Refugees, Immigrants and Caregivers

As events in the U.S. are captivating the world, comparisons to Canada’s refugee intake and general open-mindedness are everywhere. Our low-key patriotism, typically expressed in our gosh, darn, humble ways, is now strutting its stuff, puffing out chests and straightening spines around the country. With Trump’s presidency and the specter of race riots looming, the temptation to feel smug and superior is proving irresistible to many.

That said, Canadians’ collective desire to welcome immigrants and refugees is sincere. If we’re big-hearted, it’s because most of us have relatives who arrived here under trying circumstances.

I’m no exception: my parents left Europe right after the Second World War. My Slovenian father, who had narrowly escaped being purged, had been living in a refugee camp in Austria; my Austrian mother, whose adolescence had been upended, had been struggling to find her way in a country beset by postwar shock.

They made lives that by working-class standards could be judged successful. When my mother had a stroke in 2008—my father died in 1994—I used her savings to pay for an extended recovery. Our healthcare system, so vaunted by those who don’t grasp its limitations, only provided three months of rehabilitation. Although the hospital offered to transfer her to a nursing home, where they said she would get further rehabilitation, private conversations with healthcare insiders were far more discouraging. So I brought my mother to live with me; I promised her two years of private rehabilitation funded with her savings. That’s when I entered the world of live-in caregivers.

* * *

It’s important to understand that supply and demand, when it comes to live-ins—nannies and elder-carers—works against families in this country. There is a shortage of those willing to live with the infants and elderly that need them, a problem that in this age of silo thinking is perhaps not surprising. However, a solution can be found in Canada’s Live-in Caregiver program. Its fast-tracked residency status is a draw for would-be immigrants. In it, newcomers must work as caregivers for 24 of their first 36 months. Families provide them with a private, lockable room while paying them over the table and making appropriate tax and insurance contributions. The job I was offering was particularly attractive: it came with above average pay and a fully loaded, self-contained apartment.

Although there was a lot of interest—I eventually spoke to over 70 applicants—I had several problems, not the least of which was my misplaced optimism. For example, I needed help immediately, so couldn’t undertake the months-long process to bring a caregiver to Canada. However, I was told it wasn’t an issue since many were already here and looking to fulfil their work requirements.

The problems started when each one I spoke to asked to be paid in cash, saying their paperwork and taxes were being taken care of elsewhere, usually by previous employers. That made no sense, so I guessed they were working at fictitious jobs, aided in the deception by compatriots who’d arrived in the country before them. Since I was unwilling to evade taxes, I turned these applicants down. However, as the end of my sabbatical approached, I got desperate. I finally hired one with the proviso that she allow me to play by the rules eventually.

* * *

And that’s when things got weird. When I told her the apartment wouldn’t be ready for a month, she said was staying with her sister and could wait. Around that time, I also needed to clear out my mother’s house back in Ontario. So I arranged for the caregiver to stay over one weekend while I left on the Friday morning. After a seven-hour drive, I got to the house and my mother’s partner, who was also moving out, handed me the phone. Apparently there was an emergency back in Montreal.

The caregiver had gotten sick after eating food taken from the fridge and had gone to the local emergency room. The person telling me was a neighbour who said he couldn’t stay to watch my mother for more than another hour. Since my mother had been especially ill that week–her erratic blood pressure had only been brought under control on Thursday–I went into a full-blown panic. Even if I were able to get a flight back, the trip would still take hours. I called a nursing agency at ten to five, just before they left for the weekend, and was able to make arrangements for a worker to stay overnight.

So I spent the weekend managing the emotionally charged task of clearing out my mother’s home, with her distraught partner, all while giving instructions for her care to friends and agency workers back in Montreal. When I called our caregiver at her sister’s on Saturday morning, she told me she was still sick and would return on Monday. As I drove back on Sunday night I thought about offering her compensation on top of the pay she was owed. Thoughts of e-coli and Listeria, and of all the bad outcomes that could have happened, flitted through my mind. As the speedometer crept upward, so did my guilt.

So it was with some consternation that I listened while an agency worker, who was there when I got home, told a mystifying story. The woman had been on duty that Friday night. Our sick caregiver had turned up around midnight, flown into a rage, and ordered her to leave the house. The woman didn’t budge, however, and in the end the caregiver left, but not before creating the impression she hadn’t been sick at all. It was a bizarre story and I didn’t know what to believe. When I told a colleague a day later, he suggested I speak to his wife.

She phoned that evening and her first words after hello were, “Do not let this caregiver move in.” She followed up with an invitation to stop by the next day. I did and learned the food-poisoning had likely been staged. She herself had received a phone call a few weeks earlier, asking her to take over when a similar emergency had happened to a friend. His new caregiver had gotten a severe case of food poisoning, gone to the local emergency room, and then recovered a few hours later. This caregiver was looking after his recently disabled wife and had agreed to work the weekend of an academic conference. When he arrived at his hotel, he got a call similar to mine–there was an emergency at home.

My colleague’s wife hadn’t suspected anything. But when she mentioned it to a sister who owned a nursing agency, she got a shock. The sister said these calls were evidence of a “long con.” Caregivers were manipulating families via fear, relief and then guilt, the exact pattern that followed the narrative. The emergency phone call instilled fear; the return of the caregiver provided relief; the knowledge that the family’s food had harmed the caregiver instilled guilt. Once thusly primed, the family would be more likely to concede things like pay raises and bonuses, and extras like smartphones and transit passes. In my case, I might concede to continue paying my caregiver under the table and letting her sister move into the apartment, a request she’d made before I left for the weekend. Her anger with the agency worker became understandable: she was thwarted when I’d replaced her so quickly, a move that diminished the impact of the con.

My colleague’s wife also told me about various scams run by caregivers and the coaching they got from members of their ethnic communities, some of whom were involved in social justice work. It was an eye-opening conversation, one that in our heightened climate of political correctness could not have taken place at a dinner party, work, or even a coffee shop. The information she gave me encompassed workers of many nationalities and all colours, but if we’d been overheard, I have no doubt we would have been called racists.

I heard about caregivers who had been known to move elderly charges, with whom they were living, to tiny bedrooms or basements while they rented out space in the rest of the home. I heard about caregivers who started bidding wars by accepting two jobs at the same time. At the eleventh hour, they would pit one family against another to get the highest salary, not caring that the lives of sick and elderly patients would be put at risk. I heard about the inventiveness one group had for false accusations, nuisance suits and the liberal use of cough syrup to make their charges–babies and the elderly–more malleable.

Of course, stories of abuse directed at caregivers come up too while I conducted job interviews, and at first I was sympathetic. With my own background, how could I not be? But talking to over 70 candidates gave me a more global perspective, one that painted a picture that became darker with each conversation. The same plaintive narratives, including the same details, came up repeatedly. Among other things, I began to wonder just how many families in Montreal had decided that only two pieces of bread were adequate for caregivers’ meals. When the third of at least a half-dozen candidates reported this, I knew was hearing calculated stories and not the truth.

* * *

In the end, I took the advice I was given and didn’t let that first caregiver move in, although I couldn’t fire her for a few infuriating weeks. My colleague’s wife had also told me that groups of caregivers–linked by ethnicity–monitored online job ads in Montreal and if I placed one, my caregiver would soon hear about it. So I started searching in a nearby city and eventually found a male caregiver whom I trusted right up until one day, 18 months later. It was the day after my mother went into a nursing home and his job ended. That’s when he said I owed him thousands of dollars in overtime. I’d taken precautions, so could easily disprove his claim, but the worst thing happened an hour or so later and didn’t involve me at all. The results of it stung, however, and owed much to the vagaries of political correctness.

I discovered the caregiver had set up the conditions for a bidding war. A misdirected phone message alerted me and I made the difficult decision to inform both families; I was concerned that a sick and elderly person would be left without care, even if only for one day. The first family was upset but thanked me for the warning. The second was a man with a background in healthcare. He turned on me, saying I was interfering in the caregiver’s life. “It’s an open-market system,” he said. “Why shouldn’t he get the highest wage he can?” When I answered, “Yes, but not under duress,” he didn’t call me a racist outright, but it’s clear he thought so. Although the call ended civilly, it was distressing enough that I blocked the man’s number. I reckoned that when he had difficulty with the caregiver, as he was bound to do, he would forget we argued and call me back.

I was right. I’d rerouted his emails to an out-of-the-way sub-folder and only checked it months later. A succession of messages, each more panicked than the next is what I found. As I had predicted, the caregiver had continued to increase his demands. I didn’t read all the messages, and I didn’t contact the family. Just seeing the emails bumped up my heart rate, a symptom that told me I was well out of it. But it was one more story to add to a growing pile of stories I was hearing from real-life friends: one who found his 90-something parents living in the basement of their home while their caregiver rented out bedrooms to her fellow countrymen; two others, one a small-business owner and the other an IT manager and newcomer to Canada herself, both with babies who’d been given adult-strength cough syrup by their nannies; a prominent and caring family, under threat of a noxious nuisance suit, forced to pay an exorbitant sum to a caregiver who claimed she’d been abused.

There were also stories of trips to the emergency room made by caregivers whose temporary replacements–fellow countrymen and friends of theirs–had demanded $100 an hour before agreeing to step in to take care of sick and, in some cases, dying patients. I myself paid several bribes during the first months my mother lived with me and I was struggling to get help. There are whole underground economies being managed by ethnically cohesive segments of the caregiving workforce in our country. However, overheated, PC beliefs about racism prevent knowledgeable Canadians from openly saying so.

And that’s the problem with our smug brand of political correctness in Canada: seeing ourselves as saviours also prevents us from complaining, even when there’s just cause. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to help refugees and immigrants, but there is something wrong when a government agency–like Canada’s Live-in Caregiver Program–has a hotline that only takes calls from caregivers and not from families that may be suffering at the hands of one. That suggests two things: either the administrators of the program don’t believe Canadians are being victimised or they don’t care.

A conservative MP in Ontario has proposed mandatory screening of immigrants and refugees for something she calls ‘Canadian values.’ She’s getting an awful lot of push-back from the political left. I understand how some see screening as autocratic and over-reaching, but I think she’s right. The rule of law isn’t respected everywhere on the planet. Like it or not, some immigrants are bringing that problem with them.

 

 

 

Healthcare, Halos, and Jordan Peterson

An audio/visual version is available below. 

Here’s a snapshot of my life, taken when my stroke-afflicted mother lived with me. I’d returned from errands and was just shutting the front door when I saw her in her wheelchair. The back of it was pitched forward at a steep angle and when she shifted slightly, I knew what was coming. I ran toward her, fell to my knees, and caught her just as she started sliding down…

Read the rest at Quillette.com.

J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir written by young American lawyer, J.D. Vance. Through it he tells the story of hillbillies, impoverished immigrants who came from Scotland and Ireland in the eighteenth century to settle in the American south. It’s also an apologia of sorts, one that may explain why Donald Trump, that inveterate carnival barker, has achieved political prominence.

To read this is in full at Quillette.com, click here.

Mandi Gray, Mustafa Ururyar and the Tyranny of the Weak

Scrolling through the entirety of the judgement, in the Mandi Gray rape trial, is depressing. That’s because what we see is not a Jamesian Portrait of a Lady—an Isabel Archer who learns hard lessons about love—but a troubled woman playing the role of villain, like that of Isabel’s husband, a manipulator who uses deceit to control others.

Mustafa Ururyar
Mustafa Ururyar

Citing James in this context is apt: he was a novelist who specialized in the tyranny of the weak, a theme that if one looks closely enough, links the various Toronto trials. I refer here to the trials of Gregory Alan Elliott, Jian Ghomeshi and Mustafa Ururyar. All three were accused of committing sexist crimes against women. Both Elliott and Ghomeshi won their cases; the case against Ururyar, who is accused of raping Gray, is on appeal.

From a distance, it seems there is a cadre of young Toronto feminists who, like a proverbial tail, are trying to wag the dog, the dog in this case being women in the ROC, or the rest of the country. This is an elite squad who are out to heighten our perception of male wrongdoing and are using a succession of legal challenges to do so. That they are failing is good news; it points to the truth that Canadians are eminently fair, sensible and disinclined to rule out provocation.

And it’s the provocation aspect of the Gray case that I’d like to examine.

The sheer amount of verbiage Judge Zuker included in his judgement has created a subtext clearly at odds with his decision. In it, Gray’s tale is fulsome, so much so that she betrays her true intention with Ururyar that night—to elicit affection from him–and spends much of her testimony behaving as though she is on a therapist’s couch and not in a courtroom. Her story is heavy on feeling (“He had destroyed any self-esteem I had”) and light on fact (“I don’t remember taking off my pants”). Moreover, her professed intoxication often pops up when her version of events is challenged. In the end, the judgement reads like an exhausting conversation with someone in denial, the kind where saying, “He’s just not into you,” seems the painful but necessary solution.

zuker
Read Judge Zuker’s judgement here.

Ururyar’s frustration with Gray’s behaviour is also evident. His version of events is that by the night of the alleged rape, he and Gray had been involved in a brief, casual affair: Gray had accepted the fact that Ururyar was in an open relationship and she was present, at the end of that night of drinking, when he invited yet another woman to come home with him. When the woman refused and hopped into a cab, Gray says Ururyar became abusive. She went home with him regardless, stating that she had little choice, given that the transit service had stopped and taking a cab was out of the question for two reasons: she had spent all her money and she felt too “vulnerable.”

In response, Ururyar says that earlier in the evening Gray had been inappropriately sexual with him in public–he’d asked her, twice, to stop massaging his inner thigh. Interestingly, Ururyar’s request was confirmed by Gray. However, her argument is that it came out of the blue and was apropos of nothing she’d said or done. She couldn’t remember massaging him, for example, and asserts she had no plans to have sex with him that evening. This contradicts a text she’d sent him earlier, one inviting him out and mentioning “hot sex” afterwards.

Perhaps it’s my literary background, but as I read through the judgement, a clear theme emerged: Ururyar’s anger towards Gray is comprehensible and knowable, even if the actual events of the evening are not.

I feel sympathy for him because I too had a casual partner while in university, one who was good at manipulating events in his favour. Our relationship started unravelling one night after I returned from an evening out with friends. He called and asked to come over. Given the lateness of the hour, I said no, but a half hour later he showed up anyway. When I told him to leave, he pleaded and started cuddling with me in the foyer of the house I shared with other students.

Although I was insistent, it soon became clear a prolonged discussion was in the offing—one that might wake up my roommates—and so I relented, a choice I felt manipulated into making. Of course his persistence continued in my bedroom. The next morning, a Sunday, I shooed him out early, lying by telling him I was spending the day with my parents. After all but pushing him out the front door, I went back to bed fuming.

In this climate of hypersensitivity, many people would consider this rape. It wasn’t, but I did experience it as an annoying and off-putting level of persistence. However, my response wasn’t about having unwanted sex–that was a detail–I was angry over the man’s controlling behaviour. It made me realize two things: that I didn’t really care for him and that he often contrived to get his way, this despite an outwardly breezy temperament. That memory surfaced as I was reading, probably because I recognized what Ururyar’s reticence toward Gray actually meant, her jungle of rationalizing language notwithstanding.

So here’s my argument: if feminists can understand my anger at Mr. Persistent, they should understand Ururyar’s anger at Gray too. That’s because Gray acted in a way that led her, inexorably, to Ururyar’s bedroom that night. She invited him to meet her, mentioned sex and asked to sleep over. During the evening, she was inappropriately sexual with him twice and agreed to share a bed with him even after his apparent interest in another woman was made clear. She was also free to leave the bar at any time and she’d had, at one point, enough money for a taxi. When asked about her “vulnerability” with regard to using one, an undisclosed story about an incident Gray had had with a taxi was offered as an explanation. However, since many women consider taxis a final line of defence for dates that go badly, I do wonder what happened and why Gray felt she couldn’t call one. I ask because her reluctance fits in with a pattern of recurring rationalizations, rationalizations that rule out the possibility of another, safer course of events happening that night.

Let’s turn the tables. You are a young woman deeply involved in your university’s student union. You’ve had a couple of intimate nights with a man for whom you do not have strong feelings. Even though you’ve made your intentions clear, he sends you a sexy text, inviting you to meet at a bar where several other union people are drinking. You go, thinking that since others are there, you won’t be in for an intimate evening with your erstwhile lover.

Then he tries some surreptitious fondling and you ask him to stop. He tries again and again you ask him to stop. At the end of the night you leave with the group, including him and a new man you are more interested in. You ask the new man back for a drink. He senses an atmosphere and says no. After he leaves, your lover wants to talk about what’s going on. You don’t because you’re nettled over the other man’s rejection. Your lover insists on coming home with you anyway, even though your mood is stormy. (“But I don’t have cab fare and the buses have stopped running!”) It’s no surprise when things go badly in the bedroom, but you’re relieved the pretense is over and you’re off the hook when it comes to seeing him again.

There’s no doubt that this erstwhile lover, were Gray to describe him to her friends, would be labelled a creep who doesn’t understand the word no. It’s a perception endemic to the kind of feminism touted by many academic women and yet it’s never held up to the mirror. That women are equally capable of harassing men in the same manner simply doesn’t figure into this world view; that men can feel equally and deeply provoked by it doesn’t either.

Judge Zuker’s judgement has come under fire, even from other judges. That’s because in an ill-advised show of partisanship, he included many references to controversial feminist theories, theories that many of his colleagues at OISE, where he teaches part-time, embrace fully and disseminate freely. But if there’s one reality feminist theorists often avoid, it’s that today, women in the western world are free to choose most things. Gray was free to leave a bad situation at any time, unlike previous generations of women, and James’ heroines, who, when they made bad choices and bad marriages, were forced to stay and suffer.

When Ururyar’s lawyer asked Gray why she didn’t walk away, especially once Ururyar became abusive, she replied that she would be asking herself that question for the rest of her life. It’s a non-answer in terms of her testimony, but a good start in terms of her mental health. In fact it’s the kind of questioning we should all do on occasion, if only to remind ourselves how unpleasant disrespecting ourselves can be.

Support Ann Brocklehurst’s Project on Kickstarter

The verdict was guilty, but now high powered lawyer Marie Henein is fighting to have it overturned.

When I wrote On Trial for Rape last year, I took readers inside the courtroom to see what a regular, non-headline-making sexual assault trial looks like. Now, I want to take you back to court for another very different trial, which raises still more questions about how our legal system deals with sexual assault. This is a very hot topic nowadays, and I want to give you facts and reporting so that you can be the judge.

 

What’s Wrong with the Mandi Gray Rape Trial

I’ve taken a summer hiatus but will be writing on the Mandi Gray rape trial soon. In the meantime, I’m posting two excellent sources of information. The first is a video by Diana Davison, where she covers some of the more troubling aspects of the case taken directly from court transcripts.

Second is an essay written by . She focuses on judicial independence, a problem in the Gray trial, and puts it into the larger context of presiding Judge Zuker’s work relationship with OISE and OISE’s agendas of progressivism and militant feminism. Litzcke’s essay is long, but is clearly written and makes a persuasive argument for genuine egalitarianism. She’s a refreshing voice.

I’ll be back soon. In the meantime, enjoy.

The Scottsboro Boys, Canada 2016:

From Litzcke’s The Court Jester blog:

Karin Litzcke
Karin Litzcke

The Ururyar decision issued July 21st by Ontario Justice Marvin Zuker happens to create a bit of a convergence for me. I don’t particularly want to write about individual decisions here, but there is a judicial independence issue involved that is peculiar to my field of expertise, public schooling.

First, I should say from the outset that Zuker is more than a name to me because he is an education law expert, and has written a book from which I’ve used a passage or two. I actually didn’t know he was a judge, but once I did, I was inclined to regard him positively.

To continue reading, click here. 

Brexit: Pass me the Meth, Dear

41L+nnt89SL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_In a way that was entirely predictable, those in the UK who voted to leave in the Brexit referendum are being characterized as idiots. Equally predictable was the petty foot-stomping that greeted Nigel Farage at the EU immediately after the vote. President Jean-Claude Juncker, in a memorably juvenile moment, churlishly asked, “You voted to leave. Why are you here?”

The division most pertinent to Brexit is that between the big city and the hinterlands. It’s no surprise that many Londoners voted to stay. Much of the wealth in England resides there and the spirit of globalization—succinctly expressed as the “freedom to roam”—informs the consciousness of young Londoners with big ambitions. There’s a forward-lookingness to this attitude, the flipside of which is a shrug at the concerns of the working classes, a dismissal of the role they play in running the country. Progress might not be halted if all the city’s shoe-shiners walked off the job tomorrow, but what about shop assistants, wait staff and frontline transit workers? If there’s no Eurostar to hop on, where would all that bustling ambition go?

Current globalization has been hailed as a boon for ailing economies, but its underside—the decimation of rural communities—has largely gone unheeded by those leading the charge. Moreover, there’s plenty of proof that the prosperity it promises is an illusion, one that sells itself on the basis that it’s attainable by all. Barometers abound when it comes to measuring globalization’s failures, the American mortgage crisis of 2008 being just one. That disaster, surely, shows what happens when the creation of a succession of middlemen turns pathological. One platform in the Leave campaign addressed this precisely: it asserted that the directives coming from Brussels were too remote from the lives of ordinary Brits.

Another barometer, oddly enough, can be found in the history of meth use in the US. Nick Reding’s Methland is a book that tells this story. However, Methland is really about economics, especially the hollowed-out variety. Oelwein, Iowa, is where Reding spent three years examining the epidemic in the midwest. The opening demographics are telling:

Every year, Oelwein’s population dwindles. The senior class at the high school shrinks, on average, by five students each fall. In 2004 alone, Oelwein lost $147,000 in tax revenues. It cannot absorb the social and financial cost of malady…

Local physician Clay Hallburg had a front row seat to Oelwein’s decline: “How ’bout the first people to leave are of course the smart ones, and the people with the money to get out.” This supports the work of Craig Reinarman, a sociologist at UC Santa Cruz, who asserts that the meth epidemic, unlike other drug epidemics, illustrates sociological fault lines most clearly. These lines are much like those made obvious by Brexit: meth users in the States typically come from the rural areas populated by the working poor. Why they are meth’s biggest customers is a point I’ll return to later.

It’s certain that Oelwein has sister-cities in the UK, where similarly hollowed-out economies foster higher levels of drug addiction and their attendant miseries. If we are to understand the vote, we must understand globalization in its entirety; to do this, we must listen to what the working poor among us have to say about their own suffering. What we’ll hear is that their lives follow a sociological pattern common to developed countries: when the economic hearts of small communities leave, the social costs to those left behind is staggering.

phpThumb_generated_thumbnailBut these costs appear only in the rear-view mirrors of those dazzled by the potential of globalization, those who think the freedom to roam is the singular answer to economic instability. This is only one blind spot of many: thinking that moving can solve everything excludes those whose jobs and hearts are tied to specific locales. A university degree isn’t necessary to understand that fishermen, miners and farmers aren’t likely to switch jobs and land IT positions down by the Canary Wharf. Nor is it difficult to understand why a 52 year-old fisheries worker, with children and grandchildren living nearby, might not want to follow his employer to another coastal region where the company’s prospects are better. But these dilemmas are being treated as so much noise by Remainers whose educations should make them more than less aware of the consequences of economic hardship.

They are being aided in their insensitivity by the likes of Richard Branson, who, once the vote was in, announced, “We were about to do a very big deal and we cancelled that deal that would have involved 3,000 jobs and that’s happening all over the country.” Given that Branson has considerable stature in the business world, and does not answer to shareholders, his wording is especially interesting: unlike the business leader he is, he throws the responsibility for this decision at the Leave voters when in fact it was his and his partner’s to make. In that sense his statement seems an exaggeration; a company as profitable as Virgin can manage a short-term over-expenditure far easier than most households in Britain.

Photos like this were likely effective in curbing meth abuse.
Photos like this were likely effective in curbing meth abuse.

Branson also said that “Some people think that by voting Leave they will somehow punish the ruling class.” He may be right about the desire to punish, but wouldn’t looking at the causes be more fruitful? I wonder, too, how critical he would be of the strategies used by the companies described in Methland. In 1987, a Cargill food plant close to Oelwein cut its wages from $18 an hour to $5.60 with no benefits. By 1999, when Cargill became Cargill-Excel, managers at the same plant were placing newspaper ads in the Mexican border towns of Juárez and Tijuana, offering two months free rent to workers who could make it Iowa. As Reding notes:

For Cargill and the rest of the packing conglomerates, employing illegals would appear to have been the best of all possible situations, for the simple reason that these employees, lacking legal identification, didn’t technically exist and therefore had no rights. Nor were they apt to argue with the harsh conditions of an industry that continues today to have the highest rate of employee injury in the United States.

It’s no surprise then that during the long years of the midwest’s economic downturn, between the late 80s and early aughts, many whites in Iowa resented Mexicans for working for so little money. While this resentment likely fostered some racism, honestly addressing the underlying reasons for it, like the shrinking manufacturing base caused by NAFTA, would have been more realistic and more helpful. For example, if we were to import this situation into the present, I wonder how many Remainers could take a total loss of benefits and a 68% wage cut without feeling some enmity towards those displacing them.

This is hypothetical, of course, since the situation in Iowa was extreme by most standards and is not being replicated in the UK. But the pattern of job losses and the withdrawal of resources communities depend on, like fishing waters, can be devastating nonetheless. I suspect it’s this pattern of loss that informed much of the voting against the EU and not the immigration issue per se. However, many Remainers focus on anti-immigration sentiments, using the belligerance of UKIPers as proof. That’s a bit like blaming Iowans for disliking the Mexicans who helped lower their wages. I suppose it’s satisfying to call out the racism of others, but doing so misses the economic point entirely.

What made the book Methland possible was that the manufacture of meth actually filled the space left by vanishing job opportunities in Iowa: the drug became one of the state’s biggest industries. That said, the epidemic was important for another reason. As Reding notes,

Throughout its hundred-year history, meth has been perhaps the only example of a widely consumed illegal narcotic that might be called vocational, as opposed to recreational. The market for meth in America is nearly as old as industrialization. Poor and working-class Americans had been consuming the drug since the 1930s, whether it was marketed as Benzedrine, Methedrine or Obedrin, for the simple reason that meth makes you feel good and permits you to work hard.

The EU Commission. Safe from the ravages of drug use and users.
The EU Commission. Safe from the ravages of drug use and users.

And the ability to work long and hard became a necessity for those living in and around Oelwein. At $5.60 an hour, most breadwinners needed more than one job and meth helped them manage. And while the good news is that meth’s popularity has diminished in recent years–those viral before and after photos of addicts likely did the trick–the dispatches I get from friends driving through the midwest tell me it hasn’t disappeared entirely. Sightings of telltale rotten teeth, in employees of businesses along interstate highways, are common. As Reding’s analysis makes clear, these are not users taking meth for the fun of it.

A government’s job is to govern and Brits who felt unheard in Brussels made their wishes known by voting to leave. While increasing government spending in hard hit areas is an option favoured by the political left, there is a vivid cautionary tale unfolding in Venezuela right now, thanks to its socialist economic policies. The drop of oil prices, along with a weak domestic economy–local businesses couldn’t compete with price-fixed imports–has sent the country into economic free fall. Store shelves are empty and a group of angry women made news last week when they stormed the border to go shopping for staples in Colombia.

This tells us that letting the markets do their own thing, by allowing them to prosper with less and not more intervention, is desirable. However, the point of the EU and of globalization was to facilitate trade agreements that raised all boats equally, bringing about an increase in living standards across the board. That that promise has failed to materialize is clear: third world work forces are commonly used to undermine those in the first and the only real change has been a new distribution of misery. Patterns of drug abuse tell that story: meth’s biggest markets serve those living in impoverished areas of the US and Asia, where the costs of labour have diminished.

An empty grocery store in Venezuela.
An empty grocery store in Venezuela.

Given those bleak social and economic pictures, bringing the locus of power closer to those in the UK who feel its loss most keenly is not as unintuitive as it seems. Even with their supposed lack of insight, the working classes affected by the EU’s dictates can still turn on a computer and go online. And they are not so stupid that they can’t see themselves and their troubles in context. The only surprise is the unpleasant one being experienced by those with higher educations: they were clearly unaware of the native intelligence of those shoe-shiners and baristas who serve them every day. That of course raises the issue of political short-sightedness, begging the real question: “Of the working and educated classes, whose was most predictable?”