For three decades, both Democratic and Republican administrations have been making trade deals with elites of other countries that favor the interests of multinational investors over the interests of American producers and workers. U.S.-based banks and corporations get access to cheap labor and to the financial systems of other nations. In return, U.S. workers are exposed to competition from countries where wages are suppressed (Mexico) or where government runs effective industrial policies (Germany) or both (China).
By the mid-1970s, cracks in the American industrial base were already visible. For the first time in the 20th century, the United States began running trade deficits. Factory closings that had earlier been limited to apparel, shoes, and plastic toys spread to steel, small appliances, and auto parts. And the decision by the Arab states to control oil prices signaled that the era of cheap energy that had fueled American manufacturing was coming to an end.
These early signs of trouble set off this country's last serious debate over the question of whether the government should have a policy for supporting a healthy manufacturing industry -- that is, an "industrial policy."
The backlash against illegal immigration -- which looks like the Republicans' only hope for a wedge issue in next November's election -- is largely aimed at Latinos, of whom the vast majority are Mexicans. In fact almost 60 percent of all undocumented workers in the United States are from Mexico, and close to 12 million of that country's nationals now live in the U.S. Fix the Mexican part of the problem and the divisive politics of illegal immigration shrink dramatically.