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September 27, 2006

Another never ending post: Immigration this time.

Since John’s said he’s busy doing God’s work and wanted someone to pull in some of the slack around here (wouldn’t hurt if we dusted either) you’re all being subjected to another non-gun pr0n post that never ends. This one is on immigration. You’ve been warned.
(the real stuff is below the fold.)

I’m a Californian. I was born there. I was raised there. Did all of my education up thru my BA in chemistry there. I’ve driven up and down roads most other Californians don’t even know exist. I know California pretty well. Except for the fancy places to eat since to me Napa was a place to pick up and drop something off.

If you drive along the 5, there’s a really great trucker stop in Tracy by the way, or the 99 freeways between Sacto and Paso Robles you’ll spend your entire time in the central valley which is nothing but agriculture. Well, agriculture interspersed with lots of sage brush and some nice rolling hills around Kern country. Kids can still find summer jobs picking apricots or almonds in the Turlock/Denair area and any other kind of field work throughout the valley. On the southern side of Stockton, 45 minutes to 20 minutes, been a while since I’ve driven it so I’m not sure how far out anymore, you turn on the AC and put it on recirculate or your car/truck cab winds up smelling of cow chit for the next hour.

Simply put, I know how important agriculture is to the Central Valley. The smells around Stockton, the kids working strawberry fields, the miles and miles of pvc pipe for spraying of crops are all indicators of how important agriculture is to the state. That’s how hard core the region is devoted to agriculture. They live and die by it in the Valley.

Drought in the central valley, or someone living north of Sacto messing with the Colorado River allotment to the valley, means the cost of most of your produce goes up in the rest of the US. It is that major a contributor to the US food supply---even if Louisiana claims to grow better rice (but do you guys grow Basmati rice in LA, huh?).

And yet, when I heard about this story of hard times from labour shortages in the valley over at the NYT. I couldn’t help but smile. About damn time.

I’m not unsympathetic to the farmers and cattlemen who live there. Quite the contrary. I just know a dirty little secret about the whole deal. Yup, this example absolutely shows that being a farm hand is a hard job that no American wants, for $6.25/hr that is---though you can find broad shouldered and tow headed kids working those fields when school, activities, and the law allows for it during the summers. Yup, shows that nobody has bought the machinery, that does exist, that eliminates the need for mass manpower in the fields because it is cheaper, currently, to hire seasonals. Yup, it shows that we’re all going to wind up paying a bit more for things in the coming months. It shows that we’ve placed the almighty dollar before lots of things in this country.

See, every year in California there’s a cry to institute a higher minimum wage or a ‘living wage’ in some municipality and the state senate. But one thing nobody ever wants to deal with there is that the wage is suppressed, costs of product are suppressed as well, by illegal immigration, whether that is busboys, line chefs, cleaning crews, or field hands.
One would almost be moved to call it an open secret of institutionalized sweat shop labour since the avg wage these guys make is far below, and they receive raises far slower than, the norm while the entire economy is predicated on costs being this low in CA, but that’s racist to say dontchaknow.(And impolitic to say. Kind of like knowing who is in the Klan but not telling the FBI back in the day.).

So every year we pretend that we’ll raise the minimum wage to help the poor farm worker, when it won’t since he’s mostly off the books to avoid Federal heat, and pretend we aren’t going to continue to use sweat shop labour to keep prices low so we can buy that new keen i-toy Apple released (while living in karmic bliss because we bought ‘fair trade’ coffee to boot). So every year we toy with the idea of raising the minimum wage when we know that if we actually do change it and actually change the plight of the farm hand here illegally it’ll send nasty ripples thru the national economy.

It proves many of the talking points hurled about by both the open border and closed border advocates, and puts just as many into the grave.

I say this looming instability is all to the good.

With things like towns in Alabama turning into ghost towns and serious economic threats to the folks in the Central Valley we’re now faced with a situation where we’ll have to get real about what the real cost of living should be because we’ll have gotten rid of, as much as possible, black market labour. That in turn then allows us set the state/national minimum wage where it should be to fit the definition it’s had since its inception (the wage necessary to support a family of two adults and two minors on a single income). We’ll be able to assess how hard/if immigration has taxed the Californian/national health care system and how much/if it has fueled the complete over valuation of housing in the state. But most of all, it’ll force the nation to make up its collective mind on how it wants to handle the labour flow (and other flows: labour, security, financial) once and for all. Will we go for a system the aids global dysfunction or for one that seeks to rectify dysfunction (I’m hoping for the latter, but not holding my breath)?

Currently, we live with a dysfunctional set up. Much of South and Central America’s brightest and hardest working come to the United States to increase their standard of living and to join in the prosperity. Right now roughly a third of Mexican college graduates want to come to the US to work even if that means working well below their skill and intelligence level. Guatemalans are leaving their country to do work in Mexico *Mexicans* aren’t willing to do for the wages available in Mexico that are a far sight better than what’s available to them Guatemala. That’s good for us as we get cheap goods/labour here and whatever is produced in Mexico is kept really cheap too. But in the long term is that bad for the collective them? If we keep much of the work here, skilled or unskilled work, while suppressing the minimum wage we seem to only be isolating both prosperity and capital here. That doesn’t improve our lot much though it cements their lot at the status quo.

If people are angry about the disparity in quality of living, which some are, and if you think a lack of prosperity/wealth with the attendant tendency toward liberalized, classical liberal, governance is a cause of anger that leads to either gravitating toward Bolivarism( subscription required at USNI, but freerepublic also has it here for free), which is hostile toward the US or any other Western power, or terrorism is this a smart policy?

I don’t think so either.

But neither is building a moat backed it up with a mine field and a division of troops down on the southern border going to fix the problems caused by illegal immigration to the US. If we keep all the jobs, all the prosperity, all the things that drive people toward liberalism, here then there’s little hope of liberalism taking root elsewhere. We benefit from liberalism (not progressivism) taking root instead of Bolivarism ala Chavez and Emo Morales or the Marxism of Obrador in Mexico. This is analogous to benefiting from a liberal regime springing forth from the corpse of Hussein’s Iraq to usher along changes to the ME that will cut down on terrorist groups using that region as a base from which to attack the collective West.

So, what is it we should be doing? This is tough. It takes will and brains instead of soft/hard hearts.

Soft heartedness tends toward a sense of selfishness in this matter and leads to quick and easy moral gratification: ‘I let them make their lives better. I’m a good person.’ Of course, this approach doesn’t really take into account the effects back in ‘the old country’. Movement of capital and brains weakens the parent country. If you can see this when talking about natural resources, or even be so bold as to call it raping the country, why can’t you see it when we’re talking about human capital? We worry here in the US that so many of our engineers are of foreign extraction and may just go ‘back home’. If it applies to us then why does it not apply to others as well?

A hard heart approach is just not going to make the world better, and, much worse, it doesn’t help make this country any safer, quite the contrary. Locking people into poverty rarely produces real security. Draining off those who would be against Bolivarism and other stripes of socialism and victimhood does not make the other country resistant to those ideas since they’re almost all here, now does it?

Neither approach feeds the bulldog.

What we have to do is governed in part by Barnett’s definition of Connectivity ( ), or for those who actually have PNM the 4 Flows and the 10 Commandments of Globalism. There’s no doubt that the influx of immigrants from south of the Rio Grande has helped keep labour and goods costs down here in the US. That’s indisputably a good thing---money to spend elsewhere on other things across the board. But the brain and ‘gumption’ drain is taking its toll south of the Rio Grande---brain drain is not helping those countries fire up their economies. The capital flow from the US south of the Rio Grande definitely aids both parties---face it, a collapsed Mexico that underwent a civil war would *not* be good for the US at all as guerillas hiding in San Diego or other border cities, like Nogales, before striking at places would just bring their war here. (Always surprises me to hear regionalism here in the US. “Not my problem. I live in Idaho/Florida/wherever.” Gee, thanks. Am I your countryman or not? Regionalism is all well and fine in sports and such, maybe even BBQ competitions, but when deciding national policy, it’s a real jack@$$ move since you’re willing to screw over people you shouldn’t for your own benefit.)

So we have to keep capital flowing to Mexico and places south of the Rio Grande since stopping has a good potential for either a Chavez or a civil war in Mexico is not good for the US in any way, shape, or form. That’s leaving the people who demand permanent revolution in power. That’s giving people the victim card to play and get control, as el president for life, of a country; and subsidizing it too.

We need to keep the people flow into the US to keep our economy moving, as I’ve been told that at 5% unemployment everyone who wants a job has one by economist friends, and to improve our image abroad (something anyone who’s looked at the H1 visa fight is familiar with is that students who’ve trained in the US trend toward having a favorable opinion of the US. Not always, but the trend is there.). This keeps us moving forward, money flowing into regions that would otherwise be disposed to becoming havens of revolutionaries or terrorists, and people with favorable opinion from experience effecting people in the ‘old country’ to our benefit. It helps our poor schmucks and theirs simultaneously, not to mention making a career in terrorism really un-attractive since there are both internal and external factors now being applied since the bulk of the pop now have something to lose and the US has more leverage on the country.

We don’t keep the current set up as it is deleterious to both for a host of factors. We are not the nation of Emma Lazarus’ time , but neither must we be cruel and stupid about the issue. Yes, we want ‘them’ to have better lives by not living destitute and with the means to pull themselves up out of it. Yes, we don’t want them to flood our country. We can satisfy both conditions if we’re smart and have the will to take some hard choices. Yeah, allowing some manufacturing jobs to go South means less here. That hurts. In the long run though is it better since this will lead toward wage parity, meaning it isn’t so much cheaper to have it made over there? This means keeping host upon host of people out. But in the long run it means their countries get fixed and allow them similar standards of living as we enjoy here, or reasonable facsimile that they choose for themselves, while keeping the rage that leads to revolutionaries or terrorists to a minimum. Make hard choices that really satisfy nobody for 50 years or instant gratification that gets us what we’ve gotten? I know which one I’m choosing. How about you?