Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith

The most ludicrous argument I’ve heard as of late is that African-Americans should be neutral when it comes to Trump’s deportation policies, because African-Americans have been excluded from low-wage jobs by Latin American immigrants. While yes, it is true that employers purposively segment their labor forces to exclude African-Americans while employing migrants from Latin America, there is no evidence to believe this nativist approach to politics would benefit African-Americans. Even worse, it is a call to benefit off of misery and abuse, which seems as immoral as the call for the deportations themselves.

As I tried to explain to Yvette Carnell who was espousing such crude strategy, supporting nativist policies would benefit the growing push by white supremacist sectors of the population for de jure re-segregation, as well as reinforce the break down in working class solidarity which ultimately benefits the capitalist class.

As Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz pointed out in “Inequality in the Post-Racial Era: Race, Immigration, and Criminalization of Low-Wage Labor” and Tanya Golash-Boza in “The Parallels Between Mass Incarceration and Mass Deportation: An Intersectional Analysis of State Repression”, criminalization and deportation are co-occurring policies built into a larger restructuring of the global labor force based on racist arguments adapted for the contemporary era. One of the main policies involved in bringing about this co-occurrence is the drug war, which has affected horrifically both African-American and Latin American communities. It is a push factor for migrants, as well as a criminalization factor leading to African-Americans being 8 times more likely to be arrested and Latinxs being 3 times more likely to arrested.

And, these policies are being implemented in order to make the low wage workforce even more pliant. It is about labor control. As Gomberg-Muñoz relays, while Latinos may have access to more jobs, they are for falling wages. It is reducing labor cost through work intensification of a vulnerable population. Laura López-Sanders ethnographic work “Embedded and External Brokers: The Distinct Roles of Intermediaries in Workplace Inequality” demonstrated clearly how managers were picking Latino workers based specifically on this idea of increased work, while Bridget Anderson shows in “Migration, immigration controls, and the fashioning of precarious workers” how resistance is less likely due to deportability.

It is because of these racist and capitalist processes that the argument being put forward makes no sense, unless you actually want to reinforce a white supremacist, capitalist order. The argument is only viable “ceteris paribus” (all things being equal), an argument under conditions where we just treat labor as supply-demand, absent the reasons why and the logic of how. When I pushed Carnell to actually state the conditions under which her data were true, I was met with the retort “it is just the data”, as if data speaks for itself. Thus, crude empiricism became a substitute for quality analysis.

So, if you hear someone arguing against pluri-racial solidarity of the international working class, you are listening to them call for a retreat. The struggle they call for will not be useful in the days to come. It is unproductive, and borderline reactionary. Rather, you would do well to heed Golash-Boza’s call for intersectionality in understanding the development of the carceral state, and Immanuel Ness’ call in “Forging a Migration Policy for Capital: Labor Shortages and Guest Workers”, where he says we need a transnational workers movement that recognizes how capital increasingly relies on guest worker programs, migration, and its own movement to maintain a pliant labor force able to be exploited more and more. White capitalists ain’t giving anybody shit, and if you think supporting them will benefit you, you are naïve at best.


Adam Smith, who seems to me a decent chap, is much maligned; and, not by his detractors, but by his supporters. Often, the author of The Wealth of Nations is treated as an amoral asshole whose philosophy amounts to letting anyone who is making money, make as much as they possibly can. Not only is this not true, it is bandied about because it justifies the obscene economic control the rich have over the poor. Smith, who also authored The Theory of Moral Sentiments, was not the kind of shallow shit brick as to put forward grotesque non-sense like advocating greed and avarice as socially beneficial.

Instead, as can be read in chapter eight of book one, Smith knew perfectly well that the owners would use their wealth against the workers. Exhibit A is:

“Masters too sometimes enter into particular combinations to sink the wages of labour even below this rate. These are always conducted with the utmost silence and secrecy, till the moment of execution, and when the workmen yield, as they sometimes do, without resistance, though severely felt by them, they are never heard of by other people.”

Before this Smith says in our Exhibit B, “The [capitalists are disposed to combine] in order to lower the wages of labour.” That is, and has been recognized for well over two centuries, and said so well by Immanuel Ness, “like the water level… capital permanently settles at the lowest point, in search of the lowest-cost labor in every industry.” This is quite similar to that other much maligned economist, Karl Marx, who pointed out in “Wage Labor & Capital” that wages and profit are always in inverted proportion, and that capitalists will always work to keep wages at subsistence level (i.e. just enough so you could eat).

So, while yes, Smith does argue that increased economic growth based on more liberal trade will lead to increased wages, this is not a given, nor is it due to any benevolence on the part of the capitalists. Nor is he assuming equality of parties in this endeavor. Rather, and a crucial difference, Smith was assuming humans making economically rational decisions could arrive at a more socially beneficial order. Whatever the flaws in his theory, of which there are many, those who hold aloft his “invisible hand” in a cynical a-morality play should be thoroughly admonished for such crude misrepresentations.

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Andrew Smolski is a writer and sociologist.

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