You`ve been hearing it everywhere: a shortage of illegal
aliens has caused The Great Pear Crisis of 2006.
Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and
Larry Craig (R-ID) have been
lecturing us on how $10 million worth of pears are
rotting in the orchards of Lake County in northern
California because there just
aren`t enough illegal aliens to pick them—not for
love or money.
So, the Senators inform us, we need another Guest
Peasant program to import more pickers or (so I gather)
we`ll never taste a pear again in our lives.
(Cue the voice of a hungry Homer Simpson in a reverie:
"Sweeeeet juicccy pearrrsss").
Piling on, the Washington Post ran an AP story,
complete with a quote from the appalling
Tamar Jacoby, entitled
Farms Facing Worker Shortage for Harvest about
how we`ll all be
boiling old shoes to gnaw on for our suppers, or
something, unless Congress opens up the borders further.
Needless to say, the article is lacking in evidence
documenting a shortage of illegals other than
the testimony of their employers.
You`ll recognize these as the typical prefabricated
"news" stories that the Open Borders lobby generates
on autopilot to justify importing more cheap labor. It`s
in the same vein as The
Everlasting Nurse Shortage that we`ve been reading
for decades. Google lists 111,000 pages featuring the
shortage," even though
economists point out that there`s no such thing in a
market economy as a “shortage”: there is just a
price that somebody with
political influence (in the case of
nurses` wages, doctors and hospital administrators)
would rather not pay.
The amusing thing about the late-September round of Pear
Pearanoia articles is that the local Sacramento Bee
had already exposed them back on September 12, 2006
as the pre-planned product of
growers trying to badger Congress:
"All year, California farm groups have complained
that congressional inaction on overhauling immigration
laws, coupled with
tightening border controls, would lead to a critical
shortage of labor.
"With harvest time having arrived, state
agricultural leaders are preparing to join their
counterparts from around the country this week for a
major lobbying push in Washington. They have been
gathering anecdotes describing what they say is a
damaging labor crisis in the state: Overripe pears are
rotting in Sacramento and Lake counties, peaches went
unpicked near Fresno, and according to one industry
group, at least a few farmers are contemplating a move
to Mexico, where
cheap labor is plentiful and
Downing`s article went on to debunk the main claim:
"So far, however, state surveys show no
discernible drop in total farm employment for May, June
and July, though an uptick in farm wages suggests a
tighter labor supply…
"Looking only at state agricultural employment
data, though, there`s little sign of farm jobs going
unfilled. The market usually varies seasonally with
about 300,000 jobs in the winter rising to roughly
430,000 jobs from May through September. This year—at
least through July, the latest figures available—was
Metropolitan news outlets like the New York Times
are particularly gullible when being snowed by the
agricultural interests` public relations flacks.
Big city reporters and editors just don`t understand
the peculiarities of agricultural economics:
First, the ungrasped key to understanding the Great
Pear Crisis comes in the opening lines of Julia
Preston`s NYT article:
"The pear growers here in Lake County waited
decades for a crop of shapely fruit like the one that
adorned their orchards last month… `I felt like I went
to heaven,` said Nick Ivicevich, recalling the
perfection of his most abundant crop in 45 years of
yeah? A basic rule of agricultural economics: a good
year for a crop tends to be a
bad year for the crop`s farmers. When the
harvest is abundant, prices go down and the cost of
hiring enough labor to pick all the extra produce goes
up. Sometimes it doesn`t even pay to harvest the full
Second, there are dozens of different crops. Every
year there`s an over-abundance of something.
it`s not pears, it`s walnuts or
strawberries or something else. That allows the
PR consultants to concoct fill-in-the-blanks press
releases about the shortage of ____ pickers long before
the harvest begins.
Third, due to weather fluctuations, crops mature at
different times, making efficient scheduling of
For example, according to Downing`s Bee
story, Lake County pears normally ripen after
Sacramento Delta pears, so the same workers can pick
both. But this year, unusual weather delayed the Delta
pears—meaning the experienced crews were still tied up
in the Delta when the huge crop in Lake County ripened
on roughly its normal schedule.
This unavoidable uncertainty means that harvesting is
prone to a hurry-up-and-wait syndrome making it an
inefficient user of labor. Citing Philip Martin, the UC
Davis economist who is the leading expert on
farm laborers, Downing explained:
"The agricultural labor market in
California differs from other industries in that the
total number of laborers in any year is typically much
larger than the number of jobs. A state study based on
2001 data found that while the number of farm jobs
averaged 388,000 through the year, about 1.1 million
different people filled those jobs."
other words, the growers
suck in three people from south of the border for
every job they have on average.
The social problem with this inefficiency is this:
the farm owners aren`t paying the full cost of their
illegal laborers. The farmers are massively
cost-shifting to the public. We pick up the tab for
medical care, their workers`
children`s education, and so forth. Thus, the
inevitably awkward use of labor on farms exacerbates the
socialization of what should be their costs.
Fourth, farm jobs are a "gateway drug" for
illegal immigration, luring in huge numbers of
immigrants who get used up and then
move on to something else, leaving the growers
with a voracious hunger for new illegal immigrants.
For instance, pear-picking is a
young man`s job in California because there has been
an endless supply of young men from south of the border
to clamber up and down ladders.
contrast, in Spain, growers have bought
motorized picking platforms that don`t burn out
their employees as fast.
Fifth, the cost savings to consumers from cheap farm
labor are minimal.
course, politicians who rely on agribusiness campaign
contributions would have you believe otherwise:
predicted sharp increases in the prices of fruits and
vegetables, and a revolt by consumers if they find
themselves faced with `buying lettuce at $2 a head or
more, or broccoli at $5 a head or anything else because
of the dramatic shortage.` [
Plea to Save State`s Farmers, By Carolyn
Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/30/06]
yeah (again)? The official
Consumer Price Index inflation rate for food and
beverages was only 2.5% in the year ending last August,
compared to an overall inflation rate of 3.8%.
“`If (the consumer) spends $1 on a pint of
strawberries, the farmer`s getting 18 cents. He gives
about one-third of that to farmworkers, so they make 6
cents.` So even if the labor cost were to double, that
would still only be a 6 cent increase per pint.” THE
IMMIGRATION DEBATE |
Effect on economy depends on viewpoint, by
Carolyn Said, May 21, 2006]
For many fresh fruits and vegetables, the price increase
would be significantly less. And, over time, growers
would mechanize or, in the rare cases where that was
impossible, would shift their operations to Mexico.
Sixth, farm work attracts to America laborers who
even by the standards of illegal immigrants bring
minimal levels of human capital with them.
Many farmworkers from Mexico don`t even speak Spanish.
There are approximately
100,000 Mixtec-speaking Indians in California now.
How they are going to assimilate into the American
middle class when they haven`t assimilated into the
Mexican working class in the 485 years since Cortez?
Seventh, as historian
Cletus E. Daniel has pointed out, the defining
characteristic of California`s corporate farms has
search for a peasantry." Does 21st Century
California truly need more peasants?
"But the immigrants have a mismatch of skills:
They are qualified for yesterday`s jobs, which are the
kinds of jobs that are going away."
But if California`s Big Ag continues to get its way,
these primitive jobs will be around forever—along with
an endless stream of new peasants…and an endless
supply of new social and political problems for ordinary
[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and