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May 28, 2008

Bhagwati channels Dean Baker on immigration

I knew this day would come. My friend and former boss Dean Baker has been taunting the neoliberals to embrace his idea of free trade in health care and immigration. This was good politics, so long as no neoliberals did so. It served to show their hypocrisy for subjecting steelworkers to unrelenting low-wage competition, while not opening up the immigration floodgates to low-wage doctors. It also showed that our trade policy is not a random inevitability, but structured by real people to benefit real favored interests at the expense of others.

The problem with the strategy is that neoliberals have actually long been much warmer to this idea than Dean let on. As early as the 1970s, corporate lobbyists were trying to figure out ways to put immigration and social services under emerging neoliberal institutions. By 1994, the Clinton administration offered up health insurance and our H-1B visa programs to WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services coverage. And as our report shows, this move by Clinton has hurt the prospects for his wife's health care package.

Many corporate lobbyists (and some WTO nations) want to create a GATS visa that would put the whole of U.S. immigration policy under WTO jurisdiction. This pretty much the gist of the Bhagwati and Madan piece in the WSJ that Dean praised today:

Mode 4 concerns doctors and other medical providers going where the patients are. It offers substantial cost savings, since the earnings of foreign doctors are typically lower than those of comparable suppliers in the U.S.

Now, while it may be interesting to think about the economics of liberalizing immigration, it is something altogether different to think about the constitutionality and institutional aspects of doing so through the WTO. We've found that those in favor of more...

The WTO has no mandate to negotiate migration policy, nor should it... We reject the guest worker model, which inevitably ties migrant workers' right to stay and work in a country to employment with a specific employer, making them vulnerable to extensive abuse that sometimes borders on indentured servitude and undermines domestic and international labor standards.

...and of less immigration...

A WTO-imposed guest-worker scheme would be even more devastating as the global bureaucrats would have sanctioning ability to force our submission to their sovereignty-destroying whims.

...prefer to duke it out on the national stage, where with power comes accountability, rather than at the WTO, where there is no popular accountability. I hope that Dean will clarify that he means he is for free trade for professionals in theory, not in WTO practice.

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