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Why Americans won't do dirty jobs?
November 11, 2011 6:06 PM   Subscribe

Why Americans Won't Do Dirty Jobs? “Look, you got immigrants doing more than what blacks or whites will. Look at them, they just work and work all day. They don’t look at it like it’s a hard job. They don’t take breaks!” Businessweek takes a look at the labor supply situation in Alabama, after state legislation sent illegal immigrants packing to other states.
posted by falameufilho (227 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
While waiting for the sure-to-be-fixed link, go read Mike Rowe’s Oral Testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee:

"Right now, American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions. There are 450,000 openings in trades, transportation and utilities. The Skills Gap is real, and it’s getting wider. In Alabama, a third of all skilled tradesmen are over 55. They’re retiring fast, and no one is there to replace them.

Alabama’s not alone. A few months ago in Atlanta I ran into Tom Vilsack, our Secretary of Agriculture. Tom told me about a governor who was unable to move forward on the construction of a power plant. The reason was telling. It wasn’t a lack of funds. It wasn’t a lack of support. It was a lack of qualified welders.

In general, we’re surprised that high unemployment can exist at the same time as a skilled labor shortage. We shouldn’t be. We’ve pretty much guaranteed it."
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:13 PM on November 11, 2011 [31 favorites]


You just can't get the help.
posted by unSane at 6:13 PM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


And I thought Mike Rowe was doing ALL the dirty jobs.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:15 PM on November 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well, I didn't read the whole article, but a quick search revealed that the word "wages" is used a lot in it, but somehow it didn't make it into the title.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:17 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


You just can't get the help.

Golly, maybe they should think about raising wages, then.
posted by mhoye at 6:17 PM on November 11, 2011 [51 favorites]


Why people who are not completely vulnerable are not willing to be exploited?
posted by Sys Rq at 6:18 PM on November 11, 2011 [69 favorites]


"If only those pesky plebs would give up all of their hard fought for health, safety, discrimination and employment 'rights' then ameruikuh would be great again. Now pass me another Cohiba."
posted by lalochezia at 6:18 PM on November 11, 2011 [16 favorites]


If you're supporting a family in another country where the cost of living is significantly less, working these crap jobs starts to make sense. Americans don't want these crap jobs because the wages are so low, you can't support a family with them.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:19 PM on November 11, 2011 [33 favorites]


BUT SERIOUSLY, although Businessweek/Bloomberg will never put it this way, illegal immigrants are accustomed to working under "third world conditions", so when American employers offer anything slightly better, they consider it a gift. It really isn't.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:19 PM on November 11, 2011 [11 favorites]


"For years, Rhodes has had trouble finding Americans willing to grab a knife and stand 10 or more hours a day in a cold, wet room for minimum wage and skimpy benefits."

Well...yeah.
posted by mittens at 6:19 PM on November 11, 2011 [25 favorites]


Obligitory
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 6:20 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I disagree with the assumption of the question.
posted by DU at 6:21 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think we can have this discussion without bringing up Stephen Colbert's testimony before Congress on the issues of immigration and farm labor.
posted by indubitable at 6:22 PM on November 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


According to John McCain, it's because you can't do it, my friend.
posted by Flunkie at 6:23 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tom Surtees is tired of hearing employers grouse about their lazy countrymen. “Don’t tell me an Alabamian can’t work out in the field picking produce because it’s hot and labor intensive,” he says. “Go into a steel mill. Go into a foundry. Go into numerous other occupations and tell them Alabamians don’t like this work because it’s hot and it requires manual labor.” The difference being, jobs in Alabama’s foundries and steel mills pay better wages—with benefits. “If you’re trying to justify paying someone below whatever an appropriate wage level is so you can bring your product, I don’t think that’s a valid argument,” Surtees says.

Yup. Remove people who will work under terrible conditions for unfair wages from the labor pool, and watch businesses eventually have to raise their prices accordingly.
posted by availablelight at 6:24 PM on November 11, 2011 [83 favorites]


Sorry for the link fuck up, people. Hopefully a mod will come along and fix it.
posted by falameufilho at 6:24 PM on November 11, 2011


Rhodes, who doesn’t speak Spanish, struggled to get across how much he needed them. He urged his workers to come back. Only a handful did. “We couldn’t explain to them that some of the things they were scared of weren’t going to happen,” Rhodes says. “I wanted them to see that I was their friend, and that we were trying to do the right thing.”

So which of the things they were scared of were probably going to happen? So disturbing.
posted by Adventurer at 6:26 PM on November 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Two failed the drug test. One applicant asked her out on a date during the interview. “People reapply who have been terminated for stealing, for fighting, for drugs,” she says. “Nope, not that desperate yet!”
Rhodes says he understands why Americans aren’t jumping at the chance to slice up catfish for minimum wage.


I find it troubling that a relatively honest person could potentially be denied a minimum wage, back breaking job for enjoying a joint at the end of the day. You know, to sooth the stress?
posted by sunshinesky at 6:26 PM on November 11, 2011 [27 favorites]


Yup. Remove people who will work under terrible conditions for unfair wages from the labor pool, and watch businesses eventually have to raise their prices accordingly.

Or we could import catfish from China.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:29 PM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yup. Remove people who will work under terrible conditions for unfair wages from the labor pool, and watch businesses eventually have to raise their prices accordingly.

Yup. Remove people who will work under terrible conditions for unfair wages from the labor pool, and watch businesses eventually have to raise their prices
reduce their profits accordingly.

Pick one.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:30 PM on November 11, 2011 [22 favorites]


There is kind of a chicken-egg problem here. Fact is Americans used to do dirty jobs and those jobs also happened to pay wages that you could raise a family on. Then businesses decided they really didn't want to pay those wages any longer even though they were making healthy profits. The Hormel strike in Austin, MN is a good example of that.

Now that those jobs no longer pay wages that afford a decent standard of living, and many people, sensibly, think taking the job is not worth it, so businesses have to find people for whom it is still worth it at the lower wages. Isn't this one of those things that everyone knows yet the media pretends is mysterious?
posted by chrismc at 6:33 PM on November 11, 2011 [76 favorites]


I would love to see what all these products would cost if all the relevant workers were paid what leftists thought was fair. My guess is that most of these products would become completely unaffordable to most people, gutting most of these industries, and thus killing most of the now-higher-paying jobs in those industries.

That's the hard truth people don't want to face.
posted by shivohum at 6:40 PM on November 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


Capitalists are such frauds. They appeal to "market logic" when it's for themselves - "oh, we can't offer benefits, we can't afford it!" or whatever - but when people who are not desperate economic refugees refuse to work for minimum wage and no benefits under dire and unsafe conditions, why, it's not any kind of market logic, it's a character flaw among workers. Fuck them sideways.
posted by Frowner at 6:40 PM on November 11, 2011 [167 favorites]


I would love to see what all these products would cost if all the relevant workers were paid what leftists thought was fair. My guess is that most of these products would become completely unaffordable to most people, gutting most of these industries, and thus killing most of the now-higher-paying jobs in those industries.

That's the hard truth people don't want to face.


Well, you COULD do something to normalize CEO salaries...you just have to kill off some of the excess for a handful of the now-higher-paying jobs in those industries.
posted by availablelight at 6:49 PM on November 11, 2011 [19 favorites]


I would love to see what all these products would cost if all the relevant workers were paid what leftists thought was fair.

You mean the market-clearing price? This whole story is about how the products are unproduceable unless the state uses will-we-won't-we deportation threats to create an artifical caste of terrorised workers who can be underpaid. When those threats are taken too far and the special caste disappears, the normal workforce is found to be too expensive.
posted by wwwwwhatt at 6:54 PM on November 11, 2011 [48 favorites]


I would love to see what all these products would cost if all the relevant workers were paid what leftists thought was fair.

So, let's say that Fred is paid $10/hr to clean hogs. He cleans 20 an hour. Let's say his pay is doubled, to $20/hour. That means that each hog will now cost an extra FIFTY CENTS. Wow. Totally unaffordable now, huh? And this is a poor argument because odds are Fred is cleaning a hell of a lot more hogs than 20 an hour.

If you're picking 150 tomatoes an hour, which is most likely insanely low as well, and we double your pay from $6/hr to $12/hr, that's an extra $6, so each tomato's price will have to be an extra 4 cents. Again, doesn't seem like a relevant price increase. Fair trade works fine, it just doesn't work when the CEO is making 500 times what the common worker makes, and when you have a headquarters full of white-collar workers to support.

Fair trade needs to be brought to the US.
posted by Slinga at 7:01 PM on November 11, 2011 [151 favorites]


imagine you have a couple hundred feet of chain link fence to put up. holes have to be dug, cement mixed, heavy loads hauled, chain stretched, etc. the cost of wages is not important, you just need to get the project finished. would you be better off with a busload of mexicans or a busload of gringos?
posted by kitchenrat at 7:01 PM on November 11, 2011


Dude processes 850,000 pounds of catfish A WEEK and can't pay more than minimum wage with no bennies?

I call bullshit.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:02 PM on November 11, 2011 [26 favorites]


I would love to see what all these products would cost if all the relevant workers were paid what leftists thought was fair. My guess is that most of these products would become completely unaffordable to most people, gutting most of these industries, and thus killing most of the now-higher-paying jobs in those industries.

That's the hard truth people don't want to face.


Perhaps the hard truth people don't want to face is that there are a lot of things which we have grown accustomed to in life which simply are not sustainable if sent to market in an honorable fashion.

Surely readjusting our expectations as to what we should have available and at what price ought to be part of realigning our society into something which is more equitable for all who participate in it.

To suggest otherwise is to insist that there is an underclass who deserve to be exploited for the benefit of those who are reaping huge rewards while they labor in poverty. That's not really a good way to look at the world, and I suggest you think deeply about what the hard truths are in your own worldview which perhaps need to be appropriately internalized.
posted by hippybear at 7:04 PM on November 11, 2011 [130 favorites]


If the economy wasn't nonsensically aimed at the futile goal of perpetual growth, this would not be a problem.

In order to maintain perpetual growth, Big Business has to continually reduce costs such as labour. They cut jobs, they cut salaries. (Executive salaries still somehow manage to go up... Funny, that.)

Big Business needs to come back down to earth and start acting like Small Business: Do a comfortable, static level of business. Profit is profit; there's no need to go bananas. Hell, just breaking even is entirely adequate.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:06 PM on November 11, 2011 [35 favorites]


They cut jobs, they cut salaries, and they still raise prices anyway.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:07 PM on November 11, 2011 [37 favorites]


You know who does fruit picking and agricultural labour in Australia, where there are effectively no undocumented migrants? Backpackers. I'm serious: white middle-class American kids (and Brits, and Scandinavians, and etcetera) come over on the plane, drink all their savings in Sydney and then work their way around central NSW, north Victoria and the Darling Downs in Queensland picking fruit and vegetables.

So take the antipodean evidence: yes, American kids will totally do the work if you pay them $14-20 AUD an hour for it.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:08 PM on November 11, 2011 [58 favorites]


Well, you COULD do something to normalize CEO salaries

Though CEO salaries are often ludicrous, they're really a drop in the bucket in the cost of the overall product.

This whole story is about how the products are unproduceable unless the state uses will-we-won't-we deportation threats to create an artifical caste of terrorised workers who can be underpaid.

Such a strange workforce only needs to be used because a minimum wage is not the market clearing price, and there's a huge demand from foreign laborers to make money somewhere in between $0/hour and the minimum wage, and a huge demand from US customers to get reasonably priced goods. And hostility from political groups on all ideological sides to truly free immigration and labor competition.

The fact is, there are huge pools of workers around the world just as capable of doing what most American workers are doing, and for a whole lot less.

So, let's say that Fred is paid $10/hr to clean hogs. He cleans 20 an hour. Let's say his pay is doubled, to $20/hour. That means that each hog will now cost an extra FIFTY CENTS. Wow. Totally unaffordable now, huh? And this is a poor argument because odds are Fred is cleaning a hell of a lot more hogs than 20 an hour.

It's a lot more complicated than this. First of all, there are probably more workers involved than just Fred -- each adds extra cost. The price of the hog goes up and is amplified at every level of the supply chain -- $0.50 at Fred's level may amplify to much more than that when it hits retail. Customers may buy fewer hogs, preferring to substitute in other goods which are less labor-intensive. Fred's $20 may be worth less than $20 because of inflation as a result of all this. And so on.

Fair trade works fine, it just doesn't work when the CEO is making 500 times what the common worker makes, and when you have a headquarters full of white-collar workers to support.

Fair trade works when you have rich, liberal yuppies with large amounts of disposable income buying fair trade products. They are not that price-sensitive. It doesn't work as well for what the average American buys.
posted by shivohum at 7:09 PM on November 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


Isn't this one of those things that everyone knows yet the media pretends is mysterious?

It's one of the things half the country knows, and the other half expends as much effort as possible to vote down even as it kills us all.
posted by FatherDagon at 7:09 PM on November 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


If the economy wasn't nonsensically aimed at the futile goal of perpetual growth, this would not be a problem.

As opposed to what? Population increases, economy needs to grow. I don't think there's an alternative.
posted by falameufilho at 7:11 PM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


If the only way to have an industry is to put people in slavery or near-slavery, then yes, we are morally obligated to find another way to make that industry work. Or do without those goods. We're smart enough to create phantom derivative financial products and space age Coke machines, don't you think we could come up with some solutions that both allow markets to work and don't require 12 year olds in China to be chained up in factories, or terrified immigrants to be worked to death in the tomato fields?

Why is our agricultural production so stuck in the 19th century anyway...could it possibly be that our reliance on underpaid labor has been such a crutch that we haven't had any incentive to come up with better ways of growing food that don't require vast numbers of people to cripple themselves?

If we took as a given that we simply couldn't expect that anymore, and shouldn't, what changes would we need to make in how we grow food? Has anyone even attempted to answer that question, and if not, why not?
posted by emjaybee at 7:12 PM on November 11, 2011 [51 favorites]


As opposed to what? Population increases, economy needs to grow. I don't think there's an alternative.


The economy needs to grow. Individual businesses don't.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:12 PM on November 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


To suggest otherwise is to insist that there is an underclass who deserve to be exploited for the benefit of those who are reaping huge rewards while they labor in poverty. That's not really a good way to look at the world, and I suggest you think deeply about what the hard truths are in your own worldview which perhaps need to be appropriately internalized.

I think you bring up an excellent and honest point. Perhaps if I were a saint I would be ok living on rice and beans in a simple hut so that people living in acute poverty in the third world need not be an underclass.

Arguably I could be just as happy, and it might be, in some sense, the most moral thing to do. I am honest enough to admit I am far too selfish to do that, and I think most people are as well. Given that reality, the next best thing is to admit we are not saints and try to make the best of it. Capitalism in China has lifted 400 million people out of poverty over the last 30 years. That's a good start.
posted by shivohum at 7:13 PM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


"don't require 12 year olds in China to be chained up in factories, or terrified immigrants to be worked to death in the tomato fields"

Hyperbole doesn't help the discussion.
posted by falameufilho at 7:15 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Capitalism in China has lifted 400 million people out of poverty over the last 30 years.

400 million gross, not net.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:16 PM on November 11, 2011 [6 favorites]



Fair trade works when you have rich, liberal yuppies with large amounts of disposable income buying fair trade products. They are not that price-sensitive. It doesn't work as well for what the average American buys.


Right, but see, if people all got paid a reasonable wage, then they could afford to pay more for their food. I work at a grocery store. We sell fair-trade products. They're not horrifyingly expensive. Our fair-trade bananas are 99¢ per pound. Yes, that's more than Wal-Mart. But are they affordable? Sure. It depends what you buy. A fair-trade McDonald's burger would probably be a LOT of money, but so would an organic one.

If you pay people a fair wage, they will be able to pay more for stuff. If cars were built by illegal immigrants making $4 an hour, they would be cheaper. Can people still afford cars now? Sure. So why can't we pay fair wages to the people gutting our catfish and picking our tomatoes?

With the tomato analogy, out of the final tomato price, the labor (picking) is like 10% or less. So even if you double that picker's wage, the final price can still be only 10% more. It's totally doable. There are plenty of companies who pay their workers a fair wage and do well. There used to be an awful lot more, until people decided to race to the bottom.
posted by Slinga at 7:16 PM on November 11, 2011 [46 favorites]


You know who does fruit picking and agricultural labour in Australia, where there are effectively no undocumented migrants? Backpackers. I'm serious: white middle-class American kids (and Brits, and Scandinavians, and etcetera) come over on the plane, drink all their savings in Sydney and then work their way around central NSW, north Victoria and the Darling Downs in Queensland picking fruit and vegetables.

So take the antipodean evidence: yes, American kids will totally do the work if you pay them $14-20 AUD an hour for it.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:08 PM on November 11


Do you realize that the AUD is almost 1-1 with the USD? If you paid $14-20 an hour in the US, you'd get way more turnout than transient backpacking twenty-somethings.
posted by 200burritos at 7:22 PM on November 11, 2011 [17 favorites]


It's a lot more complicated than this. First of all, there are probably more workers involved than just Fred -- each adds extra cost. The price of the hog goes up and is amplified at every level of the supply chain -- $0.50 at Fred's level may amplify to much more than that when it hits retail. Customers may buy fewer hogs, preferring to substitute in other goods which are less labor-intensive. Fred's $20 may be worth less than $20 because of inflation as a result of all this. And so on.

And it's a lot LESS complicated than you're trying to make it out to be. Opportunity costs exist no matter what the wages are. Just because everyone in the chain thinks they have a God-given right to step on the price to suit themselves but still want to deny that opportunity to the workers who make it all happen doesn't make it justifiable.

The catfish guy in the story claims to have 158 minimum wage jobs (with no benefits) to produce 850,000 pounds of fish. That equates to less than 5.5 cents/pound. DOUBLING wages would only add the same.

Allowing profitability through a system that is simply unsustainable for the nation as a whole is just ignorant.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:23 PM on November 11, 2011 [23 favorites]


Capitalism in China has lifted 400 million people out of poverty over the last 30 years.

Uhh, yeah, see my imported catfish link for the other side of that.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:24 PM on November 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't think it is the case that the working man used to do these jobs, and they paid a fair wage he could raise a family on. I think these were always marginal jobs that immigrants and the desperate took. My stepfather worked in a chicken processing plant, only when he couldn't get work a a dishwasher or a short order cook.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:25 PM on November 11, 2011


Americans are willing to walk away because the wages are horrible and they have other opportunities. Illegal immigrants are working under threat of being reported to the authorities if they walk away. They can't go someplace like McDonald's because McDonald's checks papers. And they probably don't speak English which limits them as well.

If you do some math, you'll see that the farmer is paying 8 cents per pound for tomatoes. A pound of tomatoes costs $4 in the grocery store. Would people walk away if they cost $4.08? Probably not. So you could effectively double the wages of the pickers pretty easily. Now I know it's not that simple because a lot of what is picked probably rots, so the per-pound cost of a basket sold is probably higher, but until the tomato companies open their books, we have to go by what they tell us, and that is 8 cents per pound for picking labor costs.
posted by RalphSlate at 7:25 PM on November 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hyperbole doesn't help the discussion.

Child labor in China.

Treatment of undocumented agricultural workers.

These were just the top Google pieces I found. There appear to be many others.
posted by emjaybee at 7:28 PM on November 11, 2011 [13 favorites]


Remember when Henry Ford doubled his workers' pay and his car company collapsed because no one could afford his cars anymore?
posted by dirigibleman at 7:29 PM on November 11, 2011 [95 favorites]


It's been said before in this thread, but it bears repeating:

The market often works as intended. If a company finds it difficult to fill jobs, the market dictates that they raise their wages and benefits until it sufficiently stimulates demand for those jobs.

But apparently most companies love to talk about the market when it suits their purposes, but seem to be in denial that if they raise their wages/benefits/job security adequately, there will be a TON of highly skilled, highly motivated people willing to come work for them and kick ass while doing it. It's not that complicated. If they paid all of their workers a sufficient wage with good benefits and reliable job security, there would be a rush on their HR department the likes of which they have never seen.
posted by chimaera at 7:30 PM on November 11, 2011 [20 favorites]


Though CEO salaries are often ludicrous, they're really a drop in the bucket in the cost of the overall product.

So, let's say that Fred is paid $10/hr to clean hogs.


How many Freds can you employ at a decent living wage for the cost of a CEO plus a couple layers of overly fattened management? If Fred is making a decent wage with reasonable benefits we only pay for his services once, but if it mostly goes to the bosses and Fred has to latch onto the public teat in an emergency, we get to pay for Fred's contribution to product cost once when we buy the product and every April 15th.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:35 PM on November 11, 2011 [11 favorites]


Two failed the drug test. One applicant asked her out on a date during the interview. “People reapply who have been terminated for stealing, for fighting, for drugs,” she says. “Nope, not that desperateyet!” Rhodes says he understands why Americans aren’t jumping at the chance to slice up catfish for minimum wage.

This is a statistical issue. There are two pools of workers, the immigrant workforce who has the option of work in fields or go back to wherever, and the non-immigrant workforce who can get a job in any industry. Naturally the business owners were able to hire the best of that pool; the hardest working immigrants that would work for low wages. Now they can only draw from a pool that can get better jobs with better wages. The best non-immigrant workers don't have to work in a field. They have jobs. They got their jobs by specializing in their industry and working their asses off. The non -immigrant workforce available to do these jobs at the lower wages necessarily is sub-par. It all boils down to a failure of logic: all Americans are not lazy, but the Americans who must take these jobs are more likely to be worse workers. Pay a proper wage and the better workers will show. Until then, quit the bitching.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 7:36 PM on November 11, 2011 [13 favorites]


There are two things that I don't get about Mr. Rhodes in the original article. How can he not speak ANY Spanish? If the vast majority of your workforce speaks Spanish, you damn well better know at least a bit. Otherwise you're going to be pretty helpless when situations like this come up.

Second, why waste time and money and lose potentially good workers to drug tests? If someone is totally out of their mind on drugs, sure, you can not hire them, or fire them if they come in to work high, but if someone likes to smoke a joint on the weekend or whatever, how on earth does that affect their performance as a minimum-wage catfish-filleter?

Drug tests cost money. Cancel those, put that money into higher pay for your workers, learn to speak your workers' language, and maybe you'll do better.
posted by Slinga at 7:37 PM on November 11, 2011 [25 favorites]


My understanding is that a lot of companies do drug tests, at least pre-employment screenings, in order to qualify for lower insurance rates, or even get insurance at all.

A lot of places I have applied to in the past 3-4 years (and we're talking literally hundreds of applications) have pre-employment screenings only. They may declare they're a drug-free workplace, but really all the require is that a prospective worker can refrain from smoking pot long enough to pass a piss test before employment. Once you have the job, unless you have an accident which requires reporting to insurance, they generally don't care what you do on your own time.

Not saying that I really like it, but it's largely a farce in order to placate that side of running a business.
posted by hippybear at 7:41 PM on November 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


"Our people are our most valuable resource."

Is there anyone in the US who has ever heard that (admittedly weak) phrase?

This is just one facet of a larger problem, from what I understand about the US. Businesses simply don't value employees. They expect people to work for free, and are bitter about actually having to pay for the labor.

* Where are your holidays and paid sick leave?
* Why the drug tests to get employed?
* Why the credit checks to get employed?
* Why the "hire at will" dismissal laws?
* Why the fear of unions? Even McDonalds employees have a union in Australia.
* Why pay service staff pocket change and expect them to beg for tips?

There is a better way. The proof is in the pudding. We have fairly rigorous employment standards in Australia, and, mostly, a higher respect for employees. As Fiasco said above - young Americans are more than happy to pick fruit in Australia for ~$15 an hour... Racing to the bottom never won any races. And - here's the surprise - I can still afford to buy tomatoes and apples and fish! Holy shit!
posted by Jimbob at 7:42 PM on November 11, 2011 [48 favorites]


Second, why waste time and money and lose potentially good workers to drug tests? If someone is totally out of their mind on drugs, sure, you can not hire them, or fire them if they come in to work high, but if someone likes to smoke a joint on the weekend or whatever, how on earth does that affect their performance as a minimum-wage catfish-filleter?

I think it's about liability. Someone gets hurt on the job, the employer pays for it. You don't need to be paranoid to think drug users have a higher probability of having an accident.
posted by falameufilho at 7:43 PM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think these were always marginal jobs that immigrants and the desperate took. My stepfather worked in a chicken processing plant, only when he couldn't get work a a dishwasher or a short order cook.

Was that before the '80s, though? From Mother Jones:

"In the decades that followed the 1906 publication of The Jungle, labor unions had slowly gained power in the industry, winning their members good benefits, decent working conditions, and a voice in the workplace. Meatpacking jobs were dangerous and unpleasant, but provided enough income for a solid, middle-class life. There were sometimes waiting lists for these jobs. And then, starting in the early 1960s, a company called Iowa Beef Packers (IBP) began to revolutionize the industry, opening plants in rural areas far from union strongholds, recruiting immigrant workers from Mexico, introducing a new division of labor that eliminated the need for skilled butchers, and ruthlessly battling unions. By the late 1970s, meatpacking companies that wanted to compete with IBP had to adopt its business methods—or go out of business. Wages in the meatpacking industry soon fell by as much as 50 percent."

It's a different story for seasonal work, which is by its nature going to be a last resort for most people who have families.
posted by Adventurer at 7:43 PM on November 11, 2011 [16 favorites]


Second, why waste time and money and lose potentially good workers to drug tests? If someone is totally out of their mind on drugs, sure, you can not hire them, or fire them if they come in to work high, but if someone likes to smoke a joint on the weekend or whatever, how on earth does that affect their performance as a minimum-wage catfish-filleter?


But it isnt about efficiency and logic. It's about sustaining a system in which you are Good and Heroic and they are Bad and deserve to be treated as such. The word "deserve" plays a crucial role in the worldview of people like this. It's how they convince themselves that the world is working as it should, even when and especially if they behave like sociopathic cunts.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 7:44 PM on November 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


Dude processes 850,000 pounds of catfish A WEEK and can't pay more than minimum wage with no bennies?

No. I see this. He CANNOT pay more than minimum wage and still make 50 times more than the workers do. In MBA programs they call that "competitive".
posted by hal_c_on at 7:45 PM on November 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Worth noting, from last month's Harper's Index:
Portion of the increase in U.S. corporate profit margins since 2001 that has come from depressed wages : 3/4
posted by mullingitover at 7:47 PM on November 11, 2011 [43 favorites]


Well, pre-employment drug testing is banned in Canada, so I don't really think it's necessary in the US, whether for liability or insurance reasons or anything.
posted by Slinga at 7:48 PM on November 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm not saying it's necessary overall.... but it is something which I know insurance companies require of employers... and I don't think it's really any secret that the insurance industry in the US is pretty fucked up all around.
posted by hippybear at 7:53 PM on November 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Mullingitover, does that mean that for every additional dollar of profit US companies made in this decade, 75 cents came from wage related cost reductions? This is quite impressive, do you have a link for this?
posted by falameufilho at 7:53 PM on November 11, 2011


I would gut catfish if someone would hire me. I've got a Master's degree in History and two felonies from over a decade ago and I canrn't find a job anyfuckinwhere. Given up and pursuing foodstamps.
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 7:56 PM on November 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think the USA has become a nation of people that don't work much less do hard labor. Wall St. and the banking and insurance industries are all non-producing entities. Essentially standing in the way demanding their cut at X% then selling it back at X% times 2.

I know this is a simplistic view but I cant really see any benifit to the "work" that Wall St. does, my bank they hold the meager balance I maintain month to month and pull out their cut every moment they can. I am by law forced to carry insurance for all sorts of potential disasters, disaster never happens but one fender bender and I'm hit with a forty % increase.

One reason the photos of Detroit in it's current state are so compelling is that just a generation or so those now deserted factories were full of men and women working hard yet getting paid a fair wage, now it's all fucked.

The real problem with agriculture is we have come to expect tomatoes, strawberries grapes etc in the winter. The price stays fairly consistent yet great amounts of water needs to be directed to essentially the desert then that product shipped all over the country. This is a business where there are middlemen for the middlemen, shit wages no benifits that probably all farmer brown can pay his help. Farmer Brown needs his new truck and some fat fuck shipping agent needs to pay a tailor to let his pants out another size.

I relinquish my soapbox to the next speaker.
posted by pianomover at 7:57 PM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


One more thing,

For several years I employed a man who had come from Guadalajara Mexico ten years earlier. He had left behind his wife and at the time two children(in the interim years he returned 3 times, 3 more children). He worked like a dog, slept in a garage converted to a bedroom, and sent most of his pay south.

Why was he here? Pay in Mexico was $5.00 per day, per day. He started picking lettuce moved to construction then finished with me. He returned when he had enough money for a tractor.

His only splurge was a rub and tug at the asian massage parlor.
posted by pianomover at 7:59 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying it's necessary overall.... but it is something which I know insurance companies require of employers... and I don't think it's really any secret that the insurance industry in the US is pretty fucked up all around.

I work at a grocery store in the US, we have insurance, we have worker's comp and all that, and we don't drug test, neither pre-employment nor randomly. Now, I think there's a provision for it if there's an accident and it's suspected that the employee was under the influence of something at the time of the accident, but otherwise no drug tests. I have never heard of one being administered either.

I googled a bit to try to find the insurance/drug test link and couldn't.
posted by Slinga at 8:00 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


If cars were built by illegal immigrants making $4 an hour, they would be cheaper. Can people still afford cars now? Sure.

Well, large amounts of what's in a car are now built in other countries, where labor is probably a lot cheaper than $4/hour. And cars are mainly affordable because of huge amounts of financing, one of the reasons Americans are now swaying under record levels of debt.

Uhh, yeah, see my imported catfish link for the other side of that.

Yeah, pretty gruesome. Still, I saw Inside Job the other day. In one scene a Chinese woman, a factory worker, talked about how distressed she was that factories might be hit by the global recession -- and people might lose their jobs that made then $70 or $80/month -- very good money by rural Chinese standards.

The simple question is: would they rather not have the jobs at all? Because that's the realistic alternative. The reason they're hired at all is because they're being a lot less than workers in developed countries.

How many Freds can you employ at a decent living wage for the cost of a CEO plus a couple layers of overly fattened management?

Let's assume that a living wage + benefits totals up to $20/hour of cost to a company per worker. Supposing 2000 hours/work a year, that's $40k/year to a business. The CEO of Dole, for instance, had a total compensation package of $8.5 million in 2009. Suppose you cut that to $0 and then multiplied it by 10 to represent dramatically slashing management layers. $85 million / $40,000 = 2125 jobs.

Dole employs 75,800 people.
posted by shivohum at 8:01 PM on November 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Rhodes says. “I wanted them to see that I was their friend, and that we were trying to do the right thing.”


I see I'm a little late to the party, but lord, if you're someone's friend, you do what you can to pay them a living wage. Learning your 'friend's' language might go a fair way to not making the lie so blatantly obvious.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:03 PM on November 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


I would love to see what all these products would cost if all the relevant workers were paid what leftists thought was fair.

This is about companies not being able to fill jobs for what they want to pay. What is "leftist" about letting the market set the cost of labour?
posted by markr at 8:08 PM on November 11, 2011 [53 favorites]


markr thank you. Constantly you hear about the invisible hand, but then it pimp slaps investment banks and demands a living wage and all of a sudden it's labors fault? In the same vein, if you really want government run like a business, a truly terrible idea, then stop getting in the way of this "business" turning a profit hypocrites.
posted by karmiolz at 8:16 PM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would love to see what all these products would cost if all the relevant workers were paid what leftists thought was fair. My guess is that most of these products would become completely unaffordable to most people...

As I found out researching strawberry production for a previous thread, the cost of the plastic clamshell the strawberries come packed in is 50% more than the cost of the migrant labour to grow, pick and pack those strawberries. Doubling the compensation of these farmers would add twenty nine whole cents to the price of a pound of strawberries.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:16 PM on November 11, 2011 [17 favorites]


Let's assume that a living wage + benefits totals up to $20/hour of cost to a company per worker. Supposing 2000 hours/work a year, that's $40k/year to a business. The CEO of Dole, for instance, had a total compensation package of $8.5 million in 2009. Suppose you cut that to $0 and then multiplied it by 10 to represent dramatically slashing management layers. $85 million / $40,000 = 2125 jobs.

Dole employs 75,800 people.


This is rather misleading. Dole's revenue in 2009 was 6.8 BILLION dollars.

The chairman of the board at dole (just chairman) is David H. Murdock...a former CEO. He made 2.3M in 2009.

Great. 2 people, one of them being the 126th richest person in the US...and sacrificing them would get almost 2500 FAIR waged jobs.

How big is that damn board?
posted by hal_c_on at 8:25 PM on November 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


The CEO of Dole, for instance, had a total compensation package of $8.5 million in 2009. Suppose you cut that to $0 and then multiplied it by 10 to represent dramatically slashing management layers. $85 million / $40,000 = 2125 jobs.

If you remove the expectation that the CEO of Dole should be paid millions and millions, you also remove any incentive for someone to move jobs to lower-wage countries to save money and paying millions more in a fat bonus to the CEO in the process.

Raise taxes steeply on upper incomes (i.e. CEOs and top management) and those people won't be looking under every rock for another dollar to cut out of their companies.
posted by RalphSlate at 8:27 PM on November 11, 2011 [12 favorites]


You know who does fruit picking and agricultural labour in Australia, where there are effectively no undocumented migrants? Backpackers. I'm serious: white middle-class American kids (and Brits, and Scandinavians, and etcetera) come over on the plane, drink all their savings in Sydney and then work their way around central NSW, north Victoria and the Darling Downs in Queensland picking fruit and vegetables.

Sounds similar to the tree planting programs in Canada. I went to forestry school with a bunch of Canadians and that's how they spent their summers- planting trees. It was like being paid a fair amount to camp and exercise and hang out with other students they told me.

I also met some Swedes who would spend summers gutting salmon in Alaska. If that job can attract people from Sweden, a place where people are used to be treated well, it must show that some US industries can do it.

It brings a lot of questions to my mind. What happens when/if countries like Mexico enter the first world and our supply of workers with few rights who are willing to do crappy jobs for nothing slows to a trickle? WIll we pay the true cost for food produced by people paid competitive wages? Will we automate? Will we import all our food from China (or Africa the way things are going lately since China/US agrobiz is investing there)?
posted by melissam at 8:34 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would love to see what all these products would cost if all the relevant workers were paid what leftists thought was fair. My guess is that most of these products would become completely unaffordable to most people...

I think we'd see more automation and easily automated products would dominate the market - at first. Then crop and animal breeders/biotech scientists would also work on varieties consistant enough to work well in automation for products that are tough to automate now. Ag- AI / robotics is a TINY industry now (my ag school had only one professor in this area), but it would probably expand dramatically in such a situation.

Then we have the Lights in the Tunnel (Martin Ford's book) situation of what happens to the workers now that robots are doing their job?
posted by melissam at 8:39 PM on November 11, 2011


What happens when/if countries like Mexico enter the first world and our supply of workers with few rights who are willing to do crappy jobs for nothing slows to a trickle?

I wish I was worried about poor countries joining the developed world, and the number of workers without rights dropping to a trickle.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:43 PM on November 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Then we have the Lights in the Tunnel (Martin Ford's book) situation of what happens to the workers now that robots are doing their job?

Kind of reminds me of when the leader of the UAW was touring an auto factory with the Ford who is running the family company now, and when Ford quipped something about how will the UAW get all these workers to join the union if they're all robots, the response was, how will you get the robots to buy the cars you're making here.
posted by hippybear at 8:45 PM on November 11, 2011 [18 favorites]


And the shaft was soon shut and more work was cut
And the fire in the air, it felt frozen
'Til a man come to speak and he said in one week
That number eleven was closing

They complained in the east, they are paying too high
They say that your ore ain't worth diggin'
That it's much cheaper down in the South American towns
Where the miners work almost for nothin'


Bob Dylan

North Country Blues
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:45 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is about companies not being able to fill jobs for what they want to pay. What is "leftist" about letting the market set the cost of labour?

Well, as in true in so many things, this isn't a truly free market. The article itself points out that the jobs were filled before an immigration-related scare. Allow migrant workers from poor countries to come in freely and legally (something neither political party wants, albeit for different reasons), and relax minimum wage restrictions on them, and the true market price for these jobs would be quite low. And they would be filled.

Would that be a better America? I don't know. It would benefit many migrant workers who would otherwise have lived even more impoverished lives in their home countries, but it would probably hurt unskilled American laborers. It also might put unserviceable burdens on overstressed social safety nets.

Great. 2 people, one of them being the 126th richest person in the US...and sacrificing them would get almost 2500 FAIR waged jobs.

Huh? No, cutting out just those two people would only save $10.5 million, or about 270 jobs. In my analysis I cut out many, many more than that.

If you remove the expectation that the CEO of Dole should be paid millions and millions, you also remove any incentive for someone to move jobs to lower-wage countries to save money and paying millions more in a fat bonus to the CEO in the process.

So the idea is to reduce the incentive for a CEO to try to run their company profitably? So what would be the point, then? You want CEOs not to care if their companies are inefficient, high-priced, and poor-quality?

Doubling the compensation of these farmers would add twenty nine whole cents to the price of a pound of strawberries.

Maybe that's the case if it happened in isolation. But suppose every industry did that. There would be big inflation, particularly since a) the cost of many other things in the strawberry supply chain would increase (since other industries would pay their workers more) and b) the higher, living wages would then have to be even higher to compensate for the inflation.
posted by shivohum at 8:54 PM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, for those talking about prices- prices are epiphenomenal. The price of things will go up regardless. Either you will pay higher wages to attract labor, or there will simply be fewer of these goods making it to the market, and they will be more dear as a result. If you have produce rotting in the fields for want of pickers, you will either need to pay more or bring back slavery.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:56 PM on November 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


So the idea is to reduce the incentive for a CEO to try to run their company profitably? So what would be the point, then? You want CEOs not to care if their companies are inefficient, high-priced, and poor-quality?

The "CEO" of my local fish and chip shop down the street isn't paid a 7-figure salary, but I'm pretty sure he's aiming for an efficient, properly priced, and high quality business, too.
posted by Jimbob at 9:03 PM on November 11, 2011 [16 favorites]


Why Americans won't do dirty jobs?

They will do dirty jobs. They just won't do them for <=$7.25/hour like desperate immigrants will.
posted by Talez at 9:21 PM on November 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


Why Americans won't do dirty jobs?

Because most of these jobs do illegal and questionable things that Americans would report to the proper authorities, including getting paid under the table.
posted by Brian B. at 9:29 PM on November 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


shivohum The argument is not against efficiency, reasonable cost,and quality. It's that the benefits of efficiency, large market share, and high quality should be shared with the entire company, not just a few at the top.
posted by karmiolz at 9:50 PM on November 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


But suppose every industry did that.

THEY DO.

Jesus Christ, why are people pretending like businesses can't pay fair wages? Even fast food places pay fair wages and have safe working environments that respect their workers. It doesn't collapse the company profitability and you see no shortage of Americans willing to work there.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:57 PM on November 11, 2011 [12 favorites]


I would love to see what all these products would cost if all the relevant workers were paid what leftists thought was fair.

Ladies and gentlemen, Señor Elvis has left(ist) the building.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:48 PM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, if only all these jobs paid a fair wage, Americans would take them. What's a fair wage? $8 an hour? $12? Why not $30 an hour?

It seems supremely idiotic to suggest that we simply have to raise wages to solve the problems of illegal immigration, unemployment, and poverty. It only takes a little imagination to figure out what happens. At best, it's chasing an ever moving goal post. At worst, businesses cannot compete and cease to exist.

Low skill labor tends to pay low wages. This isn't hard to figure out. If your skill level makes you compete with a candidate who has no legal documentation, no verifiable work record, and little if any English language skills, you're in a pretty sorry place to be. At that point, you have to ask yourself, what exactly do you bring to the table when you want to get an employer's favorable attention? Fortunately, most Americans are in a better position, are aware of their potential, and are willing to reject the kinds of jobs often filled by illegal immigrants because they justifiably know they can do better.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:28 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


2N222: That's one of the most muddleheaded comments I've seen on Metafilter in quite some time.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:32 PM on November 11, 2011 [15 favorites]


I would love to see what all these products would cost if all the relevant workers were paid what leftists thought was fair.

You're living in a fool's paradise by worrying about prices instead of stable jobs and health benefits. Just because Walmart is stuffed with cheap and imported job-killing goods, it doesn't mean that lowering costs for everything ever worked to make anything of better value, or that all other labor that we can't export is also up for grabs.
posted by Brian B. at 11:36 PM on November 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Low skill labor tends to pay low wages.

Agreed, this isn't hard to figure out. But you see, when a company makes a product and not enough people want to pay what it costs, the company will lower prices. That's how the market works.

When a company opens a job listing, and they don't get enough qualified or interested candidates, the company must increase the attractiveness of the job in order to attract employees. That's how the market works.

As you said, this isn't hard to figure out.
posted by chimaera at 11:42 PM on November 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


Because most of these jobs do illegal and questionable things that Americans would report to the proper authorities, including getting paid under the table.

Most of these jobs? Cite? As far as I can tell, most of these jobs involve trading labor for a mutually agreed wage.

FWIW, I've worked under the table. Illegal... sure. But I needed the dough, the employer needed the worker, and it suited me at the time. The under the table economy generally exists under the table because it isn't viable above board. System D beats the alternative.

2N222: That's one of the most muddleheaded comments I've seen on Metafilter in quite some time.

Thanks for addressing the point.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:45 PM on November 11, 2011


Agreed, this isn't hard to figure out. But you see, when a company makes a product and not enough people want to pay what it costs, the company will lower prices. That's how the market works.

When a company opens a job listing, and they don't get enough qualified or interested candidates, the company must increase the attractiveness of the job in order to attract employees. That's how the market works.


If a company lowers prices, it often has to cut costs somewhere.

If a company cannot attract employees and remain competitive, guess what happens to that company?
posted by 2N2222 at 11:48 PM on November 11, 2011


Thanks for addressing the point.

Haha! You're not wrong in saying that, BUT... your points are so all over the place in that comment that they just don't add up to a coherent argument. That's what I mean when I say it's muddleheaded. Honestly, I just don't know where to start!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:50 PM on November 11, 2011


If a company cannot attract employees and remain competitive, guess what happens to that company?

But if a company can only remain 'competitive' by hiring illegal aliens, paying them substandard wages that no US citizens consider equitable, offering no benefits, etc. why exactly, then, should that company stay in business?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:54 PM on November 11, 2011 [36 favorites]


If a company cannot attract employees and remain competitive, guess what happens to that company?

Um, it goes out of business, and someone who can attract employees AND remain competitive -- legally! -- will take their place.

Oftentimes it means that the company will choose to increase productivity and quality (you see, you can stimulate demand by improving productivity AND quality, thereby being able to sell at a lower price due to productivity gains and increase the attractiveness of their product by quality gains) by investing millions in their front line workforce rather than their executives. I don't even have to guess, it's how the market works.

But huge companies have succeeded in regulatory capture (and perpetually crying poverty despite paying executives more than ever, as a share of income) and have insulated themselves from market forces to the detriment of productivity, quality, fairness, employee retention, and complying with labor laws.
posted by chimaera at 11:59 PM on November 11, 2011 [20 favorites]


But if a company can only remain 'competitive' by hiring illegal aliens, paying them substandard wages that no US citizens consider equitable, offering no benefits, etc. why exactly, then, should that company stay in business?

Because it's still employing people and being productive. From a US point of view, it's probably better to keep the business both in business, and in the US. Even a completely under the table, cash only business operating in the US is a good thing for the local, state, and national economy.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:00 AM on November 12, 2011


So now we get to see if the farm labor market in Alabama will respond to the supposed law of supply and demand.

Let's see if this can actually work to labor's benefit be increasing wages.
posted by mygoditsbob at 12:02 AM on November 12, 2011


So now we get to see if the farm labor market in Alabama will respond to the supposed law of supply and demand.

Let's see if this can actually work to labor's benefit be increasing wages.


We'll need a little luck...

if we could have a little luck, down in Alabama
people wouldn't that be sweet?
if the working man could get an even shake,
and get the shackles off his feet,
he'd have some economic security,
and some decent health care, too
and now that the illegals have had to leave?
hey, it might even come true!

if we could have a little luck, down in Alabama
we'd organize and win
we'd show these greedy men at the top
just where our rights begin
we wouldn't be treated like cattle or slaves
we'd make 'em see the light
if we could have a little luck, down in Alabama
brother we'd put things right

if we could have a little luck, down in Alabama
our future would be brighter, you know
we'd have an honest chance to build our dreams
and see our children prosper and grow
the farm jobs would pay us a decent wage
and friends, there wouldn't be no doubt
we'd turn this into the kind of place
that America's SUPPOSED to be about
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:12 AM on November 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


em>Even a completely under the table, cash only business operating in the US is a good thing for the local, state, and national economy.

So what you're saying is that pimping out sex workers is fine because, while exploitative and illegal, its economically productive? Why not just have privately run gulags at that point: coercive sure, but they're helping the economy!

What's even weirder is that you're saying a market failure (I.e. Wages being paid under market rate) is okay because at least its being otherwise economically productive. Mate these businesses can only work because of extremely precise and artificial external conditions (workers fear of being deported namely), from a pure capitalist perspective they should fail. In fact, these companies are being propped up by government policies, without the current immigration laws they would cease to exist as they do now. Do I get to say socialism or should you?
posted by litleozy at 12:40 AM on November 12, 2011 [15 favorites]


Why Companies Aren't Getting the Employees They Need:
Some of the complaints about skill shortages boil down to the fact that employers can't get candidates to accept jobs at the wages offered. That's an affordability problem, not a skill shortage. A real shortage means not being able to find appropriate candidates at market-clearing wages. We wouldn't say there is a shortage of diamonds when they are incredibly expensive; we can buy all we want at the prevailing prices.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:47 AM on November 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


Um, it goes out of business, and someone who can attract employees AND remain competitive -- legally! -- will take their place.

This doesn't make sense. If the defunct business could have been competitive legally, it would have done so.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:48 AM on November 12, 2011


The problem is that raising wages is simply not a panacea to labor issues, much as we would like to see a decent living wage in the U.S.

The reason tomato farmers were in Alabama to begin with was due to its competitive advantages: warm climate, easy water, and few regulations. This new anti-illegals regulation knocks away one leg of the stool, and the tomato business will simply go to another state. Business will route itself around this new damage in the system. Alabama's (and Georgia's, etc) draconian anti-illegals policy is useless except to pacify some of its racist elements.

Raising wages in isolation fails because it simply makes oneself uncompetitive in an increasingly-fluid labor market, and it's pointless to blame businesses for maintaining industry-standard wage levels that continue to work elsewhere. Mandating wage increases across the board will never happen so long as corporate interests maintain a stranglehold on the political system. Therefore, complaining about poor agricultural wages is futile until corporate money can be removed from politics.

The real cause of Alabama's huge unemployment rate is that American unskilled labor is just not that valuable on the open market these days. If Alabama is going to drive away illegal-hiring industries and not create new competitive advantages to attract industries well-suited to its labor pool, then its situation is only going to get worse. It's patently obvious why places like Alabama continue to have such a severe youth-drain and brain-drain problem when they keep shooting themselves in the foot with poor policies driven by its reactionary culture. Don't blame businesses and how they set wages for this -- blame their state and local governments.

We'd really need national comprehensive immigration reform, for starters, before we can adequately address the issue of agricultural wages. The Alabama issue is a red herring, even if it's notable for the schadenfreude.

chimaera: "But you see, when a company makes a product and not enough people want to pay what it costs, the company will lower prices. That's how the market works.

When a company opens a job listing, and they don't get enough qualified or interested candidates, the company must increase the attractiveness of the job in order to attract employees. That's how the market works.
"

No, the company simply moves their operations elsewhere, where the local labor force (illegal or not) will work at the wages being offered. Water seeks the lowest level.

The problem with large-scale unskilled work is that there's seldom any reason why it must be done at any specific place. Even when it comes to agriculture, technological advances have opened many geographic options. Businesses simply go to wherever the path of least resistance lies, including out-of-country if necessary. The "market" is too large and fluid to solve this using local wage increases.

Unless you're a local small business that can't move, of course -- then you're screwed by these new race-baiting laws. But this type of volatility just one of many reasons why agribusiness has become such a huge corporate-run industry.
posted by DaShiv at 12:57 AM on November 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


If the defunct business could have been competitive legally, it would have done so.

Haha! So, in fact, you really are arguing that businesses that can only remain afloat by exploiting an underclass of illegal aliens who have no rights or recourse should, well... stay afloat!

An utterly immoral and unethical position!

Otherwise, yeah, what litleozy said, just above.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:57 AM on November 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


Because it's still employing people and being productive.

Is there any type of working condition or pay that you consider out of bounds for a business? Should Massey Energy still be in business? Should indentured servitude be legal? What about child labor laws? Does anything go, as long as capital owners are being "productive?"
posted by dirigibleman at 1:03 AM on November 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


So what you're saying is that pimping out sex workers is fine because, while exploitative and illegal, its economically productive? Why not just have privately run gulags at that point: coercive sure, but they're helping the economy!

I have no problem with sex workers. Coercion, or "gulags", as you put it, are not what we're talking about here, and it's dishonest for you to bring it up.

What's even weirder is that you're saying a market failure (I.e. Wages being paid under market rate) is okay because at least its being otherwise economically productive.

Who is saying this? Wages that are paid to willing workers are not really being paid "under market rate". If a worker is willing to work for a particular wage, it is market rate. It seems to me you object to a worker getting paid less than a rate you think should be market rate. Which is really litleozy rate.

Mate these businesses can only work because of extremely precise and artificial external conditions (workers fear of being deported namely), from a pure capitalist perspective they should fail.

I would think from a pure capitalist perspective, these businesses might be doing the correct thing they need to do to survive.

In fact, these companies are being propped up by government policies, without the current immigration laws they would cease to exist as they do now. Do I get to say socialism or should you?

Government policies create a market for illegal immigrant labor in the first place. Immigration policy in the US has very little regard for market demands. Call it socialism if you wish, but most of your post doesn't really make much sense.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:07 AM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Haha! So, in fact, you really are arguing that businesses that can only remain afloat by exploiting an underclass of illegal aliens who have no rights or recourse should, well... stay afloat!

An utterly immoral and unethical position!


Not really. I argue that some businesses can remain afloat only by paying low wages. Regardless where the employees come from, their legal status, etc.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:09 AM on November 12, 2011


Long time lurker here. I paid finally to say this: Why should any industry or company be able to exist if their workers cannot be paid a living wage.
posted by Drumhellz at 1:12 AM on November 12, 2011 [26 favorites]


Stephen Colbert's testimony before Congress on the issues of immigration and farm labor

Everything that man does is awesome. I know he's got writers, but even so, he's got massive cojones.
posted by JHarris at 1:23 AM on November 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is there any type of working condition or pay that you consider out of bounds for a business?

Sure.

Should Massey Energy still be in business? Should indentured servitude be legal? What about child labor laws? Does anything go, as long as capital owners are being "productive?"

I don't know. I'm not familiar with Massey, and that page has a whole laundry list of supposed bad things it engaged in. A quick scan looks like it may have been a net drain on the rights of others.

It's kind of still acceptable in ways such as military service. I guess in those cases, why not?

I tend to think the labor market in the US is best limited to consenting adults and a few exceptions similar to what currently exists.

I think just about anything goes, as long as participants are free to decide for themselves what they want to do, and rights of others are not infringed upon.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:24 AM on November 12, 2011


Here's one (personal) example-- my brother does skilled manual labor. He prunes and trims trees around an affluent neighborhood, he treats sick trees and tracks tree-related illnesses, and often works with small cities to design tree-friendly thouroughfares and parks. He's also always sided with employers against unions, even when, by doing so, his employer was able to send my brother out on a dangerous job in a thunderstorm with a handful of novice tree-trimmers/english speakers when the job obviously needed an experienced crew. Long story short, my brother was almost killed. He has a reason to be angry! But all of his anger is toward his crew--"Them stupid Mexicans!" and not toward the man who made the money-saving choice to surround him with unqualified people. That guy, btw, laid off my brother and disappeared when the city began to look closely at it's bill.
posted by biddeford at 1:41 AM on November 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


I think just about anything goes, as long as participants are free to decide for themselves what they want to do, and rights of others are not infringed upon.

So you would eliminate all but what what regulations on employers? Let's bring it back to Massey. In the wake of the Upper Branch Mine disaster, which killed 29 miners and was the worst American mining disaster in 40 years, the company was fined over $200,000 for, among other things, having improper ventilation. Do you think it's right that the government can do such a thing? Should a mine be allowed to have improper ventilation if the workers "choose"* to work in the mine?

Let me put it this way: If we had the same government regulations today that we had in, say 1875 (essentially none), would we have a better society today or a worse one?

*"Choose" in this context means "work here or starve to death"
posted by dirigibleman at 1:57 AM on November 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


So you would eliminate all but what what regulations on employers?

I don't know I would eliminate any regulations. However, I would be unwilling to pursue regulation enforcement against illegal immigrants or their employers unless they are causing harm to person or property.

All this stuff about fair wages is really a red herring, though. The main point is that there really are jobs that Americans won't do. There are workers willing and able to do the work. But cannot do so legally, simply because the government says they cannot. The government isn't concerned over immigrant rights. It isn't even really a concern over American jobs or wages. It's about brown skinned folks talking a funny language, having the gall to be seen in and around town doing stuff, where rube voters have to see them.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:11 AM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe once all the jobs are in China, and the US completes its dismantling of unions / job safety regulations / environmental protection it will be able to compete again!
posted by Meatbomb at 2:12 AM on November 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


I have no problem with sex workers. Coercion, or "gulags", as you put it, are not what we're talking about here, and it's dishonest for you to bring it up.

Is coercion by force so different from coercion by poverty? If you're saying, "well, I see that your two choices are slavery or dying of starvation; why don't you come with me and work punishing hours on an intern's wages until you can't work anymore with no regulations protecting you," you're not really giving me an option. You're taking advantage of my desperation. You can make me do anything that is one hair better than the next-best option, which could be something quite horrifying indeed. And that's to say nothing of the abuse you could subject me to, deliberately or because you don't care what your managers do as long as they're efficient or just because you didn't see any reason to spend money on fixing things, because I can't report anything without getting into trouble myself. And of course you would never imply that I would get into more trouble than I really could.

The pimp is kind of the classic capitalist run amok: all the prostitute really needs is a security guard and maybe somebody to handle the logistics or the scheduling, but because his workers need him to guarantee their physical safety/survival, and because he can threaten their physical safety himself, he gets to keep the lion's share of the money. Threaten them, tell the governor to send in the National Guard to bust some heads, whatever.
posted by Adventurer at 2:35 AM on November 12, 2011 [21 favorites]


The main point is that there really are jobs that Americans won't do.

They used to do them. Then the wages went down by 50 percent. But at last people can finally afford meat, unlike those terrible days of the 1950s-1970s?
posted by Adventurer at 2:37 AM on November 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


The main point is that there really are jobs that Americans won't do.

I disagree. Americans (or any other nationality/creed/race/what have you) will do any and all jobs. If Mike Rowe has taught me anything, it's that no matter what kind of work, there's somebody (usually thousands of somebodys) willing to do the work. Hell, there are going to be people who enjoy the work.

I think perhaps what you mean (though it might not make your point for you as well) is there are pay scales that a person with no fear of being evicted from the country will not accept.
posted by Mooski at 3:44 AM on November 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Fair trade works when you have rich, liberal yuppies

Herp derp!
posted by clarknova at 3:56 AM on November 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


The main point is that there really are jobs that Americans won't do.

Really? Name three of them.

There are wages that Americans won't take for doing shitty jobs. Here's $2/hour to clean the sewers. Are you going to accept it? No. Sewer inspectors are fairly well paid because it's a shitty job. Likewise portable toilet cleaner and binman. For that matter agricultural worker is often a horrible job. There are, however, jobs that Americans (and other people) will demand premium wages to do because they are shitty. And generally they are low status jobs. But to say that people will demand decent wages to do shitty jobs doesn't have the same ring as to say they just won't do it.

And telling the truth - that there are certain jobs that Americans demand money to do - puts the blame squarely where it belongs. On the people trying to get something (a job done) while not paying properly for it.
posted by Francis at 4:12 AM on November 12, 2011 [26 favorites]


This is all the inevitable expression of some fundamentally misplaced priorities in our national policies. When the #1 priority is maximizing corporate profits, partly by encouraging the use of overseas labor, you're dumping the burden directly on the American worker. This is morally wrong and economically shortsighted. The #1 national priority should always be improving the lot of American citizens. "Free Trade" does not do that; in fact, it does the opposite. The Occupy movement is a step toward awareness of our misplaced priorities. I hope I live long enough to see those priorities changed.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:24 AM on November 12, 2011 [13 favorites]


Well, there are various things that can happen, no?

1. Prices rise to the level where producers can find employees
2. Economic conditions worsen to the point where indigenous employees are willing to do the work to a high enough standard
3. Producers in affected areas go out of business because they can't compete. Business goes to other states or other countries

I'm betting on (3).
posted by unSane at 4:36 AM on November 12, 2011


"Doubling the compensation of these farmers would add twenty nine whole cents to the price of a pound of strawberries.

Maybe that's the case if it happened in isolation. But suppose every industry did that. There would be big inflation"

posted by shivohum at 4:54 AM

Inflation Hawks, doncha love 'em? We have rampant inflation in the UK, prices in the supermarkets have gone up anywhere from 20 - 50 % in the last 3 years, while inflationis at about 5%. This, despite their being pay freezes for 3 years in practically all areas (except CEO), despite millions being pushed onto the dole due to downsizing/recession/cuts, despite people working short-time to allow the business to stay afloat.

So sorry, but I do not believe this inflation nonsense any more.
posted by marienbad at 4:48 AM on November 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


All this stuff about fair wages is really a red herring, though. The main point is that there really are jobs that Americans won't do. There are workers willing and able to do the work. But cannot do so legally, simply because the government says they cannot. The government isn't concerned over immigrant rights. It isn't even really a concern over American jobs or wages. It's about brown skinned folks talking a funny language, having the gall to be seen in and around town doing stuff, where rube voters have to see them.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:11 AM on November 12 [+] [!]



All I have to say is, what?
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 4:52 AM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Huh? That is inflation

Anyhow the solution to this problem is pretty obvious and should be non offensive to non racists on either side of the aisle - automatic legal residency with a path to citizenship for all. Instantly changes the power dynamic, instantly pulls casual labor into the social safety net
posted by JPD at 4:54 AM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


The great thing about capitalism is that it makes producers run as fast as they can because they are in competition with each other for the favour of customers. The difficult thing about capitalism is that unless you set up the rules of competition right (and also police them), you will get forms of competition that destroy people, institutions, and the environment. Those rules of the competition have to be set from outside the market - they aren't generated 'naturally' by the invisible hand.

Competition in the economy does not work only according to Adam Smith's invisible hand. As Robert Frank puts it very well, success in capitalism is graded on a curve. Producers compete with each other to be the cheapest relative to each other. If the rules permit them to cut corners, they will, because the rewards under capitalism flow to the company able to run a little faster than all the others, whatever the costs to the environment, society, or human lives. But because of competition, the industry as a whole won't make any higher profits than any other.

What this means is that if one changes the rules to bring the standards of wages, benefits, and safety up to that of other industries, the producers 1) will continue to compete with the same intensity 2) continue to make the same level of profits 3) the slight rise in increased prices for consumers will be offset by the reduction in harms to 3rd parties because of the new rules.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 4:58 AM on November 12, 2011 [19 favorites]


All this stuff about fair wages is really a red herring, though. The main point is that there really are jobs that Americans won't do. There are workers willing and able to do the work. But cannot do so legally, simply because the government says they cannot.


No, Australia proves that this is wrong. We know that in absence of exploitable people, these business can and do run profitably.

Firstly, if the government allowed the underclass to work legally as you suggest, then they too would skip over these jobs and head straight to the businesses that paid far more money (but which are currently forbidden to them). You don't realise it but by suggesting the previous arrangement be legalized, you are actually suggesting that the govt should make it legal for them to work for ultra-low wages, and illegal for them to work for high wages, thus continuing the distortion of the market, and forcing permanent underclass status on people by law. That's both bad economics and bad society.

Furthermore, those Australian businesses aid the economy. You claim that these failing US businesses aid their economy, but chances are high that once externalities and opportunity costs are considered, these businesses are actually a drain on the US economy. Especially in terms of opportunity cost - Australia (and other countries) demonstrate how much more productive the same business can be, given the same resources.

What is really happening in the USA is that these businesses have been subsidized and shielded from the market until they have become so weak and complacent that they can no-longer compete in the global marketplace.

Many other countries didn't subsidize and shield their weaklings, and have much stronger businesses as a result.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:01 AM on November 12, 2011 [14 favorites]


I tend to think the labor market in the US is best limited to consenting adults and a few exceptions similar to what currently exists.

I think just about anything goes, as long as participants are free to decide for themselves what they want to do, and rights of others are not infringed upon.


Even in your hyper-libertarian world, "consenting adults" implies a meeting of equals.

If one person comes to the table hat-in-hand, and the other person comes with a full wallet and their own rulebook then the whole idea of "consenting" goes out the window.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:15 AM on November 12, 2011 [12 favorites]


Why do people keep talking about agricultural labour as "unskilled work"? I know that I couldn't do it: I don't know how to pick fruit and vegetables: how to pull so as not to damage the plant, how to organize that picking to clear a field as quickly as required, and I certainly don't have the strength or stamina to pick for 9-10 hours at a time. And it would take me years of working at it to get to the skill level of most agricultural labourers.

Agricultural labour is not unskilled - it is uncredentialed and historically undervalued.
posted by jb at 5:37 AM on November 12, 2011 [35 favorites]


Sub- living wages exist because of state subsidies and rent. If a job pays less than it costs to keep you alive, you keep looking. A $.50 job only makes sense for a resident if it comes with lots of transfer payments. It is not the case that we have run out of occupations whose value added is greater than the cost of basic sustinence.

The imbalance being exploited by illegal employers is the low cost of living due to rent and local service jobs elsewhere for those sending thier money home. Transfering enough wealth to equalize those costs with low skill jobs will take a long time and a lot of poverty here; low-skill workers here will have to pay rent to compete with rich high skill ones, but get paid the same as someone living in the rural third world.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:19 AM on November 12, 2011


Well, there are various things that can happen, no?

1. Prices rise to the level where producers can find employees
2. Economic conditions worsen to the point where indigenous employees are willing to do the work to a high enough standard
3. Producers in affected areas go out of business because they can't compete. Business goes to other states or other countries

I'm betting on (3).
3 then 2
posted by fullerine at 6:43 AM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe we need to stop making this all about "brown skinned people" like some have suggested up thread. Here in the Pacific Northwest, I see a lot of Russians who are working the same kind of low-paying, unskilled labor jobs which others see filled by people from south of the US border in other places. Likewise, Asian immigrants end up being exploited along the west coast.

So, let's leave race out of this.
posted by hippybear at 6:44 AM on November 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why do people keep talking about agricultural labour as "unskilled work"? I know that I couldn't do it:

I've done a bit of both. I don't think it's all that unfair to describe it as unskilled, with the understanding that this is a relative term, not an absolute assessment.
Ie. with an unskilled job, it would take me a few days to learn the job before being sufficiently productive to earn my keep, compared to months or years to learn the job to a similar level for other types of work I've done. Compared to the later, the former is unskilled, relatively speaking, even though skills are involved and compared to doing nothing, it's a skilful activity.

Unskilled work often requires you to be extremely able-bodied, and that's no small thing to have going for you, but it's also not a skill. That a job is difficult to do well doesn't necessarily mean it requires skill. For some jobs, the difficulty is perseverance.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:47 AM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, let's leave race out of this

impossible. the reason why we have such a pointless immigration policy, and the reason why these pointless "anti-illegals" policies exist is all wrapped up in race and racism. That said it might be fair to say the racism extends beyond people of hispanic origin.
posted by JPD at 7:08 AM on November 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Unskilled work often requires you to be extremely able-bodied, and that's no small thing to have going for you, but it's also not a skill.

Isn't it? Why do professional athletes get paid so much, then?
posted by eviemath at 7:11 AM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I loved the last paragraph of the article:

While the politicians and business owners argue, others see opportunity. Michael Maldonado, 19, wakes up at 4:30 each morning in a trailer in Tuscaloosa, about an hour from Harvest Select, where he works as a fish processor. Maldonado, who grew up in an earthen-floor shack in Guatemala, says he likes working at the plant. “One hundred dollars here is 700 quetzals,” he says. “The managers say I am a good worker.” After three years, though, the long hours and scant pay are starting to wear on him. With the business in desperate need of every available hand, it’s not a bad time to test just how much the bosses value his labor. Next week he plans to ask his supervisor for a raise. “I will say to them, ‘If you pay me a little more—just a little more—I will stay working here,’ ” he says. “Otherwise, I will leave. I will go to work in another state.”

posted by eviemath at 7:13 AM on November 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


It only takes a little imagination to figure out what happens.

Behold the Chicago School, which dominates American economic discourse.
posted by Trochanter at 7:17 AM on November 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would love to see what all these products would cost if all the relevant workers were paid what leftists thought was fair. emancipated

-shivohum, 1859
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:22 AM on November 12, 2011 [21 favorites]


These are difficult, dirty, exhausting jobs that, for previous generations, were the first rickety step on the ladder to prosperity. They still are—just not for Americans.

I question the idea that these "dirty" jobs are on a ladder to anywhere, and that is another reason why fewer people are interested. An 18 year old eyeing a tomato picking job vs. and entry-level clerical job knows that the tomato-picking job is going nowhere. You can slave for years in the fields but it isn't a "ladder" it is actually more like a slide-- years of hard, back-breaking labor is going to lead to back-breaking, knee-ruining, joint-aching body problems that end your ability to make a living in that field.

Someone touched on it earlier, but I think it needs to be expounded upon-- the idea that companies need constant growth and that lately that growth has been accomplished by cutting wages/jobs. I think a lot of what ails America can be traced back to the replacing of local companies with National companies-- local companies hire locals and pay whatever the local economy can bear and provide the owners with a living. National companies have to siphon off money to pay stock holders, the board of directors, middle management, and the CEOs. All this while "growing" and producing profits every quarter. All that money is money that used to go into the pockets of employees. So when Deliah's Diner, Joe's Hardware, and Katy's Bookstore were replaced by Appleby's, Home Depot, and Barnes & Noble-- it wasn't just Deliah, Joe, and Katy who got screwed, it was also their employees. I would love to see a chart showing exactly how much money has been siphoned off from local jobs to Wall Street since the 70's.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:28 AM on November 12, 2011 [18 favorites]


Quick Back of Napkin Calculations:

Current Price of Catfish/lb (USD, unprocessed) : $2.75 USD.

$2.75 x 850,000 x 52 = 56 M USD (Input cost)

Current Price of Catfish/lb (USD, processed) : $4.55

$4.55 x 850,000 x 52 = 201M USD

That leaves Mr. Catfish with a scant 145M to run his business on. I'm not seeing a problem-- especially when the data shows that pricing has actually increased very favorably.

What I am sure is going on here is that profits would have to be reduced by .52 % or something that is just completely unacceptable to Catfish Company's Board.


Source:
http://www.ers.usda.gov/data/aquaculture/CatfishPricesByProduct.htm
posted by mrdaneri at 7:31 AM on November 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


It's about brown skinned folks talking a funny language, having the gall to be seen in and around town doing stuff, where rube voters have to see them.

Actually, 2N2222 has a point here. This is a great illustration of how markets are not inherently rational, or rather, how the people participating in markets are not rational actors. A significant number of Alabaman voters don't want migrant workers (regardless of status) around, largely because of race. The resulting changes to the labor market might have been foreseen, but were ignored in favor of non-economic factors.

Even Adam Smith agreed that there need to be structures (usually governmental) in place to set the basic terms and conditions in which markets operate, without which the resulting social disorder prevents his "invisible hand" from functioning freely.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:37 AM on November 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm not defending the guy by any means, but your math is very suspect

1) He's vertically integrated - you need to know how profitable the farms themselves are on that 2.75 number. It wouldn't be unusual for farms to just cover their cash production costs.
2) there isn't 100% yield on unprocessed to processed fish
3) You don't know what his actual labor costs are, you don't know his non-labor costs are - especially capital costs
4) you don't know how much debt he has
5) you forgot taxes

Again, I'm not saying your premise is not correct, just that your model is not.
posted by JPD at 7:42 AM on November 12, 2011


Yup, yup, JPD , just sketching some numbers after a read-through. A more detailed analysis would be a fun excercise... and I am sure that Catfish Company's finance department has built a solid case that paying any more that $STATE_MINIMUM_WAGE would be catastrophic.
posted by mrdaneri at 7:48 AM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't really want to hear about "capitalism" or the "free market" when some businesses have to follow strict rules or get put out of business and others get a free pass.
posted by melissam at 7:49 AM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


impossible. the reason why we have such a pointless immigration policy, and the reason why these pointless "anti-illegals" policies exist is all wrapped up in race and racism. That said it might be fair to say the racism extends beyond people of hispanic origin.

Everything would be so much easier if it were just race and racism and brown skin, wouldn't it? But it just isn't that simple. When I lived in Spain there was a massive issue involving Romanian agricultural workers who had flooded the eastern coast looking for work. We had the same kinds of tensions with these immigrants as we see here in the United States: complaints that they were taking Spaniards jobs, complaints that they were leading to increased crime, complaints about the schools being ruined by immigrants demanding Romanian be taught alongside Castellano and Valenciano.

Race is a great way to inflame and emotionalize issues. It is not, however, the necessary root of all problems.
posted by tgrundke at 7:49 AM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Look at how immigration has historically been regulated in the US. To say it isn't about race is just naive. And don't forget there was a time when Italian's and Jews were considered different races of man. Go look at the eugenics movement in the US and how that tied into immigration policy.

When was the last time you heard someone complaining about the undocumented Canadian menace.

I would reject using European examples, only because those cultures were not built on an immigrant experience, but even then take the example of french migrants - how the portuguese and italian immigrants were integrated much more quickly into French culture then were the north africans. I suspect I could get a right wing spaniard to argue pretty quickly that "Romanians are Slavs, and aren't intrinsically 'our sort of people'"
posted by JPD at 7:57 AM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


JPD -

I get your point, but it's the last sentence I have to ask for clarification on: are you suggesting that the only people who are anti-immigrant are right wing/conservatives?
posted by tgrundke at 8:04 AM on November 12, 2011


I would love to see what all these products would cost if all the relevant workers were paid what leftists thought was fair. emancipated

-XQUZYPHYR, Russia, 1917

Does this kind of thing really advance the discussion?
posted by shivohum at 8:12 AM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


it's the last sentence I have to ask for clarification on: are you suggesting that the only people who are anti-immigrant are right wing/conservatives?

no no, just lazy writing and a history of really awful conversation with far right spanish folks that colors my thoughts.

I tend to think anti-immigration as a populist issue, both from the left and the right, although in the US of the moment populism as a movement seems to be much more of a right movement.
posted by JPD at 8:44 AM on November 12, 2011


... with an unskilled job, it would take me a few days to learn the job before being sufficiently productive to earn my keep, compared to months or years to learn the job to a similar level for other types of work I've done.

Sorry, but you have no idea. I've worked along side these professional pickers and they are truly virtuosos with their hands, not to speak of their strength and endurance. They move so fast that their hands are just a blur. In fruit picking it requires skill to remove the fruit without damage and without damaging the plant. You can't just go around yanking on fruit. You cannot learn their skills even in weeks. It takes a long time to develop those skills. You have to see it to believe it. Please do not propagate ignorant beliefs about "unskilled" field workers that you have not experienced.
posted by JackFlash at 8:47 AM on November 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


The real problem is that the general public has come to expect fresh fruit and vegetables to be cheap. DIRT cheap.. If you look at the Change in time of the Percentage of Income Spent on Food; it has dropped from about 20% - 10%.

http://theintrinsicvalue.com/research/food-inflation-how-much-percentage-of-income-is-spent-on-food


So the question is really how has this become possible? I would suspect that part of it is through increases in productivity but a large proportion is due to exploitation of the workforce.

Amercians won't take these jobs cause they don't even pay enough to buy the goods, fruit and vegetables they are producing..

I expect this is also connected with the the explosion in the 80s and 90s of Real Estate investment and speculation. :

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/6973290/Family-finance-price-comparison.html

UK Data:
1969
Food 26.1%
Transport and vehicles 13.9%
Housing 12.4%
Alcohol and tobacco 9.4%

2010: the Alexander family
Household goods and services 25.1%
Housing 23%
Misc 12.5%
Recreation and culture 11.4%
Clothing 9.4%
Food 7.0%
Transport 3.6%
Education 2.7%
Health 1.6%
Fuel 1.3%
Communications 1.2%
Alcohol and tobacco 0.9%
Restaurants and hotels 0.3%

posted by mary8nne at 8:54 AM on November 12, 2011


Yup. Remove people who will work under terrible conditions for unfair wages from the labor pool, and watch businesses eventually have to raise their prices accordingly.

Yup. Remove people who will work under terrible conditions for unfair wages from the labor pool, and watch businesses eventually have to raise their prices reduce their profits accordingly.

Pick one.

posted by Sys Rq at 6:30 PM on November 11 [14 favorites +] [!]

Sys Rq's comment points out a painful truth about the U.S. economic environment at the moment--both of the above choices are completely unpalatable. There are substantial pressures, both real and illusory, that make an increase in price or reduction of profit completely terrifying to the corporate entity.

The primary pressure here is the issue of pricing. Even an increase in price by 2% (remember our Catfish scenario above) would reduce sales--a business is going to lose them either to their domestic competitors or, as furiosxgeorge pointed out, to international competitors. This is potentially devastating to a business.

Now, you can solve the domestic pressures through federal regulation. If you level the playing field, then the Catfish producers all face the same price increase. The problem is, we cannot easily solve the international pressures. Globalization ties our hands--it's up to us as consumers to solve that problem by selectively purchasing our products. However, I think it's plain to see how bad we are as a culture at doing that.

Reducing profits works the same way, though it's more of an illusory pressure. Investment flows where it sees the highest return. Cut your profits so you can pay your workers and you lose out on more and more cashflow. Again, the issue can be solved only through federal regulation domestically (which, by the way, in this political environment???), and cannot be fixed in the international market without U.S. consumers waking the fuck up.

tl;dr We're going to trudge along like this until we finally have a paradigm shift in our economy. I just hope that it's one that comes without enormous upheaval.
posted by Room 101 at 8:59 AM on November 12, 2011


Does this kind of thing really advance the discussion?

That is a very cute way of saying you don't want to defend your original comment. If you're defending wages of below-livable by saying "raising them would increase prices" then you logically must believe that raising wages above zero creates the same problem. I'm not using hyperbole- that is literally how Southern cotton farmers defended slavery. Exactly why do you support one and not the other? Because merely living in eternal poverty instead of forced servitude is just high enough a threshold for you to feel okay with your self-described "selfishness" in your next comment? Or do you have an actual opinion of what an "ideal" wage to a non-"leftist" such as yourself would be? Because in a handful of comments you've refused to say what you think these workers should be paid; only that paying them more would be inconvenient for "everybody," and by "everybody" we all realize you mean "you."

You "advanced discussion" by "wondering what the leftists" would think if prices of produce went up. Well then I get to "advance discussion" by "wondering what the anti-fair-labor apologists" would think if they got a fifty-cent price drop by slashing wages or hell, why not just get prison labor to do it. Would you be outraged? Or would you just shrug and say "well, I'm not a saint" again before taking a bite of freshly-picked FuckIfICare?

As far as your version to me: "I would love to see all the workers emancipated?" Yeah, You don't need to quote me to 1917. I'm saying that right now, champ. Discussion advanced.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:57 AM on November 12, 2011 [21 favorites]


I'm not using hyperbole- that is literally how Southern cotton farmers defended slavery.

And I'm not kidding--workers' rhetoric like what you're proposing is exactly how Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler came to power. This is called using emotional rhetoric to muddy calm, policy-based debate.

There is a pretty clear moral difference between owning a person and forcing them to work by threat of physical punishment or death, and hiring someone at a low wage. If you don't think there is such a difference--that there is no difference between action and inaction--then I suppose there is a moral chasm here that cannot be bridged. I can only console myself with the thought that most likely people like you will never come into power and will remain a shrill minority.

I've been quite clear that I support the gradual amelioration of poverty by globalized capitalism. I also support -- and I've alluded to this -- a certain government social safety net.

Anyway, you enjoy preaching to people whom you've already converted and scoring rhetorical points in your own mind.
posted by shivohum at 11:09 AM on November 12, 2011


tgrundke: "JPD -

I get your point, but it's the last sentence I have to ask for clarification on: are you suggesting that the only people who are anti-immigrant are right wing/conservatives?
"

Nah - you can be a socialist bigot, too.
posted by symbioid at 11:28 AM on November 12, 2011


Bighappyfunhouse: "Obligitory"

Derail: Man, Jim Martin looks so much more badass with a beard.
posted by symbioid at 11:33 AM on November 12, 2011


There is a pretty clear moral difference between owning a person and forcing them to work by threat of physical punishment or death, and hiring someone at a low wage.

If you hire them in a system where you can, at a whim, have them arrested, detained, and deported back into abject poverty and an ongoing civil war, the difference is academic.

In the end the fears they live under, the fear to organize for better wages and working conditions, the fear to report employers for wage theft and abuse, the fear to collect on social benefits they've paid into via payroll taxes: that makes them and their children into second class citizens. If you think there's a fundamental difference between that and chattel slavery you're arguing form, not function.
posted by clarknova at 11:38 AM on November 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


I can only console myself with the thought that most likely people like you will never come into power and will remain a shrill minority.

Wow.

Anyway, you enjoy preaching to people whom you've already converted and scoring rhetorical points in your own mind.

I really, really don't think I'm the one whose been desperate to convince himself he's a force of good in this thread. But hey, at least you morally draw the line at letting people starve to death instead of it being legal to beat them. So thanks for advancing that, I guess.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:42 AM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


In the end the fears they live under, the fear to organize for better wages and working conditions, the fear to report employers for wage theft and abuse, the fear to collect on social benefits they've paid into via payroll taxes: that makes them and their children into second class citizens. If you think there's a fundamental difference between that and chattel slavery you're arguing form, not function.

Legalize them, then. I am not at all necessarily against that. But you can't have legalization + minimum wage + they get all welfare benefits. For one thing a minimum wage would make it impossible for them to be hired -- they would lose the very competitive advantage they have over legal aliens. For another thing the nation would be swamped with welfare immigration.

A legal, migrant worker status with circumscribed limits on welfare benefits, no minimum wage, protections against things like wage theft and abuse, and a long but quite possible path to citizenship would likely make a lot of sense.
posted by shivohum at 11:49 AM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


shivohum writes "I would love to see what all these products would cost if all the relevant workers were paid what leftists thought was fair. My guess is that most of these products would become completely unaffordable to most people, gutting most of these industries, and thus killing most of the now-higher-paying jobs in those industries."

The tomato pickers were making $2 per bushel or at 53lb to the bushel a whopping 3.8 cents per pound. Give them a 50+% pay raise to 6 cents a pound and then double that raise twice to account for middleman churn and you've raised the price of tomatoes less than 9 cents per pound. You're right; that totally pushes tomatoes into completely affordable territory for most people.

Slinga writes "Well, pre-employment drug testing is banned in Canada, so I don't really think it's necessary in the US, whether for liability or insurance reasons or anything."

Ha ha ha ha, ha, ha ha ha ha ha. Seriously though there is a huge loop hole that allows industries with a bonifide safety concern to use pre-employment drug and alcohol testing as a screen and post incident testing as an excuse for firing. Every single one of the hundreds of workers on my current work site were tested before being allowed on site and we are tested after any lost time incident.
posted by Mitheral at 11:50 AM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Unskilled work often requires you to be extremely able-bodied, and that's no small thing to have going for you, but it's also not a skill.

Isn't it? Why do professional athletes get paid so much, then?


Seriously?!

Do extremely able-bodied people get paid as much as professional athletes?

No. No they don't.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:50 AM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


(I myself am at least as able-bodied as Tiger Woods. That doesn't mean I'm an expert with a golf club)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:55 AM on November 12, 2011


And I'm not kidding--workers' rhetoric like what you're proposing is exactly how Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler came to power.

Also, George Washington.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:07 PM on November 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


A legal, migrant worker status with circumscribed limits on welfare benefits, no minimum wage, protections against things like wage theft and abuse, and a long but quite possible path to citizenship would likely make a lot of sense.

In other words, they shouldn't be paid fairly. That wouldn't make sense.

I am fascinated with the number of ways you keep trying to say this without, you know, just saying it.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:09 PM on November 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


Sorry, but you have no idea. I've worked along side these professional pickers and they are truly virtuosos with their hands, not to speak of their strength and endurance. They move so fast that their hands are just a blur. In fruit picking it requires skill to remove the fruit without damage and without damaging the plant. You can't just go around yanking on fruit. You cannot learn their skills even in weeks.

I do have an idea, and I don't think you're thinking this through.. I didn't claim I can match the skill of the best in a few days, I said that in a few days I can acquire enough skill to become productive enough to make myself worth my pay. Hence it is unskilled RELATIVE to some occupations where this is so far from true as to be ridiculous.

And the employers not only agree with me, but put their money behind it with their hiring requirements not requiring years of experience. Even where fruit pickers get a much higher wage, it is possible to get work with little experience.

Some skills really do not take the same amount of time to get up and running than others. And some jobs require you to be highly proficient in a few specialized skills, while others require high proficiency in hundreds of specialized skills. I don't see much advantage to trying to talk away the realities of this.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:15 PM on November 12, 2011


A legal, migrant worker status with circumscribed limits on welfare benefits, no minimum wage, protections against things like wage theft and abuse, and a long but quite possible path to citizenship would likely make a lot of sense.

I'm almost with you, but you're stuck on having a working population whose wages undercut your own, for some odd reason. Large, cheap labor pools are incredibly corrosive to society. They drive down wages for everyone else. This is why we outlawed child labor.

Conversely, organized, unionized workers who successfully negotiated for higher wages and bennies drove up the standard of living for you and I. Large labor pools who expected, ne demanded a solid wage and pension are why you and I still have a faint, fleeting expectation of such things.

You want to be able to afford the extra dime a pound on produce? Support a reasonable baseline wage for all workers, brown or not, that you could see yourself living on.
posted by clarknova at 12:16 PM on November 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


In other words, they shouldn't be paid fairly. That wouldn't make sense.

The alternative is that they wouldn't be hired (and paid) at all.

I'm almost with you, but you're stuck on having a working population whose wages undercut your own, for some odd reason.

Most Americans are not in the tomato picking business and have no desire to be. I doubt migrant workers would compete for good middle-class jobs anytime soon, and if that was an issue perhaps they could be limited to certain industries.

Though it's a separate and interesting moral question why it is that a migrant worker should not be hired to do the same job if they're willing to do it for less. A minimum wage effectively bars them from the job in favor of a native. The US allowed much freer immigration earlier in its history, and it seemed to benefit us. Note of course that there were no minimum wage or welfare benefits at that time.

Conversely, organized, unionized workers who successfully negotiated for higher wages and bennies drove up the standard of living for you and I. Large labor pools who expected, ne demanded a solid wage and pension are why you and I still have a faint, fleeting expectation of such things.

Yes, unions deserve some credit for that. But I'd credit most of these benefits ultimately to increasing American worker productivity. Also, labor unions have arguably driven American manufacturing out of America, and they entrench public sector bureaucracies.
posted by shivohum at 12:37 PM on November 12, 2011


"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (except immigrants, foreigners, and poor people) are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..."
posted by blue_beetle at 12:46 PM on November 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Most Americans are not in the tomato picking business and have no desire to be.

This would likely change overnight if American picking was more like Australian picking. I don't think it's a useful assumption, nor are conclusions leading from it.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:48 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


The alternative is that they wouldn't be hired (and paid) at all.

That is not how markets work.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 12:52 PM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Though it's a separate and interesting moral question why it is that a migrant worker should not be hired to do the same job if they're willing to do it for less.

They might not be willing to do it for less. They might only seem willing because they're currently forced to either work for less or not work at all, because the regular-pay jobs (McDonalds) are legally off-limits for them.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:54 PM on November 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Most Americans are not in the tomato picking business and have no desire to be.

You may not think that undercuts you because you work in new media or value-added widget twiddling or whatever, e to sully and you'll never have to sully your hands, but it does regardless.
posted by clarknova at 12:56 PM on November 12, 2011


That is not how markets work.

So you're saying migrant workers would continue to be hired in the same numbers if they had to be paid minimum wage? That is not how markets work.

They might not be willing to do it for less. They might only seem willing because they're currently forced to either work for less or not work at all, because the regular-pay jobs (McDonalds) are legally off-limits for them.

No one is "willing" to work at all unless they have to in order to sustain themselves. If everyone could they'd be rich and lounge around all day. So willingness obviously happens in the context of need -- the need to eat, shelter, pay bills, and so forth -- and a market.

By that standard, immigrants who would otherwise in their home countries live in total poverty are more than willing to do jobs at far lower rates than Americans. To set the minimum wage high means to tell them they can't have those jobs. They have to stay home, in even worse poverty.
posted by shivohum at 1:00 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would love to see what all these products would cost if all the relevant workers were paid what leftists thought was fair.

So, let's say that Fred is paid $10/hr to clean hogs. He cleans 20 an hour. Let's say his pay is doubled, to $20/hour. That means that each hog will now cost an extra FIFTY CENTS. Wow. Totally unaffordable now, huh? And this is a poor argument because odds are Fred is cleaning a hell of a lot more hogs than 20 an hour.

If you're picking 150 tomatoes an hour, which is most likely insanely low as well, and we double your pay from $6/hr to $12/hr, that's an extra $6, so each tomato's price will have to be an extra 4 cents. Again, doesn't seem like a relevant price increase. Fair trade works fine, it just doesn't work when the CEO is making 500 times what the common worker makes, and when you have a headquarters full of white-collar workers to support.

Fair trade needs to be brought to the US.


104 favorites so far, and this is unfortunately complete nonsense.

First of all, even if the analysis is right about tomatoes costing an extra four cents: that's unsold tomatoes. Only a small fraction of those are sold, so you'd have to raise the cost by many times four cents. You might not care about paying an extra 25 cents per tomato when you're making an evening salad. A ketchup producer like Heinz would not be able to afford paying that without the price of ketchup going up by maybe a couple dollars, etc. etc. Everything would get way more expensive.

But, it's not just tomatoes. If you raise wages for unskilled labor in one place, you have to raise them across the board (otherwise, who gets the tomato picking jobs that are in such high demand?) At that point, everything — not just tomatos — has gotten more expensive without any increase in quality. Welcome to inflation. Is it unreasonable to fight against the depreciation of one's hard-earned savings?

It gets worse when you go forward a few years. Everything costs more, and the tomato pickers have been saving some of their earnings. Now, they don't want to do the same back-breaking work. Who is going to fill in for them? Everyone else has also been paid more, and they have savings too. So, you have to raise wages again. One reason that society might want to maintain a class of impoverished people is that these are desperate and exploitable laborers, and their existence mitigates inflation.

People think immigration and poverty policy are motivated by human rights. In my experience these are driven more by concern over inflation, which is the perpetual transfer of wealth from people who have saved money to everyone else.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:01 PM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


So you're saying migrant workers would continue to be hired in the same numbers if they had to be paid minimum wage? That is not how markets work.

No, that's not what I'm saying. You said that if they had to be paid minimum wage, they wouldn't be hired at all. That is false.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:01 PM on November 12, 2011


So what's your solution, shivohum?

All the migrants have been scared off, or sent back whence they came. Americans won't do the work for the wages offered, and owners won't raise wages. What remedy do you propose?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:02 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


104 favorites so far, and this is unfortunately complete nonsense.

Complete nonsense, and yet Australia proves it works, and that it isn't nonsense at all.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:08 PM on November 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


All the migrants have been scared off, or sent back whence they came. Americans won't do the work for the wages offered, and owners won't raise wages. What remedy do you propose?

The solution is pretty easy: they can raise wages and either raise prices or profit less, or continue refusing to raise wages, lose their crops, and go bankrupt.

The smarter companies will see the writing on the wall, raise wages before the stupid ones, and still have a crop to sell (for a higher price, given reduced supply).
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:10 PM on November 12, 2011


It's becoming common to lament the quality of the educational system in the United States as it relates to maths and sciences (STEM, as they call it) but I weep for the lack of a sense of history, of why things are the way they are, and how they came to be thus. Of course, no one has time for that, because there are tests to teach to, and most importantly, wars to re-fight, depressions to re-live, and dust bowls to re-create.
posted by feloniousmonk at 1:19 PM on November 12, 2011 [12 favorites]


No one is "willing" to work at all unless they have to in order to sustain themselves. If everyone could they'd be rich and lounge around all day.

Maybe this is true for some people -- possibly even a lot of people, I don't know. But it's a flat-out falsehood categorically. The need to sustain yourself isn't the only need most people have. Some people need to define themselves by doing something, some people are internally driven to create things because they just want them to exist. Many of the people I know would work. Growing tomatoes among other things in garden-size quantities is something lots of people I'm acquainted with do voluntarily, even though they have the means to just go to the store and buy them.
posted by weston at 1:22 PM on November 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


shivohum: "...And I'm not kidding--workers' rhetoric like what you're proposing is exactly how Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler came to power. This is called using emotional rhetoric to muddy calm, policy-based debate."

Wait. Holdup - You're saying that discussing shit about rights to fair wages is "rhetoric" and is the same kind of thing that leads to Stalinism and Hitler? And somehow he's the one muddying the debate when it's you who's totally using some bizarre slippery slope analogy?

Why are we even wasting our time if this is your essential position and way of arguing?
posted by symbioid at 1:26 PM on November 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


clarknova: "I'm almost with you, but you're stuck on having a working population whose wages undercut your own, for some odd reason."

It all makes sense when you realize he (she?)'s your posterchild Libertarian defender of Capitalism. My guess is they would rather remove ANY minimum wage so we could all work at the great and mighty "fair" wage that the "rational" market would work out for us, as long as we just shut our yap, we, too, could stop making so much money and work at lower wages and the jobs would come flowing back from China. Duh.
posted by symbioid at 1:30 PM on November 12, 2011


Coalition of Immokalee Workers:
On March 8, 2005, Yum! Brands, Inc., parent company of Taco Bell, agreed to all of the CIW's demands, including:

The first-ever direct, ongoing payment by a fast-food industry leader to farmworkers in its supply chain to address sub-standard farm labor wages (nearly doubling the percentage of the final retail price that goes to the workers who pick the produce);

The first-ever enforceable Code of Conduct for agricultural suppliers in the fast-food industry (which includes the CIW as part of the investigative body for monitoring worker complaints);

Market incentives for agricultural suppliers willing to respect their workers’ human rights, even when those rights are not guaranteed by law;

100% transparency for Taco Bell’s tomato purchases in Florida.
Do I pay more when I go to T-Bell now? Sure. Is it because of the tomato pickers? Partially, but food in general has gone up and it's not all because of the crazy commie unions out their fighting for a fair share.

Does it suck that I have to pay more? Yeah. I miss 59/79/99... And damn if Chilitos (sorry: "Chili Cheese Burrito") shouldn't be cheaper. But I digress... The prices aren't an unbearable increase, and they still have plenty of cheap items on the menu.

Fuck, now I wanna run for the border...
posted by symbioid at 1:45 PM on November 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


It all makes sense when you realize he (she?)'s your posterchild Libertarian defender of Capitalism.

Can one really be a Libertarian and conceive of the sole motivation for employment as subsistence? Seems to me that once you accept the idea that employment and survival are necessarily tied together like that, you've implicitly accepted the idea that private employers wield the threat of force.

I suppose there's lots of areas of Libertarianism and maybe there's a side of it that has nothing to do with categorical rejection of coercion.
posted by weston at 2:22 PM on November 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


Weston, not if you're a libertarian-socialist, but a capital-l "Libertarian" in the sense of a libertarian capitalist. I used to be one of them for a brief period, and came exactly to your conclusion. Of course - how do you assure that everyone assures everyone has the right to survive without coersion? I like to call myself a Libertarian Social Democrat (that's right: LSD). I have a fond spot in my heart for green/decentralized/libertarian-socialist concepts, but believe that democratic socialism is probably the best way to implement some of this stuff.

Anyways, I see what you're saying and I think it's quite a good point for those who call themselves libertarian to really think about. It's interesting as well, when you bring this point up about employment being tied to survival and the parallel with the US system of health-care tied to employment, and the threads on metafilter that have comments about the effect this has on entrepreneurship inhibition.
posted by symbioid at 2:34 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Harlequin, I know you mean well but you are making ignorant statements about something you know nothing about. It is insulting to workers.

I didn't claim I can match the skill of the best in a few days, I said that in a few days I can acquire enough skill to become productive enough to make myself worth my pay.

No. No you can not. Good pickers can pick literally 10 times faster than inexperienced workers. It isn't muscle -- it's skill. You don't develop those skills in a few days any more than you can learn to sink free throws in a few days. You might get reasonably good after a year. Better after a second year. You would not be worth your pay for one-tenth the output during that time.

This is why most pickers are not given a wage but instead get piece-work, paid by the box. If you are not really good, you don't make a living and quit. You, as an inexperienced worker, would not be able to support yourself in your first year because you would be too slow and not pick enough boxes to live on. Most pickers learn their skills as children working along side their parents. Or they may learn it from other family members who support them the first season while they become skilled enough to support themselves. You don't learn it in a few days. Seriously, you have no idea how good these pickers are compared to the inexperienced. To say that you can pick it up in a few days is both hubris and insulting.

And the employers not only agree with me, but put their money behind it with their hiring requirements not requiring years of experience. Even where fruit pickers get a much higher wage, it is possible to get work with little experience.

No, employers are very selective where workers are in surplus. Produce that sits in the fields spoils quickly so you need the fastest and most skilled workers. Farmers may have only a few days to get it all in or they lose everything. They have no time for amateurs. Straw bosses select only most skilled workers whenever they have a choice. Occasionally some farmers will allow a few high school or college kids to pick as a summer job but that is more or less charity. They don't pick much and don't earn much and can get in the way of the professionals.
posted by JackFlash at 2:45 PM on November 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


There is a pretty clear moral difference between owning a person and forcing them to work by threat of physical punishment or death, and hiring someone at a low wage.

Not necessarily. You can say, "I'm not pointing a gun at their heads, so I'm not actually forcing them to do what I want them to do on my terms." But if their options are death or work that is the equivalent of imprisonment, your coming along and saying, "hey, come work in my mine under conditions I would never offer any American because I'm vaguely aware that they're fully human and only going to be alive once and more importantly they would never agree do it and the law won't let me even try it over there" makes you a kind of slave master, even though you're not the one actually holding the gun. You're just letting somebody else hold the gun for you.

The fact that you're paying them a little money doesn't figure -- slave owners laid out some money to keep their workers clothed and fed.

There is this fig leaf where you can say, oh, but if these foreign workers worked harder and pulled themselves up and thought of a really great idea and had some talent and no obligations to keep somebody else alive and were extremely lucky, they wouldn't have to take my substandard inhumane job at all. But realistically, given the number of people from that population who have the resources and luck to do that, and given how many escapes the job market actually has room for, you might as well say, "but they could always run away and find work up north."

You can say "but offering them this job is better than leaving them in poverty," but there is no moral way to justify making them work under your shitty Triangle Shirtwaist Factory terms because they're desperate instead of giving them the equivalent of American wages. I mean, if you want to bring morals into it.
posted by Adventurer at 2:47 PM on November 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yes, unions deserve some credit for that. But I'd credit most of these benefits ultimately to increasing American worker productivity. Also, labor unions have arguably driven American manufacturing out of America, and they entrench public sector bureaucracies.

Demonstrably untrue. Feloniousmonk's comment re:history literacy alludes to this.

Unions have had fuck-all to do with manufacturing leaving. Regulatory capture by business that has created laws that allowed business to ship jobs away en masse WITH NO REPERCUSSIONS (and, actually, literally with benefits and advantages in many cases) has driven manufacturing out of America.

And productivity has SKYROCKETED over the last thirty years. In that same time PROFITS have skyrocketed while wages have remained stagnant.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:52 PM on November 12, 2011 [14 favorites]


JackFlash, it's one country's agriculture you're talking about. In others, in mine (Australia) for instance, as I said, farmers and orchardists don't rely so much on piece rates, or pay a piece rate or bonuses on top of a base hourly, and tend to hire large numbers of transient workers. The prices are higher for fresh fruit and vegetables than in the US, it's true, but the major factor affecting produce price is still weather. Good seasons glut, drought sends the prices up, and storms and fire send them through the roof.

Most pickers learn their skills as children working along side their parents.

In my country school is compulsory and child labour is fairly strictly prohibited. I thought this was the case in the American States as well?
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:13 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fiasco da Gama, regulations requiring children to attend school in the US are poorly enforced for illegal immigrants (and some states are starting to make laws that in fact make it quite difficult or impossible for children of illegal immigrants to attend local public schools). Additionally, children of migrant workers move so much that, even if they do go to school where their family is at in any given week or month, they tend to be seriously under-served by their school experiences.
posted by eviemath at 3:27 PM on November 12, 2011


So what, a farmer or gang supervisor can just put kids on as pickers? That's appalling.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:29 PM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


You said that if they had to be paid minimum wage, they wouldn't be hired at all. That is false.

Oh, pardon me. Almost all of them wouldn't be hired at all. Why would an employer deal with the hassle of workers who are undocumented -- and thus legal liabilities -- AND who likely don't speak English just so they can pay them the same wages they could pay a legal resident?

What remedy do you propose?

I proposed one option above: bring back the migrants in a legal way with no minimum wage and minimal welfare benefits.

The need to sustain yourself isn't the only need most people have. Some people need to define themselves by doing something, some people are internally driven to create things because they just want them to exist.


You're right. That's true for certain creative or spiritual activities. The overwhelming majority of work consists of boring, tiresome things, irritating deadlines, bosses, forced hours, etc. No one wants those if they can avoid them.

And somehow he's the one muddying the debate when it's you who's totally using some bizarre slippery slope analogy?


That's not what's happening at all. Go back and read the whole chain of responses back and forth.

your posterchild Libertarian defender of Capitalism


I'm not a libertarian. More like a realistic capitalist moderate.

You can say "but offering them this job is better than leaving them in poverty," but there is no moral way to justify making them work under your shitty Triangle Shirtwaist Factory terms because they're desperate instead of giving them the equivalent of American wages.


Sure there is. The justification is: they would be even worse off otherwise, and to increase their salary to American levels would be to get rid of your main reason to hire them.
posted by shivohum at 3:30 PM on November 12, 2011


And productivity has SKYROCKETED over the last thirty years. In that same time PROFITS have skyrocketed while wages have remained stagnant.

Those are averages and hide the fact that productivity gains have been very uneven. More highly educated workers have gotten the lion's share of the gains. They've also gotten plenty of wage increases.
posted by shivohum at 3:36 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


In my country school is compulsory and child labour is fairly strictly prohibited. I thought this was the case in the American States as well?

Well, we are talking about illegally employed workers here. What are these rules you speak of?

But even for legal workers, agricultural labor is specifically exempted from most child labor regulations. For example:

1. There is no minimum age for child agricultural workers outside of school hours with parental consent.

2.Fourteen year old agricultural workers do not require parental consent to work outside of school hours.

3. Sixteen year old agricultural workers are permitted to work during school hours and are also permitted to perform hazardous labor.

4. And of course during the summer, you can have five year olds in the fields but they are usually there just because their parents have no other place to send them while they are working.

And many agricultural jobs are exempt from minimum wage, for adults and children.
posted by JackFlash at 3:43 PM on November 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I proposed one option above: bring back the migrants in a legal way with no minimum wage and minimal welfare benefits.

So a sort of Bracero Program?

One that will be immediately attacked by the Tea Party and various Fox News ideologues if it is proposed by the Obama administration? Now we're back where we started.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:45 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I haven't heard stories of young kids working the farm fields lately. I think when child labor laws were first enacted, some kids still went out into the fields with their parents, but weren't "working" - only the parents would bring containers in to be weighed and paid for their work, not the kids anymore. I know at least some of the blueberry operations in Maine, for example, have some programs for children of their seasonal laborers (not sponsored by the company, but they allow an outside group to come in and run educational programs for the kids). I think that's still relatively uncommon, though? So then the question is, in the cases where the kids don't go to school (maybe the farm is in a rural area and there is no bus service because it's not a location where children consistently live, and the parents have to start work early and end late and don't have time or resources to drive the kids to school, or maybe they can't register the kids without proper documentation, or any of a number of other possibilities), what do they do all day? Are they left unsupervised in the camp? Or do older kids supervise the younger kids? I imagine companies nowadays don't allow young kids in the fields, like kids aren't allowed on factory floors, because even apart from safety concerns and child labor law concerns, it might slow everyone else down and get in the way of the work and the business, but I don't really know what usually happens with the kids. I do know that, as JackFlash says, while the basics of most field labor are quick to pick up, becoming truly skilled at it and as fast as many experienced laborers are does take years. Local teenagers one place I lived in Maine would get summer jobs raking blueberries, but unless it was something that other members of their family did year after year and could instruct them in, they generally made such poor wages that it wasn't worth it for them to do it for more than one season in a row - it was more of a character-building experience than a financially useful employment experience.

I would not be surprised if some companies weren't too careful with regulations about exactly what age teenagers are allowed to begin working at. Considering many aren't too careful with regulations about hiring only documented workers, or with paying full value and not skimping, or with environmental safety considerations like not spraying pesticides from planes while workers are in the fields. And in the worst case, what prompted the founding of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, keeping undocumented workers in outright slavery.
posted by eviemath at 3:48 PM on November 12, 2011


On postview, JackFlash indicates that yes, young children do still follow their parents into the fields.
posted by eviemath at 3:50 PM on November 12, 2011


Second-class workers exist in the US today in the form of H1-B visas. True, they're paid (a lot) more than the migrant workers we're talking about, but the idea isn't entirely unprecedented.

The way I see it, the CEO can see two choices; pay workers more (but that's practically un-American), or the alternative, start paying off politicians to see things your way.
posted by fragmede at 4:12 PM on November 12, 2011


The justification is: they would be even worse off otherwise, and to increase their salary to American levels would be to get rid of your main reason to hire them.

That's not a justification. You can justify anything from a penny above the going rate that way. If you can pay an American enough money to permit them to not live miserably, it is wrong to choose to instead pay somebody else a miserable wage under bad/unsafe/inhumane/unregulated conditions because they don't happen to be protected by American laws and literally have to take it. It's exploitation, pure and simple. If you want to give those workers jobs instead of workers from some other area, treat them like humans and pay them the local equivalent of what you would need to be paid to do the work.

The fact that you're incidentally upgrading someone's circumstances from "appalling" to "very bad" does not counteract the fact that you are still treating them very badly.

If there is no way to operate your business without relying on the fact that your employees have no other option but impoverishment or death, your business should fail.
posted by Adventurer at 4:14 PM on November 12, 2011 [12 favorites]


You're right. That's true for certain creative or spiritual activities. The overwhelming majority of work consists of boring, tiresome things, irritating deadlines, bosses, forced hours, etc. No one wants those if they can avoid them.

For the sake of argument, give me three examples of something that is (a) doesn't threaten the life or health of the person doing the job (b) wouldn't get done *at all* if everyone had a pass to do something else instead (c) seem more or less essential to your life -- or, if you want to fall back on something weaker, your quality of life.

I actually have trouble thinking of much. There are people who literally choose to shovel shit... because it's part and parcel of owning a horse (or other animal). Sure, they'll pay somebody else to do it if they can find someone who will. But if everybody had a pass to avoid doing this, it's not that it wouldn't get done.

Which is to say that in some ways, it's even worse than you're suggesting. Even if we're talking about "creative and spiritual activities," there aren't many which don't require as part of their execution significant components that people find boring, tiresome, a scheduled and regular disciplined investment of time, and even sometimes oversight by teachers and mentors if not a boss.

But by the same token, I think there's very little work -- even that which contains boring and tedious and supervised elements -- that's also worthwhile that can't be approached with a sense of presence and investment.

I also think it's possible that in a society where people weren't forced by necessity to work that the organizational models for providing goods and services would look somewhat different than they do today. Some industrial models wouldn't hold up at all. Others would only hold up with significantly different work cultures. And so the goods and services might look very different, too. The question is whether we would really be missing anything essential, though.

Personally, my suspicion is that a good chunk of the problem is that in a society where work is primarily incentivized by survival and profit, the tendency is toward institutions that first allow boring, tiresome things, irritating deadlines, bosses, forced hours, etc because they can... and then may even come to depend on it.
posted by weston at 4:24 PM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


esprit de l'escalier writes "has gotten more expensive without any increase in quality. Welcome to inflation. Is it unreasonable to fight against the depreciation of one's hard-earned savings?"

No, but one has to weigh that benefit vs. the exploitation of disadvantaged workers. If moderate inflation is the cost of paying hard manual labourers a living wage for work in decent conditions then, IMO, that is a decent trade off.
posted by Mitheral at 4:24 PM on November 12, 2011


Flat out. I can see the argument about minimum wages; I disagree with it but I can see that there's an argument there to be had about the price of labour and the value of commodities. I can't understand where someone comes from who can run a business that depends on the labour of children, though. That's a person who should be shunned.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:25 PM on November 12, 2011


Those are averages and hide the fact that productivity gains have been very uneven. More highly educated workers have gotten the lion's share of the gains. They've also gotten plenty of wage increases.

And that's where your argument goes off the rails. If the result of the system you advocate is to stratify class structure even more, then it is not a sustainable system in the long run. You simply cannot write off a chunk of society and still claim to have a society.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:50 PM on November 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


So the idea that fair wages would ruin the entire business was concretely proven false up thread...

The first-ever direct, ongoing payment by a fast-food industry leader to farmworkers in its supply chain to address sub-standard farm labor wages (nearly doubling the percentage of the final retail price that goes to the workers who pick the produce);

And Yum Brands is doing fine, so this idiotic debate about Libertarian economic theology and the fair wage apocalypse can come to an end.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:11 PM on November 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


I grew up in rural Wisconsin. In the mid-80s I remember going out with my family to pick rocks in the field (I don't recall if I got paid - I probably did, but I'm sure it was minimal...).

I hated it. It was hard work. But you had to do it so the tiller blades wouldn't get all fucked up. So, you got driven through the field on the back of a tractor bed, and it would stop every so often, and everyone would hop off, and just pick up all the different rocks they would find.

I don't know the exact age, but I'm guessing it was somewhere around 10 years old, give or take a couple years.

My sisters went out picking strawberries quite often when they were in their early teens. I recall going out and holding the bag for my folks as they picked apples and this might have been around the same time as the rock picking.

Granted this was 20+ years ago (fuck, am I that old?) but I can imagine that this kind of thing still goes on. It wasn't the most horrendous or stressful job, but it wasn't that pleasant. I helped the neighbors herd the cattle back in the barn when I was pretty young, too. I'm glad I had those experiences. Anyways, I don't know if that's fully germane, but just an anecdote about growing up in the countryside and having that experience at a young age. I think the kids that were more farm kids (we rented a house from our farmer neighbors, but weren't really farmers ourselves) had a lot more of this kind of thing. It really is a way of life that passes down, you learn all that you need on the farm and you start young. That's not to say all agricultural labor is like this, the picking stuff that isn't automated (most of the stuff they grew was the stuff that used combines to gather (and let me tell you, one of the suckiest things is getting stuck riding behind those big-ass slow machines that take up pretty much the whole country road))... OK, end of sym's diary entry number 209.
posted by symbioid at 5:40 PM on November 12, 2011


Turns out there really are a million different ways to say "Fuck you, got mine", some of them very wordy indeed.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 5:53 PM on November 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


For the sake of argument, give me three examples of something that is (a) doesn't threaten the life or health of the person doing the job (b) wouldn't get done *at all* if everyone had a pass to do something else instead (c) seem more or less essential to your life -- or, if you want to fall back on something weaker, your quality of life.

Well, there's a difference between something getting done sporadically and something getting done at the correct scale to serve society. I have trouble thinking, to give you three examples, of people who would want to be municipal garbage collectors, fast food cashiers, or UPS package loaders voluntarily -- certainly not at the required volume and regularity.

You'd probably say that if society were organized differently it wouldn't need such people. I'm really not convinced that such a different organization is realistic. Most communes haven't worked too well, right? Are there other real-life large-scale examples of what you're talking about?

Even if we're talking about "creative and spiritual activities," there aren't many which don't require as part of their execution significant components that people find boring, tiresome, a scheduled and regular disciplined investment of time, and even sometimes oversight by teachers and mentors if not a boss.

True, true. Of course, the difference is that these activities can be put down anytime, and they're more autonomously chosen. And so even with creative and spiritual activities, there are very few who are willing to make the sacrifices to perform them with excellence and professionalism. Those who do can often make a living at them.


Personally, my suspicion is that a good chunk of the problem is that in a society where work is primarily incentivized by survival and profit, the tendency is toward institutions that first allow boring, tiresome things, irritating deadlines, bosses, forced hours, etc because they can... and then may even come to depend on it.


I'm sympathetic to this point of view, but I don't really see much of an alternative right now. Perhaps in the future technology will free us from more material constraints and then things will change.
posted by shivohum at 6:30 PM on November 12, 2011


Are there other real-life large-scale examples of what you're talking about?

Well, there's this pretty common institution that crops up all over the place in western (and other) societies. Each instance is small scale, but its overall effect is quite large scale. It involves some members of the institution performing basic maintenance labor such as cleaning and sanitizing tasks, food preparation and sometimes basic food production, and all of those other tiresome tasks that need to get done but supposedly no one wants to do for free. These members of the institution sometimes perform these tasks for each other on a fairly equal, shared basis; or sometimes one member of the institution bears the brunt of this labor, often on top of other paid labor for the benefit of that particular instance of the institution. It's called a "nuclear family." There are other "family unit" variants as well, but all share this common feature of much basic maintenance work getting done completely outside of the broader monetized, capitalist economic structures. The overall structure has demonstrated stability over centuries, and individual instances have even lasted entire human lifetimes!
posted by eviemath at 7:12 PM on November 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


Also, here's a list of some ongoing communes around the world that came up as one of the first links on my quick google search.
posted by eviemath at 7:49 PM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have trouble thinking, to give you three examples, of people who would want to be municipal garbage collectors, fast food cashiers, or UPS package loaders voluntarily -- certainly not at the required volume and regularity.

I think these wouldn't be roles in the way we know them now. But I also think the real problem with them currently *isn't* that nobody ever wants to do any of the work involved in garbage collection, fast food cashier, or UPS package loader. It's that they don't want to be *defined* by those roles or engage the lion's share of their waking time executing a process that they have no control over.

So, how specifically to do that for the things you've mentioned in a world where nobody has to take a full time job doing it?

Garbage collection is the easiest one of these, I think. You don't need a grand narrative; getting rid of the refuse is something most people would keenly feel a need to find some way to take care of even they couldn't pay anybody enough to work on the problem full time. And I don't think you really actually *need* someone driving a truck and doing curbside pickup in order to fill the need. You could let people drive their own refuse to the dump. Or you could come up with some system where people get their own trash to dumpsters close to their block, and once a week someone gets paid to spend a morning driving the dumpsters to a management center. Maybe it's your city councilman and driving the garbage trucks for a zone of blocks is just part of their job. Or maybe there's another class of civil servant that generally helps the city run well, and that's one thing they do.

Fast-food cashier is harder. If everybody had a pass, I think it's possible that franchises as we now know them wouldn't exist, because part of their appeal is purportedly the similarity of the product from store to store, and it may be you don't get that without a process which employees are unlikely to participate in shaping. But is this really the only way to run an effective (even fast) food service establishment? I doubt it. I'd bet there's some kind of arrangement you can come to where people take turns taking orders and payments. And maybe franchises could survive in a hybrid form -- they might have certain core product basis that would be standardized, but each franchisee might develop other products and manage other aspects of the business more cooperatively.

UPS package loaders are harder too. I'm not sure how many people would want to pack trucks full time -- although it may be that packing problems cross the threshold into the kind of puzzles that some people descend into, and the labor aspect is something some people enjoy. But in the likely case that wasn't enough to attract many people to the job, I think the trick again would be to make that aspect of the job part of a larger set of responsibilities and let them shape how things are done at the immediate institutional level. Or maybe UPS would go away, and the way you'd get packages from one place to another is something like the Ed Baker Memorial Postal Conspiracy.

Generally, I think the question really becomes about whether there's a way to make the work that needs to be done part of a more three-dimensional life. Part of this is the narrative -- what is doing this part of the job about? Like I said earlier, people will literally shovel shit when it's just part of something they know they want to do. Garbage: helping people (including yourself!) keep their households manageable and your community clean. Food services: good food experiences are one of the positive human universals, and good restaurants that provide those are institutions people can feel proud to invest themselves in. Shipping: that's one of those grand stories, getting the spices of India or the Macbooks of China from far away places. But this can't be empty mission-statement stuff. Part of this is also really spreading responsibility for the more tedious bits out more thinly -- for some things that might even mean making them very part-time -- as well as spreading out the opportunities for craftsmanship, input into how things are done, and benefits to people who participate.

It'd be different from the way we do things now.
posted by weston at 8:22 PM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


"The main point is that there really are jobs that Americans won't do."

… in the conditions and for the wages offered.

There are a lot of weird contentions in this thread, like that the only options for development in the global south is either exploitation or none. Actually, sustainable development is the third option.

Likewise, the idea that rhetoric about emancipating workers is how Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler came to power really only shows a pretty disappointing historical ignorance (Stalin came to power well after the revolution, largely because he managed the party's internal files; even substituting Lenin still leaves you defending the Tsar). But I suppose being a committed libertarian (quacks like a duck) requires a certain amount of fantasy, such as the idea that livable wages bankrupt companies, or that companies with executives paid millions of dollars somehow lack the management acumen to adapt their business models, or that a model of labor that essentially relies on exchange rate arbitrage is sustainable.
posted by klangklangston at 8:46 PM on November 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


The overall structure has demonstrated stability over centuries, and individual instances have even lasted entire human lifetimes!

Right, and there's a reason families aren't 300 million people in size. If the family model scaled, it would have scaled, since scaling it would have been natural. I mean, I guess scaling the family still exists, only it isn't that great: you get tribes. And you still have lip service to the idea of the motherland or the father of the nation or whatever.

But the truth is what works with 5 or 20 people does not work with tens or hundreds of millions.

It'd be different from the way we do things now.

Weston, it all sounds nice, but it would lose most of the benefits of training, division of labor, and economies of scale that provide the economic foundation for the developed world. It would likely entail a staggering loss of material wealth. Now there might be some compensation in it becoming a more dignified society, but then again how much dignity is there in poverty?
posted by shivohum at 8:59 PM on November 12, 2011


it would lose most of the benefits of training, division of labor, and economies of scale that provide the economic foundation for the developed world

There's certainly some things in this philosophy that don't mesh easily with industrialization -- at least, to the extent that industrialization means "workers as robots." And I don't think it's really a coincidence that labor movements and critics of markets as primary social institution gained a lot of steam with the onset of industrialization.

But I'm not talking about the end of specialization, really. I think the trained/skilled types of labor tend to be those that are less alienating and that people would continue to seek out positions doing them and fill them effectively. However, people in these positions would no longer have a guarantee they wouldn't have to sometimes pack boxes, clean the fridge, empty the trash, make the coffee, and answer the phones. In some ways, it wouldn't be that different from the way an awful lot of small enterprises run anyway.

I also think that the better we get at automation, the more industrialization doesn't have to mean workers as robots vs. a loss of economies of scale. And automation is one of those puzzles that I'm pretty sure some people like to solve for its own sake as much as for the productivity gains.

It would likely entail a staggering loss of material wealth. Now there might be some compensation in it becoming a more dignified society, but then again how much dignity is there in poverty?

Even assuming we're talking about a less industrial society, I guess I have my doubts that the loss of productivity would really mean poverty. We're already quite far beyond the point where we can't have full employment by just producing the necessities. As a society, do we spend our gains from this industrialized productivity more wisely (and dignified-ly, if you will) than we would be employing ourselves without it?

I also have my doubts that on a practical level, you really have to go as far as I've gone into the realm of exploring the question of what we'd do if you couldn't pay anyone enough to be a garbage truck driver or a cashier. I do think it's possible there are practical solutions that enable people to have a productive society even with strict adherence to the premise, and I think it's a good exercise as well, but in reality, I think that (a) even modest application of the considerations I've described to employment to make it less mechanistic and boxing could go a long way towards making most jobs roles where more people could find greater satisfaction than they do now and (b) even if nobody had to work to live, you probably *could* pay some people enough to drive a garbage truck, since the utility of the money towards buying desired non-necessities would still exist.
posted by weston at 9:58 PM on November 12, 2011


This thread is fascinating to me. There are so many disconnects I have difficulty understanding many of the comments; they either seem downright irrational or based on some perspective that is so common it doesn't need to be articulated...

You see, I live in a society where the minimum adult wage is $15ph (15 yr olds, $7.50), where health cover is not tied to employment; where good benefits including 4 weeks holiday, sick leave, carer and maternity/paternity leave are legislated; where 9% of worker earnings are paid by the employer on top of wages into the workers retirement fund; and where there is a national wages ombudsman and fair work commission. Yep, I live over the rainbow in OZ.

And you know what? It's not socialism that has brought us these benefits but regulated capitalism. You should try it sometime.
posted by Kerasia at 10:22 PM on November 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


Oh, pardon me. Almost all of them wouldn't be hired at all. Why would an employer deal with the hassle of workers who are undocumented -- and thus legal liabilities -- AND who likely don't speak English just so they can pay them the same wages they could pay a legal resident?

We're talking about workers in America, not just illegal immigrants. Please stop moving the goalposts.

Workers would indeed be hired to pick crops, even if they had to be paid twice the old rate, if the alternative was rotting crops.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:31 PM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have trouble thinking, to give you three examples, of people who would want to be municipal garbage collectors, fast food cashiers, or UPS package loaders voluntarily -- certainly not at the required volume and regularity.

If that is the case then those jobs would either have to increase in wages until people did become willing to do them, or they wouldn't happen. That is an example of a good aspect of the market.

Really, your argument isn't that society would break down without an endless stream of subsistance-level labor, it's that things would be harder for some companies. Boo hoo. Some companies go out of business, others pick up the slack and become more profitable due to diminished competition. That may increase costs to the consumer, but really, they were only ever low to begin with because they were being held artifically low.

Of course, with fewer businesses out there, the remaining ones will have more power and that might result in monopolistic effects, and a harsher marketplace means there may be less employment in absolute terms. But it also means the laborers themselves will have more money, and will be able to make investments themselves, maybe start businesses of their own, and will be better able to stand up for their own rights. There's an endless array of good and bad things that could happen whenever some aspect of the market changes. You can only foresee the results of second, third and higher-order effects to a certan extent.
posted by JHarris at 10:52 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


We're talking about workers in America, not just illegal immigrants. Please stop moving the goalposts.

Please try reading the posts you're commenting on, particularly when you presume to correct people. Your initial snide remark about this not being how markets work was addressed to a reply to a point about those migrant workers who are currently illegal immigrants and for whom I proposed a legalization scheme.

Even assuming we're talking about a less industrial society, I guess I have my doubts that the loss of productivity would really mean poverty.

I really think it would. I mean, again just taking garbage for an example -- to do garbage disposal in a moderately sized city is a huge, highly systematized, labor-intensive task. It cannot be fobbed off as an occasional duty of some city bureaucrat. If people did it themselves it would be incredibly inefficient compared to the current system. Think about hundreds or thousands of cars trying to go in and out of the dumps. Of all the minor amounts of training you'd have to give people about where to put the garbage, and scheduling it correctly, and making sure mistakes didn't happen. Of how much overhead the average person would have to take out of the day to get the garbage, load it into a car, brave the traffic, and so on. Of how efficient and practiced a dedicated garbage collector is compared to people who are doing it for 2% of their week.

Or with shipping: do you realize how many packages a UPS loader loads each day, or even in an hour? I mean this number would drop 10x or more if it were mixed in with a bunch of other tasks. It's division of labor that gives the efficiency.

How do you allow more people meaningful work without dramatically dropping in efficiency? It's worthy of more study for sure, but I don't think we're anywhere close to an answer.

Yep, I live over the rainbow in OZ.


Well that's great, but don't Australians (like everyone else in the developed world) buy a lot of goods produced by cheap labor? Clothing, electronics, consumer goods, chemicals? It's nice that Australians enjoy regulated capitalism, but let's understand that the regulation is limited: cheap labor is absolutely involved in maintaining the standard of living.

That may increase costs to the consumer, but really, they were only ever low to begin with because they were being held artifically low.

Actually, they're probably being held artificially high by the restrictions on immigration we put in. In a truly free immigration world and without a minimum wage, wages would undoubtedly drop. And this would actually help people who are currently poorer than Americans. They would get more jobs that pay them far more than they currently get.
posted by shivohum at 11:11 PM on November 12, 2011


Please try reading the posts you're commenting on, particularly when you presume to correct people. Your initial snide remark about this not being how markets work was addressed to a reply to a point about those migrant workers who are currently illegal immigrants and for whom I proposed a legalization scheme.

I did read them, and you're still mistaken about markets. I'm sorry.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 11:15 PM on November 12, 2011


You proposed "[a] legal, migrant worker status with circumscribed limits on welfare benefits, no minimum wage, protections against things like wage theft and abuse, and a long but quite possible path to citizenship." It's an improvement in that workers can't have their wages stolen and wouldn't have the threat of deportation constantly hanging over their heads.

Otherwise, it's a description of the status quo, and would maintain two segregated labor markets: one of people who have to be paid a fair wage for a day's work, and one of people you can exploit freely (or, perhaps more accurately, one of the people who are looking for work in tough economic times, and one of the people brought in to undercut them).
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 11:27 PM on November 12, 2011


I mean, again just taking garbage for an example -- to do garbage disposal in a moderately sized city is a huge, highly systematized, labor-intensive task.

If you mean the entire realm of considerations involved in disposal, it certainly is. But since we were specifically talking about how to handle refuse collection from the edge of a residence to a dump (the specific duties of a garbage truck driver), that's pretty much the bounds of the problem I was considering.

It cannot be fobbed off as an occasional duty of some city bureaucrat.

Moving containers from a limited number of pickups to a central endpoint? Why not? And why the term "bureaucrat"?

If people did it themselves it would be incredibly inefficient compared to the current system. Think about hundreds or thousands of cars trying to go in and out of the dumps.

This is the way it has in fact been done in many smaller towns. If you wanted to avoid traffic issues as you go up somewhat in scale, you can specify that people can only drop it off in a specific window of time, much like people with collection service can only have their garbage picked up in a specific window of time. It's true enough that even with that consideration the idea that everyone should travel to the dump doesn't scale past a certain point (limited number of time slots in the week), and it's also true enough that having everyone drive the full path to the dump is probably less efficient than a circuit, but I don't see why having intermediate regional drop-off points through which individuals do the first-mile work and then are periodically drawn through their distribution paths on a part-time basis wouldn't work.

Of how efficient and practiced a dedicated garbage collector is compared to people who are doing it for 2% of their week.

As far as I can tell, in the distributed scheme, we're talking about loading a shipping container of some size or another onto a vehicle and driving it from point A to point B. While I wouldn't deny that these are skills, I think they're well within acquisition for part-time labor.

Or with shipping: do you realize how many packages a UPS loader loads each day, or even in an hour? I mean this number would drop 10x or more if it were mixed in with a bunch of other tasks. It's division of labor that gives the efficiency.

If it were mixed in a single workday with a bunch of tasks? It depends on the location and point in the chain, but sure, I think it's plausible to say that a loader's throughput would suffer if they also had to do reports and man the counter while they're doing this.

But that's not the only way of implementing things. What if loading were something many UPS workers had to do a dedicated shift of as part of their job? Or is the argument that truck loading (perhaps like tomato picking) is the kind of skill such that anybody who isn't doing it 40+ hours per week necessarily less efficient than those who are?
posted by weston at 12:24 AM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


As a white American, I am paid nearly double what our vaguely legal/not legal Mexican labor force gets paid. I am certainly half as efficient on a good day. Sure, I work my ass off, I try to keep up, I really do.

We farm vineyards in California. It's back-breaking work. It must be done by hand to farm quality grapes in this part of the world, as it is everywhere. Machines do not farm great vineyards. But every year, My little team of three white, college educated farm laborers needs rescuing by highly skilled but far underpaid Mexicans.

We hate it. We hate that they are not treated to the same quality of life standards we are. We talk about it all the time. We are ashamed. But we are one of the only vineyards that I have ever seen or heard of that actually employs white people to do the actual labor.

Lots of people say they farm their own vineyards around here, but it really means, "I tell a group of Mexicans how to farm my vineyard." Everyone uses Mexican labor, legal or not. And it's actually surprising how much of it manages to work out to be legal, but still completely underpaid against what we make. Because we were simply born to the right address. It's utterly maddening.

People complain all the time about the cost of quality wine. People complain all the time that it all tastes the same and we are hacks. People complain about all sorts of things, but I will tell you that our very small business, without the benefit of an incredibly skilled yet wildly underpaid Mexican labor force would not be sustainable. Nor could we make affordable wine.

My boss, he does okay. He also works (seriously) two full time jobs, his wife works full time in the tasting room, they have both been doing it for 20 years and I worry that their two young children see far less of them than they should, but I am still in confusion certain days why it makes any sense to hire us white folks at all.

We gave free tank space (to ferment his 8 tons of wine, no small amount) and 18 hours of labor last Sunday ( plus an hour a day in pumpover/punchdown work for the next month, plus crazy cheap barrels and free wine storage) to a freaking rock star of the Mexican labor force whos kid is now 21 and legal to make wine. This family is finally, after 25 years of getting the shit end of the stick, legal to make wine in the valley. The guy we are doing this for doesn't even work for us. He works for some asshole at Fancy Winery who told the guy he could make his wine there and then totally screwed him over. We did it at the last minute. We did it because the guy is Mexican. We'd have never offered anything like that to a white American.

My bosses boss at his other full time job has a scholarship program set up so all the kids of his Mexican staff will have college paid for. Fully. Seriously. Everyone is hourly so makes overtime, has health benefits, gets vacation time paid and most of these guys have been working for my boss or his boss at our two wineries for over a decade.

And you know what? I think how we are trying to get by with this effed up world we have is the best we can do. I don't like it. I hate how the Mexicans are mostly limited in wage increases ( I mean, how the hell do you hide all that money? the gov't is clearly SO complicit-gimme a break!) and that my boss/his boss don't have to pay them as much as they pay us. If a staff of white folks only made the wine? Hello 40 bucks a bottle. I've done the math. A hundred times.

As far as skilled labor- someone stated this a couple times and I could not favorite it hard enough upthread- these incredible, diverse, brilliant, capable men are absolute surgeons about their care of vineyards and I've learned everything I know about how to farm from them. They come to the job with tremendous care, knowledge and speed.

I owe them the time it took them to teach me to farm our vineyard, and I will likely owe them every year when they bail our asses out when we the three of us (because the boss can't afford any more white employees, at least until he starts charging more for our wine) can't hedge the syrah in time to get it sprayed (organically, mind you) or need help pulling nets before we pick at harvest.

It isn't fair. Not at all. Our business model is also pretty different from our competitors, so all ya'll fair trade folks should stop drinking most all California, nay ALL wine right now.

So tell me how we can do more? How do we do better?
posted by metasav at 12:53 AM on November 13, 2011 [10 favorites]


Apple growers in Washington State has had a hell of a time getting labor to pick their crop this year. The farmers are resorting to using inmate labor at $22/hour, and they say they're only picking about half as much fruit in a day as an experienced worker, but even that is worth it to them.

$22/hour? Damn. And most of that is going to the state prison system, very little of it to the workers.

I wonder how many non-prisoner workers they'd get if they publicized a $22/hour pay rate for the general public.
posted by hippybear at 6:48 AM on November 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Right, and there's a reason families aren't 300 million people in size.

Lots of small producers, each doing their own small thing, adding up to an efficient system through emergence -- it's almost like we're talking about capitalism or something!

Seriously though, shivohum, are you arguing for capitalism as Adam Smith envisioned it (low barriers to entry, complete information, and thus lots of small, local producers), or are you arguing for corporate capitalism aka corporatism? Within itself, a corporation is a command economy (a highly hierarchical and undemocratic one, usually), so if we get fewer and fewer corporations taking up larger and larger shares of the overall economy, that's not exactly capitalism either (though, arguably, a natural result of capitalist economic processes; a stable attractor amongst the possible paths that capitalism can take, as it were).

to do garbage disposal in a moderately sized city is a huge, highly systematized, labor-intensive task.

Cairo would beg to differ. (Though there are certainly issues with the Zabbaleen being an underclass.)


Economies of scale are not the be-all, end-all of economics. Furthermore, an economy is a distribution system for resources, goods, and services -- a very complex tool, but a tool nonetheless. The issue of what uses we put this tool to, what goals we have in choosing a particular economic/distribution system and how we tweak and modify it, are social and political questions. So, do we want an economic system that produces the most money possible? Well, most of us would say no: we want an economic system that produces enough so that everyone can live comfortably and securely, and maybe even have a few luxuries. So there's a cutoff for how much wealth we would like our economic system to produce, but above that cutoff, producing more and getting extra economies of scale is maybe nice but not so important in relation to other factors or other goals for our economy.

Some of us think that human dignity is highly important, right up there approaching basic survival needs; so equitable or socially just distributions are an important goal for us, and that affects our ideas about what economic systems are good ones. I think many people would not value human dignity outcomes from an economic system as highly as I do, but everyone in this thread seems to have some cutoff (even if it's as low as not allowing slavery) beyond which they would consider an economic system as not acceptable.

Economies of scale may produce more money (though in many industries there is still a maximum point beyond which increasing coordination costs make a larger operation less profitable), but they often produce lower-quality products, as well as more negative social outcomes for most of the people involved in the industry. If quality of product goes down beyond a certain point of making the product affordable to a broader segment of consumers (thus diminishing quality of life for consumers), and quality of life for most people in the industry goes down, it's pretty hard to argue that there is a utility to further increasing scale, even if that would increase profits. So while there may be a very good argument for scaling up some production or service operation to a certain level, I think there's a very good argument for keeping scale limited beyond some point (and then we can argue about where that point is, but the principle at least is there).

Additionally, we live in a finite world with finite resources. There are some claims that we even live in a finite (though very, very large) universe. Perpetually growth is thus physically impossible, at least without the growth rate decreasing at less than O(1/n)(*) -- giving sufficiently diminishing returns. Increased scale has, so far, led to negative environmental consequences long before hitting physical limitations. There is a point beyond which the negative environmental outcomes and consequent negative impacts on quality of life also make increased scale not worth it to most people.

Short summary: growth and profit are tools, not the end goal or purpose of an economy. Arguing for policy on the basis that it will promote growth and profit, and only on that basis, is like making your car or bicycle maintenance decisions on the basis of what's best for your wrench, and only that basis. Of course, you don't want to mis-use or squander your tools. But they are still just tools.


(*) If you have an infinite series a_1 + a_2 + a_3 + ..., if the terms are too big, then the partial sums S_n = a_1 + a_2 _ a+3 + ... + a_n of the series just grow and grow without bound. The terms a_1, a_2, a_3, ... have to be decreasing down to zero in order for these partial sums to stay bounded, and in fact, they have to be decreasing down to zero fast enough. 1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + ... (known as the harmonic series) just grows and grows without bound. But basically any infinite series with smaller terms (that's what the notation O(1/n) means) will have partial sums that are bounded. Here a_1, a_2, a_3, ... represent the per-year growth in the economy, so S_n is the total size of the economy by year n, which, as I've argued above, must be bounded due to physical constraints of living on a finite world.
posted by eviemath at 6:54 AM on November 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


As an aside, eviemath has described 1/n as a boundary between convergence and divergence only because it falls into the indeterminate range for the ratio and root convergence tests. There isn't any actual 'boundary' function between convergence and divergence. An inverse Ackermann function grows so slowly that you'd effectively never see values larger than 5 but ultimately it diverges.

Yes, there is an awful lot of capitalist assumptions/psychology built upon perpetual growth which cannot be sustainable, especially not without interstellar travel. All market growth must ultimately become zero-sum, preferably with large numbers of small companies growing by destroying large companies, or simply breaking up large companies outright.

posted by jeffburdges at 11:01 AM on November 13, 2011


Well - looks we found the workers! They're robots.
posted by symbioid at 11:44 AM on November 13, 2011


It's been an interesting discussion -- thanks for the food for thought, weston and eviemath. I don't have time for adequate responses right now, but I wanted to thank you for the thoughtful responses.
posted by shivohum at 2:40 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


It really disgusts me that a farmer would pay $22 for slave inmate-labour, but is not willing to pay that much for free labour.
posted by jb at 9:23 AM on November 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


As Small Towns Wither on Plains, Hispanics Come to the Rescue - Hispanics are offsetting the decline in the white population in many smallest heartland communities.
posted by kliuless at 6:54 AM on November 26, 2011


I work in social services that help find Jobs for Felons. In my experience, these jobs are often offered to felons but, with wages so low, they, too, can't support their families. Our country simply isn't headed in the right direction. We need to provide jobs to people in our own country first and that may require that we take a look at placing people with felony convictions in these jobs but, at the same time, increase the wages so as to ensure there is a way for people to support their families in the U.S.
posted by cadchr01 at 6:51 PM on November 28, 2011


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