Free Trade, Except for Labor

By Art Cullen

A lot of people believe that if our toughest jobs paid more, we would not need to ship in immigrants to do them. So believes Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, one of the leaders of the Build the Wall Movement. "There is no job Americans will not do," King says. He is right: Everyone has their price. That includes the employer.

If the employer finds that labor costs rise too high, they ship the jobs to Mexico or China.

The meatpacking industry is populated primarily by Latino immigrants. Some are legal, some are illegal. Thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement, US meatpacking could easily move south of the border if labor costs rise to the point that they attract greater numbers of Anglos to the job -- somewhere around $15-20 per hour, we suspect.

As soon as it becomes cheaper to ship corn to Mexico than it is to ship Mexicans to Iowa, hog production and slaughter will shift to Mexico. Environmental standards are looser, food inspection is looser, and it is easier to bribe an official there if you do run afoul of the rules. It is better that we pay Mexicans $10 per hour in Iowa, where they will spend at least half of it, than pay them $1 an hour in Mexico, and have none of that money in Iowa, one of the US leaders in depopulation.

If you don't believe us, listen to the conservative Cato Institute's Dan Griswold in the Wall Street Journal, commenting on what would happen if we sent the Mexicans back to Mexico: "The biggest disruption probably would come in light manufacturing. Our textile industry has managed to hang on to the extent that it has because the North Carolina textile mills have been able to hire immigrants. The domestic carpet industry based in Georgia managed to survive and thrive due to immigrant labor. The same holds true for meat-packing plants in the Midwest."

The Journal notes that it is absurd to open our markets to foreign goods, services and capital but not labor.

The absurdity will become especially apparent when the bulk of pork and poultry are processed in Mexico. If we think it cannot happen, recall that at one time nobody could rival us in soybean production. Now the preferred worldwide source for soybeans is Brazil. At least that's what the Chinese say.

Art Cullen is managing editor of The Progressive Populist.

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2006

Home Page

Copyright © 2006 The Progressive Populist