For Texas` Elite, Is Open Immigration The New Slave-Holding?


March 24, 2004

[Peter Brimelow writes: Kevin Phillips` central point in his brilliant 1968 book The Emerging Republican Majoritythat in American politics demography is destiny and ethnicity`s effects persist—has been key to my own thinking about the impact of immigration. (For Edwin S. Rubenstein`s and my application of this insight more recently, click here and here.) Curiously, Phillips himself has written little about immigration. But his new best-seller, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, contains an unnoted passage that explains the Bush Betrayal in terms of the Texas aristocracy`s historical attitudes to Mexico and to American labor. We`ve adapted it here. Phillips` book has not yet been reviewed in Establishment Conservative organs like the Wall Street Journal and National Review, where the conventional wisdom is that Phillips, despite his historic role in the conservative movement, has become a liberal. My own view is that he`s just allergic to plutocrats, a disease which as a long-time financial journalist I can testify is very easy to catch. Late-breaking news: Phillips tells us this morning that he now thinks Dubya could easily lose his re-election bid this fall.]

[See also: The Bush Betrayal: Maybe He`s Not Thinking But Feeling—Family Feeling, Mexican Style, by Steve Sailer]

In the fifteen years before the American Civil War, most Texans, who had become U.S. citizens after 1845, joined with other southerners in favoring the annexation and U.S. statehood of nearby tropical lands—northern Mexican states like Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Tamaulipas, and even Yucatan, together with Cuba and possibly Nicaragua.

The goal was both political and economic. Once incorporated into the United States, these lands would become slave-owning societies—only Spanish Cuba still allowed slavery in 1860—managed by Anglo southerners. Besides the sugar, rice, tobacco, fruits, and coffee that could be grown there, southern investors also coveted the region`s railroad routes and mines.

Even more important, four to six new slave states would have sent enough new U.S. senators and congressmen to Washington to counter the growing northern strength in Congress.

Even though they came to naught, these earlier efforts revealed what would prove to be an ongoing agenda for Texan elites: Texas, from the first, has been impelled by economic geography to pursue some control over Mexico`s resources and workforce.

With George H. W. Bush as president, Texas resumed this ambition, this time through the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Much as northern and labor critics predicted, the first decade of NAFTA produced a major realignment of US-Mexican industrial and trade relationships. The old trade surplus in favor of the United States, based on American firms selling manufactured goods below the Rio Grande, vanished—as US companies set up low-cost subsidiaries in the northern Mexico maquiladora districts. Automobiles, machinery, electronics, apparel, and furniture—previously manufactured in the United States but now made in Mexico by US companies employing $1.50 an hour labor—began flowing back to U.S. consumers.

From a trade deficit of $1.7 billion in 1993, Mexico rocketed to a trade surplus of $23 billion with the United States in 2001 and $31 billion in 2002. Save for the packaging materials sold to the Mexican plants to facilitate the return of finished goods, the only net US export gains came in agribusiness and bulk commodities such as cereals and organic chemicals.

Sam Houston, who had advocated a protectorate over Mexico on the floor of the US senate in 1858, never lived to see it. But NAFTA fulfilled some of the Tejano ambitions.

By the late twentieth century, Texas cultural and economic biases, advanced by presidents and members of Congress, had also impressed themselves on national labor law, immigration control and environmental policy. Over the years, Texas big business has always wanted low-cost labor—workers for the state`s warehouses, sweatshops, crop fields, domestic service, and sales counters. Local industries, some of them refugees from northern taxes, regulation, and unions, thrived on both low wages and taxes kept down by minimal public services.

In addition to laws inimical to unions, the proven Texas solution for keeping down labor costs down has been importing Mexican workers—either illegal immigrants or temporary guest workers brought in under the pre-1964 “bracero” program. Their presence in the Texas labor market also applied downward pressure on other wages. Many employers preferred the illegals, who were compliant as well as cheap. As governor, George W. Bush opposed efforts to deny undocumented [VDARE.COM protest: ILLEGAL!] aliens public education and health care, but compassion was hardly the paramount, motive: Low-wage labor was simply too important to discourage.

Arguably, taxpayer-provided services were a public subsidy of sorts to the farmers, ranchers, and business owners who employed the illegal workers. It was no coincidence that within weeks of his 2001 inauguration as president, Bush endorsed a harsh labor agenda—less regulation of workplace safety, relaxation of rules against the federal government doing business with companies that violate labor laws, and permission for states to opt out of minimum-wage increases. The AFL-CIO`s national political director was moved to remark that “George Bush makes Ronald Reagan look like Mother Jones.”

As the nation`s leading energy producer, Texas has been responsible for some of the nation`s worst environmental problems, notably air pollution—Houston overtook Los Angeles as the smoggiest US city in 1999–and hazardous wastes in the chemical districts alongside the Houston Ship Channel. Dozens of books, reports, and special studies weighed the impact of George W. Bush`s environmental policies as governor—ending in a broad disagreement over whether Bush had made things worse or had simply perpetuated the odorous status quo.

Bush seems to have viewed privatization as panacea for solving government problems. He tried to use the threat of it to challenge the giant, incurably liberal University of Texas in Austin, and to pare the cost of Texas` social welfare administration. In both initiatives he failed—in the latter case because of opposition from the Clinton administration. But in the area of state environmental regulation Bush got his wish, turning over the crafting of environmental rules to the folks who ran polluting industries.

This set the stage for similar privatization initiatives once Bush got to Washington. Bush`s proposed “Temporary Worker” program even privatizes the U.S. border, granting American businesses the power to sponsor immigrants into the U.S. through the simple expedient of posting a minimum wage job on a web site, waiting for Americans to ignore the paltry offer, then importing foreigners to take the work.

Texas, in short, is an unusual American state. The Texas elite`s economic and cultural preferences are not necessarily those of the nation as a whole.

Kevin Phillips is the author of American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush