The Costs of Surveillance

As I was listening to yesterday’s report on the costs Georgians are paying to enforce its new anti-immigrant law, I was reminded of Francis Fukuyama’s discussion about the weakness of strong states. Fukuyama, a student of Allan Bloom, mistakenly felt that the weakness of strong states followed from too much central regulation of the economy. But, as Georgia attempts to implement one of the broadest citizen surveillance efforts since World War II, they may be relearning a lesson learned too late by the former Soviet Union. It was not centralized economic regulation, but rather the huge sums that the Soviet Union threw at defense, security, and surveillance that proved their undoing. In fact, corporate deregulation may actually contribute to the problem surveillance aims to solve.

As we know, there are some jobs that most Americans simply will not perform; they pay too little, offer too little security, and offer no future. Which is why, since our nation’s earliest days, immigrants have poured, first across the Atlantic, then the Pacific, for the economic opportunity they saw on our shores, adding credibility to Neo-classical claims that capital flows downhill locally, but uphill internationally (see R Lucas).

And since our nation’s earliest days, this has suited capital just fine, supplying a steady stream of sub-market workers. We have been far less attentive, however, to the effects this depressed wage-market has on native workers. Naturally, these workers want the “x” — Chinese, Irish, Germans, Italians, Mexicans, Vietnamese, etc . . . — to go home, thereby bringing the wage market back to equilibrium and opening up jobs at a living wage. But, as we know, this strategy almost never works because the real push behind low wages is not immigrant workers, but domestic capital. Capital drives wages down to their lowest possible margin and, thereby, attracts workers willing to work at that wage.

Now, however, this dynamic is being played out in the economically toxic environment produced by cultural conservativism. The cultural conservatives have successfully expelled the immigrants. So why haven’t the jobs reappeared? Why instead has the economy become even more depressed?

Well, for one, there is the fact that private capital has decided that it does not have to accept that margin. It is mobile and has decided to travel. For another, there is an astronomical administrative cost that comes with the kind of surveillance necessary to ensure that all of the under- and unemployed in Georgia deserve to be looking for work.

Further deregulation hardly solves this problem. Capital needs to know that it cannot flee. It needs to readjust its margin. And when it does so, jobs will appear. Not low wage jobs whose highest value can only be realized in low-wage, low-benefit nations like Mexico, Vietnam, or India, which is where immigrant labor sends its wages; but living wage, secure jobs that fuel the local economy and create enough of a spill-over to benefit recent immigrants.

Instead, in Georgia, Georgians are learning the hard way what many strong states have learned before them; states that responded to low wages with increased surveillance and state security. More prisons, more police, more immigrant surveillance is far more costly than better more effective regulation of industry. If you don’t believe me, just ask a Georgian doctor, nurse, or patient.