Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Cheap labor inhibits innovation

"Necessity, who is the mother of our invention," said Plato through Socrates two-and-a-half millenia ago. The father of Western philosophy is still relevant today (via Steve):
Plagued by rising costs for labor and worker shortages, the packinghouse bought the $28,500 harvester this year.

The irony: Bean harvesters have been in use for about 30 years elsewhere in the United States. Simple geography — the proximity to a huge, low-cost labor force in Mexico — virtually had kept them out of California fields until now.

Severe spot-labor shortages, crackdowns on illegal immigration and planned increases in the minimum wage have opened California's doors to existing machinery, fostered research and development to meet niche agricultural needs and taken talk of orchard robots out of the realm of science fiction. ...

This year's raisin harvest is nearly 70% complete, and for the first time in years, labor needs did not become an issue, said Glen Goto, who heads the Raisin Bargaining Association. He cited two reasons: At least 40% of the crop is mechanically harvested, and grape yields may be down as much as 30%. ...

Countries where low-cost labor is in short supply have been in the machine-farming vanguard. Australians and Italians, for example, pioneered using machines to prune grapevines, said Maxwell Norton, a University of California farm adviser for Merced County.

Japan only has a few hundred thousand immigrants in all of the country. It also has over half of the world's robots.

What's the future of the American economy? Is it in perpetually chasing ever-cheaper serf labor to the point that our workforce becomes as third-world as our export profile? Or is it in good old Yankee ingenuity, where our quality of life is among the highest in the world because we put machines to work on the menial tasks so that we can spend more time developing better ways to do things and focus on turning reverie into reality?

(Immigration2)

2 comments:

JSBolton said...

Here's a place also to mention that the globalizers who speak of creative destruction, as something good or necessary, mendaciously fail to apply that notion in the case of the 'creative destruction' of operations which can no longer pay wages that attract anyone but foreign criminals on public subsidy.
We're up against smart people who want power, who will use capitalist or pro-business-sounding positions to destroy the advancement of civilization, presumably because civilization is an obstacle to power.
One has to look always to the bottom line in terms of who stands to gain, not money so much as power. Scholars and journalists, officials and activists are in the game for something other than money. The Romans had a waterwheel in Syria that was something like 100 foot in diameter. The Spanish 4 or 5 hundred years ago had built a dam hundreds of feet high.
With no end of cheap or slave labor available, those two developments never came together on that scale. The industrial revolution could have been an evolution starting centuries earlier.
Our businessmen like to present themselves as quick to pick up on everything new, but looking at these agribusinesses which use hand labor even when machines have long been used successfully, it should be seen that inertia and unwillingness to try and learn new approaches, is actually the default state.

Anonymous said...

"looking at these agribusinesses which use hand labor even when machines have long been used successfully, it should be seen that inertia and unwillingness to try and learn new approaches, is actually the default state."

it's hard to disagree with that.