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On Colbert

September 25, 2010

Stephen Colbert recently testified before congress:

Many of my friends loved this. I, for one, don’t get the excitement. Colbert wants “illegal immigrants” to be able to legally work in the US. And we’re supposed to think this is a good idea?

Let’s draw out what is unstated here: We need someone to work for below minimum wage. If we paid a living wage to bean-pickers, the cost of beans would rise, and we can’t have that. So we need to sustain the system of exploitative labor practices. Since “Americans” won’t work for next to no pay, we’ll have to use illegal immigrants for (almost) slave labor. Let them in and sign them up! Otherwise those those tomatoes will double in cost!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Louise Mundstock permalink
    September 25, 2010 11:22 am

    I think many might have missed the more important and less tongue-in-cheek comments Colbert made in the clip found here:

  2. Hank permalink
    September 25, 2010 5:46 pm

    A person working for minimum wage is still being exploited, as is a person working for a “living wage.”

  3. Tired permalink
    September 25, 2010 5:57 pm

    From the video, Colbert said: “But maybe we could offer more visas to the immigrants who, let’s face it, will probably be doing these jobs anyway. And this improved legal status might allow immigrants recourse if they are abused. And it just stands to reason, to me, that if your coworker can’t be exploited, then you’re less likely to be exploited yourself. And that, itself, might improve pay and working conditions on these farms, and eventually, Americans may consider taking these jobs again.”

    I cannot see, at all, how you get from that to your own interpretation. Even ignoring the more explicit comments in Louise Mundstock’s linked clip, how does arguing for someone to have legal rights, for recourse if they are exploited, and for increased pay, lead to the conclusion that all he truly cares about is the price of tomatoes? I guess you said it was “unstated,” but it seems pretty insulting nonetheless.

  4. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    September 25, 2010 6:08 pm

    @Hank: minimum wage is exploitative? Yes. Living wage? I suppose it depends on how you define it, but quite possibly …

  5. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    September 25, 2010 6:14 pm

    @Tired: I don’t think that the “unstated” bit is what he was personally thinking, or what he secretly intended. But there is to some extent some mystification going on here, where the social conditions that make low wages possible in the first place are left in the background and untheorized. This is, I believe, Marx’s chief concern in his comments on commodity fetishism: the relationship between labor, labor conditions, the market, the product, the consumer, the price, etc. are masked when any of these things are taken in isolation. There are abuses that are completely legal—allowing immigrants to work legally and protecting them with OSHA standards and minimum wages won’t prevent them from being exploited.

  6. Hank permalink
    September 26, 2010 12:25 am

    Unless a living wage precludes the ability for business owners to make profit, then exploitation still occurs, at least from a Marxian standpoint.

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