French philosopher Jean Baudrillard observed:
Disneyland is a perfect model of all the entangled orders of simulation. To begin with it is a play of illusions and phantasms: pirates, the frontier, future world, etc. This imaginary world is supposed to be what makes the operation successful. But, what draws the crowds is undoubtedly much more the social microcosm, the miniaturized and religious revelling in real America, in its delights and drawbacks.1
Disneyland is very popular, so much so that huge numbers of Americans and others pay $59 for a single-day ticket and spend more to get there, eat there, and stay there.
America nowadays has few attractive commodities made in America — aside from Disneyland and weapons — to offer to international consumers. As a result, noted Paul Krugman, “we make a living by selling each other houses”:
I used to live next door to a Russian émigré. One day he asked me to explain something that puzzled him about his new country. “This place seems very rich,” he said, “but I never see anyone making anything. How does the country earn its money?”
The answer, these days, is that we make a living by selling each other houses.2
But there is one all-American commodity that the rest of the world are willing to spend a fortune to acquire: Green Cards.
The beauty of this commodity is that it costs very little to manufacture — merely costs of checking backgrounds, printing notices and cards, mailing them, etc. — and produces very few environmental externalities.
And it sells, like sex.
The price of a Green Card is far steeper than a Disneyland ticket. How much? A gainfully employed spouse or a gainful employer,3 willing to sponsor you. Plus fees for the privilege of getting photographed, fingerprinted, background-checked, and interviewed. If you find ever-changing immigration laws and piles of paperwork daunting, you can spend even more to hire a lawyer to walk you through the exciting immigration maze. Altogether, the price can go up to thousands of dollars.
Despite the perennial worldwide demand for this commodity that never seems to go out of fashion, America doesn’t sell it according to its cherished principle: free market. It rations Green Cards by quotas and other anti-market means. That is Un-American. The rationing has led to the mushrooming of black markets for coyotes’ services and counterfeit Green Cards. A coyote can charge “as much as $1,500,” and “a typical fake ID package [which] includes a green card and a Social Security card” goes for “$150.”4
To solve the problems of black-market immigration and fiscal and trade deficits at once, in the quintessentially American way, I propose that America officially rebrand itself as “AmeriLand: Land of Buy One Get One Free” and sell tickets — i.e., Green Cards — to AmeriLand experience to all who are willing to pay (immigrants, “legal” or “illegal,” are already paying high prices anyway). If a simulation of America is profitable, so can “real America.”
Caveat Emptor: NO Money Back Guarantee!
1 Baudrillard goes on to illustrate real America’s “delights and drawbacks”:
You park outside, queue up inside, and are totally abandoned at the exit. In this imaginary world the only phantasmagoria is in the inherent warmth and affection of the crowd, and in that aufficiently excessive number of gadgets used there to specifically maintain the multitudinous affect. The contrast with the absolute solitude of the parking lot — a veritable concentration camp — is total. Or rather: inside, a whole range of gadgets magnetize the crowd into direct flows; outside, solitude is directed onto a single gadget: the automobile. By an extraordinary coincidence (one that undoubtedly belongs to the peculiar enchantment of this universe), this deep-frozen infantile world happens to have been conceived and realized by a man who is himself now cryogenized; Walt Disney, who awaits his resurrection at minus 180 degrees centigrade. (“Simulacra and Simulations,” Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster, Stanford University Press, 1998)
In contrast to Baudrillard, Wojtek Sokolowski, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, argues that what Disneyland offers is a simulacra of classless society (LBO-talk, 20 April 2006):
[T]he only economically viable entity that evokes the socialist ideal of no-distinction society is . . . Disneyworld. Yes, Disneyworld. I realized that when I went there with the kids. All “capitalist” transactions — reservations, tickets, special deals, credit cards, etc. are conducted outside Disney property by their business agents. Once you land on their Orlando property, you encounter:
- excellent and efficient public transit system (not available in real-life US cities);
- total equality: everyone (with a ticket, of course) is equal to everyone else, everyone stands in line regardless of sex, age, gender, or skin color, no one is privileged;
- everything is open to everyone “free” of charge — no need to have money, invitation, or other conditionality of access;
- it is a very “international” and “peaceful” — nations, peoples, humans and animals peacefully coexist side by side
- there is no drudgery of work: everyone is having a good time and can “be” anything he/she wants — just like Karl Marx said; the actual work on Disney property is carefully concealed under the masks of the characters that cannot be taken off under the penalty of immediate dismissal.
A vicarious experience of classless society is certainly an appealing product. As a matter of fact, the savviest socialist leader, Fidel Castro, has long marketed Cuba as SocialistIsland to Western tourists of the left. If it were not for the US embargo, SocialistIsland might be an even more popular destination.
2 Paul Krugman, “Safe as Houses,” New York Times 12 August 2005.
3 To sponsor a foreign-born family member for permanent residency, your household income must be “equal to or higher than 125 percent of the U.S. poverty level for your household size,” or else you must find a joint sponsor willing to assume financial responsibility to support the immigrant. That is a requirement that discriminates against the poor in general, oppressed communities of color (the poverty rates for Blacks and Latinos, at 24.7% and 21.9%, is more than double that of whites at 8.6%), and the disabled (among those who report work-limiting disability, the labor force participation rate was only 24.3%, and 14.1% of the disabled in the labor force were unemployed, in a 2002 Current Population Survey; and “14.1 percent among those with a disability that was not severe, and 24.3 percent among those with a severe disability,” fall below the poverty line). Among the 1,049 federal rights and obligations conferred by marriage — the rights denied same-sex couples — is the right to sponsor your spouse for permanent residency. While bosses have the right to sponsor employees for permanent residency for employment purposes, labor unions do not have the right to sponsor workers for organizing purposes.
4 Lizette Alvarez and John M. Broder, “More and More, Women Risk All to Enter U.S.,” New York Times 10 January 2006; Eduardo Porter, “Illegal Immigrants Are Bolstering Social Security,” New York Times 5 April 2005. In addition to basic financial costs of entry, undocumented immigrants pay by physical risks of crossing the border (which can result in death), disadvantages of working without papers, psychological costs of being separated from their families and friends at home, and so on. Among the prices paid by undocumented immigrants, about “three-quarters” of whom are estimated to pay payroll taxes, are “$6 billion to $7 billion” in Social Security taxes and “about $1.5 billion” in Medicare taxes per year, from which they can derive no benefit (Porter, 5 April 2005).
Yoshie Furuhashi is editor of MRZine.