Friday, September 5, 2014

To stop hunger, you need a shortage of agricultural workers.

Many times I hear various pundits and other classes of intellectual whores opine about the need to eliminate a ‘shortage’ of agricultural workers in order to ensure that sufficient food is grown.  Sigh.  The persistence of human beings in mindlessly believing the most obvious rubbish out of pure herd instinct continues to amaze.  I don’t know why I bother explaining the obvious to you, but due diligence requires that I at least make the attempt.

In countries like Australia and Switzerland and the United States, if you advertise for agricultural workers at a rate of $2/hour with no benefits or job security, even without a minimum wage law, you won’t get any takers.  Thus, there is a terrible ‘shortage’ of workers, and these countries are clearly going to all starve unless massive numbers of third-world refugees are imported to eliminate the worker ‘shortage’. Except, of course, that people have plenty to eat in these countries.

On the other hand, in countries like India and Bangladesh and Pakistan and Egypt, there is a virtually limitless supply of agricultural workers who will labor for 50 cents an hour, if that.  There is no labor shortage in these countries.  But there is widespread hunger and malnutrition.

So a ‘shortage’ of agricultural workers is associated with everyone having lots of food, and a lack of said ‘shortage’ is associated with hunger.  That doesn’t make sense, does it?

Or actually it does make sense if you realize that there is not, never has been, and never can be, a labor ‘shortage’.  The very idea is absurd. 

When there is abundant land relative to the number of people, there is abundant food – and the limited amount of workers bids up wages, and reduces the profits of landowners.  When there is not enough land relative to the number of people, there is not enough food – and the excess amount of workers drives down wages, and increases profits for the landowners.  Duh.

Note also that there is a ‘shortage’ of janitors and maids in Switzerland, yet the Swiss nation is spotless.  No such ‘shortage’ in India, and the level of filth is so great that it is competing with malnutrition as a source of morbidity.  But again, this is only a contradiction if you don’t realize that the very idea of a labor shortage is absurd.  In Switzerland people have abundant time and energy and resources to clean with – although a rich banker might need to do his own laundry from time to time (the horror!).  In India the majority of people don’t have the time or energy or resources to clean things up or have adequate sanitary facilities etc. and the rivers choke with excrement – although wealthy Indians can be waited on hand and foot.

In the United States during the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s there was a terrible ‘shortage’ of scientists and engineers.  Talented Americans could practically name their price, and corporate CEOs were limited in how much they could make because of the market-enforced need to pay their employees high salaries.  And science and engineering exploded into a golden age.  In modern India there is no ‘shortage’ of talented scientists and engineers – and despite this, the contribution of India to modern science is little more than negligible.  That’s because in India people don’t have the resources to take advantage of their ideas, poverty is so extreme that corruption and nepotism run riot, the best native minds leave as soon as they can and the best foreign minds stay away.  But the rich can have genius IQ engineers working on frivolous web apps for sub-poverty wages, how profitable.

So to ensure that everyone has enough to eat, you need a shortage of agricultural workers.  To have a clean environment, you need a shortage of janitors and maids. And to have advances in science and engineering, you need a shortage of scientists and engineers.

Are we paying attention yet?


  1. Saint Globus Pallidus XI, I do not wish to cause offense, but I personally have seen no posted statements to the effect that American agricultural workers must be underpaid in order to have enough food. I don't know of any major pundit that I might listen to, at least on the liberal side, that would claim such a thing, and I personally would be for making sure that agricultural workers would need to be paid the minimum wage, at least. Do you have examples for your claims? Or is this another example of thinking too intelligent for a human to understand?

  2. Ah, but they do, all the time. It's just that they speak in code. They don't say 'we need to pay farmworkers low wages'. They say 'we need to import foreign workers because there is a shortage of labor' - meaning, that without foreign labor wages would be higher.

    This is from a recent article in the liberal magazine The Atlantic:

    "After enacting House Bill 87, a law designed to drive illegal immigrants out of Georgia, state officials appear shocked to discover that HB 87 is, well, driving a lot of illegal immigrants out of Georgia…"

    "Thanks to the resulting labor shortage, Georgia farmers have been forced to leave millions of dollars' worth of blueberries, onions, melons and other crops unharvested and rotting in the fields."

    Now there never had been, there never can be, a labor shortage. If American farmers did not have access to this cheap labor, they would adapt. They would pay higher wages, to start. They would invest more in automation. They would shift to less labor-intensive crops. Going cold-turkey on cheap labor once business has been addicted to it does have its problems, but before too long the economy would adapt to higher wages - and wages would be higher. Which means that they would not be lower.

    And FYI the current minimum wage is very much sub-poverty. And in any event, when was the last time that a 'liberal' demanded that the laws against illegal immigration not be enforced, and that they also demanded that the illegals get paid at least minimum wage? We hear the former a lot… the latter, not at all. Do you?

  3. I agree that the current minimum wage is sub-poverty, and that I have not heard of any "liberals" calling for "illegals" to be paid the minimum wage. I have, however, heard many actual liberals call for agricultural workers to be paid at least the minimum wage. So what we need is to raise the minimum wage, and get it to the at workers. I don't think it requires a conspiracy as the reason why this hasn't been done, frankly; I don't think it is very far fetched that we might do these things in the near future. It would take some political will, however.