23 thoughts on “Spin Cycle”

  1. It’s a bad thing only if a substantial piece of your local economy is dependent on illegals to function. Here in Houston, practically every service industry would be radically affected if illegals were subtracted en masse. Everything from construction of all types through to restaurants (don’t mess with our cooks!) would suffer a long pause and then come back less productive (see New Orleans reconstruction) with ‘murrican workers.

    Mr. Bush, for all his faults, understands those Texas realities and what it might mean for a large part of the South and Southwest to change them (not to mention the devestating effects in the restaurants of DC and NYC). Houston has a growing and vibrant economy not despite the illegals, but quite probably because of them, at least in part. Those of us who see Mexicans hard at work every day are less inclined to simple answers.

  2. I”m always skeptical when I hear claims such as Uncle Kenny’s. I beleive he’s sincere about it. so please dont view my disagreement as personal.

    I think the economy would adjust to whatever change in the labor force. Are there any examples in this country were lack of immigration has caused major problems? This isn’t an area I have done much study on.

  3. James Pacella,

    I’m no economist. Nonetheless, I, like Uncle Kenny, live in Texas. Where do you live?

    We just had major renovations. I’m not sure the workers were illegal. But I doubt they all were. And I don’t intend to become a hypocrite and complain about what I’m pretty sure we profited from. Frankly, many citizens did because of the cash flow that went through building that addition. Also I’m pretty sure it was not illegals who put the light switch behind the Murphy bed and forgot to put in a switch for the garbage disposal.

    It is true, the rhetoric is often crap – and Rummel points to some of the more irritating assumptions. Nonetheless, the reason immigration is illegal is because of relatively new laws; I’m also not all that impressed by people who say that their people arrived legally – big deal.

  4. I’m from Chicago.

    I think the market would react rationally to whatever the conditions are , and we wouldn’t know the difference. Now i’m totally open to being corrected , I’m not economist either.

  5. Can someone please explain to me how rounding up criminals who are in the country illegally is a bad thing?

    1. Drives up wages for the lowest level workers.

    2. Decreases number of low income, legal and illegal voters.

    3. Reduces the number of people dependent on government services.

    Something there for Republicans and Democrats. Time for the people to take control back from the elites.

  6. Ginny, you’ve carried this theme before, but I’m not sure what your point is. I know you aren’t arguing that Mexicans are better workers than Americans, because that position would be indefensible.

    I think what you are saying is that, for the cash-wage that manual laborers receive, you’ll get more for your money paying illegals than US citizens. Let’s grant that point and say for the same bottom-end wage you’ll get better quality cheap-labor from an illegal than from a US citizen. Then so what?

    Our Texas economy isn’t booming because of an influx of illegals, rather, illegals are arriving because the economy is booming. It’s the business-friendly, low-tax, low-cost of living environment that’s allowing Texas to grow it’s economic base, in many cases through relocation of businesses in high-tax, high-regulatory environments like CA and MI.

    It’s this environment that encourages so many illegals, not the other way around.

  7. Okay, elgabogringo, I went to your site and agree about your three points. I also like Fred Thompson’s argument. And I agree that feeling sympathy for immigrants should be less than our respect for the law – and our worry that those who broke it to come here may not have qualms about breaking it once here. And so, I guess, I don’t have a point. I think there should be a fence; I think that amnesty is going to increase illegal immigration.

    I will say I’m tired of defending American treatment of other visitors, wanting visit visas or even citizenship. They claim America asks the most intrusive questions and is the rudest to immigrants. They complain about the lengthy lines and wasted time and numerous forms. Sure, they don’t have to come here, but why are we making it difficult for even visits by those with professional qualifications? We are allowing in millions of illiterate, unskilled laborers and keeping out and even insulting educated and skilled ones. At least, that is what my friends tell me – but my eyes do as well.

    However, if I had my choice of dealing with sullen workers who believe about any job is below their dignity (which is too often true of native Americans) and the relatively cheerful, hard-working guys that do much labor in this town, I would choose the latter. It may be indefensible to say Mexicans are better workers than Americans as a whole; certainly fewer are skilled and literate. In the best of all possible worlds, Mexico would be shamed by this outflux, would work on making their system less corrupt and their economics more growth-friendly. Americans would work at developing a culture that respected work and saw that service was not beneath our dignity but rather a part of the civil relationship between members of a society. America would also begin expecting something of their students so that they left high school better equipped than unskilled, illiterate, non-native speakers. Right now, in some cases, the difference is so slight that a difference in attitude can outweigh it.

  8. Ginny, That’s a very concise post and I agree with it all.

    I don’t think a measured amount of cheap immigrant labor has to be a bad thing. I do think taking it all from Mexico (and all illegally) is a bad thing.

    I also think (and know from my own experience doing blue-collar jobs as a kid in Southern California) that when groups of illegals get funneled into a certain job market, Americans will get locked out. The cultural and language barriers are just too high to have a heterogeneous workforce and if you tried to compete as a sub-contractor with an all-american workforce your prices would be too high to compete as labor (which is what builds most of your houses as opposed to actual craftsmen where you could charge more if the quality is there.)

    There will always be a certain degree of manual labor that you can’t eliminate with technology or efficiency. I think it’s somewhat hypocritical that the same people who decry “poverty” (as referenced in an earlier ChicagoBoyz post) complain that costs will go up if we stop letting poor people immigrate illegally and work on the cheap. Maybe there is a balance, but the balance should be arrived at legally and, I believe, it should be spread around the many cultures of the world. Why not let Africans, Brazilians, Eastern Europeans, and other poor cultures take part in el sueno Americano tambien?

    By the way, just so you know who I am a little better I used to comment here as GFK until my Mexican friends gave me my nickname which I readily embraced.

  9. That’s the first time anyone has called me concise. Ironic?

    It’s nice to see that our old commentors are still around – the sense of community is nice.

    And if we had a handle on immigration we might be more welcoming to literate professionals or even ambitious blue-collar types from other countries.

  10. I have a big problem with the argument that there are certain jobs that Americans won’t do. Like anything else, the market tends to be self regulating. If there is an essential service that needs to be performed and it is difficult to find people willing to take the job, then employers will just have to increase the offered wages.

    Will this increase costs, including the money that consumers have to pay? Sure, but so would any increases in the minimum wage. While just about everyone who is thoughtful about economic realities agrees that increasing the minimum wage will decrease the rate of economic growth, few think that doom-and-gloom predictions of the collapse of our monetary system if MW goes up are credible.

    So why do people unquestionably accept the premise that removing low-paid illegal aliens from the workforce will cause our economy to collapse? It just doesn’t make much sense to me.

    Another thing to consider is that businesses which hire illegals have an advantage because they have far fewer personnel costs than the companies that limit themselves to hiring citizens. The problem is that the lower overhead comes at the expense of the workers themselves, since keeping the money that would normally be paid for health insurance, paid sick or maternity leave, and retirement funds is the very reason why illegals find jobs in the first place. Someone might argue that the illegals aren’t about to enjoy anything like these benefits in their native country anyway, but I feel profoundly uneasy when confronted by anyone who says that it is okay to exploit someone just because they have it worse somewhere else.

    As a last point, what about making sure that there is a level playing field? People usually are up in arms when they find out that a company is gaining an advantage over the competition by dodging the law and screwing over their employees. Isn’t this the case when a business hires illegals?


  11. James articulated what I wanted to say .. those are the points that fill my head with skepticism when the fear of losing illegal labor is raised.

  12. Just about everyone leaving a comment has made it clear that they aren’t an economist. Neither am I. My background is in law enforcement and mainframe computers. This is why I originally framed my question as a matter of law enforcement, and not in economic terms.

    I also don’t live in Texas, or anywhere near the border. I live in Columbus, Ohio, but there is a significant and growing number of illegals even this far north.

    I work as a consultant for the state, keeping their antiquated mainframe running while the switch is made to a more modern system. I work with an entire family of Laotian immigrants, people who fled the Communists in the early 1970’s. They all had to go through a long and drawn out process to gain their US citizenships, and I don’t see any reason why we should just pass some legislation and make the illegals already here new Americans. That wouldn’t be fair to the people who are not lucky enough to be born in a country which shares a border with the US.


  13. There are 3 presumptions that seem to underlie this debate over immigrants. One is that all people who come to this country want to stay here and become citizens. The second that human beings are fungible commodities and that a person’s skill, creativity personality, or personal appearance have no influence on the hiring decision. Concommitantly, that employers always hire the cheapest worker and that they will cut the wages of their current emploiyees to match the lowest bid. Balderdash. I can argue from experience that the quality of the individual determines employment, not his price.

    These first 2 presumptions have no basis in reality and are the pipe dreams of people who have never hired nor lived with that decision. The economy is at 4% unemployment – structurally we are at Full Employment right now since 5% umployment is needed to permit people the go from one job to another. Everyone who is supposed to be employed has a job.

    The third presumption is that all our unemployed should be employed. We are blessed with a massive number of hardcore unemployed in this country, many of whom are descended from ancestors who were greviously injured 150 years ago. We owe these descendents lifelong support for the next 1000 years to atone for our sin. We cannot expect these “unemployed” people to work and we cannot argue that Mexicans are taking jobs from them because requiring them to work would reopen that 150 year old wound.

    It is worth remembering that for over 50,000 years those native americans we call Mexicans have wandered across this hemisphere migrating nor just with the seasons but with the greater 500 year cycle of climate change which rules the Southwest. In 1863 the treaty known as the Gadsden purchase legalized these migrations.
    Current law abrogates this treaty as well as the birth rights of the only trully native americans to live in the homeland of their fathers.

  14. Here in Houston, practically every service industry would be radically affected if illegals were subtracted en masse.

    But that’s a straw position if I ever saw one, since we have no practical way to remove every illegal at once. The most we could hope to achieve is a gradual reduction in the number of illegals here. Why would it be hard for the economy to adapt to that?

  15. I can argue from experience that the quality of the individual determines employment, not his price.

    Does that experience include drywall work or meat packing? Because, if they can and will do the job and except at 6 sigma extremes, a person’s creativity, personality, or personal appearance have no influence on the hiring decision in those trades. In service businesses, that will be different. But in those and many other manufacturing and construction businesses where the end use consumer never interacts with labor, the job often goes to the low bidder who usually has the low cost labor. That is why there were so many maquiladoras before the Chinese could produce product using even cheaper labor.

  16. It’s easier to understand the immigration dilemma if we examine the legal, moral and economic issues separately first, then show how those drive the conflict. I think the moral view is most compelling:

    Every human has the right to pursue a higher wage. This is a natural right, though laws often limit or even directly contradict it.

    When a “higher” wage spells the difference between seeing one’s children grow up without enough to eat and no education, or being able to feed them and put them through school, the moral imperative to seek more money becomes paramount.

    Nation states require borders, law enforcement and respect for law.

    Morally, then, illegal immigration in many cases presents a dilemma pitting the natural rights and survival imperatives of people against the laws of the state.

    There is little or no such dilemma, however, in the HIRING of illegal immigrants. The contractors, slaughterhouses, restaurants, etc. that hire undocumented workers are in most cases doing so to gain an advantage over more law-abiding rivals, not as a survival mechanism.

    Morally, then, it seems obvious that the focus should be almost exclusively on the businesses that unfairly profit from illegal migrant labor.

    Economically, illegal immigration famously contributes to and diminishes national wealth. We all know there are studies from a wide variety of think tanks that reach opposite conclusions on this point.

    More important, from an economic point of view, illegal immigration is information about mispriced labor. By limiting immigration, we deprive the free market of this essential labor pricing information. That deprivation is at the moment, part of the cost of doing business as a nation state, but it is important to acknowledge that mispricing of labor is at the root of the phenomenon.

    From an economic point of view, policies must drive toward either more open borders for labor or less open borders for capital. At the moment, the global free market pricing mechanism is highly dysfunctional. That is because capital flows freely, but labor does not. So a Korean-own garment factory in Guatemala produces blue jeans that compete with those made by an American-owned operation in China–both paying a fraction of what the Taiwanese-owned business in South Carolina pays its workers. There is no “clearing price” for labor, while the raw materials and capital are freely priced on global markets.

    As long as capital is free to find its most efficient use, but labor is not, political, social, legal and economic problems will fester.

    I’m not an economist, but my sense is that it’s a bad idea to significantly restrict the transnational flow of capital. We have no choice, from a free-market point of view, but to dramatically expand legal immigration with the goal of eventually opening borders completely to migrating workers.

    This will not be easy or fast, but it’s important to acknowledge that illegal immigration is fundamentally a mispricing signal and that ignoring it by criminalizing economic migration leads to even greater economic, social, political and economic distortions.

    Legally, immigration law enforcement cannot succeed as long as the penalties for employing undocumented workers are sufficiently less than the economic advantages of doing so. The attempt to deport hundreds of thousans of illegal workers is already clogging the court system, diverting police from tackling more serious crimes and driving the worst illegal immigrants–those who come to deliver drugs, steal or worse–further underground.

    This is totally unnecessary. When employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers face deportation or prison, the mechanisms to confirm worker’s citizenship will be built into and applied to the hiring process at all levels. Illegal immigration will slow to a trickle within months after this policy begins.

    Focusing on the greater crime of employing illegals will also improve the political standing of immigration-control advocates, who, at the moment, suffer from the taint of nativism, ethnocentrism and bigotry. There is nothing inherently bigoted about advocating stricter immigration law enforcement, but the movement does attract racists and xenophobes for obvious reasons. That’s unnecessary.

  17. I have a big problem with the argument that there are certain jobs that Americans won’t do.

    I would certainly think the agricultural jobs they take are not appealing to Americans. Given the seasonal nature and low pay, I think such a job would be antithetical to people who have roots here already. I’ve heard that Colorado has such a shortage of agricultural workers due to high enforcement against illegal immigrants that they are entertaining the idea of using prison labor. There is an economic need for such temporary workers. A guest worker program is definitely needed.

  18. I think agricultural jobs are a real red herring in the Immigration debate.

    First, agricultural workers are the illegals that have spawned such concern. They have been here since WWII and the only Americans that have complained about them have been Unionists (like Cesar Chavez.)

    Second, if we eliminated illegals in agriculture the overall impact would be slight. Rich Lowry posted a number around $20 per year in additional grocery costs for 50% wage farm-manual-labor increases (He did this on the corner and I think he was citing a UCLA study. That doesn’t take into account potential cost-reductions through technology that is cost-prohibitive compared to $5/hr labor.)

    Considering that a single trip to Whole Foods vs. Walmart would up my grocery bill $20 and considering the premium folks are willing to pay for organic foods, I don’t think this price increase is substantial.

  19. “Second, if we eliminated illegals in agriculture the overall impact would be slight.”

    By “illegals” are you referring to the people who illegally pick the strawberries out of a desperate attempt to improve their children’s lives, or the strawberry farm owners who illegally hire to pad their profit and/or drive legal rivals out of business?

    If we “eliminate” the dealers in the illegal labor trade, the effects will be wide, from general contractors to retail, fast food and, as noted, agriculture.

    Let’s at least be clear on who the real victims are here and who are the parasites.

  20. I’ve hired dry wallers – paid by the sheet – and there are guys who wok steadily and carefully and professionally. They take pride in their work, take care of their tools and respect other guys tools.

    Then there are guys who bitch and moan; who drop their tools in a bathtub (scratching the plastic) or who cover over electric outlets or fill them with mud; who show up late and leave early; who delay the job by not getting their work done on time. I seldom take the low bid. I always get my jobs done under budget and early.

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