May 25, 2013
Truthdig Radio: Meltdown in Our Casino Economy
Posted on Apr 21, 2011
Avi Chomsky: I mean, I think the debate is going on at the national level and it’s also going on at the state level. At the state level, we’re seeing a number of initiatives around the country that are really, really noxious for immigrants. In Massachusetts, where I live, the governor just announced that he’s—well, he announced in December that he was planning to sign the state on to the Secure Communities Law, which is a program started by the federal government that requires local police to share information on everyone who is arrested with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], and to hold people until ICE can determine whether that person is legally in the country and whether they want to deport them. The program, in the places where it has been used—including the state of Boston, where it has been in effect secretly for a number of years—has been shown to overwhelmingly be deporting people who are arrested on minor violations like traffic violations. So the main purpose of it is so that the federal government can show better figures, that they’re deporting a lot of people. The very existence of the program, I think, plays into anti-immigrant sentiment, fans anti-immigrant flames, and does a lot of harm to a lot of people who have either committed extremely minor or no violations. Other states are taking even more Draconian anti-immigrant measures. So I feel like a lot of sort of populist politicians are playing on right-wing anti-immigrant sentiment and using it to put anti-immigrant legislation into place.
Josh Scheer: The most important question is, what happened to America? Because this was, this is the land of the immigrant, right? I mean, my grandmother—Peter’s grandmother, we’re the same blood—was never a citizen. …
Peter Scheer: All of our grandparents …
Josh Scheer: Except one. Well, one was a citizen, I think the rest were not. I mean, and they were treated badly, but then they got their chance, right? I mean, why aren’t we allowing that for some immigrants? And why do we have softer policies, it seems, on immigrants from other countries, but not so on, say, Latin America, especially with Mexico?
Peter Scheer: Let me just ask you, because we’re in tax season now, and your book is called “ ‘They Take Our Jobs!’: and 20 Other Myths About Immigration,” and one of those is that immigrants don’t pay taxes. This is one that drives me nuts all the time. Can you please just dispel us of that myth?
Avi Chomsky: Yeah, I can say a few things about that “immigrants don’t pay taxes” myth. I hate to even say those words, because it seems like reinforcing it. So, some immigrants have legal permission to work in the country; some immigrants don’t have legal permission to work in the country. Some immigrants work in what we call the formal economy, and some immigrants work in the informal economy, just as some citizens work in the formal and some in the informal economy. By “the formal economy,” we mean jobs where, essentially jobs where you receive a paycheck. And when you receive a paycheck, taxes are deducted from that paycheck. State and federal income taxes are deducted from your paycheck, unemployment insurance, Social Security, workers’ compensation, all these taxes are deducted from your paycheck. Anybody who works in the formal economy is going to have those taxes deducted from their paychecks—whether they are immigrants or citizens, whether they have legal permission to work in the U.S., or whether they don’t have legal permission to work in the U.S.
Many people who don’t have legal permission to work in the U.S. do work in the formal economy. And they do so by providing a false Social Security number. When they provide a false Social Security number, they get their paycheck—all the taxes are deducted from their paycheck. But when the money gets turned over to the federal government, the discrepancy is noted between their name and their Social Security number. So that the Social Security tax they pay, for example, instead of being credited to their name, is separated and given over to what’s called the General Fund. The New York Times estimated last year that undocumented immigrants working in the formal economy, having Social Security deducted from their taxes, paid $7 billion a year into Social Security. That is that basically, immigrants are not only paying taxes, they’re subsidizing things like Social Security because they’re paying in and not able to take out.
People who work in the informal economy often don’t pay taxes. These are people who work under the table, who get paid in cash rather than in paychecks, who work in things like—nannies, maids, snow shovelers, people who work on a contingent basis. Some of those people do pay taxes; not all of them pay taxes. The employers often don’t pay taxes either; that is, when there’s no taxes being paid, it’s both the employer and the employee who are not paying taxes. Sometimes—this is very small scale—you know, you pay someone to baby-sit for a couple of hours; neither of you declares, you don’t declare that you’re an employer, they don’t declare that they’re an employee; you know, $20 changes hands and it’s not taxed. Sometimes it’s larger scale.
The people who work in the informal economy may not pay taxes—and their employers also don’t pay taxes—but they also don’t have the guarantees and benefits that people who work in the formal economy have. That is, if you work in the informal economy, there’s no minimum wage laws applied to you; there’s no maximum hours; there’s no overtime; there’s no workers compensation if you’re injured on the job; there’s no unemployment insurance if you lose the job. That is, people who work in the informal economy are working generally in very marginal sorts of positions. They work in the informal economy because they can’t work in the formal economy, and although they don’t have their payroll taxes deducted, they also don’t receive the benefits that those of us who work in the formal economy get.
In addition to payroll taxes, immigrants—documented, undocumented—just like citizens, pay taxes every single day. That is, every single economic transaction that we engage in is taxed. If you rent an apartment, you’re paying property taxes through your rent; if you own a vehicle, you’re paying taxes; if you ever purchase anything, you’re paying taxes. That is, people are paying taxes. There’s no person in the United States who is not paying some kind of taxes. The people who work in the informal economy, whether a citizen or immigrant, are not paying payroll taxes.
Josh Scheer: I want to jump in here, because I would be remiss if we didn’t discuss this, because Arizona’s anti-immigrant law—we just had the news about the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals kind of rejected it—but now Georgia seems to be set to enact their copycat anti-immigrant bill. And I was wondering if you could talk about that for a second.
Avi Chomsky: Yeah. This is what I was mentioning earlier in terms of states taking it upon themselves, or right-wing politicians taking it upon themselves, to try to pass legislation at the state level. Most of the support for this kind of legislation is based on a real lack of knowledge about the situation. I think it’s a case of scapegoating. I think they’re really noxious and punitive laws that are going to create a lot of human suffering—even if they’re not enforced and enacted, they create a lot of human suffering for people who are only guilty of the crime of being born in the wrong country.
Josh Scheer: And wanting … to have, maybe, a better, life, too. I mean, it’s a crime … yeah. And also, yeah, you’re right, because we see issues from Detroit—John Conyers is trying to fight ICE in Detroit. In Oregon there’s a licensing bill, there’s …
Peter Scheer: The licensing—can I just, before we—the licensing one … I just say, on my way to KPFK today I was behind a long line of slow-moving trucks, and I just think—the licensing thing makes me crazy. How bigoted does someone have to be that they don’t want other people they’re on the road with to have the same kind of regulations on driving that they have to have, some safety tests from the rules … what is the logical—is there any argument for denying anybody a driving license? Except for, you know, the extremely elderly, who—you know, like our father—who’s perhaps lost their ability to steer? [Laughs]
Avi Chomsky: Ah … and yeah, there’s some young teenagers who probably shouldn’t either …
Peter Scheer: Yeah, exactly.
Avi Chomsky: [Laughs] Well, you’re asking the wrong person, obviously, because I don’t think there’s any logic or rationale to denying driver’s licenses. And again, I think it’s part of this really sort of populist appeal to people who are suffering economically, white people who are suffering economically, and there’s real reasons that they’re suffering economically, but the reasons are not immigration. And trying to sort of play on people’s worst fears.
Peter Scheer: Divide and conquer?
Avi Chomsky: Mm-hmm.
Josh Scheer: Well, it’s not … the right wing, though … if you believe in globalization and you believe in free markets and everything else, you should have open borders, because then you want cheap labor here, too. I mean, you want …
Peter Scheer: We have plenty of cheap …
Josh Scheer: No, but … if you’re anti-union, and you’re anti-this and you’re anti-that, then you should have the ability to hire cheap labor, right? I mean, these companies shouldn’t be taxed, they should be … they shouldn’t be sending their workforce home—that’s what they want, right? That’s what right-wingers want.
Avi Chomsky: Well, I mean, in fact, the business community is absolutely reliant on a continuing inflow of what we could call cheap workers. But one of the things that makes cheap workers cheap is prejudice and discrimination. That is, as long as our laws find some people as second-class—and I won’t call them citizens, ’cause they’re not citizens—but second-class people, that makes them more exploitable. So the business community is in a very odd position here, because they basically want people to be here illegally. They want them to be here and they want the law to prohibit them from being here, because that makes them, quote, “illegal,” undocumented, and makes them easier to exploit.
Josh Scheer: You know, and also we talked about the informal jobs and everything else, but those are people that … they’re going to look for cheap labor. And you’re talking about taxes, and a lot of those people pay taxes, just maybe they become citizens. But if you work in an informal job for $200 a week, those people are so cheap they wouldn’t pay you … you know, they wouldn’t pay anybody else, they would try to find it in another way cheaply, right? I mean … we can’t even blame the … an informal employee who makes $250 a week or less—those are jobs that you’re not going to get. So even if you think they’re going to … and we can get into that another time, but about the …
Peter Scheer: Professor Scheer, you’re going to have to wrap it up.
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