Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Nail soup for the soul
A labor market sudden fable
One day, as Farmer Hanson was in his study dodging taxes and brushing up on his William Tecumseh Sherman analogies, he heard a knock at the front door. Quickly zipping up his fly, he opened the door to find an earnest-looking, if somewhat disheveled young white man on the porch.
“Mister, I was a-wondering if you had any work on your farm,” began the young man.
But Farmer Hanson already had several illegal immigrants on the (undocumented) payroll, so he said, “Afraid not,” and began to shut the door.
“Mister, just a second. Give me a chance to show you that having a permanent labor force of documented U.S. citizens is going to be better for you in the long run.”
Farmer Hanson suspected the young man might be from the government, there to harass him about his illegals, so he led the fellow into the kitchen.
“You can show me whatever you like, but you’ll never show me that Americans are willing to do the kind of dirty, thankless work them Mexicans do every day on my farm,” he mumbled. “We run a tight ship here, young feller, and you may not like to hear it, but I just can’t afford to pay any American workers the wages they’re used to getting, and still turn a profit.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, mister …”
“Hanson. It’s Farmer Hanson.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Farmer Hanson. It’s a myth that Americans ain’t willing to do the work illegal immigrants do. A big ol’ cotton-pickin’ myth.”
“Well, speaking of pickin’ cotton, are you saying you’re ready to get down on your knees in the hot sun and pick my cotton? For a couple bucks an hour, under the table, no fancy overtime regulations or safety guidelines or none of them socialist amenities?”
“That’s what I’m saying, Farmer Hanson. I’m saying that if you put me to work, you’re going to find that not only are American citizens willing to do the work you hire illegals to do, but that when you have a fully legal American labor force … you ain’t never gonna want nothing else!”
“Well, okay, son, you got me interested,” said Farmer Hanson, who still sounded pretty skeptical. “Be here at 5am tomorrow morning in your work clothes. I’ll supply the cotton bag. If you’re so much as a minute late, that’ll be too bad for you, ’cause I got plenty of illegals lined up who want the day’s work.”
The next day, to Farmer Hanson’s surprise, the young man showed up at 5am on the dot. He went out in the fields and did his work without complaint. When dusk fell, he’d filled his bag with as much cotton as Farmer Hanson’s best illegal pickers had stuffed in their own bags.
Farmer Hanson brought the young man back into the kitchen after handing him his paltry day’s wages, which the farmer was stunned to see the lad didn’t seem upset about.
“Boy, you really threw me for a loop out there today,” said Farmer Hanson. “I guess it’s true that Americans are willing to do the work we been giving to illegals all these years!”
“You can say that again, Farmer Hanson,” said the young man. “Like I said, when you got yourself a fully documented American labor force, you ain’t gonna want nothing else!”
“I think you just might be right about that,” said Farmer Hanson. “I’m a-gonna put out the word in town that this farm is only hiring documented workers from now on!”
“About that, Farmer Hanson,” said the young man. “See, there’s one thing that goes especially well with an American labor force. It’s just a little thing, but you’ll see that it can make all the difference.”
“And what’s that?” asked Farmer Hanson, impressed with the young man’s obvious knowledge about such things.
“It’s called a ‘minimum wage’, see,” said the young man. “It sort of gives the labor force a real nice flavor, makes it happier and makes it want to work harder.”
“Well …” began Farmer Hanson. “I guess I can see how that could be the case. Sure … sure, let’s set it up.”
The young man slapped his forehead. “I’m a blame fool! I almost forgot that if you’re gonna put in a minimum wage, you’re gonna want to add in some health benefits … to add some tang to your labor force. I mean, you can get by with just the minimum wage, but boy, if you’ve got some health benefits in there, you’re really gonna have something nice!”
Farmer Hanson nodded and thought a moment. “Well, let’s see here … yep, I bet we can russle up some health benefits, I s’pose. Wouldn’t want to leave anything out, I reckon …”
“Sure don’t, Farmer Hanson,” said the young man. “Say, that reminds me, a minimum wage is sure tasty, and health benefits pack a spicy punch … but if you really want an American labor force done the right way, you oughter toss in some of them nice, fat stock options and one of them 401(k) plans, all plucked and dressed and ready to melt on your tongue.”
Farmer Hanson frowned and looked at his feet. “Well, I’m not so sure …”
“Farmer Hanson,” said the young man. “Listen here. You look like a feller who don’t do things in half-measures. You look like a feller who wants things done quality and done right. Am I off base here?”
“No … no, you sure ain’t,” said Farmer Hanson.
“Good, that’s what I thought,” said the young man. “So looky here. If you’re going to cook up a documented American labor force, there just ain’t no sense in skimping on this ingredient or leaving out that ingredient … why you’d wind up with one of them funny-tasting labor forces that falls apart after a few weeks, like they make over there in Chiner or Taipan or somewheres! You don’t want a Chinerese labor force, now do you?”
“Why, I sure don’t!” bellowed Farmer Hanson. “My granddaddy fought the Chinerese in WWII and I’ll be damned if I let them tell me how to stew up an American labor force! You go ahead and tell me what to put in this labor force we’re making, and I’ll do it, by Gum!”
“Well, alright, that’s the spirit,” said the young man. “Now we got the wages and the benefits and the pension plan, but we’re only halfway to the kind of labor force a body’d be in pure heaven to have a peck at. So let’s see … oh, sure! Now you could serve an American labor force in some hot, dusty old fields … but if you want it done classy, you’re gonna serve it in some nice, clean cubicles. Maybe in a pre-fab office building, with air-conditioning and a breakroom and plenty of Internet connections for everybody, and a local area network … well, that’s one thing, but if you have that, you’re gonna need a tech support crew, and the latest servers and hardware, ’cause you don’t want to skimp on that, now do you? And golly! Who’s going to answer the phones and do the finances and bookkeeping? Why, you’re going to need a secretarial pool, and some accountants … and heck, a legal team wouldn’t hurt … and a sales team, because that’s what’s going to really make that labor force have some kick … and some VPs and company accounts and a few company cars and a human resources manager and a loading dock and some mail clerks and somebody in charge of remembering everybody’s birthday and another somebody in charge of knowing how to fix the printer and a security guard and a parking lot and a cleaning crew that cleans up overnight … now, that reminds me …”
“Reminds you of what?” asked Farmer Hanson, who had been busily writing down all the ingredients.
“It reminds me that it’s going to be tough to find anybody who’s a documented American who would want to be on a cleaning crew at night for the chump change you’re going to pay ’em. And, you know what, there’s another thing … this American labor force is going to want good, cheap clothes to wear … and fresh, affordable vegetables for their salads … and the executives and higher ups are going to want reliable domestic help, gardeners and such, and, you know, day laborers to build the additions to their suburban McMansions and that sort of thing. Hmm.”
“What?” asked Farmer Hanson. “What do we do about that?”
“Well, that’s just it,” said the young man. “It’s the final ingredient, and when you toss it into the stewpot, you’ve got yourself the best damn American labor force you could hope for! What you need is an undocumented, black market worker supply from somewheres that’ll do all them things that your Americans won’t do, and for dirt pay and no questions asked, so’s the Americans get their cheap clothes and cheap food and cheap domestic help and cheap day labor. And they just don’t bother to care that it’s all built on a rickety old ponzi scheme of an economy that both exploits and demonizes those on the lowest rung of the ladder … and denies that cheap, undocumented labor is what makes everybody else’s lifestyles possible … with the added benefit that you can always trot out the xenophobic line when you need to win an election or three for your Republican pals … and anyway, trying to keep labor from moving to fill demand holes would be like trying to legislate against gravity … and all this goes on forever and ever and ever until the whole thing falls apart for our grandchildren, or if they're lucky, their grandchildren to have to deal with!”
And with that, Farmer Hanson and the young man drew contentedly upon their fine Cuban cigars, brushed the crumbs of caviar from their silk dinner jackets and raised their champagne flutes to defeating anti-American traitors everywhere.