As a normie would see it: whose finite amount of empathetic energy is the most diluted across individuals and groups, the most abstract due to the utter unfamiliarity of the targets, and therefore the most unlikely to push them into concrete action on behalf of the recipients of their airy-fairy, one-part-per-billion empathy.
The factual and historical debate is boring, since the pattern is robust in supporting "closed borders for populism," in accordance with the fundamental relationship between price and supply (here, of labor). I'll weigh in on that in an appendix at the end of this post, but the main thing that bears investigation is who on the Left is sympathetic to the closed-borders view? That will help to clarify the nature of the problem and how to solve it.
It is not ideology that makes some Leftists lean toward reducing immigration in order to improve the lot of the working class. Lib, prog, rev -- just about all have their open-borders and their closed-borders flavors. Ideology is mostly a post-hoc rationalization anyways, rather than a first set of principles that lead people inexorably toward certain conclusions. A rationalization can "support" one policy as well as its polar opposite (i.e., make the proponents feel good, by reducing cognitive dissonance).
It's not a split in basic demographics either -- black as well as white activists call for closing the borders, men as well as women, under-40 as well as over-40, and so on and so forth.
The major factor that I noticed while clicking around on a bunch of the Twitter reactions to the Nagle article, was whether the Leftist was supported more by a gig in academia or in the media / entertainment sector. Academic Leftists were far more represented among those saying we need to at least take a cold hard look at how mass immigration affects working-class living standards, organizing prospects, socialist prospects, etc. Among those going further, to say we already know a globalized labor supply is bad for labor, they were virtually all connected to academia.
Those who simply freaked out and decried the article, whether they bothered reading it or not, were far more likely to be from the media / entertainment sector. That includes those with actual paying gigs, as well as those whose "job" is to just react on social media all day long, as a kind of unpaid grunt in the Left propaganda micro-industry.
It's tempting to chalk these differences up to personality -- academia attracting those with a more rational mind, while propagandists ("writers") compete over who can shout the loudest in order to get heard, and entertainers compete over who can please their crowd the most emotionally.
But I think it has more to do with the conditions of their work that make them more likely or less likely to take a more dispassionate look at things, and to make appeals to a broader audience.
In the media and entertainment sector, the audience comes first, and the customer is always right. The writers and performers must either tell them what they want to hear, and make them feel what they want to feel, or the crowd will simply take their attention and/or business elsewhere. Especially in this digital era with its micro-mini-genres and sub-sub-sub-cultures, this selects for the most kneejerk reactions from "content producers". If you've taken even a second to think about it, the audience has already moved onto someplace else -- or already begun to question your true commitments to the purity of the cause.
In academia, it's the other way around: the students have to show up whether they like what they're going to hear or not. That does select for lecturers who ramble on dryly and tediously, since the captive audience has nowhere else to run to. But they are at least trying to get a point across to a general audience, and one that has little pre-existing motivation to believe what they're being told. They need convincing, or they're just going to tune the lecturer out. And that does sting to the teachers, few of whom are imperious drones, and most of whom are sensitive to the palpable loss of attention or outright rejection in real time from their audience.
"Ivory tower" refers to the cloistered nature of the social relations among the academics themselves, not to their interactions with their everyday audience in the lecture halls, who are far more neutral or hostile toward the speaker.
As a conjecture, I'd expect amateur stand-up comics to cluster with the academics, both of whom could easily bomb in front of an audience that is not already devoted to resonating with the performance, unlike the writers and crowd-pleasers who serve a predetermined niche.
Then there is the actual organizing that goes on in either of the two workplace sites -- a fair amount on campuses, and virtually none in a TV studio, digital content cubicle farm, or tech startup playroom. And there are people on campus who get paid to figure things out, as opposed to the media / entertainment sector where people are paid to gate-keep information or emotionally please a crowd. The knowledge and practice that academics get just through osmosis is going to be of a higher quality.
There's also the conformity pressures coming from either workplace. It's very difficult to get kicked out of academia for one's views, or even organizing actions, since there is a higher degree of collective bargaining and a less-than-all-powerful adversary in the administration building. It's trivial for some media boss to fire someone, since the entire sector is dominated by five mega-corporations. And in a workplace more connected to concentrated wealth and power, you're more likely to be surrounded by people with neoliberal views and goals, and to be more influenced by those social pressures.
"The campus Left" has come to refer to the SJW airheads who do indeed take up most of the oxygen on campuses these days, but as the Millennials and Gen Z-ers grow more anxious about their student loan debt than what pronouns to use referring to trannies, they're going to go more in the Bernie direction. The main task, then, is to make sure they have concrete activities they can plug into, and these will be more favorable toward restricting immigration, compared to languishing in the extremely-online echo chamber.
Having to lead a teach-in, canvass for signatures, or engage pedestrians in conversation -- these activities could not be further from an auto-piloting echo chamber. They will quickly discover that "open borders" does not sell, and that kneejerk shaming tactics always fail -- because they are not part of your social circle, and don't care what you think about them. If they want their organization's membership to explode from tens of thousands to tens of millions, they're going to have to approach immigration with the "Left case against open borders". The media-origin Leftists will harden more and more into merely preaching to the congregation, driving a positive feedback loop of clicks, likes, views, and downloads from fellow travelers.
Here are just a few selections from the academic Left, beginning with a somewhat old article on the dynamics of inequality by Peter Turchin (a Bernie supporter), one of the few academics worth following on a regular basis:
Unless other forces intervene, an overabundance of labour will tend to drive down its price, which naturally means that workers and their families have less to live on. One of the most important forces affecting the labour supply in the US has been immigration, and it turns out that immigration, as measured by the proportion of the population who were born abroad, has changed in a cyclical manner just like inequality. In fact, the periods of high immigration coincided with the periods of stagnating wages. The Great Compression, meanwhile, unfolded under a low-immigration regime.
Elsewhere he details other dynamics that affect the supply of labor, such as baby booms -- cursing our economies with the hyper-competitive Boomers -- as well as migration from non-urban to urban centers, swelling local labor markets. But immigration is a no-brainer when it comes to identifying causes of an increasing labor supply -- and on a practical level, the easiest one to change.
The two hosts of the Dead Pundits Society podcast, which is libertarian socialist, or anarchosyndicalist, but open to interacting with all sorts of others:
“...by embracing the moral arguments of the open-borders Left & the economic arguments of free market think tanks, the Left has painted itself into a corner.”— Aimee Terese (@aimeeterese) November 20, 2018
—rigorous and thoughtful piece on labor markets and migration from Angela Nagle.https://t.co/d0IVMQ4iPz
"Internationalism" isn't merely short hand for caring about people abroad; it must be backed up with concrete policies and positions that ensure the development, sovereignty, and self-determination of peoples and nations. pic.twitter.com/cqSuxIgOXY— Adam Proctor (@AdamPr0ct0r) November 21, 2018
Some random grad student in their Twitter orbit:
It's fucking incredible how the left has gone from trashing the WTO in 1999 to being woke-scolded into supporting globalism. The backlash to the Nagle expressing an historically normal socialist understanding of labor-capital relations is evidence of this shift.— we're going to abolish Sean McElwee (@martsendo) November 21, 2018
That's where my political views and activities began in the early 2000s, and they haven't changed that much since. The only major difference is that I was open to amnesty for illegals already here (not increased immigration, though), whereas now I'd rather they go back for the benefit of their own country and ours.
Unlike the extremely online media junkies, I actually led discussions at teach-ins, where at least some new folks got clued in to anti-globalist economics or what our military is up to in the Middle East. In everyday conversation with the janitor at my dorm, I managed to sneak him a copy of Chomsky's book on US-Israel relations to counter-act whatever he'd seen the night before on the news -- and he came back the next week saying he had no idea Israel had been treating the Palestinians so badly, and upset that we were supporting them in it.
I got on a 19-hour van ride down to the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, GA -- twice -- to protest our support for the paramilitary death squads in Latin America. Got on a bus up to Quebec City to protest the Free Trade Area of the Americas -- the would-be NAFTA for the entire Western hemisphere. Walked a few picket lines in solidarity, although none under active scab assault. There were millions of us protesting the Iraq War before it even started, and I got in even earlier, before September 11th, when it was only the sanctions against Iraq (killing hundreds of thousands for no reason).
Some of these things had bigger pay-offs than others, but at least it was something. And it's not just that it was before social media -- there were any number of online forums, newsgroups, email chains, etc., that I could have wasted my time on. Not to mention passively plugging into the Daily Show, Keith Olbermann, or some other media content delivery vehicle. I never watched any of that garbage -- not even occasionally as a guilty pleasure. It's tasteless as well as pointless.
At the time I saw my future more in the academic than media direction, so that distinction showed up and had its effects early on.
Let's wrap things up with a concrete prediction: if the gang at Chapo Trap House tackle this topic, I'll bet the academics Matt and Amber will have a better take, factually and strategically, compared to the mediaites Will and Virgil (who's already snarkily rejected the topic). I have no intuition about how Felix's Twitch-streaming gamer audience shapes his politics -- is that more of giving the crowd what they want, or having to win over an initially neutral/hostile audience?
Final props to Michael Tracey, one of the few Leftists from a media background who is sympathetic to restricting immigration on class grounds:
I think people are so furious about this because they know the arguments are compelling, feel threatened by it, and can't offer a coherent response https://t.co/r3XeI3ei98— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) November 21, 2018
The laissez-faire immigration of the Ellis Island era brought us Gilded Age inequality, then during the Progressive Era immigration peaked and inequality began narrowing starting in the 1910s, continuing throughout the New Deal era before inverting during the neoliberal era, with thrown-open borders and widening inequality.
Standards of living for the bottom have stagnated and declined, while they have shot up for those at the top, as the elites have been better able to extract obscene concessions from the working class, now that it is effectively a global meta-population of low-skilled workers forced to compete against one another.
And wages are only the tip of the iceberg -- good Leftists ought to be concerned with wages only as part of the broader picture of the standard of living, dignity, and workplace democracy. When an American worker is forced to compete against 50 million new immigrants, they not only see stagnating or falling wages, they can kiss dignified working conditions good-bye. Some desperate peasant from Honduras is willing to not only work for $2 an hour, but to do so for 12 hours every day, without bathroom breaks, subject to last-minute schedule-shuffling, unpaid overtime, and so on and so forth. Forget raising any objections to the boss, let alone joining a union -- uppity immigrants get deported, leaving only the subservient ones.
It is striking to see a certain section of the Left stick to such a militant denial of basic class analysis of immigration policy. Which class do they think controls the government? On whose behalf do they think the ruling class directs government policy, such as immigration? On what basis do they hijack the government to serve their own interests -- material reasons such as cheap labor, or feel-good cultural reasons like Mexican food prepared by actual Mexicans?
Plainly, immigration policy must serve the material interests of the owners and managers, against those of the workers -- unless somehow the workers have organized and used collective bargaining power to get something from the government that is against the interests of big business. But since no collective of workers has ever used its precious little amount of collective power to open the floodgates of immigration, and only ever done the opposite, they're probably not doing it now either.
Supporting open borders is not just parroting a Koch Brothers talking point, akin to Leftists promoting vegetarianism when Hitler also promoted vegetarianism. That's just some quirky lifestyle thing. Flooding the nation with immigrants serves the objective material interests of the Koch Brothers and other oligarchs who control labor-intensive sectors of the economy, and undercuts the material interests of the working class. Being a vegetarian does not serve the material interests of Hitler and Nazis -- or undercut them, for that matter -- it's totally irrelevant. Open borders, though, is very relevant to whose material interests one is serving.
For the revolutionary among them, they have blocked out the history of actually-achieved socialism, which was "socialism in one country" -- albeit occurring independently in several countries -- rather than an internationally coordinated network of socialist polities or economies. It may make you feel warm and fuzzy to believe you possess a magic wand that will dissolve all of the forces which have made "socialism in one country" the only form that has ever actually been achieved, but it won't get you there.
As for practical solutions for how the Bernie Left can steal the immigration issue from the Trump / Tucker / Bannon Right, and realign the Democrats into the new dominant party, see these earlier posts:
First, raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour. Outlawing cheap labor will prevent most immigration, which is only approved by the elites for cheap-labor purposes. Those who are still brought in will not be undercutting living wages.
Second, price controls on housing for immigrants, making them dirt cheap. Outlawing slumlords from jacking up rents in response to soaring demand will help to prevent immigration, as realtors no longer lobby for open borders without rent-seeking to be had, while also ensuring that those immigrants who do make it in will not worsen the affordability of housing.
Third, make ICE or its replacement an enforcer against employers who violate these labor laws, not against the immigrants themselves. It will give a more humane face to the efforts to close the borders -- attacking greedy employers and slumlords, not the poor desperate immigrants whom they exploit -- and will be more cost-effective, indirectly sending home dozens of immigrants for every employer and slumlord who is deprived of their cheap labor and jacked-up rents.