What would happen if we didn't have foreigners to pick crops? - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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#15087795
In the immigration debate often the question has been brought up "What would happen if we didn't have foreigners to pick the crops?"

Well we don't have to ponder that question. There is actually a country we can look at to see how things would work: Japan.

So, how does it work in Japan?

People in Japan spend a larger percentage of their income on food than any other country in the developed world. The food is very high quality though and often very fresh.

There are a lot of small farms in Japan, and a lot of these farmers are older people. Plenty of elderly people out there in the fields. When asked, they say working out in the fields keeps their bodies healthy and able to keep moving. The country has a big problem with younger people moving to the cities looking for better opportunities, so it's left a lot of small villages with only old people.

In Japan agriculture is heavily subsidized by government. This has been a contentious economic policy at times, but there is strong support from the public for this policy to continue. Many people value the country's agricultural traditions and availability of high quality traditional foods. Farmer groups especially have a strong lobbying presence in the government. Agriculture provides an important source of income for the communities outside the more urbanized areas, so the problem of the rural areas becoming depopulated would probably be even worse if it were not for these subsidies. With employment problems for younger people the government even set up a work program to pay them to help older people on their farms.

Since Japanese people are the ones running the farms, there's a strong connection between the farms and the community, even including the people in the cities. Or at least that's the way the society likes to imagine it is. These perceptions are played up by corporate food producers and political leaders.

One of the other main reasons for the subsidies is that Japan values its food security and sees it as a national security issue. In the event of a war it would be important that the country could have a reliable food supply.

Agriculture in Japan is very important in Japan and is part of the reason the countryside looks so picturesque. Although most of the population in Japan lives in crowded cities without much open space, there is still a sense of fondness and longing for the agricultural past, with rice paddies, open fields, and green hills. In Japan the agricultural areas are only an hour or two away from the big cities and many people see agricultural fields outside the train windows on their daily hour-long commute to work. So this is still something that is of value to city dwellers in their daily lives, just being able to have a nice view out the window.

What about restaurants? Without foreign workers to work for low wages, how does that work? There are some very good restaurants in Japan with very high quality food. Most people in Japan cannot afford to go to these expensive restaurants very often. There are a lot of very small family owned shops run by husband and wife. Such little restaurants can only fit around 8 to 14 people. The prices are only a little more expensive than comparable Asian restaurants in high cost of living regions in the U.S. Noodle shops are also very popular among many people. These are designed for convenience and fast eating and, although most customers sit down, the restaurants encourage the customers to eat fast and not stay very long.

In Japanese noodle shops they try to quickly shoe customers out to make room for other customers coming in. This helps cut labor costs because the same employees can serve several times as many customers, with more customer turnover. Or they may offer substantial discounts if you come in to eat during the slower hours. To sum it up, it basically forces the customer to modify their behavior a little bit so each employee can serve more customers.

These establishments have low prices and are only a little more expensive than fast food in the U.S. Basically they are just noodles in broth with a little bit of meat and a tiny bit of vegetable.

Overall, the quality to price ratio isn't really that different from many parts of the U.S. Especially when one considers the high population density in Japan and the higher cost of restaurant space.

Many convenience stores carry small refrigerated fresh meal trays, with fresh seafood and vegetables, and can provide a small healthy lunch. These are prepared and supplied by outside vendors, and are reasonably priced. A comparable concept to this doesn't exist in the U.S. Containing perishable food, the meal trays have to be replaced every two to three days. So in a sense, the Japanese have much healthier fast food than America, though the portions may be smaller than what many Americans are used to. Rice and vegetables (combined with just a little bit of fatty fish) fill you up though.

So in conclusion the Japanese do not really suffer for lack of low wage labor in restaurants. They just have to be a little more efficient in their use of labor. And there is a fair level of poverty in Japan, but it's relative poverty, since the rents for housing space are high.

You'll also see a lot of teenagers and young adults doing these jobs, and in many cases semi-retired part-time working older people, even though they may be moving a little slow. These same old people might be considered too old to work in the food serving business if they were in the U.S.

Going off the subject of Japan and back to agricultural economics...
Something to realize, 95% of the sticker price of the cost of food comes just from getting it from farm to supermarket, through the distribution chain, and the cost of retail. This article elaborates on how, even though an orange can sell for $1 in a supermarket, the farmers themselves are only being paid about 5 cents for each orange.
http://nfwm.org/education-center/farm-w ... low-wages/

What that means is that paying agricultural workers more is not going to have a very big impact on end consumer prices.


There was something else interesting I came across.

I had always assumed that after the US Civil War, when slavery was ended, the cost of cotton must have gone up. But apparently that was not the case.

price of cotton before the start of the Civil War in 1860 was 10 cents a pound.
http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/ar ... -civil-war

price of cotton in 1876 was 9.7 cents per pound.
http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=33770

It appears the burden of not having slaves must have probably fell entirely on the producers then, and not the consumer.

That is, if you take away the low cost labor it will mostly be the businesses that will suffer lower profits, rather than all of that going to higher prices for the consumer.
(might also make those agricultural fields worth less if the profit margins are lower)


related thread: Immigration Decimates Family Owned Farms in New Zealand
viewtopic.php?f=86&p=15087708#p15087708 (in the Australia section)

Basically these medium sized family farms are not able to compete with the cheap labor on big corporate farms, and the foreign migrant workers are also driven faster and harder than what previous workers in New Zealand would have been willing to do. Ironically, even though most of the work on family farms is done my middle aged older people, those people at their age would not have the required stamina to work on the corporate farms.
#15087823
Robert Urbanek wrote:We have a large prison population. Instead of sitting on their butts, maybe they could be trained to harvest food, with sentences shortened if they are productive.

I would be in favor of this, but I would be concerned about abuses.

With perverse incentives for people to be put in prison, or given longer sentences, so large corporations could get their hands on more cheap labor.

It recalls all the abuses that went on during the period of chain gangs in the US South.

We know there is very little large agriculture corporations won't do to get their hands on cheap labor. They are very active in lobbying in government.
(That's half the reason the US Conservative Party never truly wanted immigration laws to be enforced for several decades, despite the words they told their gullible/clueless voters)
#15090769
@Puffer Fish,
I hope i'm not poisoning the well by being totally honest.

I have not read books that I have been told about that are all about how profitable the pre-Civil War plantations were. This is because I am retired to Thailand and live on just Soc. Sec..
OTOH, many uears ago I did read a book about how slavery was not that profitable. I fact IIRC it said that most plantation owners were slowly going deeper and deeper into debt. Why?

Basically, the book claimed (all claims are from the book unless I say they are mine) that compared to free workers of that time slaves were not efficient for the following reasons.
1] They cost a lot up front. If a free worker was paid a dollar a day (which I think is about right) then they earn about $300 a year. If the slave cost $1500 (which I think is on the low side for a 'prime field hand') then this is 5 years worth of his work. Then we need to add in the interest on the $1500 that you could have earned with it invested some other way or if you in fact borrowed the money directly or indirectly. What happens if the slave dies or runs away in those 5 years?
2] The owner is taking a risk that his slaves will not get sick and die, or run away. They were 'self-insured' as we would say now. I wonder what the per year cost of such an insurance policy would have been?
3] The owner could not lay his slaves off in there was not enough work for them like businesses with free workers could. Also, if they got injured on the job. How much would an insurance policy for this have cost?
4] The owner had to provide some medical care to sick slaves. This was an out of pocket expense unless his wife did it. No need for insurance.
5] Slaves required more supervision than free workers. These included: the owner, an overseer, several assistants, drivers (slaves who acted as assistant overseers), and also slave catchers who were hired to pursue escaped slaves. In this we might also add higher taxes so the gov. could maintain a larger militia force to be ready if there was a slave uprising. I read once that the militia was used to camp out along the roads to check the 'passes' of the slaves who were off their plantation.
6] Slaves didn't take proper care of their tools. I read somewhere that post war plantation owners were surprised that a hoe handle lasted 3 years and not the 3 months they did before the war.

The book made the specific claim that plantation owners were surprised to learn that the postwar share-cropper system was more profitable than the prewar slave system. At least in areas where there was little damage form the war.

So, I think the claim was that the plantation owners were poor businessmen who did not include all their hidden costs on their balance sheets. That if they had included all their hidden costs then they would have known they were slowly going broke.

I think these facts were hidden from them by their ideologies. So, if there was an outbreak of some disease and 25% of their slaves died from it, they thought this was just 'bad luck'. They didn't see this as being how the hidden costs became real costs.

You may think that slaves had children and so raised the next generation of workers for their masters. It is fairly common knowledge even then that there was a constant flow of slaves from the border states to the lower southern states in the 1850s and before. This was a source of profit for the owners in the border states.

So, Puffer Fish, this might explain why cotton cost less (earned less for the land owners per pound) after the war. Since all plantation owners had less costs the competition between them drove the price of cotton down.
#15090807
Puffer Fish wrote:We know there is very little large agriculture corporations won't do to get their hands on cheap labor. They are very active in lobbying in government.

They won't campaign for a cut to welfare benefits for people who refuse to work.

Puffer Fish wrote:(That's half the reason the US Conservative Party never truly wanted immigration laws to be enforced for several decades, despite the words they told their gullible/clueless voters)

The conservatives do. The capitalists and welfare statist RINOs do not.

@Steve_American, cotton prices were also driven down because the Cotton Gin made it easy to process the cotton, so more slaves were used in field work and far fewer in getting the seeds out. So more cotton could be grown and used at market. Supply began to exceed demand.
#15090810
Steve_American wrote:
I have not read books that I have been told about that are all about how profitable the pre-Civil War plantations were. This is because I am retired to Thailand and live on just Soc. Sec..
OTOH, many uears ago I did read a book about how slavery was not that profitable. I fact IIRC it said that most plantation owners were slowly going deeper and deeper into debt. Why?



Slavery was enormously profitable, and slave owners were in an informal competition to be the most egregious at conspicuous consumption.

But... capitalism would have eventually killed off most slavery due to it's inefficiency.
#15090812
blackjack21 wrote:

The conservatives do. The capitalists and welfare statist RINOs do not.



This goes back to the 1800s...

It's cyclical. Business will open up the country to immigration. They would bring in people to drive down wages, people that spoke a different language to further hamper efforts to organise labor.

The inevitable result was opposition by the public that often grew to a fever pitch. Congressfolk would have to pass laws restricting immigration, or lose their jobs. (Most of the time they did whatever business wanted).

Economically, this is a false dichotomy. Immigration should be managed, either extreme makes no sense.

So this isn't political, in the usual sense, it's class struggle. The rich want the whole pie, everyone else wants a piece of the pie so they can get by.
#15091327
late wrote:
Slavery was enormously profitable, and slave owners were in an informal competition to be the most egregious at conspicuous consumption.

But... capitalism would have eventually killed off most slavery due to it's inefficiency.

So, what are you claiming? Is it that slavery was hugely profitable, but the owners spent more than the profit to keep up with their neighbors? And, as a result they kept going deeper into debt?
. . . This could be true, but what good businessman can't live within his huge income?

I was showing that the huge profits were the result of *not including all* the costs. Some them were quite large. For example what happens if half your slaves die in a pandemic? Remember, according to my wide reading, the 2 main things of value in the ante-bellum south were #1 slaves and #2 fences, with land being further down.

After the war sharecropping was more profitable than using slave workers had been before the war.

It is generally assumed that cheaper labor will drive out more expensive labor.
If free black sharecroppers were cheaper labor, why didn't they drive the more expensive slave laborers out of the economy?

.
#15091339
Steve_American wrote:
So, what are you claiming?

Is it that slavery was hugely profitable, but the owners spent more than the profit to keep up with their neighbors? And, as a result they kept going deeper into debt?
. . . This could be true, but what good businessman can't live within his huge income?

I was showing that the huge profits were the result of *not including all* the costs. Some them were quite large. For example what happens if half your slaves die in a pandemic? Remember, according to my wide reading, the 2 main things of value in the ante-bellum south were #1 slaves and #2 fences, with land being further down.

After the war sharecropping was more profitable than using slave workers had been before the war.

It is generally assumed that cheaper labor will drive out more expensive labor.
If free black sharecroppers were cheaper labor, why didn't they drive the more expensive slave laborers out of the economy?



That the world was changing, and a lot.

That was just an example.

There isn't an argument going on here, the large plantations were immensely profitable at the turn of the century. But what happened next is the country developed economically, setting off a series of events that hit slave owners where it hurts.

They decided to go to war before the war... Just sayin'.

That weren't many free Black farmers before the war. The slave owners would not have allowed sharecroppers to hurt them economically. But before the war, it wasn't much of an issue.

During the first half of the century, the Northeast became richer and more populous, dragging political power northwards. Industrial development usually requires protection, and the tariffs set off countering tariffs that hurt the South, instead of the North.

In addition, the 3 foods poor Southerners relied on went into decline. That made for a lot of unhappy Southerners, I mean a LOT. In addition, the fear of rebellion burns white hot in the heart of a slave owner. If Whites rebelled, Blacks would be likely to follow.

That left the slaveowners in an impossible situation. They gambled that a war would solve their problems, or at least make them manageable.
#15091358
Puffer Fish wrote:I would be in favor of this, but I would be concerned about abuses.

With perverse incentives for people to be put in prison, or given longer sentences, so large corporations could get their hands on more cheap labor.

It recalls all the abuses that went on during the period of chain gangs in the US South.

We know there is very little large agriculture corporations won't do to get their hands on cheap labor. They are very active in lobbying in government.
(That's half the reason the US Conservative Party never truly wanted immigration laws to be enforced for several decades, despite the words they told their gullible/clueless voters)


This is already happening in the USA.

From what I understand, there are more black people forced to work for mere pennies in today’s prison system than there were enslaved during the slavery era.

The USA never stopped having racist slavery.

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