Caught in a sticky bit of applied racism

Now this is interesting, and greatly comforting to reality fans: if you put your bloody shirt rhetoric into practice, you can find yourself without apples and other food.

Among the Niagara of terrorist unAmerican culturally unassimilable foreigners that have poor Pat Buchanan and so many others in a swit were a few harmless ones who did some really useful work, and now they’re not on the job!

We won’t really be without food, just paying a lot more than we’re used to: of course Americans will do those jobs, and when we’re ready to pay enough for produce that the growers can offer, say, $14/hr and daily transportation to the fields from where people live, this problem will be resolved. This work is very hard and hot, and not in the shade, and not just up the street from a 7-11.

There is no evidence, by the way, that eating California or any other commercial apples carried any risk of catching hispanicness, despite the ample opportunities the pickers had to infect the crop all those years…to have our precious but fragile anglo culture wrecked, necesitamos frecuentar la escuela with them, or live down the block, like we do aqui in California Alta. I sure hope $5 apples will bring us our purity back.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

10 thoughts on “Caught in a sticky bit of applied racism”

  1. Michael, if the structure of agriculture changes by providing better wages and hiring permanent workers on the many large estates in California, there would be precious few shortages.
    California's system was and remains feualistic. And the structure of low wages and transitory work is a big part of that feudal system. For a history of this feudal structure, Carey MacWilliams' "Factories in the Field" (1939) is an excellent source.
    And please, let's look at the profits and wealth of farmers in California and recognize that with labor unions, and permanent workers, there would be some increase in prices, but not as significant as you assume. Instead, what would happen in a changed structure would be less of an income gap between worker and owner of the land. Generally, unions squeeze some yearly profits of executives over time, but with increased purchasing power for workers, the entire community where workers live and work benefit.
    And, no, I don't subscribe to the racism and nativism of Pat Buchanan, in case anyone is wondering.

  2. I'm perfectly willing to accept that we need some foreign workers. I just want the flow to be regulated and the first step towards that is to secure the border.

  3. Michael, why are you shilling for the cheap labor conservatives?
    The fact is that labor costs are a tiny fraction of food prices in the U.S. Paying Americans decent wages to pick apples would not cause the prices to skyrocket. There would be a small uptick, but most shoppers wouldn't even notice it. "$5 apples" is a slave-labor straw man. And even if it was true that this was the market price for apples without foreign slaves to pick them, what's your point? We should forget about the 13th Amendment and worker's rights just so we can have cheaper food?
    In the short run, getting rid of illegals will make agricultural wages and working conditions better, without making anyone except the agribusiness robber barons worse off. In the long run, higher wages will spur automation, thus hastening the glorious day when all work is finally done by machines and humans can free themselves from mindless drudgery.

  4. Firebug:
    A few distinctions, going backwards:
    Some work is drudgery, and some (mine, for example) is not, indeed I would do it for free. If yours is drudgery that crushes your spirit, you have my profound sympathy.
    The former type should be made rewarding, interesting, and satisfying (as it is for many people), or (second choice) automated; the latter is what we want more of. Note that a lot of people do for a hobby something essentially like agricultural labor: gardening is the US' most pursued avocation.
    If you think you would like a world without work, you need to read "The Machine Stops", by E.M. Forster (in his Collected Short Stories) or, get yourself plumbed in to the Matrix, or just do a coup in some small country and make yourself idle big man. Would you teach your kids that the goal of life is to not create any value by your own efforts and skills?
    Some crops can be grown with almost no human labor (field crops like wheat and corn) and some cannot, like row crops and fruit.
    The idea that labor costs don't actually matter for the second kind is belied by the failure of growers to just up the ante and hire the people they need when the low-priced labor doesn't show up.
    Mexican farm workers will cross the desert and hide in semitrailers in the sun to get to these jobs. What's the evidence that they would feel better off if we just prevented them from doing them? This has nothing to do with the need for humane farm labor employment regulations involving things like minimum wage, shade, water, toilets, safe transportation, and the like.

  5. Eventually all crops will be able to be grown with essentially no human labor, due to improvements in farm automation. Making cheap laborers who can safely be abused more scarce will simply accelerate the process.
    "Mexican farm workers will cross the desert and hide in semitrailers in the sun to get to these jobs. What's the evidence that they would feel better off if we just prevented them from doing them?"
    Why, there's no evidence at all that securing our border against illegal immigrants would make Mexicans better off. In fact, I'll readily concede that illegal immigration is a great deal for Mexicans.
    So what? The purpose of US policy is to make Americans better off, not Mexicans. Let Mexico pursue policies with the wellbeing of Mexicans in mind. Not our job.

  6. Michael,
    The point of convincing Mexicans to stay in Mexico is not racism–but to help create enough incentive for Mexicans to vote for policies supported by the PRD in Mexico–which is to say, a New Deal for Mexico. Too many moved here, which undermined the vote for the PRD candidate this year, especially in northern provinces of Mexico.
    You continue to look through the lens of culture alone for this issue of immigration and therefore, all you see on the other side are racists. Look through a different lens of economics and development and maybe your understanding of solutions to this problem will change a bit.
    I again have no sympathy for the Buchanan position, which is, in my view, racist and nativist. But there is a way to speak to those who espouse that position and help them away from that analysis and toward an economic based analysis that would help Mexicans and Mexico as well as citizens of the US and the US.

  7. "Decent working conditions are only for Americans!" Now there's a rallying cry.
    Don't we all know that border enforcement is ineffective? If we do know that, then isn't the competition coming from, well, other industries?
    Michael, will you call for immigration crackdowns in restaurants in the midwest so that you can deprive illegal immigrants of those jobs and put them back in the fields where apparently you believe they belong? (I assume you wouldn't want immigration enforcement in your own city, because that would raise your costs.)
    I was amused to see that the labor which was described as "very hard and hot" in the post is in the comments compared to gardening. Yes, I'm sure they're very similar.

  8. Mitchell, Mexico has an extensive absentee-voting system and Mexicans who wish to vote can do so from anywhere in the world. A few years ago, a man who'd been a California resident for ages even ran for Mexican office without going back across the border.
    Here in western Oregon, Junes picking strawberries were a rite of passage for every adolescent outside the most urban areas until the '70s. Today, Oregon grows almost no strawberries. Farmers can't pay enough to keep a 14-year-old interested and still compete with the cheap, wood-textured California product.

Comments are closed.