.
They assimilate quickly - they speak English. They continue strong ties to home. Some return.
They do not concentrate into local communities. They have a TINY impact on the host immune system. They are like the beneficial flora in our gut. They help us and they ft in.
Opportunity is their motivation - they come for the classic American Dream. They often leave a good place but their ambition drives them for more. For them, America is still the land of opportunity.
The Attractor here is Opportunity. A Challenge is that we have a one size fits all system that makes it very hard for these people to come to America and it gets harder as we fear the scale of the wave of the next group.
Source Dane Stangler
The paradox is that it is this group that has the power to create more jobs for the host than any other aspect of the US economy. So by "Not seeing this" we keep the host from opportunity too. This group is the best possible newcomer for the host as we will see in a moment when we look at the state of the host itself. But the host's extreme immune reaction to the next group, is keeping this other group out.
3. The Life Boaters - these are people - most from Mexico and Latin America that have lost all opportunity to even survive at home - who risk death, suffer separation and endure almost slavery in America to keep going.
Survival is their motivation. Think about this for a moment. Why would you risk your life, put yourself in the hands of the coyotes, know that you may not see your wife for 10 years or ever, life the life of an indentured slave with no security and get paid less than minimum wage? Survival is what drives them.
In particular, it is the destruction of their local food system by the trade agreements with the US that allow in food from the US that is so cheap that it destroys local agriculture.
And here is the paradox of all paradoxes. The attractor is the design of the food system in America. For the US food system is based entirely now on vast sums of concentrated capital and ultra cheap labour. The work is so hard and the conditions are so bad that only truly desperate people will do it.
It is the design of our food system that both creates both sides of the system that destroys local agriculture and also pulls migrant labor into the US.
This group are accused of taking jobs from the host - but in reality, they take jobs in specific areas that have been designed for them. Designed to be very low wage and very high risk.
- According to agricultural labor economist James Holt, less than 2% of the U.S. workforce is engaged in farm work. However, more than 550,000 U.S. farmers hire workers to fill more than 3 million agricultural jobs each year. Because many of these agricultural jobs are seasonal, the 3 million jobs are filled by 2.5 million workers.
- According to the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS), conducted biannually by the Department of Labor, the share of seasonal agricultural workers who reported that they were unauthorized has increased dramatically in the last two decades, rising from 7% in Fiscal Year (FY) 1989, to 16% in FY 1990-91, to 28% in FY 1992-93. In the most recently published NAWS survey from FY 2001-02, 53% of all seasonal agricultural workers admitted they were not authorized to work in the U.S. However, many experts suggest that the number may actually be closer to 75%.
- Each year, one-sixth of seasonal agricultural workers are “newcomers,” working their first season in U.S. agriculture. 99% of newcomers self-identify as not work-authorized.
Source Immigration Policy Centre 2009
This group are the cornerstones of the meatpacking industry as well - an industry that has not changed much since Upton Sinclair's book The Jungle: (Link)
- Four companies – IBP, ConAgra, Excel (owned by Cargill) and Farmland National Beef – control more than 85% of the US market and the system remains as Sinclair described it: desperate people are recruited to do extraordinarily dangerous, exhausting, repetitive work; they work until they collapse then a new, more miserable group is found to replace them.
- Meatpacking remains the most dangerous job in America, according to the Department of Labour. Packers still force employees to work ever-faster, while freezing wages and discouraging unions.
They are here in large numbers and are very visible and so naturally challenge the host immune system.
Demagogues are using them as their bait to get the Host to do what the demagogues want.
This focus on the scapegoat is one of the key barriers that prevents the host from seeing what has really hurt them and for preserving the system as it is.
Now let's look at the Host and the health of the Host's Immune System
The Host and the Immune System
Many people in America are worried about the extent of the wave of immigration that is entering the country. Many label them as stupid or racist. They are neither. They are exhibiting a normal immune reaction for a host that has a severely compromised immune system.
In medicine it is a matter of understanding the immune system and in controlling for extremes.
Most people do not die of a bee sting - but some do. An answer is to understand the nature of the shock and to modify the response. Most people do not die of flu but people with too weak an immune system such as the old can. The answer is to build up the immune response.
In this context we can see and understand that the scale of a newcomer will naturally impact the host.
So let's look at the host - let's look at native Americans and what is the health of their immune system?
The Immune System in America is hyper sensitive right now. Nearly 15 million are unemployed right now this Labor day.
In short, the middle and working classes in America have had a terrible time. There has been a steady erosion in their economic and social position since the late 1970's.
Most of the gains of the last 30 years have accrued to the top 1% of the nation.
Most others have had an ever increasing struggle just to keep afloat.
Since 1979, the hourly earnings for 80% of American workers (those in private-sector, nonsupervisory jobs) has risen by just 1 percent, after inflation. (Link)
Worse, since 2006, Americans have lost $3.7Tn housing value (15%). Homes represent 42% of the average family’s total net worth but it’s worse than that because home mortgage debt is at $10.4Tn, which is 57% of total home worth.
Meanwhile, in the past quarter century, the inflation-adjusted household income for the top 3% of Americans has tripled.
Since 1979, 80% of the vast GDP growth in the United States has been diverted to less than 10M of its citizens, while the other 295M people struggle to maintain their lifestyles.
Labor delivered the productivity but all the gains were taken by the owners.
The Host is in poor shape. They know that the jobs are not coming back. $70 an hour line jobs will never return. Newspaper jobs will never return. Even programming jobs will never return. And it is all getting worse. These trends that take away their future are accelerating.
So this Host is SCARED and rightly so. This host will naturally lash out at what it fears to be threats. It will have an extreme response.
This Host has always had an immune response to newcomers - The Germans, the Irish, Catholics - now Muslims and Hispanics. This immune response has always been more extreme at times of recession. And since the advent of newspapers and the radio, demagogues and politicians on the make have exploited their response.
But there are two new factors in play today.
First of all the demagogues have never had so much media power. They are using the immune response of the Host to their own ends.
Secondly, the damage done over the last 30 years is not a "Recession" that will self correct but a final stage of a Transition.
The Revolution that started in America in 1905 with Henry Ford has played out. Back in the early 1900's 75% of Americans lived in rural setting and made their living in the food system. Henry Ford developed an industrial system that sucked labour from the land and paid it a very good wage. A 100 years of policy actions by the Department of Agriculture attacked the family farm and encouraged scale and concentration.
The result was a huge increase in the industrial workforce.
But in the 1980's all this began to unravel. The deregulation of Wall Street made public financial return THE ONLY measure. The same process that had cleared the farms was now applied to the industrial heartland. Jobs were replaced by machines. Jobs were exported. Jobs were designed to be taken by desperate people. The improvement in return return went to the corporations
For it is clear that the Industrial age is coming to an end in a peak of wealth concentration. Something new will take its place but the transition is very very painful and few can see any hope ahead right now.
So what to do? If we look at the metaphor it tells us what to do.
We have to get the Host Healthy again. Their stress in not only the recession but the Transition. They have no hope because they cannot see a future for themselves or their kids.
We have to accelerate the arrival of the next design of the economy. An economy based on different principles. We know one thing for sure about this new economy. Like the web itself, it will be based on a new metaphor. It will be based on the metaphor of nature and organisms. Many new parts of this new economy are in place.
And now for the Irony!
These new parts of the new economy are largely the work of Immigrants! The growth, the new are coming not from the old established firms but from new ones. And many of the best of the new - think Ebay and Google - are the children of the Best and Brightest Immigrants.
The faster that America can make this transition to the networked economy, the more the health will return to America.
How we tackle Immigration is the key lever. If we do this right, then Immigration will be an engine for the growth of reliable futures for most Americans.
- Get behind Job Creation in the Real New Networked Economy - The host wants more jobs and work and security - the best way to get that is from the Best and the Brightest group of immigrants. The older larger companies are the ones that have been laying people off! The growth in jobs has come from the new. Separate this group out from the 'Whole" label it "Job Creation". This is the group that also has the least impact on the immune system. Both the left and the right can agree on the value of more jobs and innovation. Changes to the law would mainly be process driven - make more places in this category available and the process more assured
- Get behind assimilation for refugee groups - The local host resents carrying the bulk of the burden created by the Feds of helping relatively large refugee groups assimilate in their place. The refugee groups also feel abandoned. So look at the process and the time lines and work on finding ways to make the transition a softer landing for both sides. Many cities like St Louis or Utica New York have too small and too old a native population. Here Refugees have already helped bring the local economy back to life and have reset the demography for a large enough next generation.
- Look at the Food System and how it has set up the conditions of slavery - Our food system is at the heart of the larger challenge. It represents the ultimate phase of an economic design that over concentrates all aspects of what it does. I think that the most important place we can all work to make all of America and its neighbours better is in the food system The goal will be to have a networked high employment system that supports the environment, the people who work in it and the people who eat the food.
I am sorry that this is such a long post. I hope that I have given you a hint of another way. Later this week I will explore the nature of the new food system in more detail.
In closing I leave you with some questions. First on the creation of the new economy:
- Who is against more innovation in the US Economy?
- Where is most of the innovation coming from - the old established organizations or the new?
- What is the nature of the more successful new organizations - are they bigger and better versions of the old or do they use a different metaphor?
- Who is the one group that is doing most of this new creation?
- Who is against cities like St Louis renewing itself?
- What is the greatest barrier to a city like St Louis renewing itself?
- Who are we seeing playing a major role in renewal?
Lastly on the Food System
- What is the greatest systemic threat to the health of Americans today?
- What is the greatest threat to America's water and natural resources?
- What sector is most exposed to the threat of Peak Oil and so to the future of Americans - What is the one thing we cannot do without?
- What is driving the Hispanic wave?
- What is pulling them?
- What are we seeing in the most destitute cities of America such as Detroit that is giving back work and hope to the lost?
- What would a distributed food system do for all parties involved?
It's Labor day - a good day to think about this I think. Hoping you had a good one.