Echoing Rubio Aide's Gaffe, Bhagwati Throws Black Workers under the Bus

By Jerry Kammer, November 25, 2013

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) took heat last spring when an unnamed aide, explaining Rubio's enthusiasm for a guestworker program as part of immigration reform legislation, made this comment about American workers to Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker:

There are American workers who, for lack of a better term, can't cut it, There shouldn't be a presumption that every American worker is a star performer. There are people who just can't get it, can't do it, don't want to do it. And so you can't obviously discuss that publicly.

Well, Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati just did. He offered his dismissive views on Saturday as a guest on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal". He spoke in response to a caller, apparently a black man, who said he is from New York City and works in Connecticut.

Bhagwati's comments were long and rambling. As a rationalization for the importation of low-wage foreign workers at a time of massive unemployment among Americans, they were even more depressing than the contemptuous comments from the Rubio camp. Here is the gist of the exchange:

Caller:

I'm from New York City and I see first-hand what illegal immigration has done to not only this country but to African Americans in particular. You cannot find a job right now in housekeeping, in construction, in being just a busboy. Every single job that African Americans used to have are no longer available. And on top of that, the Mexicans, the different illegal immigrants come in. They take jobs that Americans would love.

Bhagwati:

This could very well be the experience in certain communities, and I'm not denying that. But it seems to me that even in places like Connecticut and New York City, where I live, it is possible to find a lot of blacks actually being employed.

Immigrants who are coming in are actually setting a good example. Like, I see hardly any black cab drivers. This is not a factory job or a job where you actually take employment. But this is where you, you know, go ahead and start driving a cab. I've often wondered why I hardly ever see anybody among the black community driving a taxi cab because that's often a way in which you move ahead.

So I think it raises other questions about what do we do for communities that are actually being left behind, who are not being able to take these jobs. I think it has something to do with the breakdown of the family. But we have to really look at how we take things to people.

Now you take the service sector. In the service sector, again, there are structural problems. To be able even to function in front in a McDonalds you have to be able to turn up on time. You've got to be able to, you know, dress properly and then follow a certain conduct. So if you're just going to be flipping hamburgers in the back, you can be whatever you want to. But if you want more jobs from which you are going to move up, even in McDonalds and Burger King, you really have to be able to help the Harlem community to be able to provide these kinds of skills. So I think it's a lot of heavy lifting that we need to do in order to help the black community.

More on Bhagwati tomorrow.