Workers vs. Undocumented Immigrants: The Politics of Divide & Conquer

Yves here. Obama’s plan to give 4 million illegal immigrants temporary suspension from deportation has amped up the intensity of the already-heated debate over immigration and competition for US jobs from foreign workers.

This Real News Network interview with Bill Barry, who has organized documented and undocumented workers in the textile industry, makes an argument at a high level that many will find hard to dispute: that the fight over immigration reform and the status of undocumented immigrants diverts energy and attention from the ways in which a super-rich class is taking more and more out of the economy, to the detriment of laborers. Barry also argues that getting rid of undocumented immigrants would not produce much in the way of wage increases. The experience of Alabama, which implemented an extremely aggressive immigration law, would tend to confirm Barry’s argument. Farmers, for instance, weren’t able to find substitutes for migrant workers, even when they offered higher wages. What it would take to get US natives to take those jobs was more than what those employers were willing to pay. The same is likely true for many of the other backbreaking jobs performed by undocumented workers, such as working in meatpacking plants.

However, the experiments we’ve had to date, such as in Alabama, haven’t played out over time. The law was substantially revised so that farmers and other low-wage employers who were having trouble replacing their undocumented workers were spared the choice of restructuring their business. If farmers faced a permanent order with no migrant workers, what would happen? I’d expect to see wage increases but also consolidation and renewed efforts to use capital in the place of labor. But I’m not in that business and I very much welcome the input of readers who know the economics of various types of farming. Clearly, in the case of H1-B visa, the presence of a guest worker program is keeping tech wages down and perhaps more important, eliminating entry-level positions for US graduates. So I’m not persuaded that the picture is quite as sunny or as simple as Barry suggests.

Barry points out how employers have deskilled jobs, making it easier for them to treat their employees as disposable, and have also moved to more flexible scheduling, which makes it harder for workers to earn enough to get by. The means that the immigration question is probably not the best point of entry for approaching the fallen status of US workers.

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  1. TG

    ‘Amnesty’ is misdirection.

    Giving legal status to a paltry few million foreign nationals who are already working here will have negligible impact on the labor market, which is why the rich don’t care about that, which is why it is being hyped by the media, to distract us.

    The big deal is a totally open-borders allow the entire third world to come here, unlimited H1Bs, unlimited refugees, unlimited open borders. Cheap labor people, cheap labor.

    ‘Divide and conquer’? Excuse me. That Americans should be biased against FOREIGN NATIONALS is completely reasonable. That’s the entire point of a nation! You don’t believe me? Open the doors of your own house/apartment, and let anyone just wander in from off the street and help themselves to all you have. I dare you. Then you can talk about ‘divide and conquer’, not before.

    1. Ben Johannson

      More of that fine “nation is just like a household” thinking that’s done so well for us in the past. I don’t know what it is about humans that they’re driven to hyper-simplify a thing until it fits on their coffee table.

      1. Anonymous

        None of which explains why his equivalency is false… Just that you don’t like it, and you’re very clever with the repartee… bravo.

        1. Lambert Strether

          No, it’s a well-known trope #FAIL on the blog and elsewhere that you don’t know, because (I think) you’re new.

          They have entirely different structures, as I would think would be obvious to even the most tendentious. He doesn’t have to explain to you why a The Chrysler Building is different from a mollusc, that one is organic, the other inorganic, and so forth.

    2. RepubAnon

      Why is “amnesty” for immigrant workers considered a very bad thing by the same folks who consider outsourcing entire industries to foreign countries a good thing?

      I should note that “outsiders are coming here and taking our jobs” is a theme that we see across human societies.

      One illegal immigrant enters South Africa every 10 minutes, according to the Home Affairs regional director. In order to stem the tide of illegal entrants, South Africa is considering a number of measures, including a US-style “green card,” without which a foreigner could not work. (Source: South Africa Fights Illegal Immigration, November 1994.

      It reminds me of the scene in 2001, a Space Odyssey where the apes are fighting over the water hole. When things are perceived to be scarce, territorial instincts cut in, and we try to defend our turf against invaders. (Territorial behavior can be observed in non-humans, as well.)

      1. Anonymous

        Seriously, how clueless are you? The answer to your “why” is that they don’t. Do you really think that the working class conservatives that you know – those that work themselves into a lather because illegal immigrants are “breaking the law, and should get in line like our gandparents did” are outsourcing ANYTHING?

        1. Lambert Strether

          To answer your rhetorical question, no. He doesn’t think “those that work themselves into a lather … are outsourcing ANYTHING.” He thinks some “folks” “consider outsourcing entire industries to foreign countries a good thing.” See, considering something a good thing isn’t the same thing as doing it. So, speaking of fail….

    3. Banger

      Certainly it is reasonable to be biased against foreigners–but is it right? Is it helpful to me? Those answers are not clear. Also, we are no longer really a “nation” in the way we were several generations back. We are more highly diverse and our political economy is drastically different. Oligarchs look at the globe as their oyster not some country–they use national and cultural differences to divide and conquer and it seems to work pretty well. The movement is away from nation-states and towards feudal entities particularly large corporations being the main actors in our political culture within the overall framework of a global Empire and its machine-mediated global bureaucracy.

    4. Fool

      You’re missing the point. Yes, you can make an argument that, like, a nation can’t just open its doors to any third world vagrant. And yet, at the same time, we’re also talking about people who have lived and paid taxes here for a lifetime. Really, you could make an argument both ways. The point is: much of the racial and socioeconomic anxieties being stoked are for reasons alternative to an inherent sense of “justice”.

      For example: [insert conglomerate that hires cheap labor] wins either way. They win by white-populist, ‘took-our-derbs’ anxiety being stoked — people who will, say, elect politicians that oppose raising a minimum wage — and they win by the existence of illegal immigration itself (cheap labor). The “Hobby Lobby” case was similar, as “reproductive rights” was a pawn of both sides of the debate on healthcare

      The point of this post, I believe, is not that the merits of one side are more righteous than the other, but that the underlying issues are obfuscated by those who stand to gain from distorting them.

  2. jrs

    It can easily become a discussion of shoulds that are unlikely to happen (“what tech workers really should do is both H1bs and u.s. tech workers should unionize for higher wages” etc.) while ignoring what the probable outcomes are. Ignoring what is likely to be real consequences (tech as a worse and worse field to find employment in for instance) for imagined fantasies (however just and righteous those fantasies are).

    1. scott

      I had a H-1B engineer working for me a decade ago. She either had to demonstrate employment or be deported, so she would have worked for minimum wage if she had to. Of course, being at a large company and a minority and female, she counted towards the “diversity goal” and we paid her handsomely.

    2. cwaltz

      The funny thing is historically migrant workers have been on board with working to unionize and ask for better working conditions probably moreso than many Americans who’ve been tricked into believing collective bargaining is some sort of gimmick to pry money from them by the evil liberals.

  3. Thomas Williams

    RE: Illegals

    Yves, you can do better than that. Your arguments do not hold water.

    Having spent most of my career in the construction field, I’ve been witness to this slow moving train wreck.

    Illegals are here for the purpose of driving down wages and working conditions. Before they came the conditions in the meat packing plants were tough but much better than today. Wages were livable.

    The Alabama farmer issue was not fairly tested. If they’d recruited from ghettos, they could have found workers who would take any opportunity to move to a better life.

    Not too far from Fergueson, MO there are a number of meat packing plants. All full of illegals.

    If our disenfranchised young men had a way out of the ghetto, then perhaps our police would quit using them for target practice.

    Connecting these dots is not rocket science.

    1. John Zelnicker

      TW – The farmers here in Alabama did try to recruit in the “ghettos” and were still unable to find people to work the fields. Farms are not normally close to the bigger cities where the poor, particularly the non-white poor, tend to live which means that transportation is another issue. Working Class Nero (comment below, 11/29/14, 5:13 am) mentions one of the problems in that farmers in Alabama could not raise wages and pay for transportation without limit or they would price themselves out of the market for their crops.

      And “mov[ing] for a better life” takes a lot more than a decent wage. The seasonal nature of the work is a big part of the problem. Why uproot oneself and possibly one’s family to go work for a few weeks harvesting crops? Most people, especially the poor in my experience, live within a network of friends and relatives who make survival possible and would need a much bigger incentive to become migrant labor and leave that network behind.

      1. Anonymous

        Just curious… do you consider yourself a capitalist? Are you convinced that those farmers tried hard enough? And what exactly did “trying” consist of?

        Or do you believe that the laws of supply and demand should be suspended in their case? If so…I’m curious: (1) in what industry do you work, and (2) at what point do you think your employer should be permitted to replace you with a foreigner supporting a family in a country with a cost of living a fraction of your own?

          1. Anonumous

            My position would be that the theory that supply and demand curves set the price point is accurate. It’s not a particularly insightful or original position, I know, but it has the advantage of being far more honest and less self-interested than the old “work that Americans won’t do” shibboleth.

            FTLoG… lIke we’re the first nation that can’t pick its own tomatoes and mow its own grass.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              I suggest you study up on that theory. I wrote about it in ECONNED. Basically, there is no research supporting the intuition that supply curves are nice tidy upward sloping lines and demand curves are downward sloping. In fact there are exceptions in theory (which are even observed in practice). And there is empirical evidence that locally demand curves aren’t downward sloping and supply curves don’t slop upward. So this foundation of neoclassical thinking has holes in it.

        1. John Zelnicker

          I would never call myself a capitalist, but I am an entrepreneur running my own business. I am an Enrolled Agent who prepares tax returns, represents clients before the IRS and the state Dept. of Revenue and I do the bookkeeping and payroll for a number of businesses. I also work during tax season as a Tax Expert for TurboTax providing tax advice to customers working to complete their own returns. (NB: Everything I write here is my opinion only and does not reflect the opinion or position of my employer.)

          I believe the farmers tried everything they could to find the necessary workers as they face substantial losses if their crops rot in the fields (which is exactly what happened). I know they advertised in publications, asked for help from the state employment office and even sent recruiters into various communities looking for workers.

          Do you really believe they made only half-hearted attempts to find help and then gave up and just accepted their losses? Or, that somehow they missed the one place where all those potential workers could be found? The time frame is limited, the harvest window is short.

          The “law” of supply and demand assumes there is a “labor market” that responds in some direct way to the changing needs of employers for employees. This idea has been debunked by many, including Yves; there is no such thing.

          1. jonboinAR

            The “law” of supply and demand assumes there is a “labor market” that responds in some direct way to the changing needs of employers for employees. This idea has been debunked by many(No. It hasn’t), including Yves; there is no such thing(Yes. There is).
            You can argue that the effects are somewhat indirect, often, but I really don’t think you can say that they don’t exist, or even don’t exist strongly. I, as the original commenter has, have seen the effects manifest quite clearly over time.

            1. John Zelnicker

              Ok. I suppose I wasn’t very clear. I was referring to a labor market that responds within the classic paradigm of demand and supply with an upward sloping curve and reacts to changes in demand by offering more or less labor depending on changes in the real wage offered. Poorly written on my part. My apologies. As a general concept, yes, there is a labor market. But, I believe, it is quite different from the market for, say, cars or other products. As it is made up of human beings, it is far more complex than the concept of a labor market found in the DSGE models that cannot address things like involuntary unemployment.

              1. ChrisPacific

                For one thing, it’s cyclical rather than the kind of pure producer/pure consumer model that is assumed in order to produce the toy supply/demand curve that you see in the textbooks. For example: company spending depends on company performance, which depends on sales, which depends on consumer spending, which depends on consumer income, which depends on wages/salaries, which depends on company spending.

                Cyclical systems are usually best modeled using differential equations, and if modern economics was based on evidence and sound scientific and mathematical principles rather than plausibility arguments, that’s what economists would be doing. I know Steve Keen is doing some work in this area but I’m not aware of a lot of others (if they are, it’s made little impact on the public consciousness). In the meantime, it’s safe to say that predictions based on the toy supply/demand curve will have little relevance to the employment market in reality.

      2. jonboinAR

        My guess with the Alabama farmworkers “experiment” is that it was not a fair test. Time-wise, it was not allowed to play out. It would probably have taken time and certain types of temporary gear-grinding for the employers and the prospective legal American workers to make tacit agreement as to what the wages that those workers would go out into the fields for would be.

        Also, with regard to wages, it would likely been impractical to enforce immigration laws in Alabama while maintaining lax enforcement in the rest of the US. Alabama farm wages quite possibly lacked flexibility because to raise them would have made the final product uncompetitive with the same grown in Georgia or Mississippi, or wherever else.

        The commenter two levels up is absolutely correct. The presence, indeed, eventual dominance, of/by illegal immigrants in the trades has destroyed the wage scale, absolutely. As a sometime construction worker I have been very close to it. Suggesting otherwise is silly or disingenuous even if admitting that appears to make one mean or xenophobic. I will do any legitimate job there is, for the right price, but I’d prefer not to work at Walmart at wages that force me to accept government assistance if I can help it.

        I’m for something like a one-time amnesty because, practically speaking, we have been allowing these people to work here practically forever. They’ve paid their dues, so to speak. A onetime amnesty, also, won’t affect the current labor supply. Then I’m for slamming the border door shut. It seems to me that anyone the least bit educated or with any innate ability to reason who suggests that adjusting the labor supply spigot is not going to affect wages in reverse proportion has to be making a disingenuous argument. I can tell they are especially when they fall back to the racist-calling ad-hominim type tactic.

        1. different clue

          And if the experiment were run in all 50 states at once while permitting Free Trade in agricultural goods to continue existing, then many buyer-resellers would buy lower wage-lower price goods from outside America. The only way to force ag-wages up inside America would be to abolish Free Trade in the relevant ag-products from outside America, and restore the sort of belligerent protectionism which would permit us to tariff the incoming foreign ag-products until they were exactly as expensive as the higher wage-work American ag products. Then at least the foreign low-wage ag-goods would lose their price advantage.

        2. swendr

          The presence, indeed, eventual dominance, of/by illegal immigrants in the trades has destroyed the wage scale, absolutely. As a sometime construction worker I have been very close to it.

          You “construction” guys crack me up when you whine about immigrants taking your jobs. Unionized trades are hardly overrun by immigrant labor because they are good jobs, and natives fight hard to keep and fill them. Non-union hired-guns in the casual construction industry, on the other hand, will continue to eat shit while the industry remains unorganized. As a “sometime construction worker,” I assume construction is not exactly your first choice of employment. Think about it. Who’s going to work for substandard pay and conditions besides the desperate? Obviously you won’t.

    2. Clive

      Lambert called another commenter not that long ago on the “adjective used as a noun” substitution and it was a good education. I certainly learned about the importance of being careful about my terminology, based on his good advice. We can all at times fall into a trap of using linguistic shorthand, but sometimes — as here — it enforces a negative connotation on its target. Nothing wrong with giving a negative connotation of course, if that’s what we think is apprropriate. But we should be clear what — or who — should be dissed and, preferably, with the reasons. Then others can critique our arguments, if they wish.

      NC isn’t, from what Yves demonstrates, keen on political correctness, so there is a fine line to be drawn. But slapping a description on whole group of people — people with complex and varied backgrounds, motivations and situations — is a bit simplistic and can be just plain lazy. So best avoided in my humble opinion, if you want to try and be as convincing as you can be in your assertions.

      1. Alejandro

        I agree with you and Lambert. What makes it insidious, imho, is that its formalized into the lexicon. With the effect of deepening the roots of the hegemonic “logic” of a legal system masquerading as “justice”. For most it becomes psittacism but for the thinking it becomes a quandary. Condemned for “being” in a so called “meritocracy”?

      2. Lambert Strether

        If you wanted to throw the “illegals” adjective at an entire group of people, I’d suggest bankster CEOs, since the claim is much more tightly focused and has, in cases of accounting control fraud, the great merit of being true. Those guys shouldn’t be walking the streets.

        1. Alejandro

          I always appreciate the connections that aren’t always obvious. These banksters are the other side of this hegemonic “logic”. Rewarded and protected for “being” the faces of the super-duper citizen corporate “persons”, in a so called “meritocracy”. I would venture and say that they are far more responsible for the current plight of workers than all immigration combined, with the only exception “being” the de-regulated immigration of “capital”.

    3. swendr

      Funny how you missed the entire point of the interview, and telling as well. The point is organized labor, getting organized and fighting for better wages and conditions on the job. You want to know why meatpacking facilities are staffed the way they are today? Immigrant labor didn’t just magically show up one day to replace the higher-paid whiteys, it was union busting in the wake of the Reagan recession. Immigrants didn’t enter the picture until well after the unions were busted and it was obvious that wages and conditions were permanently reduced to shameful levels. Take Bill Barry’s advice and learn about labor history, start with the Hormel P9 strike in Austin, MN to get up to speed on that industry. It was a fucking brutal time for labor, and we have yet to recover thanks to ignorant dipshits who can’t pull their heads out of their race-warring asses and do the one thing that scares the living shit out of the 1%: organize on the job. Collective bargaining works.

  4. Working Class Nero

    The famous saying:

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
    Can be slightly updated and generalized to:

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his class interests are advanced by his not understanding it.”

    And so the biggest “tell” in the immigration debate is when bourgeois commentators – those people in the top two social economic quintiles – admit that H1-B visa, high skill immigration is a plot to lower wages, but insist that the same is not true for low-skill immigration. They often tiredly trot out the oligarchs favorite two pro-immigration tropes about “crops rotting in the fields” and “jobs Americans will not do”.

    Personally I am “bi-class-ual”, I grew up working class but am now firmly enmeshed in the bourgeoisie and so I am convinced my split social class personality helps me understand these issues.

    The fact is, if all else is held constant – high skill immigration helps poor people (assuming no additional low-skill immigration) by lowering costs of high skill workers and increasing employment opportunities for low-skill workers since high-skill workers typically also employ low-skill labor. But the reverse is obviously also true, low-skill immigration helps the rich by lowering salaries but hurts the poor because of these salary decreases.

    Here is a portion of what Harvard immigration economist George Borjas has to say about the impact of immigration on the poor. You can read the whole thing here:

    The immigration surplus of $35 billion comes from reducing the wages of natives in competition with immigrants by an estimated $402 billion a year, while increasing profits or the incomes of users of immigrants by an estimated $437 billion.


    Economists have long known that immigration redistributes income in the receiving society. Although immigration makes the aggregate economy larger, the actual net benefit accruing to natives is small, equal to an estimated two-tenths of 1 percent of GDP. There is little evidence indicating that immigration (legal and/or illegal) creates large net gains for native-born Americans.

    Even though the overall net impact on natives is small, this does not mean that the wage losses suffered by some natives or the income gains accruing to other natives are not substantial. Some groups of workers face a great deal of competition from immigrants. These workers are primarily, but by no means exclusively, at the bottom end of the skill distribution, doing low-wage jobs that require modest levels of education. Such workers make up a significant share of the nation’s working poor. The biggest winners from immigration are owners of businesses that employ a lot of immigrant labor and other users of immigrant labor. The other big winners are the immigrants themselves.

    Illegal immigration continues to vex the public and policymakers. Illegal immigrants have clearly benefited by living and working in the United States. Many business owners and users of immigrant labor have also benefited by having access to their labor. But some native-born Americans have also lost, and these losers likely include a disproportionate number of the poorest Americans.

    And of course none of this includes the phenomenon of Friendly FIRE urban elites using Latin immigrants as an avant-garde force in displacing their unwanted poor black urban populations. Look at Oakland, Compton, or Harlem for examples of how this works. Some elite elements have tried to get open immigration into Detroit from anywhere else in the world in an effort to displace the poor blacks concentrated there, an effort that Glenn Ford of BAR calls “afro-dilution”.

    All the failures of the Alabama experiment only prove that such a solution as to be implemented on a NATIONAL scale. The problem in Alabama is that they compete with farmers in similar states that CAN use cheaper semi-slave illegal immigrant labor. The same thing would have happened back a hundred a sixty years ago if Alabama had all alone tried to stop slavery only to find out their farms were uncompetitive against farms in neighbouring states that were still allowed to use slave labor. Not only does the national level have to act on immigration, they also have to set up reasonable protection from competition from just across the border.

    Another factor is that it is the beginning of the end of a society if the citizens become too good to perform certain jobs and instead this work is restricted to ethnic minorities who do not enjoy full citizen rights. Also the use of semi-slave immigrant labor allows the farmers to avoid pressure to ameliorate the working conditions especially concerning poisonous pesticides.

    What is true is that tight labor conditions will not only increase wages but will lead to labor saving technological solutions. But in an environment where labor supply is limited, this should be seen as a good thing. The answer is fairly simple — enforce existing labor laws and the semi-slaves will voluntarily go back to the countries of origin — where they enjoy full citizen rights.. And it would be well worth the pittance it would cost to assist these people financially in their journey back home.

    1. Carolinian

      Great comment. Your arguments make a lot of common sense to me. And thanks to Yves for taking an open minded approach to this issue. In some ways it is similar to the free trade debate where economic orthodoxy is relentlessly in favor of free trade but reality is much more complicated. The simple minded pro immigration stance of many on the left reflects just such a comfortable middle class indifference to the problems of the working poor.

      That said, I do believe what used to be called the “melting pot,” the polyglot nature of American society has always been its great strength. It’s probably not a coincidence that the “American Century” began with a wave of immigration that brought in new people and ideas, enlarging the “gene pool” as it were. One problem with inequality is that it entrenches a limited group in power and their ideas are played out.

      So there are arguments on both sides. However the conventional left position on this is much too limited.

      1. Working Class Nero

        Thanks, and I also thank Yves for providing a forum to openly discuss these issues. There are very few places on the internet where left/right orthodoxies are not rigidly enforced and this is the best of them.

        One key difference is that in the case of the 19th century immigration there was an under-utilized continent to ethnically cleanse indigenous people from and so as new immigrants came in, more land was given to the native-born (European) lower classes so that economic tensions were balanced. Capital got their cheap labor, labor got cheap land, and the settler colony was able to fill out an entire continent and become the dominant world power. But the key there was the whole “melting pot” paradigm. Social cohesion of the lower and middle classes at least was encouraged by cultural assimilation. All except for blacks of course, who were in most cases actually forbidden from culturally assimilating and were kept apart. Undermined by their separate cultural identity, blacks represented a powerless reserve labor force which was deployed from time to time by the wealthy as replacement labor to keep the occasionally uppity white under-classes from asking for too much.

        The key here is social cohesion.

        I spent the morning studying a 1982 position paper by an Israeli strategist which is often claimed to be a roadmap of current US policy in the Middle East. Be that as it may, and things like that can get exaggerated and conspiratorial, the second most striking part of the paper (the first being his comments at the very end on US media portrayals of Israel) was that he reinforced over and over again that the key to Arab weakness was the diverse nature of their populations. Lebanon is obvious, and Iraq as well, but in case after case he lists the various diverse identity groups in each country and quite correctly said that exasperating the differences between these groups will only serve to weaken the Arabs and strengthen the Israelis. This is only basic common sense and, for example, the Romans used to employ to this same game plan to great success.

        So far from being its strength, diversity was correctly called out as the various Arab nations’ weakness. And this brings us to the latest bout of immigration and Identity Politics. As you state, diversity can be fine if it is fairly quickly absorbed into a melting pot. But when permanent Identity Groups are formed, then the oligarchs can start manipulating them just as Israeli strategists do when looking for Arab weaknesses. Now given the historic injustices, separate black identity can be understood. The long term goal must be integration, culturally and physical (and I would argue genetically through intermarriage). But that is going to take some time. On the other hand, I grew up in a working class city that was at least 50% Latino (much more if we include Portuguese descendants which is now often the case). But the city was always considered 99% white (due to segregation). People with Hispanic last names were considered the same as people with Anglo last names. Although injustices certainly abounded, the answer was more integration and not the creation of a new Identity group.

        But with the advent of Identify Politics on the left, and Machiavellian divide and rule strategies on the right, Richard Nixon declared Latinos an Identity group in the early 70’s. Working class heroes, who never went to college, like Cesar Chavez immediately saw through this stratagem and denounced all this La Raza bullshit. Unfortunately most of our college education progressives today still cannot understand how destructive this move was to social cohesion. We have gone from Cesar Chavez trying to block illegal immigrants at the border for the economic good of all Americans, to the current crop of Latino “leaders” whose very power depends only on an ever increasing number of Latinos regardless of the economic impact these newcomers have on poor Americans.

        So assimilated diversity is good for everyone — unassimilated and competing Identity group diversity is only good for the oligarchs as the historic exclusion of blacks shows — or for US/Israeli military planners as events in the Middle East are making quite clear.

        1. Lambert Strether

          Stealing a phrase from BAR, I wonder if there’s a Hispanic Misleadership class? If so, a partial solution is better than a complete solution for them, because they get to stay as gatekeepers.

      2. jrs

        I suspect most of the editorialists who are pro-immigration are actually much more economically secure than tech workers, which I don’t regard as having job security really, though it can pay well. The exceptions are those with a direct stake in immigration (those who are involved in the lives of those who would be deported etc.). I would take it for granted that whatever effect H1Bs or whatever would have would be duplicated on lower income ranges. Although it could be argued it’s much easier to limit H1Bs than to actually limit people crossing the border.

        I’m not sure low wages for higher skilled workers is going to translate in lower prices. I mean it might if they marketed directly to the consumer. But almost all of the money at many firms goes to profit anyway, it doesn’t actually go to say tech workers.

    2. Ulysses

      “The answer is fairly simple — enforce existing labor laws and the semi-slaves will voluntarily go back to the countries of origin — where they enjoy full citizen rights.. And it would be well worth the pittance it would cost to assist these people financially in their journey back home.”

      Well said! The most effective thing that bourgeois Americans with a conscience can do to improve the lot of poor people in the third world is not to let them come here illegally, and drive down wages of poor Americans, black and white. Instead, they should boycott companies like Apple, Walmart, etc. who exploit very cheap labor in foreign countries, so that earning $5-6$ illegally in the U.S. seems like an attractive alternative.

      1. Eureka Springs

        I think a limited boycott would be an act of fooling ourselves. The problems you mention with the likes of wal-mart are systemic. While I almost never shop at wal-mart myself I am painfully aware that I am purchasing much if not exactly the same things (made in a foreign sweatshop, por quality, etc.) in ALL other locations when it comes to clothing, hardware, appliances and electronics. Except at times when I shop at a farmers market… and that’s not as often as I would like because they are basically picked over by this time of day.

        We need massive general strikes, imo… not limited ineffective feel good temporarily boycotts which ultimately teach people they cannot be effective. I mean they already have the Democratic and Republican parties for that.

        If we US citizens lived in anything close to a representative democracy our population would be somewhere between a quarter to a third lower than it is. If one simply looks at the birth rate sans the number of legal and less than legal immigration allowed. (would like to find good numbers on this)

        Imagine if say since the bicentennial we grew by 20 to 30 million rather than 120 million (admittedly rough numbers here). Quality of life/envirionment would be much better for us.Additionally I rather doubt 80 percent of the mid to big box behemoths would have been built….. the US citizens en masse choose not to have a family or a much smaller one…. we were denied that low growth decision by the growth/tumor parties and their owners.

        1. Banger

          The consciousness for a general strike isn’t there. Two things–first working towards a cooperative/communal economic life has to be in the long-range planning of everyone that isn’t in the ruling class or serving the ruling class. Second, limited and highly focused boycotts are essential to assert power–you target a specific corporation but one that isn’t that powerful and in economic straights to push it over the edge. The idea is to assert power not to meet particular demands. The problem with the left in this country is that if refuses to understand the nature of power–you help your friends and punish enemies–that’s the power game. If you choose not to play that game then move on to spiritual pursuits–a perfectly valid direction.

          1. Eureka Springs

            While I agree the consciousness is not here yet, it’s time we raise that bar. I think your next two points are contradictory. And it’s one of the many reasons I think unions are not an answer. We are so far behind. Minimum/living wages for all need to hit 20 plus per hour now with simultaneous establishment of tri-care (my preferred choice) or single payer for all. Even if we achieve a few dollar hike from the likes of wal-mart, with or without unions, we have left far too many way to far behind, including the wal-mart worker who now makes 12 to 15 part time or full. Not enough.

            I really think in order to assert power, the masses are both going to have to rise up and specifically demand something substantial for a great many… not just a million wal-mart workers and a few million fast food workers.

        2. Lambert Strether

          I’m thinking a consumer strike or boycott might be more effective than a workplace strike. It may be that the action is in retail, unlike the sitdown strikes of the 30s.

          Particularly for Amazon. I hope I get this right, but Yves has attempted to explain to me that Amazon makes its money on the float: You pay immediately but Amazon has such clout over its vendors that it can delay payment for some time. So, drain the float, nobble Amazon.

          From the armchair, as usual!!

      2. RepubAnon

        Indeed: the only difference I see between outsourcing jobs to wage-slave nations and hiring undocumented workers for work in the US (who can be deported if they complain about illegal and/or unsafe working conditions) is that immigrants coming onto our turf and competing for resources triggers our territorial instincts. If the meat-packing plants get shipped over to, say, China (The Curious Case of the Chinese Chicken Import-Export Business), not only are the US-based workers replaced with folks willing to work for less than minimum wage (and fewer safety and environmental standards), but the jobs are more-or-less permanently lost.

      3. swendr

        You know what’s easier to sustain and infinitely more effective than enforcing a boycott in realm of eliminating the effects of substandard foreign labor markets locally? Well designed tariffs. Don’t give up on politics just because the neolibs run the show. They utilize political power because it is effective.

        That said, consumer solidarity will be key in building up a strong organized working class world-wide, and we should never miss an opportunity to make the point. I would just hate to think we got distracted from a more easily attained solution because of it.

        Also, to get back on topic, the original point about enforcing existing labor laws is well taken. I refuse to recognize any policy discussion surrounding immigration that does not include stiff and well-enforced penalties for employers of undocumented workers. Punishing the workers is mean-spirited and a waste of time when it’s the employers that cause the problem (and perpetuate it) by hiring in the first place. Any other arguments are posturing.

        1. different clue

          Free Trade Agreements are designed to make such tariffs illegal. We would have to abrogate or repudiate all such FTAs, withdraw from WTO, perhaps withdraw from all FTAs going right back to the Truman era GATT Round One to reconquer our lost right to set tariffs.

    3. Dirk77

      A friend was arguing to me that immigration has always been the scam that kept the economy growth engine going for the USA. Supposedly back in the day, only people from a select group of countries, England, France, etc. we’re allowed in. But then that dried up and the economy almost collapsed. Selling products to people moving west I guess. So they included other countries. The only thing that has changed now is it’s gotten crowded in the USA. Almost all countries limit immigration for that reason because most people hate crowding. But the scam must continue in the USA because growth is the most important thing. If the tax structure were such that the people who benefited from it really had to pay the costs I wonder if the borders would be closed tonight.

      1. run75441

        “The only thing that has changed now is it’s gotten crowded in the USA.”

        Since when? The present population resides on ~6% of the nation’s land mass. Read Joel Garreau’s “300 Million and Counting” Smithsonian. One importance of immigration (legal or illegal) is to maintain a young work force in an aging population. European countries, China, and Russia are finding themselves boxed in with the aging of the population.

        I would think very carefully about the impact of closing the door to America.

        1. Dirk77

          By crowding it was meant both in the physical sense but also competition for jobs and resources. But even if it were just physical, given all the vanishing of natural habitat, do you really want more lost? And does maintaining a young workforce always mean to have a growing population? I am puzzled when people say that. Or do you mean steady-state? I mean if aging is bad then is endless growth the only way?

          1. Dirk77

            Anyways, getting back to this post: my takeaway from my friends comment was that since the scam has been going on for so long, perhaps other issues are more pressing.

        2. different clue

          Those people “living on” 6% of the nation’s landmass extract resources from the other 94% of the nation’s landmass to stay alive. The sagebrush desert has a low population per square mile because a low population per square mile is the highest population the sagebrush desert can support.

    4. sleepy

      “The problem in Alabama is that they compete with farmers in similar states that CAN use cheaper semi-slave illegal immigrant labor. The same thing would have happened back a hundred a sixty years ago if Alabama had all alone tried to stop slavery only to find out their farms were uncompetitive against farms in neighbouring states that were still allowed to use slave labor.”

      Which is why the upland, hill country whites in the old Confederacy opposed slavery and opposed secession. They couldn’t compete with the agricultural advantages held by the slave-owning plantation owners who ran the show.

    5. afisher

      And submitting an opinionated political piece is what is considered a discussion? Well, OK – but why not have the decency to point out that none of that was not necessarily well-considered.

    6. fresno dan

      erudite, insightful, and well articulated analysis.
      When I went into the air force many, many years ago, my roommate had been a butcher. At that time, I and many others could scarcely believe that someone would give up the pay and benefits of a highly unionized and skilled job for the military. To me, the situation is analogous to “free trade” – when advocates say it will make the US richer….they are correct. They just neglect to add that only 0.1% will be richer, 20% will be stagnant, and 79% will be poorer…
      People who advocate immigration, to win me over, have to explain to me how it is that all the promises about policies regarding the losers in the “winners and losers” discussion when Gore was debating Perot – how those polices were never implemented, and why it would be different this time. Or they have to fess up and admit that they believe “free trade” is a good thing and has worked well for the vast majority of Americans – a proposition I find preposterous.

    7. EmilianoZ

      Illegality is the H1B of the poor. We keep pointing the finger at the 1 or 0.1%, but to the working class poor we might look like part of the problem.

      Yet l’internationale sera the genre humain has always been the ultimate dream of the left.

      Immigration seems like an impossible problem like squaring the circle or having one’s cake and eat it.

    8. Ed

      I’m not through the entire thread yet, but this is a great comment. I have one small but significant objection.

      Lowering the price of labor by increasing the supply, which in microeconomic terms is what immigration does, hurts all workers regardless of the type of immigrants you get. If only high skill immigrants are imported, the price of labor still decreases as the supply of labor increases. In practical terms, it becomes harder for native born workers who would otherwise get the high skill, high wage jobs to get them. Some of them have to drop down a class or two, and start competing with the lower skill workers. If they can’t do this, they are just unemployed and this outweighs the lowering of the prices of the services employed by the high skill workers (this is unlikely anyway due to regulation).

      The economic argument for increased immigration boils down to that it is good to lower the costs of labor. We want more money in the hands of the capitalists, and less in the hands of labor, so that the capitalists can innovate. Then the economy expands and the formerly redundant workers get new jobs along with the imported labor. Its really the same argument that was used against every attempt to better the condition of labor, with the critical exception that maybe the immigrants themselves are better off. I can think of better and more direct ways to improve the lives of peasants in developing countries other than making workers in developed countries redundant.

      1. Working Class Nero

        Thanks, and I agree with your comment. In fact I thought the same thing when I originally read this argument from George Borjas. He used the example of a high-skilled immigrant cook opening a restaurant. The high-skill immigrant would then hire lots of low-skill staff that in theory would increase low-skill wages. The fallacy in this is that there is a limited number of restaurants a market can sustain so all this new chef is really doing is knocking the weakest chef in the market out of business and into competition with the workers on the next level down that he falls into.

        Since it is actually kind of nice to have some immigrant chefs come in anyway from time to time it is better to use the example of lawyers or bankers when making this argument!

        I wrote too quickly and I should have phrased that paragraph differently.

        1. Lambert Strether

          Just for the sake of the argument, surely “there is a limited number of restaurants a market can sustain” is, er, a fallacy under a scenario of open borders. Assume 100 Blue People immigrate, and 1 is a chef. 100 Blue People then eat regularly at his his restaurant, with knock-on benefits multiplying for builders, plumbers, electricians, marketing firms, lawyers, and bankers, all of whom are not Blue People. Note that I’m not advocating that policy, just wondering about your assumption that the pie always has to be the same size.

          1. Working Class Nero

            No I am assuming an extremely simplified, ideal closed border scenario which in reality would of course never exist. But in an open borders scenario all bets are off so it would be very hard to understand what would happen in that case.

            In your scenario, a mixed group is posited and if absorbed over time in that case it certainly seems the market would expand and there would probably be no impact on wages in either direction.

            The key seems to be immigrant type and time absorbed. I suppose the ideal immigrant from the economic point of view would be people with independent sources of income that bring these new resources with them into their new country. For example, in cities like Brussels there are many high-skilled immigrants who bring money in from the outside (for example from EU institutions or foreign companies). In these situations, bringing in more immigrants certainly does increase the market for restaurants. So in this case George Borjas idea works, but the key is not the immigrant’s skill level necessarily but the fact the immigrant brings outside money into his new country.

            I was thinking last night that immigration policy is a bit like adding fuel to the blaze in your fireplace. First off you want to know how big you fire should be. In a relatively empty fireplace (country) you probably want to add more fuel more quickly than can be done by locals reproducing. In this case you want immigration. Also if your fire (population) is just at the right size, but your population is not reproducing quickly enough (not enough new native timber being added), then again you want some immigration. But not only the amount, but also both the mix of wood you are adding (social class – economic situation) and the speed you are adding it (don’t want to smother the fire by adding too much timber at once) become the critical elements to managing to keep the fire going at a good rate (standard of living) and at the right size. Because in smothering the fire with too much timber, the wood at the center (the rich) burns hotter while all the wood at the periphery cools down (standard of living drops). It is much better to have as even a fire as possible although there will always be some variation.

            On the other hand if your fire is already too large and your population is at least reproducing itself then you really don’t want to be adding too much more timber.

            With this framework what is happening in the US could be read as an already too large fire (for global warming / environmental reasons not necessarily land holding capacity) is being enlarged and at the same time smothered by adding too much of the same type of immigrants (either low-skilled or concentrated in one area like programming). The policy prescription would be at the very least to stop adding more wood to the already smouldering fire (or even better convince some that is not yet alight (obtained legal right to stay) to leave the fireplace altogether) and try to get the fire burning more evenly again.

            But of course there are other issues as well, it is certainly not only because of immigration that the rich have that deep red smokeless glow of economic success while the poor timber is hissing and sizzling and smothering in its own smoke.

  5. Jesper

    About this:
    “that the fight over immigration reform and the status of undocumented immigrants diverts energy and attention from the ways in which a super-rich class is taking more and more out of the economy, to the detriment of laborers.”

    One of the ways the super-rich extract more and more out of the economy is by having a large pool of unemployed competing for jobs. Immigration adds to the pool of labourers and therefore strengthens the negotiating power of the super-rich.
    I don’t understand how discussing one of the tools the super-rich use to extract more and more out of the economy could be a waste of energy and/or a waste of attention.

    Many people have proposed to make hiring an undocumented immigrant a felony. Do that, enforce the law and if it turns out that some industries can’t survive if they have to follow the law then discuss that – should the industry be subsidised etc

    1. RepubAnon

      Currently, we’re seeing “Prisoner’s Dilemma” in these industries. Given competition from both foreign sources for the same products (made competitive by low transport costs from cheap oil), plus lack of uniform and consistent enforcement, the decision as to whether to try to comply with US law becomes a calculation of lost revenue versus probable fines. Currently, it’s more cost-effective to pay the (very low) fines, or simply outsource the work.

  6. not_me

    I’d expect to see wage increases but also consolidation and renewed efforts to use capital in the place of labor. Yves Smith

    Yes, which is why the Progressive emphasis on labor unions to counter the government-enabled credit cartel was doomed to failure.

    Twist and turn, whine and squirm, it all comes back to government-subsidized credit creation – the original sin of Progressives – which has divided us into the creditworthy and the non-creditworthy, capital and labor, those who benefit from free trade and those who don’t, those who benefit from foreign labor and those who don’t, those who have much more than enough and those who suffer want.

    1. Greenbacker

      There has always been a “government created” credit cartel. Whether by Alexander Hamilton to Andrew Jackson to Abe Lincoln to Woodrow Wilson to Ronald Reagan to Barry Obama. We don’t understand this because we don’t want to. I could call Andrew Jackson a Rothschild sympathizer(MVB was most definitely was) and Abe Lincoln the great greenbacker. But schemes are schemes. Alexander Hamilton, the great American Patriot, had the House of Hamilton to run his own private banking enterprises from the European powers.

      All money is sin.

  7. Doug Terpstra

    I strongly suspect cheap cannon fodder military service is key component of the regime’s decree, as it was in the ‘Dream’ Act, which fizzled. Admitttedly, I pay too little attention anymore to the Naked Nero’s edict, but in addition to wage suppression and electoral strategy, I imagine the imminent Ukrainian and Syrian campaigns are part of the Machiavellian machinations.

  8. Doug Terpstra

    I strongly suspect cheap cannon fodder military service is key component of the regime’s decree, as it was in the ‘Dream’ Act, which fizzled. Admitttedly, I pay too little attention anymore to the Naked Nero’s edict, but in addition to wage suppression and electoral strategy, I imagine the upcoming Ukrainian and Syrian campaigns are part of his typical Machiavellian machinations.

  9. MartyH

    Of course, when your plutocracy is living large off the income from holding the skim creamed off the economies of the poor and filtered through Nick Shaxton’s “Offshore” into the City of London, New York, and their subsidiaries, the poor might feel some entitlement to some of the trickle down ;-) … Of Course every body wants to be Warren Buffet and live in garden spots like Omaha or Seattle. The trick is to figure out to climb out of the middle rung of a Mexico or a Haiti or a Honduras and onto the bottom rung of a US or UK or … so your kids have a shot at something better among the Norte Americanos. … It’s an aspiration we might want to respect and think about as our roads and bridges in the fly-over regions are allowed to continue to rot along with the local economies.

    1. hunkerdown

      Ambition is the root of all evil. Perhaps all that flowery Whig nonsense ought to be put in the dustbin and into the incinerator, until such time as it’s every bit as easy to get *out* as it is to get *in*.

  10. PaulArt

    This morning the nytimes has an ‘immigration executive action’ puff piece about the great Obama and how he tried heroically to get Bohener and Congress to pass immigration legislation for 2 years. Boehner kept dragging his feet because a section of GOPers favored deporting most of the 11 million illegals. All through this time the illegal immigrant advocate community kept up a very strong protest presence in the White House. They got more than one meeting with the President. Finally Obums gave up when that nincompoop Eric Cantor lost his seat over the ‘illegal immigrant children invasion’ issue. Obums then appointed some kind of a top-secret committee and also worked on it himself as a Constitutional scholar to delve into whether executive action would be legal. The work went on for a year before Obums issued the order. The point however that I am trying to make here is, why is that Engineers or Blue Collar workers or Unions cannot bring pressure on the President like these illegal immigrant advocates can and did? I find it stupefying and amazing. I too do not buy into this ‘Alabama tried deporting and barring illegals and it did not work’ story. How many poor people have transportation to go interview at nearby farms? How did the farmers actually advertise for positions? What was the pay compared to say Walmart? If I am a poor white person working in Walmart and taking the bus there why the hell would I go work for a farmer 25 miles away and with no transport to get there? In this same nytimes article I read most of the comments and you would be surprised at how only a SINGLE person has mentioned that employing illegals should be made a criminal offense. This shows how ignorant most people who are engaged in this issue are about what to do about it. My guess as always is, its mostly the older population, the ones on Social Security or retired with nice financial security who have the time and effort to opine on this issue in the media. The rest either shut up because they have no time or they remain silent because its a political issue in the work place. If you start talking against H1-Bs then you are talking against colored people (most H1-Bs are colored from India or China) and you are also talking against your boss because he is the one who hired the H1-B. The other reason culturally that liberals support illegal immigration is because they are soft hearted. I mean, they would not be liberals if they are thus, right? So we go round and round in circuitous logic of ‘no one wants to do this work’, ‘do not separate familes’, ‘they have paid taxes’ etc etc. It’s all nonsense and balderdash. The last time I looked, Canada did not have an illegal immigration problem. This is because they enforce the law there. You cannot work without papers there and they make it easy for anyone to check a person’s papers. In the US this system is deliberately broken, there is no central database which one can use to check someone’s immigration papers. Different states have different document requirements for issuing drivers licenses.

    1. different clue

      I note with interest that those Republicans who call for deporting the 11 million illegal aliens have not yet called for arresting, prosecuting, and if-convicting . . . then imprisoning them. I doubt those Republicans ever will.
      If we amnestied every drug-convict we might open up enough prison space to house all the illegal employERS.

  11. McWatt

    As a landlord I have had various problems over the years, none more so than foreign nationals
    with great jobs, including one couple with an H-1b visa, skipping out on leases and leaving the
    country. Recently a couple working for the Mexican embassy skipped six months in to a year long
    lease. This is how I feed my family. To go without income is not fun! I am completely sympathetic to
    those who are harmed by legal as well as illegal immigration.

    I want to live in Switzerland but I can’t. And for a very good reason! Because the rest of the entire world would love to live in a well ordered wealthy society. Open borders is a prescription for a disaster. Those who are wealthy enough to be able to believe this nonsense would be the first to leave when their town became something totally different from what they envisioned. Sorry for the rant, but there is the “theory”: wouldn’t it be nice if there were no borders? and then there is the “reality”: real world hurt and extreme societal change. You choose.

    “Catch-22 says they can do anything we can’t stop them from doing.” Heller

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      The way is works is this:

      If an American town is in financial trouble, no other American town is likely to help it. Natural disasters maybe, but not financial trouble.

      For that, you go up one level, to the county or the state, maybe DC.

      What to do if another country is in financial trouble and her people have to sneak into another country? Go up one level – go to the UN.

      Any problems any country has with migration have to be addressed globally.

      1. jrs

        Yea but what enforcement mechanism does the UN have? Don’t say the U.S. military, they are always in it for their own ends and it’s always a humanitarian disaster when they get involved. But no doubt the countries people are fleeing from violate the universal declaration of human rights (and so does the U.S. of course).

  12. OIFVet

    The problem with immigration is that the causes and the solutions are far more complex than the overwhelming majority of commentators ever acknowledge. The causes are both local and global, and so are the solutions. Unfortunately I doubt that a workable solution will ever be implemented since it would go against the interests of the transnational PTB. And then there are seeming solutions that are anything but. Take legalization of illegal immigrants: the “left” insists that it would improve the illegal immigrants’ lot by preventing abuse and exploitation. That it does. The “left” also insists that legalization would improve native workers’ lot by preventing a wage race to the bottom. It doesn’t. See the EU: the whole point of the round of expansion, other than opening new markets, was to legalize cheap Eastern European labor. The results are evident: decreased wages across the board and continued dismantling of the welfare state. I may be overly cynical but I don’t believe that this is the result of good intentions resulting in unintended consequences.

    Then there is the problem of what drives immigration in the first place. The dismantling of the British Empire was supposed to usher in the end of colonialism. What we have instead is neocolonialism that manages to hide itself behind such things as “free trade” and “making the world safe for democracy”. It is just as brutal and far more efficient than the old -style colonialism it replaced. It now enlists hand-picked local elites to administer the colonial territories, and relies on immigration as a safety valve to both decrease tensions in the colonies and to export it to the colonial power whose uppity workers need to be taught a lesson and to be brought to heel. Will Obama’s executive order address these processes? Not bloody likely. Its not like it is something that is being discussed in the first place.

    As a naturalized US-ian, I just want to urge those who would demonize immigrants, both legal and illegal, to consider one thing before they do: the vast majority would rather be home than in the US. They leave families and a way of life behind because they are driven by need that most Americans could never imagine. Blaming them is tantamount to blaming the victim. Don’t be that person, direct the blame where it truly belongs: the transnational elites.

  13. casino implosion

    “Even the Pharaohs/ Had to import/Hebrew braceros” –Tom Lehrer

    “What it would take to get US natives to take those jobs was more than what those employers were willing to pay.”<—also curiously enough the main rationalization for slavery in the British colonies.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      For an individual to be health, low caloric consumption and weight lifting are 2 keys.

      For a nation, we have the same two keys: Low material consumption and, lifting and making stuff (not issuing imperial currency to import stuff), meaning citizens have to be engaged in all manufacturing, growing and harvesting activities.

      1. different clue

        Free Trade was designed to destroy that where it existed and prevent it from ever arising again.

  14. sleepy

    “What it would take to get US natives to take those jobs was more than what those employers were willing to pay. The same is likely true for many of the other backbreaking jobs performed by undocumented workers, such as working in meatpacking plants.”

    I know families here in Iowa who worked in the meatpacking business for years at good wage and who would disagree with your statement.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The plural of anecdote is not data.

      The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average annual income of slaughterers and meat packers was $24,190 in May 2011, based on an average wage of $11.63 an hour. The top 10 percent of slaughterers and meat packers made more than $31,290 and the bottom 10 percent earned less than $17,570. The BLS says that the average pay of meat, poultry and fish cutters and trimmers was $23,800, based on an average wage of $11.44 an hour. The top 10 percent of cutters and trimmers made more than $30,780 and the bottom 10 percent earned under $17,430.

      $11.63 is below a living wage for a single person in many areas of the US. No way can you support a family on this pay. And that’s before you get to the repetitive stress injuries and other ailments.

        1. sleepy

          Yes, those days were over by 1990, probably at the latest.

          And Yves, thanks for the data. It proves my anecdotes. Nowadays, former meatpacking families in Iowa would agree that a family can’t be supported on what is being paid now.

          Notwithstanding data, I wouldn’t belittle the actual experiences people have with their lives and work here in flyover country.

  15. DJG

    I understand and agree with Yves’s point: The issue is protection of workers and protection of the standard of living. A raise in the minimum wage. Enforcement of labor and fair-pay laws. Fines and sanctions for employers that abuse labor, fair-pay, and pension laws. Encouragement of unionization (why, maybe the DOJ could sue to overturn “right to work” laws instead of living in a swirl of incomprehension as to their intentions and effects). Also, enforcement of environmental law, so as to clean up the workplace even further. Workers are being imported and jobs are being exported to reinforce the privileges of the mainly white upper-middle class (the 5 percent). Recall the various “nanny scandals” of a few years ago, when a couple of nominations had to be withdrawn.

  16. DJG

    There’s an odd theme in some comments: Immigrants versus natives. But three of my grandparents were immigrants who arrived between 1910 and 1922 or so. Yet I am still treated as foreign (partially because of my surname). It has been the special privilege of Southerners to insist on defining what an American is. We see it all the time–especially a presumption of whiteness and evangelical Methodist / Baptist. And try talking to your Asian friends. There are Japanese-Americans who are fifth generation and still treated as foreigners and outsiders. (And it’s why you get Southerners in particular have a fit about, say, Buddhism, even though Buddhists have been in the USA for a minimum of 150 years.) So I am much more favorable to Yves’s arguments, which are economic, than the “cultural” arguments that turn up in such threads.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      I think we can say this country is made of immigrants and descendants of immigrants.

      And we need and will need immigrants.

      With that understanding, we can still ask,

      Is there workable rate of taking in immigrants?

      Can there be times we need more immigrants?

      And times we are able to take in fewer immigrants? But not ‘No Immigrants At All?’ Definitely not ‘We Hate Immigrants.’

      We have to look at the issue, stay with the issue and become one with the issue, and not try to hurry out of it by just saying, either the one extreme of ‘unlimited immigration’ or the other extreme of ‘absolutely no immigration,’ or a quick compromise somewhere in the middle.

  17. Scotty_Mack

    Hard to listen to critics of immigration unless they were also firm opponents of the ’94 Mexican ‘bailout’ in which JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and other big banks cannibalized the Mexican economy, or if they opposed the coups in Guatemala, Honduras, & Chile, or if they protested against US trained and funded death squads in El Salvador. American sit back as their big business decimates other peoples and lands and then wonder why those peoples come clamoring here for work and stability. Working people are all in the same boat yet are at each others throats, while if we just eliminate the six members of the Walton family 130 million of us could get a raise.

    1. linda j

      Hear, hear! Everyone has to eat. Usians by accident of birth, we have let our empire spread like a virus all over the world. Can we complain now that the havoc we have wreaked on the rest of humanity is pushing people to come the center? I think the immigrants may have the right to say they are Usians too.

  18. sleepy

    I don’t see your basis for placing all those who oppose illegal immigration into some cultural racist box, particularly on this blog where the vast majority of those do so for economic reasons.

    1. jrs

      I also think the overcrowding argument has merit. If you think everything can be expressed with money then if it can be shown illegal immigrants pay more than they use in taxes (not sure, but it’s definitely been argued) it’s enough. But in actuality you hit harder limits I think, of land that can be eminent domained for freeways, of land to build housing without bulldozing another bird sanctuary etc..

  19. ella

    Fact is many undocumented workers worked in the trades for far less than the union or the locale’s prevailing wage. This lowered the wages for all of the workers in the trades. ie cement finishers, roofers, carpenters, dry wall, etc.

    Many returned to their home countries after the real estate building bust in the mid 2000’s. Current status unknown.

      1. ella

        True, but then the key concept is MAGIC and we all know that the magician performs best on stage. WAIT, I forgot about the “invisible hand”! Could that be magic too? Me thinks so.

  20. Banger

    First we need to acknowledge that the issue of illegal immigration exists because the corporate elites wanted it. As we all probably agree here, the goal is to lower wages and lower the standards in the workplace by creating a class of hungry and desperate workers–this is the general goal of the bosses for some time. They are less interested in general economic growth that would come from a healthy and empowered populace–they are more interested in lower growth and a more miserable and demoralized populace seeking escape from reality. That’s what the class of oligarchs has achieved an illegal immigration is part and parcel with that project. We have to start from that understanding.

    Now, of course, people from other cultures benefit this country by bringing new ideas, ways of life, food, music and so on–on balance there is always a benefit from that. I will assert here that had the government wanted to substantially diminish illegal immigration they could have–just that if the government wanted to they could severely cut back on illegal drugs, crime, illiteracy they would have done so. Cops don’t have a job if people are mellow and not desperate–DEA agents would not take payoffs if drugs were legal–you know the drill.

    The whole Kabuki between the RP and DP is utter BS, neither one has even the slightest interest in solving the problem–though the DP wants to take the edge of the tragedies many families face at least. The RP would never in a million years deport large numbers of workers–they just say that to get the angry white male (and increasingly) angry white female vote.

    My solution would be either to open the borders or close them–but this argument is about what sort of country we want to live in which goes beyond the immigration issues. In some ways I like Edward Abbey’s idea that we should meet all prospective immigrants at the border and furnish them with AK-47s and send them home.

  21. kj1313

    This is Karma

    Understand this most of dire straits many immigrants face are directly due to US policy. In Central and South America mainly due to the drug war.

    End the drug war, exportation of neoliberal policies and stop your complaining.

    Sorry Yves and Lambert but commenters have their heads in the sand if they don’t acknowledge our role in this mess.

    1. jrs

      I refuse to acknowledge OUR role in the mess that has been made in many countries in central and south America.

      Now do I acknowledge the role of our unaccountable criminal elite in that? Of course. But those who are directly responsible don’t have to worry about any negative effects of immigration like possible effects on the job market etc. (they buy their way out of anything). And those that have to work for a living aren’t those who actually have much power to set foreign or other policies.

      1. OIFVet

        Respectfully, the criminal “elites” are unaccountable because we have failed in, if not outright abdicated, our responsibility to hold them accountable. So they go out and do things for their benefit but couched in the rhetoric of “OUR common benefit”. And they do get plenty of quiet and not so quiet acquiescence from a large portion of the population that still believes that America is exceptional, indispensable, and always right and thus fully stands behind the crimes committed in their names. Do you recall the last time a major politician took the position that America has something to apologize for? Me neither, such politician would be shouted down by the media, the political establishment, and by most of the population. Sorry but there is some collective responsibility that we must accept.

  22. Timothy Y. Fong

    I’m not sure that we can both enforce strict immigration laws and maintain civil liberties at the same time.

    Before 1882, the United States had very limited controls on immigration. Citizenship, yes. Immigration, no. That’s why I’m always pretty amused at the people who argue that American sovereignty is at stake without severe immigration restrictions — I guess in the era of the tricorner hat, the US didn’t have any sovereignty.
    Given that the US has very long borders with few natural obstacles, closing down the border is really going to necessitate some type of reverse Berlin Wall arrangement. Given the number of undocumented immigrants currently here and working, a sharp crackdown is going to take an even greater expansion of DHS reach than exists currently.

    Neither building a reverse Berlin Wall, nor expanding DHS reach are consistent with maintaining civil liberties. Both of those measures will further strengthen the hand of the security services, and will undoubtedly be used to further suppress internal dissent. Just like the War on Drugs, that gun eventually points back at the very people who thought it would only be pointed at the Other.

    1. Lambert Strether


      I don’t post on immigration hardly at all (so kudos to Yves) because I just can’t square the idea that we should restore the rule of law with simultaneously advocating amnesty. (And I know that amnesty isn’t on offer from Obama, but the unprincipled hodge podge he does offer will have that effect for a lucky fraction; as usual, the benefits are random and not all will get them them.)

      That said, it’s hard to think that that United States in the days of Ellis Island was doing all that badly. If the toughest and smartest and most entrepreneurial from other nations want to come here, would that really be so bad, net net? In sufficient numbers, they’d bring their own demand and markets with them. Would that be so bad?

      The idea seems to be that the economic pie is the size that it is, so American workers and immigrant workers are in a zero sum game. But I don’t see how that was true in the days of Ellis Island. It might be true today, but it seems more likely to me that the idea of a fixed-size pie is fostered by the powers that be in the usual way they have of dividing and conquering.

      Anyhow, vague thoughts and not a serious proposal. It does seem to me that this is not a problem — and I’m drawing a blank on the problem statement — that can be solved piecemeal. And I freely admit that in tech, I can see how the corporations are totally screwing American techies over, so I am not without interest or indeed hypocrisy on the matter.

      1. hunkerdown

        It is, effectively, a zero sum game when the dead-weight intermediaries have the power to decide how many pies make it out of the kitchen today. If one actually believes in the coloring-book civics and economics taught in public high schools, There Is No Alternative pie.

        So while it is an idea, it’s one that can be manifest with little long-term effort or injury on TPTB’s part, just as the House of Saud can “decide” whether US shale gas or renewables are profitable.

      2. different clue

        Peak oil, peak water, peak food, peak ecosystem pollution-tolerance . . . the pie will only shrink from here on in. The issue of dividing the shrinking pie will be forced one way or another.

      3. Timothy Y. Fong

        Labor markets exist within various social and political arrangements — and currently our arrangement deeply favors employers. The solution is of course, as it always has been, organization. Last time around in the late 19th/early 20th century, organized labor (other than the anarcho-syndicalists of the IWW) chose to run with immigration restriction and xenophobia. That’s exactly what it was when Dennis Kearney ended every speech with “the Chinese must go.” It wasn’t just Kearney either; Samuel Gompers of the AFL also advocated for massive restriction on Europeans, and a total ban on Asians. Why the total ban on Asians? Because racism. The AFL could have organized Asian workers, but they chose not to. And it goes without saying that the vast majority of unions (again, IWW excepted) at the time also refused membership to blacks.

        This time around, whether organization that takes the form of traditional unions, or some other form is situational. If the tech workers, for example, believe that unions are outdated, then surely they can innovate themselves into a new, disruptive solution? That said, unions have lately been a solution for a few blue collar workers — the Facebook bus drivers chose to go with the Teamsters.

  23. ginnie nyc

    If I may offer a few comments on this debate:
    Immigrants who follow the law, and its drawn out and tortuous procedures, in order to become citizens seem to be among the losers, here. One part of the solution is the number of civil servants working in the legal immigration sector should be significantly increased, and the process streamlined. Another part would be to throw 2 or 3 large employers of undocumented labor in jail, say one from food processing, one in construction, and one in the restaurant business. Or alternately, shut down the business for 2-3 months as part of the penalty. Making an example would discourage the other crooked businesses, who are the chief source of the problem. Without possible employment, people would not come.
    As far as illegal immigrants depressing wages, this is a fact. When I lived in central Harlem, not so long ago, a constant topic of conversation among men in their late 30s through early 50s was how they, or someone they knew, had been laid off a job in a local grocery store, or restaurant, where they had made between $8-10/hour. These were men with high school educations or GED. They were replaced by Latin workers paid $5-6/hour, so it was widely assumed, and sometimes verified, that their replacements were here illegally. At the lower end of the wage scale, whether urban blacks or rural whites, people are being screwed from both ends by an economic policy of deliberate low employment and wage suppression through unregulated immigration.

  24. Chris Geary

    I’m just surprised that the descendants of immigrants to America are so hostile to immigration. Maybe all the Europeans should have stayed in Europe, the Africans should have been left alone and the Native peoples of this land should not have been massacred.

    1. hunkerdown

      Agreed! Now, since path dependence is a genuine phenomenon, and (contrary to the American religion) it is no longer the 18th or 19th century, what do we do *now*?

      1. Chris Geary

        Allow the poor huddled masses to make their way here. Only seems fair to me, considering all the chaos and poverty we’re directly/indirectly responsible for all over.

        Other than that, oppose and reverse US policies that make it impossible to earn a decent living wherever they are.

        1. different clue

          There is a race-neutral and eth-neutral way to state the case against high immigration now and against uncontrollable illegal immigration especially.

          America now contains a lot of people. People are a good thing. Too many people is too much of a good thing. Immigrants are people. Too many immigrants is too many people which is too much of a good thing. The more people we have, the more we have to share. The more we have to share, the less we get to have.

          We got a sweet racket going here. Let’s don’t let too many more new people come in here and muscle in on our sweet racket.

          There, see? Pure dispassionate selfishness. No racism or ethnism at all.

          1. jrs

            It’s selfishness to be sure, but if people think it’s their employment that is going away it’s pretty natural. And it’s practiced by all the countries that actually do have a good quality of life (social safety nets, a real healthcare system, vacation time), in order to protect that quality of life (the U.S. is not a good country to live in by 1st world standards of course – only by 3rd world standards, maybe, and even that is sometimes doubtful as decent 3rd world countries have a lot in their favor)

            Americans have no moral right to live better materially than anyone on earth I suppose. But if a tech worker knows they will be unemployable due to age discrimination due to the flood of young H1Bs then what? Then they should have hoarded (oh excuse me the usual term is saved) more money in the years they were employable? (from 20-40 maybe?) Because they’ve already earned more than someone in a low wage country does in a lifetime? Perhaps. Of course they are usually also dealing with U.S. costs of living. Hoarding our money is the key to not being so selfish in defending our jobs? Perhaps. I mean theres no real social safety net if you can’t find work long term.

            1. Lambert Strether

              One of the consequences of crapifying the labor market is that it’s much more difficult to plan, because you don’t know your income or even necessarily your next job. So while exhorting you to save, the powers that be systematically make that harder and harder, all the while gutting the state institutions that should provide the social insurance people can no longer afford to buy on their own.

    2. bob

      “I’m just surprised that the descendants of immigrants to America are so hostile to immigration”

      Why? Why is that surprising? Do you know any history at all? Its the first most ‘merican thing a new immigrant can do to look like all of the other okies- “keep them out!”

      It’s not new. It’s very american, they all drape themselves with “their” flag.

  25. Luke The Debtor

    Q: “Do undocumented immigrants have any affect on wages, specifically low-skilled American worker”

    A: “I don’t think so. There is some impact.”

    That’s what I call retreated confirmation.

    1. flora

      Yes. Hiring non-union workers to replace unionized workers will drive down wages and break unions. Hiring illegal immigrants who fear deportation reduces workplace safety and workman’s compensation injury claims. People who fear deportation don’t call OSHA or file workman’s comp claims. Just watching the arc of wages and safety issues in the meat packing industry over the past 20-30 years (speeding up the line,e.g), or in the construction industry, is instructive. Whenever I here the phrase “do jobs Americans won’t do” I think, “Americans used to do those jobs and be decently paid to do them.” No OSHA calls and no workman’s comp claims are as useful to the packing industry as low wages and no unions, and justifies, in the industry’s eyes, the continued practice of hiring undocumented workers. An immigration raid is just the thing to keep workers scared. Workplace safety deteriorates more and more.

  26. financial matters

    From the viewpoint of climate change Naomi Klein notes that ‘exploited workers and an exploited planet are, it turns out, a package deal. A destabilized climate is the cost of deregulated, global capitalism.’

    She points out the high emissions costs of transporting items globally as well as that ‘the same logic that is willing to work laborers to the bone for pennies a day will burn mountains of dirty coal.’ And these products are often consumed in developed countries who don’t claim these production and transportation emissions.

    Improving local economies with sustainable industry can provide better local jobs with a much less carbon footprint. Unfortunately many ‘free trade’ deals are literally making these options illegal if they impinge on corporate profits.

  27. S Brennan

    “What it would take to get US natives to take those jobs was more than what those employers were willing to pay. The same is likely true for many of the other backbreaking jobs performed by undocumented workers, such as working in meatpacking plants.”

    “was more than what those employers were willing to pay.”

    Huh, I always was under the impression that a “market” consisted of sellers AND BUYERS…but apparently, not in Yves labor world, there…whatever the plantation owners says goes in her world…hmmm, once the price of labor was set at a coercive room and board, what my ancestors went through, brought back by the likes of Yves…who knew?

    FYI, meatpacking used to be a middle class job, prices actually went up after illegal immigrants were promised jobs in Mexican papers if they could make the illegal crossing into the USA. The reason prices went up was, illegals working for the big regionals were use to destroy the small packers who had always undercut the big fours oligopoly. If Yves knew anything about the meat packing industry’s history she’d be ashamed of this post.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Your comment is out of line as well as factually inaccurate.

      While illegal immigration likely has played a role in the degradation of working conditions and pay in the meatpacking industry, the bigger driver was increased capital investment, which allowed for tasks to be made narrower and more repetitive, meaning unskilled labor could be used. It also increased the incidence of repetitive stress injuries greatly, making those jobs unattractive to anyone who had other options.

      Job conditions and pay fell in Canada, which does not have a large population of undocumented workers:

      During the 1980s, Canada’s major manufacturing industries experienced considerable financial restructuring and technological transformation, largely in response to recessionary pressures. At the same time, the rate of lost-time injuries in Canadian manufacturing rose steadily. This article explores the relationship between these sets of factors. The meat packing industry has been selected as a case study of the interaction between industrial organization, the labor process, and the risk of workplace injuries. The authors suggest that the following factors have contributed to high and rising injury rates in the meat industry during the 1980s: consolidation into a smaller number of large, highly specialized, and mechanized plants; deteriorating labor relations in the face of falling profits; and an intensified labor process stressing line speedups and a growing risk of repetitive strain injuries. These observations are supported by a detailed analysis of the relationship between the labor process and workplace injuries at one packing plant considered typical for the industry.

      Moreover, books on the meatpacking industry describe the “Big Four’s” oligopoly as dating from the 1920s. The smaller meatpackers posed no threat to it, in part because they were disadvantaged in access to supply.

      1. Lambert Strether

        Meatpacking has always been a leader in deskilling by increased capital investment. The first “assembly line” (OK, disassembly) lines were in meatpacking plants in Cincinatti (Seigfried Geidion, Mechanization Takes Command). I forget the date, but I think it was pre-Civil War.

        1. not_me

          in deskilling by increased capital investment. Lambert

          Which is why capital investment should have been/must be ethical so that all or nearly all “share” in the productivity gains in an “equitable” manner (puns intended).

          It boils down to this: Money can be created as Liabilities or shares in Equity. Neither is morally illegitimate UNLESS one cheats as in, for example, making sure the Liabilities of the banking cartel as a whole are almost entirely virtual since the population has no genuine alternative to the government-insured banks for the risk-free storage of and transactions with fiat or more accurately mere claims to fiat.

      2. S Brennan

        This is true Yves:

        “illegal immigration likely has played a role in the degradation of working conditions and pay in the meatpacking industry, the bigger driver was increased capital investment”

        But the “increased capital investment” was driven/sold by the business plan of employing illegal labor to degrade pay and conditions, had your original post included this omitted critical fact, I would not have posted my comment. Your nonsense on labor “economics” is disingenuous. You know know nothing of what it is like to work by the sweat of your brow without hope of betterment…stop your “unwilling Americans” nonsense, many Americans work in horrible conditions thanks to “liberals” like you.

  28. Roland

    There are contradictions within the proletarian class, based upon nationality, race etc., which the bourgeoisie have been able to successfully expoit.

    However, all of the social and political problems concerning immigration and undocumented workers in the USA are entirely the fault of the bourgeoisie. For it is the bourgeoisie who employ illegal migrants, and thus provide the main reason why the problem exists in the first place.

    Any solution to the problem must focus neither on the ubndocumented workers, nor on the American working class. The entire focus must be on the bourgeoisie who employ the undocumented workers.

    This is not a workers’ problem–this is a bourgeois problem, a problem caused by the bourgeoisie, and perpetuated by the bourgeoisie.

    A president from the bourgeois class amnesties some of the illegals. But the bourgeois legislators and executives in the USA leave in place the whole system of laws and regulations by which millions of foreign workers are made vulnerable to expulsion. Meanwhile, the class of people who actually have wealth, who are employing the illegals, and who whould actually be worth prosecuting because they have a lot to lose, are left more or less scot-free.

    Shouldn’t the employers of the undocumented workers be the ones on their knees begging for amnesty?

    The solution to the problem of illegal migrants is to punish the employers harshly, while taking few or no measures against the undocumented workers themselves.

    1. Greenbacker

      Yes, on a Federal scale or it won’t work. It ain’t gonna come from the right, because they really love illegal immigration. Breaking down the hegelian response to the President’s ruling is basically that. Dialectical jumbo mumbo that cuts into their power yet they feel unsecure so they vote for the bourgeois claps that they think are supposedly “protecting their interest”. The best way out of that claptrap is deflationary spiral and depression. Let the wealthy sit on their oodles of cash inflating through deflation(doing nothing I may add) while they starve and eat crap off the floor. It worked quite well in the latter 19th well into the 20th century. The programs that made capitalism more sustainable also created a decadent streak among the Proletariat. Let them remember………………

  29. Hayek's Heelbiter

    An aside, I’m sick and tired of articles that begin, “[Fill in the blank employer] have to employ foreign workers because I cannot find any Americans willing to work.”

    Someday I want to see at least one article that begins, “[Fill in the blank employer] have to employ foreign workers because there is no way in hell that I’m going to pay any underling a living wage or decrease the ever increasing percentage of profits that flow into my own pocket.”

  30. c pryor

    Yves, there’s a problem with the analysis of Alabama’s experiment. Employers couldn’t raise wages sufficiently to attract non-migrant labor because they were selling into a market in which prices were affected by farmers in other states still paying low wages.

  31. Pelham

    To pick on one point:

    “What it would take to get US natives to take those jobs was more than what those employers were willing to pay. The same is likely true for many of the other backbreaking jobs performed by undocumented workers, such as working in meatpacking plants.”

    Meatpacking jobs as recently as the 1970s were good, clean, non-back-breaking, high-paying unionized jobs that young Americans coveted. These jobs provided the pay and benefits that made a middle-class life possible. What happened was a major consolidation in the industry and a vast campaign to break the unions and bring in labor from south of the border to replace U.S. workers.

    The result over the past 30 years or so has, indeed, been back-breaking jobs and poverty wages. This is all well documented for anyone who cares to look into it. We have this notion that immigrants take only jobs that Americans wouldn’t do. That may be true in some cases, but quite often it isn’t. In fact, given all the gorilla dust tossed up to obscure the case by immigration advocates, I’m inclined to believe that’s there’s almost no job that an American wouldn’t do — no matter how hard — if basic humane protections and a level playing field for capital and labor were in place, as they once were in the meatpacking industry.

    While you can’t pin much blame on the immigrants who take these jobs, their advocates in industry and government are fully culpable. And the decades of refusal by immigration advocates to confront the employment issue in an honest way — as is thoroughly and irrefutably revealed in the case of the meatpacking industry — has left me completely cold. They may or may not have some good arguments, but I reject them all. These folks have forfeited any claim to credibility or respect.

    1. Timothy Y. Fong

      Or we could actually organize all workers and remove employers’ ability to use national origin/status as a tool of division.

  32. SJB

    I am an agricultural economist–my area is the livestock industry. I wanted to provide some feedback to the comments for this post.
    I started graduate school in 1981 in Iowa, and at that time there was a lot of unrest in the region about the replacement of labor union workers with immigrants. Previously, union workers were paid good wages, and the jobs were considered good working class jobs. The unions lost their power, and the workers were replaced with lower wage migrants. This created major demographic changes in the communities where the packing plants were located, and added to the pressures experienced by rural areas as the concentration of agricultural processing plants, farm suppliers and other related industries, as well as the size of farms and livestock operations increased.
    In “Fast Food Nation” Eric Schlosser wrote about Iowa Beef Packers (now Tyson Beef) basically using union busting as part of their business plan. They recruited workers from Mexico to come to the U.S. to work in the packing plants, starting in the 1970’s. I previously worked with an ag economist who did research in Mexico in the 1980’s, and who confirmed what Schlosser said.
    It was the Reagan administration that did nothing to prevent packing plants from recruiting and hiring immigrants. If there is blame to be made, it should be leveled at this administration, and the subsequent ones, which allowed these companies to violate immigration laws and to defy standards labor practices of the time. It should also be placed on the companies which engaged in these practices. Recall also that the ag industry was not the only industry dealing with undocumented immigrants. In the 1980’s Reagan pardoned millions of undocumented workers. So this is a policy that major businesses and their political supporters have continued for more than 30 years.
    Wages have been lowered in the meat packing plants, which was the intent. Conditions have deteriorated as well, with several lawsuits having been filed over company practices such as requiring employees to be off the clock when putting on and taking off required attire and equipment (hardhats, mesh gloves, coats, etc.) Employees have often complained about various tactics used by the industry to prevent them from organizing.
    So this is an industry that deliberately set out to break unions, to cut wages and to lower working conditions, in order to lower costs of production. Immigrants were lured here to accomplish these objectives. Blaming them is misdirecting blame away from the true culprits.
    Over the same time period, there were other factors that changed industry operations. One major change was consolidation. The Packers and Stockyards Act of 1920 was implemented to address the extreme concentration in the industry. Over time, concentration decreased, and the industry became much more competitive, but since the 1980’s, antitrust policy has been weakened, and as a result concentration has increased dramatically. High levels of 4-firm concentration ratios are permitted as one firm after another bought out competitors. But in addition, vertical integration is now the rule in the poultry industry, nearly so in the pork industry, and increasing, albeit more slowly, in the more complex and diverse cattle industry.
    I have not been able to access the article Yves cited about the changes in the Canadian packing industry, so I can’t really comment on it, but would like to state that I am not sure injuries are the driving factor for streamlining operations, if that is the point made by the article. Technological improvements made to lower the skills needed, and increased specialization in the plants are probably more the factor.
    In addition, the packing plants continue to look for means of adding value to their products, to increase the fairly thin profit margins they typically face. One way to add this value has been to move to increased provision of case-ready items, rather than carcasses, or even primal shipped to retail outlets. This increases mechanization at the plants, and reduces the need for butchers at the retail level. Case-ready production is one reason why capital has increased, as well as increased processing of meat, such as flavored and cooked products.
    The Canadian meat industry has become much more integrated with the US industry since NAFTA. Practices and standards are more uniform, and continue to evolve. To be competitive, Canadian packers have to look for cost cutting measures as well, so they can’t really be evaluated independently of US packers, and this was probably at least somewhat true even before NAFTA. It is also not necessarily easy to determine which factors are causes and which are effects in either the Canadian or the US industries.
    With regard to the issue of hiring US workers on farms, rather than immigrants, I would like to say this. Labor is a serious issue for farmers. In addition, the market is national. Florida Key limes, Georgia peaches and California tomatoes get eaten all over the country. It is not going to work to ban migrant labor in one area if it has to compete with other areas for market share. Agricultural labor policy should be determined at a regional or national level.
    There is also a consistent tendency for criticism about the need for migrant workers, and value judgements about the willingness of Americans to take these jobs. But think about what these jobs entail. Typically, crops are harvested once a year. This means farm workers are not going to stay in one place, but instead have to move to where the crops need to be picked. This is not the kind of life most citizens are going to be able to maintain, especially if they have families. Paying Americans the wages that they would need to make this appealing will most likely make many domestic food products uncompetitive. This is the reason producers depend on immigrant labor. It is not an easy situation to resolve. But criticisms about Americans being too lazy or too greedy to do this work vastly oversimplifies the situation and the complexities that people have to deal with in real life, and does nothing to address the problem in a constructive way.
    As a result of the need for farm labor, there will continue to be incentives for new developments in harvesting technology, and new breeds that are conducive to mechanization. Farmers will always be trying to get their crops to market cheaper, easier and faster. But much of the technological progress that has been made in the past was done with public funding, which is being cut back. Some private research funding may partially compensate, but it will only happen if profitable, and most likely extractive.
    It is late, and I hope these comments make sense, but I wanted to add to the dialog, and I hope this is helpful.

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