America’s elites reluctantly impose a client-patron system

Summary:  This campaign season has seen many demands for political change.  Our elites are responding, but perhaps not in the ways most people want.  Large-scale immigration over decades will greatly change America.  Given our high degree of inequality of wealth and income plus our low degree of social mobility, an underclass might result.  Given that many of them will be from Latin American societies, a client-patron system is a likely result in our southern and south-western States (at the very least).

This series consists of the following posts; this is the second in the series.

  1. Description of client-patron political systems
  2. Why immigration benefits America’s political elites
  3. The padrón system in America

2.  Why immigration benefits America’s political elites

To varying degrees a client-patron political systems has long existed in the southwest, as described in this article from The Economist (27 May 2004):

New Mexico is a poor place, with one of the highest proportions of people living on food stamps. … Because more than 40% of its population is Hispanic, it is usually grouped with immigrant states, notably California. In fact, few of its Latinos are immigrants: they include many families left over from the Spanish empire who have been in New Mexico since before the first English settlers arrived in Virginia

Its political tradition also long had a Latin American feel, based around a padrón system of clients and bosses. The bosses ran grocery stores, gave you credit, helped you if you needed a job. And all you had to do was vote for the Democrats. It used to be said that the votes in Rio Arriba County came in last because the local boss had to wait to find out how many votes were needed.

Massive immigration has given new force to the padrón system, as immigrants adopt political relationships in forms with which they are familar. America’s low level of social mobility and high income inequality makes this a rational choice (see “Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries“, OECD, October 2008).

To better understand the impact on America, I strongly recommend reading these two papers by Fredo Arias-King.  Now a businessman in Mexico City, he served as an aide in relations with the US to the Vicente Fox presidential campaign and the National Action Party of Mexico. A Harvard MBA and MA in Russian Studies, he is also the founding editor of the U.S.-Russian academic quarterly Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization.

  1. Politics by Other Means – The ‘Why’ of Immigration to the United States“, Fredo Arias-King, Center for Immigration Studies, December 2003
  2. Immigration and Usurpation — Elites, Power, and the People’s Will“, Fredo Arias-King, Center for Immigration Studies, July 2006.

This following text are excerpts from the first paper.  This is just an introduction to this important work, which I strongly recommend reading in full.  This except only includes his conclusions, not the reasoning or supporting logic.

Excerpts from this valuable paper

Another paradox is that immigration continues to be popular with practically all the ideological and political elites of the United States. At the same time, however, there is perhaps no other issue that represents a larger divide between ordinary Americans (who largely oppose current immigration levels) and their political elites. This paper attempts to address this paradox through the prism of my discussions with about 50 United States legislators on the issue of immigration.

From March 1999 to January 2001, I served as an aide to the National Action Party (PAN) of Mexico, and (until July 2000) to the presidential campaign of Vicente Fox. It was largely Dr. Carlos Salazar and I who handled most of the campaign’s relations with Washington, in 14 visits, meeting each time with several legislators and other officials and with Mexican migrants in the United States. After the electoral victory of July 2000, Dr. Salazar and I were sent to represent the PAN at both the Democratic and the Republican national conventions where we met a large number of U.S. legislators.

In all, I spoke with about 80 U.S. legislators, mostly federal but also some state. With about 50 of them, I held relatively lengthy talks where the topic of immigration (among others) was discussed. Henceforth, these legislators collectively will be referred to as “congressmen.”

In these talks with the congressmen, this author encountered an unexpectedly large amount of sympathy for the proposal to extend amnesty to existing undocumented immigrants, and to even increase immigration from Mexico. Interestingly, several of them were proposing amnesty with us even before it became Fox’s official policy (this was duly reported back to the campaign). Though I was not empowered to negotiate, only discuss, inevitably a staple in the conversational menu with these congressmen included immigration. This enthusiasm cut across party lines and across the “conservative – liberal” divide, though the underlying arguments by the congressmen seemed to vary.

… The reasons the pro-immigration congressmen seemed to have for their enthusiasm can be segmented and explained through political science tools, but with an overall background in economic theory.

Economic Background

Part of the explanation for the U.S. demand for immigration can be found in economic theory. Specifically in economic failure/externalities, diffusion of responsibility, the free-rider problem, cost/benefit analysis, rational actor theory, incentives, collective action and the emerging “option theory.”

The World Bank defines an externality as “costs or benefits resulting from an economic activity or transaction that accrue to persons or entities other than those engaged in it.”

Though the economic benefit of current immigration to U.S. society is still in dispute, few argue that there are tangible economic benefits accruing at least to certain, discernible groupings in society. Therefore, the externalities argument in economics can apply here — when the groups deriving the benefits of a particular activity do not bear the full costs of that activity, and therefore will pursue that activity even if the total costs are greater than the total benefits. The costs are spread evenly throughout society.

Companies and large farmers that lobby for immigrant labor also are responding to a rational economic stimulus. The immigrants provide revenue for the farmer and the companies. But in the scenario where the overall social costs of that immigrant exceed the revenues the immigrant produces for the farmer, it would not diminish the farmer’s interest in importing the immigrant. The same with the churches, civil rights advocates, educators, and other groups that actively encourage immigration, since “someone else” pays for their benevolence whereas they reap the benefit, whether it be monetary or intangible.

Political Theory

As mentioned earlier, the approximately 45 pro-immigration congressmen can be segmented into four groups.

  1. Étatist Right
  2. Étatist Left
  3. Anti-Étatist Left
  4. Anti-Étatist Right

Group I:  Étatist Right

This group of congressmen opposed or feared change in the established order, and was sympathetic to the expansion of state power and elite stability.

… At the same time, several congressmen mentioned how happy they were with their Hispanic constituents. The more usual compliments included: “They are grateful for whatever you give them;” “they never give me problems, I love going to their barrio;” “they are loyal;” “they are a gentle people;” and “they make ideal constituents.” Referring to the mostly white population of his district, one congressman apologized for his “redneck” constituents who “don’t understand” the importance of increased immigration. Another congressman spoke of the consequences immigration would eventually have for his competing party, in that it would “disappear, once and for all.”

Unlike with the Jeffersonian {independent} yeoman, bureaucracies and police states fare better in Latin America (the source of most immigration to the United States). Many Latin Americans tend to fall prey to bonds of patronage and vertical relations and tend to question less the power or ill-gotten wealth of their politicians. They are perceived as admiring crude displays of authority and often applaud executive fiat.

… Over two millennia before them, Aristotle stated that tyrants seek to expand their power by tampering with their populations in three ways: making or keeping them ignorant; dividing them and encouraging conflict between them; and impoverishing them. Some studies claim that the current immigration policy is achieving these three objectives in the United States.

The American political and bureaucratic class that, in effect, has actively tolerated the immigration phenomenon perhaps sees this one as a way to free itself of the Madisonian constraints. Patronage, gratitude, servility, reciprocity, and acquiescence in corruption and under-performance will, in their minds, gradually replace the Jeffersonian yeoman. The increasing cultural diversity in the United States provides an element of divida et impera for the political class. The increased crime usually associated with immigration could lead the population to demand “action” from the political and police institutions, which then request and obtain additional resources and power from the state to “restore law and order.”

In the perhaps unconscious view of this group of congressmen, immigration could lead to the nomenklaturization of the United States.

Group II: Étatist Left

This group of congressmen seeks to alter the established order by increasing the role of the state.

The American Left, as the Left everywhere, also has a penchant for social experimentation, even social engineering. Many leftist intellectuals and scholars often devise schemes and solutions to society’s problems, with a certain contempt for traditional ways of life. Immigration is also favorably seen by them as a way of “redistributing the world’s income” or “increasing understanding with other societies” or “addressing previous injustices” or “creating better people,” etc.

Some of the arguments of this group of congressmen were not too different from the logic behind the homo sovieticus, the “new Soviet man” that the communists believed they were constructing in the 1920s and 30s. Some of these congressmen used adjectives such as “happier,” “healthier,” and “harderworking” to describe what their vision of the new American will be. They felt comfortable in the role of potential providers to needy groups in exchange for acquiescence in the expansion of government programs and power. They would talk to us about their plans to “guarantee health care” or “fund more services” or “give more scholarships” to the immigrants.

One former U.S. cabinet member present in one of the party conventions mentioned approvingly, “What do Hispanics want? Fully-funded government programs!”

… Immigration is a source of power for the étatist Left not so much because immigrants tend to vote for the party most associated with them, but because the consequences of immigration from poor countries fundamentally reinforces their argument for state intervention.

Group III: Anti-Étatist Left

This group reflected a desire to alter the established order by limiting or weakening the ability of the state to function, or by modifying existing elites. … there seem to be two historical legacies that disproportionately influence how Americans relate to this issue and view the role of immigration in it.

  1. The interaction between the “second wave” immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s with the existing majority of the time.  {“white guilt}
  2. The perceived meaning and lesson of the Jewish Holocaust.  {a multi-ethnic society is the best defense}

… As with the étatist Left and the étatist Right, citing the alleged negative consequences of immigration to the anti-étatist Left is also largely ineffective, since the disarray these immigrants represent is a plus. The fact that many immigrants are illiterate, “undisciplined,” and “uncivilized” strikes a positive chord.

Group IV: Anti-Étatist Right

This is the group of congressmen that seek to preserve the existing order in the United States and American traditions, and distrust state power. This group believed they could help preserve American values through immigration. These include the tradition of an open door to outsiders, entrepreneurship, social mobility, morals, “fleeing tyranny,” and family values.

Whereas the Right in other countries interprets conservatism as ethnic continuity, most of the American Right, paradoxically, does so by seeking to preserve the liberal values that founded the United States. However, most of the small number of congressmen that seemed to sincerely oppose immigration also come from this group and have a European concept of continuity (that is, ethnic and/or cultural). Congressmen in this group mentioned that the immigrants “bring family values” that compensate for the perceived deterioration in the morality of Americans. Their preoccupation seemed to be a return to an America they feel is slipping away.

This group, however, seems to be the only one of the four analyzed here that does not seek ethnic diversity as an end in itself, but rather sees it as a natural and even desirable byproduct of other goals.


This essay hopes to touch upon the paradox of the immigration issue in the United States by attempting to address why there is a disassociation between elite and popular opinion.

I very much doubt that the pro-immigration congressmen hatched a “conspiracy” in their tacit approval of the current immigration phenomenon. Their only sin is to respond rationally to stimuli, incentives, perceived opportunities, and coincidence in interests that enable these politicians to respond (or not respond) as a class, which is different from how their constituents would respond to the same issue.

… They are, however, aware that their interests in immigration do not coincide with that of their constituents. When I proposed to a pro-amnesty congressman putting that issue up for a popular referendum, he replied, “Are you crazy? It would never pass!”

… Overall, this author also perceived a sense of discomfort by the U.S. political class with ordinary Americans, whom they do not seem, as a class, to appreciate. One could not help but notice a desire by the congressmen to change the “chemistry” of America. …


… Immigration is the one area where those seeking to weaken the state and those seeking to strengthen it agree, but for different reasons. In a way, these opposing ideological forces feed off one another with immigration. Take the issue of the perceived increase in crime from immigrants. The étatist Left reacts by pushing for increased social programs, the étatist Right for greater powers to the police, the anti-étatist Left for more gun control, and the anti-étatist Right for more gun permits for self-defense. But none in the end seek to restrict immigration, since they all seem to believe it furthers their cause and their mission.

Immigration, to paraphrase von Clausewicz, is politics by other means.

————– End excerpts ————–

For more information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp relevance to this topic:

A look at America’s past, present, and future:

  1. Forecasts – Why wait? Read tomorrow’s news … today! (part I), 11 July 2006
  2. The Future of America – Why wait? Read tomorrow’s news … today! (part 2), 17 July 2008
  3. Forecasts – Why wait? Read tomorrow’s news … today! (part 3), 17 July 2006
  4. Forecasts – Why wait? Read tomorrow’s news … today! (part 4), 17 July 2006
  5. An important thing to remember as we start a New Year, 29 December 2008
  6. American history changes direction as the baton passes between our political parties, 18 May 2008
  7. Our futures seen in snippets of the past, 16 June 2008
  8. Does America need a charismatic President?, 15 July 2008
  9. A soft despotism for America?, 22 July 2008
  10. What happens next? Advice for the new President, part one., 17 October 2008
  11. What to do? Advice for the new President, part two.“, 18 October 2008

6 thoughts on “America’s elites reluctantly impose a client-patron system”

  1. Insofar as immigrants, by definition, are willing to change in order to better themselves, they are also among the most dynamic of folk.

    The lower paid illegal immigrants were especially economically valuable as a source of undocumented ‘buffer labor’ in the 2007 construction bust. Maybe thousands lose their jobs and don’t get hired, but the official unemployment doesn’t rise yet. The loss of immigrants in retail shops is less dramatic, but also real. The reduced need for housing is obvious, if many illegals do, in fact, leave.

    How each group uses, or tries to use immigrants for their own agendas is quite interesting.

    My own view is that there should be more legal immigrants, and it should be much easier to become a legal immigrant. But fewer illegals — a fence is a reasonable ‘infrastructure’ project to work on now, but very unlikely.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Among the major and best-documented effects are large-scale immigration are its role in building an underclass and lowering wages for unskilled workers. The latter helping drive the former, of course. As has been shown in many studies, this a dangerous for a society with a high degree of income inequality and low social mobility (as shown in this post). That so many refused to believe the data on these two major factors (willful blindness) — and hence avoid taking corrective action — makes this situation extremely dangerous for American.

  2. I agree that the massive latino immigration of the past ten years or so is a societal problem that is creating an underclass, lowering wages, and feuling nativist anger. I agree that some political elites like the situation, which is bad for most of the population. However, it seems to me that a 2-pronged solution can rectify matters (though it won’t happen overnight.)

    1. End the poorly thought out regional economic policies which created the problem in the first place (NAFTA and CAFTA). If that is impossible, change the regional economic situation in some other way such that Mexicans and Central Americans feel they have a choice beyond emigration if they wish to survive and prosper.
    2. Create programs and inculcate attitudes which will convince the new immigrants to assimilate to US culture quicker. Give them a hand assimilating. As a descendant of a bunch of micks, wops, bohunks and polacks, who immigrated without much money at all, and did not speak English originally, I feel that this is quite do-able, if people have the right attitudes.

  3. Pingback: Immigration, society and political elites…. « One of us

  4. Pingback: To Govern is to Populate « The Committee of Public Safety

  5. 1. NAFTA/CAFTA are only the most recent example of external support for failed systems in latin america. There is a long history of external exploitation, colonial policies and (corrupt) patronage systems. Are real reforms in latin america possible given that history? Is Brasil a good example of reform? Can it be easily replicated?

    2. Assimilation and delusion:

    The idea that immigrants will adopt (pure) “anglo” attitudes that wash away the cultural influences of latin american corruption and patronage is “interesting”. And probably largely ridiculous. American is not a force for purification, it is itself rapidly descending into deep corruption that favors elites over populist purity. The article points out that the subservience of latinos is seen as a favorable thing by american political elites.

    The trend is doing the opposite of what you suggest. Corrupt american elites enjoy subservient latino immigrants. Why would they want fast “purifying” assimilation? No reason. Specifically, the social work elites and education elites have no interest in “purifying” latinos (via “fast assimilation”) in the way you suggest. Indeed, the social work and education systems are themselves rapidly becoming a mirror image of latino patronage systems (as the excerpts in the article make clear)!

    I have been told by many intelligent, progressive latinos that they will more easily adapt to the “social trauma” of a declining americam empire ruled over by Plutocrats “because our culture is used to rule by corrupt dictators and strongmen”. Latino culture has great energy and vibrancy (unlike the “dead” anglo culture – see Christopher Alexander’s “The Nature of Order” commentaries.) That latino energy will (generally) be harnessed not for reforms, but to keep a corrupt system afloat a bit longer than it would otherwise. In that sense, latino culture contributes far more to the pollution of america than to its purity (reform).

    In the traditional “anglo” perspective, which was racist and religiously “bigoted”, latinos were catholic, thus corrupt. The “virtue” of anglo culture was based on the purifying effects of Protestantism.

    Isn’t is absurd to think that a corrupt, catholic, latino culture will be very susceptible to the purifying effects of Protestant “assimilation” (now discredited within postmodern anglo culture itself) ?

  6. There is a useful word for “dictator/strongman” in Spanish that anglo-americans should probably get used to: Caudillo. excerpt:

    “Local support for the caudillo revolved around a patron-client relationship. The caudillo provided work and security to many. He often allowed workers to maintain small land and livestock holdings. As anti-vagrancy and passport requirement laws forced gauchos into military service, the caudillo became a haven for this nomad. In return, the gaucho fought in the local militia for his patron and supported his caudillo’s political agenda beyond his property lines. … the caudillos consolidated political control through the use of force. Often they claimed exceptional authority that gave them legal power over all aspects of the province. “

    This also has relevancy to the recent discussions on the FM blog about “mercs”.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: