Skip to comments.JOBS AMERICANS WON’T DO, AND THE ECONOMICS OF MASS LOW-SKILLED IMMIGRATION
Posted on 07/21/2013 5:08:24 PM PDT by markomalley
On the Laura Ingraham show, Thomas Sowell blasted Paul Ryans argument that we need immigration reform in order to avert labor shortages:
Thats incredible. I mean-first of all to an economist, it is incredible to speak about shortages without talking about prices, in this case wages You know there, there have been so many predictions of shortages of so many occupations and the shortages dont materialize. And why not? Because if there is a shortage, the wage rate goes up. That attracts in more people and lo and behold, the jobs are filled.
In agriculture, the farmers would obviously prefer to get workers who get low pay rather than workers they have to pay a higher wage. And as long as there are an unlimited supply of farm workers coming in from Mexico, they will never have to raise the wages very much. They say Americans wont do these jobs. These are jobs Americans have done for generations, if not centuries. And its a time when millions of Americans are out of work, and are looking for any kind of work. And so this is utter nonsense.
That seems like common sense, not to mention sound economics, but it drew criticism from an open-borders advocate at the Cato Institute:
If Sowell is going to quibble about words like shortage, its fair to criticize Sowells use of the word unlimited to describe the supply of farm workers coming from Mexico. If the supply of workers in agriculture was truly unlimited, or infinite, the wage would be 0. Furthermore, Americans are not looking for any kind of work. If they were, they would be lowering their wages quite a bit more than they currently are, until they become attractive hires.
Issues of economic vocabulary aside, Sowell only described one possible outcome from a reduction in the supply of low-skilled immigrant farm workers: an increase in wages. The far more likely reaction is that American farmers will stop growing crops that require many workers.
Furthermore, its hard to see why its desirable to increase the wages of low-productivity farm workers by increasing their scarcity.
A knowledgeable reader whom we have quoted before offers what I think is a devastating critique of the Cato scholars rejoinder:
Excellent from Thomas Sowell on immigration:
The immigration celebrationists at Cato are squealing like stuck pigs, though:
They have to concede that he is right about the concept of shortage: a shortage just means the price is too low. The rest of it combines sophistry with an overlay of the economism fallacy.
They seem piqued that they have to forgo the propaganda around worker shortages an absolutely essential element to the claims of the immigration celebrationists and the provisions for guest workers-who-never-leave in the Senate bill. So they pedantically quibble about unlimited immigration. Its laughable, though. Sowells correction on the shortage propaganda is a critically important conceptual point. He did not mean to suggest that there is already an in place literally infinite supply of ag labor. He meant that the shortage propagandists advocating effectively unlimited immigration so ag interests never have to adjust wages to domestic supply DO have what is effectively an unlimited foreign labor supply in reserve. It neednt be exclusively Mexican. For example, if they need yet more supply of imported labor to keep wages down what is to stop them from importing, say, scores of millions of ag workers from Bangladesh? There are 4 billion people in the world whose economic well being would be improved by at least an order of magnitude by coming to the U.S. If that isnt unlimited, it is all but.
What are the terrible consequences of failing to permit unlimited immigration of low skilled 3rd world ag workers?
Sowell only described one possible outcome from a reduction in the supply of low-skilled immigrant farm workers: an increase in wages. The far more likely reaction is that American farmers will stop growing crops that require many workers. Without a large supply of low-skilled immigrant farm workers, labor-intensive farming would either shrink dramatically or disappear entirely. American farmers would either grow different crops that could be profitably harvested mechanically or stop farming. [emphasis added]
Just so. Exactly what should happen in an efficient market. They would have to adjust; to modify the mix of capital and labor inputs in response to a constraint a labor constraint that arises naturally precisely because the economy has higher valued uses for that labor than one more acre of cucumbers. So the farmers cant expand cucumber growing indefinitely? Our optimal production function is more of something higher valued than the next acre of cucumbers? Tough then its not economic activity we want, and the market is telling us so. And telling them that if they overplant and the yield on the marginal acre is worth less than the cost of the labor to pick it then let it rot in the fields.
Note as well the misleading formulation of the argument: a reduction in the supply of low-skilled immigrant farm workers. Thats not the situation; its an inability to increase the supply of low-skilled workers by raising wages sufficiently to elicit that supply like every other employer has to and also profitably increase the low value-added output. Sure, it is also a prohibition on bringing in foreign workers at the lowest possible wages, at least legally. But that isnt the same as a reduction in the supply of low-skilled immigrant farm workers.
American consumers would either import fruits and vegetables that require large numbers of workers from countries where those workers are abundant, or scale back their consumption of those food stuffs.
Again, just so. But the horror! We might become dependent on cheap foreign cucumbers? Ironically, über-libertarian Cato wants a policy that, in effect, like tariffs and import quotas, amounts to import substitution to protect domestic producers, something they would never advocate for, say, steel. No American other than the landowner would lose anything: not workers .these are jobs Americans wont do! .not consumers they can import not distributors and retailers their margins do not depend on the provenance of the commodities not investors they can get similar risk-adjusted returns investing elsewhere. The landowners land value is potentially at risk, if he cannot adjust to higher value uses. Again, tough.
Here is the nub of the policy issue, in a disingenuous but clever bit of sophistry:
Those effects would be the economically efficient outcome if increased labor scarcity was driven by changes in the free market. In this case, however, the increase in labor scarcity would come from legislation mandating such scarcity. [emphasis added]
VERY slippery move! Did you see that? The increase in labor scarcity would come [emphasis added] not from legislation but from the market allocation of the labor supply to its most productive uses, based on the marginal product/marginal value of product relationship for that labor. No legislation required at all. Its just the ex ante status quo the default condition, like the entirety of our legal regime which also prohibits, say, labor peonage in agriculture also a constraint. What they want is new legislation to permit an injection of foreign labor from outside the economy to prevent a naturally occurring and economically beneficial labor allocation arising from that constraint. The scarcity arises from an increase in demand which assumes the price of labor to remain as low as it can possibly be. A shortage means the price (wage) is too low. Its only if you think that the default condition should be unlimited immigration that the inability to increase low skilled immigration comes from legislation mandating scarcity.
Heres where the economism fallacy comes in:
Sowell is right that the economy would adjust to a decrease in the supply of low-skilled labor, but he fails to mention that it would do so by shrinking.
Misleading. He means, of course, that aggregate GDP might be less not even absolutely, compared to the ex ante baseline only relatively compared to an ex post GDP that included the increased but low value ag production as well as the higher value output from workers who are attracted into those positions instead of picking cucumbers, at the margin. GDP per capita, however, would necessarily be lower: the increase in output derives from a lower than average value of output per capita and a population increase! We get bigger, but not richer, certainly not existing, native-born Americans. Moreover, the implication is that our incremental aggregate GDP growth should come from a relative increase in the lowest value-added economic activities even by importing the labor necessary to make that activity feasible from the lowest possible wages. And it ignores the potential adverse impacts from massive population growth to accommodate these low value ag interests: overcrowding, pollution, land use, environmental degradation and net government spending.
But note further: they simply assume that the default constraints on economic agents in America do not, or should not, include population based on our collective democratically determined policies regarding the population levels and demographics we want. If marginal low value economic interests can expand only by first ignoring that constraint by intentional and flagrant violations of the law implementing the democratically enacted policies and now want new legislation to repeal the policies leading to the constraint, in the interest of nothing but more GDP in aggregate, so be it. Its economism on steroids.
And there is no principled stopping point. The labor supply globally in excess of American labor willing to do the cucumber picking at the ever expanding margin at the lowest possible wages is for all practical purposes unlimited; so they want, and openly argue for, completely unlimited immigration. How could they not? Once any limit becomes binding the argument compels them to want to eliminate it! But once you concede that there should be some limit set by policy and not the narrow economic interests of the ag lobby, then the question arises as to whats wrong with the limits we already have? .that the scofflaw ag sector has worked to undermine? If the answer is that the existing limit is arbitrary, ANY limit becomes arbitrary and the reason to prefer a new limit becomes nothing but special pleading for special interests. And why stop at ag? Why not let entrepreneurs in the strategic T-shirt and bra and panty sectors of the textile industry import millions of those Bangladeshi workers toiling in unsafe sweatshops? Think of the GDP! .and import substitution for cheap Asian T-shirts.
Effectively, the Cato-type extreme libertarian arguments for unlimited immigration depend on a fallacy of economism: only considerations of gross first order economic conditions are relevant to any policy question. Only aggregate GDP matters, not GDP per capita, not second order environmental non-GDP impacts, not the economic welfare of existing native-born Americans, not population densities, not cultural or demographic issues. America is just a geographic expression; it just identifies a place where rational economic maximizers happen to be living because they can rationally maximize. Its economism and its specious, no matter how sophisticated the economic claims appear to be.
like a vicious cycle as soon as the immigrants become American citizens they won’t do those jobs anymore so you need a whole new batch and then when those become American citizens...
They are not coming here to work. They are coming her to get on welfare.
yeah that makes sense since there are no jobs
The reason Americans won’t do those jobs is because
they AREN’T HUNGRY ENOUGH.
A THIRD of our nation is on government subsistance,
why should they?
That is the dirty secret there.
But if wages went up, the cost of what those workers produced would raise the cost of living.
Then the government couldn't print money to give to the banksters and still say there's no inlfation.
If I can draw $400 a week cash, get food stamps, and live in government housing for sitting on my butt... ($10 an hour plus some serious benefits)
...then why should I go out and get a job that pays $8.50 an hour plus lose all of those benefits?
Sowell's right on this - and not only are the farmers not paying crap they also let the illegals go after picking then the rest of us have to pick up the tab for their food stamps and medical care. It's time for farmers to quit relying on the rest of us to support their operations....
take away all the freebies, lets see how many hungry Americans would now do “the jobs Americans wont take”
The far more likely reaction is that American farmers will stop growing crops that require many workers.
If they do, then they are providing opportunities for farmers in Mexico to grow those crops and earn hard currency exporting them.
Or for Americans to grow those crops and sell them through "pick your own farms", a decent and workable business model here in SW Pennsylvania.
Or for Americans to invent mechanical harvesting equipment. Before Eisenhower launched "Operation Wetback" to send many Mexican nationals home, most of our tomatoes were harvested by manual pickers.
After a shortage of workers resulted, it took little time for mechanical harvesting equipment to be introduced for tomatoes.
Why would other crops be so different?
As long as welfare pays more than the least desirable jobs, there will be jobs "Americans don't want to do". Still, when I did ag labor for persons who were not relatives, it paid very well (3.5 X minimum wage). I wasn't picking cucumbers, though, I was cutting tobacco.
The bottom line is that in the middle, between entry-level jobs and those higher up the food chain, is the seductive alternative of a system which is all too willing to take one in in a moment of misfortune or poor planning, an alternative which can pay better than working, which can be--and is mercilessly--scammed for fun and profit, and which is set up in such a way as to be difficult to extricate self and family from. That extrication requires determination and sacrifice, a sense of pride in breaking away from the system and going it on your own which has been hammered out of American youth for at least two generations, if one has not been brainwashed to believe that they are "owed" any largesse for social wrongs, real or imagined from a time well before their birth.
As long as that is what greets the American teenager when they come of age, as long as those within the tendrils of that system find comfort there, as long as it pays better for nothing than work does, there will be jobs 'Americans won't do".
If the once safety net was trimmed down from its purse seine dimensions, to the original concept--or even to its Constitutionally authorized dimensions, there would be a multitude of jobs that Americans would do again.
What small hands did freed larger hands to do more.
Regardless of how you may feel about that, for a kid, it was cash money, it taught a work ethic, it taught responsibility which came with 'status' rewards (being able to drive a tractor from point a to point b on farm roads), and I would not trade the experience for the world.
Those days are gone. There are even serious limits now on what you can let your own kids do (or they can be taken from you for 'abuse')--and others need not apply. Jobs that could be handled by a seven year old are instead reserved for those far older, the seven year olds find other things to do, and work ethics break down, even in farming families.
Here’s a thought - quit paying Americans the equivalent of a $35,000 per year job to sit on their butts all day. Because that is about what they’re getting if you add up all the benefits that the taxpayer is paying for. Food stamps, welfare, section 8, school lunches, etc. If the people had to earn their keep, there’d be plenty of Americans happy to work on farms.
The stupidity....it burns.
“They are not coming here to work. They are coming her to get on welfare.”
They are being wooed by NJ to stop our schools from closing due to lack of children. Americans aren’t having children here anymore, and many of the young ones are leaving the state anyway.
Don’t believe that the US will be a majority non-white country by 2050; it will happen by 2020. If the 2012 election didn’t prove that, come to NJ and see for yourself. Our maternity wards and schoolyards are teeming with the Bronze Horde.
You're right on this Joe. There's something between teaching a child to be totally useless and allowing a child to be exploited. You were raised well within the balance - and benefited from it. Thanks for sharing.
There was a thread about fast food workers the other day.
Like farm workers, in most areas it is a low wage job. And just like migrant workers, most are being taken by new immigrants.
We traveled over the weekend, and saw many fast food places. Very few in our trip had any teenagers. Most had Hispanics with a bad command of the language.
If you raise the wages high enough, just about ANYONE would pick cucumbers.
If you don’t have enough labor, then that labor shortage will cause you to raise the wages to where you don’t have a labor shortage. After all, we do have multiple millions sitting at home unemployed.
Unless, of course, you live in an America where we no longer have leaders who think America is an exceptional place where there are benefits to being a citizen. If you want to play in our marketplace, since it’s the best around, then you pay a premium. (If you want to go to Disneyland, then you pay a premium to get in, and you pay their prices while you’re there. It’s such a unique place, though, that they can demand it...AND...get it.)
Our leadership, however, is sold out to social corporatism and to importing serf labor to undercut our own workers, thereby increasing the social corporatists’ wealth and power. Why? (1) They see themselves as the new aristocracy, the ubermensch. They truly believe they were born to rule. (2) They want all workers to be at the serf level, and the best way to do that is to gradually reduce everyone’s wages to serf levels by bringing in serfs. (3) They also want serfs, conditioned to acceptance of life’s doldrums and handouts from their masters, to influence the vote by voting for their masters and undercutting the existence of the middle class in America.
This is the truth of illegal immigration, and those who don’t see it are supporting it.