I first became aware of the concept of attractive nuisance when I was living in North Carolina. A toddler had wandered off from home, and drowned in a neighbor’s uncovered pool. The mother wasn’t sued for neglect – apparently there were reasons for this, like, she thought she’d secured the door well enough (as a mother whose kid would undo three latches, one of them safety and get out, I doubt you can secure a door well enough) and she was asleep due to a medical condition. Something like that. BUT the neighbor was sued for keeping an attractive nuisance, because his pool was uncovered and also unfenced.
This was a concept I’d never heard of, but then again, to be honest, in Portugal there was never an unfenced property, so the idea of its being unfenced was odd enough.
Look – we were talking about lack of rule of law yesterday – Portugal even at its best has always had low-rule-of-law. Part of it I think is a Latin thing, perhaps dating back as far as the Roman Empire, perhaps to the invasions that destroyed it. I can’t tell you. What I can tell you is that Portugal would seem as alien (if you really went into the neighborhoods and mingled with the people) to you as the US did to me when I first came here.
What blew my mind was not that you had eight (?) TV channels on all day, or the fact that my future MIL (though I didn’t know it, of course) had a microwave, or any of the things that my host family kept pointing out and expecting me to be amazed by (the fact that their idea of Portugal harked back to my host mother’s grandmother who, btw, came from Azores, which is always behind the times didn’t help.) No. Two things amazed me: The sheer amount of forestation and the unfenced lots.
They’re related, in a way.
We took a bus from NYC to Ohio, and we passed miles and miles and miles of green, unmolested trees. If it were in Portugal, those trees would be cut down so fast, and used for building, burning, etc, by people not the owners of the trees. In fact, they would require armed guards to patrol them to stop people dumping their trash in the woods in such numbers that they would choke out the undergrowth.
In the same way, my parents live in a relatively well to do suburb. Even back when there was “almost no crime” and the back door stayed open all day year around (it still does, but now there’s a locked gate in the way, which wasn’t there at the time) there were thick shutters on the windows at night, of the type that roll down and which here are only used by shop-keepers. And there were low walls and gates. As theft has become more common (because “strangers” have moved to the village and now outnumber the natives) the walls have climbed. Now the walls of my mother’s house are eight feet tall and all the gates lock.
But even in the good old days, the mailbox looked. To leave your mail unlocked was to have it stolen. And anything left in public and not attached to the ground is considered yours for the taking. No, seriously, they get the covers on the air quality measuring units stolen on a regular basis, even though those are bolted to cement and by the side of busy highways (in case you wonder where the temperature readings come from!) and even though they are too strangely shaped for any natural use. I asked mom what in heck people did with them, and even she couldn’t figure it out “Perhaps hen houses? Or in-ground flower beds?”
What I know is that they get stolen on a regular basis. And grocery shopping carts have to be checked out with a coin which gets given back when you put the cart back in. Otherwise people would view the cart as “free gift with purchase.”
I’m saying this not to run down my native country, but to explain that the culture is very, very different. The culture was shaped by a lot of things, including the country being trampled by Napoleonic invasions – something that meant two armies scoured the country clean (even monuments had portions of it stolen) and the common people could only live by grabbing what they could, theirs or not.
But it was also shaped – is shaped – by a legal culture that harks back to Rome, where official jobs are viewed as sinecures and opportunities for squeeze, and all jobs are viewed as something you do as skimpily as possible, because you can’t be fired. It’s a post, not a job. Such as if you have an accident you’re better off not calling the police, because both of you will then have to pay squeeze, in addition to whatever needs to be paid. Such as if you interrupt a retail clerk while she’s talking to her boyfriend on the phone and ignoring you, you’re the rude one, not she. Such as writers turn in work completely unproofed because “THEIR JOB” is to write, someone else can do that demeaning typo hunting stuff. (This was the hardest for me to adapt to – and yeah, I know I don’t typo-hunt in these posts, but then I don’t get PAID for these posts.)
It’s cultural. It is the way it is. You can trust a Portuguese as much as you can trust anyone else once they’re in a rule of law society and you probably can trust them more if they have some reason to think you’re a member of their tribe. The culture – the software in the head – is very family oriented and very tribe oriented and very, in ultimate instance “compatriot” oriented. Far more so than in the US. The Arab proverb would apply, if you view it as the Portuguese NOT attacking others but rather viewing each successive circle as less deserving of respect to their persons and property: Me against my brother; me and my brother against my cousins; me and my cousins against the tribe; me and my tribe against the world.
But put enough Portuguese together, and you play by their rules. The software in head is not – much as I like to make faces at Spanish – at all very different from Spain or Mexico or most of central and South America.
So, what does all this lead to? In the past we discussed minimum wage here. I think mandating minimum wage is about as effective and sane as mandating good weather on Sundays. Okay, maybe a little better – suppose you could mandate good weather and enforce it for a period of hours. You couldn’t do that everywhere. Those clouds would still have to go somewhere. So the price of sunny Sundays in highly visible areas, like say NYC or Chicago, would be snow storms in the hinterlands in July. (I don’t know much about meteorology, so it might mean other stuff too.)
Mandating minimum wage is like that. Dave Freer talked about the very generous minimum wage of Australia with approval. Kate pointed out that yes, but it’s a trade off. They trade a good minimum wage for beginning workers against a high unemployment rate and low entrepreneurship. That’s a given. I’d argue they also trade in high innovation, since that’s mostly started by wild cat small businesses.
If the people of Australia consider that well and good, that’s fine. It’s their business.
All that is besides the point when it comes to America. Australia’s nearest neighbor, whose citizens could get there without much effort is New Zealand, which has similar laws and is about at a similar level and has similar software-in-head.
I.e., Australia can have an open, in ground swimming pool, uncovered, because its nearest neighbor, in human house terms is fifty miles away. No toddler can escape its mother’s vigilance and just wonder over and drown. Attractive nuisance or not, it is highly unlikely they’ll be fishing toddlers out of the pool every Summer morning.
This does not apply to the US. It applies to the US even less than it applies to Europe, and Europe is finding out and fast its nuisance is too attractive as is.
The US has always been a country of immigrants. But most of our waves of immigration of the past came here to become Americans (present writer included.) They came determined to leave everything behind and learn to be as American as possible.
As a kid, growing up in a country of emigrants, I noticed early on that the ones from America came back less often (even than the ones in Africa) and were more acculturated. They were the ones less likely to be building a little house in their native village for when they retired. They were unlikely to be sending money back, unless they had elderly parents they were supporting. They came here to be here, not to earn and send back until they could return.
This is for two reasons: coming here involved a lot more effort, both in crossing the ocean and in getting a visa (coming here illegally was near impossible back in the sixties and seventies) that it wasn’t worth it to “scavenge-migrate.”
The ones most likely to scavenge-migrate were the ones who went to France. This is because France was attainable on foot if absolutely needed, through two borders almost impossible to secure, and because it had GENEROUS welfare benefits which it wasn’t fussy about giving to Portuguese. For Portuguese peasants living hand to mouth, going to France meant that you could cram ten to an apartment and send back as much money as possible, or if you took your wife, she worked mostly under the table, and you worked mostly under the table, and your kids got free schooling and assistance. I remember as a little girl seeing people who’d been far below us in the social scale and completely untrained go to France for two or three years and come back with cars and fashionable clothes and…
They never stayed though. They would take full advantage of French welfare and social benefits, while working far more than would be allowed if they were “legal” and they sent money back. I suspect that other than the trips to Portugal and how well they dressed to lord it in those times, they lived near squalor. Their goal was to build a big house and live well in their retirement.
At the time I viewed what they did as fully justified. See, being far away from their “tribe” they could work hard without loss of face, so those lazy Frenchmen were getting all that work for near nothing. I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t embrace Portuguese immigrants, or why there was so much resentment.
Now I sort of do. It was the strain put on public services. It was the fact that these people working under the table depressed unskilled wages. It was also unstoppable. Two things eventually stopped it: France became less attractive, as there were fewer jobs (and welfare alone is not enough to raise a family and send money back) and Portugal’s lifestyle became closer to France’s.
This is more what we’re facing with Mexico, but amped up to eleven, because we also give “Hispanics” special consideration in social services, in getting their kids in school, in deference of treatment.
These people come from a highly stratified society and mostly the ones who come here are treated like dirt in their homeland. Imagine coming here and finding they’re special and we feel vaguely guilty for their “oppression” – which is a piece of Marxist nonsense. Mexico’s “poverty” is largely self inflicted.
Are they despicable people? No more than Portuguese are, no more than Americans are. Some of them are probably despicable. And most of them are just decent people, seeking to survive. BUT their software in the head IS different. And not all cultures are fully functional for a modern rule-of-law society.
Compound that with the fact that our social workers and the teachers of their kids tell them we owe them and that we stole their land from them. Tell them they’re a separate race and can never integrate. The stage is set for very ugly stuff indeed.
Then add in the tribal thing and the fact they will feel very little loyalty to those not of their nationality/group.
Do most of them work very hard? Actually according to studies about fifty percent of them do. But even the ones who work very hard are still using free schooling and emergency room visits. Why? Because they’re socking away the money so they can go back “home” and build the big house and impress friends and neighbors with how well they did. They want to go back home and have their kids marry well.
What they don’t want to do is become Americans, except where it means receiving social security in their old age, when they go “back home.”
All of this is understandable and human.
Then add in our attractive nuisance. We have enough unemployed, untrained people that we should have people willing to work. Americans are no more lazy than anyone else. Arguably we’re more industrious. But the minimum wage means many kids never get their start. They’re not worth that. It’s too much to pay them that.
And meanwhile, there’s this tide pouring over a huge and unsecured border that will do the work for a fourth of the price and allow low-margin businesses (chicken boning plants; farms) to survive.
We’re an attractive nuisance. I don’t know how much a toddler likes a pool, but I know that a man desperate to support his family will move heaven and Earth to do it the best way he can. And somehow coming here illegally and working really hard is hard to reconcile with “crime” even for us, much less for them. Through their eyes, Americans are lazy layabouts who don’t want to work. They grew up in low respect for laws. They don’t GET why Americans wouldn’t work under the table and take advantage of social services to round out the money, as they do. Their concept of honesty doesn’t include honesty-to-people-in-power because where they come from people in power treat those below like dirt.
There are other effects of the tide pouring over the border. Socialists of various stripes like to scream that wages have been stagnant for blah blah years. (This goes hand in hand with “innovation and tech is making people unemployable.” Poppycock. Laws are making people unemployable.) It is true STATISTICALLY. Not true in any other way. Dan and I have struggled on our own, with no advantages, not even family help for thirty years, and our income hasn’t been stagnant.
Where income has been stagnant is what I’d call the “semi-skilled middle class” – mostly retail clerks, but also the vast number of women who would on very little training become typists or factory workers.
This is the result of two things: most factories can’t survive by paying current benefit requirements (and it’s about to get worse.) It’s not the salary so much, it’s the other stuff and the immense amount of paperwork that is impossible to keep up with. Faced with the choice of going under or hiring illegals under the table, they hire illegals and pay them a fraction of the full cost of an employee and let the collective “we” pay for their other needs. Even retail to an extent is starting to hire with not too many questions asked. That means the legal people still working retail are squeezed from below by people who are being paid a fraction of what they get (what they must get by law) and from above by our truly horrible education which has forced employers to demand at least community college diplomas before they hire you. It’s the only way they can tell you know how to read.
This leaves nowhere to go for people with high school diplomas, who have been making the same amount since the eighties or so… And they too end up at the mercy of our welfare system to survive, which in turn drives the call for higher minimum wage, which in turn destroys more of these jobs.
We’re keeping an attractive nuisance. We create a vast number of jobs that Americans CAN’T fill and stay on the right side of the law. And we share a large unsecured border with a people who come from a low-respect-for-law environment.
Amnesty won’t solve anything. It won’t make these people consider themselves American. They never wanted to be American. They haven’t left their past behind as other immigrants have to do. They just walked a few hundred miles. (Or more likely drove.) It won’t make them a more open community – their culture will remain us vs. them. They will take it, but they will continue working under the table and avail themselves of our social services and our social security payments. In their code that’s not even slightly wrong. Their history has taught you take as much as you can while you can because those above you will take from you as soon as they can.
Securing the border will do something, but not to the extent that we’re willing to do. The only thing that would stop the tide would be shooting to kill or a massive electrified fence. NO ONE is going to do that. All you’d need would be a few pictures, and our resolve would crumble.
So… what stopped the Portuguese tide into France? Two things. France became less able to give lavish benefits; and there were fewer jobs available because more French (or more Portuguese who’d naturalized) were willing to work under the table. And Portugal became a little better. (Or more like France.) The only people now streaming into France come from the real sh*tholes, for whom even French “scarcity” is better. And Portugal has more generous social services, which are getting scammed by Russians and other Eastern Europeans.
There are indications that as our economy spins into the Khaki Mexicans are going back home. I know my local supermarket (a tiny one) used to carry about half the magazines in Spanish five years ago. Now you can’t find a single Spanish title. And there are indications the flooding-back tide is helping Mexico too.
But our choices, other than continuing to spin into the hole, until no Mexicans or people from points further South want to come here (except perhaps to cross to Canada) are stark: we can get rid of minimum wage, tighten the benefits spigot, and let the economy settle itself. Or we can become the sort of regime that shoots people trying to come over.
There is no other choice. And I don’t see either of those happening in the near future, unless of course we collapse. Which is the inevitable result if we don’t do either of those.
To call people explaining the facts “racist” is to ignore that most of the people who are hurt by this unchecked tide are our own racial minorities. It is also to ignore that economics is race-blind.
It is a dismal science and the results are always the same, no matter how much you scream that they’re insensitive.