2006 December 25 Monday
Cheap Subsidized Immigrant Labor Discourages Farm Automation

An article in the editorially pro-Open Borders Wall Street Journal conveys facts which very much contradict the Open Borders argument that we need cheap subsidized (we pay their medical, educational, and other costs) immigrant labor.

Immigration restrictionists, among others, point to the success of mechanical tomato harvesting when the Bracero guest worker program for seasonal Mexican farm workers ended in 1964. Since then, harvests of tomatoes that go into processed foods have quadrupled, while labor use has dropped by 72%, says the Western Growers Association, a California trade group.

Some other industries that rely on low-skilled labor also have mechanized. The poultry industry now uses machines to catch, kill, pluck and eviscerate chickens. The housing industry is moving more work onto factory assembly lines.

But labor economists say that's not much headway. "What struck me was how few examples there were of employers thinking ahead," says University of California at Davis economist Philip Martin, who spent a month last year looking for innovations that lessen U.S. reliance on illegal, low-skilled labor, and found almost none.

Take away the necessity that drives so much invention and industries will not innovate. If Washington DC would send a clear loud signal that the supply of subsidized cheap foreign labor is coming to an end then and only then would the row crop farmers get serious about making a huge step forward in automation.

Much of the problem, he says, is that guest worker proposals circulating in Washington are "sending the signal that the supply of unskilled labor will continue" to be high. That has largely dissuaded government and industry from investing in research and development, he adds.

The Agriculture Department -- which helped pay for the tomato-harvest research at UC Davis -- ended all funding for mechanization in 1979 after unions representing agriculture workers sued the university for endangering their jobs.

As Socrates said in Plato's Republic long before Benjamin Franklin strode this Earth:

" A State, I said, arises, as I conceive, out of the needs of mankind". . ."let us begin and create in idea a State; and yet the true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention."

If Congress wants productivity of American industry to grow by leaps and bounds then it should cut off the supply of cheap imported subsidized foreign labor. Force industries to find ways to get tasks done with less labor and industries will invest in the engineering development to bring new labor saving equipment to market.

Also see Robert Samuelson and Steve Sailer on Philip Martin's views about agricultural automation and cheap labor.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 December 25 08:27 PM  Immigration Economics

John S Bolton said at December 26, 2006 1:45 AM:

Yes, especially when cheap and abundant credit is available, to borrowers of even really questionable repayment abilities; there should be more investment of the manual-labor-displacing kind.
As in the third world though, when a huge and unrelenting supply of menials keeps flooding in, these have to get themselves used in some way.
If the technology dictates that in spite of falling wages in an occupation, this job classification is to be mechanized; another one will absorb the displaced with even rapidly falling productivity, in certain job classifications.

D Flinchum said at December 26, 2006 5:27 AM:

If the users of this type of labor had to actually pay the true costs of these workers' being in the US instead of passing the costs on to the rest of us, then higer wages for US workers would look like a bargain.

John Ray said at December 27, 2006 2:41 AM:

Australian farming is VERY mechanized because we have no Hispanics. But you can still buy a lettuce for a dollar.

John S Bolton said at December 28, 2006 11:52 PM:

Looks like you have a contribution from the psychometrician, Dr. JJRay.
You must be doing something right.

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