In a recent article, critic Noah Millman questions Kevin Drum over his advocacy for immigration reform. Drum, in a blog post for the liberal publication Mother Jones, cited a study of the hiring patterns of the North Carolina Growers Association that demonstrated an unwillingness on the part of American citizens to perform agricultural labor. According to the study, 80% of native workers hired to pick crops quit after two months on the job. The spread between presumably Mexican, and thus illegal, laborers was significant enough to indicate an overwhelming reluctance by Americans to partake in physically arduous work. Drum, whose chief political influences are fascist Franklin Roosevelt and flippant reversals on the efficacy of the Iraq War (invasion), claims the study bolsters the need for immigration reform that allows for more guest workers. Millman disagrees to the extent that such a policy invites more low-wage positions, and hence drags down national living standards. My immediate take: if Americans, as lethargic as they act, find picking tomatoes below their misplaced, nationalist-driven superiority, then Mexicans, Latinos, or whatever politically-correct term is fashionable for fence-hoppers below the Southern border, should not be barred from contractual employment. Violence in the name of jingoism is still violence, driven by the zealotry of invented boundaries.
Millman does bring up a good point: leftist thinkers who push for less stringent immigration requirements are doing so on the basis of filling low-wage jobs in the agricultural sector. Yet when their opinions drift on to other industries, progressives are quick to decry the inhumanity of any wage less than six figures. It’s as if they want all the spoils of economic opportunity while pressing for the stifling mandates that curtail it. Inconsistency is a prerequisite to becoming a card-carrying member of the Progressive crowd. Millman’s criticism is spot-on in that regard but misses the larger picture.
I am always left scratching my head as to why high wages in themselves are seen as important for societal betterment. Wages are, after all, determined solely through one’s marginal productive capacity – or how much they contribute to an employer’s profit gains. Workers who fail to bring in revenue only act as a kind of infection, draining the life out of business. In any reasonable environment, unproductive employees would be told to improve or be let go. But in the fantasies of society’s most apt to dictate, no adverse consequences could possibly occur through state interference in the marketplace. Even Millman falls into the trap of proposing a “substantially higher minimum wage” on account of labor’s unequal “bargaining power to capital.” The result of mandated wage floors is always the same: imposed unemployment of anyone not productive enough to bypass the legislatively-established price floor. No amount of pathos or rhetorical pride can budge irrefutable law. What makes Millman’s error in understanding all the more surprising is that he clearly understands David Ricardo’s principles of comparative advantage.
The focus on wages seen and heard by a lion’s share of people is demonstrative of just how widespread ignorance is when it comes to basic economics. In the handful of low-skill jobs I have had, most of my superiors and peers paid heavy attention to their dollar-per-hour wage – I being among them on a count of shared crudeness. Unions, teachers, politicians, professors, and even some heads of business all enjoy focusing on the so-called price of labor. Neither of these exploitive bunches find it hypocritical their lives are enhanced immensely by products created those whom they portray as slaves. Little thought is given to the massive array of goods built with the toil and sweat of the lesser paid. Abundant harvests of food, looming skyscrapers of steel, and landscapes of elegant beauty come to mind. Production is the engine of wealth creation – not wages. The old fable of Henry Ford paying his employees $5 a day so they could, in turn, purchase the cars they produced is nothing more than leftist disinformation. Ford was able to pay higher-than-market wages because of his innovative capital investment in assembly line equipment.
Reading so many analyses on the utility of high wages, I can’t help but think the writers, as mature and observant as they may be, are at a total loss to explain why man accepts employment from others. Certainly, there are economic thinkers whose only function is to advocate for vigorous intervention on behalf of the state. Regardless of the detrimental effects of their preferred policy, these undeservedly respected commentators will cling to the religion of statism as a kind of cult, incapable of being refuted by logic or reason. Keynesians are the most mendacious of offenders. No matter the clear failure of econometric predictions or empirical debunking of the Phillips curve, devotees of Lord Keynes will cling to the Bible of The General Theory like preachers of geocentrism.
The irony of Millman’s critique is that progressives are, in fact, for low wages whether they realize it or not. The Left has built itself into a political ideology that claims empathy and compassion as a chief motive. This translates to bureaucratically administered work programs that attempt to push wages upward with the barrel of a gun. The outcome is some with more income, and some with less. The state is not a benevolent deliver of prosperity, but an aggressive force, transplanting the stolen wealth of others. It’s policies are self-defeating. Any effort to lift wages above market level will cause the less-skilled to remain unemployed. And measures that employ government force to restrict immigration are a violation of the freedom of movement. If Noah Millman’s goal is for a richer, more prosperous America, his concern for high wages should be dedicated to encouraging policies that remove barriers to production.
In the realm of economic nonsense, the proposal for a higher minimum wages could be worse. Thankfully TAC is not home to France’s socialist moron (do I repeat myself?) of a President, Francois Hollande, calling for a mammoth Eurozone government or Hugo Chavez’s inept successor blaming toilet paper shortages on political enemies. But ignorance can breed with itself if left unchecked. I suggest Millman, and his colleagues, revisit basic supply and demand curve analysis and learn why appeals to human dignity fail to squelch overarching truth.