The Immigration Agenda

Massive tech corporations Google and Facebook have fostered an impressive reputation of philanthropic leanings over the last few years. Although other giants like Microsoft pursue similar interests, both Google and Facebook’s bids to improve internet connectivity throughout developing nations better typify the strategy unfolding in today’s political landscape.

Last month, President Obama unveiled his (dread(ful)ed) executive actions on immigration. Since then, writers have churned out an excess of op-ed pieces both praising and criticizing this action in equal measures. While most of these articles focused on the directive’s legality and its expected effects, few sought to answer the question of why it occurred. In order to answer that here, we must — ironically — look to the business sector so often criticized for its extensive role in governing a supposed free and independent people. It would seem that politicians not only receive money from these entities, but also the very strategies employed in service of our continued governance as well. This principle of modern business extends all the way back to mankind’s earliest days, however, and so it is there that our journey will begin.

The world once consisted of agrarian communities alone. In fact, even such a loose and flexible definition as “community” fails to capture mankind’s situation in these early stages. These people worked for themselves alone, and did so without the help of a national, state, or city government — even without the help of their neighbors, oftentimes, given the vast distances of untamed wilderness separating these pockets of civility. With but a few exceptions, people of this day and age looked to the land in order to sustain themselves and their family; often, they had no other choice.

In this situation, Mother Nature’s whims played a pivotal role in deciding whether thousands lived or died. Often, the most important bounty she held ransom was water: without it, these early farmers watched their life-giving crops wither away and turn to dust. Again, they had no choice in the matter, and no recourse. Recognizing this though, they soon began taking measures to mitigate against this variable.

They built irrigation systems to disperse water regardless of whether it rained or not. They plowed their fields differently, in ways designed to maximize rainwater collection and dissemination. They refined planting techniques. All of this they did to decrease their dependence on something completely outside of their control. Even these measures, however, did not always work: in times of drought, no dam, contour line, or crop rotation could compensate for a total lack of rain. And so, these primitive farmers turned to the rain man.

Having exhausted every other avenue available to them, in a last-ditch effort these farmers sought to increase the amount of rain they received. The pursuit of greater efficiency is a noble one, but a flawed one as well. A starting point of zero precludes any gains whatsoever, regardless of one’s personal prowess. And so although this recourse was little more than a futile diversion, it did give these poor souls some hope; hundreds of years later, it also served as the basis for a sound business strategy.

The number of people with internet access bounds the growth of today’s internet giants. These enterprising groups transcended national boundaries, overcome institutional barriers, and delivered their products into the hands of almost every person capable of using them, yet arrived at a hard barrier not easily overcome. This achievement, however, has a dark side: while indeed impressive, attaining such high penetration means that they no longer govern their future expansion. No longer can these entities roll out an improved product and see an increase in users, because they already own all but a sliver of the available market. And in a world dominated by rates and percentages rather than absolute numbers, where user base plays second fiddle to market share and growth rate, this is unacceptable.

In order to yield a harvest, farmers of old had to provide their crops with an appropriate amount of water; to do this, they could either pray for rain, or use what little they received more efficiently. Here we may liken the businesses of today to the fields of yesteryear, the users of the former to the rain of the latter, and present-day revenue to the harvest; the farmers are, obviously, the business owners in this analogy.

Cast in this light, today’s corporations (the fields) need more users (rain) in order to produce revenue (a bountiful harvest). If all these attributes align, the business owners (the farmers) prosper; in ancient terms, they live to see another day. Constrained in terms of available customers, however, just as the farmers were constrained in terms of available precipitation, today we find some of the world’s largest tech companies presented with two options: either make more efficient use of their present user base, or expand it by praying to the rain man. Unlike in days of old, however, the modern equivalent of the former is no longer an exercise in futility.

When your ancestors’s harvest depended on a rain shower, they sought out the rain man; today, when businesses bump up against the limits imposed by the internet’s worldwide adoption, they bring this technology to developing nations: they pray to the same rain man, except this one guarantees a return on their investment. Make no mistake, it is in pursuit of greater penetration and, as a result, profits that Google and Facebook seek to avail more people to the internet and, by extension, their products.

If you’re still around, I applaud you: I have taken you on a long and roundabout trip, but we are nearing our destination; hang in there.

Our predecessors lived off the land, and relied on Mother Nature to provide rain in order to grow healthy crops so that they could eat, survive, and repeat the cycle over again. Over time, they grew smarter and developed mechanisms to lessen their reliance on factors outside of their control, but remained beholden to their native climate.

Enterprising tech giants, faced with the possibility of slowed growth as they run up against the number of active internet users in existence, have exhausted all avenues associated with the pursuit of greater efficiency. As a result, they have moved on to “praying to the rain man”, whereby just as their agrarian counterparts once did, so, too, do these powerful men and women seek to guarantee a strong yield by increasing the amount of rain — or new users — they receive. In this way, they hope to secure their financial future. Although we have yet to see this strategy play out at a national scale, it stands to reason that this would play out favorably.

Last month, in the American political landscape, we saw the Democrats begin to employ a similar strategy with the announcement of President Obama’s executive actions concerning immigrants. Historically, the American populace has divided itself among the Democrat and Republican parties. Although throughout history a sizable portion identified as something else entirely, when given a choice between one of the two major parties, the split was roughly even: as of an October 2014 Gallup poll, 47% identify as Republicans, while 41% do so as Democrats.

In order to attain public office, one must either attain support from the majority, or sway enough of the minority to create a new majority. Unfortunately, party affiliations have little to do with actual policies anymore, and more to do with historical precedent and factors completely outside of any party’s control. Thus, securing a win by swaying a significant majority has become incredibly hard and by no means a business in which certainty exists whatsoever — given the present situation in America, that is. President Obama set out to change that. In order to understand how he has begun to do so, however, let us return to our hypothetical farm.

If we liken this political landscape to our farm, then a bountiful harvest is a win and a failed crop is a loss. Further, the fields are public opinion, and the voters are the rain. Favorable fields and a great deal of rain allow for a bountiful harvest in the agrarian world, just as favorable public opinion and good voter turnout lead to the election of a politician running for office. However, there is a nearly equal chance of rain — and therefore, success at the voting booth — as there is of drought leading to failure in both respects. Unless, however, you can find some way of tipping the scales and increasing the rain; unless you can pray to the rain man, and have him deliver with more voters who will not fall into the existing party spread of roughly 50-50, but rather assuredly support your party.

Last month, in November of 2014, President Obama did just that: he made it rain.

The Pew Research Center places the number of undocumented immigrants in America at 11.2 million as of March, 2010. Given that the U.S. Government has imposed no further restrictions or more stringent regulations on our nation’s borders since that figure came out, it could have only increased in the last four and a half years. Seeing this, and recognizing the difficulty of securing the Democratic party’s future dominance in American politics given the current demographics to which they must cater, President Obama took one step towards drastically changing those dynamics by preventing some five million immigrants from being deported. The Democratic party is now not only the group advocating for the “downtrodden’s” food stamps, welfare, and health care, but also the patron saint of their citizenship as well. What greater incentive could any group of people have to support their perceived benefactors than this?

This is the strategy at play here, one designed to confound the two-party system and ensure a Democratic majority going forward. And the stakes? The nation’s democratic system itself. Well played, Mr. Obama, well played. Unfortunately, if looks like you’ll get away with it, too.