Sunday, July 22, 2007

Wall Street Journal on the grapes of anti-immigration wrath

Like most of the open borders crowd, the WSJ op/ed board has abandoned the risible stance that curtailing illegal immigration is an impossibility:

But a more heavily fortified southern border and government immigration raids have busted up this efficient North American labor market. Fewer potential farm workers are crossing the border, and when they do make it here fewer are going back because they know it might be harder to return next year.
Who would've believed that the world's 'sole superpower', enjoying the most technologically-advanced national economy and the world's most powerful military, could actually manage to stop destitute third-world settlers from crossing the expansive US-Mexico border on foot?!

The specter of mass, continuous deportations is a farce. History suggests that for every illegal deported, seven or eight leave of their own volition. As high-profile deportations have increased, border apprehensions have dropped, by an astounding 30% year-over-year in both cases.

So Gigot and company have decided to try to use the repudiation of the illegal-immigration-is-inevitable argument to their own ends: Yes, we can stop them, but we'll have to pay through our noses at the grocery store if we do!

Nevermind that the US imports more than $50 billion worth of food each year.

Or that the American agricultural industry, which is doubly-subsidized (through government transfers to the tune of $25 billion annually, and again through menial migrants who, working for minimum wage or less and without benefits, are subsidized by the net taxpaying American at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars per worker), will see it's least competitive and segments and farmers weeded out (something the WSJ generally celebrates).

Or that the labor costs for a one-dollar head of lettuce come to about six or seven cents. Replace the illegal farm workers with natives making twice as much, and you're looking at paying a couple of pennies more per head of lettuce (as illegals comprise less than a quarter of the nation's agricultural workforce). Not a steep price to pay to combat atavistic disease, infrastructure strain, dismal school performance, cultural balkanization, gang warfare, and income inequality.

The boys smear Lou Dobbs, for whom they refuse to allow editorial print space to use in his own defence, for a putatitively flawed understanding of economics:
By the way, this turns out to be a good test of the Lou Dobbs theory of labor economics, or the proposition that illegals are "stealing" jobs that Americans would otherwise do. Immigration restrictionists claim that if only illegal labor vanished, U.S. employers would raise wages and Americans would flock to Yuma to pick lettuce.
It is absurd to assert that a shortage in unskilled labor is possible in a free economy. Sure, plenty of computer science majors are having trouble finding work. High tech is an employer's market, but in the agricultural arena, where nothing more than a warm body is needed, the proletariat are in control! What's a poor farmer to do? (I'm being sardonic, as the average farming family nets $80,000 a year--over 25% more than the average American family does).

In seriousness, if there are no barriers to entry, and lots of money can be made, an ample supply of workers will materialize. This isn't even Econ 101, it's the first day of class in a high school electives course on the rudiments of supply and demand. Talk about throwing basic economics out the window!

Keep in mind, such sophistry is coming from what is regarded to be one of the globe's premier business publications. In the next paragraph, they anticipate the obvious response and half-heartedly attempt to brush it aside:
In the real world, Americans are already employed at other jobs, and growers can only afford to pay so much and stay competitive. So instead the labor shortage is increasing pressure on U.S. growers to move production offshore.
We're not in France. American workers are highly mobile, spending an average of about three years in a job before moving on somewhere else. If I can make more walking around in the California sun picking up fruit and listening to my IPod than I currently can doing cost accounting work in Tornado Alley, I'll be there in a heartbeat. Low unemployment does not mean that there are no employees for hire--it just means that those prospective employees bring a few of their own chips. That is, you'll have to pay them more than $3 under-the-table to work for you.

Because these affluent farmers are supposedly unable to put enough helots to work, they're being forced to move production to--of all places--Mexico! Isn't the development of Mexico's economy one of the vaunted goals that will theoretically end the immigration mess altogether? It's a moot point, as most aren't leaving, but instead are simply adjusting to the pressures of the market:
Growers who can't find enough workers to pick cantaloupe and eggplant are already substituting row crops such as wheat, corn or soybeans that are more highly mechanized.
Highly mechanized? But is it really wise for an economy on the cutting-edge of technological innovation to find mechanized alternatives to peasant toiling that is reminiscient of our agrarian colonial days? What ever would John Henry do?

Necessity is the mother of our invention. Businesses can engage in a perpetual hunt for the most desperate, exploitable serfs available, or they can innovate technologically and devise more efficient methods of production. Do we want to go the way of American Samoa or Japan?

To complete our look at the WSJ's carnival, we see the indefatigable free-market paladins crying for the redeeming hand of the federal government to swoop in and ameliorate the situation:
All that's needed is for Congress to show some political will, which these days is as scarce as farm workers.
Nearly passing a bill that was overwhelmingly opposed by the American public, in secret and without debate, is an audacious act of some kind of will, that's for sure.


JSBolton said...

Is harlots supposed to be helots?
A labor shortage in unskilled categories is indeed a transparently dishonest claim, since nothing would prevent wages from rising but the tendency to move such production out of the country where it belongs, out where it cannot access net public subsidy for its workers. I suspect the WSJ editors of being afflicted with an infectious agent which depends on people being open to its transmission, otherwise it would be more difficult to explain how they would be harlots for helots.

Audacious Epigone said...

Hehe, yeah, thanks for pointing that out.

Anonymous said...

Big Ag has always whined about how hard they have it (meatpackers too). I say fuck them. Buy your produce from local small farmers, butchers, bakers, etc... if you can. You can even do this in NJ and in NYC and I do. Sure, things may cost a bit more, but I feel it is worth it. I am supporting someone who may be literally right down the street. Grow your own food if you can. It is not as hard as one might think. Not only is gardening good for your body, but it is good for the soul.