Arnold Kling  

The Smoot-Hawley Fence

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Be careful what you wish for on border security and illegal immigration. Here is one story.

Carnes ended up with less than 100 workers and fell two weeks behind, with bits and pieces of the fields unpicked. His income fell about $150,000, a significant loss.

...Growers say tightened border security and longer lines for day crossers have cut the numbers of farm workers who cross the border legally or illegally. Illegal immigrant workers who used to travel the country picking different crops as the seasons changed are hesitant to migrate for fear of being caught. And the lure of higher paid jobs with better working conditions, such as construction, are keeping some farm workers away.

Here is another.

The problem is now reaching crisis proportions, food growers say. As much as 30 percent of the year's pear crop was lost in Northern California, growers estimate. More than one-third of Florida's Valencia orange crop went unharvested, Regelbrugge said. In New York, apples are rotting on the trees, because workers who once picked the fruit have fled frequent raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, said Maureen Marshall, an apple grower in Elba.

Strong immigration enforcement may be the contemporary equivalent of the Smoot-Hawley tariff.

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TRACKBACKS (2 to date)
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The author at amcgltd in a related article titled Paging Smoot and Hawley, White Courtesy Phone Please writes:
    Econlog is carrying some links on the unintended consequences of strict immigration enforcement. Food's going to get more expensive for sure, but I wouldn't worry too much about the farmers. We all under-write their way of life to the... [Tracked on October 4, 2006 8:57 AM]
The author at Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of ... in a related article titled Maybe This Wall Is a Good Thing writes:
    Arnold Kling points to some early signs of negative consequences of cracking down on illegal immigration. ... This actually may be a good thing. [Tracked on October 4, 2006 9:15 AM]
COMMENTS (27 to date)
Robert Speirs writes:

So the complainers are admitting, then, that they violated US law by hiring illegal workers? Perhaps they should not be prosecuted for breaking other criminals out of state-operated prisons and employing them? The risk that a government will enforce its laws is one a farmer should be prepared for. Should these farmers also be exempt from health and safety laws, tax laws, even the stupid environmental regulations they are saddled with?

Reasonable farmers will find a technological fix. Or they will go out of business, the price of commodities will rise and the market will find another source. The only tragedy is that these challenges weren't faced decades ago.

Bill Millan writes:

The growers sat on their butts and waited for the pickers to show up. This is what is seen. What is not seen is the growers making other arrangements for next year.

Ivan Kirigin writes:

Show me an army of farmers who have trouble because they haven't become fully automated, and I won't shed a tear.

Show me a single foreign roboticist who is having visa troubles, and I will and have cried out.

Seriously, are you saying that subsidized, trade sheltered farmers have it tough?

Nathan Smith writes:

I've been thinking about the same subject...

What's interesting is that enforcement has not, in fact, reduced the flow of migrants. The flow of migrants has been constant despite the ongoing militarization of the border. Of course, we don't know the counter-factual: there might have been a lot more migrants without the increased enforcement.

Much of the border will remain unwalled. And there's always ladders and tunnels and low-flying planes and boats on the Gulf of Mexico. As the Mexican economy grows, and financial intermediation improves, it will be easier for people to borrow the money to cover the up-front costs of evading border enforcement.

I think they'll keep coming.

TGGP writes:

All the people who keep shouting "Enforcement won't work! It can't!" have never heard of Operation Wetback.

Regarding Smoot-Hawley type effects, the U.S has had similar crackdowns on immigration in the past before the 1965 act. Did disaster strike? It doesn't look that way to me. It sounds about as credible as people who say our farmers need more and more subsidies or we'll all starve.

Tom writes:

Arnold would like more farm subsidies.

The US has a huge agricultural surplus, which require billions in subsidies and storage costs paid to farmers. There are too many farmers as is now, which would not exist if the government didn't provide farm support. What we don't need is more illegal immigrants merely increasing the agricultural surplus and increasing the billions in subsidies that go to farmers!

The line of "CropsRottingInTheFields" articles stretches back (literally) decades. In fact, some of the same names keep popping up. And, the MSM has frequently failed to do things like disclose affiliations, failed to call them on their claims, and so on.

In other words, articles like this are simply ProIllegalImmigrationPropaganda. Apparently this site is unable to figure that out and simply takes what's written at face value.

And, regarding the claim above that "enforcement has not, in fact, reduced the flow of migrants", that's not telling the whole truth because there are different types of enforcement.

While we have to a certain extent increased border security, at the same time we've reduce workplace enforcement. Without the latter, border enforcement is just for show.

Of course, one of the reasons why we've had such low workplace enforcement is because of local and national political corruption. Perhaps this site might factor that into its "economic" reasoning.

Lord writes:

Shouldn't you be celebrating this as promoting agricultural production in third world countries, increasing incomes and boosting the economies there so the population doesn't have to immigrate?

Jody writes:

When did the number of illegals in this country decrease?

I find this story to be highly suspect...

Carter writes:

Why do you think that Arnold? George Borjas estimates the net economic benefit of all immigrants, not just illegal ones, to be only around $10 billion. Some estimate the negative impact of the Smoot-Hawley tarriff was 3.4% of GDP.

Matt writes:

Arnold sees the problem as fruit rotting, not as farmland uncessarily watered and tilled.

One data point does not make a value system for economic prediction.

Dave Meleney writes:

TomTancredo...pick up the white courtesy phone....Tom Tancredo...

Victor David Hansen....boy you have ridden this wave for all it's worth....

Most German people you meet, either here or in Germany are very nice people...and I can tell you from personal experience that Mr. Tancredo is a VERY nice person..... but how did things get so out of hand in Germany that a paper-hanging fool could hypnotize so much of a civilized place like that?

Steve Sailer writes:

Pearapundit debunks pearanoia here:

I thought there couldn't be "shortages" in a market economy? Isn't that what you teach in Econ 1001. So why are economists total chumps for the self-interested spin of growers?

mike writes:

Nothing to see here, folks....

....just more calls for taxpayer subsidized agricultural welfare in the form of illegal immigrants or guest workers.

Move along, now.

rps writes:

Pears are still $.79/pound at Wal-Mart. Will Kling be taking any bets that they remain cheap, despite this horrible tragedy?

Richard Smith writes:

It sounds to me like the American people have grown dependent of the illegal or (legal) immigrant work force. If we the people would get of our asses and do something for ourselves like pick our own food or make the companies that hire the immigrants pay them our salaries. All immigrants should have to pay taxes to our government; as well as, follow all our rules. For if they want to live here so bad they should have to live like us.

Daniel Ogden writes:

Rubbish! To compare the enforcement of U.S. law to highly protectionist tariff is utter nonsense. I am a strong proponet of free trade and detest protectionism. Enforcing our immigration laws has absolutely nothing to do with free trade. It is a matter of national security. While I do not like tariffs, I certainly would be against CBP not collecting them. There is no excuse to advocate that U.S. companie break the law nor should we feel any sympathy for those who do.

shecky writes:

It's amazing how many folks are 100% for protectionism when it comes to labor, especially in a sub 5% unemployment economy. Never mind that the "illegal immigrant" problem would disappear overnight if the US would decide that central planning in labor is just another failure, and let the market do it's work.

Ted Craig writes:

I've been thinking about the dreaded $10 head of lettuce arguement for some time. If you really believe in markets, you have nothing to fear. If lettuce prices rose to $10, lettuce consumption would decrease and prices would drop.

Cheap migrant labor, whether it is legal or illegal, breeds inefficency. As an earlier commenter alluded to, if the supply of migrant fruit pickers dries up, you'll see robots become as common in fields as they are in auto plants.

Dezakin writes:

"Cheap migrant labor, whether it is legal or illegal, breeds inefficency. As an earlier commenter alluded to, if the supply of migrant fruit pickers dries up, you'll see robots become as common in fields as they are in auto plants."

At what cost? Economics is the study of scarcity... theres only so much capital to go around. When you import cheap labor, you can spend your capital on other industries and grow the economy faster.

johng writes:

Dave, here is what I recall, the paper hanger was elected after the German government raised income tax rates in 1932 to over 60% to "restore faith" that the government would not run a deficit after the worldwide economic collapse caused by the Smoot Hawley tarriff. Just like Hoover did. The German economy collapsed much further and at the times around the 1932 elections the German unemployment rate was over 50%. Repeat, over 50%. The paper hanger still only received about 30% or so of the vote.

johng writes:

My recall is not very good. Double-checking, the unemployment rate in Germany in 1932 was over 30%.

sf_jeff writes:

Saying that immigration laws are not protectionist is shortsighted and foolish. The government should be doing everything in it's power today to stave off the great depression of 2015 and that means doing whatever it takes to decrease the average age of the country now. Immigration now will have a strongly positive impact on the economy 10 years from now, while immigration then might even be counter-productive. What's amazing is that the xenophobes believe that hurting prospective immigrants has any affect whatsoever on national security.

Hey! I've got an idea. Timothy McVeigh was white. Why don't we do something about the big white-person threat by rounding up white people who seem suspicious and keeping them in confinement? Who needs habeas corpus? Better yet, we could make all American citizens bring papers and documentation every year proving that they should be allowed to retain American citizenship.

Ok, I admit it. I am one of those white people, but I become less proud of it every time someone votes his or her anger and jealousy. I am white, and believe it or not that doesn't mean I spend all my life trying to find someone to feel superior to.

I find it especially ironic that those people who jealously guard their security and culture by writing laws punishing the innocent are the same people who won't be able to retire in 20 years because they didn't invite in the people who would keep the country running in their absence.

Remember that every crime must have a victim. Without a victim, there can be no crime.

The vast majority of victims I see in this society are victims of unfair laws and the crimes are perpetrated by voters who are outraged at the effrontery of someone liking strawberry when the right and normal thing is to prefer chocolate. Keep dreaming. If you rid the world of strawberry, you will only find something new to hate.

TGGP writes:

In the Gulf countries there are many foreign laborers. They have no citizenship or political clout and their families stay in their home countries where money is sent to them. Such a system is neither protectionist nor as problematic as the one we currently have in the United States.

st_jeff, I doubt your abilities to see into the future 10 years are as top-notch as you seem to be under the impression they are. The country ran just fine without today's rates of immigration for years and Japan seems set to deal with its demographic change through innovation rather than immigration.

Your point regarding McVeigh is especially spurious. You've got one anecdote from over a decade ago used to generalize about a majority of the country's citizens. With Mexicans on the other hand, there is plenty of data showing the crime, dependency and illegitimacy rates (already higher than the national average for first generation, and increasing with each generation to make a mockery of assimilation), polls showing their fondness for redistribution (thank goodness they don't make up enough voters to have much of an impact yet) and the example of their home countries (from a region practically synonymous with political failure) to serve as a window into what ours will begin to look like. Immigrants overwhelmingly take jobs in areas where wages are already extremely low and form a miniscule percentage of costs, which means the benefit of more immigration seems negligible even when we forget the massive subsidies directed toward these areas. We have evidence that immigration lowers the quality of life by the rates of interstate migration of native born citizens. States with lots of immigration have net emmigration of natives, who are voting with their feet that immigration has not made their lives better.

Mark writes:

Thanks very much for the clarification.

Kent Gatewood writes:

Is Dr. Kling advocating totally open borders? Would he allow free entry for any of the world's six billion people? Would he try it on Israel first?

Kelli writes:

Another example of the failure of our education system to teach economics. With all the discussion about illegal immigrants, there is no reason that farmers who have relied on cheap labor would be blindsided by a decrease in the supply of labor. To overcome this, farmers would pay more for less workers but hope the higher pay is incentive for increased productivity to have close to the same crop harvest. The farmers would deliver the produce and receive the revenue. Instead, the farmers balked at the idea that higher wages means higher costs and less revenue resulting in little or no harvest and lost revenue anyway. But then the farmers could blame the anti-immigration attitude of others instead of themselves for being cheap and lazy. Of course, having legal workers involves taxes, benefits, etc. but I would feel more comfortable about subsidizing an industry that actually benefited the workers in some way.

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