The August edition of Harper’s Magazine has an excellent article by Rebecca Solnit in the “Easy Chair” column of the magazine entitled, “The Octopus and Its Grandchildren”.
As Ms. Solnit explains, the “Octopus” of the title originally was the derogatory moniker given to railroads and their robber baron owners, who wrapped their tentacles around everything in sight, squeezing them dry for maximum profit, often at the expense of the public. Later, the phrase came to be used more generically to other equally rapacious organizations, such as Standard Oil, and even recently was applied to Goldman Sachs for its greedy, unethical behavior leading up to the Great Recession.
Using clear prose, Ms. Solnit traces the legacy of Leland Stanford, Southern Pacific Railroad baron and the man who endowed the university that bears his son’s name, all the way through to the present, where she makes a compelling case that many of the individuals who attended Stanford University and have become intimately involved in hugely successful technology giants (Google and Facebook, for instance) or in venture capital firms funding those giants, possess many of the same characteristics as Mr. Stanford and represent the newest incarnation of the Octopus. It has to be said that when she makes the comparison, it is not a compliment.
Here is what the author has to say with regard to immigration:
There are other ways in which the tycoons of the nineteenth century resemble those of the twenty-first. [Leland] Stanford’s partner Charles Crocker undercut the cost of labor by hiring Chinese immigrants en masse; Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg founded FWD.us to push immigration-law changes that would make it easier for Asian engineers to come to the United States. As many observers have noted, the primary attraction of foreign workers is not that they make up for a shortage in high-skill domestic workers — a shortage for which there is no evidence — but that they accept lower wages
In this, as Center Executive Director Mark Krikorian has pointed out in a recent blog for National Review Online (“A ‘Humble and Honest Populism’ Would be a Winner”), Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) stands out among politicians of either party for recognizing that such self-serving hogswallop as FWD.us and other similar organizations are attempting to sell us is entirely the antithesis of what most Americans want or need at a time when the middle class is shrinking and income disparity is growing.
When will the rest of our politicians wake up? Hard to say; possibly never. As Ms. Solnit points out, “In the Southern Pacific era, politicians were bought directly, even if taking kickbacks was illegal and considered immoral; now candidates are openly for sale via campaign donations and lobbying. Google spent more money on lobbying the federal government in 2012 than any other corporation except General Electric, and it still has one of the largest lobbies in the country.”
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