Monday, March 27, 2006

 

Illegals and Business

From today’s Washington Post:

“In the past 15 years, the Labor Department has audited McMahon's company five times looking for illegal workers -- each time finding none, McMahon said. He added that the House bill threatens to bring his business to a "screeching halt" because there is no provision for a guest-worker program or for dealing with the undocumented immigrants already working.”

So how does a lack of a provision “for dealing with the undocumented immigrants already working” (i.e. illegal immigrants) threaten to bring a business to a “screeching halt” if the company currently doesn’t hire illegal immigrants (or at least none that the Department of Labor could find). Unfortunately, there was no follow-up as to exactly what kind of business model is so reliant on foreign workers that proposals to enforce border security could so threaten a $300 million company.


Washington Post writers Mitra Kalita and Krissah Williams begin their front page article Help Wanted as Immigration Faces Overhaul with an anecdotal observation from a local landscaping business. After complaining about how hard it is to hire people for his company at $7.74/hour, the company owner makes this observation:

"I don't think it's a wage situation. It's the type of work and the nature of the work. It's hard, backbreaking work," said Trimmer, who started the company 31 years ago. "I think we're a more affluent society now. They expect more. Everybody expects more. . . . I have contracts, and they want an affordable price, too."

But of course it’s a wage situation. Most of us can point to aspects of our work that we would not do if the wages were less (and related work we would if the wages were more). I subscribe to two axioms here: (1) Pay people enough and you’ll find an adequate supply of labor and (2) No one has an absolute right to buy or sell services independent of applicable market forces.

In the above noted anecdote, the company owner is speculating:
“Occasionally, company President Bill Trimmer asks himself: If I doubled wages, would native-born Americans apply? He thinks he knows the answer.”

Well, if he doesn’t think so, so what? Then triple the wages. There is no “right” to cheap labor. Most of us would love to have our lawns professionally cared for but don’t because it already costs more than we are willing to pay. If someone wants their lawn professionally cared for then they should pay the going rate. If the going rate is considered expensive then that person has to decide just how much they want their lawn professionally cared for.

Every one of us faces these kinds of decisions every day. That’s why we go to self-serve instead of full serve gas stations. That’s why we pick up our own dry cleaning and cook most of our own meals. Because the alternatives aren’t worth it to us…but apparently are to others. And thus a market exists for those services to the extent that people are willing to pay for them.

But it becomes galling for many of us to discover that illegals are working in this country and not pulling the full freight. They distort the market with lower wages and they impose certain costs (schools, health) on society that neither they nor the employers/customers fully reimburse. In other words they are subsidized…and you get more of what you subsidize.

I am sympathetic to business concerns that they are slated to become an adjunct of our border control. After all, we didn’t set up a government as a convenient way of imposing requirements onus but to provide certain services for society as a whole. Border security should be one such service. But reliant businesses cannot simply turn a blind eye toward this problem. That they are so vociferous in their worries and concerns about efforts to stem the tide of illegals would seem a good indication that they are only too aware of just how much they are contributing to the problem.

For many of us, this is a simple matter: Every one in the United States should be accounted for. I have no problem with guest worker programs and other similar proposals as long as we know where the ‘guests’ are, how long they’ll be here and that they are subject to the same standards and regulations of U.S. citizens. The ones here now illegally (remember, they’re not just ‘undocumented’) should not be rewarded for their actions and should be ‘returned’ to whence they came.

Again, why is this so controversial?

Comments:
I know this really misses the point. But is the head of a lawn care company really named Bill Trimmer.
BTW, in terms of your SF post you might be interested in this.
 
"But is the head of a lawn care company really named Bill Trimmer."

Damn - I wish I had thought of that....
 
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