Slavery without the Muss

A couple of years ago, I took a business trip to Coronado, California — a wealthy suburb of San Diego isolated on the far side of the bay.  I'd never been to California.  Coronado was not covered in heroin needles and human feces as parts of San Francisco and Los Angeles famously are.  It was a well groomed, pretty patch of real estate by anybody's standards.  Cool ocean breezes and gently swaying palm trees.  Beautiful houses.  Nice restaurants.  Interesting shops.  Still, I found an ugliness about it — a moral malady less obvious than street violence or an army of homeless beggars.

What I noticed, because I am from the Midwest, where such conditions don't pertain, was that practically all the people who drove taxis, stocked shelves, waited tables, maintained gardens, cleaned hotels, or had anything else to do with non-recreational physical activity...were brown-skinned Latinos.  The people who owned the houses, ran the shops, or did anything that fell generally into the realm of "knowledge work" were overwhelmingly white or Asian.

Do not get me wrong.  I am not about to whine the leftist whine.  I do not for a minute believe that all persons of all kinds are equal in either potential or inclination.  I have said as much.  The facts of the world and of history are plain enough to anyone with a genuinely open mind.  We are not all equal in our capacities.  But there is something deeply disturbing about visiting a place where labor is so plainly segregated along racial lines.  And it is all the worse when the people who own and run the place are so self-servingly dishonest about it.  Waving at your gardener now and then doesn't magically give you egalitarian street cred.  The contact between one human and another ought never to be made that cheap.

What we have in California is a sea of anonymous Latino workers who, by their very numbers, drive the going price of their labor down to a minimum.  The more who are encouraged to cross the border, the more of a mere subhuman commodity they become.  Most, I think, must live in fear of losing whatever menial jobs they have and falling back on the thin resources of the government or friends.  They must be quietly desperate to please their masters.  Well, let us say — their "fully woke employers."  It is quite a system.  No ugly whips or chains are necessary — just a large pool of people willing to accept any conditions better than the wretched ones they came from.  Apparently, railing against the evils of capitalism on your patio with your well off progressive friends does not preclude the possibility of taking full advantage of Adam Smith's invisible hand of market forces.  The invisibility part is the key ingredient here.  It keeps the conscience calm and comfortable — cool in that pleasant ocean breeze that sweeps away that recurrent unpleasant odor of hypocrisy.

In San Diego, which is right on the border with our southern neighbor, they have the absolute sweet spot for exploiting this particular brown labor market — if, again, you will forgive my boorish use of both the E-word and the B-word in a sentence that blames neither Republicans nor corporations.  Workers cross the border in the morning and go back to the third-world oblivion of Tijuana every night.  No expensive public services required.  No slave houses to build.  An apartment in Tijuana is a quarter of the cost of a comparable apartment in San Diego — according to one taxi driver I spoke to.  No muss, no fuss.

I sometimes wonder if California's techno-fetish for high-speed rail isn't focused mainly on shipping their "racially different" servant class around — to bring the blessings of San Diego all the way up the coast to San Francisco and the magic mushroom lands beyond, or, failing that, to at least to push the families of the resident menial class deeper into the state's neglected interior — farther out of sight and out of mind.  Perhaps, as New York City ships its garbage to neighboring states, California might ship its labor force to Nevada or Arizona.  The parts of the state not hospitable enough for the homes of the elite could then be made into a giant nature preserve — the cougars and rattlesnakes keeping out the nasty white middle class of the deplorable interior.

I think we know what diversity actually means to the progressive.  It means having a Honduran maid to clean the house, a landless Oaxacan farmer to tend the lawn, and maybe a nice Bahamian boy to polish the Tesla.  It means not being troubled by this racial stratification because you have educated Indian and Chinese coworkers whom you number as your friends.  No, this situation is not the bitter draught of slavery — but it is a dessert wine from the same upscale vineyard.

None of this is anything new.  I saw it in Atlanta over a decade ago, when I was taking some professional training in a northern suburb of the city.  I decided to take the train downtown one evening and was the only white person in the car.  The rest were Latinos going home from their construction, housekeeping, and gardening jobs.  Atlanta is full of black people, but they have apparently ceased to be the servant class of choice.  Several generations on the dole has dulled their enthusiasm for work, while simultaneously heightening their misdirected sense of outrage.  A new underclass is now in fashion.  I don't expect them to fare any better.

The return train at 7:00 P.M. was full of tired white and Asian office staff on their way out to their manicured burbs.  No Latinos to be seen.

Maybe, in a decent world, Mexicans would clean up their own miserable country, and white people would clean up their own precious oversized lawns.  That way, maybe, nobody would get treated like a resource, a machine, or a convenient political prop.  There is no particular shortage of white or black American laborers — provided that you let them sell their labor on its merits and stop paying them hush money to rot horribly in place.

Slavery started in America not because Virginia-tobacco planters ran out of white Europeans who were willing to plant tobacco.  It started because it was a little cheaper to buy, feed, and clothe a negro than to pay a white man.  We had what one might call an "open borders policy" at that time.  The displaced lower-class Virginians marched stoically into the continent's interior to carve out free and self-sufficient lives.  We have been denigrated ever since.

The invisible hand of market forces has never been a respecter of human beings — not when it is unconstrained by human sympathy or God's moral law.  In the eyes of the elites, any lesser human being is merely a consumable convenience.  He is neither a fellow countryman nor a Christian brother — not to people who see the world as their grand estate and see themselves as nothing less than gods.

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