Create Two, Three, Many SYRIZAs?

by Jehu

The programs of the Left are being threatened from an unexpected direction

openbordersOver the weekend I spent some time  taking a deep dive into the programs of some of the radical parties on the Left and I have a big question: How do you have open borders, on the one hand; and many of the programs supported by the Left, on the other hand?

The Socialist Equality Party argues:

“The SEP fights for the repeal of all anti-immigrant laws and the disbanding of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the US Border Patrol. It calls for all undocumented workers to be guaranteed full legal rights, including the right to work and the right to travel to their home countries without the threat of being barred from returning and torn from their families. Against the attempt to militarize borders and persecute immigrants, not only in the US but all over the globe, the working class must uphold the principle of open borders—the right of workers to live and work in whatever country they choose with full citizenship rights.”

So far, so good, right?

But then they also demand free university education:

“All discussion of equality in a society where access to education is largely determined by income is a fraud. A public works program must include a plan to hire tens of thousands of teachers and staff at quality wages and benefits, reduce class sizes, repair older schools and build new ones, and equip all schools with the most up-to-date books and learning technology. Higher education, including continuing education for adult workers, is a necessity in modern society and must be guaranteed to all free of charge.

As I read these two demands, when taken together, it seems to me SEP is demanding free education at US universities for every worker everywhere.

Was this their intention? Or did they just get carried away?

SEP is not the only party that juxtaposes a demand for open borders with state funded programs. For instance, the Socialist Party, USA says this about open borders:

“The Socialist Party works to build  a world in which everyone will be able to freely move across borders, to visit and to live wherever they choose. We recognize the central role global capitalism plays in forcing the immigration of people from the less developed to the more industrialized countries, often leading to further economic and social injustice. … We call for full citizenship rights upon demonstrating residency for six months.”

Again, a very good. But they also demand a massive expansion of the Section 8 housing program:

“The Socialist Party recognizes the right of all people to high quality, low cost housing. We call for a vast increase in Section 8 housing subsidies as one element of major public investment in the construction of low cost, scattered site, community-based, high quality housing.”

Again, as I read these two demands, when taken together, it seems to me SP, USA is demanding Section 8 housing for every worker everywhere.

In a similar vein, the Green Party, USA “[Supports] the rights of immigrants to housing, education, health care, jobs, and civil, legal, and political rights. ” But they also support both a very generous variant of universal basic income:

Taxable Basic Income Grants for all, structured into the progressive income tax, that guarantee an adequate income sufficient to maintain a modest standard of living. Start at $500/week ($26,000/year) for a family of four, with $62.50/week ($3,250/year) adjustments for more or fewer household members in 2000 and index to the cost of living.

Free lifelong education benefits:

Free, quality public education from pre-school through graduate school at public institutions.”

And a guaranteed job for everyone:

A guaranteed right to job. Full employment through community-based public works and community service jobs programs, federally financed and community controlled.”

Now, I don’t want to be a party-pooper, but there seems to be a contradiction between open borders and open ended programs like the ones mentioned above.

Let me take one example to illustrate what I am talking about:

With open borders, a person from Chiapas, Mexico could, in theory, migrate to the United States and be entitled to:

a. a fairly substantial basic income grant funded by the state;

b. a job guaranteed by the state;

c. free education paid for by the state; and,

d. Section 8 housing paid for by the state.

Ask yourself: With this very generous list of programs, who in their right mind would stay in Mexico?

On the other hand, what is the cost of such programs once every newly arrived migrant worker in the United States qualifies for it, not just citizens?

Try this thought experiment: Assume Greece remained in the EU, but reverted to its own currency. How would it finance this program? Or compare it to Venezuela. How would Venezuela finance this without any capital controls, etc.? My point is that a lot of the public funded benefits we take as positive are based on the assumption of closed borders and economic autarky. It is not at all clear to me they are sustainable in a completely open national economy.

This means these parties face one of two options:

a. Drop their demand for open borders, or

b. Figure out other measures to improve the living standards of the working class that do not depend on the state.

I see no reason to regress back to the age of closed borders and economic autarky even if this were possible — which it isn’t. Such a regression only serves people who vote for Trump, UKIP, FN and AfD.

If closed borders and economic autarky is regressive, these parties need to rethink how public funded benefits are delivered. This is not just a logical argument, it is what happened to Greece, Brazil and Venezuela in real life. Trying to make policy based on assumptions your borders are closed and you enjoy some level of economic autarky very quickly unravels once you are confronted with the reality of increasingly open economies. Greece faced the most extreme example of this, but it also crippled Brazil and Venezuela.

Open economies have no room for fiscal and monetary policies recommended by Keynesian theory or even the central plan of Soviet economies. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to deliver social benefits in ways those two sorts of economies were able to. Both the Keynesian and Soviet models were valid for states that essentially controlled (directly or indirectly) most, if not all, of the factors of production.

However states today (and the EU is an extreme example of this) control a declining share of the total national capital. Many states, outside of the US and a handful of others, have no real control over the movement of capital, workers and commodities. They are thus forced to deal with the external implications of their domestic policies, in terms of currency fluctuations, export deficits, etc. A country like Greece has no more control over its national capital than a municipality like Athens or Los Angeles. Again, Greece is an extreme example, but in this extremity it only shows other countries what is in store for them.

This development is not driven by politics and policy as many seems to believe; rather, it is the result of the increasing globalization of production and exchange. The neoliberal competitive race to the bottom is the effect, not the cause, of globalization. This effect will increase as the profit rate falls and capitals increase in size to compensate for this fall; which means national governments will increasingly fail to deliver benefits based on the assumption they control their national capitals.

Immigration has become such a pressing social issue precisely because the movement of workers searching for jobs has outstripped the capacity of nation states to control their borders. The Left is taking a step in the right direction by calling for society to move beyond the assumption that states can control their borders. But I don’t think radical Left parties have thought this problem through nor do they recognize the implications of this issue for the demands they can realize after they win power. To put it bluntly no radical Left party today understands that it will get elected and have no more room to deliver on its promises than the typical mayor of a major American city.

If the thinking of the radical Left does not change, instead of creating ‘Two, Three, Many Vietnams’, as Che Guevara urged, we will end up with`Two, Three, Many SYRIZAs’.