Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Tough Mexicans versus Soft White Americans

San Diego high school students await a bus ride to Blythe, Calif., to go pick cantaloupes in the summer of 1965. They were recruited as part of the A-TEAM, a government program to replace migrant farm workers with high school students. (San Diego Tribune via NPR)
By Robert Wenzel

There are some very complex reasons central planning doesn't work, including the price signaling problem and the dispersed knowledge problem.

Sometimes these problems are difficult to spot at first glance, other times they are not.

In the below clip, I discuss the problems with Trump advisor Stephen Miller's perspective on jobs and immigration. He seems to somehow hold the central planning view that what America needs is more highly-skilled foreign labor rather than very low-skilled labor. I make the point in the clip that it is very unclear that this is the case. Indeed, it probably is the case that in a truly free market environment we would see gains in both types of labor, skilled and unskilled.

I post the clip again (originally recorded in 2017) because of a commentary by Gustavo Arellano recently posted at NPR, When The U.S. Government Tried To Replace Migrant Farmworkers With High Schoolers.

From the essay:
Over the ensuing weeks [in 1965], the Department of Labor, the Department of Agriculture, and the President's Council on Physical Fitness bought ads on radio and in magazines to try to lure lettermen. "Farm Work Builds Men!" screamed one such promotion, which featured 1964 Heisman Trophy winner John Huarte...
Local newspapers across the country showcased their local A-TEAM with pride as they left for the summer. The Courier of Waterloo, Iowa, for instance, ran a photo of beaming, bespectacled but scrawny boys boarding a bus for Salinas, where strawberries and asparagus awaited their smooth hands. "A teacher-coach from [the nearby town of] Cresco will serve as adviser to all 31," students, the Courier reassured its readers...
Students from across the country began showing up on farms in Texas and California at the beginning of June. [Randy] Carter and his classmates were assigned to pick cantaloupes near Blythe, a small town on the Colorado River in the middle of California's Colorado Desert.
He remembers the first day vividly. Work started before dawn, the better to avoid the unforgiving desert sun to come. "The wind is in your hair, and you don't think it's bad," Carter says. "Then you go out in the field, and the first ray of sun comes over the horizon. The first ray. Everyone looked at each other, and said, 'What did we do?' The thermometer went up like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. By 9 a.m., it was 110 degrees."
Garden gloves that the farmers gave the students to help them harvest lasted only four hours, because the cantaloupe's fine hairs made grabbing them feel like "picking up sandpaper." They got paid minimum wage — $1.40 an hour back then — plus 5 cents for every crate filled with about 30 to 36 fruits. Breakfast was "out of the Navy," Carter says — beans and eggs and bologna sandwiches that literally toasted in the heat, even in the shade.
The University High crew worked six days a week, with Sundays off, and they were not allowed to return home during their stint. The farmers sheltered them in "any kind of defunct housing," according to Carter — old Army barracks, rooms made from discarded wood, and even buildings used to intern Japanese-Americans during World War II.
Problems arose immediately for the A-TEAM nationwide. In California's Salinas Valley, 200 teenagers from New Mexico, Kansas and Wyoming quit after just two weeks on the job. "We worked three days and all of us are broke," the Associated Press quoted one teen as saying. Students elsewhere staged strikes. At the end, the A-TEAM was considered a giant failure and was never tried again...
"These [high school students] had the words and whiteness to say what they were feeling and could act out in a way that Mexican-Americans who had been living this way for decades simply didn't have the power or space for the American public to listen to them," [Stony Brook University history professor Lori A. Flores] says. "The students dropped out because the conditions were so atrocious, and the growers weren't able to mask that up."...
Carter and his classmates still talk about their A-TEAM days at every class reunion. "We went through something that you can't explain to anyone, unless you were out there in that friggin' heat," the 70-year-old says. "It could only be lived."
But he says the experience also taught them empathy toward immigrant workers that Carter says the rest of the country should learn, especially during these times.
"There's nothing you can say to us that [migrant laborers] are rapists or they're lazy," he says. "We know the work they do. And they do it all their lives, not just one summer for a couple of months. And they raise their families on it. Anyone ever talks bad on them, I always think, 'Keep talking, buddy, because I know what the real deal is.' "
Miller is a very confused central planner. He is a light-weight. Were Oskar Lange still roaming the theoretical socialist corners of the planet, he would have had a good belly laugh listening to Miller. The more Miller has the ear of the President, the more screwed up the U.S. economy will get.

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of


  1. As I've posted before:
    From my years in California, I remember the inspiring sight of young Anglo and Black men stooping to pick fruits and vegetables in the California fields. Also the large pink unicorns waiting to take them back to the barracks each night.

    1. That's pretty racist to say that only an certain ethnicity can do this work. I think you and Lab would get along.

      Having family that actually picked cantaloupes in southern Arizona which is a very similar climate, I can tell you this article is full of factual errors. First, the temperature doesn't get that high that early in Blythe, and gloves last longer than 4 hours when you use ones that aren't crap.

      The fact of the matter is black people, white people, Hispanic people, and native Americans have successfully done this kind of work in the past side-by-side.

    2. This may very well be true but there are fewer and fewer willing to do this that were born here.

    3. That's because it costs an employer so much more. If you are an employer willing to pay 10 dollars an hour to an illegal alien, that's the equivalent of about $18+ for a legal worker after payroll taxes, social security, etc. Add this to the fact that legal workers can unionize and can't be treated like dirt, and you get the real reason California doesn't want it to stop. It is about getting cheap labor, not about helping people or filling a market that others can't. Remove the payroll taxes, SS, liability, etc. for legal workers and see what happens. Stop treating the people who are trespassing better than the people who aren't, then let's see how the market works out. As Bob says, "Markets clear".

    4. Touche David! the aspect you cover is a given. The other aspect I refer more directly too is the abundance of work ethic that is now and exception rather than a rule.